Just as Pulse of the Wetland was getting underway this year, I was given the news that my application for a 2020 residency with the CORRIDOR project (tCp) near Cowra was successful. It was March, and the world was in the midst of panicking about a pandemic; no one really knew what was ahead and how we’d navigate life in a pandemic. Even travelling 250km north-west of Dubbo to continue my field recordings in the Macquarie Marshes seemed to be off-limits for a time.
The CORRIDOR project residency involved a series of virtual presentations and break-out sessions over several months – a COVID adaptation, with creative and science professionals discussing photo-media, curatorial practice and writing, traditional ecological knowledge, music, poetry, soundscape, earth sciences, plant pathology, and astronomy. Eventually, each of the artists in the program would have time on site the property near Wyangala, where we could explore ideas that had been brewing during the online PD LAB. My time came in two rounds, in August and October 2020.
The tCp property is a remnant of what was a much larger pastoral holding on the Galari/Lachlan River, downstream of Wyangala Dam (built 1928-1935, enlargements completed in 1971, and an expansion announced in 2019). The residency is centred on an enormous early 20th century shearing shed with rambling, overgrown timber yards and old cedar trees – bigger than any I’ve seen on “inside country”, and renovated shearers’ quarters providing a communal living experience with other residents. Perched on a hillside, littered with large tumbling granite boulders, overlooking the river below, my feeling on arrival was one of claustrophobia – something those born and bred on the plains will understand. The sun set and rose from behind the hills, my gaze restricted on three sides.
I’m not unfamiliar with the rolling landscapes of the Cowra and Hilltops area. My first visit to Cowra was as an agriculture student in the late 1980s. I returned over the years to visit friends and eventually my work as a specialist rural and natural resources communications consultant brought me back to the area to work with farming and NRM agencies and groups. However, it’s the first time I’ve had to consider this landscape from a creative perspective.
…each river has its own voice, its own unique sonic qualities.
As an artist, my practice hinges on using technology to give the natural environment a voice or to offer a new perspective. I’m also a storyteller with an interest in the narratives we develop to explain our relationship with the environment. And my first love is sound. This was my starting point.
The first stay at tCp in August was about listening to and observing the landscape – one the river dominates both historically and from a geomorphological perspective. I brought most of my recording kit (sound and video) and sampled different sites across the property and upstream on another beautiful riverside block, thanks to the Cowdery/Gower family. You may think recording one riverine environment would be much the same as the next, yet, each river has its own voice, its own unique sonic qualities.
Having spent my time between visits to tCp reading and researching the valley and the river, I returned in October with a much clearer idea of what I wanted to do. The project, Sonic Territories: Galari had started to take shape. Talking over the concept with residency geomorphology tutor and fellow artist, Simon Mould, I knew much of what I’d learned over the past year in the Macquarie Marshes would give me the knowledge and confidence to create a body of work that would give the Galari her voice – all 1440 kilometres of it, from the headwaters to the Murrumbidgee River.
With a project brief to direct the remainder of my time at tCp, I set off to continue sampling the river within several kilometres of the property, including Wyangala Dam. The residency also gave me the opportunity to talk over the presentation of the concept, build key contacts in the area, and talk with Orange Regional Gallery curator, Lucy Stranger, about my practice and work. Before I left at the end of October, the next field recording excursion was already in planning for early December – much further afield.
Associated posts: A tale of two rivers, January 2021