Juukan Tears is up!

Juukan Tears has been launched for nearly a week now, so here’s a few images of the work for those far away and curious.

Juukan Tears, 2021
Recycled galvanised corrugated steel (from the artist’s back shed), chromed steel chain
2.6m x 4m x 5cm
Photographer: Melissa Cameron

Juukan Tears, 2021 (tears detail)
Recycled galvanised corrugated steel (from the artist’s back shed), chromed steel chain
2.6m x 4m x 5cm
Photographer: Melissa Cameron

Juukan Tears, 2021 (detail)
Recycled galvanised corrugated steel (from the artist’s back shed), chromed steel chain
2.6m x 4m x 5cm
Photographer: Melissa Cameron

Juukan Tears, 2021 (left panel detail)
Recycled galvanised corrugated steel (from the artist’s back shed), chromed steel chain
2.6m x 4m x 5cm
Photographer: Melissa Cameron

Juukan Tears

In May of 2020 mining company Rio Tinto destroyed a site which contained the Juukan Shelters, a place that had been in use by the First Nations traditional custodians of that land, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples, for over 46,000 years.

Located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia (WA), the Shelters were on land leased by Rio Tinto for the Brockman 4 mine, one of their 16 in the area. Approval to mine was granted in 2013, under WA’s Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage act of 1972, which is currently under review. In 2014 an archaeological survey of the site found 4,000-year-old human hair, as well as proof of continuous use of the site dating back 46,000 years.

The site was considered in the “top five”[1] most significant sites in the Pilbara by archaeologist Dr Heather Builth. Archaeologist Dr Michael Slack, author of multiple reports on the shelters in 2008 and 2014, and the team leader of an excavation that removed over 7000 artefacts from the caves in 2014[2], told Rio Tinto that the shelter known as Juukan 2, was of “the highest archaeological significance in Australia.”[3]

The Rio Tinto offices occupy the tallest building in Perth. In a relatively small and topographically flat city, the building is visible for kilometres around its central city site, including from my studio space in North Perth. It became a constant reminder in the weeks after the blast that this huge icon remained unscathed, while 46,000 years of human history in a remote and sparsely human-occupied part of our country had been blasted into oblivion.

Noticing it afresh made me wonder about the stories that exist under my feet, that because of colonisation will never be told. What did we lose almost 200 years ago? And what would happen if the places were reversed? If we made protests about a sacred city building that ended up being futile, and then bore witness to its destruction, how would we feel? What would we do?

The work Juukan Tears is in two main parts, consisting of a portrait of the Rio Tinto building “drawn” in relief, using void space to express lines. The lines themselves are serrated, as they are made of removed amalgamations of teardrop shapes, that were linked to create the broken waterfall of tears hung to the right of the portrait. The tear chains each have one hundred tears and hang in two rows of twenty-three. That makes four-thousand six-hundred teardrops, equalling one tear for every ten years of time lost when the Juukan Shelters were destroyed.

The piece is made from recycled corrugated galvinised steel sheets that I removed from the shed in my own backyard. There are over 7000 chromed steel chain links used to stitch together the parts. When added up, the broken waterfall contains approximately 80m of teardrop chain.

The background of the drawing section is cut into 382 rectangular columns of four different lengths. It was reported that there were 382 holes already drilled into the Juukan Shelters before the “Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Traditional Owners were made aware of the planned blast on May 15, 2020.”[4] Ultimately Rio Tinto decided it would be too dangerous to remove the shot that was already placed into each of these holes, so the site was detonated. By careful placement of the four different column lengths, I steganographically hid a Morse code message into the piece. Once decoded, it reads “46,000 year old Juukan Shelters destroyed for… iron ore.”


[1] Keira Jenkins, “Rio Tinto Tells Senate Inquiry It Could Have Avoided Juukan Gorge Destruction.”

[2] Gregg Borschmann, “Rio Tinto Knew Six Years Ago about 46,000-Year-Old Cave Site It Blasted.”

[3] Keira Jenkins, “Rio Tinto Tells Senate Inquiry It Could Have Avoided Juukan Gorge Destruction.”

[4] Keira Jenkins.