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.
This is a modern agricultural landscape that is heavily marked by devastation as well as progress.
Even though small towns are the heart of regional Australia and people in small towns are creating a diverse set of futures for their communities, people have left the small towns like Torrita because the lack of sustainable economic potential has meant that there was no vibrant future with a better quality of life for them. There was no chance for being innovative, proactive and ambitious in meeting that economic future. As economists would say the economic fundamentals are not strong.
Despite the residence shown by people in The Mallee the future they face in a scarred, sun bleached landscape is a difficult one: — preparing for, and adapting to the effects of long term climate change—eg., reduced rainfall, limited water, hotter temperatures and fragile natural resources. This looks to be a future of increased instability without the utopian aspirations of the past, or the nostalgic longing for the golden era of the prosperous past. It is hard to see the emergence of a new sense of community in the Mallee.
I was photographing the ruins as a kind of micrology–interpreting these ruins of modernity as history being overwhelmed by nature. This was a ‘writing of the ruins’ of a haunted settler landscape; a cultural landscape haunted by what lay outside it. The other of a settler landscape–what it excluded— are the dispossessed aboriginal people who originally inhabited this landscape prior to European settlement.