Reading the ruins

However, if historical knowledge can only emerge through a procedure that recovers remnants of the past in the present, then the ruin represents brokenness and transience. The past casts its light on what is present and what is present casts its light on what is past. The present is haunted by the past and how the past is modelled, invented, reinvented and reconstructed by the present.

This settler history of Australian modernity has been mostly forgotten –it has shrivelled up and been absorbed physically emerging into its bush setting— until you come across this sculpture amidst the ruins of history whilst travelling along the Thiele Highway:

EBA railway siding

If historical knowledge consists of images in which past and present form a special constellation, then how do we understand the relationship between past and present. Remembrance of the outmoded of settler Australia in the form of nostalgia. Are there other ways to recover the past to shine a light on the present?

What is the past–the outmoded– is considered to be the ruins of settler capitalism and culture. Something outmoded that seems like the relics of another age. Walter Benjamin held that we find a crystallization of the past in the small and symbolic details of cultural manifestations, and this idea is linked to the notion of an ‘after-life’ [Nachleben] of the past in the present.  Walter Benjamin held that the after-life with its historical layers survives in industrial modernity and that the past survives symbolic margins of the historical imagination, such as ruins or the refuse of history.

Bower, Thiele Highway, SA

Benjamin held that we are, in fact, surrounded by a cultural after-life of the past, which continuously influences our own historical imagination. Furthermore, in order to untie these knotted historical layers, the cultural historian has to opt for a truly archaeological view of history. This enables us to step beyond the realm of personal memories to an understanding of environmental history by means of different interwoven layers.

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