Auntie's Kitchen, 2016. 

Auntie’s Kitchen refers to narratives of human interaction with the genus of trees, Casuarina and Allocasuarina, both commonly referred to as the She-Oak. The tool and utensil form becomes a poetic metaphor for the concept of connection by exploring the idea of sustenance within our daily lives and the natural world.

According to the Australian Government’s department of Environment and Energy, approximately 17,000kms of Casuarina forest has been cleared since European settlement yet the various species are important to sustaining biodiversity in the Australian landscape.

The idea for this series first began when I was Artist in Resident at the Botanic Gardens, Sydney and was told that the Casuarina glauca ­­trees that grow in the Botanic Gardens, Sydney are ‘suckers’ from the original shoreline vegetation that pre-date settlement by Europeans.  As very little evidence remains of the original inhabitants of this area, the Cadigal people, the trees are a tangible link to a previous history of nature and culture.

It is said that the British Flag was first raised on the trunk of a Casuarina tree but was cut down much to the dismay of Governor Macquarie. The wood of the tree was the preferred material for roof shingles in the early years of settlement. Although not the original roof shingles, Cadman’s Cottage in the Rocks area of Sydney (one of the oldest residential building in Sydney) has a roof made from forest She-Oak. The works, Stumpy Brush and Bark Shingle reference the idea that colonisation ‘redecorated’ the landscape of Australia clearing the bushland and creating a more European centric view of landscape.

The Glossy Black Cockatoo, Calptorhynchus lathami is the smallest species of the five black cockatoos of Australia. The Glossy Black only feeds on the seed cones the Black She-Oak, Allocasuarina littoralis or the Forest She- Oak, Allocasuaria torulosa.  This species of Cockatoo is listed as vulnerable in the states of Queensland and NSW mostly due to habitat destruction from rapid urban development in Southeast Queensland and Northern NSW.

The name Casuarina is from the Latin name, casuarius of the Cassowary bird. The branchlets of this genus appear featherlike as they droop towards the ground. The feathery softness reminded me of the calligraphic style brushes in my studio. Making porcelain handles for these beautiful feathery leaves evolved. I then used the branchlets like a brush dipping the freshly picked Casuarina branchlets in clay slip to create the bark like surfaces as seen on the Season’s Ruler object and Bark Shingle.

In 2015, Bangarra choreographer, Frances Rings created a dance based on Aboriginal stories of the She Oak, the common name for different types of Casuarina and Allocasuarina trees. She described the She-Oak as the grandmother tree and as a symbol of shelter, protection and medicine. At the base of Casuarina trees the fallen branchlet needles form a thick carpet that is said to repel snakes thus forming a protective nest for a baby to be placed whilst gathering food nearby. Snake Scoop and Branchlet Bundle are inspired by this knowledge.

The genus Casuarina is sometimes referred to as the beach or coastal She-Oak in Australia. Tannin Stained River Side Spatula refers to the leaching of water-soluble tannins due to the high content of tannin in the leaves and foliage. This leaching creates tea coloured water edges along foreshores and estuaries of Australia’s coastline where Casuarinas grow.

These trees are also natural markers of the supra-tidal zone that is the splash or spray area above the Spring High Tide line. Where this coastal vegetation remains there is less serious erosion during high tide storm events as the roots hold the soil. This year coastal storms caused millions of dollars damage in Sydney. Seasons Ruler, Splash Zone tile and Casuarina Calligraphy brush are metaphor for this occurrence.

The Casuarina Cone Slotted Spoon represents the opened seed cone and the Seed Cone Whisk suggests the scattering of seed flying around like cake batter does as it is whisked in a bowl. The Seed Cone Serving Spoon with a Casuarina wooden handle represents the cones on a branch.

This body of work as a whole is about the interdependence of humans and nature. Perhaps the Casuarina and Allocasuarina species can also be viewed as a symbol of hope as this tree species has the capacity to regrow when cut down and many of the tree species live a long time.

Image credit: Greg Piper 

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