Flagstaff Gardens. A space of places...
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
The first day of the Lithograph and Intaglio Projects was spent at Flagstaff Gardens. The site visit was done after we watched Two Thirds Sky, 2002, a documentary which followed the creative journey of five contemporary Australian artists from blank page to finished artwork. Each artist had a different relationship to the land they painted yet all attempted to express their identity through their work. All saw Indigenous Australian art as an important influence on their contemporary work.
RMIT lecturer, Andrew Gunnell, explained the history of one of Melbourne’s oldest parks, a meeting place for Aboriginals and later the first White Settlers who travelled across it’s diagonal path, through the gardens from New South Wales and Tasmania. Under the grounds there is a the old flag station which had been used to communicate to the bay at Williamstown. There had been a beautiful pristine pool, that the sheep that were kept at the gardens must have enjoyed. Later that pool had been drained.
Once the highest natural vantage point of Melbourne, slowly the city grew around it, eventually blocking the views to the sea. The songs of the Aboriginal people and the bleating sheep are gone. Now the marketplace and traffic, and those indescribable sounds that make up a hum of a city, add audible textures to the fabric of the gardens. This is the new song of construction, deconstruction and travellers.
Today there are almost no native plants in the gardens. The scape, once bush, then an agricultural and functioning flag station, is now a completely manufactured traditional European park used for recreation and natural respite from the busy city that surrounds it. Ironically the imported elms are heritage listed over the ancient gumtrees that would have stood on the hill prior to colonisation.
I explore the gardens, feeling the layers of history, finding a way to make gestures and symbols that represent this complicated history. Layers and embedded meaning which denote the changing nature of place. I do lots of rubbings with crayon into my notebook. I rub my copper plate across the asphalt. What does it look like to get the essence of a place on paper?
The collars of the trees, made to protect the elms from the native possums, remind me of the collars of captured Aboriginals after colonisation. I think of the Thornbury St Georges Road Koori Mural by artists Megan Evans, Les Griggs, Ian Johnson, Eleain Trott, Ray Thomas and Millie Yarran.
Colonisation, and what it means for the First People has weighing on my mind a lot after I watched the Adam Goodes documentary, The Australian Dream, last week. I want to explore the symbol of these collars in my lithograph project.
I am also interested in the interesting-looking rope play equipment found in the children’s’ playground at Flagstaff Gardens. The inter-connections of ropes, bolts and loops are evocative of the intersections of multiple stories connected to this place. It is a new meeting place, full of tensions, layers and collars in a place rich with meaning. I spend time capturing the essence of this play equipment through drawings and photos. I am interested in exploring the motif of abstracted play equipment in my intaglios.