Passionate impressions of Murray-Darling system
Fifteen paintings, the largest of which is 150 centimetres by 150 centimetres, fill a gallery at Mary Mackillop Place, bringing the diversity, and desolation of the Murray-Darling river system to the city. Journey to Water is the offering of Sydney-based artist Rachel Carroll, who over eight years visited six sites in the Basin, primarily along the Murray.
Carroll, who describes herself as a passionate impressionist, immersed herself in each place. She sketched and camped on location, consulted bird guides, spoke with locals and explored cultural significance, before returning to the studio. Carroll is motivated by the hope that “a love and understanding of the natural world will inspire people to protect what is our most important resource”.
The mouth of the Murray was closed when she visited, its devastation depicted from above in brown in “Murray Mouth – Closed”. The pale waters and red earth of the wetlands of the Paroo in western NSW, the last free-flowing river in the Murray-Darling system, contrast with the dark, muted tones of “The Barmah – the Murray River Sunset”. The only abstract pieces in the series, the two “Murray Rise” mixed-media works, convey the play and movement of the water close to the river’s source in Kosciusko National Park. The ecological richness of the Hattah-Kulkyne Lakes, Victoria, is explored in four works. Also on display are drawings of bird and fish species, as well as a map of the Basin with each of the six sites described, including acknowledgment of the traditional owners.
Many of the sites were in flood when Carroll visited. “I wanted to celebrate the river, not paint its demise,” she said at the exhibition opening on July 25. But as it becomes increasingly apparent that the implementation of the multi-billion-dollar Murray-Darling Basin Plan has failed to deliver the promised return of waters to the river and pressures such as climate change impact on the system, advocacy continues to be needed. “This is about ecological justice for the species of the rivers, social justice so fresh water gets to the people who need it, and cultural justice for the traditional custodians throughout the Basin,” said Carroll.
This is an absorbing exhibition. Hosted by the Sisters of Saint Joseph at Mary Mackillop Place, it is strongly integrated into the mission of both to care for the Earth. Museum staff have developed an educational program for Catholic school students, who will visit throughout the remainder of the year. It is an example of “integral ecology” – the interconnectedness of environmental, social, economic, political, cultural and ethical issues espoused in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato ‘Si: On Care for Our Common Home.
Speaking at the opening, Jacqui Rémond, co-founder of the Global Catholic Climate Movement and former director of Catholic Earthcare Australia, drew attention to signs of hope: the increasing profile given to the plight of the Murray-Darling in the media, more sustainable agricultural practices such as regenerative farming, international efforts such as the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. “Ecological conversion” is coming about.
Journey to Water is open to the public until December 1, 10am to 4pm daily at the Mary Mackillop Place Museum, 7 Mount Street, North Sydney (entry $10/$8 concession/child and family prices available).
“I hope you will see the spiritual, social and ecological need to save this river. I hope we can this time,” said Carroll.