Photographing the Mallee

Mallee Routes is a  collective  photographic project over three years by three photographers–Eric Algra, Gilbert Roe and Gary Sauer-Thompson.

The photography is situated firmly  in the realist tradition and it is topographical in nature. In travelling the highways of modernity, the photographers  pull up and look to the side,  gaze at the ordinariness of space, and  draw attention to the neglected, the detritus and the idea of the unseen.

The Mallee was viewed as  the Land of Promise in the early 20th Century, after the failure of pastoralism in the 19th century. Economic prosperity, it was held,  would result from  land clearance, agricultural development (wheat initially)  and  the building of railway lines to transport the grain to the coastal ports for export to Britain.  The 1980s, with its collapse of the  agricultural boom,  was the decade when this  pioneer,  settler dream of an agricultural paradise unravelled, disintegrated and collapsed.

The ‘dying town’ syndrome  of rural Australia,   with its unravelling of  communities’ social fabric of  the settled landscapes,   was dramatically represented in the drylands,  wheat region of the Mallee. The de-population of The Mallee continued during the first two decades of the  21st century: people continue to vacate their farms and small towns  and  to resettle in the larger regional centres  that offered greater social and economic opportunity.

What has emerged from  the neo-liberal mode of governance  instituted in the 1980s  is  the creation of an agrarian underclass and unmanaged negative environmental outcomes.