Weaving this and that way: Ghost net connections in an Aboriginal community in northern Australia

lcj-15-coverEmily Munro-Harrison

LCJ: Special Edition: Governance, 15, pp. 8-11

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Munro-Harrison, E. (2015). Weaving this and that way: Ghost net connections in an Aboriginal community in northern Australia. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts [Special Issue: Governance], 15, 8-11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18793/LCJ2015.15.02.



Walking along the shore of North Goulburn Island we look for rope and fishing nets discarded or cut loose by commercial fishing boats. These nets are given the name ‘ghost nets’ as they drift ownerless through the sea. I am here with the manager of the art centre on Goulburn Island and the manager of the Community Development and Employment Projects (CDEP)  who invited me to go out on the sea with them on my first weekend in Warruwi. I am volunteering at the Mardbalk Arts and Craft Centre, as an assistant in the art centre and to conduct research for my Master of Environment thesis. We collect the bits of rope as we find them, tugging and pulling them out of the sand where they are deeply buried. As we walk along the shoreline I can see the beach as a kind of treasure trove, where all the bits and pieces of things end up after they are thrown ‘away’, into the unknown. My feet are scorching on the hot white and black sand, marked by goat tracks in every direction. In between buoys, seaweed, single shoes, glass and goat poo, we come across our desired objects. The rope known as, ‘ghost net’, is considered by environmentalists to pose serious environmental risks as it can tangle and trap sea creatures, killing or seriously injuring the wildlife and end up as pollution on beaches in the region. However, rubbish collection is not our primary purpose. We are scavenging these ropes for the art centre where they are used to produce sculptural artwork. 

In the month prior to my arrival at Warruwi, some women came to Mardbalk Arts and Crafts Centre to instruct the artists in the use of ghost net as a fibre to weave bags and sculptures. Bright nylon thread is used to stitch the ghost net bits together. In some communities such as Warruwi, where paid community work still exists under the banner of CDEP, workers assist in removing ghost nets from the shorelines. I can already tell that this is hard work – not only is it hot in the direct sun, but the sand burying the rope is heavy and wet and sometimes the rope is quite embedded.  


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