Reading the ruins

I mentioned in this Kapunda post that I was at the Lavender Trail at Kapunda camp in 2020 I scoped the Morgan railway line, as I was interested in the ruins as part of the absent history section of the Mallee Routes project. Because the captured moment has happened, photography is also about re-presentation of the past. This means it is also about memory, reflection and evidence. The absent history section is about cultural memory, in the sense that the past survives in ruins as well as in images and texts and within our own historical imagination. Our conceptions of tradition, heritage and history are above all cultural constellations of meaning and this unconscious presence of the past needs interpretation.

The old railway line between Kapunda, Eudunda and Morgan railway was built in the 1870s to connect with the up-stream Murray River paddle steamer trade at Morgan. The Eudunda and Morgan was closed in 1969, and the tracks eventually pulled up, but the signs of the railway’s existence are still present as ruins. These are the ruins of settler Australia surviving in late modernity.

ruins, Eudunda-Morgan railway

What currently exists in this broken, semi-arid land is the Thiele Highway to Morgan. This highway is seen as an affirmative sign of economic and cultural progress in South Australia with its allure of economic development leading the state’s policymakers to reject scientific advice advocating caution in favor of agricultural expansion.  It is a highway through a territory with a history of the broken promises of, and failed attempts at, agriculture. it is a history of the modernist expectations of the prevalence of human ingenuity over nature being  frustrated.  Modern agriculture was supposed to be the big fix that would civilize the frontier and save the environment. Its solutions often made things worse.

Historical reality is twofold: on the one hand, we are faced with a tangible reality, which is more or less material and which is inscribed in space, time, language or tradition, but on the other, we are faced with a purely symbolic reality, which has a life of its own and which can survive without any need for material manifestations. This symbolic after-life can be interpreted in terms of cultural or social memory.

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