Academic journal article ARIEL

Constitutions of Site and Visitor at the Swarbrick Wilderness Discovery Site

Academic journal article ARIEL

Constitutions of Site and Visitor at the Swarbrick Wilderness Discovery Site

Article excerpt

Abstract: Located just off the North Walpole Road, the Swarbrick Wilderness Discovery Site can be seen as a node of several different historical trajectories which are--to different extents--documented in the artworks which frame, or decorate, the site. My account draws on my own biography and probes the investments I have in my various post-settler entanglements with the area. I critique, in particular, the idea of "wilderness" as one formative to post-settler narrations and myths at the same time that it places indigenous practices of belonging under erasure. For, most recently, Swarbrick stood metonymically for the campaign to preserve "old growth forests," culminating at the end of the 1990s, and yet it is and has been also a site of logging, agriculture, Noongar belonging, that is, of pre-colonial and settler colonial spatial practices. In this article, I explore the different ways the Swarbrick Wilderness Discovery site positions itself and, critically, its visitor within frameworks provided by ecocritical and environmental discourse and post-settler theories.

Keywords: postcolonial ecocriticism, post-settler belonging, ficto-criticism, landscape architecture, wilderness


Located just off the North Walpole Road in the southwest corner of the Australian continent, the Swarbrick Wilderness Discovery Site creates multiple meanings through the artworks and installations on site, as well as through its virtual presences. (1) I visited the site in autumn 2007 for the first time, returned in 2010, and I return to it once more here, in this contribution. Completed only in 2006, the site was very new the time I first visited it. My friend Julie took me there, aware of my academically attuned interest in wilderness (resultant in Crane, Myths of Wilderness). Now a biologist assessing the impact of mining projects in the north of Western Australia, in the late 1990s and early 2000s she had been deeply involved in the campaigns to stop logging in the region. Activists faced fines and convictions for their behaviours back then; now the Western Australian government had put aside $300,000 AUS for site construction and interpretative public artworks to "express personal connections to country and evolving community perception of this landscape" (AILA). Some three years later, I returned to the site with my mother, who grew up in the region on a farm and whose brother once worked in a sawmill, this time vested with an autobiographical interest. My companions, human and theoretical, shaped both visits, and my approach was and continues to be angled (cf. Ahmed 37). My own positionings (2) as friend/daughter and scholar, as well as tourist, led me to this attempt to trace how these positionings affected my engagement in the site and the contexts engaged by the site.

I am driven there, the first time, by Julie, in her second-or-third-hand off-road vehicle; I am driven there, from the south, only ten minutes off the round-Australia-Route and we are there; I am driven by my preoccupation with wilderness and readings of postcolonial and environmental philosophies. Julie asks me, "What is wilderness?" and, looking out of the open windows at the trees and paddocks flitting past as we drive on, 1 mutter three or four different answers, trying to reconcile our physical approach with those philosophical accounts with which I am grappling. She knows where we are going. The wind blows through the window as we drive along the bitumen roads; when we hit dirt, the fine particles mixing with the air rush in: smells of dirt and eucalyptus leaves, particles that land in lungs and eyes. Bodily senses confront sense-making.

I drive there, the second time, air-conditioning on, with my mother--driving her to visit the site with me. The approach this time is a trajectory from the north, away from family, whose residences are scattered through the state. Her childhood home, to the southeast, has been sold: the farm, at that small size, no longer financially feasible. …

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