Fish Out Of Water : Cultural Collisions

Helen Tiernan

2020 Fish out of water_cultural collisions. Triptych. 180cmx330cm
Fish Out Of Water : Cultural Collisions by Helen Tiernan


Helen Tiernan
Fish Out Of Water : Cultural Collisions
oil on canvas
180 x 330 cm (triptych)

signed lower left: Helen S Tiernan
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Helen S. Tiernan Storied Country, Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne, 22 October - 18 November 2022

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Tiernan acknowledges that amongst the conflict of cross-cultural encounters there were also instances of cooperative colonial experiences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.  To these she also presents a creative layering of issues of critical contemporary relevance related to environmental degradation and climate change. Capturing these is her brilliant, storied, three-panelled work Fish Out of Water - Cultural Collision. Inspired by Nolan’s Riverbend 1966, and histories of Victorian waterways like the Murray, Goulburn and the Barwon, the left panel, a symbol of prosperous colonial European enterprise, frames a distant view of boathouses. Wharves are perched over the river, as a paddle steamer laden with recently felled logs glides slowly by and traditional scar trees refer to the ancient practices of canoe making.

On the far right, the original inhabitants of previous times, live undisturbed on the edge of a seemingly idyllic riverine encampment. Mysteriously hovering above is a mother and child adorned in pure white. It refers to a very famous narrative of the ‘Gippsland folklore’ explaining the circumstances surrounding the capture of a white woman of Gippsland, by local Aboriginal people.1


The central panel, by contrast, mediates the contemporary interface. Here a parched landscape, bloodied by bushfire and a tree canopy writhing with the dead spirit-forms of fish, allude at once to the devastating impact of today’s climate change and the nation-wide destruction of forests and wildlife by fire. At the same time, it subtly points to the absence today of the highly efficient traditional practices of fire-stick farming for land management in the region.  The gilded reflections in the water, remind of the preciousness of water, which, like bullion, is increasingly a scarce resource today.


  1. See Julie Carr, The Captive White Woman of Gipps Land: In Pursuit of the Legend, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1997

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