For Week 3 of the Children’s Art and Writing course, the children listened to three stories from the Dreamtime creation myths of Aboriginal culture: How the kangeroo got her pouch, Barramundi, (how the fish came to be in the waters), and a Kunwinjku Dreamtime Story of the long-necked turtle and the echidna, telling why they live in separate places. The children learnt about animals from Australia they had never heard of such as the wombat and the spiny anteater (echidna). They painted and drew their own images from the stories after looking at examples of aboriginal art for inspiration.
The children learned how every hill, water hole and tree, living creature and natural phenomenon was believed to have come into existence in the Dreamtime. They learned how everything about aboriginal society is inextricably woven with, and connected to, land.
In Esme’s story, the great god Byamee, who had been in disguise as a wombat, goes into a bar to celebrate his discovery of the creature with the kindest heart. The sky spirits speak to each other in secret symbols.
October. The bike and I take shelter under the awning of the Summerhouse cafe in the park to wait out the heavy downpour. I order coffee and join the other stranded folk watching the water bounce off the picnic tables and slide down the sides of a plastic ice-cream the size of a child. It seems to have been raining for weeks.
I think about a film I saw recently – Blade Runner 2049. It presents a terrifying dystopia in which organic life has been all but extinguished, and everything is commodified. I wonder for a moment how prescient sci-fi writers like Philip K. Dick were, and what’s going to happen to us when the ice caps melt. Shouldn’t we be taking to the streets to protest against fossil fuels or something?
A collie dog shivers at the feet of an old man in a cap. We sip our coffee synchronously, the man and I. Snatches of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition strain through speakers that are screwed to a post next to a CCTV eye. One of the cardboard skeletons strung along the front of the awning has its arm hooked up in green cotton wool that is sprinkled with plastic spiders. You find it festooned copiously all over the shops at this time of year, a prelude to the tinsel.
I crumple up my cardboard coffee cup and deposit it in the bin. The rain hasn’t lessened a bit; it is falling sheets of pins dissolving on impact with the tarmac. The old man and I exchange a glance.
It’s in for the day, he says. No point in waiting.
He pulls up the collar of his jacket, gives the peak of his cap a small tug downwards and steps out, the dog slinking at his heels.
For this five week course, we are sharing stories, poems and art from ancient cultures around the world. This week, we looked at Māori culture and the story of Maui the demi-god who pulls up Te Ika a Maui (known today as the North Island of New Zealand), with his magic fishing hook. The slashes and cuts made by his brothers fighting over the land were said to have created the many mountains and valleys of the North Island today.
After listening to the story and looking at some images of Maori sculpture and art (rich in symbolic pattterns), the children drew some pictures in their books and wrote down some ideas for their own stories, such as imagining what else may have been hooked on the magic fishing hook, and how Maui felt when his brothers refused to take him fishing.
After the break, the children chose one of their drawings to develop into a print. We used styrofoam to etch into, ran the ink over it and printed it – one to take home, and one for their books. They then worked on their own stories. There was no pressure to read them out, but the children enjoyed sharing their ideas and knowledge about myths in general. Most didn’t know much about Maori culture, but lots about the Greek myths, which we agreed to investigate next week. One boy decided to write part two of his story when he got home.
I’m exhibiting a digital photo portrait ‘Matilda’ from my Mothers series of a remarkable woman in this exhibition, accompanied by a poem, ‘Goddess – My Mother with Parkinson’s who dreams vividly at night’, by Toni-Ann La-Crette.