Eddy Harris

River Gathering, Eddy Harris

Eddy Harris, River Gathering (2010, acrylic on canvas)

Art Forms: paint on canvas, ceramic design, wood carving

Lives: Wilcannia

How did you start as an artist?

I am Paakantji. I was born in Wilcannia, lived here most of my life.  My family's all from here and It's where I'm connected to my Dreamtime.  

Until the early 90s I worked on the mines in Broken Hill but when the mines were closing down I had to look for another avenue of work so I started painting sandshoes. Because I'd played rugby and Aussie Rules I had a big connection of people who started buying those sandshoes from me.

Then I wanted to do wood carving so the Land Council helped me buy the materials so off went the art journey.

I remembered my old uncles carving boomerangs on the riverbank and my brother used to carve them when he came in from the bush and I've learned from Badger Bates. I always wanted to do art but in the old days the old people wanted you to get an education. But artefacts and making things were always around. You always saw it but you didn't ask too much about it - you've got to watch.  Only if the old people called you over then they'd tell you something and show you how to do it.

What inspires your art? 

I remember my childhood really well so I've got a clear mind and a lot of visions of how I can paint and what I can paint.

I don't just paint a picture, I paint a story. That's what I see out there - as you go along and go to the bush collecting artefacts - I see different things and it all comes together and then I can just paint.

...and the ants?

I went to the river with my brother collecting timber for our artefacts and I saw these ants. One was dead and the others were carrying it. Then, when we were having lunch, I chucked a bit of bread and the ants came together again and carried it away. They kept coming together and I said, 'That's it! Ants, they're like us.  They come together when someone passes on and they come together for a meal like we do and most of the time these fellas carry over-their-weight, like us.' So I started painting the ants.

What's it like living in Wilcannia?

Everyone's so friendly and you've got family around you. And you're connected with the land.  You know where to go to get your materials. If you want to make a dish you know the area and you know where to find your timber.

I've got a lot of good memories here.  When I was a kid, seeing the Darling River come up. The flood waters would come up and then go down and then the water would go crystal clear and you could see fish swimming around. We used to chase the fish around as kids and some days gather on the riverbank as a big family.

What about the future?

I've started designing on ceramics at the Wilcannia school - doing the stories - and it looks good. It's just all a little bit harder when you're Aboriginal artist trying to break ground from here.

I've got a lot of things to paint but I also want to get the message to our people to go forward with their art.

The 'art game' to us is our life.  I mean, it's not just art, it's about kinship and connection. It's not muck-around art, this is us as people.

Not enough people ask us at the moment, but we tell our story through our artwork and we'll eventually put Wilcannia on the map. The more we get that across, with some of us breaking through the barriers, like Badger Bates and my brother Wadi Harris, it'll mean better communities.

Edited from an interview by Lisa Andersen, 12 October 2010.