June 12 – June 17, 2021
Caitlin Franzmann (artist) and Lynne Van Herwerden (marine biologist) sailed the waters of Whitsundays in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park of Australia with Lynne’s partner Carl. They were carried from Airlie Beach to South Molle Island and Cid Island by their 28ft fuel-free yacht, ‘Elcie Jay’. On rare occasion they relied on her solar powered engine to reach safe harbor and their own muscle power to get ‘pequeño’, the little row boat, ashore.
Having not seen each other since the Magnetic Isle Connect residency on Yunbenun in 2019, there was much to catch up on. Lynne and Carl have since retired and simplified their lives to sail the East Coast of Australia with Elcie Jay. They no longer abide to strict schedules and instead move with the elements, attuning with the wind.
In the mornings, Lynne and Caitlin steadied their seafaring legs and walked the islands. On South Molle Island, they witnessed the after effects of Cyclone Debbie that swept through the region in 2017 pulverizing coral reefs and tearing apart the backpackers resort. There was an eeriness to the dilapidated buildings and weed overgrowth of the resort, relieved by walking further in to the national park. Cascades of butterflies, twining wonga wonga vines and ridgelines of windswept grass trees were a reminder that biodiversity and cultural heritage on the island persists. Weathered signage marked histories of the place, but not all histories. The islands carry colonial names associated with a Christian feast and men who never set foot on their shores. Some names (e.g. Daydream Island) have been more recently updated to entice tourists to the ‘aquatic playground’.
The Whitsundays and the neighbouring coastal fringe are the traditional home of the seafaring Ngaro people. At least 9000 years of occupation can be traced in the stone axes and cutting tools of a stone quarry still present on South Molle Island and in the cave rock art and middens at Nara Inlet. Earlier traces were submerged during the early Holocene, when global warming and melting glaciers caused rapid sea level rise. From the mid 1800s, conflict triggered by traders and colonists, followed by forced relocation by the Native Police, dissipated traditional knowledge across the region. Despite this violence, the Ngaro people have maintained connection to their Country through the stories that travelled with their ancestors and through their ongoing spiritual relationship to the archipelago and sea.
Whilst being gently rocked by the ocean, Lynne shared her continued involvement in research around the risks of microplastic contamination in marine organisms and how natural hybridization in marine fish species may hold value in conserving biodiversity, particularly on coral reefs in global decline. They discussed how to live and travel with respect for all life and with as little impact as possible. With only a bucket as a toilet, the conversation naturally moved to dealing with human waste and compost. From a toilet flush in an urban centre, they traced the journey of human waste to the rivers and ocean. Carl shared the successes of his home experiments with ‘humanure‘.
On the deck, Caitlin learned how to tie essential sailing knots – clove hitch, bowline, double hitch, square knot, sheet bend. In the context of sailing, knots need to be secure and easily released. Whilst practicing, a question arose ‘How can we hold what we value dearly without limiting movement and change?’ The ocean knows.
They shared poetry. Following is Lynne’s ode to Elcie Jay, which is also an ode to her elemental friends.
Because relationships are to be nurtured and what better way to share our time and concerns than on Elcie Jay, moving with the body of water we care for.
Because names carry stories. We must ask those whose ancestors occupied and managed this place for thousands of years what stories belong, and take time to listen to their response. In addition to listening, we must follow and support traditional custodians in ensuring that environmental and cultural heritage of their Country remains healthy for future generations.
Because as visitors play, the Great Barrier reef is in danger of losing its World Heritage listing and the Australian government is in denial about Climate Change. As of 2020, the biggest source of greenhouse gases in Australia were emissions during the combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity.
Because activism operates at all levels and across disciplines. Learning to deal with our own shit is a great start.
Because just like the wind in the sails, poetry can move us. Words that speak of bodies can be felt in the bodies of others.
Caitlin Franzmann, Lynne Van Herwerden and Carl Van Wyck
By ‘dancing to the tune of the sea’.