Early during my walk along Tasmania’s Derwent River from the mouth to the source, I was travelling near Repulse Dam on a reconnaissance trip when I came across two others. It was a strange experience. Previously I had become aware that two women planned, with assistance and support from others, and with the direct engagement of specific groups of people in some parts, to walk from the mouth to the source. That day, as Andrew and I drove around for me to suss the landscape and the walking route options, when I saw two women seeming to do the same, we stopped them and I asked questions. ‘Yes we are those women’, said Justy Phillips and Margaret Woodward. I am sure they were as surprised as I was.
Since then, Justy and Margaret have made their way alongside various parts of Tasmania’s Derwent River and arrived at Lake St Clair where they were Facebooked taking a dip in those cold waters, seemingly delighted with their arrival.
Their project was very different from mine. In my case, I wanted to walk around the whole of the Greater Hobart Area, and then to walk every metre of the way to the source at St Clair Lagoon dam. By contrast, Justy and Margaret walked alongside parts of two Derwent Rivers; Tasmania’s Derwent River and the other in Cumbria England. The experience of and learnings from their walks were used as part of the basis to write what they describe as a ‘fictionella’; written in the form of text artwork, similar in appearance to poetry.
That book is titled Fall of the Derwent. In this website you can see range of photographs including two where Justy and Margaret are holding their black covered book.
The title of the book references a drawing by an early Tasmanian surveyor George Frankland which he named ‘Fall of the Derwent’. Colonial artist Thomas Bock engraved the image and James Ross printed the picture in The Hobart Town Almanac in 1830. The picture was drawn at a site near unpassable rapids on the Derwent River upriver from New Norfolk. When Justy and Margaret walked past what they believed was that place, they took a suite of black and white photographs; half a dozen or so of these images are bound into their book. Without returning to that area I seem to remember the spot. After reviewing my photographs in that area, clearly I was looking for serenity and simplicity. I was looking at colours and contrasts. It seems I was focusing on one way of seeing that world of the Derwent River, and Justy and Margaret’s view is an alternative.
I did not focus on the twisted interlacing of stark and scrappy vegetation at the river edge like Justy and Margaret have done The differences in our images is a reflection on the different nature of our projects. I wanted to entice others to be seduced by the beauty of the landscape and then to make their own journeys along the river edge (I now wonder why I didn’t see vegetation tangles as beautiful). When I read their book it seemed they wanted to use their experiences as the basis for creative abstract thoughts; perhaps even a metaphysical approach involving questions such what is there in that world and what is it like at a more profound level. My approach was literal and descriptive.
The Phillips/Woodward Fall of the Derwent publication presents poetry-styled ideas and comments in ‘chapters’ headed by the days of the week; the book proceeds over 44 days consecutive days – but the ideas associated with both rivers are intermixed.
“Let us begin with two rivers / And a Dad not long for living. / Two daughters …”
Despite the introductory lines, theirs is not a chronological story connecting the sequences of walking the two rivers; reference is made to other locations such as Cape Barren Island, Dover Point, and Brisbane. And the English father walked with Justy and Margaret when they traipsed near the Cumbrian Derwent. As an intertwined overlay in this book, mention is made of his declining health – Dad in pain, no longer able to feed himself, no longer speaking. For this reason and for the manner of writing which removes easily identifiable meaning through much of the publication, this book has a limited audience and is obviously a set of personal ideas to be understood, remembered and perhaps loved by the authors. For their personal satisfaction. I was surprised that this book uses combinations of words that do not create, for most of the book, visual images of either of the two rivers. Instead, the poetry reads as a meshing of many experiences which presumably helps Phillips/Woodward to reconstruct a feel of those experiences.
On occasion, where the meaning was clear because I could recognise specific locations, I enjoyed some of the lines. For example, “…rows of hops that string this neck of the river…” referred to the hop vines and their structural strings in the Bushy Park area. These hop fields obviously made a significant impression on Justy and Margaret because there was a second comment on the same topic; “…the hops in single file march orderly disruption to the valley.” Then, when they walked around the Wayatinah Power Station, “…the woodstave pipeline is a blistering gland … Draws the corset of her breathing”. Like Justy and Margaret, I looked in awe at these two locations and their dramatic impact was described during my posts. To remind you – here are photos of the hop fields and others of the wooden pipeline.
Justy and Margaret learnt in Cumbria; “On the banks of the River Derwent, that the term ‘black market’ is born. Through the illegal trading of graphite.” Then they found graphite was part of the geological structure at Wayatinah on Tasmania’s Derwent. From these findings, grew the idea to play with ‘black’; the book’s cover is black, some copies are cloth bound and impregnated with carbon powder, the Fall of the Derwent and ‘black’ are interconnected within the text, and one section of the book presents a list of locations along Tasmania’s Derwent which include ‘black’ in the name; examples include Black Bob’s Rivulet and Blackmans Bay.
Phillips/Woodward’s book Fall of the Derwent was part of a public artwork presented in association with GASP (Glenorchy Art & Sculpture Park) in 2016. Further information can be accessed here. If you click on ‘Download Hydrographic Score’ you will be able to read the book online.
Very interesting to think about these different accounts and also about the two Derwents. I’ve now realised that when I stayed at Bassenthwaite Lake several years ago, I was right by the English Derwent as it flows through the lake. Nice to think of that connection 🙂
I do so much like connections; unexpected connections. I have googled the English Derwent and have some appreciation of how it winds through the landscape over its distance that is much shorter than the Tasmanian version; but I know that no amount of seeing photos or videos ever gives all the experience. Perhaps one day I will visit the River Derwent (as it is known in England) – I always call our river the Derwent River but I am aware that sometimes locals refer to it also as the River Derwent. We are a lazy people in some regards and it matters not to us getting such a thing ‘right’.
It would have been intriguing to meet up with these 2 other women. It would be interesting to come across places where there once wild rapids and how mankind has so much changed the landscape.
Our Hydro Tas control the flows of waters from the many dams along the Derwent and so at any time the river might be high downstream or reveal and show active rapids. The river is never the same.
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