In 2016, Elder Regina McKenzie and her daughter, Juanella, woke to the news that the Flinders Ranges in outback South Australia was being considered as a dumping site for nuclear waste from Scotland.
Regina, a Traditional Owner of the Flinders Ranges (Adnyamathnha), started a campaign against the plan for which she was awarded the 2016 Rawlinson Award for outstanding leadership*.
She wrote a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) – and received a response.
Juanella meanwhile contacted the National Museum of Scotland with a bark she had painted telling the story of their people coming together to share Moiety dances. She was in communication with the curator for Pacific Collections for some months before that piece was acquired. No money was exchanged, Juanella says, because she wanted it to say ‘Thank You’ for giving her Mob an international voice in telling their story of protecting their homelands. (Two of Juanella’s works had previously been acquired by National Museum of Australia when she was 18, telling stories from her homelands. These are together with her mother’s art, which tell the same stories.)
Media in Scotland have written a number of articles about the McKenzies and the issues facing them with a nuclear waste dump in the Flinders Ranges. One of these pieces made its way to USA Today (the photographs that were featured were taken by Juanella’s partner, Michael, on Yarta (Country) near the proposed site).
In Australia, the story has garnered wide exposure through The Australian, ABC, Guardian, SBS, Adelaide Advertiser, The Flinders News, the Nambucca Guardian, Green Left Weekly, Indaily, Transcontinental Port Augusta, Independent Australia.
The latest update is that there is a complaint – currently pending – to the Human Rights Commission. And featured on the cover is a painting by Regina McKenzie.
Now Regina and Juanella McKenzie’s art is to go on show in Sydney at 107 Gallery, Redfern.
Their exhibition will include a multi-media show featuring woven emu feathers, traditional seashell jewellery, carved wood and ochre/fat paintings – and tell the stories behind their art.
Women Dreaming Collective, Desert & The Sea will open 31 July and run through to 11 August 2019.
Says Juanella, “Our homeland is currently at risk, especially through the division and the risks/impacts related to the Federal Radioactive Nuclear Waste Plan. It concerns me as the risk of desecration, both tangible and intangible, to cultural sites and land “ how this has already happened and could get worse.
“The impacts on storylines and animals, water and how people feel about our country. We worry that if waste was there more could come and the long-lived material might never be moved away. I like to make my art, to tell my stories that way…to tell the stories of my homeland and my people.
“I hope that my art can help open people’s minds and hearts to us Yura (Aboriginal).”
* The other joint recipient was Micklo Corpus, a Yawuru Traditional Owner from the Kimberley region of West Australia, for his opposition to fracking.
Artist: Regina McKenzie, Juanella McKenzie
Gallery: 107 Gallery ,