Raft is a work of translation, multiple translation. At its heart lies a reference to the death voyage of the missionary Carl Strehlow (himself a translator), from his holy place in the desert at Hermannsburg to his end at the rough bush hotel at Horseshoe bend, 150 miles away. in his final agony, seated in an old armchair lashed to a wooden dray, which had lurched along the Finke river bed through the October heat of 1922, Strehlow knew that it was pointless to resist that particular translation. He arranged fro each of the bushmen at his wake to receive a bottle of whiskey and his remains were laid to rest in a coffin made from whiskey packing cases.

Ruark Lewis's raft and word drawings, together with Paul Carter's soundscape and writings that surround and contextualise the total work, express two forms of translation. The first is literal, concerning texts that reflect the lives of Strehlow and his son, the linguist and Aboriginal classicist, TGH Strehlow. These include St Paul's Acts 27 and 28 in Greek. Latin. German, English, Arrernte and Diyari (inscribed on the raft itself), Lewis's disguised transcription paintings of translated versions of Western Arrernte Rain Songs, and Carter's whispered rendering of a translation of Rain Song of Mborwawatna.

The second form of translation is allusive rather than literal, evocative rather than actual. It marks the blurred boundaries between drought and rain, Carl Strehlow's secular agony and sacred epiphany, Ted Strehlow's naive childhood and bitter adulthood, between biblical, totemic and historical landscapes, mythical ancestors and their present embodiment, Aboriginal and European realities. this translation imparts resonance to those sacred worlds that shimmer over the surface of this bizarre craft.

Entering the space of Raft , with its 24,696 characters drawn in six languages, copy-perfect on to three faces of 294 wooden beams, the principal first impression is not of a raft at all, but of a mysterious printery. It is the muted background soundscape of jangling harness and footsteps crunching into the sandy bed of the Finke that conjures the doom-trek of 1922. Then Raft seems to move, transforming from a medium for translation to an object that might transport words, ideas. Lewis and Carter have retraced the steps leading to Raft's completion. Each place finds its origins in Journey to Horseshoe Bend , TGH Strehlow's half-forgotten autobiographical lament for his father and his own lost childhood, written as an account of that tragic voyage nearly 50 years later. I returned to my shabby copy, stamped `General Motors Holden Staff Library Club' (borrowed a dozen times) and was struck by its literary power. The thin, sad-faced boy had kept pace with his father's caravan as it struggled through sand and heat, past frontier outposts and ancestral sites. His father's grim prayers, the elegiac accounts of those Arrernte Dreamings that intersect the Finke, banal histories of European pioneers, his mother's solicitude, the drought-breaking rain - all merge in a fatalism evoking the biblical, the Dreaming past. tapping the sources of that fatalism, TGH Strehlow returned to Hermannsburg a decade later to filter his classical knowledge through the skein of Arrernte songs. The result was Songs of Central Australia, a work reflecting his insight that history and Dreaming are not mutually exclusive. Each bleeds into the other.

-Philip Jones

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