FAMILY HISTORY: Michael Philp of Lismore is excited about the opening of his exhibition, My Saltwater Murris.
FAMILY HISTORY: Michael Philp of Lismore is excited about the opening of his exhibition, My Saltwater Murris. Marc Stapelberg

River and ocean flow in artists Murri blood

THE upcoming exhibition by Michael Philp, My Saltwater Murris, which will open on December 1 at Dacou Northern Rivers in Alstonville, is an homage to his father and his relationship with the Tweed River.

"My father was a professional net fisherman," Mr Philp said.

"He was a whitefella and my mum was a Midjinbil woman, part of the Bundjalung nation.

"What I touch on with this exhibition is my relationship with my parents and the relationship between my parents and other members of my family and the stories they passed on to me."

Mr Philp's mother grew up on Ukerebagh Island in the Tweed River and Mr Philp's grandfather's homestead was on the mainland opposite the island, near the old tick gates at South Tweed Heads.

Even before his parents knew each other, Mr Philp's father used to swim over to the island to visit the older aboriginal men living there.

"He described being drawn to some of the older initiated men over there," he said.

Even though they didn't really want him hanging around, he still heard stories about the sacredness of the river and also the best places to go and look for fish.

"In today's terms, it was all about environmental sustainability and responsibility.

"It just always amazes me that my father's family, even back then, were concerned about the environment and that my father developed an awareness of the environment and taking care of the river.

"Fishing was in his blood and he was passionate about it and he got with a woman who had the saltwater and the ocean in her blood.

"The paintings are very much about what my parents' lives were like as river people, saltwater people. The river and the ocean was their life and it was their lifeline."

Mr Philp is a self-taught artist, whose simple studio is in a carport near his home in North Lismore. Before turning his hand to painting seven years ago, he was involved in welfare work.

"I got burnt out and a friend suggested painting," he said. "I started mucking around on the canvas and have never looked back.

"It has opened up a whole new realm for me, particularly in regards to culture.

"I just love this medium of story telling and I really believe it's important for me as an aboriginal man from the Midjinbil tribe of Bundjalung nation to pass it on to my nephews.

"It's not about me, I'm just the channel to pass this stuff on - not just to my mob but for all of us."



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