In June of 2014, I took two buses and a train from my home in Fremantle to the trail head of the Bibbulmun Track in Kalamunda. In rain and a leaky jacket I walked for three hours to Hewitt’s Hut, arriving in the dark. Already at the hut was my friend, his brother and two friends of theirs I had never met before. My friend was walking the entire track. His mates had driven in as close they could to the hut. They had brought eskys full of alcohol, meat for the bbq and mobile phones to watch AFL on.
In John Dixon Hunts’ book Greater Perfections in the chapter ‘Word and Image in the Garden’ he discusses the role of the word and narrative and experience in landscape architecture. In context of narrative, he argues:
“[N]arratives that recount times past do so in the present, which with landscape architecture is intimately linked to the configurations of the site that functions both as setting and presumably as prompt for the narrative to be recounted. Further, the “reader” is thrust into prominence; the narrative of a place relies on the verbal skills of its visitor, who has to infer or “translate” from the given materials, which can never (qua narrative) be as complete as they would be, for instance, on the pages of a novel.”
Thus, the verbal skills of a viewer, reader or visitor in a didactic, narrative designed landscape can never as complete as the reader of a novel. This is because of the “translation” from the abstraction of the inscriptions on the materials of the site, and the site itself. Therefore, for example, a plaque by the ocean may describe the anchorage of a ship in a port two hundred years earlier. The visitor reads the plaque, looks over to the position of anchorage, and is imagines a ship there. The argument put forward by Hunt is that this scenario is not as complete a narrative on the pages of a novel. However, I think there are grounds for a contrary argument. A visitor with verbal skills may have their experienced enhanced by looking out to where the boats set anchor. A purely fictionalised novel has no landscape equivalent to compare the given materials.
Unless of course, Hunt means that a plaque can never be as long or as big as a novel. In which case he is correct. He concludes: “in short, the site qua site may play a greater or lesser role.” When, I think what he means to say is: the abstract site (narrative) within a real landscape may play a greater or lesser role.
Sites within sites, narratives within narratives; the way our minds work and our body moves through a site is immensely complex. There are an infinite amount of impressions, senses, ideas and events that coalesce to complete our understanding of a landscape or site. While historical narratives within sites seek to represent a true interpretation of a sites past, what of the fictional impressions we gain from a site? How does a shift in scale, an imagined people of the past, an animated artefact, the re evaluation of the ugly change the way we read landscapes? Can, or do we reach neutrality by championing the fake and the ugly when best practise seeks to promote the good and feel good?
Im conducting a site analysis of the Ashfield Flats; a wetland near where I grew up. On the 19th of March I walked through the flats with a video camera. You can watch the video here:
And first poem analysis:
Site Visit Ashfield Flats
Part of the river begins here, car carcasses
Filter run-off, houses fenced off
Red tap on top of fire extinguisher.
Buffalo grass covers a culvert
Large concrete block monuments
Pine bollards and a steel gate.
‘No unauthorised vehicles passed this point’
The sign, twenty metres beyond the fence;
Galahs cackle overhead.
As if in distrust of the drain
Houses a but the 100 year flood line
Stink from the drainage block.
A two foot foam toy stealth bomber
Discarded in the buffalo – ‘the F27C
Striker Brushless’ neglected, ignored.
Broken, landlocked like concrete islands
Bark shards and a dying tomato plant
Part of the river begins here.
My body moves expectantly
Barefoot, aware of tiger snakes
A stick wrapped around my ankle.
MWB infrastructure tagged with ‘SK’
As alien as the stand of tapping bamboo
Within phone range, without credit.
Sweet mud smell, the hill you slide down
On tin, the old man keen to shoot to shoo
You away, his property as far as his scope.
To kill the grass they kill the liquid amber
Yellow bamboo pole matresses
The ‘clean fill’ sand will absorb it eventually.
Salt bush tagged pink, ready for pruning
Fifty yards from a fence, ‘our home’
Our ten metre limestone retaining wall.
More graffiti on blocks thick with melaleucas
A safe place to practise, DK in red texta
On paperbarks, more practise.
Rows are rows of planted tulips: a concerted
Effort to pretty the place up, beside long lines
Of blackberry bush, an air conditioner hums.
Water collects here; lentic. Overflowing rubbish
Bins on the driveway, a baby crying
Her life begins here, mosquito coils.
I become impatient, lustful and lacking narrative
I pause on the authorised vehicle track
Parrots squawk, a German Sheppard barks.
Then, evidence of machinery; mown lawn
Drainage swales, designed drains,
Another Main Water Board Block: Stourhead Grotto?
Dead gums, kids playing cricket
Adopting famous players names
Recreating classic moments: the pathetic fallacy?
A netball ring attached to fence
Bark crunching, parrots munching
A train a truck an aeroplane.
A fences, a concrete path
A stream sidled by casuarinas
Hesitate to use the word weed.
A small stand of xanthorrhoeas, cleared
Drain fenced off for important revegetation
Dog shit on the side of the path
A few days old
Clear blue sky overhead, hazy at the horizon.
I imagine walking straight the swamp
With a video camera, a document,
Not now – not the right time, never the right time.
Go right, I go left, through the thicket
To much of a sissy I stick to the path
The birds becoming louder.
In imagining the future I left the present
And missed the approach to the foreshore
A flat pyramid of arrow, ground cover.
Velvet pillows jammed in amongst the limestone
Banks – a fisherman’s forgotten seat
Long neck turtles, high tide tomorrow.
A kelpie freaking out over rollerblades
Fallen trees, their rotten roots
Suspended in floating mud. Not a sculpture.
Nor is this paradise, the river, in pieces
Has kept clear, held back proper light
Part of the river begins here.
The DC266 Evenrude outboard dingy
Its fishermen, shiners of the torch
Throw cigarette butts in the water: 18:35pm.
The bridge monument – maximum load limit
Three hundred kilograms
Hugs the bank like Michelangelo’s staircase
The last of the sunlight, duck tracks,
Great Egrets picking at the rushes
Mistook them for a chip wrapper.
Still as salty as the day purchased
At the supermarket:
The Great Egret Supermarket.
I jump off the bridge – heading home
Find a toy walkie talkie, possibly from the stealth bomber:
You used to be able to see the bottom, over.
‘Surprised by the amount of water in here
At this time of year, over.’ No frog noises
So silence. Still, plenty of mossies and guppies, over
‘Copy, over.’ Walk around puddles.
Now it dawns on me —the camps—
We used to see as kids, the piles of rubbish
Buckets, blankets, remnants of small fires
Were aboriginal camps, a midden under my nose.
‘Fucking Hell’ sprayed blue on a she oak, a totem.
Car wrecks half way up the drain
When the water’s high become tip islands
Rusting ruins: they dont make ‘em like they used to.
Clay sediments and oxidise metal mixing:
Follies of the future,
Slowly leaking into the creek.
You can see the wet line on the side
of the drain, the high water water mark
A white horizontal line of phosphate
Part of the river begins here, car carcasses.
Surveying Henry Point
For Ian Weir
Obliquely we enter Henry Peninsula
With its withering heath, charting elevations
Derived from mapping stations
For a potentially immoral buck
Justified by the adage: someone’s gotta do it.
Making more millions for millionaires
In exchange for cuts and abrasions.
Reasons non-oblique to charge wattles, acacias
And hakeas aside with forearms,
Crushing withered tendrils due south or due west
Ignoring the path of least resistance
Reading undulations, for illuminations:
Clearings for richer folks, snapping
Away nature with a click.
Coordinates a price-tagged crenulate.
When we were driven by adrenaline:
Belly to sand, face to possible snake,
(The possibility of joining Joker John Eyre
Or Slimey Septimus Roe) did we grasp
With documentation, the machine
losing sight of the satellite?
Pink and yellow tagged trees
plug in pecuniary.
Somewhere in the shade
of the Peppermint Grove
over a march ants nest,
goes the wooden patio.
“The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way”- Lao Tzu
Here you are in your chimerical disposition
creeks shallow and simple to follow.
Here one cannot create, or find conclusion;
there is no system.
Though you have bequeathed all arrivistic tendencies
for omnipotent bliss and ubiquitous rest
and can dance upon snake-scale
sage-like through a honky nut,
attempts to broach your most genuine
masquerade fall in a heap.
In this language
I struggle to see your limbs.
Non omnes omnia pussumus:
we cannot do everything.
Supremely patient beside rapids
I observe the clouds in me change
easy metamorphosis, easy
our only gauge of time is
Poem by James P. Quinton
Thanks to Westerly, 2005
Part One: Sardonic
For uni, we’re to examine a particular species of Western Australian flora. Typically, the species is rare, endangered and endemic. Our mission is to go to the WA Herbarium, find the particular specimen(s), examine, document and find as much information on the plant as possible. The point of all this is to produce a series of botanical illustrations to prompt us to think about bio-regions at a local level of detail.