walking in the Blue Mine Creek bed

At the end of the first day  of walking we camped at a wonderful campsite close to Blue Mine Gap on the north western edge of the Gammon Ranges. We  were  walking in there of  Sir Douglas Mawson’s  1906  explorations into the geology  of the northern Flinders Ranges.  In the 1920s  and 1930s Mawson amongst others concentrated his research and fieldwork  around the  mineralization the northern Flinders Ranges, eruptions of  the pre-Cambrian glaciation throughout the Flinders Ranges,   the Cambrian strata of the Flinders Range,  and the identification of uranium  at Mt Painter Inlier,  which is about 100 kilometres north east of Leigh Creek and south of the Mawson Plateau.    South Australia is one of the world’s focal points for the study of the late pre-Cambrian era and glaciation.

After lunch on the first day we crossed  a  creek bed. The camels were playing up a bit,  and this gave me  5-10 minutes or so  to do some photography  in and around the creek bed. Surprisingly, the  light was still soft due to the continuing cloud cover,  and the malaleucas in the  creek made a welcome change to the bareness and environmental degradation of the stony hills with the loss of endangered plants and animals from  the  history of extensive  pastoralism since the European occupation of the land.

malaleuca, creek bed

We had  left the Umberatana Station track to  walk in,  and along,  the Blue Mine Creek on the way to the campsite for the night.  It was dawning on me that there was a history of  extensive mining in  the region for copper in the 19th century,   and that the  systematic regional mapping of the northern Flinders Ranges  after 1945 centred around finding coal, petroleum and uranium.  Mining was  just as crucial as pastoralism in terms of land use.   Increasingly it is now eco-tourism that provides  the income and employment in the region.    Continue reading

re-assessing

I realized when I was at Karlu Karlu in 2016 hat I found  the country in the northern part of South Australia  (ie., north of  Port Augusta) that we  had passed through on the way to and from  Lajamanu to be as  interesting as  the destination itself. I realized that wanted to explore this country rather than travel though  for 12 hours a day to  get to a particular destination. It was the journey, not the destination that was crucial for me.

Pylons+ Flinders Ranges

But how to explore the northern part of Australia? Aerial photography was too expensive; I didn’t  have a 4 wheel drive; I wasn’t prepared to go into this semi arid county on my own;  I wasn’t interested in just sticking to the main highways, stopping for a break and a quick photo;   or just taking photos through a car window as I travelled  through the landscapes limited.

The landscape looked interesting through the window:  there were the salt lakes either side of the Stuart Highway, the various deserts, the pastoral landscapes north of  Goyder’s Line, the Flinders Ranges themselves,  and the country of the northern Flinders Ranges. This was a landscape that I didn’t know.  Continue reading

Karlu Karlu: photographing landscapes

On the return trip  once  we had linked up to the Stuart Highway via  the Buntine and Buchanan Highways we moved quickly south trying to make up for extra  time in taking the northern route  from Lajamanu. Our aim was get beyond Tennant Creek  so that we could camp overnight in our swags  at  Karlu Karlu,   a series of round boulders, which have formed from an enormous chunk of granite, and which are  strewn across a large area of a wide, shallow valley.

We wanted  to photograph the  impressive rock formations  of huge, red, rounded granite boulders in the early morning light because daylight drains all the colour out of rocks, and flattens the shapes. The next morning, whilst   I was photographing the rocks I realised  how much my approach to photographing the landscape worked within the common conception of the landscape tradition in which the ‘landscape’ is a pictorial way of representing,  and in doing so it is transformed into something   useful for human beings.

rock+tree, Karlu Karlu

Thus the  colonial photographers on the various expeditions  to Alice Springs and beyond were interested in how the land could be useful for  development–ie., for the pastoral industry or  for agriculture. Karlu Karlu in contemporary postcolonial Australia  is an iconic  site for the tourism industry,  which frames the landscape as something to be viewed and appreciated. Karlu Karlu  is  right up with  Uluru and the Olgas as iconic  tourist sites.

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photography after Lajamanu

We left Lajamanu via Top Springs so that we could link up to the Stuart Highway via  the Buntine and Buchanan Highways. The Landrover’s  compressor  housing had been  damaged,  and  so we had to avoid the long drive over  the severe corrugations on the Tamani Road.   Whilst having lunch at Top Springs I realised that the photography being done on this road trip was working within contemporary art, in that  it is part of the current of art that emerges from post colonialism in a globalised world.

Top Springs, Northern Territory

This contemporary art current is a new temporality: it is decentred and diverse, is post medium, is  more open to an interaction with artists from different cultures, has no brief against the art of the past, no sense that the past is something from which liberation must be won, has taken leave of the linear conception of history with its carrying art into the future whilst waging war  against the old old forms.   The conception of time is one of a set of possibilities rather than a linear progression. Continue reading

landscapes at Lajamanu

Whilst I was in Lajamanu I experimented  with making a few black and white landscapes around Hooker Creek as well as making  the  coloured ones. These images show that the conventional idea of the arid landscape in this region of  the Tanami desert as a timeless   boring,  barren landscape that you drive through to get to the Kimberley is misleading. This representation of  the desert–the emptiness, hostility and otherness—has its roots in the 19th century colonial English male explorers (e.g.,  Charles Sturt   and Edward John Eyre)  inland expeditions.

In contrast to the view of deserts as  timeless lands, as ‘a featureless tract of eternity in which nothing had changed or would change deserts have a history and the ones in central or arid Australia are post-glacial and,  as they are the product of historical processes, there is a diversity of  central Australia’s deserts. They are different places with different histories.

The  photo  experiment was done as a reaction to the hyped up, heavily saturated  colours of the tourist aesthetic that I’d seen everywhere  on the internet before started  the trip  to the Tanami Desert. The saturated red dirt, green bushes, blue sky is the norm—- e.g., the stock Getty images of the country– form the backbone of  the aesthetics of  travel photography. Their conception of the Outback is the romanticised one of the dream of escape, adventure and opportunity to be free.

Lajamanu landscape#2

Lajamanu landscape#1

These landscapes  were made in the early morning just after sunrise and before the light became too bright,  contrasty and hard to photograph.   They were made hand held with slow film as I didn’t take a tripod with me due to a lack of room in the Landrover Discovery. This is country that is going to be affected by climate change. Hence the relevance of a climart that acknowledges that we are part of nature and not separate from it,  and which helps to encourage the transformational thinking required to move us towards environmental sustainability.
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more Tanami landscapes

The most seductive time  for my photography in the Tamani Desert was just as  the sun dipped below the horizon. The magic hour. Except that the hour was more like 15 -20 minutes:

Magic "hour"

Magic “hour”

It was a world of gentle and subtle  pastel colours. Even more so than just after dawn. I confess that I had the colour palette of Albert Namatjira  in mind when I was photographing at twilight.   His water colour landscapes of the desert country around Hermannsburg (Ntaria), particularly the Arrernte lands around the Western MacDonnell Ranges, were delicately coloured.  His watercolours of ghost gums, desert flowers and rocky outcrops of the MacDonnell Ranges  were  often seen as both derivative ( he used an existing white man’s art form) and  pretty in a chocolate-box kind of way. They were  viewed as  ultimately vacuous. Continue reading

Hooker Creek

Whilst I was at Lajamanu I would sleep in  a swag  on the verandah of the Learning Centre, rise before dawn, quickly  dress,  then  walk around the township  taking photos before the early morning  light became too bright.

I usually ended up in the Hooker Creek area and wandering along the dry river bed as this gave me more time  for photography. The township is on the eastern side of  Hooker Creek. The creek is normally dry and a flooded Hooker Creek is  a rare occurrence in the Wet season at  Lajamanu.

tree, Hooker Creek

tree, Hooker Creek

Lajamanu used to be known as Hooker Creek circa 1948 –1978 . That was when it was a government settlement which also included  a Baptist mission from the 1960s. Government here means the Commonwealth government since  1 January 1911 marked the date  in which the Northern Territory became the responsibility of the Commonwealth.  At the time there was a belief that Aboriginal people were an inferior and doomed race.

Some held the view that full blood Aboriginal people would die out in within a few generations, and the best thing that government policy makers could do for them was to provide a comfortable existence until that happened. Settlement meant the Chief Protector was empowered to assume the care, custody or control of any Aboriginal or half-caste if, in his opinion, it was necessary or desirable in the interests of that person for this to be done. Continue reading

landscape, Tanami Desert

Late one afternoon  whilst I was at Lajamanu I went on a brief phototrip with Helga Leunig to take photos of the Tanami Desert landscape.  We travelled a short distance  along the gravel  road  that provides access  to the local cemetery and rubbish dump.  This road  north  from Lajamanu, which   connects Lajamanu to the Bunting Highway,  Kalkarindji and Top Springs,   and doesn’t feature on Google maps is  the road that we would take to leave  Lajamanu for Alice Springs via Top Springs.

Helga had briefly explored the area to the north of Lajamanu early in the day,  and she was interested in returning to the rubbish dump to photograph a red car in the late afternoon light.  We never got there. I suspected that we  missed the turn off because we were rushing to catch the light. The Tanami landscape was very different to what I’d expected. I thought that it would be low and flat like the landscape of northern South Australia or featureless sand plains.   I didn’t expect this bio-region  to be as treed as it was:

dead tree, Lajamanu

dead tree, Lajamanu

Vegetation is predominantly spinifex hummock grassland with a tall-sparse shrub overstorey. Like most coastal Australians my imagination had constructed it  as  terrifyingly,  inhospitable arid country–an undifferentiated,  empty  desert landscape  with intense white light, termite mounds, and extreme temperatures.  Unhomely. It was yet another version of the white settler’s “dead heart”–that  long held popular conception of the Australian interior as a great and threatening unknown; one  counterpoised to the mythical  Inland Sea  in the middle of Australia  that  was  the preoccupation of  the early white  explorers, such as Charles Sturt, who took a whaleboat to the desert.  I didn’t expect  to see the  clustered eucalypts.

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Pimba and nuclear trauma

Our first overnight stop  on the road to Lajamanu was Pimba and the caravan park at Spuds Roadhouse. Pimba  is just down the road from the Defence -controlled town of Woomera and the Woomera Prohibited Area, which has been closed to the public since 1947, when it was used for Cold War rocket and nuclear tests by Britain and Australia between 1955 and 1963. Roxby Downs,  BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam site and Andamooka are 100 km or so  down the road.

Petrol station, Pimba

Petrol station, Pimba

The history of this region is one of  the  suppression of  information and  dissent by the British military,  Australian Governments and scientists about the radioactive fallout from the British nuclear testing. Marlinga has been declared “safe”,   even though  the buried long-lived plutonium waste (half-life 24,000 years) is in an unlined burial trench only 2-3 metres below ground – slightly deeper than we place human corpses–  with no regard for its longevity or toxicity. Continue reading

on the Goyder Highway

Since the stops to take photos would be few and far between due to time constraints, I  choose to sit in the  back of the LandRover Discovery  on the Mildura to Pimba leg of our  road trip to Lajamanu. It was going to be traveling all day with an occasional stop. I  sat in the back so I could take snaps of the landscape through the window.

The picture below is of  pastoral/grazing  country  on   the Goyder Highway in South Australia,  on route to Port Augusta. This  highway   is an east-west link through the Mid-North region of South Australia, and this is the landscape  between the River Murray at Morgan and  Burra in the mid-north of South Australia.

It is  sparse,  saltbush country with a few small trees. It  looked  strange and   I wondered what would  it have looked prior to grazing? Would there have been more trees?  Probably a mallee woodland.

Landscape, Goyder Highway
Landscape, Goyder Highway

This landscape  is north of an imaginary line that separates the land in South Australia that receives 300 mm or more rainfall per year from the land that receives less than 300 mm per year. The imaginary line  is named after George Goyder, a government surveyor who first identified and mapped Goyder’s Line.

This line   indicates the northern limit of climatic suitability for intensive agriculture in South Australia. North of Goyder’s Line, annual rainfall is usually too low to support reliable  cropping, with the land  only being  suitable for grazing.

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