Water, flooding and water security is the most pressing and important issue human beings face  – Nyikina Warrwa Martuwarra guardian Professor Anne Poelina  and poet Nandi Chinna present their new poetry collection

As Australia’s last great unregulated waterway, the Martuwarra Fitzroy River represents potential untapped revenue for government, farmers and industry. It has both Western Australian Aboriginal Cultural and National Heritage listings – and is a venerated Living Ancestor who must be protected.

Tossed Up By the Beak of a Cormorant: Poems of Martuwarra Fitzroy River is an urgent and stunning collaboration between poet Nandi Chinna and Nyikina Warrwa Martuwarra guardian Professor Anne Poelina exploring the beauty and complexity of the Kimberley region in Western Australia and the importance of connection to land and place. Publisher and editor Georgia Richter asked the creators to tell us more about their dialogue, their work and their relationship to Martuwarra River Country.

Nandi, what did you learn from your practice of active relationship the river?

I have learned so many things from my practice of active relationship with the river. Hopefully a lot of this is articulated in my poetry. But if I have to name it here, I suppose some of the important things I have learnt would be listening, being quiet and listening to the voices of Martuwarra water and the beings that live in her, and along her banks. I have learned a quietness and a stillness from the practice of deep listening, filling my mind with the sounds, voices and encounters that are immediate and alive when I’m in the presence of the river. Every sentient being has something to teach us, and we also learn from the rocks and the layers of history embedded in them. Listening to the people of the river whose culture is so totally and deeply entwined with the river’s life offers a rich and profound understanding of how important this place is as a living ancestor.

Anne, why it is important to you to share your knowledge with others?

It is important to share my knowledge with others, particularly incorporating poetry as artistic ways to bring you with us to share the magic, the living spirit of this place. Martuwarra is one of the world’s last remaining globally intact Rivers and it is very much at the crossroads of invasive unjust development.  The knowledge making and sharing is about sustaining our lifeways and livelihoods, so Martuwarra, can continue to live and flow.

Nandi, do you think non-Indigenous writers in Australia have a responsibility to the way they inhabit place?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but for me as a writer from a settler background, I feel I have a responsibility to ask for guidance and for permission if I want to write about Aboriginal places, which is the whole of Australia. If I don’t engage with Traditional Custodians, it would be kind of like a writer walking into my house and settling down to write a detailed and intimate story or poem about me and my house without even knocking at the door, or asking if it was okay to do so. It’s not as simple as that, of course, but I believe a working-with methodology is a way of showing respect for First Nations, and acknowledging that your art practice is taking place on their Country, which was never ceded but stolen.

Anne, what can people from beyond Fitzroy Martuwarra do to help save the river?

Firstly, to understand that Martuwarra is globally unique, its diverse cultures and valley tracks and living waters, will see the River listed as the first in the world as a ‘Living Water Museum’. We are populating the website www.martuwarra.org with an interactive map, showcasing world culture and heritage and the guardians, to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians who have come to feel and hear the River Country. We are creating the Martuwarra Walking Track to share with visitors from far and wide. Check out the website and get to know this special place where we share our poems with people and places.

Tossed up by the Beak of a Cormorant: Poems of Martuwarra Fitzroy River is available in all good bookstores and online.

Books discussed
Swamp: Walking the Wetlands of the Swan Coastal Plain
The Future Keepers

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