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.
On Friday 2nd November our exhibition Sugar vs the Reef? opened at Artspace, Mackay’s regional gallery. We spent the days prior to the opening installing the show with the support of the wonderful gallery staff – Tracey Heathwood (director), Alicia Stevenson (exhibitions curator), Lauren Turton (exhibitions officer), Billie Jo Ogilvie (public programs), Wanda Bennett (public programs) and the many volunteers who offer their time and energy. Continue reading “Outside in and inside out – the Beacon and the Gallery”
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.
Mackay primary school children visited the Beacon this September to learn about soil, water and biodiversity in agro-ecological systems.
65 students spent a morning onsite at the Beacon at Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens as part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Future Leaders Eco Challenge (FLEC).
FLEC, GBRMPA’s annual event for Reef Guardian schools, invites students with keen interest in environmental issues to participate in a day of highly situated, hands on learning about environmental issues in their local community.
Students learned about the collaborative nature of the Watershed Land Art Project and the three workshops were designed to allow for meaningful and relevant learning experiences around ecological farming innovations taking place in the Pioneer Valley watershed.
Sugarcane farmer Simon Mattsson facilitated an engaging workshop about soil health and how he achieves this in a practical sense on his farm. He spoke about growing legumes and the reasons he grows multispecies crops such as sugarcane and sunflowers. Simon shared his passion for improving the soil through regenerative agriculture and the positive outcomes this contributes to local waterways and The Great Barrier Reef. The highlight of this workshop was exploring the properties of good soil – especially handling the worms!
Reef Catchments project officer Carlos Bueno took the students on a learning journey about biodiversity. He sent the children on a walk to discover and assess the amount of vegetative diversity in a small area of land in the vicinity of the Beacon. Children learned about the many functions of plants and weeds. The takeaway of this workshop being that biodiversity is important in both ecological and farming systems.
Ecological educator Kellie Galletly provided children an opportunity to learn about land use in the Pioneer Valley watershed through play. In groups, children were given scenarios about regenerative agriculture practices taking place locally which they were able to model at a miniature scale using small loose parts in a valley-shaped mound of soil. In this way children were able to understand how agricultural land use in the watershed affects the health of waterways and ecosystems.
As well as learning about agro-ecological farming at the Beacon, the students attending FLEC also planted trees with Jonathon Dykyj from Mackay Regional Council, learned about the importance of fishways with Matt Moore from Catchment Solutions and built insect hotels for biodiversity with Lynette Keir and Kimberly Blythe from Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens.
These organic and visceral learning experiences are aligned with the premise of place-based education – an approach to learning that allows children opportunities for authentic connection to community and cultivates a sense of responsibility for the natural environment and the people it supports.
In addition to all the ecological knowledge, it is hoped that the children, as a result of learning about the Watershed Land Art Project, will have gained a sense of the attributes required to work with others on social and environmental issues and ultimately recognise their own capacity to be change makers in the community.
Photo credits: Robert Bole Photography
This blog post was written by Kellie Galletly, a Mackay-based educator who runs Edutones, a social enterprise that facilitates opportunities for authentic, child-centred, outdoor and community-based learning experiences across Mackay and surrounds. Kellie is a key contributor to the Watershed Land Art Project.