We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of New South Wales stands.

Immersive guided walk: From the water

Stroll the perimeter of Sydney Harbour and listen to a soundtrack composed by Yuin musician JWPATON and water stories told by First Nations artists through poetry and song along the way.

Click on the map pins for information about locations and performers as you listen and follow the route.

This playlist – which is part of the 23rd Biennale of Sydney, rīvus – will be available until 5 May 2023.

  • About the performers and contributors

    • Wesley Shaw is a Yuin Dharawal Ngarigo man from the south coast of New South Wales. He works as senior programs producer, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

    • JWPATON is a Yuin artist and musician currently living in Western Sydney, Darug Country. Working with lofi field recordings, JWPATON creates layered, processed manipulations of original source material. By pushing the limitations of digital software and minimal modular synth experiments, he traverses a multi-layered shifting sonic terrain.  

    • Akala Newman draws inspiration from her heritage as a Wiradjuri and Gadigal woman. Her sound is a fusion of eclectic escapism and surreal pop. She released her debut single, ‘Heart for free’, in 2019, followed by ‘Shine on me’ in 2020. She then produced, directed and choreographed her first music video, in 2020, for her single ‘Burnt for you’, with an all First Nations cast. In 2021, Akala released ‘Spell on me’, featuring BLACX, which was featured on Spotify’s Original storytellers playlist.

    • Jazz Money is an award-winning poet of Wiradjuri heritage; a fresh-water woman currently based on beautiful sovereign Gadigal Country. While she also produces works that encompass installation, digital, film and print, her practice is centred around the written word. Jazz’s writing has been widely performed and published nationally and internationally.  

    • Ethan Bell is a Wallabalooa man from the Ngunnawal Nation. He is an emerging artist and writer based in Campbelltown, Sydney. His practice involves storytelling, production, and education, and he writes poetry to give insight into his life. Ethan's work has been published by Red Room Poetry, Magabala Books and Sydney Living Museums. He is currently an artist educator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and is studying for a Bachelor of Arts at Western Sydney University. 

    • Brooke Scobie is a queer Goorie single mum, poet, writer, podcaster, and community worker. She describes her writing as a love letter to people who’ve been systematically excluded. Her work has been published in Overland and Best of Australian powems 2021 and by Running Dog, Red Room Poetry and SBS. She was awarded second place in the 2020 Judith Wright Poetry Prize.

  • Map route

    Click on the map pins for information about the locations and performers. As you listen, follow the route on the map that takes you to the following places:

    • Art Gallery of New South Wales

    • Cookaroo (Royal Botanic Garden Sydney)

    • Dubbagullee (Bennelong Point)

    • Warrane (Sydney Cove) and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

    • The Cutaway at Barangaroo Reserve

Acknowledgement of Country by Wesley Shaw

Hey everyone, my name's Wesley Shaw. I'm a Yuin, Dharawal and Ngarigo man from the south coast of New South Wales and Senior Programs Producer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art here at the Gallery.

Before we begin our walking tour, I'd first like to acknowledge that we're meeting here on the unceded sovereign lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. As we are here in our art museum that holds the cultural heritage from across the world, it is important to acknowledge those sites that stood before.

The Sydney region has more rock engravings than any other city in Australia. Some of these sites depict an intimate knowledge of the stars, seafaring relationships with our Pacific neighbours, and complex social systems. Many more have been desecrated and lost beneath shopping centres, roads and houses.

As we cherish and protect those works that hang in our Gallery walls, so too, should we advocate for the awareness, maintenance and protection of some of our nation's oldest art forms.

‘Walking in reverse’ by JWPATON

‘Gama Eora’ by Akala Newman

‘Middens to skyscrapers’ by JWPATON and Jazz Money

‘Knowledge water’ by Akala Newman

‘A river is always a river’ by JWPATON and Jazz Money

‘Political waters’ and ‘Bury me’ by Ethan Bell

Hello. My name's Ethan Bell. I'm a Ngunnawal Gamilaraay poet based on Dharawal Country in Campbelltown. I've been living in Campbelltown for about 17 years. But before that I used to travel up back and forth from Forbes.

Yeah, Campbelltown is going through a lot of change at the moment, but the only thing constant there is the river. So here's my poem, ‘Political waters’:

Waters have always flowed naturally with time. Politics will forever flow from our tongues. Down by the river where I live is a black panther, shy by nature, used to waiting from up high. Graffitiing sandstone caves. Only travelling in the town at night and only when it rains. If seen, it is only for a glimpse, like heat rising. Like a shadow catching the morning light, the black panther slips away. Tricky fella she is. Feathers cover her tracks. Tricky fella he is. Scar trees mark his place. There is also a roo, wearing a charcoal coat with eyes like embers. Turn young fella, run. You came down to the river valley with a troubled heart. Be gone. Return to where you are from. Tell your people what you found. Sing up a deadly storm. Down by the river where I live is a water gum, sprouted long ago, back when time begun. White, rushing waters have risen well above its crown. A thousand floods have stormed to sea, yet tomorrow when you come back, when the waters have calmed, it stands proud, at peace. Waters here are clear and blue, same as a Mount Franklin bottle. Sometimes you can see the fish gliding through and hear the cockatoos above curiously watching from their hollows. Don't you come here or the panther will drive you. The roo will stomp its feet with a heavy thud. Trees will kick up dust and the cockatoos above are imagining trespass of blood. How can a custodian speak of water without being political, cynical, put out? Just a voice lost in this Sydney zoo, drowning in the overflow of noise and steel and silent concrete, of posturing, reflective structures, of lonely trams and trains, of everyday living people with blood causing through their veins. Political borders I tread, when my mind won't cease. Down to the river I go, to find my inner peace.

Thank you.

This poem is a poem of mourning, and it's a poem of connection, and connection to place for our people for when we take our journey, and it's called ‘Bury me’:

When I die, bury me under the crown of that big gum tree. With its spirit I will intertwine and vibrate as one until the end of time. Hear me sing the gymea lilly's heart bled red in spring. Winds are waterfalls amongst the leaves. Come, find my shade, a place to grieve. Budjan, Budjan come and rest. Blue-eyed crows I know the cleverest. Let the drought dry my roots. Insects feast on the blood red sap produced. Winters come, stand the chill, morning frost glistens on the hill. For waters crash and fall easily. Bury me under that old gum tree made wrought of iron and stone, bury me somewhere close to home. The old tree will stay and grow, my restless spirit we never know. Under the earth white bones lay, my being, my essence will scatter away. Spirits remain untouched unchanged. Lightning cracks loud over Ngunawal plains. Thank you.

‘Throat’, ‘Mother’, ‘45 degrees’ and ‘End of the world’ by Brooke Scobie 

Jinggiwahla! I'm Brooke Scobie. I'm a Bundjalung poet, single mum and podcaster. I'll be reading four of my poems. They're called ‘Throat’, ‘Mother’, ‘45 degrees’ and ‘The end of the world’. Together, they tell a story of the intrinsic empathy we as First Nations people have for Country and the suffering our bodies endure through the death and desecration of her. The story is a love song, a warning and a lesson. The water has always been speaking to us and it's time we listen.

‘Throat’

Balun, creek, river, Milky Way: swallow me whole so I can hear your heart of pulsing tides of blood, that streams beneath your skin of guwang that cries percussion along your spine, fills you to bursting. And of your misted morning voice that creeps away from your lips 'til every blade of grass is heavy with your tears, I will not rest. Swallow me whole balun, wash my body with stones among your river weed. I'll find your ache. I can hear your misery inside your deepest organs sealed shut with scar tissue and concrete. I cannot rest. Swallow me whole sister, cousin, grandmother river. I'll keep time for you. Whisper warnings when your spirit grows too weary for this land, when your curves wither too narrow, that guwang no longer fills you up. We won't rest. Balun, please before they come to sip the blood from your mouth, to feast upon your dried and silent skin, to dance above the muddy tomb of you, please my love, swallow me whole, so you can take me with you and we can rest.

‘Mother’

How can Country call, when she does not speak? You refuse to understand, sitting on wind skyscraper, you've raised yourself on forgetting. Nothing can be, but as you see it. Some of us stayed low, hands muddied and warm, inhaling thickness of air. Close enough to hear rivers cry, while mother mountains whisper, asking us when we will return. It's been so long, her feet have cooled without our touch. Her banks have dried without our joy. She pulled us, sprouted from the tops of our heads, and let us run, but you, hardened and lost, head twisting, woozy from breath, remained still. I try to understand how you, teeth bared, can speak without the voices of Country on your lips. How silent the song upon your ears. Country has been calling. I hear your name with mine brushed across the back of my neck. Numbuhnggi

‘45 degrees’

The air around me vibrates with electricity or forebodings. Pressure changes make my body ache. My bones long to escape their confines, their creaky door movements stiffen and I tell you that it's coming. I whisper my warnings, let my words linger in the space between us. The shades of Country are draining, washed away like watercolours and the sky has been drawn and redrawn in charcoal by dusky fingers, tethered to a white hunger, not satiated on all our trauma, forever teeth sucking the remnants. But you laugh, look upward and gesture to the endless seas of blue above. Your feet dance on technicolour Country, you say. And you ignore the fight 'til everything goes black and white.

‘End of the world’

It's been our end of the world for near on 92,000 days. Let that breathe. 92,000 days since a pallid disease began to tear through us, continues to tear through us. If you want to tend joy in this place, you must listen. First, don't fertilise it with our bodies and don't water your flowers with our grandmothers' blood.Second, don't till the soil with our bones that you dig up. Don't drink river water from our ancestors' skulls. Third, you may ask us – no, you can witness us. You can see how we, the embodiment of figures built from ash, know best how to tend to joy during destruction. Fourth, watch our fires low and slow nurture abundant grounds without sacrifice, soft, underfoot, and tender. Fifth, from a fire, you may hear us stumble and trip with our lips rolled under on lingo only our blood knows. Don't speak of it! We are the gardeners of the apocalypse, the kings of the end of the world for 92,000 days and 92,000 more.

  • 01
    Acknowledgement of Country
    1 minute
  • 02
    ‘Walking in reverse’
    15 minutes
  • 03
    ‘Gama Eora’
    3 minutes
  • 04
    ‘Middens to skyscrapers’
    9 minutes
  • 05
    ‘Knowledge water’
    3 minutes
  • 06
    ‘A river is always a river’
    24 minutes
  • 07
    ‘Political waters’ and ‘Bury me’
    3 minutes
  • 08
    ‘Throat’, ‘Mother’, ‘45 degrees’ and ‘End of the world’
    1 minute