Waterways of the Illawarra

A series of “creek walks” undertaken in the Illawarra (the region surrounding Wollongong).

The Illawarra is hemmed in by the sea to the east, and a steep escarpment on the west. Rainwater seeps down the escarpment forming countless waterways: rivulets, creeks, gullies, brooks. Some are named, many are not. Often, these creeks run through backyards, alongside sports ovals, through industrial estates, and variously constitute picturesque (desirable) water features and unsightly concrete-lined drains.

We begin at the sea, at an identifiable “mouth”. We walk our way upstream, hacking through weeds and undergrowth, skirting along property boundaries, talking our way into people’s yards. We continue for as long as geography, topography, and social boundaries allow.

Walking Upstream: Waterways of the Illawarra will be presented in a major exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery from October 2017-February 2018

The project was part of the Fluid States: Performing Mobilities programme in Melbourne in 2015.

The geographical boundaries of the project are (roughly) Stanwell Park to the north, and Nowra in the south – about a 100km range.

The walks will be undertaken on an ad-hoc basis, usually at weekends, between 2014 and 2015.

Brogan Bunt, Lucas Ihlein, Kim Williams with collaborators.

Unlike in large cities, where they are often paved over, the waterways of the Illawarra are visible. They criss-cross the landscape, intersecting with every aspect of life in this region.

By undertaking a relatively straightforward task – “to walk as far as possible upstream” – we envisage that our trajectories will intersect with key aspects of the Illawarra around cultures of land use: coal seam gas; black coal mining; bush regeneration; weed infestations; rapid gentrification; land as “property”.

The walks are a form of “ground truthing” – a way of comparing official maps and aerial photographs with the lived experience of tramping through space, on the ground.

By definition, we cannot know what might emerge through this process. It is longitudinal – in terms of time, the project could take many months, even years – and there is no hurry, and is deliberately open ended.

We actively adopt Donald Brook’s definition of art as “unspecific experimental modelling”. In this way of understanding art, one does not stick one’s hand out the window “to see if it is raining” – rather, our hands are stuck out “to see…”

In other words, we do not know what we are trying to find out, but we trust that the process, set in motion by the score “to walk as far as possible upstream” will yield something revealing and new about our local environment. Our previous work in this area of practice demonstrates the potential for insights generated by unspecific experimental modelling.

Waterways of the Illawarra is a resolutely local project – born from the desire of the key walkers to engage more deeply with the topographical, ecological and social fabric of “our own place”. We are all artists and researchers at University of Wollongong.

The project has deep roots in the avant-garde of the past century: conceptual art, socially engaged art practice, land art, and “happenings” for example. In Artificial Hells, Claire Bishop describes this sort of practice as possessing a “double finality” or “double ontology” – ie, it is work which speaks to an autonomous disciplinary field of art, and to the realpolitik of the world-beyond-the-artworld.

The project needs to be done – to be carried out – physically, by people. It cannot exist as a proposition or score without being performed. But it is also a score – something which could be carried out by other personnel, and/or in other places.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Lucas Ihlein acknowledges the support of the Australia Council for the Arts. During 2016-17 Lucas is an Australia Council Fellow (Emerging and Experimental Arts).

4 thoughts on “Waterways of the Illawarra”

  1. Hi Kim, Brogan and Lucas,

    I was introduced to your project late last year when Louise Brand described it to me, and directed me to your website. I am in the process of developing a walking artwork that isn’t entirely dis-similar from the tenets of your project and I’d love to connect with you to discuss what you are doing, but even better to join you for a walk. Unfortunately on March 25/26 I am away so unable to join you for the walk & gallery events.

    Might it be possible to join you for a different walk at another time or could we meet up over coffee sometime? I’m happy to send my project outline through if you are interested.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.



    1. Hi Lizzie, pity you can’t come on one of the 25th/26th March walks! Yes, you are welcome to join us on another walk. We’re all pretty busy at the moment, so the chances of us all meeting up with you for coffee are fairly slim. We can let you know when the next walk is happening – we don’t have a fixed schedule, we just walk when we can.
      all the best

  2. hi
    Can you supply me with a contact email address or telephone number. I work at the Wollongong City Libraries and want to purchase the book 12 creek walks.

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