Darling demonstration: river art

By AG STAFF 6 May 2021
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Portraits were carried through the Menindee district to draw attention to the decline of the Baaka – or Barka – (Darling) River.

IN FEBRUARY this year, as part of the triennial arts festival of the National Gallery of Victoria, huge photographic portraits were carried across the dry plains of the Menindee Lakes area by members of the local community as a drone camera captured aerial footage and photos.

This striking environmental demonstration was conceived by French contemporary artist JR as one element in his major work for the festival, Homily to Country, which focuses on the complex environmental issues affecting the river (see Lifeblood of the nation, AG 160).

The procession honoured the personal stories and experiences of the four portrait subjects, including Badger Bates, a senior Barkindji Elder and respected spokesperson on the Baaka (Darling) River.

Also represented were the stories of orchardists Rachel Strachan and Alan Whyte, who have each been forced to remove their family’s once highly productive commercial orchards due to lack of irrigation flows; and Wayne Smith, a sixth-generation farmer whose family has lived and worked along the river since the early 1890s. Some community members in the region, including the portrait subjects in JR’s work, are calling for a re-evaluation of river policy and more sustainable irrigation practices, advocating for a new river management system based on ecological flows and Indigenous land management practices as a new benchmark to improve the health of the river.