Finding common ground

Monkeygar Creek, Gibson Way
Macquarie Marshes signpost

…it’s very pretty – one of the words that (with) landscapes we don’t use enough of…

ERIC FISHER, FORMER MARSH GRAZIER, “Wilgara” Quambone

Over the past six months of working on Pulse of the Wetland, I’ve been collecting stories from people who have a connection to the Marshes.

It’s been a mix of identifying individuals I knew had a story to tell and approaches from those who were prepared to contribute. There are stories I would still love to have part of this collection, but it’s up to the individual to want to share it. And the reality is time and money can be limiting factors. Since February 2020, I’ve driven more than 3,800km to collect material for the project. The grant I received during the year from the Regional Arts Fund administered by Regional Arts NSW will cover a fraction of the time spent researching, planning, field recording, and editing.

So, why undertake something like this?

I come from a journalism background and I strongly believe first-person storytelling is a powerful form of communication. It has the capacity to foster inclusion and connection, rekindle memories, shape and re-shape ideas, clarify misconceptions, and imagine new futures.

Stories reflect who we are.

The stories I’ve been recording are to become part of the Pulse of the Wetland works I create but they’ll also form an online archive beyond the project that can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

Stories recorded to date can be heard on the Story Maps page. Pins on the map indicate where each storyteller first experienced the Marshes or spent significant time. Locations I’ve done field recordings for the project are also marked on the map.

Does ‘God’s own country’ have a future?

Ebenezer Hayden has eight decades behind him now and has known the Marshes since he was a child, when his father took up J-Block (now part of the Northern Nature Reserve) in 1945. He’s mustered cattle through reedbeds described as being 17 feet (about 5 metres) tall, a fearless horse rider who lived in an era that has since disappeared. He described the Marshes more than once as “God’s own country”.

The one thing that strikes me as I listen to each of these stories is that despite the water politics that swirl around the Marshes, everyone is in awe of the beauty, the diversity of life and complexity of the landscape — from those who know her intimately, to those who visit occasionally.

Some are more hopeful than others about the future of the Marshes, but surely agreeing on something as simple as the inherent beauty of a place, even before we agree on the irreplaceable value of the wetland ecosystem to future generations, forms the foundations for reaching consensus about how to meet her future needs.

Kayaking in the Marshes (photo courtesy of Carollyn Fisher)
Kayaking in the Marshes (photo courtesy of Carollyn Fisher)

I see the Marshes in an entirely different way now to when I first moved home…it just has a magic feel altogether, being out there walking around…just being out on Country where our mob have been walking around here for centuries, or thousands of years actually.

Kevin ‘Sooty’ Welsh, Wayilwan artist, Coonamble

It does get into your blood, definitely. I think it’s the beauty and the changeability.

Carollyn Fisher, formerly of “Wilgara” Quambone

One of the things that is great about it is it is seasonal changing and it’s very pretty – one of the words that (with) landscapes we don’t use enough of…the colours and vegetation, wildlife, birdlife, it’s just a very, very magic place. It’s hard to explain it, there’s probably not words good enough.

Eric Fisher, formerly of “Wilgara” Quambone

It’s got to have the wet and the dry to operate, and of course, then it floods and there’s this explosion of life in the Marshes and it’s wonderful! I’m a bit high, I think!

Janice Hosking, birdwatcher, Dubbo

The boom and bust cycle has fascinated me – the explosion of life that occurs on reasonably infrequent big flooding events is mind-boggling, and that’s what’s made the Marshes famous. But I’ve come to learn the Marshes has many characters and many moods and it’s very important to understand the wetting and drying cycle for the survival of the Marshes.

Gillian Carter, formerly of Nevertire and author of The Macquarie Marshes: an ecological history

We’ve got a long connection with this part of the country…the Marshes have increasingly been held up as being a vital part of the landscape and as an irrigator and extractive water user I’ve had a belief that if we’re seen or portrayed in some quarters as being a problem for the Marshes…we had to be part of the solution, we had to understand the Marshes and we had to learn what made them tick.

Tony Wass, formerly of “Mt Foster”, trust holder of “Burrima”

I still love the Marshes – God’s own country.

Ebenezer Hayden, formerly of “Noonbah” Quambone and former Marsh block lessee

It becomes an area that’s important for a whole range of biodiversity – vegetation, animals, birds, frogs…it’s unique in that system and it’s that landscape…The Macquarie Marshes is that big mix of areas that get wet regularly and areas that don’t. Understanding how all that fits, to me, is part of understanding how it’s going to look into the future.

David Duncan, Macquarie Wetlands Association

..that Marsh country is some of the best country for cattle in Australia…The Marshes was full of life, you know birds and pigs…and roos and emus and all the different sorts of water birds. It was pretty.

Bill Masman, “Roumani” Carinda and former Marsh block lessee
Magpie geese fly above the Monkeygaa Swamp, Gibson Way
Magpie geese fly above the Monkeygaa Swamp, Gibson Way

This project was made possible through a Quick Response Grant provided by Regional Arts NSW through the Regional Arts Fund, an Australian Government initiative supporting the arts in regional, remote and very remote Australia.

Published by Goldsmith's Studio

Digital media artist, creative content producer & instigator of ART e-Parties.

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