11 August 2023

'We'll all be rooned!': Exhibition examines Wagga's history of land management and climate change

| Chris Roe
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MoR Curator Michelle Maddison and Wagga Art Gallery Director, Dr Lee-Anne Hall.

Museum of the Riverina Curator Michelle Maddison and Wagga Art Gallery Director, Dr Lee-Anne Hall. Photo: Chris Roe.

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “Before the year is out,” goes the refrain from John O’Brien’s 1921 poem that has inspired the ‘Said Hanrahan’ exhibition at the Museum of the Riverina (MoR).

The iconic bush ballad recounts a series of laconic conversations between farmers as they squat on their heels outside church after mass to discuss their weather-affected fortunes.

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In good times and bad, Hanrahan is the eternal pessimist, overlooking the present to ruminate on the next inevitable natural disaster.

“That poem really speaks about the different climate events that we’re all familiar with in Australia – drought, rain, floods and bushfires,” explained Wagga Art Gallery Director Dr Lee-Anne Hall.

“And just as it was 100 years ago, that continues, but the cycles have become much more extreme in terms of our climate as we know it and extended periods of drought and flood and ruin to the land.”

Michelle Maddison and Dr Lee-Anne Hall

Michelle Maddison and Dr Lee-Anne Hall take a look at the photos and stories in the ‘Said Hanrahan’ exhibition. Photo: Chris Roe.

The thought-provoking exhibition in the old council chambers is a partnership between the gallery and the MoR. It features historical photographs and stories from the region alongside artworks that examine the development of farming and land management and the impact of natural disasters and a changing climate.

“The historic photographs speak to how things once were in the last 150 years and the artwork and the text that’s on the wall is speaking to how things are now and what we’re facing in the future, which are massive challenges around climate,” explained MoR Curator Michelle Maddison.

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“We all have a part to play in the Riverina and farmers are in a particularly difficult situation because this is arable land that is threatened by climate so we all need to get on board. It’s a problem and challenge for everyone.”

Wiradjuri artist Lorraine Connelly Northey's new piece

Wiradjuri artist Lorraine Connelly Northey’s new piece Mourning, Harvesting Yam Daisy. Photo: Chris Roe.

The exhibition includes the work of three artists: Canberra-based Wendy Teakel, Wiradjuri artist Lorraine Connelly Northey and Wagga-based photographer Tayla Martin.

“Each artist offers insight into our relationship to land and the challenges before us,” explained Dr Hall.

“Wendy (Teakel) grew up on a farm here in the Riverina just outside Wagga and she’s more than aware of the beauty of the land and wanting to sustain it, but also thinking about the impact of human beings in this area.

“Taylor Martin has created some really beautiful contemporary photographs to go alongside the historic ones and we have a really beautiful artwork by Lorraine Connelly Northey that is about Aboriginal women and their management of land over the millennia.”

The exhibition will be launched on Saturday, 12 August at 2 pm by Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout along with an address by Gemma Purcell, who is a farmer and the chair of Murrumbidgee Landcare.

You can find out more about Said Hanrahan: Land. Care. Climate. Crisis. here and if you’d like to take a look at the whole poem you can do that here.

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