River Stories

I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?
Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre

For some years now I’ve been setting my creative interventions within the catchment of the Kalari-Lachlan River, in inland New South Wales, where I was born and raised, and have now returned to. Members of my extended family have been living along this river and its tributaries since at least the 1840s and probably well before that, so I feel strongly connected to it. I’m part of many of the stories that have been enacted here over the past two hundred years, both the good and the bad. Now I’m adding my own stories to this river’s repertoire. Because stories matter, for reasons I’ve outline in some of the work below.

Big Skies: 60,000 years of astronomies on the inland plains, a five year creative collaboration with scientists and artists exploring people’s relationships with the celestial bodies we see from inland New South Wales. >>

Making Senses Of All This, my video contribution to Geography of the Senses, a Stir14 event at the Derbyshire EcoCentre for the 2014 Wirksworth Fringe Festival.

Read my presentation here >>

Kalari-Lachlan River Arts Festival: a biennial celebration of country creativity and resilience centred on the river town of Forbes. I established this festival in 2011 through my Kate Kelly Project. More on the River Arts Festival here and here.

Kate Kelly on the Lachlan: a scholarly article published in the international peer reviewed journal Rural Society 21:2, pp. 136-145, February 2012 [pdf 92KB] Read it here >>

Kate Kelly on the Lachlan 1885-1898, a working paper presented to The Land: Past, Present, Future symposium at the Centre for Professional Development, Charles Sturt University, hosted by Macquarie University’s Centre for Media History and CSU’s School of Communication and Creative Industries, 5-6 May, 2011 >>

Understanding place through narrative: changing who we are and the places we love with stories >>

Once upon a time, a young girl found a stone in a dry creek bed on her family’s farm. It was pitted and worn and seemed to nestle into the palm of her hand as though it had been made for her, or at least for someone with a hand the same size ….   >>

The essay was first published in the anthology Making Sense of Place (National Museum of Australia, 2008), and is based on my presentation to the 2006 multidisciplinary academic conference, Senses of Place: exploring concepts and expressions of place through different senses and lenses, in Hobart, Tasmania. The conference was hosted by the Place Research Network, National Museum of Australia, Mountain Festival, and the Community, Place and Change Theme Area of the University of Tasmania, 7-9 April, 2006.

River stories: genealogies of a threatened river system >>

I write this in a small rural town in central New South Wales beside a river that is slowly meandering towards its terminal wetland, the Great Cumbung Swamp, in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin.  >>

This essay was first published in the UK journal, Futures, 39:2-3 (2007), pp. 306-323, in a special edition I guest edited on Australia’s possible futures.

Romancing the grindstone on Gunningbland Creek >>

The days are lengthening, crops are ripening, and the air is sweet with Spring as I write. For the first time in years of drought there are pools of muddy water in Gunningbland Creek, the ephemeral stream that meanders across our farm …  >>

This essay was also first published in the UK journal, Futures, 37 (2005), pp. 893-903.

Greening the family farm >>

Country town. Interstate bus. They’re all there to meet me. It’s spring time and the roadsides are splashed with purple Patterson’s curse and the exotic yellow daisies we call pee-the-beds. The crops are young and green, just starting to head, and the trees silhouetted against the setting sun as we drive home — well, I’m afraid there aren’t many of them left these days, except along the road reserves. European agricultural practices haven’t been good for trees in this country. Nor for the land itself. >>

This essay was first published in Habitat Australia way back in February 1988.

Sunset on high temperature incineration >>

It’s your typical Australian family farm. Old weatherboard house with bullnose verandah, corrugated iron rainwater tanks, pepper trees, dam, windmill, sheep dogs at the gate, sheds, large tractors, ploughs, harvester – and at the back door, a large pair of very dusty elastic sided boots and a battered akubra hat. Alongside these icons, the next generation’s little red pedal-power tractor and two tiny blue gumboots. >>

This essay was published as a pamphlet on the eve of the 1991 NSW State election, with the support from Greenpeace Australia’s Toxic Waste Campaign, after the Sydney Morning Herald refused a shorter version as ‘too political’.

Beyond Australia’s Great Divides: from Terra Incognita to Cognita >>

Australia is divided east from west, the coast from the rest, by a cordillera of low mountains, uplands and dissected plateaus stretching from Cape York Peninsula in Queensland’s far north to the island state of Tasmania in the Great Southern Ocean. On one side of this watershed is the densely populated Pacific seaboard. on the other the sparsely populated inland. The partition is such that the twain need never meet: indeed, the coastal plain and the remainder of the continent might as well be completely different countries. >>

A commissioned book chapter for The Hitchers of Oz: Hitchhiking Stories and Observations from Australasia and Beyond, edited by Tom and Simon Sykes, Interactive Press, 2009, pp. 57-70.

Merino, a yet-to-be-completed novel >>

Sheep are part of my cultural heritage. My family has been producing wool, fat lambs and mutton in Australia since at least the 1840s, and, in other parts of the world, probably since Neolithic times. This heritage is a great moral burden for me, given the colonial and post-colonial history of pastoralism in Australia. I’ve been consciously ‘unburdening’ myself in some of  my non-fiction over the last couple of decades, but I’ve increasingly felt the need to wrestle with my conflicted emotions about my family history in fiction. Hence this novel, which I’ve tentatively called Merino. >>

More on Merrill’s project work >>

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