Green Turtle Dreaming records the complex traditional relationships and mythology of the turtle in indigenous communities of Australia and neighbouring islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Images and sounds drawn from contemporary life explore the ancient roots and belief systems of these diverse communities. The bilingual project celebrates common links whilst acknowledging the distinct cultural practice and traditions of the many people who have contact with this migratory species. Green Turtle Dreaming came to reflect an understanding of the turtle to be far more than a source of food - it documented human tragedy, experiences of earthquake, tsunami, displacement, shipwreck and the turtle's role as the hero, the rescuer and the wise one.
The project involved–as a priority–communities in which resources are limited, and not who usually included in formal cultural exchanges. The visits to each site was by invitation of the communities. Interested artists, musicians and elders offered material that they are comfortable to have included in the project. At all stages contributing communities have monitored the use, placement and interpretation of all visual and sound material collected.
Preparation for visits was initiated through the appropriate channels in each country. Extensive discussion and planning in Indonesia and Australia has been essential at all levels of government, with non-government organisations and with individuals working in marine science, the arts, education and conservation.
The time required to establish relationships, source additional development and touring funding, acquire new skills, return all recordings to all participants, clear copyright, organise an exhibition tour, design catalogues etc has seen the project run from 2002-2005.
The exhibition was designed to be of interest to larger urban audiences and to the remote communities who so generously shared their stories and songs. It opened at the Western Australian Museum in Perth and has since travelled to the Geraldton Museum, Kalgoorlie Museum and the Sarawak Museum in Malaysia. In 2006 it will travel to the Munupi Arts Centre on Melville Island, the Cairns Regional Art Gallery, Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island, the Darnley Island Cultural Centre and the Geelong Gallery.
The project has become a vehicle for community cultural development, education and environmental conservation addressing issues of bio-diversity, indigenous rights, traditional relationships with endangered species and role of stories in oral history. This is the first time artists, musicians and storytellers from the Eastern islands of Indonesia have participated in an arts-based project with Australia. Links are well established with Java, Bali, Sumatra and Sulewesi but there has been little interest in Eastern Indonesia - its isolation and lack of infrastructure are a challenge and a barrier to the development of such links. Many of the stories contributed came from the older people generously sharing an inner knowledge with those outside the community. Sadly much of the material collected documenting significant stories, songs and images is at risk of being lost as television assumes the role of storyteller. The interest of outsiders in the stories generated great pride and has helped to reinforce their value within the communities.
The richness of the stories is their importance to each of the communities today. The Balinese, Bugis, Bajo and the people of Sumba, Alor, Komodo, Palue, Melville, Darnley and Christmas Island communities are in constant change. International politics, changing boundaries and mass communication have imposed great change upon the many peoples who have settled the remote islands connected by the Southern Equatorial currents. Issues of fishing rights, displacement and the guardianship of the sea challenge all; the fisherman, the weaver and the elders in each of the communities. The stories illustrate the law of the elders and are a reminder of the universal need for balance.
Australia sits on the edge of a vibrant and creative arts community who exists independently of Australia. This project offers a collaborative model for working across cultural and economic barriers where artists and musicians working in neighbour countries encounter the huge economic gulf between themselves and wealthy neighbours. Central to the Green Turtle Dreaming project was a vision for greater and broader mutual understanding between communities in Australia and Indonesia and for increased awareness in both countries of the fragile state of our shared environment. Green Turtle Dreaming was created at a grass roots level but has found an audience in museums across Australia and the region.
Green Turtle Dreaming is a pilot project for the Australia-Indonesia Arts and Community Program, supported by the Australia Council and Asialink with further support to develop the project provided by Myer Foundation, The Mullum Trust and The Wettenhall Foundation, Arts Victoria and Visions Australia.
The concept for the project originated with artist Susan Barlow, musician/ composer Melanie Humphrey and NAATI translator Richard Barlow. It was the generosity and support of the communities on Christmas Island, Melville Island, Darnley Island and the many small islands of Eastern Indonesia that enabled the project to exist. These are their stories.
In May 2005 Green Turtle Dreaming Project was awarded a Museums Australia Publication Design Award for the exhibition catalogue and a Museums Australia Victoria Museums Industry Recognition Award for project management.
|Migration Map , Susan Barlow. Watercolour.|
|Melanie Humphrey recording Frans Lars playing Sasando, (Flores)|