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Inland riverways exploited: artist ‘Badger’ Bates recalls how it was

Parntu Thayilana Wiiithi (Cod Eating Yabbies)
2004, Linoprint

Badger (William Brian) Bates is a Paakatji man, born in Wilcannia, NSW. Now in Broken Hill, he is well-known for his linoprints, but also works in wood, emu egg and stone carving, and metalwork.

He has spoken recently to media about the severe degradation of the Darling River due to mismanagement of water extraction and how that is destroying his country.

The following are some extracts from his discussion with Culture Victoria about tributaries and billabongs that were once full of fish that are now too polluted or have dried up completely.

Wimpatja Paakana Nhaartalana (Me fishing on the Darling River)
Wimpatja Paakana Nhaartalana (Me fishing on the Darling River)

“I was born in Wilcannia and lived all my young life in Wilcannia, just wandering up to Bourke across to Lake Yellico. I did well because I was a target to be a Stolen Generation, but my poor old grandmother, granny Moysey she outsmarted them by taking me away all the time. And then, also my young life, she learned me how to carve emu eggs and make artefacts.

(Discussing a print) …there was a woman we was with at Narran Lake. Chrissiejoy Marshall…This is the Narran River, flowing into Narran Lake. And Chrissiejoy talked about when she was young. There are lots of yabbies, fish, swarms, emus laying eggs. I done these because she was sick, and when I send her this, it’ll cheer her up. And this is falcons on Narran Lake again. And she talked about the black swan, which we called Yunguli, and her eggs are here. And I saw the swans flying away. She talked about fish and others, like cranes and that in the lake.

This one I call No More Catfish. But when I was small, the catfish would’ve been in the water. But now, with all the pollution in the Darling River and everything, I put the catfish out of the water. Today, you very seldom get a catfish. Maybe this was a carp or pollution, I don’t know. But then on the top of the print it’s just all black.

If we don’t try and look after the environment a bit more, I’d say our future is just black. We’re going to have nothing. You know? So that’s why I just do it in my artwork.

I find sometimes to go and talk to politicians, it’s just a waste of time. Getting up at a meeting and saying this is what you do, and this is what you’re doing. Because when us black people do it, lots of times we just trouble-making black people. So what I try and do is put my statement in my artwork.

And why I like working in black and white is because it puts me in mind of my mum and dad. But also, put me in mind of myself.

I always say that I got two cultures. I got a black culture, I got a white culture because of mum and dad. I’ve got two gods. Because we got, Guluwa, our dreaming, and we got Jesus Christ because I went to Catholics school. And then I got two laws, I got the black people’s law and I got the white fellows law, you know. And I respect them both.

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