From 1 April to 4 June 2017, Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) presents FRESHWATER, an exhibition that considers how water reflects ecological, cultural, political and economic realities.

Through the works of over 20 Australian artists and artist collectives, alongside historic works drawn from the SAM Collection, FRESHWATER highlights how water remains central to identity, and to how and where we live.

Issues range from ecological concerns about rising salinity, healthy ecologies, refuse and waste, to the inevitable contest around sustainable balances between conservation concerns and agricultural needs. Rivers and waterways also have cultural and historical significance – sustaining work and life and as constantly flowing reminders of stories that stretch across time and place.

Waterways are also political, as delineations of boundaries and territories and as places of political activism and historically significant events. In 1939, over 150 Aboriginal people left the Mission near Barmah on the New South Wales side of the Murray River in an event that became known as the Cumeragunja Walk-Off. Crossing the border from NSW into Victoria, they were protesting against the conditions and policies governing the Mission. The first-ever mass strike of Aboriginal people in Australia, they walked 66km to Shepparton, and many subsequently settled on the Flats between Mooroopna and Shepparton. The Barmah State Forest is the traditional land of local Indigenous people: a constantly evolving landscape dependent on the seasons from flood to drought.

Two major waterways meet at the heart of Shepparton: The Goulburn River (or Kaiela River as local Aboriginal people refer to it); and the Broken River. The Goulburn River then runs from Shepparton through to Echuca, where it joins the Murray River. This region is rich and fertile, sustaining economies and agricultural practices including cattle and dairy, to the orchards for which Shepparton is known.

Dr Rebecca Coates said: ‘This is a must see Shepparton show. Too much water, not enough water; these are the opening remarks for many a conversation around Australia.’

Through a range of media, from video and moving image, works on paper, installation and sound, artists and arts collectives selected enable us to engage with these central issues around water of our times.

FRESHWATER artists include: Ian Abdulla, Janet Burchill & Jennifer McCamley, Louis Buvelot, Vera Cooper, Nici Cumpston, Bonita Ely, Jackie Giles Tjapaltjarri, Eugene von Guerard, Brent Harris, Andrew Hazewinkel, Jonathan Jones and Tom Nicholson, Rosemary Laing, Sir John Longstaff, James Morrison, Albert Namatjira, Nyurapayia Nampitjinpa, Rosie Nanyuma, Wintijya Napaljarri, Lin Onus, Jill Orr, Tiger Palpatja, Eva Ponting, John Skinner Prout, Sally Ross, The Telepathy Project, Gloria Thanacoupie, Johnny Yungut Tjupurrula, Fred Williams, John Wolseley and more.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences are advised that the exhibition may contain images and voices of people who have since passed away.

Curator: Rebecca Coates, Curatorial associates: Anna Briers, Belinda Briggs

Exhibition Dates: Saturday 1 April – Sunday 4 June 2017

Official Opening: Friday 31 March, 5.30 to 7.30pm

For further information, print quality images, or to arrange interviews with SAM’s director Rebecca Coates or artists included, please contact SAM Marketing Coordinator on phone (03) 5832 9494 or by email

Image: Nici Cumpston, Budgee Creek 1, Barmah National Park (detail) 2013, SAM Collection, commissioned by the Friends of SAM, 2013