This website is best viewed on a computer or tablet
“The Crying Post Project: Post #1, On the Road to Lake Mungo.” New South Wales, Australia.
Post Notes

I suppose that it’s the flies which are the thing you notice most. The question is why are they there in the middle of a desert, what are they living off of?

In the winter of 2001 I was invited to participate in the 4th Mildura Palimpsest Art and Science Symposium. I was asked to give a lecture and put up a piece of art. I used this opportunity to begin a project that I’d been thinking about for some time. This being The Crying Post Project. Mildura is kind of in the northwest corner of Victoria which is the southernmost state in Australia. It’s a small city with several nearby towns devoted to farming or grape-growing for wine. All of this is supported by irrigation from the nearby Murray river. I’m not quite certain, why or how Mildura has such a vibrant art event (other than the indefatigable spirit of the organizers), seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but artists and scientists from all over the country were there. Many, if not most, of the artists referenced issues of the environment. The scientists were more depressed about the future than the artists.
We drove north from Melbourne in a rental car with a long piece of PVC pipe sticking (carrying the post) out of the passenger side window. We arrived at the museum mid-afternoon, and shortly later Ian Hamilton, the head curator of the exhibit, came by to take us to the site he had found for the post. We very quickly found ourselves on unpaved roads in the middle of nowhere. It couldn’t have been more perfect. We found a small hill to use as the site. Nearby there were Galah birds acting goofy on a wind vane. Setting up the post began as the sun was setting. Fortunately for me Ian had brought along a friend (Leo) and some other artists had turned up, and they all helped in digging the hole, while I was putting the post together. It went up smoothly, but as it was finally dark, I wouldn’t know until the next morning whether the "crying device" would actually work correctly.
And then the flies were always there, huge swarms of them, and they would crawl all over your face and hair. I kept trying to move slowly, to keep them on my body -- stirring them up was even worse. That evening and all the next day as I photographed and videotaped, they never left. The next morning was seriously overcast, yet the device worked just fine from the indirect light. I now had the first Crying Post up and working.
Culture is life and death.

My name is Mary Tarran. My traditional name is Gurnid. I was born in Ngarlanbur (Beagle Bay Mission). I’m proper salt-water woman belong to Dampier Peninsula. I live in Broome. This area belongs to my grandfathers’ people. They were Yawuru people. One of my grandfathers, my nyami (my mother’s father) was Minyirr jarnu--belong Minyirr (Gantheaume Point)! He was born at the foothills of town water tank near where the prison now stands. His father belong to Mararr mob, across the bay, Jungu side (Thangoo Station). His mother come from Minyirr. Her father belong to Minyirr and her mother belong to Minarriny (Jaburrjabirr country). The totem for Minyirr is the burrumbarr (blue-bone fish). They spoke the Jungan dialect belong Yawuru.
My galu, father’s father, was born under a tree. Later his father died there, and my galu’s son, my father, was born under that very same tree. Even though he was born on the outskirts of settled Broome, his mother came from Wallaning (Coconut Well area) and his father came from Yalanbanun, south of Broome in the Jungu area. 
My grandmother, my mimi, was born on the tidal flats, marshlands, of the Nurragun (Carrot Bay). She was JabirrJabirr. Both her parents was JabirrJabirr, Wallai and Nelagumia. My mimi was last of the full-blood JabirrJabirr. She passed away in 1984.

My gurli, my father’s mother, she was born on Ewany (Sunday Island). Her father comes from Gumbarnan--Bardi country in the One Arm Point area. And her mother comes from Ungalian (Long Island) in the King Sound --Jawi.

I first started to think about the protection of cultural property when I became committed to protecting the country from developments. When I wanted to look after country I realised I had to give out cultural information, myself and my family. We knew people would come to us, being the traditional owners.

If you just look at the country, at the natural environment, it holds plenty of information. The country in the Aboriginal sense is like a book--you learn to read the country -- and you respect it, you grow up with it, and it’s good for your inner being, what we call liyan.

I grew up knowing what place I had the right to speak for. Not only people in my community but people from surrounding areas who were in contact with our people during law time and cultural activities, they knew as well, that there’s no conflict about who had the right to speak. In Aboriginal society when people mix together they know who is who and who can speak for what area.

Old people were starting to get very concerned about what was happening to the country so they more or less turned to us young people to help them and guide them because we can relate to gadiya, or non-Aboriginal people. For instance, when they started to fill in the creek to make way for the new shopping centre in Chinatown, they had to pile in dirt which didn’t belong to that area. They put pindan, the red soil, there instead of having the sand from close by, from Garl-garl, its proper mangrove, tidal creek swamp country. Pindan is soil from the bush.

The way they were making way for real estate everywhere was of concern too. Houses and shopping centres over all -- just raping country! The belief I had --believing that all that has been taught to me wasn’t being looked after. It wasn’t because I had the power to stop it, but because I was helpless. I had a responsibility.

One proposed development was the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Farm on marshlands close to the Dampier Creek and One Mile Reserve. This was an issue where people got together and said "enough is enough -- we have to stop this". This is right in an area of great significance. I don’t want to say anything here that is secret or sacred because it is not my place to do so. But I know that people used to dance right through this country coming in to pick up boys waiting behind the One Mile Reserve; at least about 200 men come dancing, stirring up the earth making a big dust storm. People used to hear this thumping through the ground. The place is still significant, people still cross the other side for ceremony, and they fish there as well.

When we first found out that Malcolm Douglas wanted to put his crocodile farm there, we got all the head people together to give the relevant people, like Kimberly Land Council, enough information for them to protect it for us. My young father, my father’s brother, was then chairperson of Yawuru Corporation, he and his family protested on the site for three months. We had so many meetings with the developer, trying to make him understand that crocodiles don’t belong in our stories, so it is not important in our country, and it is something we have to keep away from our country. We felt for the safety also because crocodiles could dig themselves out of the fence and then our fishing place wouldn’t be safe. We told him many times why he couldn’t build there. When Tickner put that heritage ban on the crocodile farm, Douglas still said "You’ve given me no information --how do I know if it’s secret or sacred when you’ve given me no information -- there’s no information for me to know that".

Culture is life and death. it’s so important --what about the things that are silent, the things that we hold in secret? With Aboriginal sacred information where custodians cannot protect themselves, they can will themselves to die. They die for country. This happened to both my uncles. One paralysed himself for two years. And another one went into a big coma.

These men were important people, they were story-tellers and julangnurr (doctor men). I come from a long line of good medicine. That Minyirr place, like medicine place for my mob. All my descendants come from a long line of spiritual healers. These people are regarded as very powerful. People would walk miles to see them, or find them in their dreams, or when they used to go for ceremony.

In those days they weren’t giving out that information about country. It was a communal thing and a thing for the families and people associated with that cultural experience. they were the people that gave the forecast for hunting, whether it was the sea or land. The jalangnurr would advise people about important events like pregnancy and spirit-beings.

The knowledge that my uncles had was only given at the right time so that we can protect the country and the people that hold the information; because they are tied together. It was a gift to give at the right time. It was the biggest gift because you had this very special knowledge. 

Mary Tarran from Tracking Knowledge in North Australian Landscapes: studies in indigenous and settler ecological knowledge systems edited by Deborah Rose Bird and Anne Fiona Clark 

A Dead Heart
Australia --The driest vegetated continent on the Earth --a "sunburnt country" in which more than two-thirds of the land is classed as arid, and half is desert. An Island continent with a dead heart that supports an amazing desert-adapted fauna and flora. A land of marsupial, fine-tuned to the vagaries of fickle climate --where floods and drought, food and famine alternate relentlessly, with lean years in between; and of eucalypt-dominated woodlands and forests; of mulga-lands and spinifex on glowing red sands.

This insular Australia, whose coasts are washed by three major oceans, is the youngest continent, yet it is composed of some of the oldest rocks known on Earth and has the longest fossil record of any land. In terms of geological time it has a short history as a separate entity. About 45 million years ago it severed its last connection with Antarctica, the keystone of Gondwana the great southern supercontinent, and started its independent journey northwards. 
After the Greening/ Mary E. White
Post Place
S 34° 02.404'
E 142° 20.007'
Elevation 67 m (220')

This site is located in the Mallee district of the Murray Basin Plains. The most noticeable distinguishing features of the Mallee are the soils, vegetation and topography. It is not a perfect plain, but exhibits broad low ridges and depressions which appear to be due to folding and faulting of the underlying rocks. Sand ridges tending due east and west are an indication of a former more arid climate, but they are now fixed by vegetation. Streams that enter it lose so much water by evaporation and percolation that they fail to reach the Murray River, and terminate in shallow lakes, many of which are salty.

In very general terms it can be said that the Murray Basin Plains consist of pedocals (i.e., soils with lime in the profile). The soil is also deficient in phosphate. Soils of the Murray Basin Plains consist of the red-brown earths of the northern plains (often neutral silty loams over alkaline clays), the deep grey calcerous clays (chernozm-like soils) of the Wimmera, the alkaline sandy loams of the Mallee and the sands of the "Desert" areas in the north west of Victoria. 
Rainfall is about 250 mm/year (10 inches). In the summer the average temperature is 24° C (75° F); the winter 5° C (40° F). 
Victorian Yearbook and other sources
The Web of Life
It is hard for most of us, the vast majority of the Australian population, in the comfort of our urban homes, in green gardens, with water on tap, to accept that our continent is in trouble. It may seem like an overstatement, and a highly emotive one at that, to suggest that our management of the continent is steadily turning more of it to unproductive desert and making the rest more fire-prone. We do not want to see that the environmental degradation we have caused has reached crises proportions. We do not like to admit that we could be so accelerating the "natural" processes which have been making a drier, more fiery and more salt-afflicted land that the time is not far off when the title of this chapter [Turning the Island Continent into a Desert Island] will no longer surprise us. 
But a new awareness is obvious in our society and we are beginning to see that resources are not infinite, Nature is not unendingly forgiving and there is a price to pay for blundering on with the attitude that everything is here for our use and we have a god-given right to exploit and satisfy our greed.

Long ago, civilised people lost their connection with the web of life that supports them and maintains the planet as a life-supporting and life-enriching whole. Now, when gross global over-population is the basic problem from which most others stem, we are seeing the results that come from one species’ dominance and the destruction of balance in the Earth’s biota. In the Australian context we find we have a continent degraded by inappropriate use --its soils eroded, salt-affected or destroyed over large areas and its vegetation fast degrading in consequence; its precious water resources polluted; its native animals becoming endangers and extinct. We are taking notice at last because the degradation affects the economy, threatens our comfortable existence and in the case of water pollution (and atmospheric pollution in cities) affects our health.

James Lovelock’s Gaia, the concept of the Earth acting like an enormous living organism with all its systems, organic and inorganic, in a state of dynamic balance, encapsulates for many of us the way we need to see the world and our place in it. A "soft Gaian" approach, which an increasing number of scientists accept, removes Gaia from the realms of philosophy and theology with an implied consciousness that deliberately keeps conditions life-friendly --which was part of James Lovelock’s original thinking. Accepting the basic tenets we see that the essential balances that control the system are the product of interaction of all living things and the environment through unimaginable lengths of time. 
Only the immensity of geologic time can have brought about the amazingly wonderful adaptations of living things to their individual environments and specialized niches and have woven them into a fabric that forms a living and dynamic whole. To fail to see and respect the importance of interdependence of all the fragments from the sub-microscopic to the large macroscopic is a road to disaster. Gaia, the Living Earth, is only healthy when balance is maintained in and between all the systems it comprises. 
The least acceptable part of the degradation and misuse of land has been that which results from careless and unintended side-effects of settlement. These range from garbage and toxic waste disposal to the enormous and seemingly unsolvable problem of feral animals. 
The rabbits, goats, pigs, horses, donkeys, buffalo and camels constitute the feral herbivores problem, literally eating Australia to death with attendant damage to soils and impact on native fauna. All the feral animals are desert-makers. Their addition to the sheep and cattle that are doing the same thing in the marginal grazing lands (a large proportion of the rangelands) results in the physical advance of deserts into arid lands and of arid lands into semi-arid. The overall degradation of vegetation and soils in all the ecosystems involved is a cumulative process, a creeping malaise.

No longer does "she’ll be right when it rains", the perennial reply of pastoralists apply. Anyone who has travelled along dingo fences in the dead centre of this land after rain can see how desert is made. The meagre response of vegetation on the protected side where dingoes roam and no sheep graze, and the lifeless side where grazing has destroyed the native seed-bank and there is nothing to regenerate the time-worn land, are stark reminders.

Over vast tracts of the inland deserts it is the case of "where have all the flowers gone?", and where the desert still blooms we must protect ephemerals from grazing so that they may replenish their seed-banks and be there in other wet seasons for our children. For much of the land it is too late.

Our native wildlife is under siege, eaten or out-competed by invaders; dispossessed by the loss of its habitats; often disadvantages by vegetation changes caused directly or indirectly by humans. Even the structure of invertebrate society is changed by aliens like the honey bee. 
Much of the change we have to accept because we have no option and it is too late. Where we still have a chance to hold back the tide and even to win back a little of the ground we have lost we must fight with all our strength. A land without wombats; without wild free flocks of budgies wheeling over spinifex; without numbats busily scratching for termites in the forests of Western Australia to which they have been restored; without sugar gliders on Banksia flowers, would be for me a poor substitute for the wide brown land of my experience. 
After the Greening/ Mary E. White
The Story of the Crying Policeman
My father was a Victorian policeman from 1922 until 1946. He spent a long spell of duty at Echuca and he was there when the Deniliquin and Balranald railway spurs were constructed.

The rail workers came to Echuca to spend their earnings and let off steam. My father made 343 arrests on average in those years. He was a good and conscientious policeman. During 1937-1938, when I was seven or eight years old, he would sometimes come off duty and, as was his custom, sit on a stool outside our kitchen and take his helmet off. On occasions he would be crying and sobbing like a child, I would be upset to see such a strong man cry and I asked him why. He said he would not tell me as I was too young to understand but he would tell me when I grew up. What he did say then was: "Son, don’t ever be a policeman, it’s a dirty job."

After he left the force, when I was about 16 years old, he and I were camping on a fishing trip and we were sitting around the campfire. I had often thought about how Dad cried years ago so I asked him would he tell me the reason. He told me that when he went on duty those mornings his sergeant would order him to accompany two welfare officers to Cumragunga, a mission station, to give them bodily protection when they entered nice clean simple homes of half-caste people and bodily removed 9, 10, 11 and 12-year-old children from loving mothers and fathers into commandeered taxis. They were then taken to the Echuca railway station and sent to the far reaches of NSW and Queensland. They were farmed out to wealthy businessmen and graziers. No doubt a few were treated well but the rest would be thrown on the human scrap-heap when finished with.

So that was the reason my father cried on those days. 
Ms Hanson, Mr Fischer and Mr Howard, when you kneel down to say your prayers tonight, thank God you don’t have a burly policeman and two welfare officers on your doorstep in the morning to take your children away.

Lang Dean,Dimboola, Melbourne Age: May 26 1997
A Land of Salt

Soil salinity, or salinisation, is a major problem confronting farmers in some regions of Australia. Primarily soil salinity occurs as part of the natural landscape (salt marshes, salt flats and salt lakes), but secondary salinity has been induced largely by agricultural practices in irrigated areas or on non-irrigated farm-land (dryland salinity). The addiction of irrigation water at a greater rate than it is used will add water to the groundwater store, causing the watertable to rise. Waterlogging has occurred initially on a large scale in the irrigated areas of the lower Murray-Darling basin where the watertable has reached the ground surface. Maximum rates of watertable rise have been recently measured at 100 mm to 500 mm per year in the south-east of the basin. Eventually, evaporation has led to the accumulation of salt in soils by the precipitation of salt derived from groundwater sources and the irrigation water applied from the rivers. In the state of Victoria, it is estimated that nearly one-third of all irrigated land is affected by salinisation.

Some southern regions of Australia which depend on precipitation for agricultural production have been severely affected by the accumulation of salts in the soil, resulting in dryland salinity and loss of productive land. Even districts with plentiful moisture, such as south-western Western Australia with over 1100 mm of annual rainfall and winter waterlogging, are affected by dryland salinity. Before the large-scale clearance of native forest and woodland for grain growing in the late 1800s, the watertable was at great depth. Although the soils and groundwater contained salts which had accumulated over geological time from precipitation inputs, deep-rooted forest trees had rates of evapotranspiration which kept the watertable below the root zone. Replacement of forest by shallow-rooted pastures and crops has meant a reduction in evapotranspiration and greater infiltration of water into the soil. This has led to a rise in the water table and the remobilisation of salts in the upper part of the soil profile which was previously unsaturated. Surface, throughflow and baseflow runoff has consequently produced waterlogging at the slope base, and the accumulation of salts by evaporation. It was estimated that approximately 2.5 million hectares of Australia were affected by dryland salinity in 1996, increasing at a rate of 3-5 per cent per year. Of this total, 1.8 million hectares are in Western Australia.

Australia and New Zealand, Economy, Society and Environment/Guy M. Robinson, Robert J. Loughran and Paul J. Tranter
A Network of Information

[Eternal Truth] is also managed by recourse to a spatial metaphor corresponding to identity with the land. By distributing information, as story, differentially throughout the society via the interlocking kinship matrix, the Warlpiri establish a network of information specialists, each maintaining some aspect --but never the whole --of the truth. Information is dispersed in time and space through a network that eventually encompasses the continent, and perhaps the world, in which each adult individual has particular, but constrained, speaking and knowing rights. Significantly, this system is not hierarchical, something extraordinarily difficult for people from class societies to appreciate.
Traditional Aboriginal graphic displays are embedded in ritual and ceremonial activities that are in many senses economic exchanges. Designs signify, among other things, rights: rights to songs, to myths, and to the land and its resources that they depict and celebrate. To display a design is to articulate one’s rights not only to the design but to all things associated with it. To see such a design, to learn about its meanings, and finally to be permitted to paint and then display it, means to be involved in an exchange in which one must reciprocate. Indeed, in many oral cultures, such knowledge may function like currency, and this knowledge is not free.

The stories that recount the Law tell of the actions of certain beings, and how they create and recreate the landscape, its resources and natural forces. The places articulated by, and which articulate, these mythic actions may be identified as "special sites," and the knowledge of these obligated the people of that country to perform certain actions there to renew (reproduce) the Law and assure the maintenance of both social and natural orders --indeed, of the complex linkages between them. This cosmic law is emergent in any given site for a Warlpiri adult. As people pass, through creek beds, over hills --once on foot, now by truck --they sing the songs and tell the stories and figure the designs that invoke the local portion of the Law. Just as people are positioned in a complex web of kinship that can be traced extensively to encompass distant communities, stories are positioned in the extensive landscape, ultimately girding the continent.

Bad Aboriginal Art: Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons/ Eric Michaels
People are like trees

People are like trees, Old Jimmy said; they must be grounded. Dreaming trees speak to issues of space and time, and to women and men separately. Dreamings who are trees are fixed in place. Trees are alive and conscious and must be protected. Yarralin people use plant metaphors frequently in talking about change, relatedness and continuity, as do people in Papua New Guinea and south east Asia. Trees provide a model of asexual reproduction, and thus are particularly salient markers of unilineal descent lines. 

Old Tim spoke of tree deaths associated with the deaths of men who were responsible for the country in which those trees grew. People expect that a new tree will grow to take the place of the dead tree. The growth of a new Dreaming tree is linked to the growth of new members of the patriline who will replace the old members. For men trees address the essential male problematic: the construction of patrilines. 

Some Dreaming trees are specifically male and overtly salient to the process of male reproduction. Lingara is the Dreaming site for an edible grass seed which was once, before it became rare, an important food resource. The Lingara Dreaming tree has been dead for some years. It stood there, straight and grey, waiting, Daly said, until Riley Young who is the patrilineal owner of the place should have a son. When he did, people began to look for the new tree which will take over from the old dead one. 

A billabong near Lingara is a Dreaming place for the karu, or children, who travelled in great long tracks and are the responsibility of men. The karu might be best understood to be uninitiated males of any age. 

Other Dreaming trees are identified as female and are managed exclusively by women. In some (not all) instances, female Dreaming trees and their surrounding area are forbidden to men. Some trees are associated with birth, being sites from which women get babies. Birth is a process which women control unambiguously. More powerfully, Dreaming trees speak to the female problematic of producing lines of women that are spatially fixed.

Dingo Makes Us Human/ Deborah Bird Rose
Copyright © 2022 Strategic Technologies for Art, Globe and Environment