With the initial exhibition of the Mallee Routes project Atkins Photo Lab finishing at the end of November I interrupted the archive project I was working on to go on a photo roadtrip to Hopetoun to build up my archive for the next exhibition, which has been planned to take place in 2017. Two overcast days after a big storm provided me with an opportunity to spend several days in the Wimmera Mallee, initially working on the silo project around Murrayville whilst the cloud cover remained. I then linked up with Gilbert and Eric at Hopetoun to explore the north western mallee region of Victoria.
This was the first time on the project that we worked and camped together. We were on the cusp of the summer, and though we only experienced one very hot, dry day with a north westerly wind, the recent heavy spring rains meant that there was a lot of stagnant, standing water lying around the countryside. This meant that it was a good season for the mosquitoes, and we experienced plague proportions of them, which, in turn, made camping at Hopetoun rather difficult.
Though I’d seen the Hopetoun photos of Leanne Cole on the web the area around Hopetoun was new territory for me. This is wheat country in the form of agri-businesses–ie., corporate farming— with its agricultural history one of achieving and celebrating human mastery over an unruly nature. On this road trip the farmers were starting to harvest their crops; the grain silos were being worked on, the wheat trains were on the move and the trucks were coming and going carrying wheat from the individual farms to the various silos. Read More
I have a phototrip to the Victorian Mallee planned around the 12th-15th November. The trip is in two parts: a camp at Murrayville on the Mallee Highway on my own for two days so that I can continue to work on the silo project and to look around the area for the Mallee Routes project, and then a camp at Hopetoun with Gilbert Roe and Eric Algra so that I can explore the area around the Jeparit/Hopetoun/Sea Lake/ Lake Tyrrell region around the Calder Highway.
I’m going because cloudy conditions are expected in this region of the Victorian Mallee for several days. These kind of conditions are few and far between, as the weather in the Mallee is normally bright, sunny and cloudless, and so not all that suitable for my style of photography.
On the western outskirts of Ouyen over looking the tennis club. The vegetation surrounding the town is quite scrubby. This photo was taken with my pin hole camera.
Early in 2016 I made a road trip to the Wimmera Mallee in Victoria. I was intrigued by this montage of old petrol and oil signs around Horsham that signified an earlier of motoring–some are prior to 1945. Veedol, for instance, was the motor oil chosen by Henry Ford to be the used in the Model “T” which was the world’s first mass-produced car. Veedol motor oil signs now sell on ebay as collector’s items.
The photograph provides a scene as opposed to a narrative, a scene that is always from the past and that has to be read like a tableau or a panorama, with the gaze moving across the plane of view in different directions, back and forward.
It’s another era of motoring; the early one in which the car replaced the horse and buggy as a mode of transport. These are signs of industrial modernity in Australia. Read More
I have another Mallee trip planned in early November with my base camp being at Murrayville. So I took the opportunity whilst traveling along the Calder Highway between Ouyen and Mildura to rendezvous with Judith Crispin to go to Lajamanu in the northern Tanami Desert to do a little exploring and photographic scoping. As I hadn’t been on the Calder Highway before so I was interested in seeing what this part of the Mallee had to offer re my approach to photographing the Mallee.
The Calder Highway, I discovered, runs through Mallee country that includes the Murray Sunset National Park and the Hattah Kulkyne National Park. Though I didn’t have the time to explore either of these national parks, I did briefly walk around the Hattah Kulkyne park. It is typical mallee country with extensive low scrub and open native woodland:
We–Gilbert Roe, Eric Algra and myself-— are having an exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab gallery opening October 7th, 2016. This is a kick starter exhibition for the project, as it were. We each have an individual section in the gallery for our images and a common space of shared images. It will be minimal from my perspective–I have the least number of the images in the exhibition- only 5 images— but I do have a number of cards, or 6×4 prints.
This week we have been working out the logistics of the exhibition–what images go in what spaces in the gallery, and how we divide the gallery space between the three photographers–and then hanging the exhibition. This is the poster for the exhibition that was created by Eric:
One of my interests in the Mallee Routes project is to connect our photography of the Mallee to the digital humanities, since the humanities have been traditionally committed to a non‐vocational, non‐instrumental pursuit of knowledge. Our photography of the Mallee is this kind of knowledge. Read More
I noticed this silo when I was driving from Lameroo to Karoonda on my way back to Victor Harbor after the silo photoshoot at Lameroo. It was near a little hamlet or settlement called Kulkami in the southern Mallee. There was no railway line near the silo. It was late in the afternoon and the burst of sunlight had gone by the time that I’d walked around the fenced area to find the right position or perspective to photograph the silo:
The silos dominate the landscape and they embody the hopes, dreams and memories of the people who settled The Mallee and endeavoured to make it their home. In the wheatlands, the heartland of rural decline, memory illuminates the social significance, rather than the agricultural or commercial viability, of the farming landscape. Historical memory is located in those places most closely associated with social interaction and a sense of community. The locus of memory lies more readily in place than in time, in locale than in epoch. Landscape seems the seat of collective memory, rooted as it is in specific sites such as the community hall.
The importance of memory provides a way to move the project beyond showing photos on the wall in the traditional art galleries by positioning this collaborative project within the <a href="http://www.culturemachine.net/index synthroid medication.php/cm/issue/view/23″>digital humanities. The project is a part of digital media technology and it takes place in a computational age, where technology enables access to the databanks of human knowledge (eg., Trove) from anywhere, disregarding and bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of knowledge in the state, the universities and the market.The project is a digital work in so far as it is a web based artefact — a website with a blog and an e-book at the end of the project.
The Mallee Routes project would question the standard assumption implicit in much traditional humanities research, e.g. close reading, canon formation, periodization, liberal humanism, and literature (rather than culture or philosophy) being the central Humanities discipline in the university. For instance, as a collaborative project Mallee Routes breaks with the traditional idea of singular authorship—eg., the stable, individualised, proprietorial, liberal humanist author who claims the legal right to be identified as their authors, and to claim these texts as their property.
On a recent day trip along the South Australian section of the Mallee Highway I stopped off at Peake to photograph the silo there. Peake is a grain receival centre on the rail line from Tailem Bend to Ouyen and like so many of the tiny settlements in the Mallee’s wheatlands it’s presence in the landscape is signalled by a cluster of cylindrical grain silos and a few modest cottages.
After, the photoshoot, whilst having my lunch on the picnic table in the public garden, I started thinking about the traditional split between modernist ‘art photography’ and documentary photography in the 1930s period.The duality of art’ versus ‘documentary’ basically means documentary as social critique and not initially intended as art within the institutional art gallery context. Traces of this duality remain today, even though documentary photography since the 1980s has lost much of its critical function and many documentary photographs were recuperated by the art gallery and sold as art. Documentary photographs are deemed have been taken straight from life and are seen as a truthful depiction of the world because it avoided the personal, subjective expression of media such as painting. The ethos is one of using the camera as an objective means of recording subjects that documented rather than interpreted. Photographic documents aspired to a ‘straight’ photographic style – direct and unmediated – that described ‘facts’ in a neutral, objective way.
After lunch I wandered around the hamlet/town to take a few snaps in the form of everyday, vernacular snapshots. One scene that I decided to scope was the local war memorial, which was at the eastern end of the public garden, just in front of the silo:
I assumed that though the two world wars passed quietly in the Mallee, those living there felt the need to establish a lasting memorial to those who had gone to fight for King and Country and to secure allegiances with the Mother Country. These war memorial sites of a once British Australia mourn and honour Australians who have served and died for their country. War memorials, such as this one at Peake, are the sacred places of settler Australia.
Although it is the grain silos along the old railway lines that dominate the landscape in the Mallee, the odd-looking, elevated water-towers in the various towns also stand out. These water towers suggest that water is scarce in the Mallee, and that it needs to be either piped in from a river, or drawn from the underground aquifers. Even though the Mallee lacks water due to the low rainfall and no rivers, and is is a dry country prone to drought and dust storms, the development of the Mallee through agriculture were deemed to be the key to economic growth.
If the Mallee was to be a prosperous and cheerful place to live in, with the small wheatlands settlements being the nucleus of community life, then the country needed water. The photo below is an example of an elevated water tower in Karoonda, South Australia. I assume that water is pumped into the tower from some form of earthen storage:
The initial form of water infrastructure in the Mallee was bore water, sourced from drawing from the ground water in the various acquifer systems underlying the Mallee. The main aquifer system is the vast underground artesian basin in which the water from the Grampians filters through the underground coral acquirers as it flows toward the River Murray. A line of bores powered by windmills was put down from Underbool to the South Australian border by the Victorian government prior to World War 1, and the increase in water supply, along with the rail link from Tailem Bend to Ouyen, enabled the rapid settlement of the Mallee. This largely took the form of small blocks.
The next step in the Mallee’s publicly built water infrastructure was the open, earthen channel system, known as the Dennying Channel, was a stock water supply and irrigation infrastructure that ran from the Grampians ranges south of Horsham, north beyond Ouyen to Manangatang in the northern Mallee. It was 17,500 kilometres long and it delivered water to storage dams across the Victorian Mallee. The water was extracted from the Wimmera River but the channel was inefficient means of transporting water, due to silt, weeds, drift sand and high levels of seepage and evaporation. Up to 90 percent of the water extracted from the Wimmera River was lost through evaporation and seepage.
The photos in this post were made whilst I was on my way to photograph the silos at Linga. The location of these ruins is Torrita on the Mallee Highway in Victoria. Normally, Torrita is a place that you drive through. However, I was early for the afternoon photo shoot, so I decided to spend some time wandering around this hollowed-out hamlet in the Victorian Mallee. Was this photographic ruin gazing– what has recently become known as ruin porn?
Torrita is almost a ghost town: all the houses and shops, bar one house, stand empty. The tennis court was in ruins as well. They have lost their functionality and meaning in the present. It is no longer a place that could be called home. These kind of traces of the past signify that an era in Australia’s agriculture modernity has come to a close as well as giving us a sense of historical rupture. These kind of crumbing fragments of architectural ruin expose ourselves to the shock of experience, rather than evoking the heritage industry’s nostalgia for the past. These kind of ruins in the Mallee are not going to be preserved or restored; or torn down and recycled, to be replaced with something newer and more contemporary. They are detritus. So is Torrita.
Yet these ruins are reminders. They make us think of the past—the Mallee as a land of promise in the beginning of the 20th century after the failure of pastoralism in the 19th century; then the bust in the 1980s with the collapse of sheep, wool and wheat prices. The decaying and empty houses in the dying small towns, which is one of the most obvious features of the Mallee in South Australia and Victoria, remind us that the agricultural boom of the 1950s/1960s was over. A consequence is the de-population of the inland countryside that started in the late 20th century around the 1980s with the downturn in the rural economy and the withdrawal of government services.
The ongoing de-population is caused by the restructuring of farm production, due to the concentration of small farms into to larger and fewer agricultural properties, an ageing population and young people moving to the larger regional centres or to the capital cities to acquire an education and find employment.