Until the 26th of September 2020 you can conduct your own reading at the biennale installation at Carriageworks. Onsite there is an installation of unbound booklets from the production of NIRIN NGAAY – you can take a selection and do your own reading. Go visit!

Reading NIRIN: Andrew Rewald

In this video, Andrew Rewald reads 'On the Movement of Plants' from NIRIN NGAAY. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Karla Dickens

Karla Dickens reads her contribution, 'Ready, Willing and Able'. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Gladys Milroy

In this video, Gladys Milroy reads her story, 'The Black Feather'. Watch here

Reading NIRIN: Jessyca Hutchens

In this video, Jessyca Hutchens introduces us to the book. Watch here

Printed matter & NIRIN publications

Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter speak with Brook Andrew about their own artistic processes in printed matter and how they came to collaborate and produce two publications for NIRIN. The two publications, the exhibition catalogue NIRIN (edge) and the 'reader' NIRIN NGAAY (see the edge) were created in collaboration with (editors) Jessyca Hutchens (Assistant Curator to the Artistic Director) and Brook Andrew. Watch here

An artist’s book by Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter.
Edited by Jessyca Hutchens, Brook Andrew, Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter.
Commissioned for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney.

The Biennale of Sydney team and authors of this publication acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation; the Boorooberongal people of the Dharug Nation; the Bidiagal, Dharawal and Gamaygal people, on whose ancestral lands and waters NIRIN gathers.

NIRIN is a safe place for people to honour mutual respect and the diversity of expression and thoughts that empower us all.

NIRIN NGAAY is a compilation, a collection, a volume, an Artist Book, a Reader, an artwork, a sprawling, excessive heterogenous space of connections. Published as part of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), titled NIRIN, A Wiradjuri word meaning ‘edge’, this book is a space where ideas, themes, research, and experiments arising out of NIRIN find places on pages. Traversing many disciplines and forms, encompassing new and previously published works, complete works as well as excerpts and fragments and responses, each piece may ask for new modes of reading and seeing. Instead of disorienting, we see many lines darting and weaving across these works, beautiful moments of syncing and overlap, affective and abstract resonances, moments of density, as well as pauses to breathe deeply. Read and see and touch at random or with resolve – we hope that you will appreciate the way these works unfold and twist together, creating movements of meaning between them. ‘NGAAY’ is a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘see.’ To really see ‘edges’, might also be to sense and feel and trace them, they come into view with clarity, hover in the periphery, or drift away like memories.

Buy the book

Copies of NIRIN NGAAY can be purchased at the
Biennale of Sydney Shop

Book credits

First published in 2020 by the Biennale of Sydney Ltd.

Published with generous support from Aesop and the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

This publication is copyright and all rights are reserved. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced or
communicated to the public by any process without prior written permission of the copyright holder.

© Biennale of Sydney Ltd
All texts and artworks © the author or artist.

Published for the exhibition the 22nd Biennale of Sydney: NIRIN, 14 March – 8
June 2020.

ISBN: 978-0-9578023-9-1

Biennale of Sydney
Chief Executive Officer: Barbara Moore
Artistic Director: Brook Andrew
Editors: Jessyca Hutchens, Brook Andrew, Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter
Publications team: Sebastian Henry-Jones, Liz Malcolm and Jodie Polutele

Designed, typeset and printed by Stuart Geddes and Trent Walter on a Heidelberg GTO 52. Some sections printed by Printgraphics and Newsprinters.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Biennale of Sydney.

Biennale of Sydney Ltd
Level 4
10 Hickson Road
The Rocks NSW 2000

Film credits

Director & Producer
Amy Browne

Amy Browne
Jason Heller

Jaime Snyder

Sound by
Jaime Snyder
Ben Coe

Nirin Ngaay


Native food and medicine plants, such as Sea Fig (Carpobrotus glaucescens), were donated by Yerrabingin Indigenous rooftop farm for a public planting event for the launch of my Biennale project Alchemy Garden, in September 2019. The garden is a space in which both native and non-native ethnobotanicals are considered for their cultural and ecological role, in context with human migrations and the climate crisis. Along with the Darlinghurst community group Darlo Darlings who are maintaining it as a community garden, other Biennale artists were invited to participate onsite at the National Art School. I connected with Joseph Williams and Fabian Brown from the Tennant Creek Brio, who shared stories about plants they recognised from Warumungu country. On their return to Tennant Creek, Joseph and Jimmy Frank from the Brio consulted other community members about these plants and wrote the piece ‘Bush Medicine’ which follows this piece.

Karlampi juttu juttu (Warumungu)
Portulak (German)
Purslane, Pig Weed (English)
Portulaca oleracea (Latin)
Native to Australia: micro species of Portulaca oleracea are found globally

Portulaca oleracea is the highest known plant source of Omega 3 fatty acids, and is rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. The origins of this cosmopolitan synanthropic species are lost in deep time, but point directly to ancient human migrations and practices of seed carrying and trade. Portulaca thrives over summer in disturbed soils. Its leaf, stem and seed are known and consumed in almost every culture as food and/or medicine. I forage for Portulaca every summer ever since an elderly friend taught me how to make Horta – a traditional rural Mediterranean dish made from foraged wild greens like Portulaca, Amaranth, Dandelion, Melde (Fat Hen), Mallow and Plantago boiled together until tender. Horta is served with olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon, salt and pepper, with the leftover bittersweet juices coveted by elderly people as a restorative broth. Portulaca leaves are used raw in salad or chopped into yoghurt with mint as a cooling palate cleanser between strong flavoured dishes. Medicinally, its mucilaginous juice soothes digestion, aided by its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities and is a salve for skin irritations or sun burn. The tiny seed, if you can collect them, are tasty when toasted and ground with salt for food seasoning. Old Man Salt Bush leaves make good seasoning too, just dry the leaves and grind to a powder – a healthy table salt alternative gaining in popularity.

In 2010 when living in Melbourne, I curiously approached two elderly Chinese Australian women collecting purslane and other wild greens by the Maribyrnong River and this was my introduction to foraging. I described the encounter to a Greek Australian friend, who said her aunties also forage for wild greens grown from seed of treasured food and medicine plants they scattered on arrival in Melbourne parks and wild spaces when migrating from Greece. This was common practice, because inner suburban houses where Greek migrants used to settle often had small or no gardens to cultivate crops. A Germanic ancestor of mine was documented carrying seed of 60 edible species when migrating to South East Queensland in the mid 19th century. At this time, poor migrant farmers of the Prussian diaspora were put on the frontline of colonial invasion, tasked to clear-fell bush for access to farmland. Ironically, these nascent rural Germanic communities followed traditional ways of subsistence living, a practice penalised by the colonial government who wanted specific mono-culture crops to supply the British Empire.

American elder
Sambucus canadenisis (Latin)
Native: North America
Holunder (German)
Black Elder
Sambucus negris (Latin)
Native: temperate Europe, Asia and North Africa

American Elder grows wild in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales where I currently reside in Australia, in urban gardens and cleared farmland. In spring 2019, I collected buckets of flower clusters to make syrup from the nectar and to ferment it as soda and beer to serve at upcoming ethnobotanical walk and talk events. The European Black Elder, Holunder in German, has much more nectar and flavour. In Germany I harvested Holunder flowers and berries from Berlin’s many vacant spaces and parks throughout the spring and summer of 2018 for an ethnobotanical project there. In Northern Europe, its berries have been used in traditional folk medicine to treat almost any ailment for thousands of years. This fruit is a good source of anthocyanins, calcium, iron and contains Vitamins A and C and B6, sterols and essential oils, with tannins and viburnic acid. The medicinal value comes from the berries’ antioxidant content, being one of the highest known in fruit, which the human body extracts from plant matter to use against harmful free radicals. Before consuming the berries, you must boil them to neutralise a poisonous alkaloid. Straining the pulp to dispose of the skin and seed produces a deep purple elixer, taken as a chilled summer soup for immune system boost or preserved as a winter tonic for cold and flu symptoms.

The American Elder variety growing in Alchemy Garden is no doubt a culturally important food and medicine plant steeped in mythology for Indigenous North American peoples, but these are not my stories to tell. I can share some stories about the European Elder (Holunder) pieced together from time spent in Germany, learning about my ancestral homeland through historic plant people relationships.

The Holunder flower and berry were held in high esteem by ancient Germanic tribal cultures who valued it for food, medicine and religious purposes. Its intrinsic cultural value survived early Christian propaganda to discredit this plants’ mythological association. The biblical Judas character is said to have hung himself from an Elder after betraying Jesus. Thus, it was called Judas tree, or Jews Ear tree as a clear anti-semitic reference. Holunder’s soft pithy bark is favoured by the Wood Ear fungus in autumn and looks like ears growing from the trunk. It is an ancient forest food widely cultivated and foraged across Eurasia, known as an important ingredient for Chinese cuisines and no doubt a part of local history and food folklore.

Why demonise a tree? For ancient Northern Europeans it was a sacred tree and taboo to cut down. The Norse-Germanic goddess Freya and other forest spirits were thought to reside in its hollow limbs. Adding to this aura, flutes were traditionally made from its small stems because the soft inner pith produced an easily crafted hollow pipe. Early Christianity contended with the unshakable belief in deities like Freya in Norse Germanic cultures with charges of idolatry, but also with appropriation. Traditional May Day celebrations like dancing the Maypole can be seen as a reductive celebration of her glory and fecundity in spring. Friday is derived from Freya. Freya is also the root of Frau, the title for married or widowed women in Germanic languages. Freya was linked to Frau Holda – protector of agriculture from which Frau Holle derives – a deity for snow as well as cookery, contributing to a later superstition that Holunder only be grown on the southern side of a home, lest it harbor a witch. Interestingly, this superstition reads as a simple instruction to optimise exposure in summer conditions to produce abundant fruit. Ancient female deities like these inspired the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Mother Hulda in Children’s and Household Tales (1812), a parable on the power and perils of womanhood, presented via a patriarchal lens of domesticity and institutionalised misogyny.

Bush Medicine

Jimmy Frank and Joseph Williams

In consultation with Michael Jones, Norman Frank,
Danny Frank, and Jerry Kelly

Pig weed
Karlampi juttu juttu

Pig weed Karlampi juttu juttu we can eat it, it’s a good one, it makes your mouth moist jala palpunja. You can find a big mob along the track Yuwaji as long as it’s not too dry Manu marntamarnta, mainly in rain season. If you walk a long way you can have that and keep going, you don’t get thirsty Warrinji. We even have it in town gardens and people chew it, it cools you and it’s soft to stand on. When you look at it some people get frightened ingngal munta they think it’s poison Wangangu but it’s right. It just about grows anywhere. Mostly where water lays Kalupijutjutu – on the moist ground it grows anywhere.

At the moment there’s nothing – we don’t see it because we have a big drought on, no rain ngapa Kupurtu. But when the big rain comes Ngapa kumppu they’ll be all over the place, they grow amongst the spinifex too, Muna, any country. That’s the freaky thing, it also grows in the desert. Even the kangaroos who live in the desert and travel out a long way wati, they chew on it too when they’re far from water ngapa, because it keeps them moist.

Salt bush

Salt bush is found in the salt plains of the sandy country – that’s where you find that one, where all the camels run wild. We call that sandy country Julyppu. But it also grows in parts of Mangkkuru country, the black soil plains of the tablelands – it’s really freezing Warnangka in winter Makkurra, no windbreak Mangkkuru Wuntta kupurtu. There are hardly any trees there but you would find that salt bush in the low floodplains – we don’t eat that one, it’s more for the southern parts of central Australia and out west as well. We are on the outer boundary of that country now, nothing much this side but we all use that bush for windbreak Wuntta.