Perdita Phillips

A forecast of storm (Derbarl Yerrigan), 2020

Video. 8:53

Please listen with headphones. Swan River dolphin recordings provided by Chandra Salgado Kent, Centre for Marine Science and Technology, Curtin University.

Late at night, when the wind swings to the west, I can hear the inner harbour of the port of Fremantle, some distance from where I live. The low throb of the container ships idling in the harbour comes through the air and through the ground. The harbour was one of biggest public projects undertaken in the gold rushes of the 1890s. Engineer-in-Chief C Y O’Connor blew open the limestone bar across the Swan River mouth that was the tail of the great crocodile Yondock. I have been walking along the lower reaches of Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) since 2003, collecting plastics and other rubbish that washes up upon the shore. I have observed changes in the river in the last seventeen years such as sea grass meadows that have struggled with excess nutrients and Batillaria australis molluscs brought in on ship ballast.

The video A forecast of storm (Derbarl Yerrigan) is a short meditation on the night sounds of a storm approaching and the act of listening to the port of Fremantle and the lower Swan River. Unlike travelling to remote areas, sound recording at Derbarl Yerrigan makes one intensely aware of ‘anthrophony’ as nonhuman voices compete to be heard above traffic and maritime industries. Even below the water’s surface, there is the grinding of pontoons and jetty fenders. Host to global trade and oil economies, Covid-19 has been a momentary blip in the exploitation of Walyalup (Fremantle) since colonisation.

As an artist I ask, what has been forgotten and what can be remembered about the life and vitality of Derbarl Yerrigan? What does it mean to be attentive to things heard and things lost in local places? In particular, in these times of ecological unravelling, is it possible to re-ravel stories from a place of loss?

Despite setbacks, Derbarl Yerrigan still hosts a community of twenty to twenty five dolphins, which also range through the harbour to reach near-shore waters. Is it possible to recover direction and grow in a time of both urgency and incompleteness? We seem paused as storms gather on the horizon. Best to use the time wisely.

Perdita Phillips is a contemporary artist/researcher/writer living on Whadjuk Noongar land, who is interested in bringing nonhuman worlds into interaction with audiences. Walking and listening was central to her practice based PhD ‘fieldwork/fieldwalking’ (2003-2006). She has worked with termites, thrombolites, salmon gum trees, urban wetlands, weeding, drains and stygofauna.


Scroll to Top