The National Museum of Australia hosted River Country Community Day on 15 October 2023. Visitors enjoyed a day of art, music, performance, storytelling and conversations exploring Australia’s remarkable river places and celebrating the launch of Living on the Edge: Caring for Australia's Threatened Places.
Through talks, walks and creative activities suited to all ages, members of the public learnt about the Murray–Darling’s unique river and wetland communities, why these places matter and how we can protect and regenerate them.
We closed the day with the premiere screening of More than a Fish Kill after a panel exploring the documentary hosted by Natasha Mitchell from ABC RN’s Big Ideas.
River Country installation, 11am–3pm
Walk beneath river red gums, float with the pelicans or look for platypus in the River Country installation. Transforming the Gandel Atrium, this special creative commission by artist and sculptor SA Adair in collaboration with Kirsten Wehner, James O Fairfax Senior Fellow in Culture and Environment, evokes the forms, flows and species of the Murray–Darling rivers and wetlands. Plants and animals transformed by students and artists from river communities remind us of the endless interweaving of people, culture and the natural world. The installation is an echo of an ecological community brimming with life, inviting us to remember, appreciate and dream of protecting and regenerating such places.
Everyone has a river story. Drop in and create your own river species artwork to add to the ecosystem. Let’s grow the wetlands!
Drop-in activities, 11am–3pm
Weaving wetlands stories
Get hands on with a weaving workshop facilitated by the Fibre Basket Makers of the ACT. Weave your own memory basket or just stop by for a chat as they share weaving skills and knowledge, and demonstrate how to harvest and prepare materials sourced from the wetlands in and around Canberra.
Microscopic life and waterbugs
Just beneath the surface of the Molonglo River, a world of mini-beasts and microscopic critters carry on their busy lives. They are fascinating, beautiful and essential to the wellbeing of our waterways. Join Jed Pearson from Waterwatch ACT for an exploration of this aquatic universe. Learn how to identify different species and then make your own bug.
What is it like to be a platypus? What does their world look like? In this workshop with PhotoAccess, you’ll use paper, sun and water to create a cyanotype print that captures your vision of the platypus’s world. Your image will be digitised and become part of an animation celebrating this amazing creature.
Gwydir through time
Contribute to a collaborative artwork exploring Gwydir wetlands, one of the most significant inland wetland systems in New South Wales, through time. Over the course of the day, the artwork will pass through 65,000 years of history.
Gwydir cultural objects, 1.30–3pm
Join Gomeroi/Kamilaroi traditional custodian Jason Wilson for a workshop featuring objects and stories from the Gwydir region of New South Wales. Learn about Gomeroi/Kamilaroi people’s continuing culture and connection to Country.
Imagining watery lives and places, 2–3.30pm
This workshop with artist, designer and researcher Zoë Sadokierski uses collage and sketching to explore the many lives, movements and relationships that make up the watery places that nourish us, from Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra to the wider Murray–Darling Basin.
Gwydir wetlands, 11.30am–12.15pm
Join Gomeroi/Kamilaroi traditional custodians, water managers and educators Phil Duncan, Brad Moggridge and Jason Wilson for an in-depth conversation about the internationally recognised Gwydir wetlands. Hear about the cultural and ecological significance of this unique place and how custodians are caring for it and sustaining culture in the face of significant challenges. Gomeroi/Kamilaroi custodian and artist Aunty Anna Duncan will also be part of the conversation.
Molonglo Country – Walking conversations, 11.45am–12.15pm and 1–1.30pm
Hidden within Lake Burley Griffin, the Molonglo River is a defining feature of Ngunnawal Country. In the morning session, join traditional custodians Uncle Wally Bell and Aunty Karen Denny, together with Catchment Studio’s Nicola Lambert, on a walk to discover the Molonglo’s cultural significance and learn how thinking through Country is helping redefine how Canberrans live with and care for urban waterways. In the afternoon, join Melissa Bell and Rebecca King, leaders in Ngunnawal language revival, for a kid-friendly walk around Acton Peninsula.
Creative flows, 1–1.45pm
Explore how art, curatorial and creative practices can connect us with the more-than-human world of rivers and wetlands, and create opportunities for imagining the future of these places. Hear from digital designer Mitchell Whitelaw from the ANU School of Art in conversation with artist, designer and researcher Zoë Sadokierski.
Rivers through time, 2–2.45pm
The landscapes through which the Murray–Darling rivers flow are richly layered with the stories and lives of countless generations. Join environmental historian Emily O’Gorman, Ngarrindjeri/Kaurna archaeologist Chris Wilson and geographer Lesley Head for a lively conversation that considers how thinking with the past can help us understand this region and ensure its future.
What is a river?, 1.30–2pm and 2.30–3pm
Three poet–scholars wonder what a river is, how it remains a river even when dry, the grief that this occasions and the need to restore the story the river must tell. Join Barkindji man Paul Collis, Jen Crawford and Paul Magee from the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra. The trio are collaborating with Barkindji and Nyempa people living along the Barka/Baaka (Darling River) in far west New South Wales to create A Book that Opens, an archive of spoken knowledge about river management.
Add your own responses to What is a river? and join the conversation happening in the Great Southern Land gallery.
Dinawan’s Connection, 11.10–11.30am and 12.30–12.50pm
Dinawan’s Connection is a First Nations dance troupe that shares dance and story, celebrating the continuation of culture.
Alinta Barlow, 11.30am–12.15pm
Alinta is a local Ngunnawal singer/songwriter who incorporates Ngunnawal language into her songs, sharing her love for this newly learnt language.
Mic Conway and Robbie Long, 12.30–1.15pm and 2.30–3pm
In a circus of comedy, music and magic, Mic Conway and Robbie Long present a hilarious array of idiosyncratic songs that will make your jaw drop, toes tap and sides split. There’s crooning, cavorting and more, all delivered with tongues planted firmly in cheek.
Alice Giles and Moran Wiesel, 1.30–2.15pm
Alice and Moran are a dynamic mother/daughter duo, combining classical harp with performance poetry/storytelling. Their performance draws you into the depths of music and the natural environment.
ABC RN’s Big Ideas panel followed by More than a Fish Kill film screening, 3pm–4.30pm
See the premiere of the new documentary, More than a Fish Kill, after a panel discussion exploring the story.
Before the screening, ABC RN Big Ideas host, Natasha Mitchell, will be joined by artist Vic McEwan, Barkandji Elder Barbara Quayle, fisheries manager Matt McLellan and Director of Clontarf Academy Narrandera, John Ingram, to discuss the film and the issues it raises.
More than a Fish Kill explores how artists, fishery managers and First Nations custodians came together in the aftermath of devastating fish kills along the Barka/Baaka (Darling River) and turned these ecological disasters into catalysts for cultural connection and revival. The film tells the story of a remarkable collaboration that interweaves art, science and ancient knowledge to care for communities, honour our rivers and reshape how we live, now and into the future.