Our Sugar vs the Reef? exhibition at Artspace Mackay recently ended, and we have lots of stuff to share from that show.
Here’s a video snapshot of the SEED & SONG planting day from August 2018 at the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens. On that day, a host of collaborators came together to sing, dance, eat, drink, and plant sugarcane and sunflowers.
Local film maker Willem Reichard shot the footage, and our friends from Wayward Films edited it together.
The song which weaves throughout the video is “The Planting Song” by Kim Williams, which she has been developing over the course of the whole project. It started as “The Legume Song” (when we planted legumes in February 2018), and later (in November 2018) became “The Harvest Song” – same melody with an ever-evolving lyric sheet!
This version was recorded by the wonderful Dave Sheldon at Tin Shed Studio in Mackay, with the voices of Fiona, Oni and Alec Vuibeqa, Susie and Sophie Mattsson, and of course Kim and Lucas.
In the evolution of any botanical project, things live and die. Different species have different lifespans, and each has its moment to shine before moving aside to make space for the others. Continue reading “Sunflower & Song Reflections”
SUNFLOWER AND SONG – HARVEST CELEBRATION AT THE BOTANIC GARDENS
FRIDAY 23 NOVEMBER 6PM-930PM
MACKAY REGIONAL BOTANIC GARDENS
A glorious field of sunflowers is in full bloom right now at the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens. The brainchild of Wollongong artists Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams and Marian farmer Simon Mattsson, this cheerful crop – nicknamed “The Beacon” – is both a stunning work of Land Art and a demonstration of farming innovation in the Mackay region. Continue reading “SUNFLOWER & SONG Media Release”
We always envisaged The Beacon as a way of bringing culture and agriculture together at the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens.
At the most basic level, The Beacon is a 26 metre diameter demonstration farm, showing how you can have diverse plant species living alongside sugarcane. So, we needed to put some sticks of sugarcane into the ground, and we had to plant a bunch of sunflower seeds in straight rows – two purely practical tasks. But we wanted to make these tasks special, by creating some meaningful rituals around what might seem a relatively straightforward farming activity.
Our planting site is located on “public” land at the Botanic Gardens, which gives us the chance to bring a range of different people together, gathered around this circle of soil we’ve been tending with great care since February.
While working with the soil, we’ve also been cultivating friendships and working relationships with the Yuwibara people, the traditional custodians of the Mackay region. Even though the Botanic Gardens is on land owned by the Mackay Regional Council, who give us permission to plant and dig, at a deeper level it is the Yuwibara Aboriginal Corporation that we turn to, to ask for permission to work, to dwell, to plant.
Uncle Phillip Kemp and Uncle George Tonga have been very supportive, and through them we’ve been beginning to learn about some of the histories and cultures of this place. This is especially important since Kim and I live in Wollongong, on Wodi-Wodi and Dharawal lands, hundreds of kilometres to the south.
We’ve also recently gotten to know Aunty Deb Netuschil, who choreographs the Diranga Gangali Aboriginal Dancers. At our recent SEED AND SONG event, these local kids “danced us into the day” with a set of fantastic moves accompanied by the talented Lyndon Francis on the didgeridoo.
In the lead up to SEED AND SONG, we spent a few hours with Deb at the Beacon. She told us about her many community projects, including working with people in jail, and conducting linguistic history research to piece back together the Yuwi language of the Mackay region. Here’s something we posted on Instagram about that:
Crucial to our work at the Beacon is our relationship with MADASSIA, the Mackay and Districts Australian South Sea Islander Association. Without Starrett Vea Vea and Jemal Davis, and their team at the Community Hut located nearby, none of this tending would be possible. The fact that Jemal is on site every day with his work crew is the single most important thing helping the dual-crop grow and thrive.
As the chair of MADASSIA, Starrett jumped on board from the very beginning, recognising that a project about sugarcane has the potential to tap into the some important stuff for his community.
The South Sea Islander people have an indelible relationship with the establishment of the sugar industry in Australia. Without their yakka – which began as slavery, (and was sometimes called “indentured labor”), the economy of a huge area of Queensland today would not be so heavily based around sugarcane growing and processing.
At SEED AND SONG, Starrett invited Uncle Doug Mooney, an elder in the ASSI community, to come along and share some of his stories about working with sugarcane by hand in the old days.
When we organise an event like SEED AND SONG, we think about how to shape the experience of the participants on the day. We try to bring together a whole mix of elements – fun, food, learning, work and entertainment. We’ve loved working with the Sakwolo Islander Dancers – who perform in their gorgeous costumes designed and handcrafted by their choreographer and visionary leader David Tass. Their work connects the yakka of agriculture with the rituals of contemporary Australian South Sea Islander culture.
Arts and Environment Support
This year we received events funding from two sources: The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), through their Reef Guardians program; and the Queensland Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF), through its “Green Arts” program. Both these programs encourage innovative cultural activities which have ecological benefit.
We’ve been collaborating with GBRMPA, and its Local Marine Advisory Committee (LMAC) for several years now as we develop our work in Mackay. Our approach has always been to celebrate the achievements of leading farmers in the sugarcane industry, and to create cultural events which help to share soil-focused farming ideas with the wider community.
Similarly, our RADF contacts, like Fiona Vuibeqa from the Mackay Council, have been very supportive of this unusual approach to using art to bring together diverse people, like farmers and the ASSI community.
The Beacon, in this sense, is a miniature “demonstration farm” – not only trialling and showcasing a range of methods which will help build soil, reduce chemical use, and cut down on the run-off which travels from the land out to the reef, but also testing out how land management can be done in a respectful, inclusive and cross-cultural way.
Michael Kane, who was in 2018 working for Farmers for Climate Action (FCA) was a great support for our work at the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens. Michael wrote this news article immediately following the Seed & Song planting event in late August 2018. He now works with the Mackay Conservation Group.
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SEED AND SONG – The Watershed Land Art Project at Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens.
Seed and Song was launched on Sunday afternoon at the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens to a large and appreciative crowd of townsfolk, Yuwibara elders and family, farmers, Australian South Sea Islanders, artists and supporters from as far away as Brisbane and Melbourne.
Local grower Simon Mattsson teamed up with Lucas Ihlein and Kim Williams from the Watershed Land Art Project and a host of community groups and local businesses to create a living work of art – The Beacon – so called because it aims to attract the attention of visitors to the Botanic Gardens, sparking conversations about agriculture and ecology.
Over the coming months, The Beacon‘s circular crop of sugarcane and sunflowers will grow into a stunning visual demonstration of local achievements in eco-friendly farming systems.
The day began with a performance by the Diranga Gangali Aboriginal Dancers, and continued with a presentation from Australian South Sea Islander elder Uncle Doug Mooney, who shared stories about his history as a worker in the sugarcane industry. Later, participants took a break from planting sunflowers for a performance by the Sakwolo Islander Dancers – a local South Sea Islander dance troupe.
Artist Kim Williams said that involving the Aboriginal custodians and the Australian South Sea Islander Community was about paying respect to local culture: “While innovations in agriculture are the central focus of the project, in creating a community planting event we want to also acknowledge the cultural practices that are integral to the history of farming in the region.”
Local grower Simon Mattsson said the event was important to him because it was an opportunity to communicate the message of regenerative agriculture and make the story of farming accessible to everyone.
“It was a great cultural day and rewarding to receive support from local families who were willing to share their stories from over a century of cane growing history,” said Mr Mattsson.
Visitor Michael Kane, who was representing Farmers for Climate Action, said it was fascinating to see the cane planted. “It was a lot of fun to get my hands dirty with everybody while seeding the sunflowers too. The best part of the day was the light shower and double rainbow that appeared just after the planting was finished. A great way to end a fantastic community event,” said Mr Kane.
Local farmer John Sweet, a retired grazier, said he enjoyed catching up with everybody. “It’s a hot day but everybody is pitching in and there is a good community feeling behind it all. I’m looking forward to seeing the harvest event in November.”
The project received funding from the Queensland Government’s Regional Arts Development Fund, and from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) through the Reef Guardians Program.
Artist Lucas Ihlein said that this support recognised the critical connection between farming and the health of the Great Barrier Reef. “How farmers work their land affects the quality of the water in the Reef, and so it’s good that GBRMPA is encouraging projects like this which show how to reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and herbicides by focusing on soil health.”
In late November, the artists will host a community celebration for the blooming sunflowers at the Botanic Gardens, with local music, food and more opportunities for the public to learn about regenerative agriculture.