Fluencies is an interactive sound map created for the group exhibition ‘Speaking With the River’ at the North Coast Regional Gallery, Ballina from 11 March to 2 May 2021.
This exhibition was curated by LabX at Southern Cross University, Lismore.

Fluencies (2021) detail.

Fluencies continues my work that engages with rivers. It brings together two components: a large-scale digital print (2600mm x 6150mm) of a drawing of part of the Richmond River system in northern New South Wales, Australia; and audio compositions based on field recordings made at ten sites in the catchment.

The two components are brought together by integrating sensors into the sound map at each recording site, each of which triggers the playback of the composition from the particular site. The trigger and playback are managed by a Bare Conductive Touch Board. The presence of a sensor is indicated by the image of the palm of a person’s hand melded into the drawing. Each person was chosen because of a connection with the particular part of the river system.

Fluencies sound map
Fluencies (detail of gallery installation. Image: Annique Goldenberg)

The drawing of the river, digitally printed on PhotoTex, extends from Mallanganee in the west to Ballina in the east, and from Lismore in the north, south to Bungawalbin National Park. With no terrain other than coastline depicted, water is the focus: the river; its tributary, the Wilsons River; creeks; swamps and frequently inundated land.

The intent is to bring this aquatic system to our attention through the combination of sound and sight.

The sound component of Fluencies is available for download from Bandcamp at https://robgarbutt.bandcamp.com/.

A short interview on Fluencies is available on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/supergoes-tothepond/fluencies-new-work-discussed-on-environmental-as-anything-07-march-2021.

With the grateful acknowledgment of Cherie Winter for her patient assistance with printing, and many thanks to the hand models for their willing spirits. Also to Steve Law and Ian Slade at Southern Cross University for sharing their knowledge of audio recording and production, and similarly to the members of the Australian Wildlife Sound Recording group. Of you all, my respect has only increased through these initial attempts in field recording composition and production. Southern Cross University provided the printing facilities, and LabX the nourishment. Many thanks also to Pascal at Bare Conductive for helping me navigate Arduino sketches and more carefully attend the arcane world of proximity sensors. Alice Kurien, Lee Mathers and the installation staff at NRCG are magnificent. As always, thank you Shauna for believing with love in yet another project, and helping me navigate each rapid as it came into view.

Lismore Showground Aboriginal Heritage Signs

The Lismore Showground is of special significance to Bundjalung people as it was a site for large gatherings for people who came from throughout Bundjalung Country and neighbouring Countries. As a Showground, at the annual Lismore Show, it continued to be a meeting place.

The Lismore Show Aboriginal Committee started planning a Heritage Signage project in 2012 and made an Aboriginal Heritage Grant funding application to the Federal Government. The application was funded in March 2013.

Sign writing workshop
Writing workshop, Lismore Showground, August 2013

Initial meetings were spent planning the research and writing process, with Cynthia McDermott as Project Manager, Aunty Thelma James as Community Liaison Contact, and Aunty Ros Sten, Jenny Smith, Dianne Harrington and Uncle Micky Ryan as committee members. Gilbert Laurie, Oral Roberts, Eric Ferguson and Rob Smith agreed to create a large mural that is also part of the project. I was honoured to be invited to be part of the project as a Researcher.

We gathered words and photos from the community at three yarn-ups, and spent hours together writing the text of the signs. We then shared the images and text with Elders to get their feedback in October 2013. Some of the images for the signs also came from the work of artists Eric Ferguson and Gilbert Laurie.

The signs were designed by Rebecca Kocass at Armsign and installed for the official opening on 25 January 2014.

Lismore Showground Aboriginal Heritage Signs
The installed signs
Lismore Showground Aboriginal Heritage Signage Committe at the opening of the signs
At the opening 25 January 2014: Aunty Thelma James, Eric Ferguson, Cynthia McDermott, Uncle Micky Ryan, Jenny Smith, Aunty Ros Sten, Rob Garbutt, and Rob Smith

The murals by Gilbert Laurie, Oral Roberts, Eric Ferguson and Rob Smith were installed July 2014. A small book that draws on the sign text and images, Banyam/Baigham Wandarahn: Reconnecting to Lismore Showground, was funded by Southern Cross University and ready for launch at the October 2014 Lismore Show.

The book from the project

Cut and Dry

Friday afternoon drinks at Lismore City Bowling Club. The wind was up and the bamboo on the riverbank called to me. The next weekend I went back down to do some recording with contact microphones.

This started a long-term soundscape and mapping project in the riparian zones of the Wilsons and Richmond Rivers in northern NSW.

Cut and Dry, exhibited in two parts at Southern Cross University’s art space in July 2019 as part of the group exhibition /kriːk/, is one outcome of this developing body of work. Fluencies, in 2021, is the second.

Cut and dry (elevation, detail) is a 7-minute sound composition with video. It was projected opposite the accompanying digital image Cut and dry (plan) (484cm x 548cm on Hahnemühle Bamboo paper).

A walk in the Park

A Walk in the Park is an ongoing exploration of the limits of Western knowledge systems and practices when coming to know and engage with natural environments.

This project emerged through 6 years (and counting) of weekly walks with my partner through Rotary Park Rainforest Reserve in Lismore. I initially engaged with the walking circuit through the aluminium plaques naming species of plants that someone had chosen to point out to us.


Similarly shiny and, simultaneously alluring and repulsive, was the appearance of numbered tags inexpertly nailed to trees — a PhD research project we later heard. Further intriguing was the Rotary Park Rainforest Walk brochure from the Visitor Information Centre. Its numbered stops are slightly outdated as many of the numbers no longer exist. Over our short time walking in the park we ourselves saw numbers disappear as trees died and fell. And so, on the walking circuit, circuits of time emerged as part of our coming to know the park: the partiality of any knowledge that can be gained from a single world view, from thin slices of time spent in a boots-on, weekly walk on the one path.

And in Australia what else can our minds turn to but the contrasting paths with which Widjabul Wia-bal knowledge of this place was gained over millennia of direct relationships.

Further explorations

Outcomes of this project so far: