Monday, June 1, 2009

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

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