Metal for Water

Metal for Water

Metal for Water –

Major Mitchell and Captain Sturt

Exploring the Murray-Darling

Mile by mile over red dirt

Exchanging their iron tools

For water and safe passage

Stone now cast aside

This the new message

For we all wear cloaks . . .

Carmel Wallace, Metal for Water cloak (in progress) 3, metal bottle-tops, thread, fox-fur stole

Carmel Wallace, Metal for Water cloak (in progress) 3, metal bottle-tops & thread on fabric, fox-fur.

Carmel Wallace, Metal for Water cloak, view 2

Carmel Wallace, Metal for Water cloak, view 2

This cloak, covered with metal bottle-tops and including a fox-fur, references introduced European culture and species to the Murray-Darling Basin.

The title for the work, Metal for Water, comes from Major Thomas Mitchell’s exploration journals that repeatedly refer to his bartering metal tomahawks for water and unimpeded progress through aboriginal territory. For example, in 1838 Mitchell wrote: ‘I have more than once seen a river chief, on receiving a tomahawk, point to the stream, and signify that we were at liberty to take water from it.’ (Mitchell, T.L. Journal of Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia, 2 vols, T. & W. Boone, London. Vol. 1, pp. 304-305.)

Fellow explorer, Captain Sturt, also bartered tomahawks and hoop-iron, a practice he begun during his Murray River expedition of 1830 and continued during his inland expedition of 1844-1845. Indeed, at times ‘his progress along the river resembled that of an itinerant ironmonger.’ (Philip Jones, Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia 2008, p. 123.)

Lottie Williams, a Barkindji elder of the Lower Darling/Mungo region, speaks poetically of the value of water to her and her people: ‘Water is gold to us. It is the only gold we will ever have . . .’ Lottie has recorded this in writing on the inside of the Metal for Water cloak, giving added poignancy to the concept of ‘metal for water’.

Barkindji elder Lottie Williams writing on Metal for Water cloak. photo Carmel Wallace

Barkindji elder Lottie Williams writing on Metal for Water cloak. photo Carmel Wallace

Barkindji elder Lottie Williams & Metal for Water cloak at the Art Vault. photo Carmel Wallace

Barkindji elder Lottie Williams & Metal for Water cloak at the Art Vault. photo Carmel Wallace

One River Lake Suite

Seven million hungry foxes –

Now roaming our lands

Vulpes vulpes in their red furs

Searching up and over sands

For burrowing bettongs

And the Bridled Nail-tail

A sure and swift departure –

For foxes never fail

For we all wear cloaks . . .

 

Lake environments are not only about aquatic life  – the surrounding plants, animals and birds are of course also integral to these environments. This is particularly so in the case of Lake Mungo, which has been without water for 15,000 years!

Introduced species like the fox and carp are largely responsible for the demise of many native species – see accompanying map showing the diminished range of the now critically endangered Brush-tailed Bettong. The fox-fur stole on the Metal for Water cloak is the referent for this loss.

Feral red fox, Vulpes vulpes, with possum  (Photo: Michael Dickinson. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Feral red fox, Vulpes vulpes, with possum
(Photo: Michael Dickinson. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

7.Brush-tailed_Bettong or Woylie (Bettongia pencillata) distribution map 2011 showing historic range in orange and radically diminished current ranges in red_photo by Wilhelm Klave_Wikimedia CommonsBrush-tailed_Bettong or Woylie (Bettongia pencillata) distribution map 2011 showing historic range in orange and radically diminished current ranges in red.                                                                                                                                                                                                         (Photo: Wilhelm Klave. Source: Wikimedia Commons)


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