On the outskirts of the Aboriginal town of Pormpuraaw – beyond the scented frangipani trees, the rows of bungalows, and the lush tropical greenery – is a mountainous rubbish tip. Locals have their own name for it: Bunnings.
As if browsing the Australian hardware store it’s named for, they pick through the tip for rubber, rope, bicycle rims. Detritus is then turned into art, woven with feathers and bones into the ocean sculptures that this remote Indigenous community has become famous for.
“Bunnings” isn’t the only source of debris. On Pormpuraaw beach, an idyllic stretch of sand flats and crushed shells located on the west coast of Cape York peninsula, plastic fishing nets wash up on shore – some kilometres long.
Thrown overboard by fishers, they are known as “ghost nets”, eerie death traps that float through the currents, entrapping and killing marine life. The nets, once cleared away, form the frame of Pormpuraaw’s ghost net sculptures, a highlight of July’s Cairns Indigenous art fair.
“It’s a particularly vile form of pollution,” says the manager of the Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre, Paul Jakubowski, 57, as he looks out to sea. “Three hundred and ninety by-species are killed in the nets, including things like sea turtles, and dolphins and whales. You’re affecting a traditional food source and a very important current food source.”
Sid Bruce Short Joe, a flamboyant artist who pairs his shaggy white beard with a red Hawaiian shirt, recalls a time growing up when sawfish, or “kapainyinh”, in his Kugu language, were plentiful. Now in his 50s, the first sawfish he has seen in years was in an aquarium in Europe, where Short Joe travelled to exhibit at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco last year (he shared a private dinner with Prince Albert II). read more