Simon Normand – Commissioned to paint map of Roper River

In the Arnhem Land community of Ngukurr, elder Clarry Rogers is worried plans to allocate water to new gas fracking and cotton industries could damage his important dreaming and bush tucker sites along the Roper River.

“I’m pretty concerned about it, that’s why we want to [have] our voice heard, I know cotton takes a lot of water,” he said. “The level of the water [we believe] could drop and then we’ll be suffering because we won’t be getting any flows from the Roper.” Other Indigenous communities along the river’s 300 kilometres, in its 81,000 square kilometre catchment, are also concerned.

A group has banded together to raise attention to the issue, commissioning Melbourne artist Simon Normand to paint a 13-metre map petition of the river. Ngukurr elder, Robin Rogers, said he said he felt the images were more powerful than words. “That maps tells everything, it’s just like a bible,” he said. “It’s the map of the dreamings, like kangaroo, mermaid and goanna. “So white men can understand what we’re talking about.”

Mr Normand travelled through communities including Ngukurr, Jilkminggan and Minyerri, to ask traditional owners what dreamings they would like added to the map.

“The main thing we’re trying to show is that it’s a united voice,” he said.

“It’s really about the communities having the opportunity to voice their belief system in a way that shows the connection to country in such a huge region. “There’s eight different language groups all represented on the one river, and I think that’s why it’s so powerful.”

Clarry Rogers said the group would present the Roper River map to federal ministers in Canberra.

“When it’s all finished and it’s ready to be presented to the federal government, I’m willing to go to Canberra with Simon and other traditional owners from the area that we’re supposed to be looking after,” he said. “We will be talking to the politicians and explaining that it will affect us if the water is taken from the Roper, that we will suffer.”

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Australian Galleries is thrilled  to announce that Simon Normand will be exhibiting an extensive new body of work for the first time with our Melbourne gallery in February 2024.

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