Posts Tagged ‘terra nullius

08
Jul
18

Review: ‘Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861’ at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne Part 2, featuring photographs from exhibition

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 15th July 2018

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Colony: Frontier Wars (15 March – 2 September 2018) which presents a powerful response to colonisation through a range of historical and contemporary works by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists dating from pre-contact times to present day.

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that this posting contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Colony: Australia 1770 - 1861' at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Colony: Australia 1770 – 1861 at NGV Australia at Federation Square, Melbourne showing how some of the photographs were displayed in the case at rear.

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

” …what the generality of the white population of the Colony consist of, which is of the most debased and vilest dregs of Great Britain and Ireland… they never look on the Blacks in the light of human beings, but, would just as soon shoot them as they would a crow, or hunt them as they would a kangaroo. Indeed in some districts the dogs used to be thought good for nothing unless they could kill a Black as well as a kangaroo, and they used to teach them to do so, by giving them some of the poor Black’s blood.”

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James Graham. ‘Overland Letter’ part of the Graham Bros collection at The University of Melbourne archives

 

The bad deeds of some leading frontier politicians, administrators and military men have been almost overlooked; many history books – even more modern online popular resources such as the Australian Dictionary of Biography – diminish, attempt to justify or overlook completely their proven excesses against this continent’s Indigenes. …

“On any occasion of seeing or falling in with the Natives, either in Bodies or Singly, they are to be called upon, by your friendly Native Guides, to surrender themselves to you as Prisoners of War. If they refuse to do so, make the least show of resistance, or attempt to run away from you, you will fire upon and compel them to surrender, breaking and destroying the Spears, Clubs and Waddies of all those you take Prisoners. Such natives as happen to be killed on such occasions, if grown up men, are to be hanged up on Trees in Conspicuous Situations, to Strike the Survivors with the greater terror.”

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Lachlan Macquarie, fifth governor of New South Wales quoted in Paul Daley, “Heroes, Monuments and History,” in ‘Meanjin’, Autumn 2018

 

 

Terror incognita

Firstly, let me state that I am no expert in Australian colonial history, culture or photography. These are very specialised fields. But what I can do is use my eyes, my knowledge and my feelings to provide comment on this exhibition.

This magnificent exhibition at NGV Australia at Federation Square is a fascinating interrogation of the early history of the Australian nation, yet at the same time I found it very disturbing and sad. The exhibition more resembles a natural history exhibition than an art exhibition, a cabinet of curiosities, a Wunderkammer, were encyclopaedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries are yet to be defined are mixed with the first European art made on this continent. The exhibition is a microcosm or theatre of the world, and a memory theatre, for all that has passed since before invasion of this land up until the year 1861. The installation mixes together colonial and Indigenous artefacts from within the allotted time period. There is so much to see that I have visited three times and not got to the bottom of this exhibition it is so dense. Paintings, drawings, sculpture, colonial furniture, clothing, pottery, jewellery, photography, maps, artefacts, etc… are displayed in a melange of techniques, offering a huge range of artists and media. Please see Part 1 of the posting for the installation images of the exhibition.

Some observations can be made. Generally, the paintings and drawings are of a very classical form, very tightly controlled and painted. They set out to document the landscape, firstly the Australian landscape as seen in the European tradition, and then in a more realistic yet romanticised form in later paintings. Early colour aquatints of Aboriginal people depict them climbing trees in an almost reptilian manner while later representations picture “a romantic vision of a vast, silent and forbidding land. Two generic Aboriginal people figures are included in the foreground in the guise of the noble savage.” Of a vanishing race. Other collages (a fictionalised representational technique), such as James Wallis’ View of Awabakal Aboriginal people, with beach and river inlet, and distant Aboriginal group in background (c. 1818), propose “a harmonious relationship between the Awabakal, colonisers and the military. Such a suggestion is at odds with earlier events of April 1816 when Wallis, under the direction of Governor Macquarie, led an armed regiment against Dharawal and Gandangara people south of Sydney, in what is now acknowledged as the first officially sanctioned massacre of Indigenous people in Australia.” (Exhibition text) Further, the romanticised vistas of colonial interloper John Glover (1767-1849) evoke, “an idyll where the natives were at one with nature, even as the slaughter was upon them…” (Damian Smith, 2018). This connection to nature can be seen in Glover’s painting The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s farm (1837). But, as the exhibition text notes, “Glover had not experienced the conflict or witnessed the violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance fighters and white settlers during the 1820s. By the time of his arrival in 1831, the Tasmanian Aboriginal survivors had been forced to leave Country and relocate to Flinders Island.” These representations of Aboriginal life are pure fiction constructed in the imagination of the artists and colonisers.

By way of contrast, the portraits of landed gentry, such as Thomas Bock’s four paintings of Captain William Robertson and his family (1830s-50s), are elegant and flattering. They are portraits executed in the grand Georgian manner fashionable in England and were greatly prized by colonists. Here is a family who has made it, and they want everyone to know about it. The roots of their representation are in the old country, their allegiance there also, to the mother country. Australia is a colony, part of the British Empire, an outpost of all that is right and proper in the world. Imagine just for a second that you are back in the 1850s. No electricity, only candle power. Now imagine arriving at a home with these portraits, or the landscapes of John Glover, lit by candle light. The skin would be luminescent, the golden frames glowing in the light; the trees in the Glover paintings would have writhed, seeming almost alive in the flickering light. A forbidding landscape indeed.

In portraiture, the same disposition can be seen in the early daguerreotype and ambrotype photographs of Aboriginals and colonists.

“Within a decade of the arrival of European colonists in the Port Phillip District a number of professional photographers had established studios in Melbourne, and prominent among these was Douglas Kilburn. Around 1847, Kilburn made a series of portraits [see below] of people thought to be from the Kulin nation. The images testify to the power of photographs to record kin and define identity. They also show Aboriginal people who had experienced a decade of dispossession following the arrival of settlers. It is believed Kilburn’s subjects were among the numbers of First Nations people who had few choices other than to return to Melbourne because they had been driven out of their Country.” (Exhibition text)

If we look at these small, personal, one-off photographs housed in leather cases that can be closed off from the world, when opened to reveal the Aboriginal sitters … we notice how frontal they are, how they face straight on to the camera, how grouped they are, how they fill the picture plane with little negative space around them, how the camera seems to press in on them, as though to capture every last detail of their countenance and clothing. Their visage. The aspect of their being. These are ethnographic documents as much as they are portraits, for they map the condition of the captives. If, as Michael Graham-Stewart states in his book Bitter fruit: Australian photographs to 1963, “photography operates not only as an instrument of oppression, but also as a means of connecting with people of the past,” what do contemporary Indigenous Australians make of these images. Do they find evidence of wrongdoing and suffering but also of resistance, adaptation, and continuity? Are they also angry and sad at what they have lost, as in a thriving and incredibly diverse culture? I would be.

Again, by way of contrast we look at how the colonists viewed themselves in these personal treasures. Here, we must remember that these early photographs would have been relatively expensive for a family to have commissioned them, almost as expensive say, in contemporary terms, as buying a plasma television when they first came out. Only the well-to-do would have been able to afford to have their portrait taken. Two examples of this providence and bounty can be seen in this posting. The portrait of The Lashmar family by William Millington Nixon (1857-58, see below) shows a family who were pioneering pastoralists on Kangaroo Island in the 1850s. “Despite the relative remoteness of their home, and the harshness of the environment, the family evidently prospered. Thomas Young Lashmar not only had the means to travel to Adelaide with his wife and family, but was also able to commission photographic portraits at a time when it was still a relatively expensive exercise.” (Exhibition text) While Aboriginals while forced from their land and massacred, pastoralists were making money and prospering from the confiscated lands.

Nothing better shows the sense of entitlement that the early pastoralists had (and still do today, with their illegal land clearing) towards their possession of the land and their identity that arose from that possession, than the commissioned set of five portraits by daguerreotype portraitist George Goodman of the daughters of prominent local land holder William Lawson II in the town of Bathurst, north-west of Sydney. Dressed in their finest, the young daughters, arms covered, clutch flowers and either look away from the camera or directly at it. The camera is placed directly at eye level, or slightly below it, and the space around the sitter is open and amorphous, a plain background which isolates the figure in space. Unlike the claustrophobic portraits by Douglas Kilburn of the Aboriginals from the Kulin nation, here the sitters seem to possess the space of the photograph, they inhabit and can breathe in the pictorial plane. In particular, the portrait of Susannah Caroline Lawson (1845, below) pictures a young woman with an incredibly determined stare and haughty demeanour. She seems to radiate a perfect sense of entitlement within the physical presence of the photograph.

Other photographs reinforce this vision of the world that the colonists enacted. Thomas Bock’s Portrait of two boys (1848-50, below) “shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848… Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country.” (Gael Newton)

There is the rub. For migrants who were a long way from home, photography was proof that they were alive, successful, flourishing… and could live up to the expectations of their family back home and the standards of the old country. “Photography served several interrelated roles associated with the experience of migration and colonisation. For those European migrants transplanted halfway across the world, often without family or friends, the most immediate and heartfelt use for the camera was portraiture. Some of Australia’s earliest surviving photographs are small, sturdily cased portraits which provided ‘likenesses as if by magic’ of those depicted and were sent back ‘home’, thus providing an emotional connection to family members.” (Exhibition text) An emotional connection for people living in a far off land to those back “home”, and an emotional connection to family in a forbidding land, to remind themselves of their strength and unity in the face of the unknown.

What this exhibition does not show, because they are later photographs, is evidence of the overt oppression of Indigenous peoples that photography documented. While terra nullius is a Latin expression meaning “nobody’s land” usually associated with colonising Australia, the British Government using this term to justify the dispossession of Indigenous people, there is also another term, terra incognita, a term used in cartography for regions that have not been mapped or documented. In many ways the terror that Indigenous people experienced during invasion is still being mapped and explored. Much of it is still not known or is unaccepted, as a terror incognita. Dr Katherine Ellinghaus in her article “Criss-Cross History Hidden in a Letter,” notes that, “Reconciliation Australia’s own biennial survey [2016] has found that more than one in three Australians don’t accept that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were subject to mass killings, incarceration, and forced removal from their lands.”

This is the terror that still exists in the Australian psyche. The terror of cutting ties to the motherland, the terror of an incognita, an “unknown land”, and the hidden terror prescribed and enacted on the cultural body of the Aboriginal, unacknowledged by some even today.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Word count: 1,853

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Robert Lyall with the New Norfolk Cup' 1851 Ambrotype

 

Unknown photographer
Robert Lyall with the New Norfolk Cup
1851
Ambrotype
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Robert Lyall was a successful Tasmanian publican and businessman whose interests extended to horse racing. In 1851 his prized horse Patience won the New Norfolk Cup and Lyall was the recipient of a handsome silver presentation cup. Not only evidence of his success and standing, the cup was apparently also of great personal significance to Lyall as he included it as a decorative element when this large-scale ambrotype was commissioned. Unlike more intimately scaled cased images, this photograph was framed so that it could be prominently displayed on the wall. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Within a decade of the arrival of European colonists in the Port Phillip District a number of professional photographers had established studios in Melbourne, and prominent among these was Douglas Kilburn. Around 1847, Kilburn made a series of portraits of people thought to be from the Kulin nation. The images testify to the power of photographs to record kin and define identity. They also show Aboriginal people who had experienced a decade of dispossession following the arrival of settlers. It is believed Kilburn’s subjects were among the numbers of First Nations people who had few choices other than to return to Melbourne because they had been driven out of their Country. (Exhibition text)

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846) 'No title (Group of Koori men)' c. 1847

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Group of Koori men)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype; leather, wood, velvet, brass
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1983

 

 

Kulin

The Kulin nation is an alliance of five Indigenous Australian tribes in south central Victoria, Australia. Their collective territory extended around Port Phillip and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys. Before British colonisation, the tribes spoke five related languages. These languages were spoken in two groups: the Eastern Kulin group of Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung, Taungurong and Ngurai-illam-wurrung; and the western language group of just Wathaurung.

The central Victoria area has been inhabited for an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 years before European settlement. At the time of British settlement in the 1830s, the collective populations of the Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong tribes of the Kulin nation was estimated to be under 20,000. The Kulin lived by fishing, hunting and gathering, and made a sustainable living from the rich food sources of Port Phillip and the surrounding grasslands.

Due to the upheaval and disturbances from British settlement from the 1830s on, there is limited physical evidence of the Kulin peoples’ collective past. However, there is a small number of registered sites of cultural and spiritual significance in the Melbourne area.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (South-east Australian Aboriginal man and two younger companions)' 1847 (left) and 'No title (Two Koori women)' c. 1847 (right) Daguerreotypes

 

Left

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (South-east Australian Aboriginal man and two younger companions)
1847
Daguerreotype
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2007

Right

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Two Koori women)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype, brass, glass, gold, velvet
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) 'No title (Two Koori women)' c. 1847 Daguerreotype

 

Douglas T. Kilburn (attributed to) (England 1811 – Australia 1871, Australia from 1846)
No title (Two Koori women)
c. 1847
Daguerreotype, brass, glass, gold, velvet
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

As a way of attracting attention to his newly opened business Douglas Kilburn took at least eight daguerreotypes of Aboriginal people in the lands of the Kulin nation. As a result of the nineteenth-century belief that the Aboriginal people were doomed to annihilation, Kilburn intended the images as ethnographic studies rather than individual portraits; nevertheless, his unnamed sitters project a proud and dignified presence. His photographs were popular with local artists such as Eugene von Guérard and John Skinner Prout, who copied them, and they also reached an international audience when they were used as the basis for wood engravings in William Westgarth’s Australia Felix in 1848, Nordisk Penning-Magazin in 1849 and the Illustrated London News in 1850. (Exhibition text)

 

George Goodman Lawson children

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)

Left

Maria Emily Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1993

Middle

Susannah Caroline Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype; leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Right

Eliza Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Goodman Lawson mother and children

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)

Left

Caroline and Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1991

Middle

Sophia Rebecca Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Right

Sarah Ann Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

George Goodman arrived in Sydney in 1842 and established the first professional photography studio in Australia. Although he is known to have made photographs of Tasmanian street scenes, his stock-in-trade was portraiture. Goodman travelled to regional towns where he advertised his services as a daguerreotype portraitist. In 1845 he visited the town of Bathurst, north-west of Sydney, and was commissioned to photograph the family of prominent local land holder William Lawson II. The resulting series includes five individual portraits of Lawson’s young daughters and a charming, and surprisingly informal, image showing his wife Caroline Lawson and their young son. (Exhibition text)

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Susannah Caroline Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Susannah Caroline Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype; leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Eliza Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Eliza Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Caroline and Thomas James Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Caroline and Thomas James Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented 1991

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Sophia Rebecca Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Sophia Rebecca Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51) 'Sarah Ann Lawson' 1845

 

George Goodman (active in Australia 1842-51)
Sarah Ann Lawson
1845
Daguerreotype, leather, velvet
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Presented by Sir Kenneth Street, 1960

 

Unknown photographer (working 1850s) 'Pair of portraits: George Taylor, his wife Ann (nee Collis Pratt)' c. 1856 Ambrotypes

 

Unknown photographer (working 1850s)
Pair of portraits: George Taylor, his wife Ann (nee Collis Pratt)
c. 1856, Adelaide
Two ambrotypes, colour dyes, gold paint
9.4 x 6.8 cm (each image, oval)
J.C. Earl Bequest Fund 2010
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘No title (Mother and children)’ 1855-56

 

Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
No title (Mother and children)
1855-56
Daguerreotype, oil paint; leather, gold, paint, glass, velvet, metal, wood (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2001
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘No title (Mother and children)’ 1855-56

 

Freeman Brothers Studio, Sydney (1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
No title (Mother and children)
1855-56
Daguerreotype, oil paint; leather, gold, paint, glass, velvet, metal, wood (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2001

 

 

One of the largest and most celebrated Sydney photographic studios was run by the Freeman Brothers, whose skilful portraits were much admired. This pair of entrepreneurial photographers used the latest processes, building a large, well-appointed studio and actively promoting their work through display in international exhibitions. James Freeman was also extremely well versed in the potential uses of the medium, delivering a comprehensive lecture on the topic to a Sydney society in 1858. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'No title (Seated woman)' c. 1858

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
No title (Seated woman)
c. 1858
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
13.6 h x 10.7 w cm (case)
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1983
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Professor Robert Hall. ‘Portrait of a gentleman with check pants’ 1855-65 and Thomas Glaister. ‘George Coppin’ c. 1855

 

Left

Professor Robert Hall (active in Australia mid 19th century)
No title (Portrait of a gentleman with check pants)
1855-65
Stereo ambrotype, colour dyes
8.8 x 17.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
R. J. Noye Collection
Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins, 2004

Right

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
George Coppin
c. 1855
Daguerreotype, hand tinted, gilt-matted and glazed
5.2 x 12.7 cm
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

George Selth Coppin (8 April 1819 – 14 March 1906) was a comic actor, entrepreneur and politician, active in Australia. For more information see the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.

 

Thomas Glaister. ‘No title (Gentleman)’ c. 1854

 

Meade Brothers Studio, Melbourne (studio active in Australia 1850s)
Thomas Glaister (attributed to) (photographer England 1825 – United States 1904)
No title (Gentleman)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype, colour pigments; gold, leather, velvet, brass, glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of T. H. Lustig and Moar Families, Governor, 2001
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister. ‘No title (Gentleman)’ c. 1854

 

Meade Brothers Studio, Melbourne (studio active in Australia 1850s)
Thomas Glaister (attributed to) (photographer England 1825 – United States 1904)
No title (Gentleman)
c. 1854
Daguerreotype, colour pigments; gold, leather, velvet, brass, glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of T. H. Lustig and Moar Families, Governor, 2001

 

Thomas Bock. ‘William Robertson Jnr.’ c. 1852 and ‘Margaret Robertson’ c. 1852

 

Left

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
William Robertson Jnr.
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand coloured
case: 9.2 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Right

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Margaret Robertson
c. 1852
Ambrotype, hand coloured
case: 9.3 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

News of scientific discoveries reached Australia via the flotillas of ships plying the southern trade routes. The first demonstrations of photography occurred in England and France in 1839. News of this reached Australia that same year and was described in an account in the Tasmanian newspaper The Cornwall Chronicle on 19 October 1839. Former convict Thomas Bock was one of the earliest Tasmanian photographers, first advertising his studio in September 1843. His daguerreotype portraits resemble his paintings and drawings in their composition and use of hand-colouring. (Exhibition text)

 

Thomas Bock

1790 – 1855

Thomas Bock, artist, printmaker and photographer, is believed to have been born at Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, in 1790. He completed an apprenticeship as an engraver with Thomas Brandard in Birmingham and in 1814 established his own business there, advertising himself as an ‘Engraver and Miniature Painter’. In April 1823, Bock and a woman named Mary Day Underhill appeared at the Warwickshire Assizes charged with ‘administering concoctions of certain herbs to Ann Yates, with the intent to cause a miscarriage.’ Both were found guilty and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. At the time of his conviction, Bock was thirty-two, married and father to five children. Bock arrived in Hobart aboard the Asia in January 1824. His convict record stated he had ‘served an apprenticeship to the Engraving Business’ and described him as ‘well connected and very orderly.’ The colonial authorities found immediate use for Bock, some of his earliest Tasmanian works being bank notes engraved for the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land and a drawing of executed cannibal, Alexander Pearce, made in July 1824 at the request of the Colonial Surgeon. Bock worked as a printmaker during the 1820s, engraving stationery along with illustrations for publications such as the Hobart Town Almanack while also producing portraits. He received a conditional pardon in 1832 and free pardon a year later, thereafter establishing a highly successful practice as Hobart’s most sought-after portrait artist. Bock was particularly known for his portrait drawings utilising watercolour, pencil, chalk and pastel (or ‘French crayon’), but his practice was diverse, incorporating printmaking and oil painting as well as photography. On his death in Hobart in March 1855 he was described as ‘an artist of a very high order’ whose works ‘adorned the homes of a number of our old colonists and citizens.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'William Robertson Jnr.' c. 1852

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
William Robertson Jnr.
c. 1852
Daguerreotype, hand coloured
case: 9.2 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 5.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

William Robertson (1839-1892), barrister and politician, was the third of the seven children of pastoralist William Robertson (1798-1874) and his wife Margaret (née Whyte, 1811-1866). Robertson was born and educated in Hobart and then at Wadham College, Oxford. He is believed to be the first Australian to row in an Oxford eight, his team victorious against Cambridge in the Boat Race of 1861. Robertson graduated with a BA in 1862 and was married and called to the bar the following year. On his return to Australia, Robertson practised law in Hobart before heading to Victoria in 1864. He worked as a barrister in Melbourne and then assisted in the management of the family property, Corangamarah, which he and his three brothers jointly inherited on the death of their father in 1874. Robertson served as a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly between 1871 and 1874 and again from 1881 to 1886; he was also President of the Colac Shire council in 1880-81. After the dissolution of the partnership with his brothers in 1885, Robertson became sole owner of Corangamarah, later called The Hill, and in retirement enjoyed the lifestyle of an ‘hospitable and sports-loving country gentleman.’

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'Margaret Robertson' c. 1852

 

Thomas Bock (attributed to) (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
Margaret Robertson
c. 1852
Ambrotype, hand coloured
case: 9.3 x 8.0 cm, image: 7.0 x 6.0 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Fiona Turner (nee Robertson) and John Robertson, 2001
Donated through the Australia Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Margaret Robertson (née Whyte, 1811-1866) was the daughter of settlers George and Jessie Whyte, who emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land from Scotland in 1832. In September 1834, Margaret married Scottish-born entrepreneur and landowner William Robertson (1798-1874), who had arrived in the colony in 1822 and who, in the decade leading up to his marriage, had acquired land nearby to a property owned by Margaret’s family. The first of Margaret and William’s seven children – four sons and three daughters – was born in 1835. The family resided in Hobart until the early 1860s, when Roberston relocated to his Victorian estate, where Margaret died in February 1866.

Text from the National Portrait Gallery website

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 - Australia 1855, Australia from 1824) 'No title (Portrait of two boys)' 1848-50

 

Thomas Bock (England 1790 – Australia 1855, Australia from 1824)
No title (Portrait of two boys)
1848-50, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Daguerreotype
case closed 7.0 h x 6.0 w cm case open 7.5 h x 13.0 w cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 2009
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The daguerreotype was first demonstrated in Australia in Sydney in May 1841. Late the following year, London’s George Goodman set up the first commercial studio in Sydney, claiming to have an exclusive license to use the daguerreotype in the colonies. Goodman was working in Hobart in August 1843, where he came in direct competition with British convict artist Thomas Bock.

Although an engraver by trade, Bock had a keen interest in photography and, in the Hobart Town Advertiser of 29 September 1843, he advertised that ‘in a short time he would be enabled to take photographic likenesses in the first style of the art’. Infuriated, Goodman threatened legal action and Bock promptly withdrew until five years later when he opened a portrait photography studio in Hobart.

Bock’s stepson Alfred assisted him in the photography-side of the studio business. They had seen daguerreotype portraits brought from London by Reverend Francis Russell Nixon in Hobart in June 1843 – before Goodman’s arrival in Tasmania – and had purchased a camera from a Frenchman in Hobart so that they could learn the new art form using photographic formulas published in English magazines. Their lack of proper training, however, shows in Hobart dignitary GTYB Boyes’s records of August 1849, in which he comments, ‘Bock understands the nature of his apparatus but very imperfectly!’ Despite this and other unfavourable remarks between 1849 and 1853, Boyes continued to visit Bock’s studios for daguerreotype portraits.

Bock’s portrait of two freckle-faced boys dressed in matching outfits shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848 – a year before Boyes’s initial disparaging remark. Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country. The sitters are as yet unidentified but the daguerreotype has been dated by comparison with several identified examples of double portraits of children that have survived out of the hundreds of images made by the Bock studio.

Gael Newton
Senior Curator, Photography
in artonview, issue 61, autumn 2010

 

William Millington Nixon (England 1814 - Australia 1893, Australia from 1855) 'The Lashmar family' 1857-58

 

William Millington Nixon (England 1814 – Australia 1893, Australia from 1855)
The Lashmar family
1857-58
Daguerreotype, coloured inks; gold, leather, brass, metal, velvet and glass (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

Shortly after his arrival in Adelaide in 1855, William Millington Nixon began making daguerreotypes, and quickly become a skilled daguerreotypist. By 1858 he had built a reputation as a portraitist and established a studio in King William Street, Adelaide.

The Lashmar family were pioneering pastoralists on Kangaroo Island in the 1850s. Despite the relative remoteness of their home, and the harshness of the environment, the family evidently prospered. Thomas Young Lashmar not only had the means to travel to Adelaide with his wife and family, but was also able to commission photographic portraits at a time when it was still a relatively expensive exercise. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of a nun)' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of a nun)
c. 1860
Ambrotype with hand tinting
4.0 x 16.5 x 12.5 cm (box)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
R.J. Noye Collection
Gift of Douglas and Barbara Mullins, 2004
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'Reverend Jabez Bunting Waterhouse' 1861

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
Reverend Jabez Bunting Waterhouse
1861
Ambrotype, coloured-dyes
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

WATERHOUSE BROTHERS: Jabez Bunting (1821-1891), Joseph (1828-1881), and Samuel (1830-1918), Wesleyan ministers, were the fifth, ninth and tenth children of Rev. John Waterhouse (d. 1842) and his wife Jane Beadnell, née Skipsey. In 1838 their father, a prominent Yorkshire Methodist, was appointed general superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Mission in Australia and Polynesia with a roving commission. With his wife, seven sons and three daughters, he reached Hobart Town in the James on 1 February 1839.

Jabez was born in London on 19 April 1821, educated at Kingswood School in 1832-35 and apprenticed to a printer. In Hobart, A. Bent’s printing premises were purchased and worked by Jabez. In 1840 he became a local preacher extending his ministry to convict road menders. Received as a probationer in 1842, he returned to England to enter Richmond (Theological) College and in 1845 was appointed to Windsor circuit. After his ordination at the Methodist chapel, Spitalfields, he was sent to Van Diemen’s Land in 1847, and ministered successively in the Hobart, Westbury, Campbell Town and Longford circuits. In 1855 the first conference of the Wesleyan Church in Australia appointed him to South Australia; he served at Kapunda, Willunga and Adelaide, his ministry marked by his business acumen and his role as secretary of the Australasian Conference at Adelaide in 1862.

In 1864 Waterhouse was transferred to New South Wales and was appointed successively to Maitland, Goulburn, Orange, Waverley, Parramatta, Newcastle and Glebe. In 1874-75 he was secretary of the New South Wales and Queensland Annual Conference and president in 1876; he was elected secretary of the first three general conferences of the Australasian Wesleyan Methodist Church: in Melbourne 1875, Sydney 1878 and Adelaide 1881. In 1882 he retired as a supernumerary, but remained on committees such as those of the Sustentation and Extension Society and the Missionary Society, frequently looking after missionary interests during the absence of George Brown. He supported the Wesleyan Church in Tonga in the dispute with S. W. Baker and published The Secession and the Persecution in Tonga … (Sydney, 1886). Regarded as a gifted preacher by his denomination and as the architect of most of the conference legislation, he died of heart disease and dropsy at Randwick on 18 January 1891 and was buried in the Wesleyan section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife Maria Augusta, née Bode, whom he had married at Windsor, England, on 13 August 1847, and by seven sons; his second son John was headmaster of Sydney High School.

Niel Gunson. Australian Dictionary of Biography

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ and ‘Jemima Jane Davis’ c. 1860

 

Left

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Jemima Jane Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

Right

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Jemima Jane Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Jemima Jane Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

 

Freeman Brothers Studio. ‘Walter Davis’ c. 1860

 

Freeman Brothers Studio (Sydney 1854-1900)
James Freeman (England 1814 – Australia 1890, Australia from early 1850s)
William Freeman (England 1809 – Australia 1895, Australia from early 1850s)
Walter Davis
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, velvet, glass and gilt metal (case)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Warwick Reeder, 1991

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of a man, woman and child)' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of a man, woman and child)
c. 1860
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, brass, glass, silk (velvet) (case)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Portrait of mother and child)' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer
No title (Portrait of mother and child)
c. 1855
Ambrotype, coloured dyes; wood, leather, brass, glass, silk (velvet) (case)
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney
Gift of Tooth & Company Ltd under the Australian Government’s Tax Incentives for the Arts Scheme, 1986
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. ‘Jemima, wife of Jacky with William T. Mortlock’ and ‘Jacky, known as Master Mortlock’ c. 1860

 

Left

Unknown photographer
Jemima, wife of Jacky with William T. Mortlock
c. 1860
Daguerreotype
Ayers House Museum, National Trust of South Australia, Adelaide

Right

Unknown photographer
Jacky, known as Master Mortlock
c. 1860-65
Daguerreotype
Ayers House Museum, National Trust of South Australia, Adelaide

Photos: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The Mortlock family were wealthy pastoralists in South Australia. Along with the daguerreotypes of family members they commissioned around 1860 are two portraits of their domestic servants known as Jemima and Jacky. Each member of the Mortlock family has been named in these images, but the identity of the two Aboriginal sitters has been lost – initially with the assignment of European first names and then the addition of the surname ‘master Mortlock’, which identified them as servants of the pastoralists who employed them. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'Brothers William Paul and Benjamin Featherstone' c. 1860

 

Unknown photographer
Brothers William Paul and Benjamin Featherstone
c. 1860
Ambrotype, gold paint
15.5 x 12.1 cm (case)
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
J.C. Earl Bequest Fund, 2010
Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 - United States 1904, Australia 1850s) 'Professor John Smith' c. 1858

 

Thomas Glaister (England 1824 – United States 1904, Australia 1850s)
Professor John Smith
c. 1858
Daguerreotype
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Presented by Miss Kate Crouch, 1942
Photo:
© Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'Emily Spencer Wills' c. 1859

 

Unknown photographer
Emily Spencer Wills
c. 1859
Daguerreotype, coloured dyes; brass, glass, leather, wood
1/6th plate daguerreotype with applied colour in al brass matt (without original leather case)
Frame: 8.5 x 7.2 cm, sight: 6.6 x 5.4 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Gift of T S Wills Cooke 2014
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Photo:
© Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

Unknown photographer. 'Emily Spencer Wills' c. 1859

 

Unknown photographer
Emily Spencer Wills
c. 1859
Daguerreotype, coloured dyes; brass, glass, leather, wood
1/6th plate daguerreotype with applied colour in al brass matt (without original leather case)
Frame: 8.5 x 7.2 cm, sight: 6.6 x 5.4 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Gift of T S Wills Cooke 2014
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program

 

 

Photography served several interrelated roles associated with the experience of migration and colonisation. For those European migrants transplanted halfway across the world, often without family or friends, the most immediate and heartfelt use for the camera was portraiture. Some of Australia’s earliest surviving photographs are small, sturdily cased portraits which provided ‘likenesses as if by magic’ of those depicted and were sent back ‘home’, thus providing an emotional connection to family members.

This group of family portraits shows members of the Wills family, including Thomas Wentworth Wills, who was a prominent sportsman and one of the authors of the rules of the game that later became known as Australian Rules. (Exhibition text)

 

Unknown photographer. 'No title (Group of people in front of a crushing plant on a goldfield)' 1860s and Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

 

Left

Unknown photographer
No title (Group of people in front of a crushing plant on a goldfield)
1860s
Ambrotype; embossed leather, wood, velvet, brass, gilt metal
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 2007

Right

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923)
Henry Kay
1855-60
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
2 photographs: ambrotypes with hand-colouring ; 8.9 x 6.5 cm. (oval, sight, f.1) in pinchbeck and gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.3 cm. and 9.6 x 7.0 cm. (oval, sight, f.2) in gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.2 cm., in brown union case 12.0 x 9.4 cm
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs W.G. Haysom 1964

Photo: © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria

 

 

The discovery of gold in 1851 led to extraordinary change in the colonies as migrants flooded in and previously unknown wealth enabled expansion and development. Across the colony mines were dug and small towns and settlements were established. This ambrotype shows a working mine in central Victoria and also reveals the environmental damage that resulted from the scramble for gold.

The desire to make a fortune on the goldfields brought about significant social change. Migrants such as Henry Kay, who arrived from Penang in the 1850s, came seeking gold but stayed on in various other roles, including that of court interpreter. (Exhibition text)

 

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923) 'Henry Kay' 1855-60

 

Henry King (Australia 1855-1923)
Henry Kay
1855-60
Ambrotype, coloured dyes
2 photographs: ambrotypes with hand-colouring ; 8.9 x 6.5 cm. (oval, sight, f.1) in pinchbeck and gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.3 cm. and 9.6 x 7.0 cm. (oval, sight, f.2) in gilt brass mount 10.9 x 8.2 cm., in brown union case 12.0 x 9.4 cm
Pictures Collection, State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs W.G. Haysom 1964

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia

Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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21
Feb
16

Review: ‘On the beach’ at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery, Mornington

Exhibition dates: 11th December 2015 – 28th February 2016

Curator: Wendy Garden

 

 

This is another solid thematic group exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery (curator Wendy Garden), following on from their recent success, Storm in a teacup.

The exhibition is not as successful as Storm in a teacup, mainly because most of the works are based on the monolithic, monosyllabic representation of beach culture, and its figuration, during the early decades of the twentieth century (White Australia policy, Australian stereotypes of the interwar period) and the re-staging of these ideas in the contemporary art presented through a diachronic (through/time), performative discourse.

There is so much re-staging in this exhibition I was left to wonder whether there was any original art work being produced that does not quote sources of history, memory, identity, representation and art from past generations. Daniel Boyd re-stages Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay with said hero as a pirate. Stephen Bowers replicates the Minton willow pattern motif and early paintings of kangaroos. Leanne Tobin re-stages Bungaree’s disrobing on the beach during his journey with Matthew Flinders. Diane Jones re-stages Max Dupain’s Sunbaker replacing the anonymous prostrate man with her head looking into the camera, or Dupain’s Form at Bondi with her head turned towards the camera. Worst offender is Anne Zahalka who re-states Dupain’s Sunbaker (again!) as a red-headed white women on the beach; or re-presents Charles Meere’s Australian beach pattern (1940, below) not once but twice – the first time in The bathers (1989) broadening the racial background of people to depict multicultural Australia in the 1980s, the second time in The new bathers (2013) broadening the mix even further. Most successful of these re-stagings is Michael Cook’s series of photographs Undiscovered in which the artist subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement, that of terra nullius, by depicting Captain Cook as black and positioning him in high-key, grey photographs of impressive beauty and power, surveying the land he has ‘discovered’ while perched upon an invisibly balanced ladder.

But with all of the works that quote from the past there is a sense that, even as the artists are critiquing the culture, they are also buying into the system of patriarchy, racism and control that they seek to comment on. They do not subvert the situation, merely (and locally) extrapolate from it. The idealised, iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture in the paintings from the 1920-30s and the photographs from the 1940s-70s – specimens of perfect physical beauty – are simply shifted to a new demographic – that of iconic, individual figures in the same poses as the 1940s but of a different ethnicity. The colour of the figure and the clothing might have changed, but the underlying structure remains the same. And if you disturb one of the foundation elements, such as the base figure in one of George Caddy’s balancing beachobatics photographs, the whole rotten edifice of a racism free, multicultural Australia will come tumbling down, just as it did during the Cronulla Riot.

What I would have liked to have seen in this exhibition was a greater breadth of subject matter. Where are the homeless people living near the beach, the sex (for example, as portrayed in Tracey Moffat’s voyeuristic home video Heaven which shows footage of male surfers changing out of their wetsuits in car parks – “shot by Moffatt and a number of other women as if they were making a birdwatching documentary” – which challenges the masculinity of Australian surf culture and the ability of women to stare at men, instead of the other way around), death (drownings on beaches, the heartbreak of loss), and debauchery (the fluxus of Schoolies, that Neo-Dada performance of noise and movement), the abstract nature of Pictorialist photographs of the beach, not to mention erosion and environmental loss due to global warming. The works presented seem to have a too narrowly defined conceptual base, and a present narrative constructed on a coterie of earlier works representing what it is to be Australian at the beach. The contemporary narrative does not address the fluidity of the landscape in present time (in works such as Narelle Autio’s series Watercolours or The place in between).

The dark underside of the beach, its abstract fluidity, its constant movement is least well represented in this exhibition. Although I felt engaged as a viewer the constant re-quoting and rehashing of familiar forms left me a little bored. I wanted more inventiveness, more insight into the conditions and phenomena of beach culture in contemporary Australia. An interesting exhibition but an opportunity missed.

.
Many thankx to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish most of the photographs in the posting. Other photographs come from Art Blart’s archive and those freely available online. Thankx also go to Manuela Furci, Director of the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive for allowing me to publish his photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All text comes from the wall labels to the exhibition.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with Daniel Boyd’s We call them pirates out here (2006, below)

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982) 'We call them pirates out here' 2006

 

Daniel Boyd (b. 1982)
We call them pirates out here
2006
Museum of Contemporary Art
Purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006

 

 

“The landing of Captain Cook in Botany Bay, 1770 by E. Phillips Fox is such an iconic and important image relating to the birth of Australia. Shifting the proposed view of Fox’s painting to something that was an indigenous person’s perspective allowed for me to challenge the subjective history that has been created.” – Daniel Boyd, 2008

.
In this painting Daniel Boyd parodies E. Phillips Fox’s celebrated painting which was commissioned in 1902 by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria to commemorate federation. No longer an image valorising colonial achievement, Boyd recasts the scene as one of theft and invasion. Captain Cook is depicted as a pirate to contest his heroic status in Australia’s foundation narratives. Smoke in the distance is evidence of human occupation and is a direct retort to the declaration that Australia was ‘terra nullius’ – land belonging to no-one, which was used to justify British possession.

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard' 2012 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard
2012
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952) Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961) 'Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons)' (detail) 2012

 

Stephen Bowers (b. 1952)
Peter Walker (board maker) (b. 1961)
Antipodean willow surfboard (Mini Simmons) (detail)
2012
Hollow core surfboard, Paulownia wood, fibreglass, synthetic polymer paint
Courtesy of the artist and Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Caulfield

 

 

In these works Bowers combines the willow pattern motif, a ready-made metaphor of hybridity, with an image of a kangaroo as envisioned by George Stubbs in 1772. The willow pattern as an English invention, created by Thomas Minton in 1790. It is an imaginative geography and, like the first known European painting of a kangaroo, considers other lands as strange, exotic places. In this work the imagery of colonial occupation is visualised as a fusion of cultures underpinned by half-truths, fantasy and desire.

 

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

Installation view of Leanne Tobin's 'Clothes don't always maketh the man' (2012) (detail)

 

Installation views of Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012)

 

Leanne Tobin (b, 1961)
Clothes don’t always maketh the man (detail)
2012
Sand, textile, wood
Collection of the artist

 

 

Bungaree (c. 1755-1830) was a Garigal man who circumnavigated the continent of Australia with Matthew Flinders on the H.M.S. Investigator between 1802-03. Unlike Bennelong, who attempted to assimilate with British ways and Pemulwuy, who resisted, Bungaree made the decision to navigate a relationship with the British while still maintaining his cultural traditions. He played an important role as an envoy on Flinder’s voyages, negotiating with the different Aboriginal groups they encountered. A skilled mediator, Bungaree was adept at living between both worlds. When coming ashore he would shed his white man’s clothes so that he could conduct protocol relevant to the local elders. In this respect the beach became a zone of transformation and exchange.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with in the foreground, Leanne Tobin’s Clothes don’t always maketh the man (2012), and in the background photographs from Michael Cook’s Undiscovered series (2010, below)

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968) 'Undiscovered 4' 2010

 

Michael Cook (b. 1968)
Undiscovered 4
2010
inkjet print on Hahnemuhle paper
124.0 x 100.0 cm
Australian National Maritime Museum

 

 

A selection of works from a series of ten photographs in which Michael Cook contests the idea of ‘discovery’ that underpins narratives of the British settlement of Australia… Cook depicts the historic Cook as an Aboriginal man replete in his British naval officers attire. His ship, the famed Endeavour, is anchored in the sea behind him. By mimicking the moment of first discovery Cook subverts deeply ingrained understandings of settlement and asks us to consider what type of national Australia would be if the British had acknowledged Aboriginal people’s prior ownership.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery showing, at top left, Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939); to the right of that Dupain’s At Newport (1952, below); to the right upper is George Caddy’s Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937 (below); followed at far right by Rennie Ellis’ St Kilda Lifesavers (1968, top) and David Moore’s Lifesavers at Manly (1959, bottom)

 

Max Dupain. 'At Newport' 1952, Sydney

 

Max Dupain (1911-1992)
At Newport
1952, Sydney
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937' 1937

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Chest strength and breathing exercise, 20 February 1937
1937
Digital print on paper
Paul Caddy collection
Courtesy of Paul Caddy

 

 

Like Max Dupain, who was three years his senior, Caddy was interested in the new modernist approach to photography. During 1936 he read magazines such as Popular Photography from New York and US Camera rather than Australasian Photo-Review which continued to champion soft-focus pictorialism. This photograph was taken the same year as Dupain’s famous Sunbather photograph. The framing and angle is similar reflecting their common interest in sharp focus, unusual vantage points and cold composition.

 

George Caddy (1914-1983) 'Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938' 1938

 

George Caddy (1914-1983)
Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club reel team march past, 3 April 1938
1938
Digital print
Collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Purchased from Paul Caddy, 2008

 

 

This photograph was taken only months after an infamous rescue at Bondi. On 6 February 1938 a sand bar collapsed sweeping two hundred people out to sea. 80 lifesavers rescued all but 5 people in a day subsequently described as Black Sunday. By 1938 the Surf Life Saving Association, which incorporated clubs from around Australia, had rescued 39,149 lives in its 30 year history. In 1938 alone there were 3,442 rescues. Up until the events of Black Sunday no one had drowned while lifesavers were on duty at Australian beaches. In comparison 2,000 people drowned in England each year.1

  1. Alan Davies, Bondi Jitterbug: George Caddy and his amera, Sydney: State Library of New South Wales, p. 13.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below) and, at right, a selection of George Caddy’s beachobatics photographs.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, Max Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937, top) with Diane Jones Sunbaker (2003, below); in the centre Anne Zahalka’s The sunbather #2 (1989, below); then Max Dupain’s Form at Bondi (1939, top) with Diane Jones Bondi (2003) underneath.

 

Anne Zahalka. 'The sunbather #2' 1989

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The sunbather #2
1989
From the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989
Type C photograph

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere's 'Australian beach pattern' (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka's 'The bathers' (1989)

 

Installation photograph of Charles Meere’s painting Australian beach pattern (1940, below) and Anne Zahalka’s photograph The bathers (1989) from the series Bondi: playground of the Pacific 1989, in which Zahalka restates Charles Meere’s painting to subvert the narrow stereotype of the Australian ideal… In this work Zahalka broadens the racial background of people depicted to create a more representative image of multicultural Australia in the 1980s.

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961) 'Australian beach pattern' 1940 (detail)

 

Charles Meere (1890-1961)
Australian beach pattern (detail)
1940
Oil and wax on canvas
Collection of Joy Chambers-Grundy and Reg Grundy AC OBE

 

 

A now iconic representation of early 20th century Australia culture… The scene is dominated by a mass of suntanned bodies: muscular, square-jawed white Australians – specimens of perfect physical beauty – enjoying the strenuous physical activities of the beach. A glorification of the strong, healthy, racially pure Australian ideal of the 1930s, it is eerily reminiscent of Nazi German Aryan propaganda between the wars.

Notably, the figures themselves all appear anonymous and disconnected, with indistinct facial features that show no acknowledgement of their fellow beach-goers. Their identities are overwhelmed by Meere’s obsession with arrangement. Rather than reflect real life, the figures are placed to create an idealised work of perfect balance. It is fascinating to consider that this iconic representation of Australian beach culture actually came from the imagination of an Englishman, who had only lived in Australia since the mid-1930s and who, according to his apprentice, ‘never went to the beach’ and ‘made up most of the figures’.1

  1. Freda Robertshaw quoted in Linda Slutzkin, Charles Meere 1890-1961. Sydney: S. H. Ervin Gallery, 1987, p. 6.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, at far left, George Caddy’s beachobatic photographs, and on the far wall Sidney Nolan’s Bathers (1943, below) and Jeffrey Smart’s Surfers Bondi (1963, below)

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) 'Bathers' 1943

 

Sidney Nolan (1917-1992)
Bathers
1943
Ripolin enamel on canvas
Headed Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne
Bequest of John and Sunday Reed, 1982

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) 'Surfers Bondi' 1963

 

Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013)
Surfers Bondi
1963
Oil on board
Private collection

 

 

“When bans on daylight bathing were lifted in 1902, the beach became a prime leisure destination. The beach became not only as a public space of recreation but also as a place where the Australian identity was developing, for many epitomizing the liberties of Australia’s society. On the beach brings together 76 outstanding and iconic paintings, photographs and installations to consider the defining relationship we have to the shore.

Works by artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Arthur Boyd, Gordon Bennett, Daniel Boyd, Max Dupain, Charles Meere, Tracey Moffatt, David Moore, Sidney Nolan, Polixeni Papapetrou, John Perceval, Scott Redford, Jeffrey Smart, Albert Tucker, Guan Wei and Anne Zahalka, as well as outstanding recently discovered works by George Caddy (see above). A champion jitterbug dancer, Caddy’s photographs of ‘beachobatics’ were kept undisturbed in a shoebox for 60 years until they were ‘discovered’ by his son after his death. They capture the exuberance and optimism of Australian society between the wars.

The beach first became a prime leisure destination in the early decades of the twentieth century. Up to Federation many artists had looked to the bush to galvanise a fledging nationalism, but during the interwar years this shifted and increasingly the beach became the site of Australian identity. Already by 1908 one Melbourne newspaper commented upon the ‘vast throng of holidaymakers all along the coast.’ In the years following the First World War, against a backdrop of a growing interest in physical fitness, the beach was seen as a place for creating ‘a fine healthy race of men.’ Understandings of the beach as an Australian way of life emerged during this period and increasingly the Australian type was associated with bronzed athletic bodies on the beach.

On the beach looks at artists’ responses to the stereotype of the interwar period and juxtaposes modernist works with contemporary artists’ responses to include a more culturally diverse mix of people. Other artists in the exhibition challenge understandings of the beach as a benign space and consider the history of violence that is latent.”

Press release from the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Photographer Joyce Evans looking at two colour photographs by Rennie Ellis in the exhibition.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall left hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall right hand side, photographs by Rennie Ellis and, at right, Fiona Foley’s Nulla 4 eva IV (2009)

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Union Jack, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Union Jack, Lorne
c. 1968
Silver gelatin selenium toned fibre-based print
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Four Sunbathers, Lorne' c. 1968

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Four Sunbathers, Lorne
c. 1968
Type C photograph (ed. AP)
Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive

 

Rennie Ellis. 'Bondi, New South Wales' 1997

 

Rennie Ellis (1940-2003)
Bondi, New South Wales
1997

 

“On the beach we chuck away our clothes, our status and our inhibitions and engage in rituals of sun worship and baptism. It’s a retreat to our primal needs.” – Rennie Ellis

 

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

Installation view of Vernon Ah Kee. 'cantchant' 2007-09 (detail)

 

Installation views of Vernon Ah Kee’s cantchant 2007-09

 

Vernon Ah Kee (b. 1967)
cantchant
2007-09
Synthetic polymer paint and resin over digital print on roamer, vinyl
Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

 

 

Vernon Ah Kee’s response to the events at Cronulla (the Cronulla Riot) us a powerful retort to the racists and their mantra ‘we grew here, you flew here’ chanted on the beach during the riots. Ah Kee takes issue pointing out the hypocrisy in their statement.

We grew here, you flew here is an insincere statement and they were chanting it over and over again. It’s a way to exercise racism. I’m like ‘WE’ grew here, say what you want, but we’re the fellas that grew here.

The surfboards are printed with Yidinji shield designs and the portraits are members of the artists family. The work was exhibited in the Australian Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, on the far wall, Charles Blackman’s Sunbather (c. 1954, below) and Arthur Boyd’s Kite flyers [South Melbourne] (1943, below).

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928) 'Sunbather' c. 1954

 

Charles Blackman (b. 1928)
Sunbather
c. 1954
Oil on board
Private collection, Melbourne

 

 

This is one of a number of paintings and drawings made in response to Blackman’s observations of life on Melbourne’s beaches. Blackman moved from Sydney to Melbourne in 1945 to be part of Melbourne’s burgeoning art scene, making friends with John Perceval, Joy Hester and John and Sunday Reed amongst others.

During this period Blackman regularly took the tram to St Kilda beach to swim and paint. Although he enjoyed spending time on the beach, there is a sinister overtone to this painting of a prostrate figure lying on the sand. A bleak, grey palette articulates the pallid lifeless flesh amplifying a sense of death. The hollow slits that substitute for eyes further accentuate the corpse-like appearance. It is a stark contrast to many paintings of the era that emphasise physical vitality and wellbeing. Rather the sense of isolation and heavy treatment of shadows and water creates a painting that is psychologically disturbing. This painting can be seen as a response to his wife, Barbara’s developing blindness. It has been noted that as the ‘darkness grew in her life, his pictures got darker.’1 Blackman stated many years later ‘I was trying to paint pictures which were unseeable.’2

  1. Barry Humphries quoted in Peter Wilmoth ‘An artist in wonderland’ The Age, 21 May 2006.
  2. Charles Blackman interviewed by James Gleeson, 28 April 1979.

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) 'Kite flyers [South Melbourne]' 1943

 

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999)
Kite flyers [South Melbourne]
1943
Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard
46.3 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria
The Arthur Boyd Gift, 1975

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, in the centre, Brett Whiteley’s Balmoral (1975-78, below). To the left of this painting is Nancy Kilgour’s Figures on Manly Beach (1930, below) and to the right, at top, Norma Bull’s Bathing Beach (c. 1950-60s, below) with at bottom, George W. Lambert’s Anzacs bathing in the sea (1915, below).

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) 'Balmoral' 1975-78 (detail)

 

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)
Balmoral (detail)
1975-78
Oil and collage on canvas
180 x 204 cm
Collection of the Hunter-Dyer family

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954) 'Figures on Manly Beach' c. 1930

 

Nancy Kilgour (1904-1954)
Figures on Manly Beach
c. 1930
Oil on canvas
76 x 117 cm
Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney
Purchase with the assistance of the NSW Ministry for the Arts, 1986

 

 

Nancy Kilgour’s artificial arrangement of figures is believed to have been painted in the 1930s before Charles Meere painted his highly contrived composition Australian Beach Pattern, 1940. The staged poses create a tableau of Australians enjoying the freedoms of life on the beach. What is interesting about Kilgour’s painting is that a number of people are depicted fully clothed. so the emphasis is not so much on toned physiques but rather the pleasures of relaxing on the beach. The painting is also unusual because, whereas most beach scenes are cast in brilliant sunshine, the figures in the foreground in this painting are rendered in shadow suggesting the presence of the towering Norfolk Island Pine trees which form a crescent along the Manly foreshore.

 

Norma Bull. 'Bathing Beach' c. 1950-60s

 

Norma Bull (1906-1980)
Bathing Beach
c. 1950s-60s
Oil on aluminium
30.5 x 40 cm
Collection of the Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

 

 

Norma Bull began her career at the National Gallery School in 1929, Receiving acclaim for her portraits she won the Sir John Longstaff Scholarship in 1937 and travelled to London where she worked as a war artist during the Second World War. After nine years in Europe, Bull returned to Australia and spent the next year following Wirth’s Circus, painting acrobats, clowns and scenes from circus life. She settled in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills and spent her summer holidays at Anglesea which provided the opportunity to paint seascapes and beach scenes.

 

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915

George W. Lambert. 'Anzacs bathing in the sea' 1915 (detail)

 

George W. Lambert (1867-1930)
Anzacs bathing in the sea (full and detail)
1915
Oil on canvas
25 x 34 cm
Mildura Arts Centre
Senator R.D. Elliott Bequest, presented to the City of Mildura by Mrs Hilda Elliott, 1956

 

 

George Lambert, Australia’s official war artist, travelled to Gallipoli where he created detailed studies of large battle scenes. He also painted a number of smaller, more intimate works which were execute rapidly on the spot such as this scene of men bathing in the sea. Lambert’s focus is the musculature of their bodies. They are depicted as exemplars of heroic Australian masculinity. Historian C.E.W. Bean reflected in the 1920s that it was through the events on Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915 ‘that the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born.’1 In this respect the painting can be seen to have baptismal overtures.

  1. C.E.W. Bean, Official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Volume 2, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1934, p. 346.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'On the beach' at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition On the beach at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery with, second left, Anne Zahalka’s The girls #2, Cronulla Beach (2007, below). At left on the far wall John Anderson’s Abundance (2015, below) followed by John Hopkins The crowd (1970, below)

 

Anne-Zahalka-The-girls-#2-WEB

 

Anne Zahalka (b. 1957)
The girls #2, Cronulla Beach
2007
From the series Scenes from the Shire 2007
Type C photograph
73.3 x 89.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 2012

 

John Anderson (b. 1947) 'Abundance' (detail) 2015

 

John Anderson (b. 1947)
Abundance (detail)
2015
Oil on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Melbourne and Sydney

 

John Hopkins. 'The crowd' 1970

 

John Hopkins (b. 1943)
The crowd
1970
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
172.7 x 245.2 cm
Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Gift of the artist, 1974

 

Polixeni Papaetrou born Australia 1960 'Ocean Man' 2013

 

Polixeni Papaetrou (b. 1960)
Ocean Man
2013
From the series The Ghillies 2012-13
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

The ghillie suit is a form of camouflage originally used by hunters and the military. Recently popularised in the video game, Call of duty, the ghillie suit is worn by Papapetrou’s son, Solomon, who poses on the beach at Queenscliff. Appearing neither man nor nature, his indistinct form speaks of transformation and becoming – of prison and absence. By depicting the figure as some sort of monster emerging from the depths of the ocean, Papapetrou creates an image that draws upon Jungian understanding of the sea as a symbol of the collective unconscious – both a source of life and return.

 

 

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery
Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm

Mornington Peninsula Regional Art Gallery website

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16
Oct
12

Paper: ‘Traversing the unknown’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan, Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne presented at the ‘Travel Ideals’ international conference, July 2012

International conference: Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility, Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, 18th – 20th July 2012

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All cdv and cabinet cards © Joyce Evans collection, © Marcus Bunyan.

Installation photographs of the exhibition Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton, 10th March – 8th April 2012.

Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Keywords: refugees, asylum seekers, boat people, spaces of mobility, travel, early colonial photography, cartes de visite, cabinet cards, Second Fleet, John Dell, aborigine, Australia, white Australia, immigration, photography, early Australian photography, Foucault, non-place, Panopticon, inverted Panopticon, (in)visibility, visual parentheses, axis of visibility, symbolic capital, context of reason.

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Installation of Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton
Installation photographs by Marcus Bunyan © Kim Percy

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Traversing the unknown

Dr Marcus Bunyan July 2012

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What I am about to say, my musings if you like, are inspired by Kim Percy’s exhibition which took place at Stockroom gallery in Kyenton in March – April 2012. The work is the basis of my inquiry. The images that illustrate the paper are installation shots from the exhibition and Victorian cartes de visite, photographic portraits of an emerging nation taken from the 1850s – 1890s. Unlike the business cards of today (where identity is represented by the name of the business owner and the printer of the card remains anonymous), in cartes de visite the name of the people or place being photographed is usually unknown and the name of the photographer is (sometimes) recorded. In other words the inverse of contemporary practice. Another point to note is that most of the photographers were immigrants to this country. I use these cards to illustrate the point that the construction of national identity has always been multifarious and, in terms of the representation of identity, unknown and unknowable.

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I would like to take you on a journey, at first personal and then physical, metaphorical and maybe even philosophical. I want to asks questions of the world, questions about the journey we all take as human beings. I would like to tell you two personal things.

First, I have nearly drowned three times in my life. Once, aged 12 years, my mother dove into the swimming pool and pulled my out as I was going under for the third time. The second time was in Australia at Squeaky Beach on Wilsons Prom and the third up at Byron Bay. All three times there was shear blind panic as the water tried to consume me, as my feet scrabbled to touch the bottom, seeking any purchase, the minutest toe hold so that I could pull myself to safety, so that I could save myself. Panic. Fear. Nothingness.

Second, I still vividly remember being dumped by my parents at boarding school in England at the age of twelve years. I watched disconsolately as they drove away and promptly burst into tears, terrified of being alone in an alien environment, with a different accent than everyone else (having grown up on a rural farm) and being different from other boys (just discovering that I was gay). Those were horrible years, suffering from depression that crept up on me, isolated with few friends and struggling with my nascent sexuality. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm were constant companions. Fast forward, arriving in Australia in 1986, again with no friends, living in a foreign culture. Even though I was white I felt alienated, isolated, alone. I hated my first years in Australia. Now imagine being an asylum seeker arriving here.

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Anon
Untitled [Borough of Clunes Notice Strike ..rm Rate]
Nd
Cabinet card
Albumen print
16.5cm x 10.7cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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Anon
Mrs Dean, Dean & Co, Hay, Corn & Produce Merchants, Rea St, North Fitzroy
Nd
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
10.4cm x 6.3cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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National Photo Company
Untitled [Group of bricklayers holding their tools and a baby]
Nd
140 Queen Street,
Woollahra,
Sydney
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
10.4cm x 6.3cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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Imagine being an asylum seeker living in an (in)between space, living in a refugee camp over there. Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”.1 These camps are such places. Put yourself in that predicament, seeking a better life, seeking to escape persecution, war, prejudice and death, deliberately placing yourself and your family in a fragile boat, like a seed pod floating upon the waters, taking the dangerous journey to reach Australia. Imagine the emotional and intellectual turmoil that must surround such a decision, the decision to place your life in the hands of the ocean. Important decisions affecting the entire course of one’s life are rarely made without some form of mental distress.

Nurtured in water, some baptised in it, water is the life-blood of the world and the asylum seeker must trust to its benevolence. Marc Auge “argues that we are in transit through non-place for more and more of our time, as if between immense parentheses.”2 This is the journey that the asylum seeker takes over water, a journey through an interstitial space that has no beginning and no end caught between a set of parentheses [insert life here / or not]. And now let us move our line of sight. What about a visual parentheses?

Asylum seekers are almost invisible from Australia living over there. They are over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind. When they journey across the sea – an open ended journey passing through a liminal space, a forgotten space – they suddenly appear as if by magic washed up on the shore, unseen despite surveillance planes, ships and other forms of tracking and reconnaissance. Think, for example, of the sudden and surprising arrival of the boat SIEV-221 when it was washed onto the rocks of Christmas Island in December 2010. The invisible made visible caught in a non-place.

This (in)visibility can be evidenced in other ways. The specks of humanity waving from the deck of the Tampa, the asylum seekers being escorted from arriving boats, seen for a few brief seconds on the evening news and then disappearing from view, almost like being sucked into the depths of the sea. Here and not here; here and there. Halfway between nothingness and being: they walk between one state and another, forward and backward, backward and forward.

Displacement
Diaspora
Disruption

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There is much discussion in political circles in relation to the retrieval, processing and housing of detainees, that is, the control of the artefact within space (of Australia) and, consequently, the impact on the citizens of Australia and that of public sentiment. The axis of visibility3 that operates in relation to subject, object, and space is not interrogated as to the representations that are constructed. This is what I am interested in here.

The spectacle of the asylum seekers is despectacularised by and for the viewer. We remove ourselves from the emotion of these people, the presence of these images. They become ordinary as if seen from far away – glimpsed every so often as though viewing the world of another. They become Other. The movement of the ship, the movement of the sky, the movement of vision is a constant decentering through a push/pull with something else – some other order of the world. The journey into the unknown is a journey to submit to the ordering of another: the socially constructed system of classification: “refugee,” “asylum seeker.”

These vital, alive human beings come from one taxonomic system (of ordered death, persecution, injustice), become visible from a brief instance, and are then fed into another taxonomic system of order – that of the detention center. Through the journey and in the detention centers there is an effacement of specific religious, political or personal symbolic features as the refugees become part of a disciplinary system whereby they can be viewed as symbolic capital (both political and economic tools). This process of effacement and simultaneous self-negation, this neutralization of original context and content is hidden in the forgotten spaces, of the sea and of the processing centers.

And then the seekers are naturalized, becoming one with the body of Australia, as though they were unnatural before.

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Kim Percy
Pale Sea
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Where
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Rough Water
2012
Digital photograph

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Anon
Untitled
Nd
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Blank verso
© Joyce Evans collection

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E. B. Pike
Untitled [Older man with moustache and parted beard]
Nd
Cartes de visite
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Verso of card
© Joyce Evans collection

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Artist & Photographer
Otto von Hartitzsch
Untitled [Man with quaffed hair and very thin tie]
1867 – 1883
Established 1867
127 Rundle Street
Adelaide
South Australia
Cartes de visite
6.3cm x 10.4cm
Verso of card
© Joyce Evans collection

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Kim Percy
Traverse
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.1
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.2
2012
Digital photograph

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Taking the metaphor of the horizon line further, I would argue that the detention centers are like that of an inverted Panopticon. The Panopticon is a type of institutional building, a prison, designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.4 The guard sits in a central tower and can observe and inspect all prisoners on the outer 360 degree circle, while the prisoners cannot see the guard and can only presume he is there (an omnipresent God) and hence they behave. Let us invert this concept. Now the asylum seekers sit in the tower looking outwards, seeing the promised land but unable to touch it and the guards (prison officers, government, the Australian people) are all around but most are blind. They look inwards but cannot see / they look outwards and most go about their daily business. The perimeter fence of the detention center becomes the horizon line of the sea. Over the horizon is out of sight and out of mind.

This regime of acceptability, the common-sense world within which we all live and usually take for granted, this form of rationality has a historical specificity. Think convict for example: such branding appeared at a time of historic specificity. What we take to be rational, the bearer of truth, is rooted in domination and subjugation, and is constituted by the relationship of forces and powers. But, as Foucault observes “what counts as a rational act at one time will not so count at another time, and this is dependent on the context of reason that prevails.”5

Hence no more convicts, in the future one hopes no more refugees.

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Profesor Hawkins
Photographic
Artist
Untitled [Chinese women with handkerchief]
c.1858 – 1875
20, Queensbury St Et.
near Dight’s Mills,
Melbourne
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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“Truth in a Pleasing Form”
J. R. Tanner
Untitled [Two woman wearing elaborate hats]
1875
Photographer and Photo-Enameler
“Permanent Pictures in Carbon”
“Imperishable Portrais on Enamel”
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

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What Kim’s eloquent, minimal, brooding installation does is hold our attention and ask certain questions of us as human beings. If photography is a mode of visually addressing a certain order in the world – be it horror, war, peace, human tragedy, public, private – and then destabilizing it, then Kim’s images destabilize the binary sea/sky through fragmentation and isolation. She redlines our experience and asks us to inhabit the non-space, the non-place of the gallery, allowing us to hover between boat and image, between sea and sky, between seeing and sky. Through her work she asks us to become more aware. She asks us to see things more clearly. Above all she asks us to have faith in the compassion of human beings. The asylum seekers have faith: faith to get into a fragile boat to venture upon the sea in search of a better life.

I will finish with a quote from Jeff Brown

“Sometimes we have to surrender to the not knowing. At other times, it is helpful to adventure outward and explore new possibilities. Like swashbucklers of the spirit, we bravely seek out any experience that might inform our path. When we are afraid of something, we live it fully and see what floats to the surface in the doing. We participate in our own revealing. We have faith in the shaping of what we cannot see.”6

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The seekers surrender to the not knowing and have faith in the shaping of what they cannot see. These risk takers are the strong ones that are going to make a difference in a new society by the very fact of their strength and determination to survive and live in a free society, for the very fact of the risks undertaken. This exhibition and this paper informs their path as it informs our path. Be aware of the doing, be bold and forthright in the being.

Dr Marcus Bunyan, July 2012

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Addendum – Australia from settlement to subjugation

The cartes de visite below is one of the most important cards that I have ever held.

Private John Dell (1763 – 1866) of the The New South Wales Corps. (Rum Corps.) “Renamed 1st /102nd Regiment of Foot” arrived on the ship Surprize of the Second Fleet on the 26 June 1790 (not, as stated in pencil on the verso of the card, in 1788). The Second Fleet has been regarded as being the three convict ships which arrived together at Sydney Cove in June 1790: these ships were the Surprize , Neptune, and Scarborough.

The Surprize weighed 400 tons, she was the smallest ship of the fleet, she proved an unsuitable vessel as for her size and she was a wet vessel even in clam waters. Sailing from England on January 19th 1790 with 254 male convicts. Her master was Nicholas Antis, formerly chief mate on the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet. The surgeon was William Waters. 36 convicts died on the voyage. Soldiers of the New South Wales Corps on board may have stayed. Some where convicts who later enlisted.

Private John Dell served in 102nd Foot Regiment. He was discharged aged 42 after 21 years 10 months of service. Covering dates give year of enlistment to year of discharge: 1789-1811. He enlisted on 3rd July 1789 and was discharged in May 1810. He married three times and had numerous children, dying in Tasmania on the 2nd March 1866. He was born on 5th of November 1763 so this would make him over the age of 87 when this photograph could have first been taken or, if later, between the age of 96 – 103. We can date this photograph from the time that W. Paul Dowling worked in Launceston (1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866).

We are looking at one of the first English migrants to ever settle in Australia during the invasion of the supposed terra nullius. This is an important photograph. The photographer obviously thought it was important to document the appearance of this person, present in the first two years of colonial settlement and later injured by an aborigine spear. For us, the photograph traverses the history of white Australia, from settlement to subjugation, from 1790 to 1866. One can only imagine the agony, the death and destruction that occurred during this man’s lifetime.

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THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL (From the Melbourne Spectator)

“The following reminiscences of the olden times were furnished to us by a gentleman who took them down as they fell from the lips of John Dell, the Greenwich pensioner, a few months before his, death, which happened at Launceston, in the early part of the present year: He was born, he said, at Reading, in Berkshire, on the 5th of November, 1763. He was one of a family of twenty four children. He remembered the excitement occasioned by the Gordon riots, and how the people gathered round the London coach which brought down the tidings of the tumult, incendiarism, and bloodshed. He was apprenticed with another Reading lad, to a veneer cutter in London; and as he and his fellow-apprentice were one day staring in at a shop window in Fleet-street, and observing to each other that there was nothing like that in Reading, they were accosted by a respectably dressed man, who said his wife was from Reading, and would so like to have a chat with them about the dear old place; would they go home to tea with him? They cheerfully assented; and were taken to a house in an obscure neighborhood, at the back of the Fleet Prison…”

“THE LATE MR. JOHN DELL,” in Launceston Examiner (Tas.: 1842 – 1899), 25 July 1866, p. 2. [Online] Cited 15 July, 2012 on the Trove website. nla.gov.au/nla.news-article36636642

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DEATH OF MR JOHN DELL

“It is with feelings of sincere regret that we record tbe death of Mr. John Dell, at the patriarchal age of 102 years and four months. He had been ailing but a very short time, and had the use of his faculties to the last hour of his life. He was reading as usual without the use of spectacles, and out of bed on Thursday night, but be breathed his last yesterday, at the residence of his son-in-law, Mr. William Brean, of Brisbane Street, and his remains are to be interred on Monday.

Mr. Dell was born at Reading, in Berkshire, in 1763, and arrived in New South Wales with the 102nd Regiment of Foot, in 1790, in the ship ‘Surprize,’ the first of the fleet which brought convicts to Botany Bay, and he was present in Sydney during the whole of the period of the government of Governor Phillip, and at the arrest of Governor Bligh, who it will beremembered by those who have read the early history of New South Wales, was arrested by Colonel Johnson, tbe Colonel of the regiment in which Dell served, the 102nd. This corps was raised specially for service in New South Wales, and Mr. Dell returned with in 1808, and on board the vessel in which Governor Bligh died on the passage to England. He was pensioned in 1815, and has been in ilie receipt of a pension for more than half a century.

He arrived in this colony in 1818, and was for some time Chief Constable of Launceston, but retired many years ago from office, to a large farm at Norfolk Plains. Mr. Dell was the owner of very valuable property in this colony, though be did not die wealthy, the Court House Square belonged to him at one time, and he fenced it in, but subsequently he returned it to the Government in exchange for a grant of six hundred and forty acres of land in the country. Mr. Dell was a temperate man but not a teetotaller. It is strange that throughout his eventful career, be never learned to smoke, but this may account for the steadiness of his nerves to the latest day of his long life. He had encountered great hardships in New South Wales, having been in the bush there for three day disabled by a spear wound inflicted by an aborigine. He was in a very exhausted state when discovered, but his iron constitution enabled him to rally, and he was soon in as sound a state of health as ever.

For some years past his sight keener and his hair of a darker colour than they had been twenty years previous. He was rather eccentric of late, but no one from his hale appearance would suppose him to be much above seventy years of age. His voice was a good strong firm bass without a quaver in it. Very few men have ever been blessed with such a long period of interrupted sound health as Mr Dell. He will be missed and his death lamented by a wide circle of relatives and friends.”

“DEATH OF MR JOHN DELL,” in The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880) Saturday 3rd March 1866. [Online] Cited 15 July, 2012 on the Trove website. trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/72358170

See the Rootsweb website for more information on John Dell.

.

.

W. Paul Dowling,
Photographer,
John Dell
1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866
Launceston,
Tasmania.
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

John Dell
Born at Reading, Berkshire
5 Nov 1763
came out with his regiment (the 102nd) to Sydney in 1788
Nov 5th 1763

In pencil on verso

.

.

W. Paul Dowling,
Photographer,
John Dell
1851-1852 / 1859 – 1866
Launceston,
Tasmania.
Cartes de visite
Albumen print
6.3cm x 10.4cm
© Joyce Evans collection

.

.

Endnotes

1. Augé, Marc (trans. John Howe). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995.

2. Ibid.,

3. Hooper-Grenhill, Eilean. Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2000, p.7.

4. Anon. “Panopticon,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon

5. Hooper-Grenhill Op cit., p.8.

6. Brown, Jeff quoted on Stroud, Jeff. The reluctant blogger website. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.
jeffstroud.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/884/

.

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Travel Ideals: Engaging with Spaces of Mobility conference website

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13
Nov
08

The First Australians: SBS TV Australia

A wonderful long overdue documentary series on SBS television about the history of ‘Terra Nullius’, the white occupation of lands through the persecutions, massacres and genocide acted on the Aboriginal population.
Although some of the ‘academic’ comment lacks balance this can hardly be blamed.
As an Englishman who is now an Australian I feel deep shame over the actions of my predecessors and empathy towards those whose civilization was uprooted.
And so it continues …

In episode 3 the nobleness of the Aboriginal leader Barak broke my heart

“And may the Lord bless you sir,
and give you good knowledge.”

he wrote to his persecutors.

After his son had died
After the promises had been broken.

There is a moment in Greek tragedy when the hero realises all he knows is untrue: peripateum. Barak must have had such a moment and he returned to his people and his cultural roots, in the last years of his life painting his memories: alive, wonderful, moving.

Vale

http://www.sbs.com.au/firstaustralians/




Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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