Ice-told stories through layers of dust

Ice-told stories through layers of dust

Lead dust from mining silver in Broken Hill, Australia’s first colonial silver mine, and birthplace of international miner, BHP, was windborn in atmospheric currents and detected in icecores in the Antarctic; arriving 20 years before Scott and Amundsen raced to claim the last unterritorialised continent. We got there before we arrived.

Of atmospherics and thresholds, and of the indistinct zone between insides and outsides, north and south, gallery and pole. Of one water and one air across two continents and an ocean.


175 St Vincent Street Port Adelaide Australia

17 March- 20 April, 2024

Wherever you may wish to go, know I’ve already arrived


Catalogue essay, by Naomi Riddle

Let’s start with the lead-soaked dust. Harsh sharp gritty dust, which burns the throat and stings the flesh. To tell the story of the dust means starting 1,685 million years ago, in the Earth’s era of peak volcanic activity, when boiling seawater mixed with the cooler water above. It means considering the mineral-rich sediment, the next 500 million years of erosion, the Earth’s exposure to groundwater and air. This is how you get to the giant ore body—bursting with silver, lead and zinc—sitting one and a half kilometres below Broken Hill, on Wilyakali Country. 

When the first silver mine opened in 1885, settlers cut into the soil, sunk shafts, blasted rock and registered Broken Hill Proprietary Co. They hauled off trees, constructed fences, and built new mountains out of debris and gravel. Lead seeped out, chemicals poisoned the water supply, and the dust arrived. And dust, as we know, finds its way into windowsills, pavers, roads, airways and lungs. Dust and a strong breeze can drain a bright blue sky.

So, in 1889, when the wind picks up, the dust thinks, It’s time to see the world! And the toxic lead, the dust’s co-conspirator and travel companion, agrees and says, We’re wasted here!

 They gather themselves up on the surface of the Earth and begin their ascent into a whole new manner of being. Now they’re experiencing the wild ride of atmospheric aerosol circulation: they’ve found the whip of the current, the convoluted shuffle between high and low air pressure systems, the unexpected thrill of the jet stream. They’re moving southward at a clip, rushing towards the pole, hovering over the ocean, befriending vapour, fog and cloud. 

The dust spies its destination. An atmospheric river drops, dumps, ejects it onto a white expanse. Twenty-two years before the race to discover the South Pole—Amundson with dogs, Scott with Siberian ponies—the ‘untouched’ continent is unceremoniously coated in the grey poisonous refuse of extractive economics. (We know this because lead, originating from Broken Hill, is visible in sixteen Antarctic ice-core record samples.)  

Dust, as Andrea Barrett writes, “gathers and makes visible what is otherwise unseen”. What is the dust making visible here? That ice is also a memory-maker, a recordkeeper of toxicity, a slow-burn meteorologist. That the boundaries between air, water, earth, land, fence, border, inside and outside, are imaginary at best. The dust is saying to us, even as the ice melts: Wherever you may wish to go, know that I’ve already arrived. 

Ice told stories of lead and ropes

Operating as an analogue weather reporting station, the draped fabric  images are rehung daily to convey the daily weather conditions at the  Scott Amundsen Antarctic station, 1000 km away, readable via the installation in the gallery.

Beginnings to Ends: Underground and Undersea: Mapping at a molecular level the lead dust from mineral load of Broken Hill, to the Antarctic ocean zooplankcton; and Antarctic ice slips from the Antarctic continent over time, eventually to pass into the ocean where zooplankton will metabolise the lead in place of other minerals.

With thanks to: 

Penrith Regional Gallery

Artist-woodworker Nat Penney

Eleanor Scicchitano, POP

 Dr Jean-Philippe Putard, Joint Research Centre (JRC) European Commission

For full overview of science refer to previous related work: DUMP, with essay by Annika Jaspers, senior curator, Museum of Contemporary Art.


Antarctic-wide array of high-resolution ice core records reveals pervasive lead pollution began in 1889 and persists today. Joseph R McConnell et al. Scientific Reports · July 2014

Original negative of Amunsden and Norwegian claim courtesy of the National Library of Australia

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) model that can be used to detect whether there
is an atmospheric river from central Australia to Antarctica; the weather
phenomena that drew lead in dust from Broken Hill to the ice of Antarctica.