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Rivers of Paradise.

Environmental writer Huw Kingston explores why humanity needs to fight to keep our rives alive in this essay extract from our River printed program.

In 2022, the ACO will embark on a transformative new era as it resumes its national and international touring activities with gusto. Artistic Director Richard Tognetti took a moment to reflect on the past 18 months and his hopes for the future - we share his poetic musings with you below.


Sometime in the distant past, a group of musicians trod the boards of concert halls throughout a vast, bare land; and sometimes they also played in other places in a world now distant. Then, eerily, all things musical were cut to silence under orders, strict, that the people stay away; and so the musicians were left to themselves, and memories of concerts began to fade.

 The dust gathered in the aisles where people used to walk, stirred expectant with their murmurings, and the halls were dimmed, and the seats were raised where they used to sit awaiting the music to begin.

The foyers stood empty where the people used to amble, brimming with sensations of communion; having sat side by side absorbed by sounds made by the group of musicians.

During the fallow period and as time passed, the musicians lost a sense of utility, but were checked by the support that flowed to them through the generosity of the people. And then with the passing of winter, green shoots appeared; people began to flow back to the watering holes, where beer and other beverages were sold.

 The musicians gazed from their windows; imagining too; imagining that they would be permitted once more to tread the boards and stir the thick dust that had gathered in the concert halls of the vast, bare land.

And so it came to pass that some of these watering holes were once more filled with the afterglow of performance. People once more would travel beyond, and into the concert halls, where they could flock and mingle and await the group of musicians to gather; and then we will strum and pluck and weave and conjure; once again.

Richard Tognetti
Artistic Director & Lead Violin

LICENSED FOR PR - Pete McBride - McBride_GrandCanyonDory_140511_226425076 - Copy
Photo credit: Pete McBride
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Photo credit: Yann Arthus-Bertrandz
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Photo credit: Chris Burkard

Crossing the shaky suspension bridge, I watched a rivulet of water run down Richard Tognetti’s violin case. At a metal clasp it braided, as rivers do, before confluencing below the buckle. Then into freefall, a tiny cascade dropping five metres to the Snowy River below.

That rain was falling late on a dull September afternoon as Tognetti and I trudged into the gloom. We had plans for a few days’ backcountry skiing, hopes for an improvement in the weather and thoughts of high jinks with a violin.

We woke the following morning to blue skies and, after brewing coffee for need and porridge for necessity, skied away from our camp and climbed onto the main ridge of the Snowy Mountains. After skiing a couple of glorious runs on sun-softened snow, Richard swapped ski poles for the violin. Then, as a celebration of mountains and rivers everywhere, in surely one of the finest venues he had ever played, he took off, linking turn after tune after turn.

The rainwater that had fallen from the violin case the day before, dropped into the only section of the Snowy River still running free, a meagre stretch below the slopes of Mount Kosciuszko. How long, I wondered, would it take that water to travel 400 kilometres to the sea at Marlo? Guthega Dam would hold those molecules first, then Island Bend.

If they did escape beyond those walls, they might bounce down into the expanse of Lake Jindabyne. Here they could be held for months or years before gaining freedom through a release into the Snowy below Jindabyne Dam. The ingenuity of the Snowy Scheme meant even that was no guarantee. Tunnels and pumps might take that water far from its natural course, under and across the mountains and away into arid lands to nourish cotton, rice or almonds.

Just two months later, in the warmth of late spring, I paddled the Snowy River below that final dam in Jindabyne, astounded by the terrain. Deep in the gorges, one rapid catapulted me out of my craft. I swam, pinballing off rocks that hurt me despite the cushioning of the water piling onto the smooth, waterworn, granite boulders.

For decades, a miserable one per cent of natural flow was allowed to dribble down this artery. The past 20 years have seen this increase towards a fifth, thanks to a huge campaign in the ’90s to save the Snowy. But water that flows from a dam is not the same as water that flows naturally. It is often colder, taken from the bottom of a pondage and lower in nutrients. Such water impacts the natural biorhythms of the waterway below.

At camp, a pair of bee-eaters entertained us all afternoon, flitting about the branches of a single, dead gum. Platypus popped up for a look from the pool below our tents and a flightless emu looked up longingly at those that could. A pair of dingos looked on nonchalantly. Had the water from Richard’s violin case yet arrived in this part of the Snowy, I wondered? Or was it still making its way uncertainly down the river?


You can read the full essay in our River printed program, available online from Monday 26 July or distributed in print at our River concerts.