The second stay at Wellington Caves as part of my self-directed Regional Futures artist residency took place over four days and nights in mid-June. The decision was made not to cram too much into the itinerary for this visit. Exhaustion doesn’t favour either clear thinking or creativity.
Tea leaves and crystal balls
My project brief within the cross-regional conversation/collaboration between Orana Arts and Arts Mid North Coast is ambitious and complex. I’m no stranger to these types of briefs after the past few years. My project, as its Latin title, Vaticinor, implies, is about glimpsing the future through the tea leaves of the past and the actions of the present. Wellington Caves offers the perfect location to study the ancient past, while developments and conversations currently underway in the region in the transition to renewables offer the chance to crystal ball the future.
My creative output will be developed through the sampling of sound and collection of audio stories from across the Central West and Mid North Coast regions; sounds that capture the hidden life of a more-than-human world, and the stories and sonic narratives of our regional lives as we transition from the comforts and trappings of our contemporary lives to the uncertainties of a vastly different future. Stories from the community at large and those shaping our future through science, industry and other endeavours will examine what it is we truly value about life in the regions and how we feel about what’s ahead.
Similar hopes different language
Building on conversations had when I spent the first weekend at the Caves with Mid North Coast artists, Ronnie Grammatica and Kit Kelen, I returned ready to start recording. Sites of collection over the four days from 16 to 19 June included the Burrendong Dam wall, Bodangora Wind Farm, the hilltop environment of the Caves and surrounds, and the Wambuul/ Macquarie River in the Wellington.
I spent time talking with underground water specialist with the University of NSW, Professor Andy Baker, and Bodangora district farmer, Simon Barton, who generously shared their thoughts about the uncertainties of the future through the lens of their respective roles. It was fascinating to hear how similar their hopes were while using very different examples and language. The common thread was an understanding of the future based on facts.
Change is inevitable but too fast
My residency accommodation at the Wellington Caves complex is in the caravan park, allowing for casual encounters and conversations with visitors staying in the park—mostly older, retirees from other parts of regional NSW and interstate. Standing in the sun on a quiet Sunday morning, we talked for some time about where we were from, what I was doing…and renewables. They were fascinated by the scale of the solar and wind farm developments around Wellington and out to Nyngan.
Interestingly, given the assumptions made about this demographic, they suggested the transition to renewables is inevitable but also expressed frustration with the lack of transmission infrastructure, past government policy and the current energy market turbulence. Having had some experience with the renewable projects in their home regions, they also said they wished there was more community consultation and transparency about development proposals. Change and the pace of change has also been a common complaint.
Regional lens, global conversation
What’s all this mean to a sound artist chasing elusive and hidden sounds within our natural and manmade world? The tone of these conversations and the despair, hope or excitement expressed in the stories I collect that will shape the resulting soundscapes I develop. It’s a way of reflecting the issues, joys and worries of regional communities in works that can take their place a global and regional conversation.
Our regional communities deserve the opportunity to glimpse the future of their regions through a new lens. After all, we are part of a much bigger conversation about a world that will take shape beyond our lifetimes.