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Ghost Net Art: The Story of Dauma and Garom

By: Dr Scott Mitchell, Category: Science, Date: 27 Nov 2013

The day had started normally enough, sitting around the artists’ table at the Erub Erwer Meta art centre on Darnley Island...

Chatting and laughing, the ladies were weaving together pieces of old fishing net to make a new artwork for the Australian Museum. Florence Gutchen, one of the artists, announced she wouldn’t be back after lunch. Then the bombshell: she was taking some family back to Papua New Guinea, a round trip by dinghy of more than 160 kilometres across the open ocean.

Visiting Darnley Island, you can’t help but appreciate the profound importance of the ocean in the life of the community. There are more boats than cars, fishing is a way of life, and residents speak of childhoods spent diving for pearl and trochus shells.

People still maintain and use the ancient stone fish traps that line the shores of the island and, like Florence, make surprisingly long journeys in very small boats. As another artist, Racy Pitt, said to me: ‘My heart is part in the land and part in the sea’.

The community’s love for their ocean home is certainly reflected in the Museum’s latest major cultural collections acquisition, Dauma and Garom. The works are made of abandoned pieces of fishing net (or “ghost net”), which artists use as a way of raising awareness of the environmental damage it causes. With each sculpture around 5.5m in length, they send a colourful and visually impressive message

Dauma and Garom is a story by the late George Mye about two creatures that live on Sekemed Reef off Darnley Island. Garom, the honeycomb cod, and Dauma, the mud crab, spend so much time gazing at each other under the water that they fall in love and decide to get married.

All the local animals come dancing to the wedding in a “dancing fleet” led by Tekei the flowery cod and the boss dancer Cockroach. It is a much loved local story, depicted in murals in the local primary school and the subject of its own song. You will hear the song in this film (above), and hear more about the story from its custodian John Mye.

We are planning to install Dauma and Garom in the Indigenous Ausralians Gallery in the next month or two, so be sure to come down and have a look.