Making Things

 

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’.

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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.

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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.

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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’. 

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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.

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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.

 

 

Stickiness and sticks

We started our walk by taking some time to lie on the grass – to simply be there and attune our senses to where we are and what is going on around us.  The children noted the grass was ‘prickly’, ‘furry’ and ‘soft’. While some children lay still, others invariably rolled around or got up and moved around to try lying and sitting positions in various spots close by.

From this perspective, some of the children’s attention was drawn to a pile of pine cones; the very same type they had looked at earlier in the Centre when they had broken one open to see what was inside.

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The old brown cones were distinctly ‘spiky’. Yet, it was the green ones – which looked smooth and inviting – that surprised us when we picked them up. As one child commented ‘it’s very sticky’, with others chiming in ‘sticky, sticky’!

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The tacky texture of the pine sap on our fingers acted as a reminder of this sticky encounter for some time after.

In all of our walks the children have interacted with the sticks that are scattered around. At various times they have all picked up sticks to carry with them, whether it be big, small, forked, leafy, rough or smooth.  Sometimes they drag the sticks behind them, use them to poke at holes in the ground or prise the bark off trees.  Some also use them playfully, tickling each other with the soft fronds of a fallen casuarina twig.

Today, the children spent much time ‘fishing’ with an assortment of sticks and pieces of reed.  Bending over the water’s edge, the children called ‘come on fishy’ and ‘come on, you can make it’.

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At various ants’ nests, the children stopped to observe the flurry of activity.  On previous walks, we had talked to the children about not stomping on the nests or poking things down in the holes so the ants wouldn’t get cross or upset.  The children seemed to remember this, standing mostly at the edges and noticing how the ants would go about their business (and even crawl over the children’s shoes) without causing any harm.  ants and sticks1This time, they adopted a new method for enticing the ants to come a little closer. Picking up a nearby stick, the children laid it gently on the nest, entreating the ants to crawl on to it and towards their hands. Occasionally, if the ants were not quite active enough for their satisfaction, the children would bang the nest with the stick to get a reaction, before reminding each other that it might be best to keep the stick still.

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Reflecting on the relations between children, sticks and wildlife, it seems that sticks are more than simply random inert tools. Strategically positioned, they might entice ants to move in a direct line towards children. Straddling above- and under- water worlds, they might attract unseen fish and, at the moment of touch, connect them back to children. The sticks materialise seamless interconnection – lining up bodies and providing a tangible conduit between human and nonhuman wildlife. It’s clear that sticks allow children to exceed the physical limits of their own bodies – to reach out and touch inaccessible wildlife. But perhaps they also forge more affective connections for the children, akin to what Sara Ahmed calls ‘sticky attachments’. These are the kind of emotional relations that bind subjects together across difference. In this affective sense, the sticks could be functioning as ‘sticky’ lines of attachment, adhering or bonding the children with the hard-to-reach creatures of this place.

Some unusual finds towards the end of our walk had the children puzzling.

artefact 1Along the bank was a series of wild (human) creations including combinations of feather and pine cones, grass woven into the forks of trees, a canoe-shaped formation of sticks and a tangled mass of netting hung high in the branches overhead.

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After following this little trail of mysterious clues, one child observed ‘I think someone’s been making lots of stuff here!’

The children dragged some larger sticks back to the Centre to add to their own creative project – a fence interwoven with pieces of wood collected over time.

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Perhaps this creation is another way of articulating the sticky entanglements of grassy woodlands wildlife and their own lives in this place?