Monday, July 30, 2007


The landscape of the Monaro region, the snow country of southern new south wales, haunts and fascinates me.
I fall silent as I pass through it, watching the pale sun reflected off bleached grass and the piles of stones erupting, cairn-like, from the rolling plains.
Sheep flock the pastures, rugged as the silver fields, enacting Les murray's poem, in which
"sheep trotted and propped, and shook ice from their wool"

Feral dogs lurk on the fringes of the clearing, their dingo-ness makes them invisible enough to creeep down and steal sheep.
Eastern grey kangaroos sit on the periphery, shaking thir ears.

The sensuous hills wind all the way to the bottom of the Snowy Mountains, where they regain their very fine attire of silver tussock grass and eucalypts.
Currawongs calling, culla wong cullawong, culla wooo
Despite my love and fascination for this place, it is a site of duality: I love the open hills, but am repelled by the knowledge that they were scraped bare by human hand, tamed and exposed.

The piles of stone were once nestled between trees, before the settlers came to battle with this recalcitrant and strange land, felling the trees, splitting stone in a battle with the elements on which the settlers' survival depended.

A landscape of erasure.

This is a site where much nationalistic identity is forged, the man from snowy river, rides here in blundstones and RM Williams, splashing through the river, rounding up the wild colt. Recently, this image was re-addressed in the film jindabyne,however the landscape here seems to rupture, shifting and grating against the senses, in its alienness and its contorted wildness. Images are overexposed, glary. A girl is taken from those open plains, her pale corpse later floats on those icy waters, and this pivotal act is never addressed, only all the different responses to it.

This landscape is testament not only to those settlers, those landed pastoralists who tried to erase the possum-cloaked tribes back into the mountains, but of those sons of the Baltic, lonely Latvians and Poles, who, with the promise of a new life, toiled and scraped, to create the Snowy River Hydro Scheme. Breaking rocks, digging, constructing.
It is the history of lonely blond brides, taken from small German towns, and told to wait, until the better life arrived.

The colossal dam required the flooding of the entire valley.
They say you can see the church spire now, in this drought, of the old town of jindabyne which lies beneath the water, but i have never seen it.
Rainbow trout poke around the old windows, I imagine, and they belong there as much as a church belongs at the bottom of a dam, erased and drowned.


meggie said...

This post evoked such sad feelings, Fifi, for the men who worked so tirelessly to achieve the dams, the horrible introduction to a 'land of promise'. I have seen that country, & it speaks of desolation, & sadness.
How eloquent your words are.

ganching said...

Jindabyne was a really good film - one of those movies that stay with you (and also one of only a tiny handful of movies I've ever seen where some Irish is spoken).

Very evocative post.

jellyhead said...

What an emotive post fifi, with such stunning accompanying photos.

Jindabyne was a very good but disturbing film. Perhaps part of the reason for its sinister undertone is, as you say, that what happened to the dead woman is never addressed. And the reactions to her death are horrifying enough as it is.

I love your descriptive writing... I really enjoyed this post!

rackorf said...

I would have loved to see our country prior to its rape and pillage. At one stage our forests were actually increasing in size, then in two hundred years we have trashed the place and destroyed what had been there for eons.
Hopefully the last great forests of Tasmania will be able to be saved.

riseoutofme said...

Evocative post.

Amazing, the capabilities of man.

Mind-numbing, the ineptitude of same man.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Ahhh. I read the ballad of "The man from Snowy Mountain" after I drove through the Snowy Mountain, long before I was married and settled. Thank you for reminding me of a very special time in my life. (Wistful smile.)

fifi said...

Meggie, yes it speaks of desolation but I can't help being seduced by those beguiling silver hills...

Ganching, I am impressed that you have seen this film, wondering if you saw it here or there?

Jelly, my 13 year old STILL discuss those elements of he film, I like when something resonates long after it ends.
Thanks, I am glad you liked it.

Rack, I ofetn walk around envisaging the "prior" world. Its a habit. Sort of like having a mental version of photoshop.

Rise, I guess at the time that people saw it as the right thing to be doing, taming nature in the name of progress

Shrink, wow, that you had a special time, in my special place, is kind of amazing.
this is exciting...we're "live".

it's the little things... said...

Thank you for such a great pictoral tour. I don't claim to know a lot about your country, but still found myself shocked to read that man took down forests there.
I've always thought of the majority of Australia as barren!
Which is how most people think of Texas, even though where I live is lush, green, and humid.

ganching said...

fifi I saw the film in London - I think it was on in a quite a few cinemas here.

Arcturus said...

This post is beautiful ... it's lyrical.

Did you know that forest cover in the Lower 48 continental United States actually reached a minimum around 1910 and then stabilized and even increased a bit as people moved off farms into cities. Amazingly, despite the massive suburbanization and far-flung sprawl, forest cover in the Lower 48 isn't that much changed from what it was a century ago. It seemes -- is to some extent -- counterintuitive.

meli said...

We have many hills like that in South Australia too. I have the same reaction - I really love the bareness and the contours of them - the browns and wheats and golds and greys, and all the colours in between, and the gravity of the odd tree or stone. But I know they are not supposed to be like that...

I used to try really hard to imagine the country around Mt Gambier before it was cleared and cultivated. It's quite hard, it's covered in fields and pine forests now.