During our routine visit to the Ngaraka Shrine, we noticed that the children are now handling the kangaroo bones with the kind of confidence that comes from familiarity. One child picked up a large pile of bones and held them close to her body. Seeing this random assemblage, another decided it would be a good to ‘make’ a kangaroo by reconstructing a skeleton. They spent some time picking up various bones and trying to ‘fit them together’.
It is now late spring. The wild flowers that carpeted the grasses a fortnight ago have either succumbed to the campus maintenance mowers or to their own seed cycles. The children commented on the ‘swishy’ and sometimes also ‘scratchy’ feel of the grass around their ankles and a number had to stop to pull prickles out of their socks.
Others gathered up soft clumps of dried cut grass and pondered which animals, apart from horses, might like to eat it. They thought that ‘maybe the rabbits’ might also enjoy a meal of ‘hay’. But there were other grassy re-purposings in store.
Down by the lakeside, we stumbled across a scattering of partially assembled objects made out of grass, reeds, twigs and bark. ‘Someone else has been here and made these things’ the children observed. They eagerly picked up the objects to examine their structures and test out their various uses. A couple of boys adapted a braided ring, made out of bulrush stalks, as an addition to their usual stick ‘fishing rods’. Pouncing on a large mat, woven out of reeds and bark, they dragged it to the waters edge: ‘This is a raft – look, look it’s a raft – put it on the lake and we can make it float. … Yes, our raft is floating. … Oh no, its sinking. Pull it out of the water.’
Other children were closely inspecting the materials and techniques involved in making these objects, and wanted to have a go. So we sat down awhile under the cool shade of the casuarinas and worked on some of our own creations. We selected the longest and strongest reeds and plaited them together to make our own ropes, belts and braided rings.Combined with feathers and flowers, they made great decorative accessories.
One child settled himself comfortably at the base of a casurina tree, and made small structures by standing several small sticks together. ‘I’m making lots of sculptures’, he explained, and then described each in turn. ‘This one’s a little shrine, but it doesn’t have bones, it has grass’. And pointing to another, ‘you can actually climb up this one, so it’s kind of like an obstacle course’.
After a time, various bugs (such as spiders and slaters) came crawling around the sticks. The child declared this was a shelter for the animals: These sculptures are so bugs and beetles and all sorts of animals can take shelter. See look [a spider] is near my sculpture. They might be going to my shelter to have a look. … I’ll make some little furniture. Well the grass in there is for being comfortable and here’s some moss to go in this one.
At some point in the midst of all this creative activity, we spotted a number of slightly submerged stakes in the lake – only just protruding.
It was then that we recalled the plans of the art student we had met a fortnight ago. He had been making stakes from the fallen tree to hammer into the lake floor. He had planned to place things on top of these stakes to give the appearance of something sitting on the water. We realised that this must have been the site where he continued to work on his art installation. The grass and stick assemblages that he had left behind had inadvertently inspired the children in their own creative ‘making’ endeavours.