During my solo photo camp at Balranald in NSW in the spring of 2018 I started to concentrate on photographing the interiors of deserted buildings. One reason for the shift was that I was becoming interested in the interiors of these silent buildings in themselves. A second reason was that the interiors of the various buildings at the Yanga Woolshed National Park were publicly accessible. A third reason was to bring the subject matter into my understanding of the tension between the large format photography of the Mallee as trace (document) and as picture (artwork).
What had intrigued me on the previous road trip to Balranald was how the decayed interiors had the traces of events that occurred in the past, and that these ones hold more memories. The straightforward presentation of the interiors allows the viewer to actively interpret them in the present as metaphors, or the interiors being psychologically loaded, or as the past intruding on the present in a meaningful way.
This is a photography after the event –a photographing of the traces of pastoralism before this particular history of the Mallee was erased. This kind of late photography in the era of television, newer technologies and the mediascape of a commodity culture, turns up late, wanders through the places where things have happened, and starts to explore the effects of the activity of a world gone. Though people are absent in this still photography of traces, fragments, empty buildings of an increasingly forgotten history, there is a lot of remnants of human activity in the detritus left behind. Read More
On my solo photocamp at Balranald I photographed in and around the Yanga Station including the Woolshed and the homestead. Yanga Station, as is well known, was one of the Riverina’s most productive, freehold pastoral stations, and it is now located in the Yanga National Park near the Murrumbidgee Valley National Park. Access to the park away from the wool facilities and homestead was not possible as all the gates were locked. The best that could be recommended by the ranger was to go along the public road towards Woolpress Bend and to stop when I found a suitable place off the road to look at the vegetation.
The Yanga Woolshed was built in the late 1800s along with the various outbuildings, including sleeping quarters and communal dining room. The shed was deliberately built on the bank of the Murrumbidgee River so wool bales from the store could be loaded directly into paddle-steamers for transport to Echuca. The final shearing took place around 2005 during the Millennial Drought. The woolshed now stands as a silent reminder of rural Australia’s pastoral past. This is the old wool press in the Yanga Woolshed.
I was only dipping lightly into this Riverina pastoral world when compared to the work of Andrew Chapman, who made a book about the woodsheds, the shearers, the roustabouts, the dogs etc in 2011. My dipping in was to just gain some sense of the historical layers in the Mallee before pastoralism became overlaid with dryland agriculture and the wheat belt. This is the transition from Australia being insular socio-economic outpost of Britain to becoming a sovereign nation-state operating in a global grain market. This transition profoundly altered the production, supply, price and quality of flour-based staples to the Australian and international markets. Read More
I leave for another road trip to Balranald early Tuesday (11th September) morning. I need to build up some large format images for the forthcoming collaborative Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery early in 2019. I just don’t have enough work for this last collaborative exhibition, and I need to make the pictures before it becomes too hot to photograph in the northern Mallee. I plan to camp at Balranald, as I did in early August, so that I can easily access and concentrate on photographing in and around the Yanga Woolshed as well as along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River in Balranald itself.
I scoped the woolshed whilst I was on the August road trip, and after looking at the converted digital images on the computer, I plan to do more large format black and white photography:
I converted the scoping images on the computer screen from colour to black and white because the interior of the woolshed does suit black and white. It is also appropriate–more appropriate than the digital colour images I made, which tended to make the woolshed look too touristy. Woodsheds, similar to this one, would have been photographed in black and white in the early 20th century, so the blackk and white is reference point to the pastoral history. Read More
I am currently working on making a second limited edition photobook of the Mallee Routes project. Its working title is Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee 2017. It basically consists of the prints of the 35mm and digital images that I made whilst I was scoping for the film images for the collaborative Mallee Routes exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab in 2016. These 6×4 prints formed part of that exhibition. Since the exhibition, the prints have been sitting in a neglected pile in the corner of the Encounter Studio office for nigh on two years.
It was time something was done with them. Hence the idea of a limited edition book that would include a few 35mm black and white images of the South Australia Mallee that I made in the 1980s. It would have a small introduction. This is the cover image of the proposed book:
The book is to be similar in form to the Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee 2018 that I did to include in the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery in 2018. This too was constructed from scoping images for the large format photos shown in the exhibition, and it was, by and large dominated to libraries in South Australian and Victoria. It is what people would call an unsustainable business model, but it is a step to placing the work outside the confines of the white cube art gallery and the politics of the art market. Read More
The winter photocamp at Balranald with Gilbert Roe consisted of photographing on the property of John and Marita Standen’s Rosenhoe farm, which is on the Wakool River, and scoping the area around Balranald itself, which is is located in Mutthi Mutthi traditional country. I would have liked to extend the photocamp to do more exploring and some large format photography, but I had to return to Adelaide to prepare for the Collaboration: Interrogating Melbourne’s changing urban landscape exhibition with Stuart Murdoch at Atkins Photo Lab for the SALA Festival.
On my last day at Balranald I explored the Yanga Woolshed and homestead along with the outlying buildings of the Yanga pastoral station within the Yanga National Park. This Park is now part of the larger Murrumbidgee Valley National Park. The station, which was owned by the Black family since 1919, abutted the Murrumbidgee River, was built in the 1830s by William Wentworth and it was operational until the first decade of the 21st century. It is now a tourist site. I was the only tourist there that day, and the buildings, including the homestead, are slowly becoming ruins from neglect. The exception is the woolshed.
It was stepping back into the history of the Mallee –well a snap shot of the pastoral history which has largely been forgotten. I presume that after around 180 years of grazing, the land was run down and the native plants were sparse. Read More
In a couple of days I am off on a roadtrip to Balranald in NSW for a winter photocamp with Gilbert Roe. I need to make some photos for the forthcoming exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in February 2019. I am squeezing the roadtrip inbetween finishing working on the photos for the SALA festival exhibition and the opening of the actual exhibition with Stuart Murdoch on the 3rd August at the Atkins Photo Lab. I have yet to work on the text or talk for the SALA exhibition but there is some background information with respect to the talk here and here.
An Anglican church at West Nylah from my time at the Lake Boga photo camp in the Victorian Mallee:
I have little knowledge of the western part of the Riverina country around Balranald as I have only passed through on my way to Hay. I presume that like the Swan Hill region the Riverina is centred on irrigation, given that it is situated around the Murray and the Murrmbidgee Rivers and that it has large irrigation areas. My understanding is that the Murrumbidgee River, which is 1,600 km long, is the second largest source of water flows into the Murray-Darling system; and that it is ranked as one of the two least ecologically healthy of the 23 tributary rivers in the Basin. Read More
Whilst I was on the Morgan photo camp in 2017 I decided to incorporate some 5×4 black and white photography into the Mallee Routes project through photographing this rusty water tank with the Sinar F2 monorail. I wanted a bit of grittiness and punch, and I thought that using a large format camera and 5×4 black and white sheet film would be suitable for some bleak subject matter. This I thought would suggest the harsh condition of the Murray Mallee in the 20th century.
My black and white photography was marginal but I figured that black and white would work well representing the ruins of the family farms, soldier settlements and bores of the 20th century Mallee. This history was disappearing –eg., most of the older railway branch lines that had been used for transporting wheat had been pulled up in the 1990s, and there is little to no trace of these branch lines in the landscape in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. They are now different kinds of lines on old railway maps. Read More
The exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery has finished, and Gilbert Roe and I decided to add on a photo-camp at Lake Boga when we picked up our prints from the gallery. The photo-camp, even for a few days, would allow us to explore the Mallee region around Swan Hill, and to build on the new beginnings that had we had either briefly scoped or seen whilst we were in Swan Hill for the exhibition opening.
I had two large format scenes lined up from the earlier scoping: a 5×4 of exposed river roots along the River Murray and a 5×7 of an edgelands scene near the Little Murray River on Pental Island. I also wanted to photograph the deserted motels around Lake Boga in the early morning light, and then some of the shops in the township at Nyah West in the late afternoon. That was the plan. The early morning motel photoshoot with a medium format camera went okay, but I just couldn’t get it together at Nyah West in the afternoon. Read More
After seeing how successful the history section worked when it was integrated into the contemporary photos in the 2018 Mallee Routes exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, I remembered that I had some black and white 35mm negatives of the Murray Mallee in my photographic archives. Over the weekend I went back and looked at the contact sheets of the pictures from my initial exploration of the South Australian Mallee country in the late 1980s. I was curious to see these 35mm photos, and to assess if they would be suitable to construct a history section in the Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in early 2019.
I have not seen these 35mm pictures since they had been sleeved and filed away in the 1980s. I had previously only looked at the large format b+w ones that I had made with the 5×7 Cambo on the same road trips, when I was selecting a couple of my images for the history section of the 2018 Swan Hill exhibition. This land had been permanently altered for agricultural production.
From what I could judge from looking at the contact sheets of these 35mm images, these were made on a few day trips to the Mallee in the VW Kombi. I recall that most of them were made with Kodak Tri-X film using a Leicaflex SLR, rather than the 35mm Leica M-4 rangefinder, that I normally used. Surprisingly, I discovered that there were no medium format contact sheets of photos of the Mallee country in the archives. Read More
The post’s title new beginnings refers to me starting to scope work for the 2018 section of the Mallee Routes project whilst I was at Swan Hill for the exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery. This is new work for the upcoming group exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in early 2019. I want to present new work that has been made during 2018, rather than old work made in 2017.
It is a tentative start–exposed tree routes and low water levels along the Little Murray, which is an anabranch of the Murray River, and forms one side of Pental Island. But it is a topical subject, given both the history of over extraction in the Murray-Darling Basin’s rivers, and the Murray-Darling basin plan, which was introduced in 2012 to return water towards the environment ($13bn in funding to recover water diverted to irrigation so as to restore environmental flows) is failing to restore the Murray-Darling rivers’ health. There are not enough environmental flows in these rivers. Read More