Story of the Blue Whale splashes onto Newcastle Airport walls

An artist full of wisdom, talent and belly-laughs, Peter Kafer’s artwork has recently become a feature on the walls of Newcastle Airport.

Yarning with Kafer, you can hear his big grin on the end of the line. With the gift of the gab and a talent for storytelling, he can keep you on the phone for hours.

His storytelling extends to his art, which he paints outside of his home up the coast of northern NSW.

“I have the bush behind me, I sit out the back there if I want to paint and I’ve got the bush and the birds,” he said.

Surrounded by gumtrees that reach into the sky with the company of his dogs and the birds, Kafer is free to create.

In November 2019, Newcastle Airport commissioned Kafer to create an artwork that reflected the local area and peoples.

A proud D’harawahl man, Kafer dedicated his painting to the memory of the late local Worimi Elder, Uncle Lionel Ridgeway, who passed away late 2019.

Uncle Lionel was the son of a fisherman and grew up on the shore of Port Stephen’s Soldiers Point.

“I started doing it back in November, I handed it over around the second week of January,” Kafer said.

“I had to get the three canvases especially made, it’s a big painting around four metres by two metres. I worked on it for six weeks, I worked on it [for] six to ten hours every day.”

A saltwater man, Kafer paints with his beloved ocean tones.

“Most of my stuff, because my mob is saltwater mob, it’s got those blues and greens. There are usually sea animals in it because, you know saltwater is in my blood.”

The artwork, MAARA 5, shows around 49 fish including species such as Snapper and Whiting, but mostly Mulloway and Mullet as they are the fish of the Worimi Peoples.

“As you go around the coast, from the Victorian border right up to Queensland, virtually every mob along the coastline has a different fish as their totem,” he said.

The artwork also shows traditional hunting.

“In it there are three spears going into the water, they don’t hit the fish, but them being there gives it another perspective. You don’t see the fullas throwing them, but the fish swimming around it, it’s showing the hunting.”

MAARA 5 is the fifth in Kafer’s most recent series of work; a series that acknowledges the significance of fish for saltwater mobs.

“When I do something, I usually do a series. So, I’ll do a series on a particular thing whether it is stars in the sky or the bush.”

“This [series] is a Dreaming story that’s been told to me by Uncles over the years, and each painting is another part of the story.”

The story Kafer is referring to is the Dreaming story of how the fish found their way into the waterways.

“The Blue Whale was told it was his responsibility to swim around and make sure that all the fish got into the rivers and estuaries,” Kafer said.

“He is down there in the bottom of the Great Southern Ocean, and … he opened his mouth and sucked up all the sea creatures and then he swam up the coastline.

“He went around coastline all around Australia and when he’d come to a river or estuary … he’d let them pour out.”

“Our stories, they’re 90 percent truth. I ask my friends and people who aren’t Aboriginal what were those old fables? And they say, ‘Oh they teach you what is right from wrong.’ and well, there you go. That’s exactly what our stories are.”

By Rachael Knowles

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