The land itself is a little confused, with no grand landscape architecture such as a mountain range or major river system. The drainage lines lack the logic of water running downhill, and wander about in a seemingly patternless maze. The soil varies from deep agricultural soils to harsh stick forests, with bare red soil, gravelly soil, scattered with endless seams and veins of quartz gravel, rocks, reefs and outcrops.
This is gold country, a landscape peppered with golden promise. Gold deep in the earth, in the mother lodes, gold thrust to the surface by geological events, gold stolen from the quartz by water, and scattered, rounded by creeks and rivers and streams. Old rivers long ago buried or lost their way, new rivers stealing gold from old rivers, making rounder still gold.
The forests have followed this history: some trees are made for the poorer gold-laden soils; others, grander trees, have claimed the other gold, the rivers of water, the richer, goldless soil.
The trees seem to know the country better than any, a wisdom held deep in their collective wooden memories. The lakes and billabongs, the drainage lines, creeks and streams form a loose family that calls itself the Loddon River. The Loddon meanders through the landscape, laying a lacy pattern of River Gums across it. The brushstrokes of water are rich in plant and bird life. A pattern that does make some sense of the rolling face of the land.
The farmers have found places where the Loddon has dropped soil, places where the water is near, places that support life and enterprise. These places seem to be where the gold isn’t.
Where there are no farms, where there is little water, where there are the stick forests, this is where the gold is. This is where the ant men came.
Digging holes, burrowing with hope and endless optimism, into the dry, stony soil in search of “colour”. In search of gold. In search of some good fortune in their bleak and arduous lives. They came in their hundreds of thousands, from all over the world, to find fortune.
Industrious and manic, they dug and dug and dug until the whole landscape had been torn apart, the trees slaughtered, the soil skin pocked with diggings.
And good fortune many did find. The towns that followed the miners are grand and mostly empty. Grand, ornate, architectural monuments, banks, courthouses, town halls, mechanics and art institutes, hotels, railway stations, churches and stores. The bleached bones of could-be societies.
And grand towns they were, the flesh on these bones. Instant cities of many thousands, born and grown over a few years, mostly to die when the gold ran out a few years later.
So across the jumbled landscape, in the gaps between the water lace, stand the bleached bones of grand vision and hope.
The farmers built their towns, too. Smaller, less ostentatious, but survivors on the banks of a life-giving river. Towns of shade and continuing life.
Then came the railways. Sharp, uncompromising black lines across the land. Joining the towns, feeding commerce, rivers of man that defied the logic of water. Along the shining tracks, other communities grew. Dot communities, built around silos and sheep yards.
And also the roads. Joining, linking, giving status to the towns and cities.
Now across this landscape is woven a hundred thousand life stories, family histories, human tragedies and triumph.
To each of us, most of the people stories are invisible, illegible, or lost. For some who have become rooted in the earth, the stories have become who they are. They are defined by the mix of landscape and personal heritage. They belong.
For others the landscape holds the keys to their myths and definition. They may be beholden to another place, but this golden landscape is part them. Part me!
"Words are clumsy pretenders of the images of my mind."
As a practicing artist I have travelled far and wide across Australia, walked on country, camped on country and rolled out my swag. I thank the custodians and I acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, culture and community. I pay my respect to Elders past and present.