Badger Bates discusses his art, his creative process and his concerns: primarily the degradation of the Darling River and the billabongs once full of fish that are now too polluted or have dried up completely.
Badger (William Brian) Bates is a Paakatji man, born in Wilcannia, NSW. He is best known for his linoprints, but also works in wood, emu egg and stone carving, and metalwork.
-I was born in Wilcannia and lived all my young life in Wilcannia, just wandering up to Bourke across to Lake Yellico. I did well because I was a target to be a Stolen Generation, but my poor old grandmother, granny Moysey she outsmarted them by taking me away all the time. And then, also my young life, she learned me how to carve emu eggs and make artifacts. While I was being taken around, I was watching a lot of people carving stuff.
I got into national parks in 1980. And then, I had to move from Wilcannia because the National Parks office was here. Then I met some other artists here and they seen some of my work. So they encouraged me to do my artwork and stuff. When I turned 57, 58, I just had enough of a national parks and just walked away from everything, just to do my artwork.
-This print here, the sculpture of it is down in the city gallery with the plesiosaurus faced toward the White Cliffs. That'll represent White Cliffs. The Ngatyi will face towards the river. That represents when Wilcannia and so with this is the past. We believe the Ngatyi is still in the river. So the past, the future and the two heads together, that's reconciliation. That's how it should be.
-This one here we done a project and there was a woman we was with at Narran Lake. Chrissiejoy Marshall. I done this print and the next one to show that I listened to her story, I listened to her poem. Back in the dreaming was this, like a giant crocodile thing. Guruwa I think they called him. Come and swallowed two women, but it was told me that the Ngatyi swallowed the woman.
-This is the Narran River, flowing into Narran Lake. And Chrissiejoy talked about when she was young. There are lots of yabbies, fish, swarms, emus laying eggs. I done these because see was sick, and when I send her this, it'll cheer her up. And this is falcons on Narran Lake again. And she talked about the black swan, which we called Yunguli, and her eggs are here. And I saw the swans flying away. She talked about fish and others, like cranes and that in the lake.
-This one I call No More Catfish. But when I was small, the catfish would've been in the water. But now, with all the pollution in the Darling River and everything, I put the catfish out of the water. This is sort of little shells that we used to kick the catfish with. The catfish liked them because they was hard to get because they had to be on the underside of a log in the river. And it was hard for the catfish to get, but we broke the shell and put on a hook, and we caught the catfish.
-So today, you very seldom get a cat fish. Maybe this was a carp or pollution, I don't know. But then on the top of the print it's just all black.
-If we don't try and look after the environment a bit more, I'd say our futures is just black. We're going to have nothing. You know? So that's why I just do it in my artwork.
-I find sometimes to go and talk to politicians, it's just a waste of time. Getting up at a meeting and saying this is what you do, and this is what you're doing. Because when us black people do it, lots of times we just trouble making back people. So what I try and do is put my statement in my artwork.
-I like using timber what is already cut down, or dead timber. Because, I can work on it and it'll come at that red color. But then, if I left it in the sun, the sun will cook it. But it won't crack. Where I can't do that with green timber, so that's why I like working with the dry timber. It's harder, but it's better to work with. And sometimes you can see the shapes of the wood, how you want it. And you just go and bring it out.
-I remember the first day I went to school and I was five year old. And I was always fascinated about rubbish and mainly rusted things. And I used to look at TV when I was a kid, said to my poor old grandmother and mom and that this can be that and that can be this. And that's why I've learnt myself to weld and make stuff.
-My backyard it's just full of rusted bits of steel and that, but I got to have bits of rubbish and that to inspire me. And that's why all this stuff is laying around here to turn to artwork one day. Like when I'm welding steel, I just through everything down on the ground or in the pavings here. Just sit and stare at it for a while then I can get it together in my mind and just pick it all up and put together.
-So these old saw blades, right, now this is the saw blade they cut the wood with. They put them in mind of echidnas see. So what I do , I draw the echidna and then I cut it all out with a plasma cutter. It comes out like that.
-You know, in some of my artwork you'll see who dad was, who mom was. So if I do a fish, I'll do a fish of our dad seen fish on the outside. So that's for dad. And then on the inside of the fish, or an emu, or kangaroo, or goanna, I'll put the intestine and everything because that's from mom's side, us because us black people we do eat the intestines out of the fish and all that.
-You know, we just use it as medicine, on dad's mob they filet the fish and cut the bone and throw it away. And why I like working in black and white is because it puts me in mind of my mom and dad. But also, put me in mind of myself.
-I always say that I got two cultures. I got a black culture, I got a white culture because of mom and dad. I've got two gods. Because we got, Guluwa, our dreaming, the we got Jesus Christ because I want to Catholics school. And then I got two laws, I got the black people's law and I got the white fellows law, you know. And I respect them both.