Multimedia installation, resin, acrylic, light box, sound duration 5:09sec.
PALM VALLEY complete sound work
A few years ago, some research was carried out on the origin of a threatened species of palm tree located southwest of Alice Springs, in the Finke Gorge National Park. The red cabbage palm, or Livistona mariae, is unique to Palm Valley, and until recently it has been widely accepted that these palms were left over from Gondwana times and were always in the valley. Now, DNA comparison between Livistona mariae and a similar species over 1,000 kilometres north of Palm Valley suggest that the seeds were somehow brought down from the northern regions between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago.
Earlier this year, the diaries of a German missionary were cross-referenced with this data to reveal a truth that had been known all along. Carl Strehlow was a German Lutheran missionary based at the Finke River Mission in the community of Ntaria (Hermansburg) from 1894. One of things he documented were stories told about the palms in Palm Valley. It has always been known and passed down through generations of Arrernte people that these palms were brought down from the north some 30,000 years ago. This and other stories that hold knowledge of the land in central desert are known as ‘Tjukurpa’, or ‘Wapar’, and are popularly described as ‘Aboriginal Dreamtime stories’, although the word ‘dream’ hints at something less than, or subordinate to, the real. Tjukurpa carries knowledge of the land over time. It contains information about how to live with the land and care for country.
In a culture surviving tens of thousands of years, there are systems of knowledge and systems of governance that have been in place for hundreds, if not thousands of generations.
A key element of the transmission of knowledge is repetition. However, on the missions it was commonplace for Aboriginal peoples to be prohibited from speaking language and practicing culture. This contributed significantly to the rapid displacement of traditional knowledge, and assimilation of European religious ritual and doctrine. On my father’s side of my family, the ripple effects of these restrictions were carried through generations. His mother, my grandmother, would talk about some things and not others. My father rarely spoke about his Narungga cultural heritage. This is common for Aboriginal people of his generation.
Throughout our country’s short history as ‘Australia’, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced many different ways of being recorded and categorised. Some of the stories recorded by missionaries, from hundreds of different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, are stored in archives forgotten. Some of these stories are sacred and should only be passed on to certain people. The story of the origin of the palms in Palm Valley was recorded and archived. There are parts to the story that are not meant to be public, sacred elements that can only be passed on through the proper channels and following cultural protocol.
The archives contain a wealth of information that can be accessed without the correct protocols in place, changing the meaning of these stories.
My cultural knowledge has been passed down to me through the women in my family. The reconstruction of my Narungga cultural identity is both informed and complicated by the State’s surveillance of my grandmother, and my sister’s research and interrogation of those archives.
This new perspective gives rise to new stories specific to our family, to be transmitted to future generations.
This work looks at different genealogies of knowledge, variously Indigenous and European. These systems are distinct, but also potentially complementary, and offer insights that both resist and affirm the other. As a person with both Anglo and Aboriginal heritage, I have to navigate between these systems, which can be complex. European scientific research has played a major role in the erosion and loss of cultural continuity for First Nations Peoples globally. At the same time, the artefacts of this methodology have become significant markers in the reclamation of cultural and family identity. The story of Palm Valley interested me because it provoked reflection on these issues, which I have attempted to translate into this work: the topography of the journey of these seeds and the story with it, interrogated through a discourse on research, knowledge and identity.
Many thanks to all who made this exhibition possible. Special thanks to Professor David Bowman, Dr Mark Lethbridge, Simon Loffler, Pix & the rest of the crew at hackerspace, Darrin at Adelaide Plastics, Jan-Ove Pederson, Shane Haddy, Freddy Komp, Tom Spall, Nathan Abbot, Mash Miller, Daniel Harkin, Phoebe Paterson de Heer, Ryan Barnes, Natalie Harkin, Ali Baker, Katie Barber & the rest of the CACSA staff. Thank you Chloe- without your support and Gantt chart, this would have been impossible. Apologies to anyone I forgot to invite, and anyone I forgot to thank!