Rivers of Emotion

Swan River

An emotional history of Derbarl Yerrigan and Djarlgarro beelier / the Swan and Canning Rivers.

Edited by Susan Broomhall and Gina Pickering,
Crawley: Uniprint, 2012.

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Website: www.riversofemotion.org.au

For even as little brookes lose their names by their running and fall into great Rivers, and the very name and memorie of great Rivers swallowed up in the Ocean; so by the conjunction of divers little Kingdomes in one, are all these private differences and questions swallowed up.

When James I opened Parliament with the above speech in 1604, he was calling for unity among the diverse communities or tributaries of his kingdom, to focus on what they shared rather than their differences.
An important research priority for our Centre is to understand and enable all Australians to appreciate emotions in the European past upon which the foundations of Australia have been built, for European emotions have shaped, and continue to shape, our interactions with the Rivers in profound ways.
Rivers were vital to the identities and economies of early modern society. The motto of Paris, for example, is fluctuat nec mergitur (we are tossed by the waves but do not sink) derived from the powerful guild of the Seine River boatsmen and versions of it appeared on commemorative coins as early as 1581.
Rivers would be key to how Europeans interpreted the landscapes they experienced in the Great Southland from their first recorded encounters in the seventeenth century. The Dutch, whose expertise in hydrology was well known in Europe, struggled to assess the Rivers here in terms familiar to them; they left frustrated and disappointed.
By the eighteenth century, fluvial technologies were re-shaping European agricultural productivity. Water, and its active management, was a critical component to continental economies, and it was with this interventionalist mentality that the French and then English approached the Rivers. Were they resources to assist settlement, or a hindrance to travel, communication, and transplanted agricultural systems from Europe? Their differing expectations and answers to this question help to explain British rather than French settlement in the area.
Although emotions - from greed and pride, to love, frustration, and despair - spurred on their activities and filled their journals and letters home, only a few of the newcomers troubled themselves to consider the deeply-held feelings about the waterways of the people they came to dispossess. What are the emotional traces of these long-ago actions as we experience the Rivers today?
Additionally, can we perhaps draw upon emotions to find common ground to care for the Rivers today? As 22-year-old Wadjuk Noongar Ezra Jacobs-Smith has argued,
"Our rivers have seen many changes in how we value and manage them, from the pre-colonial Noongar inhabitants and their beliefs and traditions to colonial settlement and a philosophy towards development and commercialisation. Today support for the conservation of our river system is no longer partitioned by cultural barriers, and the Noongar and Caucasian communities are just two cultures amongst many who now call Perth home. If we, the population of Perth, expect that it is our right to reap the rewards our environment provides (land, water, plants and animals) then
we must accept as equally hasty our overarching responsibility to do the right thing by an environment which provides so completely - not the most viable or the easiest, but the right thing. Ultimately we are united through our common responsibility."

Susan Broomhall
Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, Europe 1100‒1800