deadstream_TV Episode 4
Talking with the River – Aunty Cheryl Moggs
Still image by Lavonne Bobongie
“They need to know they don’t own the river and they shouldn’t be putting fences up and shouldn’t be backing it up. When they pump it creates erosion, the banks fall in and then they take too much water. They are not like us, we only take things when need – it’s a management thing. White fellas will just take it any time they like, if they can get away with it.” – Aunty Cheryl Moggs
“As we listen to Aunty Cheryl talking to the river, she reminds us of our traditional ways and why our old people were able to sustain our water-ways on this continent for tens of thousands of years.” – Libby Harward
deadstream_TV E1: WARIBUL WAYIRA (hungry waterways)
deadstream_TV E2: SALTWATER REFLECTIONS
deadstream_TV E3: UNDER-EXPOSED / OVER-EXTRACTION
deadstream_TV E4: DOWNSTREAM
deadstream_TV E5: BLOODLETTING
deadstream_TV E6: UPSTREAM
deadstream_TV E7: SMOKE CLOAK
deadstream_TV E8: AMPLIFICATION, AFFIRMATION, LOCATION, SPIRIT, SONG
deadstream_TV E9: (DAMMED: RELEASING SOON)
deadstream_TV E10: (BANKED: RELEASING SOON)
deadstream_TV E11: (DRAINED: RELEASING SOON)
deadstream_TV E12: (CHOKED: RELEASING SOON)
Water is our lifeblood and we need to protect and look after it, as it looks after us.
First Nations people of this country have been holding cultural responsibilities to sustain our waterways from the beginning of time. Yet after just 230 years of colonial mismanagement, our ancient river systems are in grief; over-extracted, commodified, depleted and disrespected. From the speculative marketplace in water futures to rorting of water allocations, excessive irrigation IS colonial violence. Our rivers, in other words, are being bled out.
deadstream_DABILBUNG (broken water) presents deadstream_TV: a selection of film and sound works centring the issues facing fresh and saltwater country and culture.
The “wild”-flower season 2019 began my journey with my two children, through what is known in contemporary western terms as “The Murray-Darling Basin” (The Baaka and The Bidgee), on a project that longs to restore traditional custodianship of our fresh-water-ways: the rivers, creeks, lagoons, channels and wetlands that are currently threatened with imminent extinction. Following the footsteps of my Ancestors, we began this journey on my Ancestral country, beautiful Mulgumpin, in the Quandamooka, spending time with my Ngugi Elder, Gheebelum, Uncle Bob Anderson, listening with my children and reflecting-in fresh-water stories.
In Oct 2019, we took a 2800km, 12-day road trip, crossing at least 10 of the 27 Aboriginal Nations that make up the Murray-Darling Basin, to join the Yaama Ngunna Baaka Corroboree, with Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth. We listened to the fresh-water stories of Traditional Custodians, in order to join the call to reinstate Traditional Custodianship over these hungry water-ways, and help expose the forces that are starving and choking them.
In March 2020 my work hit a bend in the river due to the restrictions forced upon us by COVID 19. I was gifted a shift in my focus that gave me a sense of urgency to present and archive the conversations I had with traditional custodians and allowed the time to re-imagine the production of these works for an online output. Due to the home schooling requirements, I was also able to continue the involvement of my children in the realisation of the work, so their footprint is now not only on the creative development, but also they are co-creators of some of the final works.
Listening is integral to reinstating Indigenous governance, and these audio and visual works in this stream include opportunities for extended attention with re-projection and amplified soundscapes. These are works of expanded sound and vision in which you, the spectator, are invited to listen with your eyes, and your ears.
deadstream_TV is an experiment in online gallery practice.
It is also a kind of spiritual blood-letting, through which thoughts – concepts – conversations – and First Nations perspectives – may flow.
CHANNEL DEADSTREAM RADIO
Episode 4: DOWNSTREAM Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul
[Sound effects: We hear a full flowing stream. After a while, we hear the sound of feet crunching on dry earth. An Australian raven calls in the distance, and there’s the sound of a single fly buzzing close by. Sounds of someone wading through water, scooping it up and letting the water falls through their hands]
As seconds pass, the contrast between the sound of wading through deep water and sound of walking on dry earth increases. As Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul speaks, the sound of footsteps on dry earth and wading through through water continue]
I’m here in Goondiwindi with Aunty Cheryl Moggs, a strong Bigambul woman who grew up here on her country with her family at Toobeah reserve. As we listen to Aunty Cheryl talking to the river, she reminds us of our traditional ways and why our old people were able to sustain our waterways on this continent for tens of thousands of years.
Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul:
So you get all the fresh running water when it’s up.
This runs through all of the beautiful water, you could swim here but you can see, you couldn’t even get across the other side of the river.
And it’s that high, so you can probably only go about to there before you go to your neck – that’s how high it gets. Now look at it.
[sound effects: As Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses from talking, we hear the sound of wading through water]
Water should be nice and cool.
[sound effects: birds call in the distance]
Just watch the sticks. Nothing in there to hurt you.
[calling] Is it cold?
Just watch the stick there.
When it’s running it’s alright.
[sound effects: intermittent sounds of birds chirping]
See if you can go upstream a bit.
Yeah – you get in the middle.
We used to just lay here and it just runs on you.
It comes over the weir and it runs all the way through.
It’s stopped up there now.
[calling out] What does that tree there remind you of?
Someone having a dance?
Yeah, well we’re lucky we can get up to there because when this is running you can’t even get anywhere near it.
[sound effects: background sounds of local birds]
So, this is our major fishing hole here as well.
All this from there this goes right up there to the bank and see – see it goes right to the bank and that’s where we fished and look. Look what it’s like now.
So fishing and swimming is pretty non-existent at the moment.
Starting to get a bit deeper there?
[sound effects: Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses from speaking and we hear dry twigs breaking underfoot, the sound of single fly buzzing close by and distant calls of various small and larger birds]
This is where all the cod lie here in the middle. When the river’s up they like being around the logs and that. That’s why they keep the logs – they hide in the logs, the big cod.
This will be the first time I’ve walked out here.
You never get this close… to this.
…so she’s low.
There’s not even no water over the weir, look – we’ll go up and have a look at that weir.
Back to the bridge. All the way back to the bridge.
And as we go down further and further – there’s nothing.
That’s our mussel shells, yeah, they use that for ceremony.
Amazing, isn’t it?
How water affects everything. Not having water – just a breakdown in everything.
It’s really not about having free-flowing river systems any more, is it? It’s all controlled from different places.
Doesn’t flow freely like when I was a child.
You know they all met up? Now they’re controlled, when they get to meet each other. So you are actually stopping that culture from connecting across all TOs (Traditional Owners).
[sound effects: murmuring of industrial pump is overlayed over the sound of running water]
You read a story about Goondiwindi, it’s like that series of waterholes, which is those wetlands – now there’s all the potholes of river systems everywhere.
[sound effects: as the sound of people wading through water fades, an echoing industrial sound begins. It is the sound of a water pump murmuring]
And it was a lot more healthy because they were all across country, so everyone gets access to them – you know freely – all the animals – you know – plant life – everything – people and all that because they’re all across country.
Here where now it’s controlled – who gets access to it and what stage, time and place – so there’s nothing free-flowing.
[sound effects: a quiet industrial hum begins, increasing in volume as Aunty Cheryl speaks.]
It’s like those veins across country are blocked in certain areas – there’s nothing anymore so you’re struggling all the time.
We’re trying to reconnect and, you know, and pass the knowledge down.
[Sound effects: the sound of sprinkler commences, layered over the sound of an industrial pump]
We’re fighting the control of a water course.
[Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses from speaking, and coming to we hear the fore the sound of the sprinkler ticking, the whine of the industrial water pump, and the distant sound of bird calls]
It’s about controlling the land. It’s not watching the natural change itself and the course.
So you know, if you’re travelling around these river systems and you’ve got property owners all connected to it, you can’t just go around the river because that’s part of their property and they’ll put a fence across and you can’t go through. So it’s stopping……
[sound effects: Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses here and we hear the sound of the sprinkler overlaying the sound of water swirling in a large enclosed drum]
And what the fences do then is that cows get in it and then they get caught in that part.
All the logs back up – all the rubbish destroys the system because the control in a place stops them actually free-flowing.
[sound effects: Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses from speaking again, during which time the sprinkler can be heard, other sounds become more and more distant]
They need to know they don’t own the river, and they shouldn’t be putting fences across, and shouldn’t be backing it up.
And when they pump, it just creates erosion – you know, the banks fall in.
They take too much water.
Like us – we only take things when needed – it’s a management thing.
Whitefellas will just take it any time they like if they can get away with it, you know.
[Sound effects: Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses and the sound of sprinkler continues, layered over environmental sounds of birds and feet walking on dry earth]
We all have a responsibility for our systems, and river systems, and they were shared as well.
We have a law about what we can do we can’t and you only take as much as what you needed.
It wasn’t like, you know, ‘destroy and conquer’, it was like living with the system and protecting the system and all the ways that we had.
So now we don’t have that. And now we’re trying to fight to get that back – because if you lose water – we lose everything else as well, as tied to that country.
So everything is interconnected by lore and you have woman’s and men’s business associated with the river system – so you can’t practice those no more because you can’t get access, a lot of the time.
[sound effects: sprinkler continues]
And you’re trying then to put that into the minds of other people like councils and farmers and all that, but they still don’t get it.
It’s still all about dollar signs. They’re destroying the country just to line their pockets.
And then when they’ve had enough or they can’t get enough, they just walk away and leave it.
[sound effects: the noise of a a loud industrial pump begins.]
[sound effects; Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses. The industrial noises take over the soundscape – sounds of extraction, humming motors and whining pumps sucking up water and it gushing into an echoing drum. These sounds disappear when Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul recommences speaking and we are left with the sound of the whirring sprinkler and distant bird calls again]
And they sell the water to them.
Water is a commodity, it’s got a dollar sign on it and it’s all about water, it’s not about anything else that it’s connected to: “Oh if we take all the water – this is going to happen to all the Aboriginal people.”
I tell you what, we’re not going to be in their minds when they think about is going to the bank.
They say Aboriginal water gets back to us – yeah well, it’s just a token gesture.
[incredulous] They’ll put it back into the environment?
You know how much our environment needs to regenerate itself and all that? Imagine how much water we would have to put back in here. They’re not going to do that and let the farmers miss out.
[sound effects: the sound of sprinkler stops and we are left with the faint sound of distant bird calls and a buzzing fly]
Agriculture and stuff like that, it’s controlled all the way through to the Murray-Darling Basin, more or less.
And I don’t think building dams is the answer to containing water.
It’s about everyone working together and filling up our river system. Build them up and let them run freely, and have access all the way through, and look after it.
[sound effects: a peewee calling]
So when we get the reserve back, we’re gonna have to look really deeply into how we are gonna rebuild our rivers.
[sound effects: Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses. After a momentary silence, the sound of feet wading through water returns, and is momentarily punctuated by echoing industrial noises]
We have to rebuild our banks because they’ve collapsed from erosion to hold the water in, so we can get the flows through and then fight the farmers and rip down all the fences down, that go across the river.
[sound effects: Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul pauses and we hear the sound of water flowing in spurts from a pipe]
It would be interesting to see what it’s going to be like in ten years. They would want to start learning how to manage it. Cause we have a lot of destruction to water courses.
[sound effects: a bird chirps and fly buzzes close by]
So usually this is running through here, nice pristine clean water. Beautiful to swim in. A lot of people come here to camp.
[sound effects: sound of people wading and splashing in water]
[calling out] Wet your hair, that might help!
[Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul chuckles]
That’s the best thing to do! Wet your hair.
That’s the first thing we do, put our head in the water.
[sound effects: a fly buzzing close by, splashing and the sound of pouring water close by]
[Aunty Cheryl Moggs Bigambul sighs in relief]
[calling out] Want some water?
Come on and I’ll tip some on.
There you go.
[sound effects: splashing sounds continue briefly, to end of track].
Transcript by Danni Zuvela, with original transcription by Emily Sweeney.
Thanks to Maxxi and Arts Access Australia; and Julie Burleigh for guidance and advice on the preparation of this transcript.