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River Stories Workshops and Events

Hunter Councils Environment Division (HCED) and Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) have combined resources and expertise to develop the River Stories Partners program in support of the 1233 ABC River Stories series. The workshops were a series of exciting artistic, historical and environmental events that engaged with locals living alongside the Hunter River. The River Stories Partner Program includes a total of 22 workshops and an exhibition at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery which runs concurrently with the ABC’s 1233 River Stories Broadcast.

The ABC broadcast series, was originally developed in 2001, to document the passion that locals have for the Hunter River. Now a decade later, the broadcast was produced again with many of the same personalities, and local residents, farmers, students and business owners to discuss the issues faced by the river, and some of the work being undertaken to improve it.
ABC Newcastle’s Phil Ashley-Brown started the broadcast at the source of the river in the Barrington Tops in July and it is now coming to an end in December 2011. The partner program workshops ran concurrently with both schools and the general community, starting at the Upper Hunter and working their way down to Maitland. Over 300 people were involved throughout the course of the workshops which focused on 4 key elements; the river, arts, ecology and history.
The workshop program included both schools and the general community. The River Stories program will culminate in an innovative multimedia exhibition between 10th February and 8th April 2012 at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery and will be featured at the Hunter Council’s Regional Sustainability Conference in May 2012.


River Stories worked with 8 schools that were located in close proximity to the Hunter River. Each school will participate in 2 different workshops, one workshop on the banks of the Hunter River and the second day visiting the Maitland Regional Art Gallery River Stories exhibition.

Workshop 1 Drawing and Discovery

This workshop was facilitated by Dr Mary Greenwood, Hunter Councils Ecologist and Tallulah Cunningham, Scientific Illustrator from the University of Newcastle.The workshop involved a school excursion to the river for a series of activities including dip netting, leaf rubbings and drawing. The students spent the day discussing their experiences with the river and how it related to the workshop activities.
The dip netting inspired students to recount stories about fishing or swimming in the area and the changes they have observed in the local environment. Most students were aged between 8-11 years old and were already observing changes along the river through the fish they were catching, bird life and changes to vegetation.
The leaf rubbings and drawing activities often lead to discussions about how this vegetation differs to the plants found at the own house or school and why there are ecological differences, and features of plants found on the river bank.

Workshop 1 involved the following schools;
14th October 2011
Belltrees Public School
Very small school with 12 students
26th October 2011
Denman Public School
Grade 4-5.
30 Students
28th October 2011
Muswellbrook South Public
Grade 5
30 Students
4th November 2011
Telarah Public School
Grade 4 & 5
30 Students


 Workshop 2 Sculpture and Sketching

This workshop was facilitated by Tallulah Cunningham, Scientific Illustrator from the University of Newcastle and Daphne Wallace, Gamilaroi/Ullaroi-Yuwaaliaay artist living in Armidale.
These workshops feature the Indigenous significance of the river and included activities such as a vegetation scavenger hunt, sculpture using natural materials, drawing techniques and dreamtime stories.
Students were encouraged to explore the banks of the river to find natural materials such as pebbles, seeds, sand, feathers and leaves to create an animal found on or in the Hunter River. This exercise encouraged the children to think about the animals they have seen around the river such as frogs, lizards, birds, fish, platypus and insects and to think about the physical features of that animal to create a sculpture. The creativity used in this activity was incredible, the sculptures created were colorful and elaborate with a variety of animals including dragon fly, pythons, kangaroo, pelican, ducks, and cockatoos.
Students also participated in a drawing workshop using a river rock. Students were asked to draw their rock and then create this drawing into an animal using a variety of techniques including tonal and shading techniques. This exercise provided students with a technical drawing skills and encouraged the children to use their imagination to find an animal using the shape of the rock.
The schools involved in workshop 2 include;


28th November 2011
Largs Public School
29th November 2011
St Patricks Primary Lochinvar
30th November 2011
St Josephs Primary Denman
1st December 2011
Bolwarra Public School



Workshop 3

The final workshop in this series will include all 8 schools visiting the Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) to view the River Stories exhibition. The students will be guided through the gallery by education curator and will participate in an artistic workshop while at the gallery. This workshop will be conducted during the exhibition in term 1 2012.
Each school was provided with the River Stories satellite map that shows the whole region from the Barrington tops through to Newcastle Harbour. A lesson plan has been developed to encourage schools to continue exploring the river, ensuring the significance of this river is recognised and acknowledged.

Community Workshops
Well known and highly respected artists were engaged to run a series of community events, these workshops covered illustration, mixed media and oral history, aimed at both beginners and experienced artists who live in the Hunter.
For each illustration and multimedia workshop, the day started with participants sitting on the banks of the river to discuss, discover and investigate the ecological features, this process took participants on an artistic journey through the river, while they sketched the view in front of them. After spending a couple of hours beside the river, participants were then back into the studio to work on a River Stories piece, under the guidance of the workshop facilitators.
This process resulted in a number of artworks that will be displayed in the River Stories multimedia exhibition at Maitland Regional Art Gallery next year. It was evident throughout the workshops that most participants didn’t visit the river on a regular basis, and although the river is an everyday feature of the Hunter lifestyle, it wasn’t something they actively thought about. One of the comments received in the feedback forms stated;
‘I have lived in this area for 30 years and have never sat on its banks or enjoyed its serenity. The river will now feature heavily in my art as this workshop has inspired me to not take it for granted.’
The oral history workshop was facilitated by Janis Wilton and attracted many local identities who were involved in the local historical society or in the process of conducting their family history around the Hunter. This workshop provided participants with the opportunity to discuss ideas for documenting and recording their own personal histories with the view of having more information captured about the river and how it has evolved the Hunter Region. 
The community events under the program include
Workshop Details
Saturday 13th October
Trevor Weekes and Tallulah Cunningham Scientific Illustration
Sunday 16th October
Judith White
Mixed Media Explorations of the river
Saturday 5th November
Janis Wilton
Oral History
Sunday 6th November
Judith White
Mixed Media Explorations of the river
Saturday 12th November
Janis Wilton
Oral History
Sunday 13th November
Trevor Weekes and Tallulah Cunningham Scientific Illustration


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