11 Stories From the River

11 Stories From the river will produce a series of 11 location based audio walks downloadable on the banks of Diyarubin the Upper Hawkesbury from the Grose to the Colo confluence.  Featuring original music, historic, cultural and environmental stories and imagery the project is a collaborative public art work currently in development, aiming to inspire, inform and deepen the listener’s experience of the river. 

Having grown up playing in the bush around Upper Cowan Creek on the lower Hawkesbury in Guringai country and for the last 20 years making my home on Wheeny Creek on the Upper Hawkesbury in Darug country, this ancient river system has been a constant source of inspiration to me. 

This project is an offering of deep respect to this river country that is my home and seeks to bring to light the rivers underbelly – her stories and moves, her generosity…as a source that gives water to Sydney’s biggest city, and the different ways in which we might view the river…

Stories of deep time, geology and moving sands, of first contact and settlement along her fertile plains, of two kinds of farming, of ongoing dispossession of the Darug – the first farmers, of flood and near famine, of dams, development, wastewater and pollutants, of the eels carved into her rock banks, of the river as playground, waterhole and host of algal blooms,  of the dreaming and songlines, of what sustainability and rights for the river might look like…

Development funding from the NSW Government through Create NSW in 2019/20 enabled me to work with local knowledge holders, recording stories with WSU Scientists Dr Ian Wright, Dr Jason Reynolds  and Professor Basant Maheshwari, Darug custodians Leanne Watson, Erin Wilkins and Jasmine Seymour, Historians Jan Barkley-Jack and Professor Grace Karskens, Geologist Gil Jones, River Advocate and long time Hawkesbury MP Kevin Rozzoli, and stories, knowledge and experiences shared by the wider community.

With photographers Lyndal Irons and Sarah Rhodes, I have been collecting images and sounds along the river, including underwater recordings. Listening, watching, learning from the river to create a music work that reflects the rivers moods and stories.

In 2019 workshops were held along the river at Yarramundi, Windsor and in schools with students from Windsor High, Windsor Public and Hawkesbury Independent School, sharing stories with Darug educator Erin Wilkins and facilitating a creative response from students through poetry, music and art. Work created by students will be part of the audio walks series.

Erin Wilkins with Windsor Public Students
Windsor High students building sculptures in the Grose River near the Hawkesbury
Sculpture in the sand at Yarramundi made by Windsor High students

Windsor High student drawing inspiration from the river
Artwork by Windsor High students
Making a river of sounds with students at Hawkesbury Independent School
River Artwork by Hawkesbury Independent School student
At the river with Windsor Public students
Breaking down the beats in 11 time with Windsor Public students

I’ve been composing an 11 part music work for the project, in 11 time, playing with rhythms in 11, for piano, guitar, cello, percussion, clarinet, violin and bass, incorporating field recordings and samples from the river. In 2020 further funding from the NSW Government through Create is allowing me to finalise the score, bringing Darug voices into the score with Darug songwriter Stacy Etal, and writer Jasmine Seymour working on Darug song elements and workshopping the score with musicians. Further funding is also being sought to record the music, edit the stories, write and record a narrative and develop an interactive website to house the audio walks.

Rivers are mathematically beautiful…the “11” in “11 stories…” comes from Luna Leopold’s river meandering theory, where the length of a meander is on average 11 times the river’s width.

The project is gratefully supported by Hawkesbury Regional Museum, Hawkesbury Historical Society, Darug Custodian Aboriginal Corporation, Western Sydney University Sustainable Futures, Hawkesbury Environment Network, Windsor Public School, Windsor High School, Hawkesbury Independent School and Brewongle Environmental Education Centre.

11 Stories From the River is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW