11 Stories from the River Dyarubbin

Marri Badu Muru – Big Water Path, by Leanne Mulgo Watson © 2022

11 Stories from the River Dyarubbin is a series of 11 audio walks sharing stories of the river at the places where they happened : streamable from your mobile phone at 11 public locations along Dyarubbin / the Hawkesbury River between Yarramundi and Sackville, or from your favourite place to listen… a collaborative public art work aiming to inspire, inform and deepen the listener’s experience of the river. 

The audio-walks launched in May 2022 with a live performance at Hawkesbury Regional Museum and the release of the first Audio Walk – Howe and Deerubbin Parks Audio Walk – Balga Ngurrang / Windsor This walk commences at the Museum in Windsor and takes the listener along the river from there.

Underscored by an original 11 part music and sound work, the audio walks share stories of deep time, geology and moving sands, of Dyarubbin’s Aboriginal people and their enduring relationship with the river, of first contact and settlement along her fertile plains, of two kinds of farming, of ongoing dispossession of the Dharug – the first farmers, of flood and near famine, of dams, development, wastewater and pollutants, of the Eel carved into her rock banks, of the river as playground, waterhole and host of algal blooms, of Dyarubbin’s dreaming and songlines, of what sustainability and rights for the river might look like…

Yarramundi, North Richmond, Pugh’s Lagoon (Richmond), Streeton Lookout (Freeman’s Reach), Macquarie Park (Freeman’s Reach/Windsor Beach), Governor Phillip Park (Windsor), Pitt Town Lagoon, Cattai and Swallow Rock Reach (Ebenezer) Audio Walks have also now been released. All the audio walks are available with further information on Hawkesbury Regional Museum’s Website

One more audio walk is in production ( Sackville) and will be released in early 2024.

In September 2023, an exhibition was launched to celebrate the project at Hawkesbury Regional Museum, Balga Ngurrang / Windsor. We are currently looking for funding to enable us to erect signage at these audio walk locations.

Yarramundi Audio Walk Still holding its original name, Yarramundi is at the confluence of Dyarubbin and the Grose river, a significant meeting place, ceremonial ground, river crossing and tool making workshop in the heart of Dharug Country. Guided by Yarramundi descendant Jasmine Seymour, we hear stories of deep time geology, fish traps, rock engravings and songlines, of a landscape on the move, as floods reshape and shift the ground, of frontier conflict and war and of Yarramundi, the leader and Garadyi /Clever Man, for whom this place is named; of the Badung Platypus, the Magura Australian Bass and Barra Eel, of the ecology of the river, of water quality, water mills, sand and gravel mining, farming, fishing and the bush regenerators, Waterkeeper and Custodians who seek to restore balance to this wild and beautiful place.

North Richmond Audio Walk North Richmond takes it’s name from Richmond Hill, sitting just above the river, a significant place for the Burubiranggal / Dharug people, who cultivated yams, made fishing line and rope from the nearby Kurrajong and cloaks from Possum skin in the area. Dharug traditional owner Dom Wilkins is our guide as we hear of how Dharug man Deedora ferried Tench’s party across the river to Richmond Hill in 1791, where a massacre is now commemorated, of the impact of farming along the river & the endurance of Dharug culture. We learn of changes to the landscape through flooding, the 80-100 year flood cycle, bridges and river crossings, riverbank erosion and bush regeneration. We learn about the ecology of the river and its catchment, the North Richmond off-river water supply, the Kurrajong railway line, boat building, swimming and sand mining. Lsteners are advised this audio walk contains the voice of a recently departed Dharug community elder.

Pughs Lagoon Audio Walk Dharug students Josh and Beau are our guides as we learn about Waradya / the lagoons and wetlands of Dyarubbin’s floodplains, their significance to the Dharug people, their importance to the ecosystem and how the river has moved across the ancient floodplain terrace of Marrang Ngurra / Richmond.
We look out for water birds, hear stories of Dharug medicine, early settlers, Gudugulung / fresh water turtles, flooding and two ways of farming. We hear of Dharug matriarch Maria Locke who was born here during the time of early colonisation, frontier violence, the survival of Dharug culture and the revival of Dharug language.
We hear about the river and lagoons as providers of water and repository of waste and the effect of the pollutant PFAS, fire fighting foam in wastewater and across the floodplain.

Streeton Lookout Audio Walk With an elevated view across Dyarubbin’s vast floodplain, Dharug educator Rhiannon Wright is our guide as we listen to stories of Gurangady, the river’s Great Eel dreaming & how the river’s geology is reflected in this story. We learn of soldiers trading land grants along the river here & of Streeton’s famous painting, painted close by. We consider dams, the sustainability of Sydney’s water supply, irrigation & catchment management. We learn of the flood cycle; PFAS contamination & the lagoons of the floodplain & how earth laws can recognise a river as a living being.

Howe & Deerubbin Parks Audio Walk Dharug educator Rhiannon Wright is our guide as we hear of the Dharug relationship to the river, the cultivation of Yams, the dreaming of Gurangady and engravings along the river. Windsor was a port town & we hear stories of the river as a road, wharves, boat building & river crossings. We learn about Andrew Thompson & frontier violence, stolen children, Thomas Pilot Rickaby, Mioram & John Howe, Windsor’s first Bridge & the protest to save it. With students from Windsor Public we explore the number 11 & the beautiful mathematics of rivers.

Macquarie Park Audio Walk Home to Windsor Beach, Dharug students Lyra, Indiana and Jayden and Dharug educator Rhiannon Wright are our guides as we listen to stories of swimming in clear water, regattas, boats eels & European migrants. We look at Aunty Edna Watson’s engraving & learn of Dr Rex Stubbs apology to Aboriginal people. We hear of Governor Macquarie & his role in frontier violence. We hear of micro-plastics in the river, riverbank erosion, the meandering nature of rivers & reflect on the river with Windsor High students. Listeners are advised that this audio walk contains the voice of a recently departed Dharug and community elder.

Governor Phillip Park Audio Walk Where Wianamatta / South Creek meets Dyarubbin, was both a Dharug ceremonial ground & the place colonisation on the river began in 1794 with James Ruse. Dharug educator Erin Wilkins is our guide as we hear of the relationships between settlers and the Dharug, the frontier violence and war that followed their arrival and it’s impact on Dyarubbin’s Aboriginal people including Nurragingy, the leader of the South Creek Tribe.We listen to stories of yams, songlines, ancestral beings and the rivers that carved their way through the mountains to form Dyarubbin. We learn of tanning, brewing & the history & love of water skiing. We learn of riverbank erosion & riverbank vegetation, farming, Tebbutt’s Observatory, the devastation of a flooded home & we listen in as WSU students test water quality here.

Pitt Town Lagoon Audio Walk Dharug educator Rhiannon Wright and Dharug student Lyra are our guides as we learn of the formation of lagoons and their importance to Dharug people. Bardenarang Creek, connects the lagoon to the river and is one of the only waterways on Dyarubbin which retains its original name. It was here that the first meeting between Governor Phillip and Dharug leaders took place in 1789 and where colonisers moved in along the river, 4 years later, with this lagoon behind them. Some of the area’s early settlers included boat builder John Grono and Rev. John McGarvie, who in 1829 recorded a list of Aboriginal names along the river. We watch for water birds, hear of the Pitt Town Common, Kurringy – leader of the Caddie Creek Tribe, the Pitt Town /Wilberforce punt, floods, swimming, and water-skiing.

Cattai Audio Walk Where Cattai Creek meets Dyarubbin, the river is leaving her floodplain and returning into sandstone country, a sacred zone to the Dharug. Dharug artist Leanne Mulgo Watson is our guide as we learn this is an area rich with engravings, a meeting place & ceremonial ground. We hear of meetings between European exploratory parties and Dharug people at Little Cattai and Cattai Creeks, the colonisation & frontier conflict that followed and how this place was granted to Surgeon Thomas Arndell. 
We learn of the ongoing Aboriginal presence in the area, Kurringy the leader of the Caddie Creek Tribe, Arndell’s meeting here with Yarragowhy and Yarramundi in 1804, and many generations of the Arndell family who lived here, the homestead, Hope Farm Mill, Ebenezer Church just over the river and the impact of continual flooding which saw the Arndell family sell the property to National Parks in the 1980s. We learn of sand mining, water quality, waste water, weed management in the catchment, the once mighty Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Trust, the Hawkesbury Nepean Waterkeeper Alliance and a Platypus study on Cattai Creek.

Swallow Rock Reach Audio Walk On Swallow Rock Reach Walking Trail, we are in one of the last remnant pockets of Daga Daga, the tall river flat forest which once covered Dyarubbin’s banks. Dharug educator Rhiannon Wright is our guide as we watch the river slowly returning into her gorge – this part of the river is a sacred zone to the Dharug. Nearby are significant places relating to the dreaming story of Gurangadj, the Great Eel. In 1799, Dharug warriors drove out the first colonisers to take land here, but in 1803 a second wave of colonisers came out together on the ship the Coromandel. At the beach we hear of the community that formed around them, building a Church & School here. We hear of funeral processions and travel along the river, of settlers Turnbull, Hall and Stubbs, relentless attacks by Dharug warriors seeking to protect their access to this sacred area and of Aboriginal locals Betty Cox and Andy Barber. We hear of harvesting, farming, care of Country, and the deterioration of the river ecology. We learn how the geology of the Sackville gorge affects flooding in the area, as we approach the old Ebenezer Wharf, we learn of the cargo, grocery and passenger boats which plied the river

ARTIST STATEMENT AND THANKS

Having grown up with the bush as my backyard on Upper Cowan Creek on the lower Hawkesbury and for the last 20 years making my home on Wheeny Creek on the Upper Hawkesbury in Dharug / Darkinjung 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, moves, and generosity…to inspire better relationships between people and place, to invite listeners to better know and understand Dyarubbin and the people who have cared for this Country for at least 60 000 years. The stories are all around us, the river’s history tells us clearly, Aboriginal people continue to shine a light on what true custodianship of Country looks like.

It would not have been possible without the generous support and collaboration of Hawkesbury Regional Museum’s Kath Von Witt, Elissa Blair and Rebecca Turnbull, Dharug Custodians Leanne Watson, Erin Wilkins, Jasmine Seymour and Rhiannon Wright, Hawkesbury Historical Society & their President, historian Jan Barkley-Jack, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of NSW Grace Karskens and the gift of Dharug and Darkinjung place names that her research brought to light, Western Sydney University scientists Jen Dollin, Dr Ian Wright, Dr Michelle Ryan, Dr Jason Reynolds and Professor Basant Maheswari, and over 100 wonderful interviewees, children and artists who have shared their love of this beautiful river. Didyarigura Thank you

Thank you also to Hawkesbury Environment Network, Windsor Public, Windsor South Public, Windsor High Schools, Hawkesbury Independent School and Brewongle Environmental Education Centre. And to my family who lost me for a time to the river….thank you. Marri Didyarigura.

DEVELOPMENT – 2019 – 2021

With development funding from the NSW Government through Create NSW, in 2019/20 I worked with local knowledge holders, recording stories with WSU Scientists Dr Ian Wright, Dr Michelle Wright, Dr Jason Reynolds, 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, Geologist Associate Professor Tom Hubble, Geomorphologist Professor Kirstie Fryirs and stories, knowledge and experiences shared by the wider community.

With photographers Lyndal Irons and Sarah Rhodes, I recorded images and sounds along the river, including underwater recordings. Listening, watching, learning from the river, from Country, 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 Schools, sharing stories with Dharug 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.

Dharug educator 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

THE MUSIC

I’ve written an 11 part music work for the project, in 11 time, playing with rhythms in 11, for piano, guitar, cello, percussion, clarinet, violin, bass, voices, field recordings, birdsong and samples from the river.

Rivers are mathematically beautiful…the number 11 in the project comes from Geomorpholgist Luna Leopold’s river meandering theory, where the length of a meander is on average 11 times the river’s width. This story is shared by Geomorphologist Kirstie Fryirs in the Howe and Deerubbin Parks Audio Walk

In 2020/21 further funding from the NSW Government through Create NSW enabled me to finalise, workshop and bring Dharug voices into the score with Dharug songwriters Stacy-Jane Etal, and Jasmine Seymour. In February 2021, I workshopped the music at Hawkesbury Regional Museum with musicians Gary Daley, Dimitri Vouros, Jess Ciampa, Mary Rapp, Rob Shannon, Barbara Webb and Kevin Adams.

Workshopping the project music at Hawkesbury Regional Museum Feb 2021

In 2021 I produced a radio feature for ABC RN Yarramundi and the people of Dyarubbin on the Dharug people and their enduring relationship with this river country for ABC Radio National’s History Listen, incorporating music and interviews from the development of the 11 stories project, featuring Dharug knowledge holders Leanne Watson, Erin Wilkins, Jasmine Seymour and Rhiannon Wright and Emeritus Professor of History at UNSW Grace Karskens.

Assistance from the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body and Musuems and Galleries NSW, enabled the commissioning of project artwork from Leanne Mulgo Watson, Marri Badu MuruBig Water Path (above ) and Wiyanga BaduMother Water (below) and production of the 11 audio walks, culminating in an exhibition in April 2023 at Hawkesbury Regional Museum. The 11 audio walks will be hosted on the Museum’s website, as well as being available to stream via QR codes from 11 sign posted sites along the river.

Wiyanga Badu – Mother Water, by Leanne Mulgo Watson © 2022

The project is supported by Hawkesbury Regional Museum, Darug Custodian Aboriginal Corporation, Hawkesbury Historical Society, 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 Dyarubbin has been supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW

11 Stories From the River Dyarubbin has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body

I acknowledge the Dharug and Darkinjung people, the original custodians of the country where I live and work. I recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture and offer my deep respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.
This land was never ceded, always was, always will be Aboriginal land.