“For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that colour of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The colour of that distance is the colour of an emotion, the colour of solitude and of desire, the colour of there seen from here, the colour of where you are not. And the colour of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.” Rebecca Solnit
As I leave the mountains of the Alpine Region the journey home has left me to ponder the memories formed at the Bogong Centre for Sound Culture [B–CSC]. My project continued to investigate the Snow Gums affected by Dieback in the Alpine High Plains, Falls Creek, Mount Hotham and the Dinner Plain; the land of the Gunaikurnai and Jaithmathang people. Whilst on the residency weather was the most pressing force determining the activities to be undertaken in the field. From whiteouts of thick fog to filming in snow showers, torrential rain and gale-force winds.
Snow and icy corners
Weather played a central role in my residency at B–CSC. The first few days were sunny and there was lots of snow around Mount Hotham and the Dinner Plain. I had never seen such blue skies. Then, a few days later, the weather transformed to torrential rain and thick blankets of fog cloaking the mountains surrounding the Bogong Village. The mist would roll in over the mountains and sometimes not lift at all. These conditions would become the norm for over a week. The fast-moving mist on the snow-capped mountains became my favourite conditions to work in the field, as it transformed the terrain into a dramatic scene of wonder. When filming on an edge of a cliff the clouds were streaming up the side of the mountain so quickly my hands almost turned frostbitten. I had to escape to the car and put another set of gloves on to keep my hands warm. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. Something happens when you are up in the clouds, the feeling of the sublime enveloping you when the landscape disappears before your eyes in a whiteout. The Romantic artists of the 19th Century used nature to depict the feeling of the sublime, the sensation of terror and awe. It may be an overused term but I felt it when on the Razor Back drive when watching the mist roll up the cliff’s edge. The mountains are an extreme place to live and work. There was an accident on the mountain with two cars colliding from the black ice. Your life could change in an instant on the icy corners of the mountains. I spoke to a worker who was helping to fit snow chains on skiers' cars. He lived in Harrietville and said the Razorback was his favourite drive, in Victoria. He was curious about what I was doing when taking photos with my tripod. No one else had taken an interest in what I was doing and I was happy for the conversation. I envied his job of working in the extremely cold and invigorating elements. I didn’t realise that snow was so luminescent when the sun went down. As I recall those mountain memories I am reminded of how the experience is just as important as the photographs were taken. When everything aligns, light and position, you are in the moment responding to your surroundings and a clear focus comes over you. I pushed myself to the extreme and it felt aesthetically satisfying and thrilling to the senses.
Save Our Snowgums
On my drives to the highest peaks and plains in the Victorian Alps, I documented many examples of snow gum trees affected by Dieback. I started noticing the trees with all their unique markings and scarification, they appear wounded. Eventually, the trunk and branches turn silver, and the tree dies. I began to photograph the scars like macro landscapes. The trails of the wood borer beetle along the upper branches of the canopy and trunk, create a myriad of shapes and forms. On my last trip to the Dinner Plain, I focused on one particular tree. I examined all the unique colours that make a snow gum so iconic to the Australian Alps. The tree had tiny holes all over it indicating it was in the early stages of dieback. The holes allow frass (chewed wood) to be pushed out of the feeding gallery under the bark by the longicorn beetle. I am glad I stayed with the one tree. It allowed me to closely examine its contours and unique markings. The snowgums play such a critical role in the extremely fragile and vulnerable Alpine ecosystem. They are the only trees that can grow above the snow line and they slow down the ice melt flow to the Murray-Darling Basin. They thrive in the most severe conditions, enduring snow, ice and wind. They capture water from the fog and blowing snow. I found the citizen science survey easy to use and upload photos when you find an example of Dieback in the field. The more people that participate in the Save Our Snowgums project https://www.saveoursnowgum.org/ the more data can be collected for the scientists. There is hope that scientists can find a way to save the iconic snow gums from further Dieback occurrences. I wish to return in the summer months to document more of the trees and find one of the longicorn beetles. They come out in the warmer months and attack drought-stressed trees.
Practice makes perfect
The residency at B–CSC has been an enriching experience and really pushed me to great extremes of expanding my practical and historical knowledge of the Alpine Region. What I learnt most from the residency was to return to the field again and again, as each time my perception changed and new paths appeared. I relished in the solitude on the snow-capped mountain tops, with only myself and my camera. The long drives gave me time and distance from my everyday routine, each day brought a new adventure.
The other aspect of the residency was living as two women and a dog in the mountains, sharing wonderful dinners, helping each other with writing and watching women’s films of the 1940s each evening. It created the conditions for an artistic experience that intertwined life and art together. Madelynne’s drive and passion pushed me out of my comfort zone and took me to new heights in my artistic practice in the field. I am already missing my life in the mountains now back in the hustle and bustle of the city.