Exhibiting Mallee Routes at the wonderful Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery in Victoria opened on Friday the 23rd March, was a great experience. The exhibition was the result of a years work photographing the South Australian and Victorian Mallee by Eric, Gilbert and myself Mallee after our initial exhibition at Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide in late 2017.
It was a successful opening with Mark Thomson giving an excellent opening speech based around the Mallee’s contradictions: the harsh, flat country and the resilience of the people who lived and made the Mallee their home. It expressed a sense of place. Eric and Gilbert gave artist talks about their work and the way they approached their photography on the Saturday morning. What was surprising was that neither Eric nor Gilbert offered any insights or responses to each other’s work, even though they would often travel together to photograph on their Mallee trips. Surprising because the Mallee Routes project is a collaborative one.
Eric and Gilbert both exhibited 30 A3 size prints each with Gilbert also providing a map of the Mallee. I exhibited 11 A1 prints along with a book of digital photos that I’d made whilst scoping for the film images in the exhibition. The book was printed by Momento Pro in Wellington, New Zealand, and it was shown at the Photobook/NZ festival, which just prior to going to Swan Hill to help hang the exhibition. The historical section of the exhibition consisted of the 3 Lie of the Land images by Linda Marie Walker that were made in the 1980s, 2 black and white images of mine that were made in the 1980s and 6 images (black and white and colour) made by Eric in the 1990s.
Whilst staying in Swan Hill I started to explore The ABC’s Radio National’s programmes on the Mallee looking for material on the Mallee in the light of this kind of ‘writing the Mallee’ or this conversation with Carrie Tiffany about her first book Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living. I found some of the programmes to be rather glib. An example is this one on water with respect to the Ouyen Lake project on the Off Track programme, which is presented and produced by Anne Jones An example is this episode where it is stated with respect to North West Victoria that:
There used to be lakes and dams in this area, fed by irrigation channels, but in the early 2000s the channels were replaced by a more efficient pipe system.The channels dried up, and along with them, the dams, ponds and lakes that locals used to retreat to in the heat. There is no standing water in the Northern Mallee.
Now there is standing water at Lake Lascelles in Hopetoun, which has been filled with water from the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline since 2009. Moreover, Hopetoun is less than 100 km east of Ouyen. Jones should have known better than to allow this statement about the history of water to stand uncorrected or uncontested. The lake involves ripping out the multi stemmed Mallee trees arising from an underground lignotuber in order to create a recreational lake, thereby increasing the salinity problems in Victoria’s wheat country and for the River Murray.
The Mallee, so I am discovering, has a rich literary heritage. Maybe I will turn to reading some Mallee literature such as Kerry McGinnis’s Mallee Sky or Michael Meehan’s Salt of Broken Tears.
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