Wongaloo Wonders

'Teeming with Life: The Wongaloo Project' will exhibit at Perc Tucker Regional Gallery from 14 July - 20 August. IMAGE: Teeming with Life (detail), Pamela Griffith

Looking back towards Townsville when you head to Magnetic Island is always such a pleasure.

But the skyline has changed significantly since settlement: what would our city look like without the Grand Chancellor sugar shaker and the Aquarius telephone box?

Sydney artist Pamela Griffith’s new exhibition highlights a region just 30km from the CBD which remains untouched, and can be seen from the ferry as well: Wongaloo Wetlands, perched on the Bowling Green Bay National Park.

Pamela, whose exhibition Teeming with Life: The Wongaloo Project is now open at the  Perc Tucker Regional gallery, said the wetlands are an integral Australian ecosystem, and deserve to be recognised.

“Kakadu is a very important bird and animal sanctuary, and is a world heritage site, but I believe Wongaloo should be an equally-recognised world heritage site as well,” said Pamela.

“Kakadu was made famous by a lot of artists working up there and disseminating the information, and I think that’s important. I’m hoping these pictures will become iconic pictures that attract people to the importance of Wongaloo too – so more money will be made available for it and so that more people will do research and come here to study the birds and wildlife.”

Pamela’s exhibition not only showcases the landscapes and wildlife of Wongaloo, but the history of the region as well.

“There are four large important paintings in here, showing James Morrill, who was the first white man in Northern Queensland.

“Morrill was a ship carpenter whose ship capsized, but made a raft out of the shipwreck and tried to save all the people on board. He caught sharks and things to eat, but they had no water, and by the time they landed many had died – and even the ones that survived died not long after being on the shore. James was the only one who survived … so lived with the Aboriginals and became involved in their activities and customs for 17 years.

“He came ashore in the wetland this exhibition covers – so if I’m being serious about it I couldn’t just do the birds and nature, because he really is part of the Wongaloo story, he landed there! James used to sit on top of Castle Hill and see sailing ships on the outer reef, so he’d light a fire but they never came to rescue him because the coral was so treacherous.

“This project came about when I was introduced to Mark Stoneman, who looks after the wetlands free of charge, putting in hundreds of hours of work. Mark asked me to come and make Wongaloo famous for its beauty, because it would be great for the people of Townsville and everyone to know about the area. Over the space of two and a half years, I’ve visited three times at different times of year, camped out there with the mosquitos and have completed this series of work.”

Teeming with Life captures the historic relevance, diverse ecosystems and environmental importance of Wongaloo, and showcases an area we should be extremely proud of.

Catch Teeming with Life: The Wongaloo Project at Perc Tucker Regional Gallery until 20 August 2017.

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