Not Touching the Void, Listening for the Drip: Witnessing Water Cycles

By and | 31 October 2021

The Star’ by Bonny Cassidy

When I think about a void in the context of groundwater, it’s about the presence of water, sometimes invisible or in a guise other than liquid; I think about gaps between layers of rock where water collects and drains. Form and emptiness.

My awareness of water cycles has arisen gradually, until I seem to have found myself neck-deep in references to aquifers and environmental flows. My curiosity about them was first kindled by looking at soil health on a block that my husband and I bought on Dja Dja Wurrung Country in the Chewton Bushlands in 2020. I wanted to understand how the moisture was retained in a rich strata of mosses, lichens, fungi, groundcovers and corms and wildflowers, whereas other parts of Central Victoria that have been goldmined are stony, eroded and baked dry; how could we be good custodians of the soil by helping to sustain or even enrich its water absorption and retention? How would this in turn provide for us, living off-grid on rainwater and solar power?

Local knowledge about water cycles started trickling in. I listened to Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung woman Mandy Nicholson describe the layers of water on Eastern Kulin Country; this drew my attention to the invisible water – underground in the aquifers and overhead in mist. I got talking with my new neighbour at Green Gully, author and scholar Deb Wardle, who has for many years researched and narrated groundwater. Then it was happening like rain. I realised we lived in the watershed between two rivers, the Loddon and the Coliban. By following the rivers I came to the Dja Dja Wurrung knowledge of how the Country was formed from fire (volcanic) and water (springs); and how water is prevented by colonial engineering such as dams from soaking into and staying in aquifers.

Mum and I were able to make one trip on Country together. We visited the Big Tree on the Loddon at Guildford; the venerable floodplain on the Coliban at Taradale; and the flat banks of the Loddon at Vaughan, where Manchurian market gardeners once worked beside the mineral springs. On our way to the headspring of the Coliban, though, our trip was interrupted by a sudden weather event. Nearly cyclonic winds landed on the Wombat Forest region near Trentham, leaving old growth slain and power outages lasting for weeks. If we weren’t going to address water flows under climate change, then they would address us.

Once Mum and I were distanced again between NSW and Victoria by the pandemic, I reconsidered locality. How would we represent the complexity of groundwater, in particular, from two very different regions? And how would we do it from home?

All my thoughts about representing what we had learned seemed to be versions of colonial surveying. I started to wonder how I could use what we had learned to avoid this, how I could resist writing over lands and waters. The result is still a writing over, of course, in that it comes from a settler pen; but I decided to take it psychically underground, avoiding the naming of Country and representation of its heritage. I chose motifs that could be recognisable in another locality; and I referenced people who have no specific ethnicity. The timeframe is embodied rather than historical. The narrative reflects no external events, but a psychological movement. The Star, one of the cards in Major Arcana deck of the Tarot and the sign associated with my birth sign of Aquarius, depicts the central destination of that narrative.

What emerged was a symbolic ecology, in which form and emptiness is a human state. What does groundwater mean in the brain?

Oddly enough, though, these abstract sets of personal emblems drew my attention back to the elements of my environment. By writing out my own form and emptiness, I could better see how they were mutually reliant states within Country. I could better understand how one element of Country is created from another, and how this logic is imbalanced by settler colonial demands. Now the writing’s done I am back under the grey box gums during myrnong season, learning to listen to the drip.

These works were made on the unceded lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung and Gweagal peoples. We pay our respects to their ancestors, Elders and communities for taking care of the places that provide us shelter, food, sun, water and love. The fee for this publication will be forwarded to Pay The Rent Castlemaine.

This entry was posted in ARTWORKS and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

Comments are closed.