Libby Harward: Smoke Cloak

Smoke Cloak (performance stills) from Dabil-bung (Broken Water) Series.

(a project addressing water theft and water sovereignty in this continent now called Australia) 

During 2019, in severe drought conditions, I undertook a journey with my children that began at a freshwater lake on my homeland – a large sand island in saltwater country.  The purpose of the journey was to meet with and amplify the voices of the First Nations Peoples whose country is fed by the extensive river system known since colonisation as the Murray-Darling.  This project called for the return of the management and care of the now depleted river system to its Traditional Owners and Custodians.  Simultaneous with this project was another initiated by Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth, Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree whereby First Nations People gathered to camp, to dance, and to sing-up the rain all along the river system.  (Refer website)

smoke-cloak-still-1 smoke-cloak-still-2 smoke-cloak-still-3


Smoke Cloak® is actually the registered trademark of a commercial security system, used by retail businesses that produces a dense vapour in the event of an intrusion. It is designed to force the thief to leave the building empty-handed.  The term smoke-screen is in common use to refer to the political strategy of covering up or hiding activities that may be unethical or illegal. 

 In this work from the Dabil-bung Series, I make a specific reference to the efforts of government and corporate investors to conceal the true extent of the over-allocation of water from the river system for commercial gain.  The environmental and social cost of the unsustainable production of cotton through a massive irrigation project, largely for the apparel industry, has been disregarded, cloaked by the drive for profit in the inequitable relations of power that prevail. 

My work also references the way in which smoke has been instrumental in the relations of power between Traditional Custodians of this country and its colonisers. Beginning with Cook’s ‘voyage of discovery’ 250 years ago, smoke from the fires of Australia’s First Peoples were observed and recorded in the ship’s journals, providing proof that the land was already occupied, and not the “Terra Nullius” (land belonging to no one) that was the basis for the British Crown’s claim of our country.  Furthermore, smoke from signal fires built by our people all along Australia’s east coast communicated our observations in advance of the ship navigated by Cook. 

With the arrival of the colonists, and their quest for farming and grazing land, smoke from our campfires was used as an indicator that water was nearby, and that this would be useful land for their purposes.  

Today, Australia’s First Peoples continue our Traditional ritual of “smoking” for spiritual healing.

Junbar balganya – Smoke is rising (Guwar language – Mugumpin – Quandamooka) 

I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the unceded Aboriginal country on which I work and live, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. I pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging. 

Libby Harward.  November 2020.

Libby Harward is a descendant of the Ngugi People of Mulgumpin (Moreton Island) in the Quandamooka (Moreton Bay Area, South East Queensland, Australia). Known for her early work as an urban graffiti artist under the pseudonym of ‘Mz Murricod’, and her performance-based community activism, Harward’s recent series, ALREADY OCCUPIED, engages a continual process of re-calling – re-hearing – re-mapping – re-contextualising – de-colonising and re-instating on country that, which colonisation has denied Australia’s First Peoples.  This political practice engages Traditional Custodians in the evolution of ephemeral installations on mainland country which has become highly urbanised and calls for an artistic response that seeks to uncover and reinstate the cultural significance of place, which always was, and remains to be there. Her current place-based sound and video work engages directly with politically charged ideas of national and international significance.

In 2020, 4A Digital is

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