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Baanytaageek: Great Swamp Fragments

baanytaageek: Great Swamp Fragments

4 February – 1 April 2023

Nigel Bertram, N’arwee’t Carolyn Briggs, Catherine Murphy, Rutger Pasman, Ben Waters

An exhibition presented as part of the collaborative research project baanytaageek: Great Swamp Regenerative Park

Two hundred years ago, on the estate of the mayonebuluk of the Boon Wurrung language group on warnmain (Western Port Bay), a vast baanytaageek, the Great Swamp, was covered with shallow waters and thick, impenetrable vegetation. With much difficulty, it was comprehensively cleared and drained in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and subdivided for farming, infrastructure and housing. Today we are all custodians to this altered (and degraded) ecosystem after more than a century of extractive processes. Only a few remarkable fragments of the wetland complex remain—such as a raised mound of melaleuca, a tidal inlet edged with mangroves and a dense thicket on a boggy creek bed.

This story of the Great Swamp is in keeping with the story of many swamps across Victoria and much of the developed world, where wetland pools, bogs and marshes have been erased—dumped on, drained, filled in and built on—their rich and complex stories ignored, buried and repressed. For First Nations People, these water landscapes were central to the rituals of social life and sustenance. Melbourne and its hinterland, like many Australian cities, was ‘founded’ on swampy, low-lying ground, seasonally susceptible to inundation and teeming with life.

A collaborative research project, baanytaageek: Great Swamp Regenerative Park, is underway to (re)find these lost landscapes. Involving a multidisciplinary team from the fields of architecture, landscape, planning, water, ecology and agriculture, the project will explore ways to (re)present this place as viable, inclusive and productive in the context of the Healesville to Phillip Island Nature Link, which aims to create a bio-link (otherwise known as a wildlife corridor) of national significance. Currently fragmentary and highly vulnerable in the face of expanding urban processes and climate pressures such as sea-level rise, we want to draw attention to the suppressed natural water and soil systems of this altered ecosystem as the foundation of a regenerative future.

A proposed future ‘park’ will evolve, mature and change over a two hundred-year timeframe, mirroring the degree of radical change wrought on this ‘Country’ over the past two hundred years of imported colonial practices. baanytaageek is a socio-ecological assemblage—a large-scale collaborative framework that embraces a new relationality between disparate on-site actions of land repair, exchange and knowledge building. Supported by education and research, this assemblage will include cultural stewardship and storytelling, collaborative governance processes, regenerative agricultural methods, experimentation with old and new foods, and different forms of recreation, tourism and ways of living.

Part of the research project, the exhibition baanytaageek: Great Swamp Fragments features 3D point cloud models of swampland remnants with moving and still images, enabling their intricate and complex details to be ‘visited’ in new ways. Mostly locked away from view, their re-presentation renders these isolated places visible and provides a new type of accessibility without violating the spaces’ fragility. A large map shows layers of archival material that trace the Great Swamp’s dynamic past, revealing the underlying waterscape in the context of radical colonial change. Boon Wurrung language provides access to parbinata’s (Mother Earth’s) grand masterplan of learning.

Nigel Bertram and Catherine Murphy, who initiated this project, are researchers in the Monash Urban Lab, a practice-based research unit in the Department of Architecture, Monash University. Rutger Pasman, an affiliate of the Lab, worked on the map, and architect Ben Waters from S-I Projects was commissioned to produce LiDAR scans and record sounds. N’arwee’t Carolyn Briggs, a Boon Wurrung senior Elder, recorded the Boon Wurrung language.

Access: The exhibition takes place in a small gallery adjacent to MUMA's well-lit, ground-floor foyer. It contains landscape prints and maps, a video flythrough of remnant swampland areas and a low audio track with geophonic field recordings and spoken words in Boon Wurrung language. Access the wall labels before your visit by clicking on the link below underneath 'Resources'. Audio-described tours can be arranged on request for visitors who are blind or have low vision, with sighted companions and guide dogs welcome. Contact reception on 03 9905 4217 or

Image: Ben Waters, Swamp section detail 2022, LiDAR scan. Courtesy of the artist.