Our view of the landscape is heavily mediated by mass-produced travel ephemera such as maps, souvenirs and postcards.
This realisation hit me over a decade ago when I went on a painting trip in the Outback in far western NSW. It wasn’t my first time in a desert environment – but it was my first experience of traipsing through the landscape off a heavily beaten tourist track.
I was taken aback not only by what I saw but also my reaction to it. All the postcards, films and souvenir tea towels that had been my primary source of information on the Outback couldn’t prepare me for what an isolated place it is. The only signs of human involvement were the inhabitants of the research station where we were staying, a nearby dam and herd of sheep. The sense of vastness was overwhelming, the quietness unsettling.
Painting the landscape was impossible; there seemed no adequate way to cram the enormity of the space onto the page. I eventually gave up and concentrated on more manageable things like waterholes, leaves and rocks.
The experience led me to question what constitutes an Authentic Australian Landscape. I expected the landscape to conform to what I believed it should be.
Since then I’ve been exploring this gap between a traveller’s expectations and the reality of a place. Using the language of postcards and souvenirs, I’m going through a process of re-exploration, excavating and mapping the many layers of cultural detritus that bury the destination.