Acts of Cod

Fragments exhibtion opening in Narrandera, pic by Western Riverina Arts
Five years ago the Fragments exhibition opened in Narrandera

Jason with Freddo, pic by Eden
I was invited by Hape Kiddle to develop a sculpture and we collaborated on Freddo Frog, which was my comment about how companies appropriate nature and that natural response of delight when seeing similar amphibians.

However, the anniversary is an interesting coincidence as recently I've been reflecting on the Fragments exhibtion that Hape curated as I've been focused on researching Murray Cod.

It's a long story, so let me try and make sense of it.

The fragments that formed the exhibition were offcuts from a River Red Gum that Hape Kiddle sculpted into a Murray Cod for the National Museum of Australia.

He offered big chunks of timber to local artists and asked them to use these for the exhibition, while he worked on the sculpture.

Last weekend I ended up at the Museum and went looking for Hape's Cod.

I wandered into the Great Southern Land Gallery and it was so dark that it took me a while to find the sculpture (after losing my kids), which seems squished in a glass cabinet with little detail (but that highlights how bad my eyesight has become).

My current interest in Murray Cod flows from an even bigger sculpture which resides in the museum where I work.

"Gugabul" was offered by Pete Ingram to be part of the Ngurambang exhibition that I curated for Griffith Regional Art Gallery, until we realised it wouldn't fit through the door.

Pete had built the massive Murray Cod sculpture for the Hands On Weavers and it was exhibited in Wagga's art gallery last year.

Since I am working again as a curator at Griffith Pioneer Park Museum, I offered for Gugabul to become the centrepiece for an exhibit about Murray Cod.

In recent years this vulnerable fish has become a premium aquaculture product and, depending on my route, I can pass a couple of hatcheries on the drive between home and work.

So I've been researching Murray Cod and they are fascinating.

Like Emu, they're another Australian icon where the father protects and raises their offspring.

These fish are an apex predator in rivers throughout the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Murray Cod plays a role in the creation of those rivers for many First Nations and the best documented example describes the Murray River, in a story that is told along much of its length.

In the Dreaming, the hero Ngurunderi chased "Ponde" the Cod and the bends in the river were created as it swept its tail.

With help from family Ngurunderi finally caught Ponde in Lake Alexandria, where the fish was cut up and the pieces thrown into the water.

These fragments of cod became the other species of native fish, until the head remained and it was thrown back to continue being Ponde.

So after five years I have a greater appreciation for Hape's exhibition and the way he interpreted the Dreamtime story of the Murray Cod, by sharing fragments of his arts practice to inspire other artists.

There's always a variety of meanings to take from Dreamtime narratives and it's significant that Ngurunderi needs assistance from his family to capture Ponde, as well as his recognition that you can't eat all the fish.

Colour of my passion

My brother has a pair of Sansui speakers in his living room

Their distinctive red cloth covers have faded to something closer to orange and one is positioned behind a couch, so I reckon they don’t get much use for producing sound but are supporting some furniture and stuff.

Looking at them I can imagine how the Sansui branding spins on a pin that I’ve twisted many times and sometimes withdrawn, then sought the hole they rest in with a mild panic that I might’ve broken them.

They once belonged to my father, so I’m sure to leave everything as I found it in case it gets me into trouble for using it.

I also know how the speaker cover detaches from the cabinet holding the paper cones and it doesn’t take much imagination for me to feel the texture of their cloth on my mouth.

That fabric is rough against my lips and gums with a bitter taste like dust.

The speakers are over half a century old and I suspect they had a formative role in my life.

There are photos somewhere of my baby-self in another living room at that point when one does a swimming movement to cross carpet while developing the coordination to properly crawl.

I can remember the sunlight streaming through the windows onto the bookshelves, pot plants and a pair of blue couches that formerly belonged to my grandparents.

When I did become mobile I am sure that I moved toward the bright red shape and the sound it produced.

When I look around my own living room I can see multiple sets of speakers, as well as musical instruments and the paraphernalia that goes with recording them.

I ponder whether the red Sansui speakers created my obsession with recorded sound.


Light at the Museum

I walked into a training session yesterday and overheard someone say "he looks like a curator"

One of the best things about returning to work at the Museum has been the feeling that this is where I should be working.

Another thing I like is this council have an excellent HR section.

Different councils do things differently, but the fact that I've done multiple training sessions and only just got past my employee probation is one sign of an organisation that invests in their staff.

One sneaky thing they did was to give me gifts when I completed that three-month probation.

I can recognise that unsolicited gifts generate goodwill, which is something council normally remind staff about for the risk of corruption.

The fact they are trying to use this technique in a way that produces a psychologically-demonstrated effect in employee behaviour is something that I can admire and revile in equal measure. 

That's equal opportunity for you!

Return to portals

This is one of those Saturn Returns stories and begins with a dream in 2016

I had begun work as a curator and fell into a swine flu fever.

There was one sleep where I was walking among River Red Gums and saw human-shaped scars on the trunks, then realised people had gone through these doorways.

About a month later I saw this painting by Veronica Collins at Griffith Regional Art Gallery called 'Through the Port Holes' and spoke with Ray Wholohan about inviting her to be part of an exhibition.

We spoke about the theme of relationships to the Riverina and she sent a letter of support.

When I told her about my dream, she laughed and said "You've been visiting my world."

It was thrilling to see her painting hanging in the Ngurambang exhibition and I hope it's the first thing you'll see when you enter the Gallery, from Wednesdays to Sundays until 20 August.

Something fishy

My museum has landed a whopping great big new exhibition!

Murray Cod are one of the largest freshwater fish in the world and an apex predator in the waterways where they live.

"Gugabul" is an impressive representation of this species and was created by the Hands On Weavers with artists Peter Ingram and Shelby-Rae Lyons-Kschenka.

Their sculpture is accompanied with a colourful animation produced by Aunty Lorraine Tye that shows a Dreamtime legend from along the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers.

This exhibition shares a variety of perspectives on Murray Cod, as well as discussing First Nations and European fishing practices.

You can also read observations from John Oxley, Charles Sturt and Mary Gilmore, as well as learning why these fish make great fathers.

In recent years Murray Cod have become a premium aquaculture product that’s grown in our region and one that has developed from the research of John Lake, who the Narrandera Fisheries Centre is named after.

Come and meet Gugabul in the Irrigation Museum building at Griffith Pioneer Park Museum.