Dirty River is Michael Waugh’s loving portrait of Melbourne—coffee brewing in Carlton, joggers running ’round the tan and screams rising out of the MCG. Shimmering with the electric 12-string strains of an Aussie rock classic, Dirty River navigates the personal and communal, the contemporary and historical, the beauty and ugliness of Melbourne. It is a stirring anthem, celebrating Michael’s home city and the traditional custodians of the land.
Michael has been acclaimed as one of the country’s finest songwriters, lauded for his vivid stories of uniquely Australian places and characters, told in an accent that is idiosyncratically ours. While his first three albums have focused on Gippsland’s dairy farming communities, Dirty River turns to urban spaces. Melbourne might be the protagonist in this emotionally resonant narrative, but all Australians will identify with those rivers that run through the heart of our capital cities.
Michael wrote the song through Melbourne’s 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. “When you’re stuck within a 5k radius of your own home, you start to newly appreciate the beauty of your city,” he says. “I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of the Yarra, and on those precious masked walks, I became conscious of the importance of the river in the identity and history of my city. The river is so central to my home and yet I’d taken it for granted for the 30 odd years that I’ve lived here. I suppose that was the gift of COVID, I got to see my city through new eyes. This place holds my personal history as well as that of my community.”