Symposium, Conversation, Workshops, Talk

Join us for River Conversations, a two-day symposium situated on the Parramatta River and The Cutaway at Barangaroo – on water and on land co-created with Erin O’Donnell, water law and policy specialist, University of Melbourne and Alessandro Pelizzon, legal anthropologist, Southern Cross University. Led by First Nations voices, interdisciplinary caretakers will share their river conversations through a variety of methods including film, workshops, poetry, talks, storytelling and deep listening.

River Conversations acknowledges the vulnerabilities of our River systems. The dominant narrative sees the River only in the terms of economic gain – divided from the people who listen and care for the River and the surrounding environment that supports it.

In an effort to save our Rivers, our Rivers are being transformed: given ‘voice’ and ‘legal personhood status’ as a way of protecting these endangered systems.  But what does this mean for the River and its surrounding communities? What are the real-life implications of changing the law? To speak of rivers in legal terms, after all, may still not be enough. How can we listen and converse with the River to understand its needs in an active and embodied way? How can we appreciate and acknowledge the holistic value our Rivers offer without reducing it to ‘human’ comparisons? Some of the questions and more that will be unpacked over the symposium.

River Conversations will feature local and international participation enabling a rich mapping of conversations between rivers, communities and future imaginaries, on a global scale.

Dates & Times
You can choose to join us for all sessions, multiple sessions or just one.

Friday, 22 April 2022
10 am–1 pm

Saturday, 23 April 2022
10 am–1 pm

Saturday, 23 April 2022
2–5 pm

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Friday, 22 April 2022 /Tribal Warrior, pick up from Circular Quay, Eastern Pontoon, Sydney
Saturday, 23 April 2022 / The Waterhouse at Barangaroo (Level 1)

$66/$32 +booking fees

The Biennale of Sydney strives to make all events accessible. You can advise us of your access requirements when booking online, by email or calling our box office on 02 8484 8702.

Box Office Opening Hours
Monday – Friday
9 am–4 pm
02 8484 8702
Email –

Session 1 – Day 1: On a boat along the Parramatta river

River Source: Support; it gives, we give
Friday, 22 April 2022
10 am–1 pm


  • Welcome to Country
  • Leanne Tobin (Dharug)
  • Bradley Moggridge (Kamilaroi)

You will be on the boat for 3 hours.


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Session 2 – Day 2: On land (morning)

River Tributaries: Positionality; being with and in the River 
Saturday, 23 April 2022
10 am–1 pm


  • Welcome to Country
  • Bruce Shillingsworth (Murawari) with Clarence Slockee (Bundjalung, based on Gadigal Land)
  • Justice Md Ashraful Kamal (Bangladesh)
  • John Kelly (Dunghutti) and Rena Shein (Australia)

*Due to unforeseen circumstances, unfortunately Badger Bates is unable to join River Conversations.

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Session 3 – Day 2: On land (afternoon)

River Mouth: Ancestral Being; it speaks, we listen 
Saturday, 23 April 2022
2–5 pm


  • Dr Anne Poelina (Nyikina Warrwa)
  • Birrarung Council (Birrarung)
  • D Harding (Bidjara / Ghungalu / Garingbal)


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Participant Bios

Leanne Tobin

Leanne Tobin is a multidisciplinary artist of Irish, English and Aboriginal heritage descending from the Buruberong and Wumali clans of the Dharug, the traditional Aboriginal people of the Greater Sydney region. Leanne works collaboratively with community groups, local schools and institutions using her art to tell local stories and to evoke an environmental conscience and respect towards the land and its original people. Her art practice seeks to encourage an open and honest dialogue about the past and to nurture, respect and care for Country, paying homage to our Old People and their legacy. 

Bradley Moggridge

Bradley Moggridge is a proud Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation with over 25 years’ experience in Aboriginal engagement, water and environmental science, working in applied research, policy development, regulation and project management. Bradley is currently Associate Professor in Indigenous Water Science and P/T PhD candidate at University of Canberra.

Bruce Shillingsworth

Bruce Shillingsworth Snr, a Murawari man, is one of 11 children in a creative and artistic family. His mother is ’91 years young’. After collecting indigenous stories for over 50 years, Bruce recently began to paint on canvas. His diverse career and vocation involve educating young people for Barnardo’s, Scouts Australia and NSW Education about our history and responsibility to be involved with living sensibly and sustainably. His vision is that black and white Australians will walk together and see our collective national identities and concerns.

Clarence Slockee

Clarence Slockee is a Cudgenburra/Bundjalung Aboriginal man with a long family history of bushmen, farmers and fishermen growing up in the lush Tweed Valley. Clarence intertwines his love of plants, education, culture, design and the arts into his role as Director of Jiwah. For the past 10 years Clarence has been a familiar face on television screens across the nation as a presenter on ABC’s Gardening Australia. With regular segments on the TV series, he continues to educate people about medicinal, cultural and edible native plant species unique to the Australian landscape. 

Justice Md Ashraful Kamal

Enrolled as an Advocate of the District Court, the High Court Division and the Appellate Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court on 30.04.1994, 26.09.1996 and 24.08.2010 respectively. Elevated as Additional Judge of the High Court Division on 12.12.2010 and appointed Judge of the same Division on 10.12.2012. Participated in an International Conference held in France in 2005 and in a three-day Second Asian Judges Symposium on Environment, with the theme of Natural Capital and the Rule of Law held at ADB headquarters Manila, the Philippines in 2013. Visited India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Malaysia, Singapore, England, Scotland, Netherlands, Italy, France, Belgium, USA and the Philippines.  

John Kelly & Rena Shein

John Kelly is a Dunghutti Elder from Kempsey, Australia. He is an artist, cultural adviser, and teacher.  His painting The Bunyip hangs in Parliament House of NSW and a series of charcoal drawings were exhibited as part of a tribute to Nelson Mandela. He has exhibited at Washhouse Gallery and Boomalli Galleries and created the first Aboriginal Art design for the Deadly Awards.  Kelly’s art imparts his strong sense of culture and traditional knowledge through which he teaches young children, mentors young men in traditional practices and engages community in the preservation and celebration of culture.

Rena Shein’s practice seeks strength-based approaches between Western healing psychotherapeutic modalities, Aboriginal knowledge systems and practices and contemporary art. As an artist with an inheritance of migration and cultural displacement, her multidisciplinary practice takes place at the juncture of relationship to people and place, engaging with notions of materiality, memory and healing.

Zena Cumpston

Zena is a Barkandji woman with family connection and belonging to western New South Wales. Throughout 2021 she was a co-author on the Commonwealth State of the Environment Report, also in 2021 she curated the show Emu Sky illuminating Indigenous knowledge through the eyes of Aboriginal artists and storytellers. Zena’s is co-author on the book ‘Plants’ that will soon be released as part of the ‘First Knowledges’ series. 

Dr Anne Poelina

Dr Anne Poelina is a Nyikina Warrwa (Indigenous Australian) woman who belongs to the Mardoowarra, the lower Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Poelina is an active Indigenous community leader, human and earth rights advocate, filmmaker and a respected academic researcher, with a Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Master of Education, Master of Arts (Indigenous Social Policy) and currently Doctor of Philosophy (Health Science) with thesis title, ‘Cultural Determinants of Indigenous Health and Wellbeing’.

Birrarung Council

The Birrarung Council was appointed by the Government in August 2018 as prescribed by the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Act 2017 (the Act) to be the independent voice of the Yarra River as a living entity and to provide independent advice to the Government on the implementation of the Act.Traditional Owners have a permanent voice through the Act’s requirement that at least two members of the Birrarung Council must be nominated from the Wurundjeri Woi wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation. 

D Harding

D Harding works in a wide variety of media to explore the visual and social languages of their communities as cultural continuum. A descendant of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples, they draw upon and maintain the spiritual and philosophical sensibilities of their cultural inheritances within the framework of contemporary art internationally. Harding uses techniques such as stenciling to perform the same techniques as their ancestors, revealing complex and layered cultural heritage and aesthetic histories. 

Image Credit: Badger Bates, participant, at the First Participant Announcement for the 23rd Biennale of Sydney (2022) at the Cutaway. Photograph: Daniel Boud. 

River Conversations is generously supported by the University of Melbourne.