In the shadows of Australia’s history lies a forgotten tale of environmental upheaval, as the nation’s oyster reefs teetered on the brink of extinction during what Megan Cope, a Quandamooka artist, refers to as the “first mining boom.”
The echoes of this ecological upheaval have remained silenced for generations, but now a group of artists, led by Cope, are giving voice to the once-powerless ancestors and the vanishing oyster reefs through their art.
The saga began with British colonization, which saw the wanton destruction of Indigenous people’s oyster midden heaps – accumulations of shells and bones from feasts and rituals. These invaluable artifacts were crushed to create lime slurry for construction, signaling the start of a destructive trajectory. As the colonists exhausted these shell mounds, they turned to live oysters, employing harmful extraction techniques that further decimated the reefs and traditional Indigenous ways of life.
Today, Megan Cope, with her monumental sculptural creation, aims to reclaim the stories that were eclipsed by the relentless march of history. Guiding a team of dedicated volunteers, she is meticulously cleaning and assembling around 100,000 donated oyster shells onto cypress pine poles. This powerful artwork will find its home on the steps of the iconic Sydney Opera House, a poignant reminder of the ecological richness that once graced the Eora nation’s lands.
Cope’s installation is a testament to the resilience of both nature and culture, an embodiment of the strength that art can lend to environmental advocacy. Through this creative initiative, the silenced narratives of the past rise anew, forging a path toward a more harmonious future where the voices of the land and its Indigenous custodians are heard and honored.
To delve deeper into this inspiring story and the transformative power of art, read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/22/indigenous-art-unites-australians-in-a-common-cause-abuse-of-the-ocean