The Photographing the Mallee project has two stages: Mallee Routes and Eye on the Mallee. Mallee Routes was a collective photographic project between 2017-2019 by three photographers–Eric Algra, Gilbert Roe and Gary Sauer-Thompson. Eye on the Mallee is a solo project by Gary Sauer-Thompson that started in 2020.
The photography is situated firmly in the realist tradition and it is topographical in nature. In travelling the highways of modernity, the photographers pull up and look to the side, gaze at the ordinariness of space, and draw attention to the neglected, the detritus and the idea of the unseen.
The Mallee was viewed as the Land of Promise in the early 20th Century, after the failure of pastoralism in the 19th century. Economic prosperity, it was held, would result from land clearance, agricultural development (wheat initially) and the building of railway lines to transport the grain to the coastal ports for export to Britain. The 1980s, with its collapse of the agricultural boom, was the decade when this pioneer, settler dream of an agricultural paradise unravelled, disintegrated and collapsed.
The ‘dying town’ syndrome of rural Australia, with its unravelling of communities’ social fabric of the settled landscapes, was dramatically represented in the drylands, wheat region of the Mallee. The de-population of the Mallee continued during the first two decades of the 21st century: people continue to vacate their farms and small towns and to resettle in the larger regional centres that offered greater social and economic opportunity.
What has emerged from the neo-liberal mode of governance instituted in the 1980s is the creation of an agrarian underclass and poorly managed negative environmental outcomes.