In The River’s Children (2013), the audience are invited to contribute white articles of clothing, which Norman washes by hand in water drawn from the Murray River*.
Known variously as Millewa, Milloo and Murrundi (among other names) to its sovereign custodians, the Murray is Australia’s longest river. For forty millennia it has supported the living cultures of the Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta, Wamba Wamba, Wadi Wadi, Barapa Barapa, Muthi Muthi, Latji Latji, Barkindji, Wergaia and Ngarrindjeri people. Running from its source at the base of Jagungal (Mt. Kosciusko) to its mouth at the Coorong, it is the source of the three rivers that define the borders Wiradjuri country, the artist’s ancestral nation.
The settlement of the fertile Murray-Darling basin was met with strong resistence from its people- resulting in conflicts that form a part of the 146 year period known as the Australian Frontier Wars. The history of colonial violence that took place along this river and its tributaries remains largely suppressed, part of a broader complex of historical denial.
As the clothes are hung out to dry, they intercept the beam of a projector, forming an unstable projection surface for a loop of hand-inscribed slides which list the names, dates and locations of every documented massacre of Aboriginal people in Australia’s colonial history. These information include official records, as well as oral accounts. As the slides tick over, the shadows and distortions caused by these objects cause the text to refract in and out of legibility.
Once dry, the performer folds the audience's garments and returns them.
In a back room, beyond the silent offerings / "1842 Evans Head" flickers up, then away / an avowal /of evil transgressions enacted upon other bodies / other dates, other / places, other sites of contestation, refutation / I know that place.../...Projected on, through, into white linen clothing hanging lifeless / alongside empty pegs strung along the wire.../...Slides with scrawled place names and dates / herald the many massacres.../...Muddy bracken water rests in a vessel beside an ancient tin bath, a washtub / All the river’s children, where have they gone, what happened here / Will the wearers feel the names and dates seared upon their skin? Brenda L Croft
*The water is drawn from Mungabareena Reserve at Albury, NSW, where the Murray bends into Wiradjuri Country. This site is a traditional meeting place for the clans of the region.The removal of the water is undertaken with the permission of the Elders of that community, according to cultural protocol.