In a dark space, a figure lies sprawled in a circle of light, wearing a grey suit and a large, green, papier-mache fish head, its pale mouth downturned at the edges and its eyes bulging. It looks like the head of a cod.
NEWSREADERS: Where hundreds and thousands of fish floated belly-up near...
..blames drought conditions for the mass death event....
The figure stirs and slowly gets up onto all fours.
..the far west of New South Wales, the Murray–Darling Basin Plan in 2012...
..around 50 megalitres a day...
..where up to a million fish perished.
.one of the biggest fish kills in history...
..politicians and cotton growers...
..on the Darling river...
Standing now, the fish-headed figure turns to all sides, wandering as though lost.
Facing the cod is a grinning, bearded man's head, poking through a hole in a board painted with a green-and-white fish body. The top of the man's head is also painted green, so it looks like his head is the head of the fish.
He raises his eyebrows repeatedly at the standing cod figure, which tilts its fish head slightly as it gazes at the grinning man-headed fish.
Coloured lights flash on the grinning man's face, protruding from the board that's mounted on the black curtain of a stage. A sign at the base of the board reads 'Big Mouth Billy Bass', beneath a red button.
Hello, good evening and 'day, I'm your host Billy Bass. Contestants, come on down.
Two laughing women in grey suits and large wigs run excitedly onto the stage, waving their arms as they run about.
A stage manager standing off to one side holds a large boom microphone and an audience prompt that reads 'APPLAUSE'.
Sitting on a stool near the stage manager is the cod, still looking lost, but it applauds when it sees the prompt.
First up we have our first cab off the rank, Marnie.
The first contestant waves. She's wearing bright red lipstick and a red necktie along with her grey suit and curly, peroxide-blonde wig.
Marnie likes long hot showers in her bidet and she just dropped her kids off at the pool. Welcome, Marnie.
She waves at the camera.
The other contestant is also wearing red lipstick and a red tie with her grey suit, but her wig is brown and frizzy.
Next up we have our second next contestant, Barbara.
Smoothing back her long wig, she smiles and waves coyly.
Barbara's an ally and wants you to know it. She also just inherited a house off her dead grandma.
Barbara licks her teeth and grins broadly.
She blows a dainty kiss.
Love you, Nan.
Are you ready?
Marnie and Barbara cheer.
Your time starts now. Finish this catchphrase; "Marge, Marge!"
Barbara's fist pounds a rubbery egg.
"The rains are 'ere!"
How many fish fingers am I holding behind my back?
Marnie's hand slaps another rubbery egg.
I ate them all.
Which infamous Prime Minister drowned?
Marnie's hand again.
Happy healthy Harold.
Where do oil and water mix best?
Barbara answers without buzzing.
In the ocean.
Root, shoot, fuck? The Great Barrier Reef, the Great Australian Bight or Greg from The Wiggles?
Marnie waggles her fingers like a member of The Wiggles.
Wake up Jeff!
What's in a fillet of fish?
Barbara's fist smashes her egg.
I'd like to buy a vowel.
Why do farmers need to pick the fruit?
Barbara grins as she sings.
To make the cordial that I like best.
Which of the following items requires the most water to produce? A pair of Ugg boots, a hamburger with the lot, a smiley emoji or an egg?
Both contestants' hands slam down on the egg.
Can I phone a friend?
Barbara nods and waits for the dial tone. Marnie folds her arms, looking bored.
The cod sitting on the stool slumps a little.
Finish this song lyric. "Rain drops keep falling..."
Marnie puts her hand up.
On my head.
I'm sorry, the answer is, 'Below historical averages.' What are Australia's four deadliest creatures?
Marnie counts on her fingers.
Ah, the Tasmanian Tiger, ah, toxic masculinity, fracking credits. Aw, anal play?
Barbara sighs while Marnie answers.
C, A, N, B, E, R, R, A. Nepotism.
Which plan was the least helpful? A, The Sink Plan. B, The Bowl Plan. C, The Basin Plan or D, The Bucket Plan.
The cod shakes its head sadly, but Barbara looks excited.
All of the above.
Which native fish...
Barbara crosses her fists in an 'X' shape.
And now for the million-dollar question. What went wrong with the Murray-Darling Basin?
Marnie wrings her hands and Barbara bites on her fingernails. Marnie slowly begins to nod as if she's getting the answer.
You're not saying anything.
Barbara clenches her teeth and looks tormented. She slaps her own face. Marnie's still nodding slowly, but clutching at her throat as though struggling for breath.
Ah, Nan, Nan, Nan, Nan, Nan! Argh!
Barbara sobs, clenching her fists and grimacing. Marnie loosens her necktie.
You're still not saying anything.
Marnie pants heavily, bending double.
Barbara runs excitedly around the stage, but Marnie's still choking.
We had fun.
Marnie gasps for breath, still trying to loosen her tie as she drops to her knees.
Now Marnie is somebody else, without her wig and lipstick, but still in the suit. She's got her real hair - which is long and brown - pulled back in a ponytail and a thin moustache drawn on her upper lip. She's still gasping for breath and trying to loosen her tie, but is now alone in a dark space, standing on the edge of a circle of light.
The cod in a suit joins her there, and both suited figures face each other, the panting person calming down and straightening up at the sight of the cod.
Straightening her tie, the moustached woman tentatively reaches out to put her arms around the cod, which does the same to her. With some difficulty, they nestle their faces against each other and begin to slow dance.
In another lit circle in the dark space, two other figures in grey suits with red ties are standing side by side, each wearing a man's wig and a hand-drawn moustache. The first suit spins around as though looking for something.
I can't find the point.
The point? The point? You've lost us the point.
The point's not in here, the point's not in there.
Excuse me, do you have some point you could spare?
The dancing cod looks up at the sound of the suited figures conversing, but its partner keeps dancing with a blissful expression.
You've lost us the point.
I didn't. I perfectly put-ed the point, I perfectly put-ed the point on the plate and I pitted and patted and put it in wait. I didn't misplace it, I put it someplace. Shit happens!
The suited characters straighten their clothes, ties and wigs.
- Tax the axe.
- Witch the ditch.
- Jobs and growth.
- Let's have both.
- Jobbies and gobbies and bibbies and bobbies.
- Thank you, Mr Speaker, I guarantee it all.
- It all?
- It all!
- It all?
- It all!
- It's already gone.
The suits shake hands and look pleased with themselves.
Mr Speaker I withdraw.
Withdraw? We're just getting started.
Here, here. Here it is in the report, it says one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.
The dancing cod looks distracted by the speakers.
That's not a report.
I haven't finished retort.
That report is too long, it will take ages, we don't have the time.
- But it says here...
- We don't have the time.
- Just to be clear...
- We don't have the time.
- But it says that next year...
- We don't have the time.
- We don't have the time.
- We don't have the time.
Now the suits are seated on stools, holding dainty teacups and saucers in their hands and gazing dreamily over the top of them.
They sip their tea in unison, looking pensive as they savour it, then they replace the cups on the saucers.
The cod, still dancing with its oblivious partner, glances across at the suits drinking tea. They're staring into space, and the cod keeps staring at them.
Billy Bass is back on the stage.
BILLY BASS: The final date with both contestants are over. This is a big night. Let's find out if a decision's been made.
Billy faces the cod's dancing partner.
Welcome. This is your final rose ceremony.
Billy passes a fake pink rose out through the gap in the backboard from which his head is protruding. The moustached contestant accepts it with a nod.
I can't believe we're here. This is the biggest day of my life. I'm gonna have to say goodbye to someone I love. And that's killing me.
Both of them are head over heels reliant on you, I mean, in love with you. But you can only choose one.
Billy faces the camera.
Will it be Cod?
The figure with the cod's head.
A woman in a pale, sparkly cocktail dress and strappy heels sliks out with a giant ball of cotton over her head.
The moustached figure nervously turns the rose around and around while looking at Cod and Cotton.
From the moment I met you, you instantly intrigued me. It's wild to think that you've not only become my best friend but someone I've fallen completely in love with. I'm never going to run from this, no matter how hard it gets.
Hands hold a bowl of popcorn up to Billy Bass's mouth and feed him from the bowl.
I don't care what anyone else says, I'll give you everything I have, anything you want, it's yours.
The same hands hold a drink and a straw up to Billy's mouth.
Even if I have to lie, cheat and steal for it. I love you. And I don't care about the consequences.
Billy eats eagerly as the hands stuff more and more popcorn into his mouth.
I choose you.
The moustached contestant hands the rose to Cotton, then they embrace and share a passionate kiss.
With their arms around each other, the happy couple walks away, leaving Cod standing sadly on the edge of the circle of light, its shoulders drooping.
Billy finishes his drink.
Better luck next time, love.
Cod just gapes at Billy's sympathetic smile.
Billy's head disappears from the hole in the painted fish, and the stage lights dim.
Cod's now standing alone on a red-lit stage, casting a tall shadow on the curtain.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you. G'day, honourable people and cod fathers, honourable g'days.
Another shadow, even taller, appears on the curtain, as Cotton stalks in holding her rose in one hand.
Now, our job is to ensure that we not only don't overstate the issue, the real question is, the honourable question is, will the party rightfully answer the real question?
She slowly advances on Cod, which raises its hands nervously to its downturned mouth.
This question misrepresentation has trickled down to the very suppositories, the very suppositories of our drought stricken areas.
Cotton looms over Cod, dragging her rose gently down the fish's head and then grasping the head in both hands, touching her own cotton-ball head to it.
I have personally spoken with cod cod cod Mr Murray who tells me our constituents have been rightfully theirs, my Australian people, my cotton people are rightfully theirs, my economy people who will not push anyone down to lift up our hard-earned earnings.
A grinning mouth full of rotting teeth with shiny gold fillers.
Cotton keeps hold of Cod's head.
What a crowd, I say, this basin of boats, this river of fish fingers, this trickle of rice.
A young woman bites into a raw onion.
I say I am not engaging today in affectionate relationships with our strongest-ever economists.
Cotton and Cod struggle on the red-lit stage.
I am enquiring in the avocados of the river bed for my Darling hard work on Australian people.
Cod stares at its own reflection in a tall mirror in the wings of the stage. Behind it, a blue light flashes.
Our policy has always been that our policies, that our policy policy policy under circumstances in which policy can answer that question...
A fist hits a rubber fish dangling like a punching bag.
Cod keeps staring at its reflection.
A shadow on the curtain shows a hand spraying a jet of something into the open mouth of a kneeling man.
Cod clutches at its chest.
Dark green slime drips from the gaping hole where Billy Bass's head should be.
Dark slime also oozes from the mouth full of rotten teeth.
The man being sprayed has the same head as Billy Bass, and is kneeling on the stage with no shirt on, closing his eyes and lapping up the jet of liquid from the chemical spray bottle aimed at him.
Flashes of Cod beginning to collapse, more slime oozing from the Billy Bass backboard, the stage manager coughing while holding the 'Applause' prompt and wearing a daffodil head, a mouth biting into the rubber fish, the woman biting the onion. Marnie in the blonde wig struggles to breathe, the moustached contestant snuggles the huge cotton ball, Cod faces its reflection and Cotton tears at her fluffy white head on the red-lit stage.
Back in the circle of light in the dark space, Cod slowly sinks onto all fours and collapses onto the floor, lying sprawled in the pool of light.
The Murray Darling Cod
The Murray Darling Cod explores the rise to political prominence of the species after the death of one million cod in the Darling River at the beginning of 2019. This film reframes water mismanagement around a non-human victim via the hallucinations of a dying cod. Purposely provocative and constructed to deliberately overwhelm, it presents a world in which the interconnectedness of things is tangibly uncomfortable, terrifying and funny.
Nicholas Moloney - Bachelor of Fine Arts (Production), 2018
Emily Burke - Masters of Directing for Performance, 2018
Brooke Rayner - Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting), 2018
Alia Syed Rose - Masters of Design for Performance, 2019
Shaun Wykes - Masters of Directing for Performance, 2018
Edward McCullough - Cinematography
Audio referenced in artwork:
Our Music Box - “80s' Era | Upbeat Free Royalty Free Music - 'Euro Pop 80s'”
Proud Music Library - “Against the clock”
Danielle - Dlife - “Silent Film Music - Maple Leaf Rag (Royalty Free)”
AShamaluevMusic - “(No Copyright) Emotional and Cinematic Background Music For Videos & Films”
Political/news clips referenced in piece: