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Save our Ngatyi (Rainbow Serpents), creators of spiritual rivers connecting water, sky and land, 2022.

Badger Bates, Barkandji
Made in collaboration with Matt Mewburn and Eveleigh Works.
Repoussé steel with heat blueing treatment.

Listen to Uncle Badger speak about his sculpture and the Lore of his people

My name's Badger Bates. I done this sculpture here. So this sculpture is about the Ngatyi, one of the Ngatyis, but this is a female Ngatyi blowing a rainbow. If you look closely in the middle of this Ngatyi, you will see eggs. That means she's a female. There is a male Ngatyi and female. We, as Barkandji respect both Ngatyis and the Ngatyi or Rainbow Serpent is talked about all the way around Australia there is something that has to do with the Rainbow Serpent. But this is one of them here. Our Ngatyi, they change form some time and they’ll go into a shape like a Water Dog, what the white people call Bunyip. But it's the same thing. Right? But you will see the form they change their form and that. In Wilcannia where I come from and where I was reared up, there is places where the Ngatyis live.We don't swim there and we don't talk about the Ngatyi in the night. We got the respect the Ngatyi because the Ngatyi protects us.

That's why we fight for the river, because the Ngatyi is our creator, that created the land, but also they created the Barka, the Darling River. And so they give us everything, so we give something back and to show respect for them we don't swim in certain places where they live. Where the Old People said they live, we go there, but we don't swim there and we tell everyone, doesn't matter what colour you are, don't swim where the Ngatyi live. Leave it alone.

We believe, I said, that when the government was taking all our water and conning people up, I said the Ngatyi would protect us. We know a lot of people say Mother Nature this, Mother Nature that. Us Aboriginal People, we believe, our belief is what the Old People handed down for centuries, we believe in that. We believe in the Ngatyi because the Ngatyi will bring us water.

Today we are sitting at the outlet of Lake Cawndilla on Kinchega National Park, what is in western New South Wales at Menindee. Menindee, in 2019 and 20, that's when you had the massive fishkill, and then, before COVID hit, all this lake here, everything was dry. But we always said the Ngatyi will give us water. And look what we got - everything. We got water. But again, the water managers, the so-called experts, they will take this water when the other water dry up. At the moment everything is left alone and looks beautiful and everything. It will stay like that until after Christmas sometime when we get into a drought again, then everything will go. They made a plan for all this Menindee Lakes system in 1962. They are still working on this plan and making more plans but not giving us water As Barkandji people, we got our Native Title in 2015. Just before we got our Native Title they started taking water out of these lakes. And they were doing it before. Then, me, a lot of us Aboriginal People, a lot of people, Aboriginal People that call themselves Koories, I don't. My people don’t. We are Barka Wiimpatja. That means I am a Darling River black person. I come from Wilcannia, on the banks of the Darling. I lived on the bank of the Darling. I was born in the hospital at Wilcannia in 1947, in the Wilcannia Hospital on the banks of the Darling.

To me, the Native Title, they gave us that, like I said, I'm a Barka Wiimpatja, but they took our water rights. They never gave us water rights. We deserve cultural water. They're not giving us that. So this Ngatyi here, even though the one you're looking at now, the female, even though it’s made out of steel, I still respect it, my people respect it. None of my people will walk up and hit it with a hammer, because we respect that. It’s finished now and that's it. It stays like that. We respect that. It looks like a piece of steel to a lot of people but to me in my heart I respect that. Because that’s a female Ngatyi.

It is our belief the Ngatyi are still with us and will make rain. The thunder is Ngatyi rumbling and growling, and they blow the rainbow after the rain because they can go back on their journeys then. They created all the water and country when they travelled around. Uncle Badger Bates

This acquisition was funded by a grant from the Patricia Porritt Collection Acquisition Fund and the Australian Museum Foundation.