The Murray-Darling has gained a lot of news coverage in the last year since the Four Corners report sparked a Royal Commission into water theft and corruption.
Yet we hear little about the human stories of communities like Wilcannia who are directly impacted.
If we can get the public to relate and care about the people then they are more likely to care about the issues.
In 2015, my car broke down in the small river town of Wilcannia on the banks of the Darling River. This spate of bad luck set me on a new path and I would live and continue to return to the community for the next three years, spending long periods of time getting to understand the people, the history, the culture and the Darling River.
Buzzfeed story of my connection to Darling River People
The First Nation tribe are the Paarkandji (Barkandji) this literally translates to the River People. They are the traditional custodians of the Barka ( The Darling River ) having a connection to her dating back approx. 60,000 years or to the Dreamtime. The Barkandji people refer to the Barka ( The Darling River) as their lifeblood. Research has shown that the health of the river has a direct impact on the health of the people.
Wilcannia has a history of forced removal onto missions and ongoing trauma from the stolen generations that has had little redress in both recognising and restoring cultural identity and its integrity. The life expectancy of the town is 37 years for men and 43 years for women. The community continues to be plagued by social problems, not helped by a constant negative coverage by mainstream media, who often use Wilcannia to perpetuate stereotypes.
It is for these reasons that building trust and working in Wilcannia has not come without its challenges. I learnt early on how important it was to always receive permission before sharing images and stories.
For example my work for Everyday Australia
The Everyday Projects series is aimed at challenging cultural stereotypes through photography.
Over time I have built a strong connection with this community, who have come to trust me and even adopt me into their family.
-link to a letter of support from the community member.
Respected elder and artist Badger Bates became both my friend and mentor.
Uncle Badger Bates has also been a spokesperson for his people and an activist for the Darling River.
Badger Bates Guardian Darling River
Together we have been collaborating on an exhibition.
Barka, The Forgotten River.
–link to Proposal
The exhibition will open in Broken Hill Regional, June 8th, 2018 and then tour.
To date, we have been completely self-funded.
As a non-indigenous artist, early on I found it hard to justify applying for funding, especially when I witnessed the disadvantage facing the people of Wilcannia.
However, I have now come to a stage where I am struggling to see the work come to fruition without funding assistance.
I could not have done the work on this project as a non-indigenous artist without the support and mentorship that Uncle Badger has given me and the acceptance from the wider community.
Uncle Badger feels it would not be right for him to show only the Aboriginal point of view.
Badger says the Darling River is for everyone.
Uncle Badger sees the collaboration as two cultures working together to help save the Barka for future generations and a united country.
I believe, as does Uncle Badger that this is a strong and important exhibition. However for this to go ahead we need your help.
My photos have inspired a documentary that will tell the story of the Darling River from the perspective of the Barkandji people. I will continue to travel out with the director to assist on this new project.
The film is already a work in progress, after two recent trips, including traveling the full length of The Mighty Darling River and meeting with community leaders.
Every contribution will be greatly appreciated.
I would love to offer a champagne pre-festival release screening in 2019 of the documentary to anyone who donates $100+
A screening plus a signed limited edition print $500+
Money raised will help cover my costs of travel, materials, water analysis tests, printing, editing, equipment for the exhibition "Barka, the Forgotten River."
This is purely covering costs to realise the project.
No artist fees.
This project has been a labour of love, my rewards have not been in money but in a life-changing experience.
Justine Muller Bio/CV
Badger Bates Bio/CV
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