Exhibition: ‘Edward Burtynsky: Australian Minescapes’ at the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney
The following pieces were inspired by several painting in the exhibition. When I looked more closely I realised that they belonged together:
When we got there it wasn’t what either of us expected. Not that we’d talked about it, you understand. We stood, hands resting on the bonnet of the car, the sun a hammer blow barely warded by sun-hats and shades.
‘So,’ I said.
‘Yeah,’ she said.
The so-called cottage looked more like a shack, corrugated tin roof sloping to a squint over windows blinded by mud and dust. I turned on one heel, hoping we’d pulled up outside an out-building by mistake: scattered gaunt trees in various russet shades stood watch, a few scratty bushes hunched in untidy gangs, and in the distance I caught the lumpy shimmer of the outcrop that marked the quarry.
Nope, this had to be it.
‘Might as well take a look?’
She shrugged but followed, one hand waving a zigzag defence against the insect whine, her shoulders tight, lips pressed together. I had to shove my weight against the door, but I got us inside. Stepping into shade, an instant of relief before years of accumulated heat snatched our breath, dust-dry air coating throats, making it hard to swallow.
‘Shit,’ said together, in the same I-don’t-believe-it tone.
The edges of the room were crammed with guessed at boxy furniture crouched beneath yellowing sheets, improbable stick-like appendages tenting at odd angles. The dust-smoothed concrete floor held a history of delicate movement. At the centre, warmed by an invading shaft of sunlight, curled the largest snake that I had ever seen. Its flat wedge of a head turned to stare, tongue tasting the air.
The distant sound of hammer striking stone echoes around the quarry walls, repeating until the original sound is lost with its copies. A shout, indignation tapered by distance, is muffled by the scrape of booted feet: my feet, impatient to be away, while hand and eye continue to work, capturing detail, blurring lines. Is that thunder? Rocks tumble and slide, promising death to those who labour beneath the overhang. I snatch a breath, mouth stretched to cry a warning. The screech of a hawk on the hunt fills the air; trimming feathers to an arrowhead it dives.
This is the place to walk: where shadow encompasses the meadow and the only sounds are the buzz of insects and the inconstant digestion of sheep. Walk slowly, experience the brush of wide skirts against brittle stems, the soft scrunch of leaves underfoot. And there, on the edge of hearing, the cry of a hawk. The wildness, the raw edge of it, wakes a longing for vistas beyond the farmstead.
A door slams in the distance, a familiar voice shouts. It’s time for chores and supper, and perhaps, a story under the stars.
Pushing through the meadow and back up into the farmyard, moving from sound to sound, encased in noise. An unexpected silence points out the clamour. Sigh—one less burden to carry. One more step and the cacophony that is life snatches us back.
We shared a glance. It was all we needed. A shaky step back, then another, pursued by a rattled warning. Diamond patterns picked out by fingers of sunlight, flexing, arching, making new patterns in the dust.
No, this is definitely not the place.
Climbing back into the car, arms and legs sticking to sweaty leather, doors and windows sealed against the reality of this place, waiting for the aircon to kick in. Our retreat marked by dust trails of our own. Curling fingers of hot air, spun out by hard acceleration, grab at the bumper.