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Riverland-inspired poem reaches state final
A FORMER local inspired an
Adelaide-based writer to put
together a poem about a park in
Berri, following many trips to the
Former Berri resident Alysha
Herrmann started a long-term
community engagement project
called the Manifold Portrait in 2016.
As part of the project, Ms
Herrmann invited Adelaide writer
Caroline Reid to accompany her on
the initial trips to the region.
“A few years ago I was part
of Berri Barmera Council’s Youth
Action Committee and we were
doing an audit of public spaces and
looking at parks that council was
responsible for,” Ms Herrmann said.
“We were looking for some youth
insight, back in 2008.
“Rotary Park, surrounded by
Manifold Crescent and Derek Street
in Berri, was one of the places we
“It just kind of lodged in my brain,
the place and I went, ‘I think that
something really interesting could
“After a few years of doing other
projects, I really wanted to go back
and do a project there. I wanted to
talk to people that live there and see
if they wanted to do something and
what that might be.”
The Manifold Portrait project
received funding in 2015 and with
inspiration from a Sydney-based
project Minto Live, Ms Herrmann
began the project last year.
“Minto Live was this 1.2km
walk down a suburban street and
they (the artists) worked with
all of the people that lived in the
houses along that walk for about 18
months,” Ms Herrmann said.
“As you walked along the street,
the people that lived in those
houses came out into their front
yard and did a dance about their life.
“They were everyday people, they
weren’t all artists, and something
about that project captured my
imagination. That got me thinking
about Rotary Park and that it’s
surrounded by houses.
“I’m really interested in how
people get to tell their own stories
and how communities tell their own
stories. Because the Riverland is
my home and my heartland, I really
want to tell Riverland stories.”
Ms Herrmann and Ms Reid
would spend time in Rotary Park
with a Berri-based visual artist.
“We just started hanging out
in the park once a month, writing
some stuff, making some stuff and
talking to people that lived around
the park and just exploring what
might be possible,” Ms Herrmann
“From that the project has
become a long-term artistic
commitment to keep making things
and telling some stories from that
community with people that live
Drawing inspiration from
her visits, the travel to Berri and
conversations with Ms Herrmann
about the impact of droughts on
growers and the wider region, Ms
Reid constructed the poem.
Ms Reid performed the
poem, Activism, at a state poetry
competition and made the final.
“I chose to read Activism
out because I don’t think many
environmental poems are written,”
Ms Reid said.
“I didn’t set out to write an
environmental poem, I just set out
to write poem that encompassed
the image of dying trees and a
poem for people that live in the
“Also for the audience I was
trying to say ‘hey, have you actually
thought about where your fruit
comes from and how hard it is for
people that are growing it’.
“I made it through to the final,
which was great, but more than
that, it was the response I got from
“People came up to me saying
that they lived in the Riverland at
that time and it brought all of that
“Other people just really
responded to the subject matter
Ms Herrmann said the project is
expected to continue into the future.
“Over the next couple of years
we’re going to keep making stuff
and telling stories,” Ms Herrmann
“The project is about artists
working with people that live around
Rotary Park to tell some local
stories through visual arts, through
theatre, through sound and poetry,
all sorts of things.”
This is not a fairy tale.
Berri really is a place, where oranges
but in the years of the Millenium
drought orchards were ripped out.
You could see mature trees, robbed of
on the soft shoulder of the highway,
thick roots of trees clawing the air,
gasping for water,
begging for their lives.
People committed suicide.
Berri’s never been the same.
And I am ashamed
I saw it on the television, and did
it was breaking news. And I did
And now I stand here reciting poetry
so you might recognise the apathy
inside of me
and it goes something like this –
But the drought went on for such a
and what can you do – empathy has
a shelf life,
and to be a fruit grower in South
Australia is to live with the risk of
and oranges are not the only fruit –
Now if you go down to the Riverland
to smell the sweet scent of oranges
you may hear the voices of mothers
calling kids home at dusk
and you may wonder –
How do these Riverland people live
with the fear of drought,
with the sharp taste of grief,
with the memory of the dead knitted
into their days?
And you may ask yourself, or you may
ask them –
Has drought changed you?
Made you stronger,
knowing the bad days are not over?
Knowing you are at-risk people
on an at-risk river
in an at-risk town?
And knowing that what is left of Berri’s
get crushed and squeezed
and squeezed and juiced
and juiced and bottled
in a far-away land?
Just like in a fairy tale.
- Caroline Reid
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