Broken Hill Art Exchange this past weekend hosted a water justice exhibition, bringing together artworks, video, and testimonials highlighting the need to preserve Australia’s waterways, focusing on the Darling-Baaka, and the Martuwarra Fitzroy in Western Australia.
The event, which was organised and curated by the Water Justice Hub – a group of students and researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) – showed attendees the damaging effects of injustice around water and the extension of its environmental impacts.
The Water Justice Hub exists to help people amplify their voices, telling the truth in multiple ways while working with and partnering with communities and First Nations people to look after country.
Speaking to the Barrier Truth, Water Justice Hub Convener and Professor of Economics at ANU, Quentin Grafton, said that the works collected over the years, culminating in this exhibition, showed a damning viewpoint of the need to look after our water systems.
“There’s a big, big problem in Australia. It’s not just for the Baaka-Darling, it’s not just the Martuwarra. All our rivers are in trouble in some way or other… if it’s too much, too little or too dirty water,” he said.
“We can have multiple uses in the water, but we have to look after country first, look after the rivers first, let them flow. We need to do it. It’s not an option. If we don’t do it, we’ll destroy the country and destroy ourselves.”
Artists whose work was shown and presented across the exhibition included pieces from Bonnie Quayle, Jade Cicak, Taya Biggs, Glenn Loughrey, Sammy Hawker, Paul Wyrwoll, Dan Schulz, Otis Filley, WordPlay Studios, and a film showing of The Serpent’s Tale by the Martuwarra-Fitzroy Council.
Member of the Water Justice Hub and PhD student at the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU, Dan Schulz, said it had been a great night where all the different artists spoke to different elements of water and rivers.
“It’s come together to tell a really important story about how important our waterways are and how traditional owner knowledge has to be front and centre of the future of our rivers. I think it speaks to that really well and I think people understand the message, have got the message, and that’s what it’s all about,” he told us.
“It’s an ongoing process and everybody has a role to play in basically saving [the Darling-Baaka]. We can all contribute to figuring out what’s happened to our rivers and how to fix it, because it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse and that poor river is suffering, as we saw in March.”
Bonnie Quayle, a senior Barkindji artist, had several two-colour silk screen prints on display, each showing her relationship to the Baaka and her family’s connection. She said, “art time… is the only time I get to have me time”.
Her Five Generations piece is one of her proudest artworks – which is also currently on a piece of steel in Milparinka.
“My Five Generations projects, it’s really good. And if I do a picture and I’m happy with it, then I know it’s going to be good. But if there’s something that I’m not happy with it, I just work on it until I get it to where I want it to be.”
Nadina Benvenisti, an Art Exchange committee member, said the organisation was happy to offer its space to house the two-day exhibition, understanding the need for people to be aware of what was happening with the rivers.
“That’s really what we wanted to get out here is getting their message across. Everybody is very concerned about the river, everybody really understands the damage that’s done about the river,” she said.
“It’s events like this that are really there to encourage individual voices to go and talk to people in power and say enough is enough. We need change in policy. We need to protect our waterways. We need Indigenous rights. We need water rights for everybody. It really is those individual voices that elevate to drive change.”
For more information on the Water Justice Hub, visit https://www.waterjusticehub.org.