ArtsReview

‘We want our rivers back’

“The river is the blood of the Earth,” said Muruwari and Budjiti artist Bruce Shillingsworth at the Yaama Ngunna Baaka – Welcome to Our River exhibition at Mosman Art Gallery on April 28. Mr Shillingsworth used the occasion, which also included works by his daughters and granddaughter, to launch the Water for Rivers Campaign Corroboree Expedition project. “We want our rivers back,” the artist said. “The recent drought in western NSW has exposed the deep corruption of water management in this country.”

Bruce Shillingsworth at Mosman Art Gallery (Photo: Andrew Collis)

On the eve of the exhibition, Mr Shillingsworth spoke to the SSH in Waterloo.

“I come from a place called Brewarrina. It’s where the Barwon meets the Darling. It’s a fair way out, between Bourke and Walgett. I moved down to Sydney with my wife Trish and family and we’ve been living here for about 15 years. I do a lot of work in schools, I work with the Department of Education. I also run an after-school care program at The Factory (67 Raglan Street).

“In late September, in the first week of October, we will be visiting the communities on the Murray-Darling Basin. We will visit Walgett, Bourke, Brewarrina, Wilcannia and Menindee. We’ll do a big corroboree, a big dance, a gathering of all the nations around NSW. We’re expecting to have around 30 or 40 dance groups that will camp and do education programs on the river bed.

“Talking to communities, being guided by the Elders in those communities, they’ll be telling dreamtime stories and passing a lot of knowledge. Lots and lots of non-Indigenous people want to go too. And they will join us with the convoy into these towns. And we’re hoping a lot of the churches will get on board, we got a lot at the university that want to get on board – they will organise their own transport.

“I think it’s going to be huge. It’s going to be like the Freedom Rides. Bring your tents, bring everyone, bring your family! You can come out and join us for a couple of days if you want. It’s a great experience and you’ll never get that again.

“We got 30 per cent of our Aboriginal population from NSW living along the river towns. So now those towns have been introduced to bore water, which is not very good, not healthy. A lot of them are struggling, a lot of our small farmers can’t produce, can’t grow their crops, can’t feed their cattle. And a lot of the small irrigators, they’re struggling as well. They’re just packing up and going.

“We need to get the fish back in the river again.”

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