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James Tylor: From an Untouched Landscape Transcript

200. Artist Introduction

My name is James Tylor, and I'm a visual artist based in Canberra, Australia. My art practice is predominantly photography. I have done some film, as well as sculpture, and food and smells, but predominantly I’m best known for my photographic work. 

My photography fits into two areas. 19th century photographic processes, so daguerreotype, wet plate, and UV paper processes from the 19th century, and I also do experimental photographic processes, things like cutting holes in the images, ripping them, burning them, painting on images and things like that. 

Most of the themes that I look at in my photography, look at Australian history, predominantly the 19th century around the time of photography, but looking at the British colonization of Australia, and its effect both on Aboriginal people and the environment. 

I reflect on my Aboriginal Kaurna Miyurna background which is from South Australia and Adelaide, and also drawing on my British, Scottish and Irish roots when making work about photography, but I also have Māori ancestry from Aotearoa, New Zealand and I have made work about that as well.


201: Exhibition Introduction

The phrase “untouched landscape” refers to the idea of terra nullius, which was what the British constituted colonizing Australia and taking the land off Aboriginal people. So terra nullius means “no man’s land.” So the idea was that the British didn’t recognize that Aboriginal land ownership or Aboriginal land use was the same as Western cultivation or Western ideas of land ownership. 

It was largely not the case, and Aboriginal people have lived on the same tract of land for upward of 65,000 years. As an Aboriginal person, I can trace where my family comes from and know that they’ve been there pretty much since they arrived on the continent. 65,000 years ago. We have almost 3,000 generations in one part of the Australian continent. The idea that we don’t own the land, although we view it as custodianship, which is a form of ownership, the British ignore. They did however document it for Kaurna, the nation that I come from, and they did recognize that we had a form of land ownership that was similar to the British. We also had methods of cultivating different crops, but it was largely ignored. 

There’s a notion that Aboriginal people are nomadic, but that’s not entirely true. For Kaurna, we migrated two times a year but to very specific places we return to in the exact same place at the exact same time of the year, so it’s almost like having your normal house and your holiday house. In some parts of Australia, like in Victoria, there’s evidence of people living in the same spot all year round with stone dwellings, and the same in Tasmania. 

And so this idea that we didn’t own our land, and we roamed around, and were nomadic prior to the British arriving is untrue. This idea of untouched landscape was that Aboriginal people were moved into Christian missions and the land then seemed untouched. A lot of it is a fabricated idea so the British could take ownership of the Australian continent under their own standard and their laws. However, we had our own laws, our own land ownership, our own forms of farming, and essentially we owned the land. 

In both works From an Untouched Landscape, I was basically playing on this notion of the untouched landscape to highlight culture had been removed out of the landscape deliberately and covered up in our history by the British. 

And so when you see the work We Call This Place... Kaurna Yarta it’s talking about these are our spaces, we own these places, we have names for these spaces.


202: (Removed Scenes) From an Untouched Landscape

The area of the Australian coast that I photographed stretches from Victoria, specifically Narrawong and Portland, through to Adelaide, in South Australia. And this stretch of coast is historically a whaling migration path. So whales start at Antarctica. And then they move up to the Australian continent. The way that Australia is shaped, there's a curved bit, of course, called the Great [Australian] Bight. When they hit this area, they have two options to go around the continent. They can either go west, to Perth and WA, and around that way, and then they head up to Indonesia, or they had east along the coast. And so at South Australia, they travel around to Victoria, then up around into New South Wales and up past Queensland, and then up into places like Papua New Guinea. 

So what early British, French, and American whalers had figured out is that they can position themselves at different sites along the southern coast of Australia, and they could then harpoon whales, harvest them, and then process them for blubber, for oil, and then they would then trade in places like Europe or America. 

These sites along the coast are really important sites, both for indigenous people and for the early colonial history of Australia. And they're also sites of contact between Aboriginal people and these whalers and sealers. In this series, I've been wanting to highlight that interaction. 

In the image, you can see that I've carved a black Wadna or a boomerang, as well as a musket, which was used by the whalers and sealers, and a wirri, a wooden club on the bottom. This is just referring to that first contact and ongoing relationship that whalers and sealers had, which was mixed. It ranged from loving relationships and trade and also employment, to slavery and sexual assault of women and also murder. So it's a broad spectrum and in one of the works is a site of a large massacre done by whalers and sealers at a place called Allestree between Narrawong and Portland in Victoria, and these objects refer to those conflicts as well.


203. (Vanished Scenes) From an Untouched Landscape

In this salon hang, there is a cross at the center and then there’s three photographs around it of different landscapes. All of the landscapes are significant to the representation of the cross. 

When Australia was colonized by the British, they set up a series of missions all across Australia, and they were generally run by British or German Christians. Their sole objective was to remove Aboriginal people off the land, teach them English, and teach them Christian ways so that then they could become servants for white owners of the land. 

Basically, the missionaries played a very significant role in the shaping of colonial Australia and Aboriginal lives for the last 150 years. The church for us has been a very destructive force, and its been bittersweet sometimes in the case of Kaurna in Adelaide. We had a place called Pirltawardli where they recorded Kaurna language, almost 4,000 words, by the German missionaries. But at the same time they then started a thing called the Stolen Generation where they removed children away from their parents and they took them 700 kilometres away from Adelaide to a place called Port Lincoln on the other side of the gulf. The children were then just brought up in English language and Christianity. 

This has had a knock-on effect where we’ve had to spend the last 50 years since racial segregation ended picking up the pieces of the damage of colonization. So we’ve had to relearn language and learn our ways and reconnect with them. And some people managed to hold on to some things in missions, but it was really determined on how strict a mission was. Some missionaries allowed language to be taught. But in the case of Point  Pearce where the majority of Kaurna people were taken there was a strict no language rule. Missions were quite destructive in our history. 

To me, the places around them are relevant to sites of missions. That you see to your right, is an area called Lake Condah, which was set up in Western Victoria at a place where the Gunditjmara were taken, and also other Koori, Victorian Aboriginal people, were taken to that site. 

There was a lot of displacement, moving people around so that they didn’t have connections to their relatives. The missions were really really horrible places for the Aboriginal people. 


204. We Call This Place... Kaurna Yarta

We Call This Place... Kaurna Yarta is a series of daguerreotype photographs of places on the Kaurna nation. The Kaurna nation is an area predominantly on the Adelaide plains in South Australia, but it also stretches down into the south to  Fleurieu Peninsula and the Mount Lofty Ranges, as well as Kangaroo Island. 

These places, when South Australia was colonized by the British in 1836, a lot of the indigenous place names were ignored, and the British renamed a lot of the places either after British people or British places. There’s a few German names as well from the German migrants. 

There wasn’t that many original Aborginal names recorded in the Kaurna region, because it really was the first place to be colonized by the British so they named a lot of the places after the first migrants. 

And so this series, I wanted to rename the places with Kaurna names. I used a combination of historical names that we know, but also the contemporary Kaurna language committee has been renaming places if they don’t know what the old name is, and giving dual names so there’s the British name and the Kaurna name. 

In this series I’m just laying the Kaurna name over, and taking control of our land and inserting our language back into the country and back into photographs. 

In these images, I’ve used a specific type of round hand from the 19th century with the Kaurna names laid over top. The round hand was used by the missionaries when teaching Kaurna people how to use Roman numerals with writing Kaurna language. We have a lot of letters written in Kaurna language taught by German missionaries in this type of round hand. In some way, I was trying to reinvigorate the time when those languages were spoken using this type of writing. 

The images are displayed on Kaurna design, these geometric shapes such as this wavy line which references riverways. These designs all mean something to us and they are all part of our identity, so I wanted to overlay them on top of our imagery. The tones in the images are gold, which refers to the gold that was around daguerreotype photographs in the 19th century, as well as the red which refers to our most precious resource, which was red ochre, which to us is like gold. 


205. We Call This Place... Pintingga

This little grouping of images is on top of a diamond. The diamond shape features a lot in Kaurna carving, but also this one’s referring to a specific cultural object that is quite a sacred object, but I can represent it in this format as a diamond. At the center of the installation is a work with Pintingga. Pintingga refers to Kangaroo Island, which used to be part of the mainland at the last ice age but had got cut off somewhere between 12,500 years ago and had become completely cut off by about 9,000 years ago. 

It used to be a place where Kaurna people used to live, as well as Ngarrindjeri people and Peramangk, and Narungga used to have connections to it, and Barngarla, too. These days we just have connections to it; it’s a place we call. So Pintingga directly means “the place of the dead,” and so no one really lived there since the island’s been cut off. There’s evidence people might have been living on there or visiting there ‘til up to about 2,500 years ago. 

But it’s a very sacred place for us. We’re allowed to visit it but we’re not allowed to live there. It’s a space that we associate with mourning. The people who live there now are not indigenous people. And it was the site where the first whalers and sealers colonized because it was not inhabited and it was a good place to set up before colonizing the mainland. When the British arrived after the whalers and sealers, they set up a town at King’s Cove at this site of Kangaroo Island.

So we have multiple names for Kangaroo Island; we can call it Karta which means island, or Lap, or Pintingga “the place of the dead,” so in long-form sometimes we call it Karta Pintingga. 

I wanted to acknowledge this place in the photograph, so it’s overlaid with text referring to that space.