architecture, landscape, topographics

at Andamooka

March 14, 2016

The blurb for  Lars Heldmann’s  fascinating  ouThere photography  exhibition at the South Coast Regional Art Gallery (Old Goolwa Police Station)  of  the mining  towns and landscapes in and around  Roxby Downs ,  Andamooka and Cooper Pedy in  northern South Australia  says that the images in the exhibition “give us access to the remote and vast  interior, which is in contrast to our living environment along the coast and interior waters.” It is an interesting attempt to uncover the missing narratives of our regional  pastas well as a search for things that many of us in Adelaide did not know existed.   The art works of this region are few and far between.  I know of  no  reclamation art that has been produced by the visual arts community,  or any rehabilitation work  done by  landscape architects.

The ouThere exhibition  reminded me of my images of Andamooka. So I went back to the archive   and had a look at the images  that were   probably made  around the beginning of the 21st century.  We spent several days at Andamooka,  but we never took the opportunity to go  on to explore Lake Torrens National Park to the east,  nor drive north to Marree, which is at the junction of the  Oodnadatta Track and the Birdsville Track. The reason was that we were  tourists, travelling in a little Ford Laser,  without access to a 4 wheel drive.

petrol pump, Andamooka

petrol pump, Andamooka

The odd image  from my Andamooka  work  has made its way into  the Regional Landscapes: South Australia and Edgelands portfolios.

I didn’t see  this  part of South Australia as the unknown or the Australian  Outback. People live and work here.   For instance, the  nearby town of Woomera was a military town, whilst  Roxby Downs and Andamooka are mining landscapes  and towns –industrial and pre-industrial.  Andamooka, at that time,  was more or less,   a declining shanty town with abandoned mining shafts,   since the opal field was mined out during the 1970’s. There was little sign  of the Aboriginal  people who would have had a long-standing connection with the area. 

The impact of mining has been particularly significant in Australia as it has always been part of its history. Post-colonial Australia continues  its push towards strengthening its mining industry and there must be hundreds of operating mines in Australia. Mining plays an   immense importance  for the economy of such resource-rich  Australia.   It is a boom bust industry  and what was so noticeable about this  region was the way that the mining industry  continues to  both alter landscapes and  to impact on communities through the extraction of natural resources.

This  photo trip was  made before I owned a digital camera–it was still a pre-digital  photography world for me– and  so my walk about camera was my  old  film Leica, an M4-P:
playground, Andamooka

playground, Andamooka

The landscape around Andamooka is a post-mining landscape: a wounded one with a degree of unsettledness, hard luck stories,  and a sense of the uncanny that is associated with  estrangement, isolation, and the fear of  violence and death.

The post mining landscape is not being rehabilitated,  despite  the growing public awareness since the 1970s, of  the mining industry’s  huge footprint on the landscape and  the  detrimental effects on the environment. It is unlikely that there will be any mine site rehabilitation here in either the ecological or social sense.

regrowth, Andamooka

regrowth, Andamooka

These post-mined landscapes will be left to recover or heal on their own as reclamation  (minimising the negative impacts that the site may have on the surrounding environment)  or rehabilitation  (returning  the altered landscapes to an original state) is not being considered.

Andamooka is a non-place with no memory in the  South Australian imaginary. What happened to the Indigenous Australian’s– the Kokatha people?— who belonged to this landscape. Was the establishment of pastoralism  based on a brutal subjugation of Indigenous people and a  violent appropriation of Indigenous land?  Does it have  future that is different from being a shanty town? Will it evolve from an opal mining and tourism town into a residential base for people employed in the mine or in service industries in Roxby Downs?

shanty town, Andamooka

shanty town, Andamooka

Pastoralism, which turns the leased  land into paddocks for  sheep and cattle farms  is still the residual in the outback or rural spaces of the nation.  This pastoralism  is  often premised around  white inhabitants’ desires to belong to the country–their home— and the allusive  signs of something the nation has lost.  Non-Aboriginal belonging to these pastoral  properties  is  usually figured in terms of alienation and loss, turning narratives of origins and settlement into questions about destinations, haunting  and ghosts. Non-Aboriginal belonging to deemed to be  fraught and unsettling, especially in spaces where there are unsettled, contested native title claims to place.

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