Center for Art + Environment Blog

September 9, 2011   |   William L. Fox

Travels in Australia: Paruku — Part 1 of 6

Travels in Australia: Paruku

Aerial view of Lake Gregory, Western Australia

Aerial view of Lake Gregory, Western Australia

Aerial view of Lake Gregory, Western Australia

In August I flew from Reno to Los Angeles to make a 14-hour flight to Brisbane, Australia, caught a connecting flight for another three-and-a-half hours to Alice Springs in the center of the country, then hopped into a four-wheel-drive truck with artist Mandy Martin and drove another day-and-a-half to Lake Gregory–Australia’s equivalent to the Great Salt Lake. Mandy, along with Center for Art + Environment Research Fellow John Carty and prominent Australian biologist Steve Morton, has been working since April on the “Paruku Project,” a multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural look at how “global drivers are modifying Indigenous Traditional Owners connection to Country in the Tanami Desert.” I was along in two roles: as a writer for the project and as the curator of the project archive we’re collecting for the CA+E.

Our camp spot was in a stand of small white-bark gum trees surrounded by spinifex, the ubiquitous grass of the arid interior. People in Aboriginal communities burn the spinifiex on a regular basis at this time of year in order to forestall catastrophic brush fires caused by lightning, and the entire time we were there the horizon was a thick gray band that made for vivid sunsets and moon risings.

Men and women from Mulan, the town in the center of Paruku, the regional Indigenous Protected Area, took us down to Lake Gregory, walked us out into the water, and covered our arms and legs in mud, introducing us to the great serpent that lives in the lake and asking him not to harm us. And thus began two weeks of work rich with art, ancient stories, and archeology along the shores of a lake that was once ten times larger than it is now, and that is still the most important inland wetland of the continent.

I’ll be writing about those three aspects of the project in several subsequent blogs, but if you’re interested in more information, including the science and conservation aspects of it, you might check out the project’s own blog site:

http://parukuproject.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/paruku-sediments-blog-1/

Mandy Martin sketch of Lake Gregory shoreline and burned spinifex in late afternoon light. Photo by John Carty

Mandy Martin sketch of Lake Gregory shoreline and burned spinifex in late afternoon light. Photo by John Carty

For those of you attending the second Art + Environment Conference at the end of this month, Mandy Martin and John Carty will be presenting as part of a panel titled “Navigating the Waters of Art and Science in Australia.” Guy Fitzhardinge, a cattle rancher and conservationist who was working with the Paruku Rangers as part of the project will also be in attendance.