Friday, December 9, 2022

On the Western Edge: Witnessing Bluett's

Photography | Brian Rope

On the Western Edge: Witnessing Bluett's | Various artists

Manuka Arts Centre Gardens | 1 - 17 Dec 2022

The exhibition On the Western Edge: Witnessing Bluetts opened as a pop-up at Bluett’s Block on the evening of 1 December and I’m delighted that I managed to get there as it was well worth seeing. It is a group show (with an accompanying book) revolving around the eucalypt ecosystem of Bluett’s Block. A substantial number of other people also enjoyed walking around the exhibition looking at the prints mounted atop metal stakes pushed into the ground amongst the native grasses and colourful yellow flowers.

All Canberrans know that the Western side of the city has seen much, almost relentless, urban development over the past decade. As a result, habitats and ecosystems have been replaced by numerous newly developed roads, houses and other buildings. Bluetts Block is a natural area on the edge of this rapidly growing urban footprint. The site has been subject to various land uses over the years. Potential threats to it have prompted many Canberrans' to push for the site's protection.

Over ten months, seventeen photographers led by 2022 Dahl Fellow Dr David Wong, regularly visited the site to photograph the resident animals, plants, non-living things, and the ecological processes that shape the place. Each time they undertook their photo walks, another specialist also joined them to highlight their personal practice or background relating to the site. The purpose of the project was, and is, to raise awareness about the importance of Bluetts as a thriving eco-system worthy of protection, rather than urban development.

Folk at the opening, heard about the importance of Bluetts to local Indigenous people and of plans to seek the granting of Native Title over the A.C.T. to them. They heard impassioned words spoken by Jean Casburn, the originator of the Friends of Bluett’s Block. They heard about the importance of reconciliation.

Following the opening, the exhibition was moved to the gardens at the Manuka Arts Centre. Whilst that is different from viewing it at the location where the photographs were all taken, it is nevertheless an exhibition to be seen. The book, available for sale inside from Photo Access, includes numerous photos – some accompanied by text such as this haiku: “Capture and burn, Stop waging war on the forests, making the oxygen we breathe.”

There are photos of landscapes, kookaburra, orchids, sunsets, termite mounds, scribbly moth tracings, birds, fungi, grasses, canopies, native flowers, clouds, a red-headed mouse spider, and more. Jean Savigny has written about the perspectives of the project participants. About first impressions being visceral. About seasons and revelations. About personal learning and discovery. About field studies for a doctorate. About the 2,618 species that, so far, have been identified at Bluetts.

The Edge (Savigny), The Scars (Yasmin Idriss) and The Future (Scott Ferguson) include land clearing, roadworks and houses not far away – clearly revealing the sad future that could befall this piece of eucalyptus ecosystem.

Scott Ferguson - The future

Other images in both the exhibition and the book reveal the natural beauty and precious things that inhabit the area.

I particularly enjoyed Moving (Allen Bills), Exploring (Kristiane Herrmann) showing project participants doing just that, Scribbly Moth Tracing (Fiona Hooton), At Night (Mandi Bennett), Native Yellow Flower (Miriam Blackburn), and Lichens like rocks (Sarah Ryan).

Exploring  by Kristiane Herrmann - installation shot at Bluett's Block - Brian Rope

Allen Bills – Moving

Mandi Bennett - At Night

But every image makes a valuable contribution to the documenting of the many, and different, facets of this eco-system. Every participant and every other person involved in this project is to be congratulated.

If you wish to visit this beautiful place, the entrance to Bluett’s Block is just past Denman Prospect, off Uriarra Rd and right next to the Stromlo Forest West Carpark. The co-ordinates are: 35º17’57.3”S 149º00’35.2”E.

This review was first published online on 4/12/22 by The Canberra Times here. It is also available on the author's blog here.