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Murrary Darling Basin Commision Australian National University

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Tumut Field Study: Notional Idea 4 – Edge Survey

Edge 1edge-2.JPG Edge 2 edge-3.JPG  Edge 3 

Goobarragandra Story: Part 3 – May Day (Draft)

By the end of the second Tumut Field Studies trip, ‘sure thing’ and ‘all good’ were resonating in my mind (as you might infer from my previous post) as familiar endorsements from two members of the group in response to proposals for our field itinerary. When ‘OK’ might have sufficed, these idiosyncratic affirmations delivered additional reassurances – the former in relation to risk and the latter in relation to quality. With the final field trip approaching, I find myself pondering my creative options in these terms. Of what things can I be sure?  How good will all the sure-things be? Eternal creative anxiety ripples to the surface. 

I have identified a reach of the Goobarragandra River where I intend to swim when we return in May. What I have in mind is not a recreational activity but rather an immersion as both a contemplative experience and a communication strategy. It will be a performance art work – a gift that hopefully this spirited river might accept.  

I will use my body as the medium. I will not assume to be another character as one would in theatrical performance. Neither will I behave in a way that is typical of myself. I will postpone my conditioning. There will be no rehearsals. The presentation of the work will be coincident with its inception. I will not draw on any virtuoso skills. In fact, I have none. I will simply focus on my breathing. I will need to enhance the performance of my lungs to fuel sensory awareness; to maximise time underwater. 

The course of the Goobarragandra I have chosen for this work includes a deep hole (see photograph below) – a near vertical fissure in the granite riverbed. It appears possible to swim into it and descend to a depth where daylight is subdued and distorted by the body of water above. Here, a fraction closer to the centre of the Earth, imagination can make things with the shadows of half-light. 

Just as the River presented itself to me with a beguiling human mask (see posting 18 March), I want by way of reciprocation to personify ‘wildness’ for it. The concept is to release into its current a message as a kind of gestural semaphore. “Hey, Valley! Humans can still empathise with forms of life that have no culture!” 

The deep hole may provide the conditions under which it is possible to conjure a memory of pre-cultural existence, when experiences of the world were not processed according to syntax for marks, dance, music or words.  Deep in the collective memory of our species this wild-state-of-being still surely resides.

Immersed in an unsustaining medium, without clothing or artefact, with physical forces modifying the familiar fall of the flesh, with senses heightened by the prospect of being touched by the unknown, with the imagination forming monstrous aquatic beasts, I will strive to create a portrait of human condition. 

I expect my face to form the most expressive account of this intention. Still warm from contact with its features, a film of water will rise to the surface carrying the delicate transfer. The artwork will be done. 

The process, enunciated by varying degrees of difficulty, will be for me to ponder. 

The product of embossed water – each molecule gripping its neighbor in wild excitement – will be for the River to disperse. 


access-to-deep-holejpg.JPG      Access to the Deep Hole, Goobarragandra River 

Goobarragandra Story: Part 2 – Great Expectations (Draft)

It was with great expectation that I returned to Tumut for the second Field Study Trip. What would happen this time? Would the Goobarragandra personify itself again for the benefit of my camera and all who look at the pictures it takes from this visually seductive river?

I had kept as company for the last two weeks a small but salient selection of the photographs that registered on my camera last time I was in the valley. (See Diary Posting. 18 March). I had a set of prints pinned to the wall in my studio, another set in my office and the most explicit image of the Goobarragandra Wild Man in my wallet. I would show it to colleagues who I thought would at least indulge my excitement. They did.

“Old Man River”, one of my professional friends said anxiously folding the paper print back to pocket size, “has been knocking around for millennia”. I acknowledged his claim with a glance over the top of my spectacles, which in turn raised my eyebrows. “It’s time we came to terms with ourselves”, he said defensively. “There is no other … way”.

Dear Reader, Dear Viewer, I have nothing as demonstrative to report as I had after the first Field Trip. I slept under the folds of my bull-frog tent as before. I was within the acoustic reach of the River. Should its liquid language choose to address me I was there, sleeping, listening for its choir of stones. There were interferences – true. The full breath of the southern gods, heavy with the grit of blood, beset the first night. In the face of the storm I fled my flimsy post for the human sanctuary of fibro-sheeted walls just as the Cross dipped behind the Bogong Range. (This was pure speculation, as I could not see a single star in the sky laden as it was with moisture and red dust – tiny mud pies on the wing). Also, come to think of it, I was segregated from the river’s spirited flow by a wire fence. It was strung as a counter instrument, one that doest not accompany song but betrays it. How could I have had any expectations at all?

But the world in all its manifestations has many tongues. After the battering of wind and topsoil, the conditions reverted to perfect. As if completely innocent, I went about doing what is expected of a photographer in the field. It was during these seemly routine procedures of picture taking that the river asserted its influence.

In the first instance, (See Picture 1 below), it was during a confrontation with a rock not far from the stabilisation works at a picnic spot on the upper part of the River. This particular Goobarragandra rock held my gaze. I was pinned by three intersecting co-ordinates – as a student of Pythagoras’s power of observation; as a fan of René Descarte’s geometric mind; and as an admirer of Isaac Newton’s mechanical genius. Under these circumstances I responded as creatively as I could. I mentally grided the surface. Then in Copperplate Gothic type I etched across the face of this modest piece of riverine masonry:-


The labour was effortless. Tools governed by the mind’s eye can chisel granite instantly and without delterious effect. I embellished the lettering with gold leaf at no expense.

Picture 2 (See below), taken on the riverside of the wire fence, is a fine cliché. But it was in this setting that the Goobarragandra’s wisdom was laid at my feet once more just where one would expect to find a gift from a humble deity. Forests are reservoirs of water, the river asserts through the medium of the photograph, a sink of carbon – sure thing (‘sure thing’ sung, “Suuuuuuuure Thinnnnnnnnng”, as a gospel refrain in a fine Sri Lankan accent modulated by west coast US); but also an oasis of aquatic life – all good (‘all good’ sung again as gospel refrain, “Allllllllllll Goooooooood”, this time with a Scottish accent influenced by stints in Jamaica and South Africa)

 Picture 1picture-1.JPG Picture 2 picture-2.JPG

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