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Rhys, GL 2007, 'Snakes in the grass : visual research into myth themes as a means of understanding and interpreting current environmental issues, and as a vehicle for generating art works in response to those issues : an exegesis of the serpent archetype in Mesopotamian/biblical and Aboriginal Australian belief systems ', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore.

Copyright GL Rhys 2007


Snakes in the grass is a visual research endeavour that utilises an arts and science disciplinary interface, to develop a method for generating a series of contemporary allegorical artworks that engage a study of Serpent symbolism and mythology.

On the side of Trinity Catholic College beside St. Carthage’s Cathedral in Lismore stands a life-sized sculpture of the Virgin Mary standing on a Serpent. Inside the school can be found a smaller version of the same sculpture, where priests and students light candles and incense, and place them around the statue. This thesis researches and questions the iconography of the ‘cursed Serpent’ as a primary signifier in the European Biblical tradition in Australia, as it stands alongside the iconography of the existing Indigenous cultures of this land, cultures that have a tradition of Serpent veneration.

The intention is to identify correlations between differing cultural and social attitudes that are embedded in religious traditions, and different attitudes to the use of natural resources. Material collected through studying the history of Biblical traditions is superimposed, in a form of cultural montage, on to images of technical procedures of research undertaken by scientists researching an innovative water remediation process on Mt Carrington in northern NSW.

The scientific research was focused at a disabled gold mine, where acid mine drainage contamination was severe, and represents a small yet significant example of environmental issues being faced all over the world. This research used salt water neutralised bauxite, or red mud, a waste product from aluminium mining to remediate water and soil affected by gold and silver mining.

The creative process developed into a contemporary allegorical narrative that operates as a personification and an enactment of a subjective re-reading of issues surrounding Serpent symbolism and the environment. The resulting artworks include paintings, photographs and an earthwork sculpture on the mine site at Mt Carrington. These works are generated to research, focus attention on, and stimulate discussion about cultural and environmental changes and challenges in Australia.

RhysPhDAppendix2007.pdf (26853 kB)
Appendices 1 and 2

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