This issue of Transformations follows from the Making Badlands conference held in December 2005, and jointly hosted by Transformations and the Bundaberg Media Research Group. The conference included an exhibition space along with the theme of the conference, and an online version of this exhibition was available on the Transformations Artspace site.
The conference was based around the concept of the “badlands” arising from Ross Gibson’s Seven Versions of an Australian Badlands (UQ Press, 2002) which describes the central Queensland region as haunted by a violent colonial past and fraught with troubling incidents that make it an Australian badland. This conference addressed the concept of an Australian badland — what it means to speak of a space as a badland, its relation to history, the imaginary, and to questions of regionality, representation, myth, archival authority, and the formation of narrative and discursive knowledge.
The articles comprising this issue explore these ideas of the badlands in extended contexts and environments, and in various and diverse ways. Ross Gibson’s keynote address titled Places Past Disappearance, which is transcribed in this issue, offers us a thinking out loud about what he calls “vestige work” which is “the work we need to do with history in order to understand better how to live well in the present and future”. He says
Rummaging in Australia’s aftermath cultures, I try to re-dress the disintegration in our story-systems, in our traditional knowledge caches, our landscapes and ecologies. My job is to investigate and recuperate scenes and collections of artifacts that have been torn apart somehow, torn by landgrabbing, let’s say, or by accidents, or exploitation that ignores rituals of preservation and restoration.
The next three articles in this issue are loosely grouped because they are all in some way about artistic production that is central to the practices of the places under investigation, a querying of the relation of the place/space and the engagement with it. Phillip Roe in Ghosts in the Landscape takes up questions of photography, language, landscape and representation in relation to a particular site – the vast, million-year-old salt lake known as Lake Ballard in the heart of the Goldfields region of Western Australia. The article explores the idea of landscape in this place that is simultaneously the site of a significant art installation. The sculpted figures that now inhabit this landscape haunt not so much the landscape itself, but the very discourses that have previously articulated the means of its representation. In Our place: in-between the primordial and the latter?, Ashley Holmes is concerned with the specificity of a place, a beach near his home, which is the influence for and content of a new media artwork which was exhibited during the conference. In both paper and artwork he examines this place, and his own relationship to it, as both artist and inhabitant. He speculates as to its history, and to the use made of the area by its previous inhabitants, siting his speculation always in the complex and often problematic space between research and artistic practice. Saffron Newey, in Domestic Imaginings, uses her own artworks to explore the concept of the badlands as an uninhabited, de-peopled exterior. Newey’s paintings are photo-realistic depictions of cropped and close-up domestic space, pure interiority that invokes the outside world only as absence, as mystery. Through the tremulous boundary between inside and outside, she explores the edges of the self and its relation to home and other.
The second grouping of articles coheres in that they take a specific suburb or area to investigate the badlands idea. Sharon Thorne’s Ley Lines investigates a peripheral space within the city of Melbourne which until the 21st century escaped the jurisdiction of any Melbourne Authority. Unfolding the repressed history of the Dudley Flats space from the early days of white settlement, when the Aboriginal population were shunted to this unwanted swampland, the paper examines the processes of change at work on this site over the past two centuries, as it has evolved from the periphery to the front line of the new docklands precinct. As a landscape haunted by displacement, loss and waste, the everyday lives of the women who inhabited this site during the Depression are taken up in her art practice. From the heart of the Capricornia badlands, in Making Badlands All Over the World: Local Knowledge and Global Power Steve Butler investigates the use of depleted uranium at the Shoalwater Bay military training area near Rockhampton. The training area’s adjacence to significant enrivonmental and heritage sites prompts Butler to ask questions about the capacity of the local community to contest this burgeoning badlands, and the relations of nature and culture that underly such contestations. In “I wish I was anywhere but here”: ‘Structure of address’ in the badlands, Constance Ellwood examines the riots that took place in March 2005 in the suburb of Macquarie Fields in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales. She examines in particular the print media and talkback radio constructions of the riots and their influence over responses by police and government, ultimately arguing that the discourses of these media and organisations constitute a unidirectional “address” that leaves no room for the voices of the residents of Macquarie Fields.
Wendy Madsen’s Badlands at the Bedside: Fact or Fiction stands alone as a unique engagement with the badlands concept. It translates the space of the badlands to the nursing bedside, examining the struggle between trained and untrained nurses in late 19th century Queensland, and how this struggle proceeded in accord with an imaginary badlands structured through cultural narrative and fiction.
All of these papers pursue badlands as spaces of multiplicities, greater than, and hence excessive to, the centres found within them – sites of boundaries, margins, peripheries, and frontiers, with contingent and transversal relations to any ‘core’ centre. All centres are regional, and all regions have their centres. Urban, suburban, inner and outer metropolitan, town and country, outback, bush, are all regions capable of both producing and resisting badlands as cultural imaginaries.
The Making Badlands Conference also examined how imaginary spaces are actively produced through technological, aesthetic, conceptual, visual, audio and other sensory engagements with the materiality of regional contexts, and sought to develop ways in which these may be contested through alternative practices of making that may lead to more progressive and empowering visions of regions. To this end, the conference also included an exhibition space where artists and artist practitioners engaged with these various senses of the badlands. The online version of this exhibition is produced here on the Transformations Artspace site.
Places Past Disappearance
In this address, I think out loud about the work we need to do with history in order to understand better how to live well in the present and future. I call this process “vestige work”. Rummaging in Australia’s aftermath cultures, I try to re-dress the disintegration in our story-systems, in our traditional knowledge caches, our landscapes and ecologies. My job is to investigate and recuperate scenes and collections of artifacts that have been torn apart somehow, torn by landgrabbing, let’s say, or by accidents, or exploitation that ignores rituals of preservation and restoration. Typically, the scenes and systems I investigate were once a good deal more coherent, but now they are ailing or out of balance. I’ve come to understand that most of Australia is like this, that the place we inhabit is our best evidence about our unbalanced selves and that this place has so much raggedness in it because it is patterned to the society that has used it so roughly.
Ghosts in the Landscape
This paper sets out to explore the relationships between language, landscape, representation, photography and writing. It does so by taking a particular place through which these streams intersect – the vast, million-year-old salt lake known as Lake Ballard in the heart of the Goldfields region of Western Australia. What complicates this landscape and its representation is the fact that this place is also the site of a significant art installation – in 2003, British sculptor Antony Gormely developed his Inside Australia installation at Lake Ballard, as part of the 2003 Perth International Arts Festival. This paper invokes the notion of the ghost from Jacques Derrida as a means of exploring the way Gormely’s figures haunt, not so much the landscape itself, but the very discourses that have previously articulated the means of its representation.
Our place: in-between the primordial and the latter?
In his study of Central Queensland’s ‘Horror Stretch’ Ross Gibson elucidates the truism that a landscape is established somewhere in-between the physical geography and its cultural overlays. This paper analyses my own approach to places as a post-colonial migrant and artist. As a transient, I often get to know a place on what I perceive to be its own terms. Even as I observe vegetable, animal and human elements, the form of the geology is perceived as features, relative scales, spaces and, distances. The remnant surface litter is conveyed as patterns and textures. During these moments a fundamental sense of place is established. This may be vague or fleeting. It may be protean. If the impression is significant it may lead to a desire to linger, to return and so, an ongoing relationship with a place may ensue. Subsequently arises a desire to seek out cultural knowledge. Then genius loci becomes compound. It is difficult to deny or mitigate Gibson’s tragic interpretation of the human contribution to landscape. There is certainly tragic irony in that, at this point in Earth’s geological time, it may be easier to imagine a possible future Earth without life than to apprehend the primordial state.
The movement from public to domestic space is discursive as well as physical. In my paintings I explore this transitional zone. I model this idea both in my choice of images and in the way that I work with the ambiguous relationship between painting and photography.
Frames and borderlines are architecturally present in the structure of a home however this paper considers how these borderlines can dually exist as a metaphor for the psychological states of the public and private self.
The aesthetics of photography and painting are intertwined in my visual work to set up a tension for the viewer. The image is at once, framed and autonomous, yet like a trompe l’oeil portal, open to the projection of the viewer. The notion of a “badlands” in my image making is hauntingly implied by transient borders and undefined perspectives.
This paper investigates a peripheral space within the city of Melbourne which until the 21st century escaped the jurisdiction of any Melbourne Authority. Although geographically situated at the confluence of the Maribyrnong and Yarra Rivers , and bordered by the main road to the West and the Railroad; neither the Railways, the Harbour Trust, the MMBW, the City Council, nor the Crown Lands Dept. had responsibility for this land.
Unfolding the repressed history of this space from the early days of white settlement, when the Aboriginal population were shunted to this unwanted swampland, the paper examines the processes of change at work on this site over the past two centuries, as it has evolved from the periphery to the front line of the new docklands precinct. From tip site to shantytown during the Depression, to wasteland, and now in the 21st century, to invaluable real estate, the historical and contemporary sense of Dudley Flats alters, as its identity swings from the otherness of destitution to the otherness of elitism.
As a landscape haunted by displacement, loss and waste, the everyday lives of the women who inhabited this site during the Depression are taken up in my art practice. Themes of ‘making do’ ‘getting by’ scrounging and scavenging as Aussie traditions that flourished on this site are examined in light of my own creative process.
Making Badlands All Over the World: Local Knowledge and Global Power
Bob Hawke’s recent proposal for turning Australia’s “dead heart” into the world’s nuclear waste dump is a classic example of badland making and a timely reminder of the relevance of Ross Gibson‘s Seven Versions of an Australian Badland (2002). Closer to my home, in Central Queensland, a controversy is raging about globally significant developments in the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.
Australia (if not the whole world) may well be a badland in the making. The ways in which a powerful institution exploits a place is intimately related to pre-existing ideas (myths and assumptions) about that place. Ross Gibson asks us to seek “something good we can do in response to the bad in our lands” (3). One response begins by asking: is the badness in the land or does it reside elsewhere? If we analyze the discourses and practices of the various agencies and institutions governing the badland we may be able to formulate useful tactics of resistance to their strategies of domination.
“I wish I was anywhere but here”: ‘Structure of address’ in the badlands
This paper discusses an active production, as a badlands, of the suburb of Macquarie Fields, in the western region of Sydney. It draws on media representations of the riots which took place there in early 2005, on policing strategies for youth, and on government planning and policy practices. By juxtaposing these representations, strategies and practices with the long history of attempts by residents to seek change, the paper situates these riots as a meaningful act of resistance to a dominant ordering. The paper uses Judith Butler’s notion of structure of address to consider the ways in which the riots amount to an address by residents. The failure by governments to take this address seriously means that the terms of a basic moral authority are not met.
Badlands at the Bedside: Fact or Fiction
Professional nurses began to emerge as an identifiable group from the late nineteenth century. Their establishment and eventual domination of nursing was characterised by separation and antagonism as they asserted themselves over untrained nurses. This paper examines the struggle for professional domination as it occurred in Australia during the early twentieth century, and particularly focuses on the accusations of unsafe practice levelled at untrained nurses. This tactic drew on public images of untrained nurses depicted by nineteenth century authors such as Charles Dickens – of gin-swilling nurses who would not wait until the patient had died before pilfering the belongings. Thus, a “badlands” concept was created in the minds of professional nurses, whereby untrained nurses at the bedside in private homes were actively endangering the lives of their patients because of lack of skill and knowledge. However, recent historical research has increasingly challenged such images, and suggests that while many nurses did not have formal training, they were not necessarily unsafe or ineffective in their practice.