Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Heather L. Robinson, Research Associate & PhD Candidate, College of Humanities and Creative Arts, Flinders University

South Australia bears the scars of more than one cycle of boom and bust. Having variously depended upon agriculture, mineral wealth and manufacturing since European settlement in 1836, we have learned to adapt to the vagaries of fortunes made and lost. The Flinders Ranges, however, continue to offer both creative potential and colourful stories, long after the cameleers, colonists and copper miners have departed.

The exhibition UNSETTLED: Colonial Ruin in the Flinders Ranges, which opened last week at the State Library of South Australia, encourages us to look again beyond the arid surface. Artists Grayson Cooke and Dea Morgain have used digital media production, interviews and archival material from the Library to demonstrate the remarkable beauty of the area and the resilience of the people who call it home.

At the heart of the exhibition is the UNESCO-listed Mountford-Sheard Collection, featuring extraordinary portraits of Adnyamathanha people taken at the Nepabunna Mission by Charles Mountford in the 1930s.

image Pauline Mackenzie, descendant of Pearl Mackenzie (lead image), video image still, Grayson Cook and Dea Morgain, 2017. Supplied

Many of the Mountford photographs have not been exhibited publicly for years and are part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. They were taken in 1937, the same year that assimilation policies, which proved so catastrophic for our Indigenous populations, were passed through the Australian Federal Parliament.

Charles Mountford, a self-trained anthropologist, travelled to Nepabunna in 1937 to document the characteristics and customs of the Adnyamathanha people. He was not formally trained but had been in the field recording rock art sites during the 1920s with Norman Tindale of the South Australian Museum.

In 1935 he had been Secretary of a board of enquiry to investigate Aboriginal welfare in the Northern Territory.

image John Mackenzie, Charles Mountford, 1937, Mountford-Sheard Collection. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia and the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association

Instead of recording a vanishing culture, Mountford’s images present a people accustomed to resilience and adaptation. Perhaps because of his amateur status, Mountford’s gaze was sympathetic to the fate of Aboriginal people, and admiring of their cultural practices and connections to country. This shows in these exceptionally clear and vibrant images.

Rather than anonymous faces, Mountford’s works are characteristic, honest portraits of named and distinct individuals. In some cases, they present more than a trace of quiet heroism and strength, seen in the portrait of John Mackenzie; in others a sense of curiosity and humour, as shown by Jack Coulthard. In UNSETTLED, these images are accompanied by interviews with living descendants, sharing the stories of their family and their ongoing relationship with the area.

image (Gentleman with White beard) Jack Coulthard, Charles Mountford, 1937, Mountford-Sheard Collection. Courtesy of the State Library of South Australia and the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association

One of the stories, told by participant Terrence Coulthard, describes the lives of his grandfathers, both of whom are depicted in the Mountford photos:

Grandfather Ted, I’d say he was an early entrepreneur. He had a freight business, carting wool for the pastoralists, he had a well-sinking business, and he had a mine.

Terrence’s other grandfather, Walter Coulthard, represented the political side of the family.

He was more in speaking for our rights, free citizen rights, land rights, and he actually became a great friend of the late Premier Don Dunstan.

UNSETTLED also features a photographic montage of human traces in various states of disintegration, presented in a layered cross section of time periods; artefacts from European occupation such as buttons, bolts and signposts pointing to vanished destinations.

These human-made objects are interspersed with natural specimens. Together they act as evidence of passed life: potentially the fossils of the future, waiting for their rediscovery as were more ancient fossils and artefacts for which the area is renowned.

image What Time Collects, installation image, Dea Morgain, 2017. Supplied

These include South Australia’s new state fossil emblem, Spriggina from the Ediacaran formation, the oldest evidence of multi-celluar life on earth. A more recent discovery was the archaeological treasure trove at the Warratyi rock shelter.

Both of these internationally significant sites are within the Flinders Ranges and address the deep-time perspective so often lost when considering an area’s value or potential. Even the exhibition venue adds to the conversation. As the original colonial site for the curation, exhibition and interpretation of the state’s heritage, the Institute Building provides an additional layer to the themes of adaptation, story-telling and resilience.

For the final component of the installation, images of colonial architecture were filmed as they dissolved in corrosive acids. This “ruination of the ruins” returns the images to their essential elements, capturing the process of disintegration as the image is stripped of its structure in a roiling chemical death throe.

Drained of form and cohesion, the reduced strip buckles to resemble the topographical features of the original landscape – mountains of melted substrate bisected by rivers of emulsion. There is both beauty and terror in these moving images, which will be projected onto the State Library’s Story Wall, visible from North Terrace in the coming weeks.

UNSETTLED: Colonial Ruin in the Flinders Ranges is on display, free of charge, in The Institute Gallery of the State Library of South Australia until 17 May 2017.

Authors: Heather L. Robinson, Research Associate & PhD Candidate, College of Humanities and Creative Arts, Flinders University

Read more http://theconversation.com/revisiting-colonial-ruin-in-the-flinders-ranges-75208

Writers Wanted

How the stunning abstract art of Hilma af Klint opens our eyes to new ways of seeing

arrow_forward

Home quarantine for vaccinated returned travellers is extremely low risk, and won't damage their mental health

arrow_forward

Boom in Aussies buying up restaurants, pubs, hotels and bars in regional centres

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Karl Stefanovic: PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?   PRIME MINISTER: No, it's obviously absurd. What we're doing here is we've got a temporary pause in place because we'v...

Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - avatar Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Boom in Aussies buying up restaurants, pubs, hotels and bars in regional centres

With international borders closed, regional Australia is seeing a dramatic surge in popularity as people move out of the cities and into their quaint communities. City slickers are looking for new...

Tess Sanders Lazarus - avatar Tess Sanders Lazarus

5 Signs Your Business Needs Onboarding Software

Onboarding software is the technology that automates a smooth transition for new hires from before the interview to the first day on the job. High-quality onboarding platforms feature a digital da...

Onboarded - avatar Onboarded

What Is COVID 19 Risk Assessment for Vulnerable Workers and Why Your Business Needs it

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments strongly advised people to just stay at home as a critical effort to stop the spread of the virus. This led to many businesses temporarily s...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com