Every time I enter the river I find myself facing Death – two cucifixes nailed to a River Redgum on the opposite bank.
The gum is the tallest of all its compatriots along the bank for several hundred metres in either direction. It leans slightly forward and upstream, as if bowing to the oncoming murky brown waters in thanks. A twisted matting of roots slides quietly down the bank, slightly downstream of the main trunk, seeking and softly sipping those waters which have just previously been greeted by the giant gum’s leaning body.
About two metres up the broad trunk there is a distinct line where the river has previously reached in healthier times. Below this line the trunk is a dusty grey and appears compressed, squeezed to its inner core. In the centre of this section, staring out across the river, is a hand-painted cross – originally a brilliant white but now a dirty, weathered, forgotten white. It has been painted directly onto the bark and is perhaps 50cm tall.
Above the watermark line the trunk is fuller and a broader range of earthy hues is restored – from the heavier dark brown-black of the larger pieces of bark (which tend to hang slightly loose but disappear altogether the higher up the tree one climbs), through the mid grey-brown hues and on up to the platinum greys and silvery whites, the newest layer of life’s protective and sustaining skin.
Again in the central area, but slightly larger than the one beneath, another white cross hangs silently. This one is white wood, a whiter, fresher, newer white, and is nailed to the trunk. It is, perhaps, marking a more recent claim.
Mostly unnoticed, except from certain angles and at certain times of day, are two small reflectors. Yesterday, while floating downstream, a silvery glint, glass-like, caught my eye, drawing my attention to the haunting presence of the crucifixes for the first time; a signal to approaching life to pause for a moment in remembrance and in thanks (for that unknown victim, for family and friends, and for life.
Meanwhile, the dispersing and evaporating white jet-streams of two long-passed planes intersected high in the sky, forming another cross to mark the place where hundreds may have ended their journeys had timing been different.
And later, at sunset, another glint catches my eye as I sit on the opposite bank watching the river flow. This time a bright orange, the sun itself, reflects off a second reflector, marking a farewell, the passing of another day, a life, and a journey completed.
As I set out to photograph this scene I discover another element – even less discernable than the reflectors. I only notice it, disbelievingly, through the 400 mm lens and review it over and over again to make certain my thoughts. I am still not certain (maybe it is a trompe l’oeil created eerily by the tree’s bark and texture). But it seems there is a particularly haunting skull with deep black eye sockets and a mouth seemingly devouring the top of the crucifix. I see myself and all of us suddenly magnified and brought to life.
A story from a couple of weeks ago on The Murray River @ Grace’s Bend.
Images and Text Copyright Hunter G, 2012 and available for sale (FREE for not-for-profit activities – so spread the word widely – just include a link to this blog). All profits from sales will be re-invested in Save The Kimberley activities.