During COVID lockdowns, when gathering in public places to hear music felt impossible, I began to imagine works in unusual spaces. This was a time when I, like many others, rediscovered our local waterways, including the Cooks River (in Gadigal and Wangal Country). Those of us who went there enjoyed an unspoken sense of community as we passed each other on the river’s path. 

Our collective gaze was drawn to the river and its mangroves, prompting the idea of framing it as a stage. Unlike the sanitised concert hall, these spaces are unruly worlds within worlds; sites of decomposition and restoration, which allow us to reflect on the ecological conditions and resilience, as well as the mangroves’ mitigating effects on the climate crisis. 

Elizabeth Jigalin plays the melodica in a rowboat in the Cooks River, just off its banks.

Elizabeth Jigalin performing in What the River Doesn’t Say About Itself. Photo supplied

These reflections were the seed for an art music/video work, What the River Doesn’t Say About Itself, created with three musicians: Elizabeth Jigalin (accordion/melodica), Danica Hobden (zither) and Joseph Lisk (trumpet). 

Surrounded by the branches and root systems of...