Barka: The Forgotten River learning journey
Learning stageStage 2, Stage 3
Learning areaCreative Arts, First Nations, Science
TypeLearning journey, Teaching resources
On this page...
The development of these education resources was funded by an anonymous donation through the Australian Museum Foundation.
Learning journeys offer a scaffolded approach to exploring a topic both in the classroom and at the Museum. Follow this learning journey to deepen your students’ knowledge and understanding of the Barka.
Barka: The Forgotten River is a First Nations exhibition developed by Uncle Badger Bates and Justine Muller with the Barkandji community.
It explores the relationships between the people that live along the Barka (Darling River) and their ongoing battle to protect it. These stories are grounded in Barkandji Lore and told through a variety of artworks including paintings, ceramics, lino prints, sculptures and a multi-media installation.
- The Barka is an Ancestor and we should treat it like family.
- The Barka gives life and looks after us.
- We can look after the Barka and Country.
- The living world is connected.
Through this learning journey, students will:
- Engage with Barka: The Forgotten River exhibition content.
- Learn about Uncle Badger Bates and his art.
- Listen to First Nations stories about the Barka.
- Investigate relationships between living things in the Murray-Darling basin.
- Identify the causes and effects of blue-green algae blooms and high salinity.
- Design an experiment that tests the impact of salt on plants.
- Create an artwork that represents and responds to the Barkandji environment.
NSW syllabus outcomes
ST2-1WS-S, ST3-1WS-S, ST2-4LW-S, ST3-4LW-S, VAS2.1, VAS2.3, VAS2.4, VAS3.1, VAS3.3, VAS3.4
Prepare your students
An Acknowledgement of Country is a statement that pays respect to the Traditional Custodians of the Country that you are learning or meeting on and recognises their ongoing relationship with Country. The Australian Museum respects and acknowledges the Gadigal people as the Custodians of the land on which the Museum stands.
Which First Nations Country or Nation was your school built upon? If you are unsure contact a local First Nations organisation to find out. You might like to start with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.
Ask your students to write an Acknowledgement of Country for your school. To get them started, read more about why an Acknowledgement of Country is important and how to write one in this ABC article.
Make a small group with your classmates. Think about the following scenario:
Picture all the freshwater in Australia.
Where does it go?
You and your team must decide how the water will be used. Example, farming, drinking, washing.
Follow the instructions below to show how you would share Australia’s freshwater.
1. Collect four clear reusable cups.
2. Label one cup “Australia’s freshwater” with a sticky note and fill it with water.
3. Discuss with your group who and what needs freshwater in Australia.
4. Choose three key ideas and write each one on a sticky note.
5. Attach your three sticky notes to the three empty cups.
6. Pour water from the cup labelled “Australia’s freshwater” into the other three cups to show how you would share the water.
Present your water allocations to your classmates and explain your choices.
What did you allocate the most water to?
What did you give the least amount of water to?
Did you leave any water for the environment, and if so, how much?
No More Catfish (2004)
Look at the linocut print No More Catfish (2004).
What animals can you see?
Where might you find this environment?
How would you describe the lines in the artwork?
Why do you think the artwork is black and white?
Why is the skeleton of the catfish visible?
Why do you think this artwork was made?
Listen to Uncle Badger Bates talk about his artwork No More Catfish (2004).
Notice the position of the catfish. Why is it out of the water?
Find the shells. How did Uncle Badger Bates use them?
Point to the top of the artwork. Why is it black?
Uncle Badger Bates says, “So what I try and do is put my statement in my artwork”. What statement does No More Catfish make? Tell a friend.
Learn more about catfish in the Barka here.
Meet the artist
Uncle Badger (William) Bates is a Barkandji Elder. He was nicknamed “Badger” after a character in the children’s novel The Wind in the Willows because he liked hunting and fishing better than school.
We call him “Uncle” as a sign of respect as he is a senior Lore person in his community. This means he has important cultural knowledge and is responsible for looking after Country and passing on knowledge to the next generations.
Watch the following video to learn more about Uncle Badger Bates.
Be sure to notice:
Artform: How does Uncle Badger Bates represent his ideas?
Materials: What materials does Uncle Badger Bates use and why does he use them?
Techniques: How does Uncle Badger Bates make his art?
Subject matter: What is Uncle Badger Bates’ art about?
Artist: What do you know about Uncle Badger Bates’ life?
Uncle Badger Bates talks about emu-egg carving. Take a look inside the Australian Museum’s collection to see an emu egg carved by Uncle Badger Bates and learn about this artform. Visit here and here.You don’t want to miss it!
The Barka (Darling River) is Australia’s second longest river and stretches approximately 1545 kilometres. Australia’s longest river is the River Murray at about 2508 kilometres.
It is the home of the Barkandji people, the Traditional Owners of the land around the lower Barka.
The river continues to be the Barka or Baaka. The name “Darling” was given to the river by explorer Charles Sturt in honour of NSW Governor Ralph Darling.
The Barka forms part of the Murray Darling Basin. You can find a good map of the Murray Darling Basin here.
For thousands of years people have been growing food, such as maapu (River Coobah) and kampuka (sweet quandong), sustainably on this land.
Today, it is an important agricultural area where foods such as apples, avocados, almonds and rice are grown, but mismanagement has lead to some devastating effects on the environment.
Follow the instructions below to explore the Barka by map.
1. Open Google Maps.
2. Search “Darling River, NSW”.
3. Choose the “Satellite” map view.
4. Zoom in and follow the Barka down to Wilcannia NSW where Uncle Badger Bates was born in 1947.
5. Keep moving to Wentworth NSW where the Barka joins the River Murray.
6. Follow the Murray river to the Southern Ocean.
7. Use the “Directions” to find out how far away your school is from the Barka.
Healthy River vs. Sick River
Just as we can be unwell sometimes, so too can the environment.
Think about what might make a river healthy, and what might make it sick.
Draw your ideas and add labels to your picture to explain your thinking.
Examples: animal and plant life, droughts, pollution, dam-building, land clearing, farming, timber harvesting, commercial fishing, exotic weeds and animals.
Be sure to illustrate the causes and effects of each river’s condition.
Tell the Story of a River with your class to learn about the ways in which the health of a river can be affected. Download the attachment, Story of a River, it’s worth it!
Blue-green algae blooms and high salinity can make water unsafe to drink or swim in. It can also impact the passing on of traditional fishing and hunting teachings connected with the Barka.
Read about these risks below…
Blue-green algae blooms
Blue-green algae is a type of microscopic bacteria known as cyanobacteria. It creates an “algal bloom” when it multiplies quickly. Algal blooms can look like pollution, clumps of grass clippings, or spilled paint on the surface of the water.
Blue-green algae blooms can happen when:
* too much water is extracted for irrigation causing stagnant water; or when
* nutrients are added to the water from fertilisers, sewage and animal droppings.
Blue-green algae blooms can trigger a process called eutrophication.
Salinity refers to the amount of salt in water or soil. Salt is a natural feature of the Barka. However, when the natural flow of the river is disrupted, there is less water to flush salt out to sea.
What might disrupt the flow of a river?
Example: Removing native plants with long roots and planting crops with short roots can cause water and salt levels to rise. This is because plants with shorter roots cannot access water deeper in the ground, and when the water rises it carries salt with it. Crops with shorter roots also need irrigation.
When water is too salty plants cannot grow in it and animals cannot drink it or live in it.
Design your own experiment that tests the effect of salt on plants. Record your:
Aim: what are you going to investigate?
Prediction: what do you think will happen?
Variables: what are you going to change, keep the same and measure?
Equipment: what materials will you need?
Method: what are the steps you will follow?
Tip: include diagrams or photos.
Results: what happened?
Tip: use a table or graph and include a diagram or photo.
Conclusion: can you explain your results?
At the Museum
Book in a school group visit to Barka: The Forgotten River.
Read our tips on how to use our exhibitions.
The River and the Rainbow Serpent
"A lot of people always say at the end of the rainbow you get a pot of gold. But our pot of gold is our freedom and our country.” – Uncle Badger Bates.
Don’t miss the five-metre-long steel Ngatji, rainbow serpent, designed by Uncle Badger Bates.
Two Ngatji, a male and female, are the Ancestors that carved Barkandji Country and continue to live in its waters.
See how the Ngatji blows a rainbow? This is because the Ngatji can make it rain. It lives below the water and there are some places you cannot swim so as not to disturb the Ngatji.
Listen to Uncle Badger Bates talk about the making and meaning of this artwork, Save our Ngatji (Rainbow Serpents): Creators of spiritual rivers connecting water, sky, and land (2022).
Back in the classroom
Connections in Country
Everything living and non-living are a part of a system. First Nations people call this a kinship system. Your kin is your family, we are all connected to one another.
Another name for this is ecosystem. An ecosystem is a community of living things interacting with each other and their environment.
Discover some connections in the Barka ecosystem by completing the activity below.
You will need paper, pens, twine, and a group of 5-7 friends.
1. Choose a living/non-living thing from the list below and write it on a large slip of paper (one per person).
Living/non-living things: river water, sun, green tree frog, damsel fly, mussel, Murray cod, hardhead duck, native reed, person.
2. Sit in a circle and display your slip of paper in front of you.
3. Think about how your living/non-living thing might be connected to the other living/non-living things in the group.
4. Pass a length of twine to those people in the group who have a living/non-living thing connected to yours. (Example: hardhead ducks eat mussels; native reeds need sunlight; green tree frogs eat damselflies; and Murray cod eat green tree frogs.)
5. Hold all lengths of twine you have given and taken and pull. (One person at a time.)
6. Shout “River!” if you feel someone pulling on your twine.
Predict: What would happen if something was removed from the web.
Discuss: What is a “balanced ecosystem”?
Challenge: Design your own food web using information about the animals of the Murray–Darling Basin and the plants of the Murray–Darling Basin.
Caring for Country
How can we care for river systems in Australia?
Examples: save water at home, clean up rubbish at school, report algal blooms to your local council, start or join a community planting group, don’t miss World Rivers Day on the fourth Sunday of September.
Choose one animal connected with the Barka. This website will help you – animals of the Murray–Darling Basin.
Research your chosen animal and look at plenty of good images. Be sure to note details such as lines, shapes, textures and patterns.
Make a model of your chosen animal with clay.
Share your artwork with your class, friends and family and tell them what you have learnt about the Barka.