With a good dose of ethno-botanical synchronicity, I have been following an Indigo thread this year that has taken me from cracks in the historical Darwin CBD pavement to the lush dye gardens of Umutjati in Ubud and the most eastern end of the Himalayas in Vietnam.
I have had good fortune in my quest to meet mountain guides, African alchemists, Hindi textile gurus and even scientists in my own backyard on the Cox Peninsular; that have imparted ancient vat recipes, elemental ceremonies and science to encourage this field of many amazing plants to yield the most incredible hues of blue.
Not long after I returned from the indigo master class with Aboubakar Fofana in Bali, my botanist friend was carrying out a weed survey down at the old Fort Hill Wharf in Darwin. This place is an inbetween space, derelict and overgrown, prime real estate identified again and again for development that never quite happens. Sitting directly below Governors House, right on the harbour, its part in the first 1870’s settlement of Darwin was as an experimental garden under the direction of a new immigrant Prussian botanist, tasked with translating Baltic Science to Fannie Bay terms in ‘developing the agricultural potential of the north’.
Ernestine Hill writes in her 1950’s ‘Classic Saga of Australia’s Far North’ :
“Dr Maurice Holtze was given 32 acres of long grass to clear and planted seeds and seedlings collected from other parts of the tropical and subtropical world. Indeed, Dr Holtze, for the next 25 years in his Botanic Gardens was an agricultural show in himself. From his experiements there in poor land by the sea, with due regard to market and process for production, he recommended sugar, rice, cotton, maize, millet, indigo, cloves, sisal hemp, cocoa, patchouli and tobacco as staple plantation crops for North Australia . . .”
The recent investigations by my friend sited the indigo (Indigofera Tinctoria) at this waterfront location and we believe these plants are remnant of the original plantings late last century by Dr Holtze. We harvested several barrow loads and have prepared vats using traditional methods with varying degrees of success.
Unfortunately, Indignofera Tinctoria is currently listed as an invasive weed in the Northern Territory and seasonally whipper-snipped and treated with roundup. I have since discovered other stands in secret coastal and CBD locations and continue to monitor and harvest and experiment.
The results of this sweet blue magick will help inform a new exhibition of works in 2018, but can also be viewed and purchased through Art Echo online store.