Oh My Darling! > Andrew Hull10.07.2013
Bush poet and Renaissance man, Andrew Hull, drew a crowd of about 300 people to Bourke Wharf on a Saturday night to witness the launch of a flotilla of 250 lanterns at dusk. It was the culmination of a series of workshops that were held across the communities in the upper catchment of the Darling River, residents of the region shared memories which Andrew transferred onto the lenses of each lantern.
Born in Bourke, Andrew is a well-known fixture on the arts scene in Western New South Wales, he performs poetry 3 nights a week at Poetry on a Plate where he shares modern folk storytelling by the flickering campfire. His collaborations with local musicians led to the formation (over a few beers) of the Lonely Horse Band, which sang the stories of ‘one-horse towns’ in this remote part of the state. They were funded by the Regional Arts Fund in 2008 to write and record songs which told the stories of the rural town, White Cliffs; the project was called A Living Memory. When the Canberra Centenary project, One River, was looking to share the stories of the Murray-Darling, he knew he was their man.
What is your professional background?
I have had no formal training other than the occasional short course. This probably explains why my practice of art is broad and varied. I work across a range of mediums including visual art, painting and drawing, sculpture, poetry and music, photography, and also on public art installation. It’s sort of a practice of expression and interest; the medium is whatever best suits and whatever translates that idea the best.
What is your relationship to the place you live, in a creative sense?
My relationship to place defines my work. I have a keen sense of ‘local’ and I am always interested to discover how a place works, why it works that way and the way people’s lives are shaped by it. Most stories are too big to tell; the ideas are too broad to describe accurately, and I am usually looking for how ‘the part tells the whole’. This is why local relationships and identities are central to the work I do.
How do you continue to engage with your community through the arts?
I am coming to terms with the fact that I am a control freak. It’s a scary realisation but I’m dealing with it. I am very ‘hands on’. I like to think that the community has all benefited collectively from my restless energy to make things happen in a hands on way – or that may just be the control freak in me talking. For the area that I live in, I think this has had a very empowering effect on the people I have worked with and who are involved in the arts – when there is a big, boofhead bloke standing up and producing poetry, art, music etc, it makes it OK for a whole stack of others who may be more reticent. When a local person says ‘Hey, your story is unique and interesting and I want to tell the world about it,’ it is very engaging.
Can you tell us about A Living Memory ?
The Living Memory project emerged from an initial idea formed between myself and Tonchi McIntosh called River Roads; two Bourke boys who wanted to tell stories of the people and towns along the river. With the help of another musician friend, Mick Daley, we decided to tell the stories of the ‘one-horse towns of NSW.’ We made our first writing trip to Nymagee where we were joined by a radio producer, Andy Parks. We wrote songs about the town, interviewed the locals, made a record – Pomegranates and Peppercorn Trees – A Living memory of Nymagee – and produced radio pieces.
Without planning it, we had a great model for a project. With support from Regional Arts NSW, the next venture took us to White Cliffs where we produced the album, Underground – A Living Memory of White Cliffs. We found ourselves in Dorrigo the following year (with the aid of Festivals Australia and the local Folk and Bluegrass Committee). The crew there had recognised the value of creating this sort of work and we delivered Tallowoods and Tollywongs – A Living Memory of Dorrigo.
Has Living Memory created a legacy?
Much of what I do either comes from or is influenced by the Living Memory project, so these stories are being told, and retold, and shared, and carried away with people. Notes on a River (part of One River) and one project I am planning, called On the Road are both audio documentary-style works and relate directly to the A Living Memory project. Together with the work already produced, they constitute a significant body of work that relates to a largely under-represented and remote part of Australia.
How did you become involved in the One River project?
I saw the expression of interest for One River on the RANSW e-Bulletin. When I read that the project would be telling stories about rivers and the Murray-Darling, I knew instantly that I had to apply. My idea was to involve many of the unrepresented rivers and streams that intersect the Darling around Bourke: the Paroo, the Warrego, the Culgoa, Narran and Bogan Rivers. Initially I proposed to do some story-telling workshops, akin to A Living Memory, and for the written material to be folded into paper boats which we could then float on the river in a visual spectacle. Over the course of the project the paper boats evolved into large, robust wooden lanterns with stories and images written and drawn on the lenses. It has been a fantastic project to be involved with as an artist and has really provided some great peer development and direction.
What were some of the stories you collected through the recording process of this project?
The beauty of being a local was that I could go directly to the story, rather than opening the doors for as ‘tell your story here’ type of thing. I knew who to go to to hear the stories that related the way rivers are used and understood by a cross-section of our community. I collected stories from an Aboriginal man who live on a camp at the confluence of the Barwon and Gwydir rivers, and carted water up and down the bank every day. A local irrigator told me about his life growing up in Bourke and dispelled some of the myths of the irrigation industry. Likewise, a hydrologist form the State Government with extensive knowledge of the issues explained the regulatory impacts of water management and described his passion for the rare and fragile ecologies along the system. I recorded the story of an apiarist who established his enterprise in remote Wanaaring because of the unique quality of the vegetation flowering there, all related to the cyclic nature of the Paroo River. Then, there was the dramatic story of a local man who, while commuting via boat in flood times, capsized the boat with his whole family being swept along the flooded river and clinging to a tree for hours before being rescued. Having great support from local radio stations means that we can broadcast these stories directly back into the communities to which they belong, which gives us a greater understanding and shared experience.
What are the challenges for you, as an artist, working in a regional area?
I guess there is a real risk that you live inside a bubble, with the tyranny of distance keeping you remote from the influence of other artists. I had been writing and performing poetry and songs for years before I even knew there was such a thing as folk festivals! To realise that there was a whole world of people out there doing the same thing I was, was a revelation to me. Also, it’s a numbers game, living remotely; there is a limited audience for your work and limited opportunities to fund local projects.
What are the rewards of being an artist located outside major cities?
Working in a remote area provides the opportunity to really create your own mark and identity. If you have the courage to stand alone, there are fewer structures and frameworks restricting the scope of work that you can undertake. My work varies broadly across a number of creative pursuits, all of which I am now comfortable to identify as my practice of art, but which I may not have, had I not had the freedom of remoteness. I find that I can also create real and direct relationships with the community which would probably be impossible in a larger centre. There is no shortage of ideas for projects and new work, only a shortage of hours to do it in.
‘Notes on a River’ was launched on the 6th July 2013 in Bourke as one of ten projects selected to take part in the One River, a national program of the Centenary of Canberra devised by Creative Director, Robyn Archer AO, as a way of teasing out some of the familiar threads of the lived experience of living in the Basin. Andrew plans to work with Bourke Arts Council to develop plans for building on this event and turning it into an annual occasion.
Image Credit: Photograph by Barry Cregan (2013)