By Louise CrispPoetry Cordite Books
Yuiquimbiang is part of an ongoing project to create an ecopoetic form that integrates political essay and environmental poetics: a project that evolved out of my double life as a poet and environmental activist. It was driven by a desire to develop a radical ecopoetic form that would effectively communicate Australia’s ecological crisis as encountered in two specific regions – East Gippsland and the Monaro – and enact an alternative inhabitation of the land.
The series of mainly long-form texts in this collection is grounded in extensive walking, listening and research. A concomitant slow reading is encouraged. In the drafts, the work included detailed references that have been distilled here in the notes section at the end. I have spent decades attending to this place, and continue to search for a glimpse of the pre-European grasslands and forests and celebrate their rare survival. The work attempts to defy the continuing colonial violence that permits and supports the undoing of the land.
‘Yuiquimbiang’ is the first recorded European mishearing/misrepresentation of a Ngarigu word, written down by John Lhotsky in 1834 as the name of a Monaro run, which later became known as Eucumbene. The Eucumbene River, once referred to as the East Branch of the Snowy River, was excluded from the 2002 intergovernmental agreements to return environmental flows to the Snowy.
Yuiquimbiang is a deeply ethical and beautiful work that highlights colonial Australia’s uneasy, unsettled and fragile relationship to the Aboriginal Countries they occupy. The poems in this collection borrow from elegy, inventory, docupoetry, haiku and lyric to explore and examine the ongoing impact of the colonial project in East Gippsland and the Monaro. By centring her experiences of country in the act of walking, Crisp’s collection offers a blueprint for new ways for settler Australians to consider their presence on and encounters with the land. Radical in form, vivid in texture and quietly affecting, Yuiquimbiang will no doubt seed a new generation of similarly ambitious projects, as well as the committed activism that the land so urgently needs.
Kill Me Dead Ck, 1 May
As the air cools and descends at night it enters the windows of Gippsland.
The self-imposed apocalypse of colonisers: low dark smoke smothers the
foothills from Bullumwaal to Mt Baldhead as the burning season begins
in the driest autumn on record. Stony ephemeral creeks completely vanish.
The pelt of a yellow-bellied glider with its tail attached and a sugar glider
tail nearby. A powerful owl is out hunting, scouting its territory for a nest.
In the grove of apple box sap trees a yellow-bellied glider feeds clinging to
a trunk scarred by years of visits by kin. A sugar glider yelps nearby in the
branches of a black wattle. The first night after the full moon and the
air is cool, clear, and the treetops barely moving. The high rocky knoll
overlooks Kill Me Dead Creek and greater gliders unaware of the perishing
forthcoming in fire-afflicted lands feed on the fresh leaves of young red box.
From a rocky knoll I look down into a deep swift river that is impossible to swim across.
Air bubbles collapse under low pressure as flowing liquid bounces against the walls of the diversion shaft. Watery abundance a gift cruelly sacrificed. Twelve rivers and seventy-one creeks were captured by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and all their waters diverted west to the Murray-Darling Basin. A stack of rocks crouches above the weir where the Gungarlin vanishes into an aqueduct. Those old ones, they waited and intervened.
We cross the Snowy River below Island Bend and drive up the fire trail to the locked gate above the junction of the Burrungabuggee and Gungarlin Rivers. A deep hum rises through the canopy of trees. I have not heard that sound before. The rivers have been dry for fifty years. There is white water in the steep valley below. As we walk towards Burrungabuggee weir the sound becomes louder.
Snowy Hydro workers are building a gantry over the 110-metre deep Burrungabuggee diversion shaft. We are enfolded in the noisy rush of the river as we cross the bridge below the weir. Why doesn’t anyone know? The foreman guides us under the scaffolding. If people knew, they wouldn’t want them turned off again. Workers will be lowered by winch from the gantry into the narrow shaft. Seventy metres down the steel lining has been damaged by the force of water. Undone by cavitation.
Since 1965 all the waters of the Burrungabuggee and Gungarlin rivers had been intercepted by weirs and sent down into the Snowy-Eucumbene tunnel. Now Snowy Hydro Ltd has had to raise the weir gates and allow the rivers to flow their natural course to the Snowy. If the shaft can’t be repaired from above, the Snowy-Eucumbene tunnel, which diverts all the headwaters of the Snowy River from Island Bend Dam to Eucumbene Dam, will have to be drained to allow workers to enter from below. The pressure of water flowing through the tunnel prevents its walls from collapsing.
Spring snowmelt floods on the Snowy River touched the base of the high girders of the Dalgety Bridge and swept around the bend towards Hickeys Crossing. An old man had heard the sound of the river every day of his childhood. His face is alive with shimmering joy as he recounts the memory. In 1967 Jindabyne Dam was completed.
We follow the track around the hill to the Gungarlin weir. The river surges through the open weir gate and downstream beneath a high rock face into the gorge. We leap up and down on the grassy flat. We hang out over the riverbank watching the Gungarlin racing towards the Snowy and Crackenback Mountain. My sister films the water. Later I see that same look on my own face. The living energy of water enters our being. The intense sound and force of the river running where there has been an utter absence for decades suggests a possibility, unknown in this country since 1830.
I return in the New Year. I’m almost hopeful. I can hear the Burrungabuggee in low summer flow below me. At the bridge two Hydro employees are watching the water running through the open weir gate and spilling down a rock shelf into its deep bed. They say there’s a little more work to do before they finally turn off the river. I’m unable to ask them about the Gungarlin.
Four wedge-tail eagles circle high above the cliffs of the Gungarlin valley. Is there a dead animal?
Below the weir I climb down into the empty riverbed. Leaves flicker along the bank. The curved hollows of dry boulders are smooth to touch. Under the high rock face half a dozen speckled brown trout circle in a shallow pool. The largest fish swims languidly into the shadow of an overhanging boulder. The water is warm from the hot sun and the trout are stranded in the diminishing pool. The clear call of a pardalote rings across the silence.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist