We went to see Rivers on the Brink: Inside the Murray-Darling Basin at the SH Ervin Gallery. It was an interesting counterpoint to ‘Songlines: tracking the Seven Sisters’at the National Museum of Australia
Whereas Songlines presented an absorbing, beautiful and powerful vision from an Indigenous viewpoint, Rivers offered the story of the tragic and reprehensible destruction of the Murray-Darling river system – a microcosm of the destruction of the entire eco-system of the continent – from the viewpoint of European and Indigenous Australian artists.
It was a powerful and disturbing show. But you’ll see a lot more than beautiful and poignant works of art from such artists as Badger Bates, Eddy Harris, Kim Harris , Euan McLeod Ian Marr and many others. You’ll see two distinct and telling views of this country. In many, the anger and sorrow are palpable
As we got to the end of the exhibition, and having re-visited some of the most compelling images, I found myself asking the question: what’s the difference between the whitefella and blackfella artist in this show? I asked that question of my perceptive wife. She answered that the Indigenous art is a connection to place, and the European artists’ work is an observation of place. Nailed it.
As confronted and angered as the whitefella artists showed themselves to be at this wilful destruction, they were looking at it from the outside.
And this was corroborated by my reading the review of the show by Christopher Allen in the Weekend Australian Review. Now as much as you can damn and excoriate The Oz, it has always been excellent on Indigenous matters. Not this time.
Allen’s insensitive and unseeing review is illustrated by three paintings by whitefellas: not his choice I’m sure but certainly reflective of the content. The Indigenous artists in the show are covered, or rather dismissed, in two paragraphs.
His perspective is shown when he writes, gratuitously of having known one of the European artists (Ian Marr, one of the best European contributors) and his brother Ted since school, and having helped castrate lambs at the Marr Mount Murchison property: this without connecting the grazing of lambs or other livestock to the degradation of the river system.
Below, two statements, one form a blackfella artist and one from a whitefella, which summarise the issues