action-story | 10th May, 2016

The Flow Project

Writer and poet Berni M Janssen is Creative Director of The Flow Project, based at Footscray Community Arts Centre. She has worked with many organisations and members of the local community to create The Flow; a multi-artform project which explores the social, cultural, environmental, poetic, and spiritual resonances and context of the Maribyrnong river.

ActionStory_The Flow Project heroMelbourne’s West has been shaped by both the river and the ‘streams’ of people that have flowed through the area.

“Once you start talking about rivers, its incredible how people respond,” says berni. “They talk about childhood memories or their activities – swimming, walking by, picnicking or they think about the river as a journey – of life, of emotion, of history, of people. For many the river conjures ideas of birth, death, change, relationships.

“Although the project officially started in 2003, the ideas were percolating long before that. In 2002, berni spoke with people from the local community about the idea of a project focusing on the river. It was felt that it was a theme both culturally inclusive and broad enough for people to respond to. The river was a source of ideas, structure and art.

In 2003, berni worked with a group of young Sudanese, writing poetry and rap, that looked at how the river represented their lives and journeys. They performed the work for their families and friends and then at the Big West Festival. The following two poems were written and performed by the group:

The river makes you listen to your heart
Beat on and on each and every day
When I am sad I sit by the river
It makes me happy, like love, just to be
Love makes the heart beautiful
Like the river, a joy to see
Like love the river flows searching for a magical life
The river of love moves on and on until it finds its goal
Just like the river finds the sea
The river of love discovers its soul.
The river is a map, an image of life
It cures and shows the way
The river is full of junk
The chemicals make the fishes drunk
The weeds grow big and steal the life
They suck the air and we’re in strife
So what the hell we gonna do?
Boo-hoo! No-one seems to have a clue.
It’s up to us to do what we do
Let’s clean the river, come on crew!
Let’s think of the future and the children too
If I can do it, then you can to.

Flow resonates widely with the local residents from many diverse cultures. For example, a piece of audiovisual work by the East Timorese Conversation Club, tells the story of an eel that travels from East Timor to the Maribyrnong River. In the extract below Fa Khoo, recalls the story:

Yes, I’ve been told this story before. There were some eels in the sea near Timor, baby eels, and they were swimming around with nothing to do.

So one day they looked at each other and said, “Come, come, come – loi loi loi! – why don’t we go to Australia and see what there is to do there!”

So they swam all the way down the coast and when they arrived in Australia, they were found by the  Aborigines who said, “Look what we have here, what are these? Why don’t we call them eels.”

So the Aborigines took the eels and raised them as their own and they saw them as something sacred.

The Flow Project was initially funded by the Community Cultural Development Fund of the Australia Council, and then Vic Health and Arts Victoria.

Story by Tracey Sultana.
Additional material courtesy of Berni M Janssen.

Picture appears courtesy of East Timorese Conversation Club