Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival.

There were many visitors to the ghost net workshop at the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival 2014. Photo by Greg Adams.

Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival

The City of Melbourne invited Ghost Net Art Project to run a two day public workshop at Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival in February this year. It was a wonderful opportunity to visit Melbourne, meet local artists and share the ghost net story with a new audience.

Ghost Net Art Project team Sue Ryan and Greg Adams met up with Torres Strait artists Angela Torenbeek (Moa Island) and Georgia Curry and her daughter Kelly Beckley (Hammond Island) to run the workshop in a large marquee set up at Birrarung Marr behind Federation Square on the banks of the Yarra River. Despite the fact that the temperature exceeded 40 degrees on both days the marquee was surprising comfortable with big industrial fans helping to cool us down.

We were thrilled to have Melbourne fibre artist Ilka White join us for the workshop. Ilka had been involved in a month long Ghost Net Art Project workshop at St Pauls village on Moa Island in 2010 which culminated in a ghost net puppet performance and was recorded in the film 'The Young Man and the Ghost Net'. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to work with Ilka again. Well known indigenous Victorian fibre artist Vicki Couzens, renowned for her possum skin cloaks, also joined us to help facilitate the workshops.

Kelly and Georgia worked with people attending to make a ghost net bags. Many people made little bags to carry their water bottles around their necks so they could walk around the festival hands free. The little bags were decorated by weaving rope and string through the net and attaching sprays of rope feather flowers. Angela taught people how to make colourful turtle brooches, so quite a few of those were pinned to their makers by the time they left the marquee.

The rest of us worked on a ghost net sculpture of an Eastern Long-necked Turtle to leave with the City of Melbourne before returning back to North Queensland. Considering how hot it was we were surprised how many people attended the workshops. There was such a great energy in the marquee with lots of laughing and storytelling, reuniting with old friends and making new ones, not to mention making wonderful things out of marine rubbish.

Photo below: Collaborative Eastern Long-Necked Turtle sculpture now in the City of Melbourne collection.

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Ghost Net Art Project would like to thank the City of Melbourne for the opportunity to participate in the festival. We really enjoyed ourselves while we were there and thrilled to have the opportunity to raise public awareness about the issue of ghost net and marine debris. Angela, Georgia and Kelly enjoyed having the opportunity to share some of their Torres Strait Island culture too. Art has been such a useful tool to present this issue to the public.

I have noticed that more people now know about ghost nets now than did when we started the project in 2009. Ghost Net Art Project began as an initiative of GhostNets Australia and operated under the umbrella of GhostNets Australia until the end of June 2013 when, sadly, funding for the art side was curtailed. Since then Ghost Net Art Project has operated on a fee for service basis. We use a range of indigenous and mainstream artist facilitators from all around Australia and are available for community workshops and events. While GhostNets Australia and Ghost Net Art Project now operate separately we continue to work hand-in-hand.

Story by Sue Ryan.