Monday, October 26, 2009

Opening on 24 October

WRVAP organiser, Juliet Fowler Smith (centre) with Sally Corbett of the No Tillegra Dam group (left) and local resident/campaigner, Patricia Middlebrook (right) at the opening of the Williams River Artists Project show at Muswellbrook Regional Gallery, October 24, 2009.

Project organiser, Juliet Fowler Smith reports: The opening of the WRVAP exhibition at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre was packed thanks to being on with the Muswellbrook Art Prize- the Mayor opened it and I got to say a few words too. A group from Dungog came which was great and we were able to get some signatures on postcards about the EAR submission re the dam, which the Wilderness Society is co-ordinating. We also got front page coverage in the Muswellbrook Chronicle and were interviewed by ABC local radio plus other coverage in local media. The show contains Noelene’s video of the river flow, my couch with water filled cushions, Bridget’s feet/shoes, Marg's No Williams River Collection on a digital photo frame, David’s beautiful image River Mourn and Suzanne's bedhead/surfboards.

WRVAP artists (left to right), Juliet Fowler Smith, Noelene Lucas and Suzanne Bartos, on Juliet's Water Couch (with water-filled cushions) in front of Noelene's video The Last Healthy River in the Hunter, at the opening of the Williams River Artists Project show at Muswellbrook Regional Gallery, October 24, 2009.

From the Williams River Artists' Project show at Muswellbrook Regional Gallery: L to R: R.I.P.- no chance, bed-head surfboards by Suzanne Bartos, Take Us Instead (and leave the water in the river) slide-show in wall photoframe by Margaret Roberts, Water Couch by Juliet Fowler Smith, River Mourn, photographic print by David Watson, and Touch this earth lightly, feet-work by Bridget Nicholson.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

WRVAP at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre

Up near Barrington Tops (200km north of Sydney) lies the glorious Williams River valley – 22 kilometres of pristine winding river flanked by rich dairy pasture, primeval forest and national park. However, the precious ecosystems of this last healthy river in the Hunter will be destroyed if Hunter Water's proposed $480 million Tillegra Dam proceeds. A dam the size of Sydney Harbour would flood the valley; Hunter residents would pay for it in their water bills; all of us would lose another sacred site. Initiated by artist Juliet Fowler Smith – whose family has farmed the valley for generations – the Williams River Valley Artists’ Project brings together a group of environmentally-dismayed Australian contemporary artists. Their by turns elegiac, contemplative and strident responses are being fuelled by local residencies, research and exhibitions starting in 2009. The first opens at the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre on 24 October, followed by cry me a river at the Tin Sheds Gallery in Sydney in September 2010 and another at Maitland Regional Art Gallery after that.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Last Healthy River in the Hunter

A clip from "The last healthy river in the Hunter" 2009
by Noelene Lucas.

Emergent Glimpses DW

River Mourn (David Watson 2009)

Williams River artists' camp February 2009 (Image David Watson)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"The last healthy river in the Hunter"

A clip from "The last healthy river in the Hunter" 2009
by Noelene Lucas.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The June residency


Standing on Egg-top Hill—and watched by Bridget Nicholson and Hanna—Juliet Fowler Smith and Suzanne Bartos point to the seedlings recently planted on top of Manns Hill, the one part of the Munni area that will remain above water level if the valley is flooded to make the Tillegra Dam. The seedlings have been planted as part of a memorial reforestation of Manns Hill.


14th June 2009: Photos from a meeting with locals Simone Turner and Patricia Middlebrook, to talk about how the dam would impact on them and their community:

A walk down to the river.

Simone takes Bridget to show her an old swimming spot in the river.

Simone remembers coming across a group of nude bathers there as a child!


Local artist, photographer and historian Simone E. Turner has been photographing the landscape around Munni and Tillegra for many years. As much of her work is about memory, her photographs of the William's River valley have taken on a renewed significance with the awareness that, with the dam, these places will no longer be visible.


Entry by Suzanne Bartos: This poem was composed from text found in the minutes of the Quart Pot Cemetery Subcommittee meeting 1st August 2007. This committee's role is to oversee the moving of the local cemetery, which is in the area to be flooded if the Tillegra Dam is built. The committee sought legal advice as to what family member they legally had to get permission from in order to move those buried in the cemetery.

The minutes read: "Legal Advise - Hierarchy Next of Kin" Glen advised, the advise from the lawyer was expected to include advise on the legal status regarding the hierarchy for next of kin. The intention is to use the legal advise to guide the development of the cemetery relocation process and discussions with affected families."

Sorting out the affected families' distress over this issue by using legal means is a heavy handed and divisive 'process' and a very one sided 'discussion'. Read: It is enough for us to get permission from any family member and then we can do what we want.

Definition of Next of Kin

The deceased person’s spouse.

Or, if the deceased person did not have a spouse-

any of the deceased person’s sons or daughters.

Or, if the deceased person did not have a spouse, son or daughter Or a spouse, son or daughter are not available –

Either of the deceased person’s parents

Or, If the deceased person did not have a spouse, son, daughter, or living parent or a spouse, son, daughter or parent is not available –

any of the brothers or sisters

Or, if the deceased person did not have a spouse, son, daughter, living parent, brother or sister,

or a spouse, son, daughter, parent, brother or sister is not available


don’t go around thinking that you’re not loved.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Manns Hill Hut

The residential centre for the Williams River Valley Artists’ Project.

The following is an extract from the website of Margaret Roberts.

“Manns Hill Hut is modest architecturally, but not only has it been lived in by many people, it has been involved in the major events of war, migration and climate change in its 70-year life. It is located in the Williams River Valley NSW, Australia, just north of Dungog, three hours drive or train-ride north of Sydney.
Dam proposals have been aired periodically (and successfully opposed by the local community) since the 1950s because, it is said, the natural land formations of the Williams Valley mean that a relatively small dam wall would contain as much water as occupies Sydney Harbour. The Manns Hill Hut is located beside the river on land that was cleared and dairy-farmed for five generations by the family of the organiser of the artist-group, Juliet Fowler-Smith. The building was brought there in pieces on trucks in the early 1960s when her father, Snow, bought it for £150 when the Greta migrant camp (just north of Maitland) was being closed down.

The Greta migrant camp 1949-60.

Snow was working for the Department of Agriculture by then, and employed share farmers--who are also long-term Williams Valley residents--who still occupy the one good house on the farm. The hut was for his regular trips to the farm (mainly to keep the rabbits and weeds down, he says), and as the second home (especially in school holidays) for his four daughters.

It was built as an army hut for men being trained for the Second World War, composed of approximately 17 x 5.5 metres of open space, with doors at each end. When it was converted in 1949 to house migrants, mostly women and children (the men were employed elsewhere - on the Snowy Mountains Scheme, etc.), coming to Australia to escape the devastation of the same war, internal walls were added to make space for three families per hut. When the trucks brought the hut to the Williams Valley just over a decade later, one third went to become part of the Munni Public School (and was later lost when the school burned down) and the other two-thirds was installed at the base of Mann's Hill and gradually had lino, toilet, shower, pantry, verandahs, and garden patches added. Eventually an entire new roof replaced the existing fibro roof after it began to leak. Twenty years ago, another third was built on as a self-contained extension for Snow and his wife, Bremer, as by then the hut was often fully occupied by one or more of their daughters with their families and friends.

Bremer & Manns Hill Hut, Williams Valley: 1960s

Despite the successes of past local opposition to the dam, Snow believes that this time the Hunter Water Authority will have its way, and that the area will be flooded by 2015. Like most property owners in the area, he is negotiating to sell the farm to them rather than wait for its compulsory acquisition, and then lease it back until the dam wall is built. After that, he understands the new owners will remove the roof to prevent it floating off, and the rest will submerge as the dam fills up. Manns Hill--which the hut is located beside, not on--is expected to become an island, and he talks about leaving a memorial plaque there among the existing cow bones. The artist-group is not as resigned to this outcome as Snow, but is nevertheless talking about leaving an ark on the hill as well.”

Manns Hill Hut (above), and its location between Manns Hill and the Williams River (below): 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009


The first Europeans to investigate the Williams River area were Lieutenant - Colonel Paterson (then Lieutenant Governor of NSW) and explorer Francis Barrellier who was in the area to conduct a survey of the harbour in Newcastle. They explored the Hunter River and its tributaries following what they took to be the Hunter to its navigable limit. Governor King named the river in (William) Paterson's honour.

Lieutenant - Colonel William Paterson

‘Williams’ River seems to be a corruption of William River, the name used up until the middle of the 19th Century.

An example: from the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 3 February 1844

MR. GEORGE WILKINSON will sell by auction, in the township of Dungog, William River, on Wednesday, the 14th Feb., at Twelve o’clock precisely, One Hundred and Twenty head of CATTLE, consisting of Diary Cows, Heifers, and Steers. The above cattle are worthy the attention of small settlers; they will be put up in suitable lots; and the terms will be liberal.

Quart Pot Cemetery

Artist Suzanne Bartos at Quart Pot Cemetery during the March residency at Williams River.

Lonely Clouds and Silver Linings

Last weekend up near Barrington Tops, amidst the bucolic folds of Derwent-style dairy country just north of Dungog, a diverse group of concerned artists and local citizens gathered together to witness the about-to-be submerged glories of the Williams River.

Up hill, down dale, across rills and rapids, in deep shady pools and beneath towering eucalypyts and flowering casuarinas - we walked, talked, swam, floated and contemplated how we - mere artists - might best assist its reprieve.

You see, there is still time – because although much of the land for the proposed Tillegra Dam has been acquired, the valley’s human community divided and alarmed - there are families who have farmed here for five generations determined to stay, and no-one’s told the blue wrens, willy-wagtails, crested hawks or azure kingfishers yet.

Ringed by dramatic volcanic hills and national park, contented cows munch on unaware that a pig-headed state government and its slick local side-kick (Hunter Water) remain inexplicably wedded to building this now-demonstrably-unnecessary dam. As vast as Sydney Harbour, the proposed dam would flood 22 snaking kilometres of the Williams - one of the region’s few remaining platypus-laden streams - rendering its heavenly valley and productive pastures useless.

Almost 200 years ago William and Dorothy Wordsworth furiously walked, wrote and railed against the desecration of their precious Lake District at the hands of short-term greed and industry in northern England. Last century Beatrix Potter followed their lead, buying up farmlands there to conserve land and custom. Here in Australia in the late 1970s, Peter Dombrovskis’ iconic swirling colour photographs of Tasmania’s Franklin River helped rescue another even wilder place from unspeakable damnation. Now it was our turn…

As minds whirred with subversive schemes and appeals to sense and beauty (we’re planning an exhibition), across the verdant hills (they’ve had 300mm here over the past few weeks) sounded the insistent rumbling, the softly peeling thunder of another approaching storm - the global financial crisis... the GFC.

Remembering how only recently the long-fought state-rape of Sydney’s Callan Park had been averted primarily as a result of tattered NSW government finances, we began cautiously to dream. In crisis, surely, lies opportunity… to save money, face, even the planet?

Bin the $400 million Tillegra Dam proposal Mr Rees, and hang on to our credit rating! Save the farms, the people, the animals and the river. Even better, now that you own most of the land, seed fund - with a little of that money you were going to pour into that big concrete wall - a world’s best practice renewable-forestry sustainable-living eco-valley. Your intervention, your canvas - a visionary AAA exhibition for which generations to come will thank you.

David Watson

March 2009


Williams River - Juliet Fowler-Smith

Paraphrase from March 2009 edition of Artsbark (Arts Upper Hunter)

In pursuit of contemporary expression, artist and long time resident of the Williams Valley, Juliet Fowler Smith, has rounded up a group of 10 feisty artists to spend time in the proposed inundation zone for the Tillegra Dam. The group comes from near and far and all of the artists are interested in exploring the emotional effects brought about by significant change to our environment. What are we doing to ourselves when we attempt to control, dictate and manipulate? This group of artists will be spending time in the Valley, not only immersing themselves in the physical but also hanging out with the locals, those who are part of the landscape.

Work produced will be exhibited in venues currently being negotiated

Artists in the project.
Suzanne Bartos, Neil Berecry-Brown, Bonita Ely, Juliet Fowler-Smith, Noelene Lucas, Bridget Nicholson, Margaret Roberts, Toni Warburton, David Watson

Sunday, May 31, 2009

project origins

The Williams River Valley Artists' Project began in response to renewed plans by the state government and the Hunter Water Authority to construct the Tillegra Dam on the Williams River just north of Dungog. An action which would result in destruction of the river, flooding of the valley and erasure of the community.
For 50 years the local community has successfully resisted similar plans, with the result that today the Williams River is one of the few healthy rivers in NSW.