“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such.” Henry Thoreau
All gardens are artificial constructs. English gardens cultivated in Australia in part represent a nostalgia for a distant homeland, creating traditional picturesque spaces that involve taming bush landscapes. Australian explorers and settlers witnessed Indigenous farming and gardening techniques, however, dismissed this rich framework of embedded knowledge as it did not serve a colonial agenda.
This exhibition, shown at Counihan Gallery, Brunswick in 2021, in part, traces explorer Charles Sturt’s 1844-46 search for an inland sea in outback Australia, whereby he transported a boat and two sailors into the Australian desert. In the spirit of Sturt’s expedition, I appropriated walking traditions, psychogeography, performance and dada, taking a small English garden with me to create an alternate narrative of an outback journey. I undertook to observe the terrain and plant life and to call into question colonial attitudes that link to my Dutch horticultural heritage such as clearing land for mining and agriculture whilst maintaining exotic gardens in lands where I was not invited. Observing outback gardens and plants demands a reassessment of plant-human relations and an acknowledgement of climate change.
This expedition was an adventure, shared with my daughter, Scarlet, to visit inland Australia, where there are many inlands and many stories. Our itinerary was punctuated by the names of places on a map, English and Indigenous words, each in a shroud of unknowable histories. There is a disjuncture between maps and terrains, whereby the visceral topography of sites can never be fully represented in two dimensions. We attempted not to be led by preconceived expectations, but rather to visit sites and places whilst being present to the moment of the journey. Travelling to new places is in itself an exciting proposition, (doubly so since Melbourne’s lockdown) and this was coupled in equal proportion with the hazards of remote journeying.
In reading Sturt’s journal prior to departure, (Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia, 1849) there is a sense that he understood the potential importance of his expedition in terms of what it might yield for colonial expansion and his own place in history. We nested this tale with other readings, such as Bruce Pascoe’s seminal book Dark Emu which details Indigenous agricultural practices unseeable to white settlers. We attempted to cultivate ‘direct material engagement with the world.’(Barad, 2007) a quality of noticing whereby the landscape, people, animals, ourselves, rocks, dirt and plants are not separate but connected in and being with all other living creatures or nonliving entities.
In preparing for and charting this journey I sought to be open to many ways of knowing and sensing; sounds, the smells of rain approaching and being attuned to our movements in the landscape. The various forms in this body of work have emerged from a state of uncertainty that resides at the nexus of research and sensory experience, an embracing of the unknown in concert with the search for historical understanding, in order to generate new ways of being and knowing. Linking each material outcome is the wish to meet the urgencies of the present moment and make reparation for the mistakes of the past through fostering deeper connections with all plants and each other.
It is my hope that these artworks create a pause in which to reflect and cultivate care.
I would like to acknowledge traditional owners of the land where I live in Melbourne/Naarm Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people of the Kulin Nations, and owners of lands I travelled through and visited for this project; the Barkandji-Wentworth/Wilcannia/Walgett, Mutthi Mutthi/Ngiyampaa-Mungo, Wiljaali- Broken Hill, Maliangapa, Karenggapa- Channel Country and Baranbinja/Wanaaring- White Cliffs and Nari Nari- Hay.
Acknowledgements: Victor Griss, Nicola Bryant from Counihan Gallery, the install crew: Eamon Sprod, Chris Doyle and Leon van de Graff, Scarlet Sykes Hesterman, Sarah Tomasetti, Philippa Hesterman, Garth Henderson, the crew from All About Graphics, RMIT Print Studios and especially Roger Sykes and my girls.
Heather Hesterman. Garden. 6 Feb -21 March 2021 Counihan Gallery, Brunswick.