The Williams River Valley Artists’ Project began in 2009 out of a conversation between artists about the then proposed Tillegra Dam in the Williams River Valley, in Dungog and the Upper Hunter in NSW. The Williams River originates in the World Heritage listed Barrington Tops and is one of the few healthy rivers left in NSW. The proposal is now defunct, but the dam would have flooded 4000 hectares, destroying the valley’s unique heritage, community and prime agricultural land.
Over the past two years a series of artists' residencies were held in the valley, resulting in exhibitions in Muswellbrook Regional Art Centre, Tocal Agricultural College and the Tin Sheds Gallery at the University of Sydney. These shows responded to the context and changing situation in the valley.
This latest show, Riparian Rites, brings together sensitive responses to the experience of the impact of the proposal and the disruption to the valley along with hope for a better future. It includes the work of artists Suzanne Bartos, Neil Berecry Brown, Ruby Davies, Noelene Lucas, Margaret Roberts, Toni Warburton, David Watson and Juliet Fowler Smith.
While this latest show is a time of celebration over the reversal of the decision to build the dam, it is also a time for reassessment and recovery. The valley has been devastated by the impact of the dam proposal, the community fragmented and the land fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair. There is on going disquiet about what the future holds.
What the Dungog shire has had to struggle with has implications for how we deal with water policies on the wider scale.