The colony of Australia loves to perpetuate an ‘Australian story’ – one of hard work in red soil and bushmen on horseback turning the untamed continent into the lucky country. This is white storytelling – storytelling that seeks to falsely build a national identity without taking responsibility for its actions.
The truth is, this continent is home to several hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations and groups, as it has been for thousands of years. Some estimate 65,000 years, but our creation stories tell us that our existence on this land stretches even further back than that. The colony of Australia refuses to acknowledge the invasion and continued occupation of Aboriginal lands, while also actively covering up the genocide endured by Aboriginal peoples.
While the colony of South Australia wasn’t established until 1836, Europeans had been invading and trespassing on Ngarrindjeri Ruwi Country and Kaurna Yarta Country since the English navigator Matthew Flinders came here in around 1802. Soon after his arrival, whaling and sealing settlements were established along the harsh coastlines of Karta Pintingka (the Kaurna name for Kangaroo Island, which translates as ‘Island of the Dead’) and what is known as the Fleurieu Peninsula. These industries were run by early colonists, opportunists who not only established commercial ties with the eastern colonies (New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania) but also laid the foundation for the colony of South Australia. The arrival of the Europeans also ushered in the commencement of the Frontier Wars between colonisers and the Aboriginal nations within these regions. Horrific acts of violence and genocide were inflicted upon Aboriginal peoples, acts that have evolved and continue to this day.
Most local Aboriginal families have stories of early interactions with whalers and sealers; some of us are even their descendants. A lot of these stories revolve around the enslavement and rape of Aboriginal women. The stories also describe the harsh living conditions endured by these women and their children (who were often born from rape), with some dying in tragic circumstances. The removal of these women was an early act of Aboriginal displacement. Today the colony of South Australia celebrates and memorialises the whalers and sealers, while the Aboriginal stories – particularly those of Aboriginal women – are ignored and denied.
The armed forces of South Australia (the police) were instrumental in fighting and killing Aboriginal men. The presence of police in the lives of Aboriginal peoples continued through the years. Police were actively involved in forcing Aboriginal peoples to live on Christian missions, assisting in the removal of Aboriginal children (the ‘Stolen Generations’), the surveillance of Aboriginal communities, the building of the prison-industrial system and deaths in custody. The violence used to build the colony continues to be used to maintain it.
The Fleurieu Peninsula’s windy coastline is dotted with small towns that were once whaling ports, now connected by an ever-stretching line of beach houses. Overdeveloped getaways, all reaching for a view of the bays they clutter. It’s hard to find a spot where the colony hasn’t reached; the landscape is consistently interrupted. Kangaroo Island has some pockets of natural landscape remaining. The presence of industrial farming is inescapable, but the island’s disconnection has saved it from being overdeveloped like the mainland. While whaling and sealing are no longer conducted, other exploitative industries prop up the state’s economy: mining and fisheries, as well as farming. Meanwhile the urban landscape continues to encroach. All are taking their toll on the environment, while interrupting the relationship between Aboriginal communities and their land.
James Tylor’s photographs capture unpopulated and undeveloped landscapes, allowing us to imagine what these spaces once were. The black cut-outs are a reminder of what the colonisers have taken and destroyed, while simultaneously obscuring what they have built.