Fluidity is a project of dual existence: it is an art exhibition physically installed at Incinerator Gallery, as well as an online resource to be accessed through the Gallery’s website. It is a project that forms conversation between ecologists, artists, activists and historians to highlight the importance of local waterways in Melbourne’s North Western suburbs. Bringing together works from the Moonee Valley City Council Art Collection, as well as newly commissioned and recent works by Australian contemporary artists, Fluidity is a project that seeks to communicate the vitality and navigation of water through digital waves.
A body of water conforms to the shape of the vessel that holds it, yet streams carve out great valleys in the landscape. Rivers may act as borders and boundaries that divide cultures and politics, yet bodies of water may connect us through their tidal ebb and flow.
In Fluidity, the poetic and the political are laid side by side, allowing the force of soft power to affect positive change in the world.
This project was born on the shores of local waterways in Moonee Valley, and celebrates the rich and diverse narratives that flow through the area where Incinerator Gallery now stands. The Gallery acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung People of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Custodians of the lands and waterways from where we work and collaborate. We recognise that sovereignty was never ceded. We recognise that these wetlands, creeks and rivers inform Indigenous identity to place, and have for centuries nurtured and inspired Wurundjeri culture. We pay our respects to their Spirits, Ancestors, Elders and Community Members past and present. We acknowledge and celebrate that these waters continue to carry their stories today.
Moonee Valley was once a landscape connected by a chain of ponds. "These environments would have provided a water source as well as abundant plant and wildlife resources for Aboriginal People in the area. Eels and Murnong (Yam Daisy) appear to have been prominent resources along the creek. As well as these food resources, there were camp locations on the nutrient rich flood plains that, at certain times of the year would have encouraged the Traditional Inhabitants to enjoy its seasonal bounty.
When Europeans first settled in the Port Phillip region five Aboriginal language groups already occupied it. These groups spoke a related language and were part of the Kulin Nation of peoples.
These people were from the Eastern Kulin Language Group:
Woiworung - the Wurundjeri people
Boonwurrong (- the Boonwurrung people
Taungurong - the Taungurong people
Dja Dja Wrung - the Jaara people
And the Western Kulin Language Group:
Wathaurung - the Wathaurung people.
Each of these language groups consisted of up to six or more land-caring clans, that spoke a related language and were connected through cultural and mutual interests, totems, trading initiatives and marital rites. The local clan, the Gunung (meaning “creek dwelling people”), were connected to the Moonee Ponds Creek and other waterways in the area.[i]"
It is important to note the on-going history of these waterways and how colonial settler impact has forever changed the landscape. Drawn from Wurundjeri Willam - the Original Inhabitants of Moonee Valley (2012) - a collaborative resource developed by Moonee Valley City Council, Koorie Heritage Trust, Bunjilaka Heritage Centre, Mirimbiack Nations Aboriginal Corporation, Arts Victoria and Living Museum of the West - we learn how particular settler industries during the 19th and 20th centuries have consequently damaged these waterways:
With wool production booming associated industries flourished, bringing pollution to the Maribyrnong River and local creeks, including Moonee Ponds Creek. Wool was washed in the river with soap, prior to shipping to the Yorkshire mills for processing. This pollution affected the ecology of the river and creeks and made the water undrinkable. The waterways became drainage systems and the establishment of boiling down works along the banks added to the problem. These works produced tallow from sheep carcasses to be exported for the production of soap. In the early 1870s over 2000 tonnes (nearly 2.5 million litres) of blood flowed into the Maribyrnong from these works.[ii]
With considerate research to restore ecological vitality, some of these wetlands have recently been rejuvenated through cross-collaborative environmental awareness programs. These projects include the Afton Street Wetlands, Woodland Park, and Moonee Ponds Creek that altogether seek to (re)connect community with nature.
These parks and wetlands offer a steeped history with archaeological findings dating back 40,000+ years when the area was “actively used by Aboriginal people as a hunting ground and camping site [where] there is evidence of scarred trees, stone quarries, axeheads and stone tools. Nearby grasslands attracted game for hunting and the grasses and bark fibres provided a ready resource for the making of baskets and nets, while the river furnished fish, freshwater mussels, water birds and edible plants.” [iii]
Today, these areas enact “a living reminder of the peace and tranquillity that pervaded the area before settlement.[iv]” You can learn more about these wetlands in the PROJECTS section of this exhibition.
Moonee Valley has an Art and Heritage Collection that reflects, celebrates and contributes to the authentic and distinctive culture of Moonee Valley.
The Collection upholds cultural sustainability, and aims to inform, involve, connect and engage the diverse and creative Moonee Valley community. The Collection includes cultural artefacts, civic memorabilia and monuments, community and professional art.
This exhibition brings together key works from the Collection that surface contemporary and historic vantages of waterways flowing through the municipality.
A 1894 painting by John Thallon depicts the Maribyrnong River when it was still known as Saltwater River. With boats and grazing cattle across it banks, this painting presents a unique vantage of the area in its earlier settler-contact. In constrast, Pintupi artist Marlene Young has also depicted the Maribyrnong River in 1999 from a First Nations perspective. This work articulates both Aboriginal connection to Country, as well as colonial devastations to this body of water. Presented side-by-side at Incinerator Gallery, these works seek to offer new ways of seeing and understanding pluralistic histories of the local area.
Two watercolours painted by Robert Hoddle in 1847 depict Moonee Ponds Creek and the surrounding lightly-wooded grasslands that once covered much of Melbourne’s West. These works are contrasted with a contemporary oil painting by artist David Wadelton, who painted the exact same location of the Creek nearly 153 years later, depicting its now-modernised urban environment.
Everybird (1999) is a public sculpture by Bruce Armstrong that recognises the vitality of habitat and native wildlife to the local area. This larger-than-life wooden bird roosts at the edge of the Maribyrnong River as a long-standing guardian, celebrating the mythology of Bunjil, the Kulin Nation creator deity and ancestral being.
Connection to place and idenitity is an important recognition throughout this exhibition. Three painted shields by contemporary artist Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta, BoonWurrung/Wemba Wemba) speak of connection to Country through three ancestral bloodlines. This tryptich depicts traditional mark-making informed by her Ancestors who had painted the same onto shields and other shield-like objects, like baby baskets and water containers. Maree's artistic practice and research embodies reclamation of these traditional techniques and motifs that have otherwise remained dormant throughout a period of colonialism.
Incinerator Gallery is also proud to present newly commissioned works by some of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists in this exhibition. These new and recent works articulate nuanced visions and sounds of local waterways and beyond, frequently recognising climate and colonial impacts. Melbourne/Naarm-based artist Yandell Walton as produced a new immersive video titled Uprise that warns of global-warming and rising sea levels. Within this work (presented through the exhibition's online platform), viewers may experience the 360° sensation of a room flooding in torrents of water.
Adelaide/Kaurna-based artist Tamara Baillie has created a new stop-animation video that tenderly speaks through times of COVID-19 isolation. The work titled Saltwater Feelings (2020), celebrates the phenomena of tears as an exorcism of personal-private/global-shared experiences, where “glittering conglomerations and encrustations [are] formed by organic processes.[v]”
Bangerang artist Peta Clancy uses photography as a way to uncover hidden histories of colonisation. In a recent suite of photographs titled Undercurrent (2019), the artist has respectfully collaborated with members of Dja Dja Wurrung community to explore massacre sites on that Country. The resulting photographs and oral records reflect trauma that lies beneath the surface of a massacre site, which has since been submerged through redirecting local waterways.
A new installation titled smelter slag, mill tailings, ancestral resuscitation from the Indian ocean (2020) by Trawlwoolway artist Edwina Green comprises of video, bull kelp bags and ghost gum branches. This work celebrates both traditional methods of harvesting of bull kelp and bag making techniques, yet warns of the effects of climate crisis on Country and the continual colonial dismissal of Indigenous sacred sites. The video element of this installation, kelp, chemical waste, both edible (2018-19), compiles moving images of a poisoned river located on Country, along with layered audio that cascades potent phrases over and over again, like an ever-flowing dialogic river of truth.
El Salvadorian-born, Melbourne/Naarm-based Lucreccia Quintanilla has produced a new audio work that traverses the Maribyrnong River. Titled I hear a ringtail possum (2020), this audio montage draws upon research of the river’s historic floodings. It speaks of environmental and urban dialogues, and how waterways create audible trajectories or sound-languages, particularly celebrating the traditional Wurundjeri Woi-wurung name of the river – I can hear a ringtail possum.
Sāmoan artist, curator and researcher, Dr Léuli Eshrāghi presents a recent video performance titled L’hétérosexualité samoane est une performance chrétienne pour l’honte-temps grégorien / Sāmoan heterosexuality is a Church performance for Gregorian shame-time (2019), wherein five gestures draw on the faletele[vi] architectural form as half-oval of bowls is activated with the different waters.
Brisbane/Meanjin-based artist and DJ Hannah Brontë, draws upon her Wakka Wakka, Yaegl, and Welsh bloodlines to intertwine the knowledge of all her female ancestors in her work. Pisces King (2019) is an installation of video, sand and gum leaves that informs connection to home through the ocean – drifting in unison with the current, the artist is interconnected to ancestors through place and time. This iteration of the work has been adorned using gum leaves from fallen located on-site at Incinerator Gallery.
Sydney/Gadigal-based artist Tané Andrews looks towards the natural movements of nature to find subtle ripples of inspiration and connectivity. In Static of Nature (2019) a kinetic sculpture comprising of a motorised plinth gently rocks a ceramic plate, upon which rolls a South Sea pearl. The movement of the plate rhythmically mimics the ebb and flow of waves, symbolically echoing the tidal currents, and creates a meditative sound that entrances and slows us down.
Melbourne/Naarm-based Zainab Hikmet translates the ocean as a metaphor, where the waves are arms to embrace a shoreline. This work was originally developed for an exhibition in 2017, and speaks of home and place – between Australia (where the artist currently resides), New Zealand/Aotearoa (where the artist grew up), and Iraq (the artist’s ancestral homeland). The artwork is a light-sensitive letter that develops over prolonged exposure to sunlight, and connects these three places through solar horology. Visitors are invited to take a copy from this stack-iteration presented at Incinerator Gallery.
This exhibition also dives into several archival projects produced in Moonee Valley City Council that respond to local waterways and raise awareness to global issues surrounding the politics of water. A recent commission by Incinerator Gallery from photographer Anne Algar highlights the impacts of climate change upon the icecaps of Iceland. Three large-scale billboard photographs are distributed throughout the municipality and aim to communicate the alarming rate that sea levels are rising due to rapidly melting ice as an effect of global warming.
Lake, a performance by Nick Barlow, was originally conceived and choreographed as a community event for the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival, reclaiming plastic refuse as costume and performing in a large container or water filled from Moonee Ponds Creek.
Fluidity also seeks to engage with community groups whose environmental projects strive for sustainability, access, education and beautification of waterways. Since 1989, Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek has existed as a community collective that raises awareness and provides ecological protection and support to this water catchment and wildlife corridor. They work collaboratively with relevant Councils, Melbourne Water, Landcare and other organisations on multiple projects along the Creek corridor from its source above Greenvale to its junction with the Yarra River in Docklands.
The Afton Street Wetlands Project is a collaborative environmental revitalisation by Moonee Valley City Council, established and sustained since 2011. The project combines Departments of Sustainability, City Design, and Indigenous Heritage to return fertility to this chain of ponds and to provide a new open space where visitors can immerse themselves in native plants and wildlife. Comprised of five linked ponds, the wetlands capture and recycle urban runoff in a naturally occurring process, bringing a new and sustainable way of watering the city’s sports fields.
Altogether these projects, artworks and environmental collaborations surge a wave of attention to the vitality and importance of water – for ourselves and our ecology – understanding that life on earth could not exist without it. Fluidity declares that water is not an indispensable resource, but an essential fount that must be respected – its abuse means the destruction of environments and culture. Fluidity honours our relationship to water as an integral nourishment to our bodies and our stories. Fluidity acknowledges that water has convalescing properties can bring about physical, emotional and spiritual change for social unity.
[i] Friends of moonee ponds creek: History. Retrieved 24 June 2020. http://www.mooneepondscreek.org.au/history/
[ii] McQuinlan, P., et al. (2012). The Wurundjeri willam: The original inhabitants of Moonee Valley. Moonee Valley City Council. p.14.
[iii] Ibid. p.18.
[iv] Ibid. p.18.
[v] Email between artist Tamara Bailee and curator Jake Treacy, May 2020.
[vi] The architecture of Samoa is characterised by openness, with the design mirroring the culture and life of the Samoan people who inhabit the Samoa Islands. Architectural concepts are incorporated into Samoan proverbs, oratory and metaphors, as well as linking to other art forms in Samoa, such as boat building and tattooing. The spaces outside and inside of traditional Samoan architecture are part of cultural form, ceremony and ritual. U. Herbig, G. Zohrer, F. Samoliy, (2018). Recording the Cultural Heritages of Samoa and the Fiji Islands. Retrieved 10 June 2020. https://www.cipaheritagedocumentation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Herbig-e.a.-Recording-the-cultural-heritages-of-Samoa-and-Fiji-Islands.pdf