One River: Project Overview
One River is the vision of Creative Director of the Centenary of Canberra, Robyn Archer AO, whose mother was born on the banks of the Murray River at Cadell, where her grandfather ran the punt. Robyn’s grandmother Agnes was brought there as a young bride to a tin shed on the river. They went through the Depression there. As Robyn likes to tell it, all they had to eat during the Depression, because they clearly had no money, was lobster and butter for breakfast. Robyn and her family maintain a strong and lively connection with that part of the river, but Robyn has also spent time in other significant Murray-Darling Basin locations, mentoring Mildura-Wentworth Arts Festival Director Helen Healy for some years, and, since taking on the Centenary of Canberra role, exploring connections in places like Echuca, where the PS Canberra is tied up.
In the early stages of planning for the Centenary celebrations, the idea of doing something along the length and breadth of the Murray-Darling appealed to her. She wanted a project where she could link up all these communities, in the belief that, despite the continuing divisiveness about water, we could still share positive stories about river life.
Canberra is the largest city in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Molonglo River, one of the tributaries to the Murrumbidgee, flows through Canberra, past the National Carillon on Aspen Island and past the National Museum of Australia, where the Paddlesteamer Enterprise is tied up. Lake Burley Griffin was created because there is a viable water source. When you go up into the mountains near Canberra, you can find the source of both the Murray and the Snowy starting from barely a couple of kilometres apart. Despite all the accusations about Canberra being remote from the rest of Australia, it would be more remote if it were anywhere else. The Australian Capital Territory is directly linked by water, and the experience of living on a body of water, to four out of six Australian states.
The opportunity presented by the Centenary of Canberra was to create a project that, through its sharing of stories, could provide an alternative image of this most iconic of Australian waterways to the battleground of division over water allocation that is so commonly reported in the press. There was a real opportunity to work with communities and individuals and reignite a common sense of connection to this mighty river system.
One River at Belconnen Arts Centre 24 August 2013
The ten local One River projects were all brought to Canberra and presented as an installation involving exhibition and performance at the Belconnen Arts Centre on Sat 24 August and a Symposium followed by artists’ talks at the National Museum of Australia on Sun 25 August.
An 8-page program was created to assist visitors to travel through all of the exhibition spaces and introduce them to the individual projects and the overall One River program. The program contained information about all the projects and the communities they were from and information about the work. It included a venue map. An A1-size map of the Murray-Darling Basin hung near the entrance so that visitors could learn a little more about where the participating communities were located and who the local project artists were. This information was also repeated in looping data projections at the entrance and above the stage (when the stage wasn’t being used). There was also an exhibition of photos by One River Executive Producer Lindy Allen, taken in all the regional locations during the local projects’ outcomes, and this included artists’ statements.
The event was installed over Thu 22 and Fri 23 August. Visitors were able to engage with the work in a relatively passive way throughout the day on Sat 24 August, although some projects offered interactive engagement such as lantern making (Bourke) and taking a short cruise aboard a floating pin hole camera (Murray Bridge). The evening event took place from 4:00 – 8:00pm. Performance events were scheduled throughout the evening with a special focus on the opening hour (4-5pm) and the closing hour (7-8pm). In the intervening periods, visitors were able to explore the centre’s many different rooms which became One River studios for the night, and here they could meet and talk with the One River artists about their communities, about how the work connected to the themes and stories on the Murray-Darling Basin and often ask some in-depth questions about some of the people and stories within the projects.
The evening was compered by Bourke artist, Andrew Hull. Andrew also presented his beautiful and evocative long poem My Darling, accompanying himself on guitar. Where possible, artists gave formal talks in their studios during the evening. This happened over three 15 minutes sessions in between the opening hour and the closing hour.
For several of the artists, formal talks were impractical due to the commitment of the artists either to their performance or installation. As the Murray Bridge artist Heidi Kenyon spent most of the evening welcoming visitors to the floating camera obscura, she installed a postcard wall inside the venue that was supported by a screening of her project’s documentary film (with headphones). All the documentary films were made by One River’s Executive Producer Lindy Allen (with the exception of the Narrandera documentary). A digital photo frame was created for each community-based project and these were placed wither outside the studio area or near where the performance would occur.
Throughout the evening, three-piece ensemble Ben and Jack Rogers and Nikki Scarlett played on stage, adding an important live sound which invigorated the space. SPEAK ensemble from Melbourne were also invited to support the dance appearances of the Conflux project and accompany the outside performance as part of the closing hour. A 12-minute sound loop featuring snippets from the hundreds of sound recordings/interviews made by the local project artists in their communities bathed the foyer area of the Belco creating a sense of immersion in the project.
Fires were lit outside and chairs provided (although many Canberra residents had followed instructions and brought their own) so that people could purchase food during the evening and have a short (and warm) break between engaging in the work. Sampling plates from each of the regions were circulated throughout the evening.
Welcome to Country was introduced by inviting each of the artists on stage to identify themselves and the country they hale from. Representing the Ngunnawal, Adrian Brown spoke about what the country around Canberra means to his people. He welcomed visiting Ngarrindjeri Elder Major ‘Moogi’ Sumner onstage to receive a gift. Adrian and his family and Major Sumner then conducted a smoking ceremony in the outdoor area and invited all present to pass through the smoke. Details in relation to the way each local project was presented in the venue are provided below.
Conflux is a suite of contemporary dance works drawing inspiration from stories of life at the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers, created by artists Kim Chalmers and Sally Hederics working with young dancers from the Mildura Ballet Guild and supported by Melbourne ensemble Speak Percussion. A ten minute dance piece was presented as part of the opening hour. Between 5:45 and 6:30pm, 2 x 15 minutes performances of Conflux were presented in the Dance Studio. The dancers also presented Riverlife in the outside area of part of the finale hour as part of a performance that included the choir (with lit lanterns) and Speak Percussion.
Turn Back to the River
Heidi Kenyon used the camera obscura technique to challenge viewers to see the world in a new way. Heidi installed the work on Lake Ginninderra in the darkened traditional wooden boat, Cygnet. Viewers were invited on board, where they listened to ‘cocktail’ music and were taken on a short cruise. Visitors had been encouraged to arrive early, as many did. The image, projected via a small lens onto a tube-like fabric screen, was an ever-changing outside world, occasionally visited by birds, other boats and people fishing. The boat was open to the public from 10am on Sat 24 Aug. In addition, 300 postcards from Heidi’s Murray Bridge project (submitted by residents of Murra Bridge) were displayed on moveable exhibition wall located in the Belco Foyer.
Remembering the River
Andrew Hull invited Canberrans to consider their relationship with water in this part of the world, both as individuals and as a collection. He brought with him 200 lanterns from the Bourke project and 50 lanterns with clear lenses that Canberrans were able to write on at various times during the day and in the first part of the evening. The lanterns he brought with him carried collected stories from some of the most remote river regions in far-western NSW. Lanterns were displayed in Arts Lounge with low lighting to provide the darkened room with glow. Audio from Andrew’s six recorded radio segments was played in the Arts Lounge throughout the day. Workshops were delivered continually during the day and evening to allow audience members to write stories on the lenses which are then placed back into the lanterns as new faces. Andrew told stories in Arts Lounge as part of 3 artist’s talks from 5.30pm –– 6.45pm. Andrew performed his long poem My Darling on stage (with guitar) during the evening. The 200 lanterns from Bourke were placed on Lake Ginninderra by the Captain of the Cygnet during the finale hour. The lanterns containing stories from Canberrans were used in the finale performance by the choir then placed outside on the edges of the lake.
Treasures of the River
The One River project brought a unique opportunity to the community of Augathella. Many people opened their lives and their photo albums to share with local artist Joanne Sutton and, eventually, with the whole community. These images and stories of the Warrego River were made into 120 individual postcards, which were installed as a curtain in her allocated studio at the Belco. Six of these images were made into banners, 1.5metres long and 1 metre high and these were displayed on the wall. Joanne also used these hero images to create 500 sets of postcards which were given to visitors. In addition, sound recordings of interviews and local stories were edited into an audio loop that was played in the studio. Joanne welcomed visitors during the day and delivered 3 x fifteen minute artist’s talks during the evening. To extend the experience in Augathella, Joanne hid 6 Geo-caches along the river system, and at the Belco event, she announced that a 7th Geo-cache had been hidden in Canberra, on Aspen Island, and visitors could participate in this adventure by logging onto the One River website and visiting the Augathella page.
Alluvial Connections: From Source to Sea
Alluvial Connections explored local river stories of the Coorong at the Murray Mouth through stories collected and written by Bill ‘Swampy’
Marsh, a ground map installation by Margaret Worth, an epic mythic poem written and performed by Michelle Murray and black and white images by Richard Hodges. Printed photos (Richard Hodges) and stories (Bill Marsh) were exhibited on A1 boards in the Artists’ lounge. A gravel and rock installation was created by Margaret Worth in the outside area. Visitors were able to explore the installation during the day. Margaret Worth presented 3 x 15 min artist’s talks during the evening. A performance of her epic mythic poem by Michelle Murray took place as part of the finale hour. This was accompanied by a video projection by Richard Hodges of his images that were screened across Michelle’s body as an integrated part of the performance.
Unravelling the Maranoa
Unravelling the Maranoa featured seven nine-metre rolls of paper soaked and buried at separate sites along the Maranoa River by artist Jude Roberts. They unravel the layered cultural, historical and geographical connections to this sand-based ephemeral river. At the Belco, Jude Roberts’ work was installed in Workshop 1. Jude delivered 3 x 15 min artist’s talks during the evening. As part of the finale hour, Jude’s husband Harry drove a front-end loader onto the outside area and dropped a 9 metre long roll of paper with marks made by one of the machine’s used to rebuild the bridge in Mitchell (which was washed away in the 2012 floods). The paper was fixed to the bucket of the loader and was then on display for the rest of the evening.
riverun captured the experience of living near the Hume Dam, using historical images projected onto the dam wall at night, to explore the role of water in shaping the community. Artists Bianca Acimovic, Vicki Luke and Vernon Bartlett animated this material for a data projection that interlaced history with contemporary attitudes to this major water intervention. Three separate projections were created and data projected onto the walls on their studio using palm projectors. These animated projections were timed to coincide in various ways. The room also housed a series of painted lanterns by Vicki Luke which were lit by pencil torches. During the evening, the artists delivered 3 separate projections, which included artists’ talks.
Lake Suite interpreted life around Lakes Mungo, Hattah and Hawthorn presented as six elaborately embellished life-size cloaks created by artist, Dr Carmel Wallace. These explored the environmental, social and cultural significance of these lakes with deep connections across place and time. Lake Suite was presented at the Belco in several ways. Five cloaks were set up on mannequins in the foyer, laid out in shape of the river. Five banner images (4m long x 1.2m wide), of the capes worn by local Mildura residents in the lake environments were hung in the foyer, with the mannequins. During the opening hour, the cloaks were presented in a parade by the Conflux dancers, accompanied by a music from Ben Rogers and Nikki Scarlett and a spoken word performance of Carmel’s poem We All Wear Cloaks, by Jack Rogers. (The trio also performed additional music throughout the night).
Tipping Point is video projection work created by Vic and Sarah McEwan, featuring interviews with people from Narrandera, Sandigo and Boree Creek. Tipping Point explores the psychological, environmental and social tipping points of those who live in the Riverina and provokes us all to think about the tipping points and balances we have as humans. At the Belco, a twenty-minute video projection of the films was presented on the external wall as part of the finale hour. Vic and Sarah made themselves available for visitors to talk to them about the work at an allocated space in the foyer.
One River – On Air
ACT artists John Shortis and Moya Simpson worked with members of the Canberra choral community on a suite of original songs exploring Canberra’s links to rivers in the Basin. One River – Life Giver, was performed by the National Carillon and a massed choir on 18 Aug and broadcast on ArtSound FM on 25 Aug 2013. A recording of the Carillon was made on Sun 18 August, enabling the choir to sing to this backing as part of their performance at the Belco. The 80-strong choir performed as an integral part of the opening hour and the finale hour, and also provided several linkages, moving people outside for the smoking ceremony and lighting and carrying the Bourke lanterns. As part of the opening hour, Worldly Goods Choir, the Cyrenes, and the Ukulele Republic of Canberra, led by John Shortis and Moya Simpson, performed a welcome song, based on a traditional zulu song, naming all the communities that had participated in the One River project. In this opening sequence, they also performed a place name song medley, written by John Shortis, featuring place name songs from the Murray-Darling Basin. A performance (with lanterns) outside as part of the finale hour, with Speak Percussion and the Conflux dancers. The final segment of the evening, a presentation of the original work One River- Life Giver by John Shortis written for choir and Carillon.
One River Films by Malcolm McKinnon
The nine films made for the One River project by Malcolm McKinnon were screened throughout the day and in the evening in the Dance Studio (when this wasn’t being used by the Conflux dancers)