Creative exploration of colonial ruin and Indigenous identity in the Flinders Ranges

Published 27 April 2016

Colonisation in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges and its impact on history and identity is being explored in a new digital media production led by Southern Cross University digital media artist, Associate Professor Grayson Cooke.

Called UNSETTLED, the project includes archival research, audio-visual media art and documentary filmmaking, including interviews with Adnyamathanha people and other residents of the Flinders Ranges. The producers are Professor Cooke and Dea Morgain.

“The abandoned farmhouse, the crumbling outback hotel - ruins are romantic, nostalgic places, just waiting for you to pull over, nip through the gate or over the fence, and whip out your smartphone for a few choice snaps,” said Professor Cooke.

“But how can we understand these places? Ruins are rich sites of personal and collective memory: they speak of challenge, of overcoming, of despair. They are visible testament to the forces of nature and history; and in Australia, they speak of Indigenous dispossession just as much as they speak of settler-colonial struggle.

“As a site filled with colonial ruins, the Flinders offer the opportunity to move beyond the nostalgia typical of settler-colonial representations to unearth stories frequently obscured by colonial rubble. The Flinders Ranges are immensely significant for their geological richness, but they are archives of human struggle as well. The stories, for instance, of the Adnyamathanha people upon whose lands the colonial ruins stand.

"We think UNSETTLED is really important in terms of Australian history and identity.”

UNSETTLED has the support of the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association (ATLA).

“UNSETTLED has the potential to open up new conversations between Adnyamathanha people and the wider community. It will expose new audiences to the role that Adnyamathanha people play in the life of the Flinders Ranges,” said ATLA chief executive officer,Vince Coulthard.

The producers have partnered with the State Library of South Australia (SLSA) and the ATLA on this project. Together, they’ll be trawling through the State Library’s incredible collection of photographs and documents from the 19th and 20th centuries.

UNSETTLED is slated for exhibition at the SLSA in 2017 – but requires crowdfunding to get there. The project has received MATCH funding from the Australian Cultural Fund (ACF), which means that if the artists reach their funding target of $10,000, the ACF will match this amount with funds from philanthropic donations.

“We are also really excited to be crowdfunding the costs for the exhibition,” said Ms Morgain.

"Funding academic and creative research through public funds is a great test of the cultural worth of a project. We think this project is of national significance both for its focus on the Flinders, and also through its use of archival imagery. For instance, we will be using some of the State Library’s incredible images that Charles Mountford shot at the Nepabunna Aboriginal Mission in the 1930s, beautiful candid portraits of people that markedly depart from the anthropological tendencies of the time.”

Beverly Scott, marketing manager for the SLSA, said the Library was supportive of UNSETTLED.

“We are committed to developing partnerships with artists and researchers that encourage the exploration of our collections in new and innovative ways. We feel that that UNSETTLED’s innovative approach to re-imagining archival material has the potential to attract a new audience to the library."

Visit the ACF website for information on the UNSETTLED project and crowdfunding campaign.

Photo: Agnes Mitchell, wife of Reverend Robert Mitchell who was a minister in Beltana in the 1890s.

Media contact: Sharlene King media officer, Southern Cross University, 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.