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The makings of a trilogy


The impetus to work from the landscape after a gap of some thirty years came from a voyage made to Antarctica in 1987. After sustaining a broken leg on my first step ashore on remote Heard Island, I was compelled to view the landscape from a fixed position. This was either on shore, where I was carried to a specific spot to work for four or five hours and where I could see only from left to right for some 180 degrees, or from the ship’s deck where I could view the shore or seascape from either port or starboard from a similar expanse from bow to stern. I was thus enforced to trace in a lineal fashion the panorama before me page by page, usually working from left to right but sometimes backwards right to left, filling many sketchbooks. As Barry Lopez points out, ‘Perceptions wash over the land like a flood, leaving ideas hung up like pieces of damp paper to be collected and deciphered’.1 Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams, Scribners, New York, 1986. This was the raw material, but the task did not end there: 

Although based on astute observation of the raw physical world the stimulus needs to be shaped so as to bring out both the internal structure of the physical world and its broader spiritual significance. It is the quality of the ‘structuring’ that counts. This applies as much to a painting’s compositional arrangement as to the ideas contained within it, for they are integrated as one.2 Gordon Brown, Colin McCahon: Artist, Reed, Wellington, 1984.

The task was to expand these raw on-the-spot drawings into painting and to keep alive the perceptions and spiritual values that I believed were significant to the sense of ‘place’, for:

it is precisely what is ‘invisible’ in the land that makes what is merely empty space to one person a ‘place’ to another. The feeling that the particular place is suffused with memories, the specific focus of sacred and profane stories and that the whole landscape is a congeries of special places, is what is meant by a sense of the land.3 Lopez, Arctic Dreams.

Passengers on Voyage Six to the Antarctic in 1987 included distinguished academics; one of these was Dr Rhys Jones of the Australian National University. In a lecture aboard ship he talked about Tasmania’s glacial past in relation to the Aborigines. He likened Heard Island to the situation in south–west Tasmania at the time of the last Ice Age, when Kuti Kina Cave was occupied. I noted in my journal at the time, ‘Makes me think again of the ancestral piece I have in mind’.4 Bea Maddock, Journal, 12 January 1987. So a link with the prehistoric landscape of my home state, Tasmania, was fixed firmly in my mind with the actual landscape of Heard Island.

On my return to Hobart from Antarctica, I received an invitation from the Australian National Gallery to make a painting for the ANZ Bicentennial Art Commissions and, as I had already conceived the idea for a multi-panelled work on board ship, the opportunity to begin work immediately was welcome. The painting originally was to have seven small central panels, with two larger flanking panels on each end (fig. 1). The panorama was to be based on the drawings done on Heard Island on that bleak January day, where mountain, volcano, ice, sea and sub-Antarctic climate met in a primordial landscape of austere grandeur and beauty. The seven central panels were to contain that sense of primeval time and to represent the genesis. This idea was finally embedded in the painted surface with collaged numbers one to seven. In the process of the painting, the flanking panels were discarded, leaving the seven central panels alone and intact. The first of the paintings in the trilogy became We live in the meanings we are able to discern.

 

As the painting began I was reading the journal of George Augustus Robinson and extracting Aboriginal place-names of the south–west and west–coast tribes.5 Minnerronene, Winnibberler, Manwoneer, Maggermarenerone, Nomeme, Niblin, Trylerrer, Gonovar, Maggerner, Jinyouner, Lowgerroun, Maydin, Oyerlare, Laylooner, Tayrim, Lowgernoun, Piddebuke, Warrounrim, Cowerlunenup, Minderrenne, Neerapper, Pinderrenne, Honedimmer, Laydewyreek, Toimeninnurither, Parloondurrick, Leendimrooer, Padedegileliminerwadic, Linghenner, Maywoorim, Narmoorowerdim, Tablabberrenuke, Poinerduddick, Nongor, Tyberlucker, Meebberlee, Towwenric; N. J. B. Plomley, Friendly Mission: The Tasmanian Journals and Papers of George Augustus Robinson 1829–1834, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart, 1966. These place-names were finally painted on the panels in fire-ash, in three lineal bands across the seven panels, underneath the encaustic wax surface, and in pictorial structure below the panoramic landscape. On this section of the painting let Robinson have the last words: ‘I knew them in their own native wilderness… and… turn to these memories of our departed friends and weep in silence.’6 N.J. B. Plomley, Weep in Silence: A History of the Flinders Island Aboriginal Settlement, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1987.

The third horizontal band in the composition of the seven panels contains twenty-one framed cibachrome photographs. In an early concept of the picture, these were to consist of photographs taken at the same time and place as the landscape was drawn.      

However, on seeing several colour tests of my photograph of the Baudessin Glacier on Heard Island, I decided to use the repeated image like a ‘cut’ of movie film to represent actual time and place and to ‘recall the sweep of savage splendor’.7 Douglas Mawson, Home of the Blizzard: Being the Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911–1914, Rigby, Adelaide, 1969. So in describing the painting at the time of its completion in May 1987, I wrote:

  

The painting We live in the meanings we are able to discern is mainly about time, place and settlement. The time references are pictorial and relate to time present and time past. The place references include Heard Island and Tasmania. Settlement and the outcomes of settlement are also related to time past and time present.8 Bea Maddock, The ANZ Bicentennial Art Commissions Catalogue, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Melbourne, 1987.

The second painting in the trilogy is called Tromemannerforgive us our trespass. Tromemanner is a Tasmanian Aboriginal word from the Oyster Bay tribe meaning ‘my own country’, as in ‘tribal land’.9 N. J. B. Plomley, A Word-List of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Languages, Government of Tasmania, Launceston, 1976. So this second work of the one, two, three sequence had brought me back home to the heart of my own country.

I had been contemplating a work based on the ancestral lands of the Tasmanian Aborigines long before the journey to Antarctica. The original idea involved the use of stone artefacts in some kind of stone circle. The first reference made to a title is ‘Circle that leads to nowhere but only encloses’,10 Maddock, Journal, 27 October 1985. then ‘Stones of the Tasmanians’.11 ibid., 8 July 1986. Eleven months later I ‘resolved to make a floor piece with circles of stones, each to have a flax-thread bag to contain them in the centre of each circle’.12 ibid., 23 September 1986. Throughout this phase there were references to making a hand-made book to document the stones, such as ‘single sheets, possibly with ash-glue tinted base… Stones can then be boxed or used for the circle piece’.13 ibid., 13 October 1986. Titles mooted were ‘Remnants of the race against time’14 ibid., July 1986. and ‘The past remains’.15 ibid., 1988. The book was in production in May 1990 with the title Artifacts from Tromemanner

On completing the Heard Island panels and the sojourn in Hobart,16 The Heard Island panels were painted in an improvised workspace at 6 Regent Street, Sandy Bay, Hobart, while I was receiving physiotherapy at the Royal Hobart Hospital, February–June 1987. I returned to my studio in Launceston to work on the Antarctic Suite of etchings. I was seeing the landscape in a new way; it was a landscape that the Aboriginals had walked upon for more than 20 000 years. In Gwen Harwood’s words: 

  

through the she-oaks and the grasslands through the dark, bruised Tasmanian air. 

 

A hint of Antarctic in the air. An anguish I had never known was here, somewhere, in all the elements. 

the ominous beautiful Tasmanian landscape.17 ‘The many voices of Gwen Harwood’, Australian, 1 January 1989. 

My first reference to the Tromemanner landscape is: ‘I relook at the hills around Tunbridge [they] would make a good series. Thinking of the Aborigines and came up with “whose feet surely walked these hills” from “and did those feet in ancient time”’,18 Maddock, Journal, 25 December 1987. and later ‘I will have to keep worrying these ideas out until there is a solution made’.19 ibid., 8 February 1988.

 

Having just completed the Antarctic Suite of etchings in April 1988, I was invited to exhibit paintings in the Manton Exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery in the following year. This provided the impetus for me to begin gathering together the scattered ideas relating to the Tunbridge landscape and the artefacts. Early notes indicate: ‘ideas for five-panelled work for Queensland (fig. 2). Based on (the) Tunbridge landscape – will include drawings of stones (artifacts) that can also be editioned for small book. Maybe the stones also!’20 ibid., 16 June 1988. In order to begin work on the panels I stayed in the midlands of Tasmania for ten days, making many journeys over the routes likely to be taken by the Aborigines in their seasonal treks to and from the east coast. The Salt-Pan Plains at Tunbridge are in an area where three tribal boundaries met and where there was apparently much coming and going. I researched early written accounts of these movements’21 H. Ling Roth, The Aborigines of Tasmania, (facs. of 1899 edn), Fullers, Hobart, 1968. and did a great deal of reading relating to the types of artefacts made in Tasmania and their use. I spent each day making detailed drawings of the hills surrounding the Salt-Pan Plains, working in all weathers, including during the thunderstorms that frequently occur in the area at that time of the year.22 17–27 November 1988.

Finally the panels, now reduced to four, contained all that remained of the bands of people whose land is depicted: the landscape, the language and the artefacts. I had decided to include a single line of words across the panels.23 mienteina poimena poymalangta teekerloner: numrarerernarne maruer malumnyella trowutta loantennina: mina teanerpare myyenna teroona parrawemmenne meemurrer peoora mienteina; Plomley, Word-List. They make up a translatable and meaningful script to me, but because I wish them to be read in the original, they are to remain untranslated, for ‘when not understood, words appear in their greatest physicality, dense, concrete and singular’,24 Stephan Fredman, Not Understanding, 1983. and here they represent more poignantly what has been lost. 

The artefacts, numbering forty-eight across the four panels, are encased in small boxes lined with clay and ash. They are wrapped in melaleuca bark and tied with hand-made flax-string in the manner depicted in the Lesueur drawing of the Maria Island tomb from the Baudin expedition of 1802. Artefacts – artefact – a work of art as a product: arte (ars) + factum (facere) to make, are stones of the hand and heart. Many of them still retain stains from the hands that originally held them. 

The third and final painting in the series of three is called Tauraibut in the memory of time. Taurai is an ancient Aboriginal word ‘conveying the idea of territorial possession and an aura of meanings surrounding that idea’.25 Ν. B. Tindale, Aboriginal Tribes of Australia, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1974. The territory referred to in the painting is that now occupied by the city of Melbourne and its surrounds. The painting was commissioned by the Hugh D. T. Williamson Foundation for the National Gallery of Victoria with the stipulation that it be related to Melbourne in some way. My response was to see the painting as a three-panelled work to complement the previous two paintings. It would include a panorama of the city from a distance as I had seen it on many occasions from the elevation of Mt Holden at Sunbury. The city was to be in the central panel, flanked by the Dandenong Ranges and the You Yangs (fig. 3). There would also be a reference made to the previous occupation of the land by the Kulin tribes, a stormy sky and some reference to the inner city structure (fig. 4). 

This last painting in the trilogy turned out to be the most complex and the most difficult to make, for in conceiving, trying out, rejecting, going back to earlier solutions then rejecting them again, it all became like a crazy journey through a wilderness of projections and ideas. In the end, one has to accept the ultimate disillusionment and work within one’s own limits. As Willem de Kooning relates:

  

sometimes I find myself having become desperate. Very seldom do I start out that way. I can see of course that, in the abstract, thinking and all activity is rather desperate. When an idea is given, one is stuck with it. You cannot help seeing it and using it as a possibility.26 Willem de Kooning, Willem de Kooning: Pittsburgh International Series, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1979–80.     

The painting consists primarily of three long horizontal sections across the three panels. The upper section represents the sky and future time; the middle section, middle earth and the present; the lower section, underground and the past. Many titles or ‘song lines’ accompanied the various stages of the development of the painting. An early one was ‘if you dig down deep enough to the real bones there are no monuments’; then, added later, ‘and a hard rain is going to fall’; followed by ‘Taurai – the grey stones are silent’; a shortened version of the first, ‘if you dig down there are no monuments’; and, in a joyous moment, ‘Taurai – and all the hills echoed it’; finally ‘Taurai – but in the memory of time’.27 Maddock, Journal, 18 June; 20 August; 3, 22, 25 September; 28 November 1989.

The memory of time is particularly relevant to the twenty-four consecutive days spent drawing in the landscape and is documented within the picture by the use of collaged journal notes. Collage provides for the interception of two or more systems of representation or the ‘layering’ of the information. In the middle section of the panels, journal notes, reconstructed collaged landscape and superimposed lineal drawing are all used beneath or within the layers of encaustic. As noted while working on this section: ‘the collage and encaustic journal works – the centre of each page is split to form a middle band of colour. (In) recycling the colour sketches a new mini landscape emerges, much more authentic than the original. The side panels will have the enlarged drawing over in grey’.28 ibid., 29 September 1989. ‘The city was recomposed from two colour sketches, using the two sections alternately.’29 ibid., 10 October 1989. The superimposed drawings of the Dandenongs on the left panel and the You Yangs on the right panel represent the ‘dreamtime’, that is, time past. 

The lower horizontal section of the panels also represents past time, particularly with reference to past occupation, for the forty-five units contain the obscured ‘sound’ letters of the phonetic names of the original Aborigines. ‘The five tribes in the vicinity of Melbourne, the Taungurong, Wurundjerie, Bunurong, Wathaurung and Kurung seemingly crossed the bounds of the units called tribes in other areas’;30 Tindale, Aboriginal Tribes. they are often referred to as the Kulin nation and occupied land from Port Phillip Bay to the Goulburn Valley and the mountains around Healesville. The Kulins met the same fate as the Tasmanian Aborigines, although their demise was not as clearly defined as in the island state. Thus the lower section, being painted with dry earth pigments and ash, represents the earth under the skin of the landscape that contains the secret remains of past occupations. The place where we can metaphorically ‘dig down to the real bones’. 

Originally the panels were to have units in the lower frame as in the previous two pictures. They were to contain paintings or small panels representing the inner structure of the streets and lanes of the city. After many drawings and trial panels the idea was dropped and superseded by the lead strips that separate the horizontal sections of the picture and contain the place-names of the present city. The sequence was as follows: 

taped off the panels into three sections. Dark sky, light panorama and below that the earth section with the tribal names. So the lower section (boxes) was completely eliminated. Just the canvas divided into three sections to make the spatial effect right. Then the idea of lead strips to divide off the sections where the tape had been on the panels – decided to stamp on the area names of the city. So now there is a time sequence built in and I have got away from the base boxes of the other two pictures.31 Maddock, Journal, 3 September 1989.

The upper part of each panel, edged by the lead strip, contains the lineal drawing of a storm. It overshadows the pictorial space and, in menacing the panoramic landscape, represents the ‘hard rain’ of the future. Melbourne and the surrounding basalt plains occupy a location where cloud formations and storms are visually dominant against the low horizon, a situation similar to the midland area of Tasmania where the original storm drawing was made. Throughout the twenty-four days of drawing in the Melbourne area, I was constantly aware of the phenomena of light on buildings and landscape, of man-made pollutants in the atmosphere and the rapidly changing weather with the resultant cloud formations. Many of the notations in the journals are despondant, as: ‘Today was heavy and leaden – somehow in-between – neither bright nor thundery and very oppressive in its neutrality… The clouds were very low and close, like a lid over the landscape, just obstinately hanging over the city’,32 ibid., 12 June 1989. or ‘Still looking at clouds which have been heavy and dark. There is a strong feeling of form as the clouds layer and recede into the long distance.’33 ibid., 2 July 1989. My dominant thoughts throughout were of a city laying waste to the land and the strangeness of  ‘its artificial beauty and worn-out countryside’.34 ibid., 19 June 1989. In the last few hours while waiting to board the boat that would take me back to Tasmania, I noted: 

  

cloud layers coming in from the west – very dark (blue-black) towards the peninsula. Would have been a good day to draw from Maribyrnong. It’s hard to wind down and stop thinking about the picture. Made some drawings of the cloud layers, trying to get the form. Very windy – had plenty of time to watch the passage of the clouds.35 ibid., 7 July 1989.    

Now all the paintings of the trilogy are completed. Looking back at the whole experience, the three ‘journeys’ and the three ‘places’, the observing and the notation, the ideas and the structuring, they have all added up. 

Bea Maddock

Notes 

1     Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams, Scribners, New York, 1986. 

2     Gordon Brown, Colin McCahon: Artist, Reed, Wellington, 1984.

3     Lopez, Arctic Dreams

4     Bea Maddock, Journal, 12 January 1987.

5     Minnerronene, Winnibberler, Manwoneer, Maggermarenerone, Nomeme, Niblin, Trylerrer, Gonovar, Maggerner, Jinyouner, Lowgerroun, Maydin, Oyerlare, Laylooner, Tayrim, Lowgernoun, Piddebuke, Warrounrim, Cowerlunenup, Minderrenne, Neerapper, Pinderrenne, Honedimmer, Laydewyreek, Toimeninnurither, Parloondurrick, Leendimrooer, Padedegileliminerwadic, Linghenner, Maywoorim, Narmoorowerdim, Tablabberrenuke, Poinerduddick, Nongor, Tyberlucker, Meebberlee, Towwenric; N. J. B. Plomley, Friendly Mission: The Tasmanian Journals and Papers of George Augustus Robinson 1829–1834, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart, 1966. 

6     N.J. B. Plomley, Weep in Silence: A History of the Flinders Island Aboriginal Settlement, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1987. 

7     Douglas Mawson, Home of the Blizzard: Being the Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911–1914, Rigby, Adelaide, 1969. 

8     Bea Maddock, The ANZ Bicentennial Art Commissions Catalogue, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Melbourne, 1987. 

9     N. J. B. Plomley, A Word-List of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Languages, Government of Tasmania, Launceston, 1976. 

10     Maddock, Journal, 27 October 1985. 

11     ibid., 8 July 1986. 

12     ibid., 23 September 1986. 

13     ibid., 13 October 1986. 

14     ibid., July 1986. 

15     ibid., 1988. 

16     The Heard Island panels were painted in an improvised workspace at 6 Regent Street, Sandy Bay, Hobart, while I was receiving physiotherapy at the Royal Hobart Hospital, February–June 1987. 

17     ‘The many voices of Gwen Harwood’, Australian, 1 January 1989. 

18     Maddock, Journal, 25 December 1987. 

19     ibid., 8 February 1988. 

20     ibid., 16 June 1988. 

21     H. Ling Roth, The Aborigines of Tasmania, (facs. of 1899 edn), Fullers, Hobart, 1968.

22     17–27 November 1988. 

23     mienteina poimena poymalangta teekerloner: numrarerernarne maruer malumnyella trowutta loantennina: mina teanerpare myyenna teroona parrawemmenne meemurrer peoora mienteina; Plomley, Word-List

24     Stephan Fredman, Not Understanding, 1983. 

25     Ν. B. Tindale, Aboriginal Tribes of Australia, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1974. 

26     Willem de Kooning, Willem de Kooning: Pittsburgh International Series, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1979–80. 

27     Maddock, Journal, 18 June; 20 August; 3, 22, 25 September; 28 November 1989. 

28     ibid., 29 September 1989. 

29     ibid., 10 October 1989. 

30     Tindale, Aboriginal Tribes

31     Maddock, Journal, 3 September 1989. 

32     ibid., 12 June 1989. 

33     ibid., 2 July 1989. 

34     ibid., 19 June 1989. 

35     ibid., 7 July 1989.