South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent. The overlooked Mid North region of South Australia has homes full of small adjustments to the climate. We have overlooked the importance of the geographic ensemble in shaping life-worlds, domestic culture and history. Surveying, analyzing and appropriating real estate images has provided a way to use private images in an imaginative, essential capacity, illuminating the place making changes to a broader audience. An unstudied aesthetic of the region has been discovered, which provides reflective opportunity to both the Mid North region and the wider world. Painting, using my photo collages as a guide, allows me to add or subtract elements, and has the capacity to contribute to an interdisciplinary role with humanistic geography, with its poetic truth. With the possibility of climate change, practices from the Mid North may have applications beyond the area.
I have been invasively looking through real estate pages on the Internet, arranging my own home visits in the district, reading historical accounts and talking with family, to learn more about the homes in the Mid North. They are surprising—cool, aqua-painted walls throughout, twin bed lamps that tell of the promise of reading and gentle conversation, added on TV rooms open to the southerly breezes, and framed pictures placed at a height of eight feet around the rooms.
I didn’t understand what was going on, though it is all so familiar to me—as familiar as jellied peas with cold cuts, and budgies going for a lounge flight, and flower arrangements for the kitchen table using the only six flowers you could find in the summer garden.
I am aware of the political and sociological inferences of home, but my premise is that landscape is felt more intensely to enter the home here and that locals, over time, have come to accept its presence, adapting and using creative problem solving, enhancing their spaces to have a better life, without focusing on fear.
Nicolas Rothwell suggests we can be shaped by Aboriginality. White settlement, of course, caused the near destruction of the Ngadjuri people, but I believe my pioneering ancestors—who had a close relationship with groups on their property—learnt from their alternative intelligence too. Faced with isolation, poverty, a difficult climate, with death all around, the Mid North Imagination was shaped. And it is still evident today. I see it in my family and I see it in the local homes: special plants are given pots under the verandah, or indoor berths; seating arrangements allow enjoyment of the natural environment in numerous orientations in one garden; patterns of shade, not furnace sunshine, are continued in house interiors; social togetherness—lounge rooms with eight recliners with knee rugs suggests care of each other and staying together in a cluster. Toolsheds with three rooms, extension cords coiled neatly, ready for do-it-yourself repairs. And cupboards and vases are filled with the gifts from the garden.
These are all positive signs of nourishing living—in a region where you could easily die of thirst, if the brown snakes or the silence doesn’t get to you first. It is simplified, pared back and practical living.
As climate change progresses, we may do well to look more closely at how a comfortable life is fashioned here. Alan Aitkinson suggests the European contribution to Australia is the capacity to be perverse, with different, unacceptable ways. We may be able to hoist up new ideas.
And as a footnote, I haven’t begun to tell you about the unseen forces one may feel there. The countryside is full of startling revelation that for me can provoke thought, more so than contemporary art installations.
The recent 28-day-long Bangor fire front burnt my cousin Howard’s land near Murraytown. During the night, he feared 300 head of sheep would be lost. By morning only 25 had lost their lives. They had huddled together into a tight circle—their heads down with a barrier of fire-resistant wool—a shield. They knew what to do. And they now have provided a metaphor for our lives.
Hey—switch the television off! Home is more than a fashion statement, status symbol or site for ideological difficulties. We are not Milan, nor a ski resort in Klosters, nor anything else. The grounded, and even primordial knowledge is available to us. (Remember sheep know instinctively what to do with Australia—why can’t we?!)
May I suggest, eyes to the front!
Website portfolio: http://soomichael.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/paintings/