The weather along the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula over the Xmas break was surprisingly cool; surprisingly so, given the record breaking heatwave across central and south-eastern Australia.
Despite having several friends stay with us in and around the Xmas break, it was a quiet holiday for me. I’d sprained my right shoulder one morning just before Xmas day whilst helping Suzanne to make the bed.
The shoulder became inflamed and, as it involved shoulder bursitis pain, I was obliged to rest the right arm in a sling for a couple of days over Xmas before seeing a physiotherapist late in the Xmas/New Year Day week. I was given a set of exercises to do for a week to strengthen the strained shoulder muscle.
Then the injury would be reassessed. The prognosis was that it could take 2-8 weeks to heal, depending on how I responded to the various exercises. I’ve had good days and bad days so far.
Despite having some large format photos sessions on the coast lined up for the cool, overcast conditions, my plan to use the Linhof tripod and Technika field camera came to naught. Using this kind of heavy equipment was simply beyond my physical capabilities.
The shoulder bursitis limited my photography on the poodlewalks, as even my usual carry around cameras were initially too heavy for me to be able to hold them in my right hand to photograph. I was just able to hand hold and manually work the modified Sony NEX 7 without experiencing shoulder pain.
The NEX-7 is limited technology as it has no machine learning built into its minimal computational photography. Its modification meant I was limited to macro photography during the week, and this tended towards abstraction.
The boaties were out in force in this period, and with the overcast conditions, I was able to wander amongst their 4 wheel drives photographing their more interesting headlights in the late afternoon light.
There was a lot of pain in my right arm and I had to take anti-inflammatories and frequently rest the arm. The strength slowly returned to my right arm, enough for me to start using the heavier carry around cameras on the poodlewalks, and to do something other than make abstractions.
Maybe my focus on abstractions over the Xmas break was because I’d seen the stunning John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new exhibition at the South Australian Art Gallery, just prior to Xmas.
The tools that Mawurndjul used to make the cross hatching bark paintings were sparse indeed: the stringy bark eucalypt that form the body of his bark paintings; the white clay, yellow and red ochres that become paint; and the manyilk, the paint brush sedge that makes the single-strand brushes that the artist uses to make cross-hatching or rarrk. This simplicity made the quality of his representations of his people’s sacred sites in western Arnhem Land even more impressive.
My post Enlightenment response to the coastal land and sea is different to that of Mawurndjul, as there are no sacred sites along the coast for me. This landscape is not a sacred landscape, as I see it in terms of natural history that is shaped and formed by natural forces, (sea, wind, rain, earth). It is an ephemeral landscape: the sand comes and goes, as does the seaweed; the waves are never the same etc etc.
I do realise that I have sites of significance along the coast, in the sense that these are ones that I return to again and again.The particular sites are invested with special attributes for me and so they are a signified landscape, rather than bare granite rock.
It is a personal signification: this site is where Kayla found the dead bird and I spend a couple of mornings photographing it; this is where I was drenched by a rogue wave; this is where I fell on the granite, saving my cameras but badly hurting my thigh; this is where my light meter slipped from the camera bag into a rock poo; the fresh spring water flowing down the cliff face where the old kangaroo died. . The incidents these sites in my country have not been elaborated into stories.
This is a form of signification quite different to that of a colonial nationalism that was based on the racial purity and the exclusion of others; one that celebrated what seemed unique in the Australian landscape and which cast around for symbols and emblems of an essential Australianness. The term bush, for instance, became part of an Australian preoccupation with national identity and purpose.
Some of the physical places of the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula would be experienced and signified differently by different groups–eg., the colonial discourse of the white settlers in Encounter Bay; the writings of the Dresden missionaries in South Australia (eg., C. G. Teichelmann and G. Taplin on the mythology, traditions, customs and folklore of the Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri people; or the Ramindjeri and Ngarrindjeri’s Dreaming narratives, cosmologies and stories.
The cultural knowledge of the Ngarrindjeri’s close relationship to the land and their history of being in this place from colonial Australia to today is very different to mine. I lack the cultural knowledge and understanding that is required to appreciate the significance of the Ngarrindjeri’s Dreaming narratives about Ngurunderi’s ( the Ngarrindjeri’s Ancestral Hero) creative travels along the Lower Murray, the Coorong and the Fleurieu Peninsula. The significant landmarks of this place –eg., Kungkengguwar (Rosetta Head), held considerable spiritual significance for the Ngarrindjeri people before tourists took them over for their own.
So I have my own personal significations as a way to conceptualise Australian landscape photography.