How we reached the estuary


7 June 2022

“Law is not for humans to make over with a set of rules for the orderly acquisition of their own imagined necessities; instead, it is intended that humans work with and abide by that into which humanity is patterned. By taking on that responsibility through witnessing the laws of the ‘other’ – whether that is the planet or a hopping mouse – each in its own way witnesses the human into reality.”

Christine Black

Fresh and salt waters belong to different worlds: the land and the ocean. The estuary is where they meet, not to dissolve their difference, but to create a new ecology.

The concept emerged from the pathfinding meetings that are part of the development of each issue. We started by looking at the separation of paths. Here it was relatively easy to see where First Peoples would diverge. This includes the imposition of colonial values that followed the invasion of lands.

While there have been few instances of colonial invaders leaving, paths to reconciliation are being paved, such as the new constitution headed by Mapuche elder Professor Eliza Loncon in Chile and Australia’s Uluru Statement from the Heart.

One enabler for this is post-colonial theory, particularly that developed in the academies. These have successfully critiqued the universal values that underpinned the imperial projects.

But these theories still place Western civilisation at the centre as an agent of oppression.

The next step is to draw on the thinking of First Peoples themselves in order to map colonisation and its aftermath.

Particularly with the phenomenon of Yothu Yindu, Yolngu culture has offered important models for the meeting of two cultures. For this issue, we look to the concept of ganma, the mixing of fresh and salt waters, as elaborated by Raymattja Marika. In this issue, the work of Gunybi Gunumbar helps us appreciate the depth of meaning attached to this phenomenon.

This learning from Country involves a place-based value system. Rather than the abstract ethical systems of the Platonic philosophies, we consider how our values can be grounded literally in the land.

This issue does not offer a comprehensive picture of the Yolngu concept of ganma. Gunybi’s work shows how complex this is. Taking the English word “estuary” offers us the chance to follow other itineraries, inspired by Yolŋu culture. There is much decolonial work to be done here in the preconception of such land as “swamp” that needs to be drained into to create spaces for development.

The mixing of river (First peoples) and ocean (Subsequent peoples) is reflected in many stories in this issue, such as Josephine Jakobi‘s work on # Bung Yarnda (Lake Tyers), Jenni Kemarre Martiniello‘s woven glass and the mangrove apple. It was not only Europeans that came by sea, but others before them such as the Makassans, as depicted by Omar Musa.

Other objects made by subsequent peoples to create a connection to the land where they live include the assegai spear, pugholes, the peasant knife and ice geometry.

Our thinker-maker for this issue, Tammy Gilson, reflects on the combined Wadawurrung and English identities in her work. We read of powerful offerings from Brazillian Pataxo, Sami, Maori and Bardi.

Beyond the ocean, Gary Warner shares an epic journey to illustrate our year of the lotus alongside stories from Tibet, Thailand, the Philippines, Tunisia and Tonga.

Thanks to our pathfinders: Leitha Assan, Shlomit Bauman, Raquel Bessudo, Berenice Cárdenas, Jules Christian, Aunty Gail Dawson, Macarena de Lapeyra, Maria Fernanda Paes de Barros, Andrea Ferrari, Valeria Florescano, Sarita Galvez, Tammy Gilson, Cassie Leatham, Cassy McArthur, Mark Moonblood, Farieda Nazier, Liliana Ojeda, Celeste Palnepan Nicul, Yunuen Perez and Sera Waters

Thanks also to Shuai Shui for graphic design, Maria Fernandes Paes de Barros, Janet Teowarang, Christina Zetterlund at Luleå Biennial, Tarun Nagesh at QAGOMA, Tara Poole at City of Ballarat, and Objectspace.


Black, C. F. 2010. The Land Is the Source of the Law: A Dialogic Encounter with Indigenous Jurisprudence. Routledge.

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