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Research and photographs by Perry Snodgrass


The public space installation titled “The Lie of the Land”, located in the Adelaide parklands on the “Western Gateway” to Adelaide City, is a work that had intrigued me since moving to Adelaide. This is a group of human scale, beehive shaped, stone structures which seem to fit snugly into the surrounding parkland and are comfortably visible and accessable on both sides of the roadway as one enters the CBD from the West.

In 2001 the South Australian Government commissioned a sculpture for the west parklands on either side of the Sir Donald Bradman Drive between the Hilton Bridge and West Terrace. The Sir Donald Bradman Drive is recognised as the major air and rail terminal access route to Adelaide and South Australia and is a significant arterial road to and from the west to the city. This “Western Gateway Project” was initiated by the former Department of Transport, Urban Planning and the Arts (DTUPA) as its contribution to the Centenary of Federation celebrations.

The commissioning process was facilitated through Art SA’s Public Art and Design  program in association with the Department of Administration and Information Services and with involvement of the Adelaide City Council. After calling for expressions of interest, five (teams) of artists were selected and commissioned to develop and prepare a design proposal. The artists were required to respond to a broad range of themes, the history of the site, and the significance of the site to the original owners, the Kaurna people and a range of site related issues. The Committee was unanimous in its decision to recommend the Aleks Danko and Jude Walton proposal.

Aleks Danko was born in Adelaide in 1950 and now lives and works in Daylesford, in country Victoria with his partner Jude Walton. His prolific career includes working in installation art, performance art, 3-Dimensional works and public commissions.

Jude Walton participated in the 2004 Melbourne International Arts Festival, and has a long history of performance based work and education.

The concept's initial inspiration for the “Lie of the Land” was a drawing by Eugene von Geurard (1858)  – Winter encampment in Wurlies of division of the Tribes from Lake Bonney and Lake Victoria in the Parkland near Adelaide - which depicted indigenous Australians camped in the parklands around Adelaide. Further research revealed that early immigrants sheltering in dome shaped structures they copied from the Aborigines and clad with blankets.

 On the 19th November 2008 I interviewed Kuarna elder Lewis O’Brien and asked if he had any part in the “Lie of the Land” project. He said, “No, because it had nothing to do with aboriginals.” He knew of the project because at the time he was on the Adelaide city Council’s Affiliation Committee. I asked him if any of the “wurlies” were ever made of stone. He explained that the original aboriginal shelters were made of mallee branches, grass, bark and earth and were more of a semi-circle in shape and that the “wurlies” in the “Lie of the Land” which are a beehive shape.

He went on to explain that the beehive shaped shelters were in fact built by the early European settlers (immigrants) and that they had used traditional aboriginal materials (i.e. not blankets) to construct them. “The early settlers lived in these temporary shelters around West Terrace in a place called Immigration Square, near Port Road, close to where the sculpture is sited” he said.

 The title of the Danko submission “Lie of the Land” came from Paul Carter’s book of the same name, where he argues that Colonel Light’s siting of Adelaide was influenced by the weather patterns and the lie of the land. “Opposing the cursory running survey advocated by some impatient settlers, Light refused to join the facile overlookers. He would not pretend to see what he could not see: ‘in many cases the parties have not been able to see one hundred yards before them.’ At least for a time Light studies the lie of the land as Constable studies the clouds, carefully recording in his provisional, open ended charts and sketches, ‘the chiaroscuro of nature.’ And this approach carried over to the way he organised the Brief Journal in which he defended his actions.”

Further inspiration for Danko and Walton, writes Alan Cruickshank, comes from referencing Lewis O’Brien. The following is an excerpt from a transcript of a talk given by Lewis O’Brien to the Anthropological Society of South Australia on 23 July, 1990. Lewis is the Coordinator of the Aboriginal Education Resource centre at the University of South Australia.

“This is a spiritual land; the land effects you and everyone should come to terms with that. I think that everyone now are crying out for the spiritual side of life and yet people are finding it hard to come to terms with the land and yet it’s here, its under your feet, you’re on the Red Kangaroo Dreaming here, it’s Tandanya."

Information for the artists on the layout of the sculpture came again from the Anthropological Society of South Australia in an 1841 report to the Statistical Society in Adelaide by Christian Trichelmann and Mathew Moorhouse:

When the friendly tribes come together, their huts are built as nearly as practicable together each group locating themselves in the direction from whence they came; eastern group in the eastern part of the encampment and so on. At these seasons one hut may contain two or three families, each having a separate fire. These congregations are dispersed again, either by the scarcity of food or in consequence of discord or disagreement.”

The twenty five stone structures were built using a variety of local stone which makes each sculpture different, which represents the notion of diversity and inclusivity. The conical shape of the sculpture has been used through the ages as temporary shelter by many diverse cultures. The ancient ‘bories’ in France, the ‘trulli’ found in southern Italy, the prehistoric hill fort settlements called ‘brochs’ built by the Celts in 600BC and the mud brick domed houses in the Iblib region of Syria. The work recognises and acknowledges not only the diverse indigenous people but also all the different migrant groups who have settled in Adelaide. Thus inspired by the temporary shelters and rendered in stone the structures became solid, permanent symbols questioning the concept of terra nullius.

In order to preserve the illusion of ‘common ground’ the Kaurna and the immigrants would have to leave all temporary erections cleared. In the colony, it seems, even the provision of a common depended on an enclosure act. Adelaide’s famous parklands could only be shared if no one was allowed to live there.









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