Monday, March 21, 2011

Warmun washed away – everyone ok

In a time of multiple natural disasters globally, reminders of what really counts (in case it needs to be said: sentient life, and not property) have been intermittently wheeled out by the media. In this however, death is never front of stage, it is abstracted, “toll(ed)”. Most strangely of all, incessant replays of tsunami inundation in Japan, like the perma-seared footage of that plane hitting the twin towers ten years earlier, is never acknowledged as plain snuff – i.e. the sight of thousands of people being killed. A possible explanation here is that TV’s invention of the residential renovation-porn genre in the last decade has necessarily laid the groundwork for the opposite genre, property-damage porn. That is, we are sufficiently de-sensitised to view the tsunami inundation footage as the tragic demise of a million backyard water features, as it were.

The East Kimberley community of Warmun seems an odd place for property-damage porn to have reached its zenith, but “war zone” and “disaster zone” were terms bandied about by the ABC last week. As far as I can tell, despite the usual flood-disaster footage boxes all being ticked (“cars are upturned and piled together. Whitegoods are lodged in trees. The only access is by helicopter” (same URL)), no one was even injured in this particular flood.

Which fact, if true, surely merited some reportage (but of this there was none). How such a fine-tuned, property-damage only “disaster” happened, I don’t know. But the selectivity of the waters is hinted out in this photo, in which the top half of the hanging space at Warmun Art Centre is intact. A better photo of the Art Centre damage is slide 5 of the photo gallery in the penultimate URL. A pre-flood photo of Warmun Art Centre damage (slide 11 of the photo gallery in the penultimate URL), shows just how much art was hung very low down, and stacked on the floor. The art loss – and the displacement of Warmun’s entire population – are of course tragic in some ways, but at least a high-water mark has been set in this rather exceptional locale. And everyone is alive to tell the tale – of above and below the line.

Update 3 May 2011

Nicolas Rothwell writes:

“Consider the funeral described above. It was held in Turkey Creek, the dry community where the death took place. The young woman died in a house just up the road from a new police station. She and her friends had visited Wyndham, where a baby from a family they knew had died in a distressing accident. They were grieving.

They came back to Turkey Creek: they were in a house close by a large tree from which a young friend of theirs had hanged himself. In the shadow of that tree, the drinking, and mourning, began. The young woman was not a habitual drinker: she vomited, inhaled her vomit, and died. Technically, her death was not a suicide; in truth, it was part of a tangled chain of grief and loss. That chain stretches far: the mourners at her funeral last month came from as far afield as Wyndham, Kununurra and Wave Hill.

A few days after her death, a flood swept through Turkey Creek, devastating the community, wrecking its houses and forcing an evacuation of the entire population: they are being housed in a workers' camp 200km away while the place is rebuilt.

A disaster, says the state government. A cleansing flood, say the old Gija men and women who saw the waters rise: the action of the Ngarringarni, what we translate as the dreamtime, but should describe as the inscrutable, fate-dealing cosmic power of the Kimberley Aboriginal world”.

See also Nicolas Rothwell detail the flood's art toll (and incidentally rebut my imputation, above, that the Warmun Art Centre may not have been well-prepared for the flood) here and my Warmun-Osama link here.

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