the witness tree
We were taken to Myall Creek on the 10th june 2017 to attend the anniversary of the Myall Creek massacre, which occurred in 1838.
We listened to speakers who were descendants from both sides of the massacre,as well as speeches from the Friends of Myall Creek community organisation. As we walked up the hill to the memorial site Kelvin Brown spoke of the history of the Myall Creek massacre and of the vision for the future of the Myall Creek group.
At the entrance to the memorial site we were led through a smoking ceremony, had ochre painted on our skin and then began the walk along the path to the memorial stone. As we followed the path, children read out the story of the massacre from the plaques illustrated by Colin Isaacs.
People gathered at the memorial stone to listen to speeches from Aunty Sue Blacklock and Mark Tedeschi
Along the way Greg Hooper collected sounds of the environment and people talking and Robert Andrew, Bianca Beetson, Greg Hooper and Judy Watson videod and photographed the ceremony, talks, surrounding countryside and the memorial site
On the second day we were taken back to the site by Kelvin, who took us slowly through the events of the massacre on the way up to the memorial stone
I had an overwhelming sense of horror and deep sadness. I felt the atrocities within the land and was pulled to certain trees where I wanted to recognise what their root systems deep within the earth had witnessed.
The trauma of this event is echoed in my own family’s history where my great great grandmother Rosie escaped a massacre at Lawn Hill station in north west Queensland. Because she survived I am here bearing witness as one of many descendants of inter-generational trauma
On the next visit I made rubbings of some of the trees and ground on the memorial site using charcoal and earth from the site. There is an indelible memory within this place which I wanted to convey within the works on canvas and back in my studio in Brisbane.
I overlaid these ground pieces with the maps of the perpetrators journey to Myall Creek and the journey of Sgt Denny Day to bring them to justice.
I took lengths of muslin and wound them around several of the trees. It felt like covering a deep wound within the psyche of the trees, a reparative gesture on my part
Then Greg attached microphones to the trees, listening to the sounds deep within them.
Greg : Judy came over to where I was recording some movement through the grass and said she had heard a sound up in the trees, a sound that for some reason or other had called to her. We found the tree and I attached mics that pick up vibrations rather than sound through the air. And then we listened to the inside of the tree – the rush and flow of water pulled from the ground by transpiration at the leaves, the occasional pop made when one of the microscopic water columns breaks apart, the sound of the leaves brushing together in the wind, of hanging branches knocking together. All transmitted through the body of the tree – the sound of the world acting upon the tree and the tree acting upon the world. I like the thought of the tree reaching deep in to the country and drawing out ancient water to release into the atmosphere to then in its turn become rain that might later fall onto another country or flow down to the oceans or become part of an aquifer to reappear in the headwaters of a river hundreds of kilometers away. All things connected, here and there, past and present, time and space
Inside the witness tree
Ants are an ubiquitous part of the bush, digging tunnels that allow the rain to penetrate into the earth for the roots of the trees to find and preventing overpopulation of the sorts of small invertebrates that eat the plants. Part of a healthy ecosystem.
We came upon this large nest of meat ants and thought we would try to record the ants in their nest. I managed to drill a couple of shallow holes with a tree branch before so many ants were streaming along the ground and up the branch to attack the intruder that I had to jump back. The mics are a type of hydrophone – normally used underwater – but work fine where they can be buried or surrounded by whatever one wants to record. I was expecting to pick up vibrations of ant activity underground but in the end I think we mainly recorded the sound of ants crawling over and biting the mics themselves and signaling to each other.
Here the ants are crawling over the microphones. If you listen closely you might hear the rapid scratching of an ant stridulating – making noise by rubbing their legs against ridges along the abdomen. Stridulating is not a simple action at all but part of a system of acoustic signals for messaging things like distress or danger.
Images from the site visit and development of material