forthcoming exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery

The second exhibition of the Mallee Routes project is coming up. It will be at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery from 23rd of  March to the 6th of May 2018. The exhibition   represents new work, namely work  that has been made  by Eric Algra, Gilbert Roe and myself since our  initial exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab’s gallery in late 2017.

The Swan Hill exhibition will include a historical dimension in that there will be a section of  photos of the Mallee that were taken  prior to our project. This will  be a section of photos that I have come across in my research  and  posted in the history gallery on the website.   This  historical dimension is designed to indicate that there is  a photographic culture with respect to photographing the white settler’s  history of the  Mallee.

This photographic culture has been forgotten and it exists and languish in   the various archives of state and national  libraries and in some of the local councils. A historical dimension to the exhibition aims to counter  a  historical amnesia that  often leads to a series of perpetual presents and an historical illiteracy.  Memory is necessary in so far as we need to know who we are,  if we have any hope of knowing where we are going.

The  dominant settler understanding  privileges the perspectives of the colonisers in the writing and celebration of Australian history, especially  those moments in history where first encounters or intercultural relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in the Wimmera Mallee;   or how these  have been  narrated and problematised with the benefit of hindsight and contemporary understandings. The white settler view is still  the dominant view, namely  that European occupation of aboriginal  lands was justified by the overriding economic good of developing land for grazing stock (pastoralism) and agriculture in the latter part of the 19th century.

Maybe the historical section of the exhibition will help gallery visitors  to  question photographic representation and historical narratives of these semi-arid landscapes of the Mallee Lands  and to realise that history is as much about remembering the  traumatic past as it is about forgetting it.  I have yet to come across any photos in the archive that deal with this kind of  past; ones that  could  help to provide  a crucial way in which the pioneer settler  pasts are talked about, written and lived.

There is a dark side to the settler’s dream. Though I  do not know about  the aboriginal/settler history of the Mallee, nor the oral heritage of Aborigines in the Mallee country of South Australia’s and Victoria, I assume that  the middle of the 19th century was  a brutal period of  colonisation, violence  and conquest as the white settlers wrested the land from the  Indigenous Australians. I also presume that this involved punitive raids on aboriginal camps by the  white settlers and the Border Policed that this was part of  a war for the possession of the land.  Aboriginal people lost the war.

A  common  or recurrent theme in contemporary Australian literature is  the desperate attempt to heal the anxieties of (un)belonging that haunt settler culture. The ghosting metaphor is understood to refer  to a sort of unfinished business in that discarded or suppressed fragments of the past have a tendency to return as ghosts to haunt individuals, communities and the  nation. So we have  attempts to spell out the trauma and anxieties of (un)belonging that haunt settler culture as a result of the belated and painful revelation of Aboriginal dispossession and genocide.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *