Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Airspace In The Dam Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm

On Thursday August 12 a large photo on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald caught my eye. It was a photo of a depleted water course or storage with an accompanying headline, 'Labor's Empty Promise'. As I stood over the piles of newspapers at my newsagency, trying to read the article, some words  made me chuckle. These words were, It is water known among irrigators as "phantom water", "virtual water" or "airspace above the dam". I immediately bought the paper so I could read the article in full.

Essentially the article was about the huge amounts of money the government has spent on buying water to return it to the distressed Murray-Darling Basin. However, the government has not bought water as such. Rather, it has bought entitlements which allow water to be allocated to the holders of these entitlements. The catch is that water is not allocated unless water levels in systems in NSW and QLD exceed a certain height. This is precipitated by good rain or flood events...neither of which occur regularly every year. So, water is not going to be returned to the Murray-Darling Basin regularly in large amounts, and stored water gets used or evaporates [particularly quickly in hot dry conditions]. However, I am sure someone, somewhere is making a lot of money out of the 'flow', real or not, of water.

It also has to be remembered that if it does rain, to break a drought, water will not immediately flow in large amounts into river systems. This is because the soil profile needs to be saturated before water will run off the ground.  

Regular readers of this BLOG know that I have long been fascinated and concerned by issues surrounding water. This is due to my upbringing on a grain farm outside Dalby and then nearly 20 years subsequently spent in Goondiwindi, further west than Dalby [Queensland, Australia]. Cotton, particularly irrigated cotton, and to a smaller degree other crops, is a major industry in the Goondiwindi district. 
In the painting Airspace Above The Dam I have taken the SMH article and rewritten it, to form the foreground landform. I have repeated 'Airspace in the Dam' to create the 'water'...phantom the dam. This text bubble tries to convince that there is some kind of $ value in emptiness, akin to the $ value placed on airspace above buildings. The sky reveals a suggestion of rain, but the viewer might well question whether it is 'real' too, because fluffy white clouds don't normally produce rain.

Phantom Water Gouache on paper 30 x 42 cm

In Phantom Water above I have painted a river or dam, as if in cross section. The 'water' is created with the words 'phantom water' written over and over again. Here, I have again used a quote from the SMH. So, water has now acquired some kind of ghost-like quality!

I have purposefully painted Airspace Above The Dam and Phantom Water predominantly blue to evoke a feeling of wetness. Yep, evoking, in a world where the virtual is confused with the real, is part of the game plan!

GAB: Great Artesian Basin  Gouache on paper 30 x 42

GAB: Great  Artesian Basin obviously refers to water as well. However, with this painting I am interested in how water issues are part of the mining debate, particularly Coal Seam Gas. Water, from the underground aquifer is a byproduct of the gas extraction. The salty water is stored in dams, but there are concerns about the use of this water, plus the depletion of the aquifers. I have painted the area covered by the Great Artesian Basin in small blue $ signs. Australia and the surrounding oceans are painted using my much loved tree-of-life motif. I wanted to convey the idea that our planet is a living thing, a life force and needs to be looked after. I wanted to convey a questioning of the 'value' placed on natural gifts such as the GAB.

Here is an interesting link to a group looking after our GAB:
Basin Sustainability Alliance:

There are a number of grassroots action groups in Queensland advocating more considered approaches to mining prime agriculatural land. Take a look at the links below.

FOF Friends of Felton: Felton is an area just west of Toowoomba on the Darling Downs where there is a proposal for a coal to fuel project to be undertaken:

SODD: Save Our Darling Downs

An interesting development is detailed in the Queensland Government's press release [23 Aug] with proposals for new legislation to protect strategic/prime agricultural [food producing] land.

So, until next time.


Audubon Ron said...

Wow, these are so different. What has gotten into you? Cool!

Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox said...

Hi Ron,

I grew up on some of God's most fertile soil and I'm really genuinely frightened that it and other prime agricultural land will be compromised by the actions of an expanding mining industry, which seems oblivious to a scientific approach to risk.

Glad you think they're cool.