Non Fiction: 'Outback'

Curated Feature for Culturehall

The red earth of Australia's outback has the ability to sear the heart - branding it, creating ownership. The land there, out back, contains some kind of potent magic—beautiful and painful at the same time. Tourists know mostly of its raw beauty, the things contained in travel magazines - pictures of fresh water gorges, burnt orange earth, and open terrain. Australians who live in the outback know that the land is God. With its intense fluctuations, the land is the dictator of outcomes and lives, not those who toil it.

Renee Nowytarger's series focuses on the housing and living situations of the indigenous communities of the Northern Territory following support from the Northern Territory National Emergency Response (commonly known as The Intervention) and the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP). The Intervention created changes to welfare provision and land tenure, and the SIHIP program aimed to deliver new houses and refurbishments to seventy-three remote indigenous communities in the region. While sixteen of these communities benefited from new housing, others missed out completely. Nowytarger's images convey the notorious squalor and overcrowding in these far-flung communities: children watch television in makeshift tin shacks, dinner is dragged in fresh and bleeding, abandoned and filthy makeshift homes hold echoes of those who've lived there by way of graffiti and waste. In her most recent trip, Nowytarger photographed residents of Groote Eylant, the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria in northeastern Australia. A couple, Eileen and Simeon Lalara, camps on the beach due to over-crowded housing in the area. Each  day, Eileen sweeps the front area of her tent to keep it neat and tidy; she longs for a home of her own. Nowytarger's images capture dignity, or sometimes the absence of dignity, in hardship.

Donna Bailey explores territory in and surrounding her own hometown in rural Victoria. In Kangaroo Flat, drought impacts the psyche of the community as water ebbs and only sometimes flows. The drought changed Bailey's photographic practice as her property, like many others, depends on the limited tank water. Bailey avoided color photography for years, but it became impossible for her to continue producing black and white prints given the quantity of water involved in the process. Despite her reservations, Bailey's first color print, Lush, solidified her transition to color. Lush captures local pregnant teens in the dam on Bailey's property, a bright beach ball in the foreground, round as the girls' bellies. Pregnant herself at seventeen, Bailey finds her youth reflected back in her images. These characters, her own children and kids around the town, reappear constantly in various states of shyness, youth, adolescence, and bloom, much like the land that shrivels and blossoms season to season.

In his series Dadswell BridgeKarl Edwin Scullin documents his grandparents and their 600-acre sheep farm purchased in 1972. Dadswell Bridge is a flat and featureless town, though rich in native wildlife, located between Melbourne and Adelaide. Scullin captures his grandparents, who hoard books and garage sale junk and work the land in their older age. The images - contemplative, centred, and raw – describe the stillness of the place. Scullin discovers beauty in simple, ephemeral things - a dead owl held out by the wings, and a life-less and ant-ridden rabbit, lying in the grass. The structures in his photos are weathered from heat and dryness, much like the faces of his relatives. Dadswell Bridge freezes moments in which the environmental extremes and the passage of time have made things change and die.

Dean Sewell's passion for socially concerned photojournalism grew from his early career as a newspaper photographer. Sewell has developed projects in Australia and abroad addressing social and environmental issues, including the plight of Sydney's urban indigenous population and the ravages of Australian bushfires. Sewell's Feral Dog series focuses on an issue largely ignored by mainstream media. His work examines feral populations of dogs, which are among the species of animals introduced to the region since the British invasion that threaten native animals and plant life. Sewell spent a week with fine wood Merino sheep breeders in the foothills of Australia's Snowy Mountains documenting the impact of the feral dogs on sheep farming. In his images, decaying dog corpses hang from trees; the soft bodies of young lambs lay rotting in a field; a couple scours the land, shot guns in hand. Sewell depicts the harsh reality of life and death, and leaves it lingering in black and white.