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Uncle William “Badger” Bates

Barka - Sunset of Lake Menindee - 8 Dec 2022
Uncle Badger Bates watches the sun set over Menindee Lake, the largest lake of the Menindee Lakes system. The water is an opaque milky colour and fish carcass litter the shoreline of rocks and red gum. Image: Abram Powell
© Australian Museum

As an artist I always tell the stories that are important to me and my people, and I use any medium to do this, although there is always a strong element of traditional Barkandji motifs and lines weaving through the work. Uncle William “Badger” Bates

My works is a timeline from the early 1990’s to the present, showing love of my river, the Barka or Darling River, our mother and the blood in our veins. Some linoprints are a celebration of the life force and cultural, social and economic values of the Barka and its tributaries, others tell a story of loss, loss of water quality, and loss of fish, especially loss of big fish that used to be common in the river, and the resulting traditional ways such as spearing fish for food.

The 2018 and 2023 works tell a different story, one of fear for the river and its ecology, for the cultural, social, economic life of the Barkandji people as the river disappears before their eyes and turns into a cesspool of algae, death and destruction, exemplified by the Menindee fish kills when millions of fish died in the town weir pool late 2018 and early 20219. It also tells the story of Barkandji people determination to fight for their river (banners and video), which collaborates with the river installation and Justine’s ceramic footprints.

Justine Muller

First Nations artist Justine Muller, displaying her work for Barka: The Forgotten River exhibition
First Nations artist Justine Muller, displaying her work for Barka: The Forgotten River exhibition. Image: Gerrit Fokkema
© Justine Muller

All the work in the exhibition was made on Barkandji Country over a three year period.

During this time I came to learn about the deep connection of the Barkandji people to the Barka (Darling River). The work is a direct response to the plight of the Barka and the people who depend on it. Justine Muller

Materials are in their rawest form; clay sourced from the Barka River bed impressed with over two hundred footprints of the Barkandji people. Oil portraits on pressed tin, representing the different family groups, each accompanied by audio recordings.

The wet plate collodion, on glass of threatened birds printed onto glass plates, highlight the fragility of nature under threat.

Photographic documentation of daily life in Wilcannia and video works of the decline of the Barka (Darling River).

It was important that Barka, the Forgotten River drew attention to both the plight of the Barka, a celebration of the Barkandji people’s rich culture, whilst also leaving the audience with a sense of hope.