Absent history

My working on this project had been  put on hold  whilst I helped to complete the Adelaide Art Photographers 1970-2000  book,  and then  finalise the images and text  for the final  collaborative Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery.

I did make the Wentworth photocamp as well as  a subsequent photocamp  at Tanunda.   The photography for  the ‘Absent History’ section of the Mallee Routes exhibition spread into, or overlapped with,  the early settler colonial history associated with the Overland Stock Route. 

Overland Corner, Overland Stock Route, Riverland

The direction of the project has been changing in that the focus has shifted away from the Murray River to the early colonial encounters with the indigenous aboriginal people. The last time I heard anything about the Godson Murray River project was that a grant for a curator was going to be applied for. I have heard nothing since, and I don’t know if the grant application is in process.

Frontier conflict on the Overland Stock Route

I am planning to go on  a photocamp at  Wentworth in NSW  next week for the Mallee Routes project. I leave after  Anzac Day, on Friday 26th of April. Whilst there  I   plan to  explore along the lower  Darling River, which is  in dire straits due to the massive  increased water use upstream,  bad water management  and corruption. The result is that the Darling is no longer a healthy river system.

During this photocamp  I  also plan to scope  and  to start to make  some photos for the Our River Our Country project.  I have yet to  make any photos for the latter project, as it is still in the  embryonic stage of designing the project, inviting other photographers to participate,  and taking advice from gallery directors and curators about how best to respond to the Godson Collection. There is still a lot of preliminary work to do before we start applying for grants for a curator and  various residencies.

Nor-West Bend, River Murray

The photo above was made near the  Nor’west Bend at Morgan   on the western  side of the River Murray. The Nor’west Bend is  where, in October 1839,  the overlanders, who were  driving their cattle and sheep on the Overland Stock Route between Sydney and Adelaide   killed 11 Aboriginal people in retaliation to the local indigenous  (the Ngayawung) people) attacking the overlander’s party and stock and  killing  the overseer (Thomas Young). This is one of the early  massacres of aboriginal people in South Australia. The overland stock  route was a site of frontier conflict and aboriginal resistance. The South Australian colony was almost bankrupt and any threat to the overland route threatened the financial viability of the Colony.  Continue reading

The Darling River runs dry

The mass deaths of fish along the lower reaches of the Darling River in NSW (Broken Hill, Menindee and Wentworth)  reminds us of the outbreak of blue-green algae that poisoned hundreds of kilometres of the river in 1991 and 1992. The death of hundreds of thousands of fish  due to the low river flow leading  to a drop in oxygen levels,   is yet another indication that too much water continues to  be extracted from the Darling River.

The lower Darling upstream of Menindee has run dry.   The river  stopped flowing  in  August 2018,  and the remaining waterholes have turned an ugly bright green. The river has become undrinkable, unswimmable and unsuitable for bathing. There is a push by the NSW Government to “decommission” the Menindee Lakes – in other words, to dry them out – which will cause further devastation to the Lower Darling.

The Murray Mouth:


This will mean that the cotton  irrigators in the Barwon-Darling will no longer be restricted from pumping to ensure Broken Hill’s water supply when Menindee Lakes levels are low. Broken Hill’s water  will come from the River Murray via a new  pipeline.

This is in spite of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the ongoing impact of climate change. The Basin Plan is a reform to share water between irrigation and the environment. It sets a limit on how much water can be extracted for irrigation and therefore, how much is available to the environment and seeks to protect water set aside for the environment from being extracted for irrigation.

The recent frequent drying of the Darling River is a man-made situation: to  sacrifice the Lower Darling River to the interests of the  corporate cotton industry upstream in southern Queensland and northern NSW.

The Hindmarsh Island bridge at Goolwa:


That in turn is an indication of the gross mismanagement of the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin, especially by the  NSW state government, which has been captured by irrigator interests.  As has the  Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which has become an ineffective regulator, as it allows amendments to the Basin Plan to  increase water available for irrigation through  36 projects that aim to use less environmental water in the Northern Basin.

What results is a consistent management pattern of undermining environment flows on behalf of irrigator interests,  who  have benefited from cheap water and publicly subsidised infrastructure investment. Continue reading

pre-Mabo narratives of Australia

When you   step into history of water and country in Anglo-Australian society you quickly reconnect with the colonisation of Australia,  the  pre-Mabo narratives of Australia as an empty landscape (the doctrine of terra nullius),  the colonialist discourses that we are rooted in colonialist ideologies and legacies and racist law. These justify and legitimate the nigger hunts in the colonial history of frontier conflict involving  white men riding out on hunting expeditions to hunt and exterminate aboriginal people, as an exercise in land clearing.

A core  colonial ideology is  all about progress and destiny, the planting of flags and the arrival of legitimate historical narrative. This settler narrative  is  a heroic tale of the British as the discoverers, explorers and pioneers of the country, of how these white men came to settle a strange country and transform it by their science and technology, capital and labour, thus creating a civilisation out of a wilderness. This narrative  is silent about a population that has been almost exterminated; and it  denies that the wiping of Australian Aborigines  should be considered a genocide.


This discourse  repudiates the alternative  narrative of invasion and dispossession of the original inhabitants.  Section 127 of the Australian Constitution pre-1967, was a section in which Aboriginal Australians were not classified as people but as part of the flora and fauna. This represented the extinguishment of their rights to land. Continue reading

revisiting Salt Creek

We stayed  a night at Salt Creek in the Coorong on our return  to Adelaide after spending  a few days on the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne with family.   The overnight stay allowed me to do some   photography on an early morning poodlewalk around the eroded calcified limestone  formations  at the Salt Creek outlet and the South Lagoon.



The South  Lagoon runs from Parnaka Point to south of Salt Creek and  I was guided by this report by the Goyder Institute  which had highlighted the decrease  in waterbird abundance in the Coorong. It stated that this decrease was been associated with a recent shift from an aquatic plant-dominated to an algal-dominated system. Continue reading

the photographic landscape tradition

I am finding that many of the non-drought  images of the River Murray and the Coorong in my  archives are representations of natural beauty.  This seems to me, when looking back on these images today,  to be an inadequate way to photograph the River Murray and its various  wetlands, given the  damage to their ecological health  from both the  lack of environmental flows and the Millennium Drought.

This damage is  particularly noticeable in  the Coorong’s South Lagoon, and as this lagoon  is currently  in a  stressed ecological state, so the conventional landscape style photographs of  natural beauty  are inappropriate.


The problem with  conventional landscape photography in Australia is that is usually about the beauty of the landscape as a natural wilderness,  whilst  the River Murray and its various wetlands are manufactured landscapes. Since the 20th century the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin  have been engineered for irrigated agriculture and these rivers have been,  and are, managed for the benefit of irrigation and water for the various cities.

The above photo of the Murray Mouth, for instance,  is aesthetically pleasing: it is a harmonious composition within the  picturesque  landscape tradition.   What is not shown in the photo is that  the Murray Mouth  can only remain open if it is being constantly dredged,  due to the lack of environmental flows. Continue reading

The ‘Our Waters’ project: an update

The  Our Waters project, which is based around contemporary photographic responses to the Godson Collection held at the State Library of South Australia,  is starting to take shape.

At this stage several photographers have provisionally agreed to participate: namely,  Tony Kearny, James Tylor,  Nici Cumpston,  Stravos Pippos,  Paul Atkins, With Lars Heldmann and myself that makes 7  photographers in the project.  A few more may  come on board (possibly Mark Kimber and Andrew Dearman) whilst others may pull back from full participation.

Some background text to the project has been written,  and there are a few links to provide reference points for the project.  It is looking quite promising  at this  early stage, despite the lack of a website for the project. At the moment this blog is the only online presence  for the project.


The 1st exhibition has been planned for the SALA Festival in Adelaide  in 2019, with the gallery at Atkins Photo Lab  decided on.  The design  of the exhibition in this rectangular space has been tentatively mapped out:  there will be 6-9 photographers and 12-14 prints–maybe more– in the exhibition, with  each  responding differently to the general Godson Collection from their own perspective.

Some may just do the odd image  for the specific exhibitions  whilst others may link or connect parts of  their own projects to the general Godson Collection.   The responses will be quite diverse:  the  photographers could rephotograph,  reinterpret or critique  the Collection in general and they will be using using contemporary, classical  and alternative technologies.
Continue reading