USED TO BE A RIVER, 2019 (32°24'50"S 150°38'27"E)

Installation view: The Lock Up Contemporary Art Space

2-channel HD video 6:45mins


Fibreglass canoe

Native flora

Ulan laboratories coal samples
Dimensions variable


Photo credits: Jessie Jane Photography

00:00 / 06:59

Curated by Naomi Riddle & Meryl Ryan

All Things Are Water The Lock Up Contemporary Art Space


'Used to be a river tracks the dry bed of the so-called Goulburn River (named by settlers after a British politician in the 1820’s). This is a river racked with the effects of irrigation, tributary re-direction, water theft, mining, and land misuse – all the result of colonisation. The work is at once an indictment, an act of mourning, and a claim for land reparation and renewal. Used to be a river also counters the pervasive (and insidious) Western understanding of water as non-sentient.


The artist acknowledges and pays deep respect to the Wiradjuri & Wonnarua Peoples upon whose ancestral Lands this work was produced.'

Used to be a river
Used to flow but now I’m dry

39 years ago they took me away

Those filthy mutts

I know who youse are

Glencore’s Ulan

Yancoal’s Moolarben

and Peabody’s Wilpinjong

You don’t have to remind me

I know who I was named after

Some stinking old British Politician

Henry fuckn’ Goulburn

Under-secretary for the Colonial Office

Don’t think he ever even came to meet me

But it’s kinda funny

Cos we don’t own our names

We don’t even choose ‘em

Names are borrowed

Names are gifted to you

You remember that other strange fella

His name was William Lawson

Him and his expedition

His mates Blaxland and Wentworth

Well they was just trying to impress

They was also just passing through

When they named me

Tourists y’see

Well they gone now

But the residue lingers

That vicious colonial project

Still digging us up to turn a profit

Still toiling in our wealth

Hijacking our bloodlines

Then telling everybody how to sing our songs

But they all outa tune

Them words mixed up

Just like the salinity levels downstream

They got my mate Hunter all confused,

Think’n they the ocean

Great big ships coming in and out

All day

All night

You can hear ‘em

But you’s just not listenin’

Yeah, and so, they re-routed me

The Goulburn River Diversion

1981 to 2031

50 years

Then maybe they’ll think about it

Ending coal

That’s why I’m dry

And that’s why we all guyang

In the long run

I’ll rehabilitate myself

These trees and reeds

They’ll grow back

My ecology will thrive again

And there’ll be no one around

No one to farm them hooved animals

My banks will be clean

And you’ll be gone

Wonder if that Henry fella

ever seen what a cow goes through

When there’s no water - yuyuwi

When a young calf dies

The mumma cow just stays there

cries and cries and cries

Just like she did under that bridge they built over me

There’s no telling how long for

It’s the kinda grief you wouldn't wanna imagine

Let alone cause

And they say we can’t live without coal

Well, we not doing much good with it

Maybe we better off leaving it the ground

And giving back my galing, giving back water

So I can go on singing my song

And stop draggin’ empty vessels down dry creek beds

This wasn’t really ever about drought


But this is stolen water

Yuyuwi, no water

And it didn’t start 1981

Started before they even named me Goulburn

Used to be the main tributary

For Hunter

From all the way up at the Drip

Wiradjuri Country

Down through Wonnarua

And out at Worimi

I miss my brother

I miss my sister

And our lost river pair

This no negligible impact

These companies keep applying

They wanna discharge their waste water

Not enough they already stole me

for washing dirty concentrates

to clean their $35 million

to reduce pollution

maybe we should just stop polluting


and now it’s dry

And your leather boots keep crackin’

Only the skin on your face knows the time

But the bank of the river, your body

badha where you sit

While your eyes keep burning

And you, filling up with tears

As if it’s the only way

to bring back water

Used to be a river