With funding granted by Arts Victoria and the Greater City of Shepparton, four local artists, Angie Russi, Bev Hoffmann, Jan Donaldson and Sony Cooper have delved into the stories that help to create common ground through common experience between the two communities. These stories of common experience are centred around the Goulburn River and flood plain between the towns. The stories collected from individuals from both sides of the river have been woven together to create the fabric of a new story as seen through the eyes of the river which has been witness to the layers of humanity who have lived along its banks and flood plains for thousands of years.
‘A River’s Tale’ was told last November, through a sculpture walk traversed by members of the two communities to view temporary sculptures along the length of the walking path that connects the towns. The walkers were welcomed to country, at the midpoint between the towns, in a moving ritual by members of a local indigenous community, and then treated to a performance called ‘A River’s Tale’ which posed more questions than it answered about how we see the river and how we treat it. The sculptures and the performance were informed by stories collected from the communities by the artists, through personal interviews with individuals, group information sessions, documented historical records, and personal written accounts. The Mooroopna Education and Activity Centre and the South Shepparton Community House have been active partners in the project and have been collection points for stories and information centres for accessing all information about the project and a conduit through which people could get involved with the project.
Involving young people
We also partnered with Mooroopna Secondary College who‘s senior students and media teacher provided sound, lighting and multimedia support for the performance. Kids Town, at the midpoint, has been a major inkind contributor. This playground sits on the site of the old municipal tip and was home to many aboriginal people who built makeshift huts from tip materials and lived there from 1939 to the early 1960s.
Although challenging, the River’s Tale project has no doubt started a conversation between individuals about what this land that divides us means, and how we relate to it. We hope that by completing a project such as this that others may find the courage to confront some of the many challenging social and political issues that underpin this parcel of land, so that both communities can move towards a more united future while acknowledging their shared past, both in common and different.
There is no doubt that the connecting land holds important stories for many sections of the communities and that certain sites are of major significance to the local indigenous people. It is important for some permanent interpretive fixtures to be erected in this area before many of the stories are lost. It is also vitally important that this be done in full consultation with all stakeholders. There are many more River’s Tales to tell in this place which is the crucible from which the communities of both Mooroopna and Shepparton were formed.