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Ghost nets

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Jellyfish (2012) by Romena Edwards
Jellyfish (2012) by Romena Edwards

This mysterious work by a young Pormpuraaw artist, Romena Edwards, was spotted at the 2012 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. Pormpuraaw Art and Cultural Centre, high up on Cape York, where Edwards works, produces a wide range of art including carvings and painting, but also examples of ghost net art. I was looking for work that could be displayed in the Museum's upcoming exhibition Working on Country/Caring for Country which will be opening in January 2014. The exhibition will look at the different ways that people take care of their country, and their country takes care of them. One of the stories the exhibition will tell is that of the GhostNets Australia (GNA) program and the communities that are working to free their seas and shores from these destructive items.

What are ghost nets? They are commercial fishing nets that have been abandoned at sea. They may have been lost or they may have been deliberately discarded. But, they still move throughout the ocean, carried by the currents, trawling the water and indiscriminately catching fish and other sea creatures. Washed up on shore, these nets become traps for birds and shore animals. The Commonwealth Government has funded GNA to help clear northern Australian waters of this dangerous waste.

The project employs local rangers to help clear the shores of nets and engage in other activities that are intended to care for the parts of their country on which these nets have an impact. Pormpuraaw is only one of some 20 communities around northern Australia that are working in this area.

Community Rangers play a vital role in land and sea management. They are its linchpin and its inspiration. They are a group of highly committed and energetic individuals who have committed their life and soul to the Caring of their Country. Richard Barclay, former senior ranger, Napranum Queensland.

Once the nets are cleared from country, Edwards and other artists are taking this material and turning it into art. Ghost net art featured in Cairns at this year's art fair, with works from bags to birds to a threemetre squid on display. Edwards' work is special because she has left some of the original net visible, so it appears that the jellyfish has been caught up in the net, just as happens to so many sea creatures. For us at the Museum, the work is a powerful way of showing visitors the damage caused by these ghost nets, and how the art is made from the nets.

Jay Arthur Curator, ATSIP