Artists protest Woodside’s destruction of the Burrup

January 22, 2023
Joana Partyka (right) and Ballardong Noongar man Desmond Burton in front of the McCubbin painting. Photo: Disrupt Burrup Hub /Facebook

Two activists from the Disrupt Burrup Hub campaign staged a protest at the Art Galley of Western Australia on January 19 against Woodside Energy’s proposed Burrup Gas hub project.

They wanted to draw attention to how corporate polluters like Woodside use sponsorship of the arts to greenwash their reputation.

First Nations people and others are opposed to the desecration of the sacred 50,000-year-old Murujuga rock art at the Burrup Peninsula in the Pilbara.

Inspired by climate activists in Britain, artist Joana Partyka spray painted Woodside’s logo over the 1889 painting “Down on his luck” by Frederick McCubbin.

“There is no protective layer of glass over the rock art at Murujuga,” Partyka said. “We are the protective layer — it is our responsibility to be as tenacious and sturdy as the plexiglass that prevented McCubbin’s painting itself from sustaining damage.”

Ballardong Noongar man Desmond Burton placed the Aboriginal flag on the gallery floor and made an acknowledgement of country.

“This painting is barely one hundred years old. Woodside is destroying 50,000 years of our culture. Western Australia’s Burrup peninsula is known as Murujuga to traditional custodians, is the oldest collection of Aboriginal rock art in the world."

Rock art at Murujuga is under threat from dangerous chemical emissions from the Burrup hub. This is the biggest new fossil fuel project in Australia and consists of the Scarborough and Browse Basin gas fields, the Pluto Basin gas fields, the Pluto processing plants and other linked liquefied natural gas (LNG) and fertiliser plants in WA’s remote north-west Pilbara region.

There was predictable outrage from the corporate media and politicians. WA Premier Mark McGowan described the action as “disrespectful, totally inappropriate and frankly idiotic”. Liberal leader David Honey said it was “abhorrent” and “unacceptable”. Perth Mayor Basil Zempilas said the people of Perth are “rightly outraged” and commentator Gemma Tognini said the activists were “spoilt brats”.

Partyka responded on January 20 calling for McGowan and his government to take a look at itself in the mirror.

“My actions do not remotely approximate Woodside’s irreparable damage in the Burrup, nor do they justify some of the disgusting abuse I have received.

“I hope the arts and the broader community alike understand why I took this action and why I chose to play the role I did.

“More than that, I hope you will join us to vocally protect Murujuga’s rock art; to demand better of our decision-makers; and to support our campaign to protect the climate, cultural heritage and art before it is too late.”

The artists’ action received support from descendants of McCubbin.

Artist Margot Edwards, McCubbin’s great-granddaughter, said: “He would have laughed out loud and supported this very clever protest, which has not harmed his painting in any way and opened an important conversation.”

Ned Reilly, McCubbin’s great-great-grandchild, said: “If anything, it has bought more attention to his painting and is getting a new generation to think about what that means in terms of Australian identity.”

They described the action as a continuation of McCubbin’s environmental activist legacy.

Police charged Partyka with one count of criminal damage. She is set to appear at Perth’s Magistrate court on February 16.

[Disrupt Burrup Hub has set up a GoFundMe to help with fines and legal costs.]

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