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
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
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
Clearing the land of vegetation for agriculture can often mean salty landscapes and salt lakes as well as salty ground water that flows into the River Murray. The felling of billions of trees (approximately 15 billion) to make room for the farming in the Murray-Darling Basin, which has led to economic growth and national prosperity, has caused, in just 150 years, a salinity crisis.
The gradual loss of farm and grazing land to rising salt is known as dryland salinity. It looks like this landscape near Lake Alexandrina:
It is true that salt is a natural feature of the Murray-Darling Basin’s landscapes and rivers as it is derived from ancient ocean sediments, the weathering of rocks and deposition by rainfall over millions of years. However, human activities such as irrigation development and land clearing often exacerbate salt mobilisation, causing it to concentrate in certain parts of the landscape and rivers. Continue reading