27 Nov 2018

Everybody has their Brisbane River story..!!

Brisbane artist Judy Watson, a Waanyi woman, said everyone who had a journey along the river had a story to tell.

Ms Watson, who revolves her artwork around body of water, found her deep connection with the river and had shared her admiration for the existence of it through her artwork.

Her most prominent piece of the river reflected the history of the floods while celebrating contemporary storytelling.

The artwork, Water Dragon, celebrated contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander storytelling and reflections on Brisbane’s 2011 floods after studying flood maps.

Not only had the river been part of her art but Ms Watson said it was also part of her own history, having strong memories of living through Brisbane floods.

"I remember the Brisbane floods in '74, as a child I had been living in Acacia Ridge and remember my family were helping to clean up houses that were flooded," she said.

"I remember the smell of the mud through everything - mud and mould - the feeling of something that had passed through and the residue and debris was everywhere.

"Seeing that haunted look (people) had after seeing their keepsakes ruined everyone. People were particularly upset about photographs, wiping photos down from mud.

“I remember that haunted look that they really want photos and keepsake and seeing that ruin of layer of mud ships through.

"It was very sad to see as a child.”

Ms Watson said she remembered the unity shown among communities who helped one another, including her own mother who cooked at a community centre for those who had lost their homes.

She said, as an adult, experiencing the 2011 floods was shocking.

“I was trying to drive along the Fairfield Shopping Centre but there was huge amount of water coming through,” she said.

“There was a creek within that area originally and place like that along the bank of river and yet water coming up from the drain, backfilling all the places used to fit into.”

Ms Watson saidWater Dragon delved deep into what happened during the floods historically and financially.

“At the peak of the floods in 2011, I looked at the financial charts and out of those, I developed a layer onto flood map,” she said.

“I also looked at the cultural significance of the creation of the rainbow serpent.

“Uncle Joe Kirk talked about the eels being like the ancestral rainbow serpent for the Brisbane region.

“When I looked at images of juvenile eels at the Queensland Museum they are rainbow coloured.

“The eels go up the creeks like Breakfast Creek to spawn and swim long distances from their spawning grounds.”

Ms Watson said she was fascinated by her ancestors who lived along the creeks in the river thousands of years ago.

“It’s interesting how they would be doing farming and ship work, they would find mangrove worms,” she said.

“They would put logs and casaurina along river to encourage worms to eat and fatten up and that would be part of their diet while farming within the creeks.”

Ms Watson’s admiration for the Indigenous Aboriginals who cleverly used the river for farming and creating boats and items also also shined through her bronze sculpture Tow Row.

The piece is an outdoor feature at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art.

The artwork reflecting woven nets used by Indigenous Australians in the site of Kurilpa, place of the water rat, near the Brisbane River, acknowledging the traditional owners of the site and their everyday fishing activities on the river and waterways.

“Within my artwork I worked on a bronze sculpture echoing the look of the tow nets,” Ms Watson said.

“The tow row is the name given to the butterfly net in this part of Australia by the traditional owners from this place.

“A young Aboriginal artist from Moreton Island (Elisa Jane Carmichael) was on it too to capture this shimmering net used for catching the fish.”

Ms Watson said her main body of work revolved around water.

“The Brisbane River is very much alive in people living in the area walking over it, kayaking or driving along it,” she said.

“It contains all the journeys people have taken along the river.”

Ms Watson said history showed how First Australians would go from one bank of the river to the other.

"I always think about what happened to those people who made those canoes and see what had happened to them,” she said.

Ms Watson said she also would think of the history such as when convicts, who first landed at Moreton Island (Moorgumpin - ‘place of sandhills’), were taken by Aboriginal people to Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah).

“(There were) ‘two canoes’ that were taken by the convicts in quite a lot of my works including ‘two canoes’, which is in the collection of MONA,” she said.

Ms Watson said the river remained a landmark she always acknowledged and was privileged to have her artwork showcased nearby as well as her art wrapped around a CityCat.

SOURCE ; https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/north-v-south-brisbane-s-watery-divide-20181121-p50hdc.html

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