A sectional walking and marking of a migration landscape.

The Robe to Central Goldfields Track, walked by thousands of Cantonese in the 1850s, informs one of the great east/west migration landscapes in Australia. In a reverse movement, artists/participants walked sections of the track towards Robe from the Goldfields, which is located approximately 1.5 hours from Melbourne.

After consulting with their ‘local knowledge’ guide, with whom they were put in contact, artists/participants departed with a kit of quartz marker stones to indicate and record places and feelings of estrangement or strange belonging.  They walked their chosen section of the Robe Track over one full day (or 30kms, whichever was more achievable).

Documentation of each walk, including their marker sites, reflections, responses, and recordings were then uploaded onto the Robe/S Blog to inform a collective installation – a quartz cairn marker with an interactive tablet/plaque that draws on the custom of cairns throughout the region that mark passages.

Robe/S culminated in a collective walk for Performing Mobilities participants, from the original Central Goldfields alluvial gold rush site in Chewton, through a migration landscape, to a gathering at an ancient rice paddy field site at Vaughan Springs (a total walk of 2.5 hours) ahead of the Performing Mobilities Assembly in Melbourne.

  • Robe/S, RMIT Gallery, 2015. Photography: Mark Ashkanasy.

  • Robe/S, RMIT Gallery, 2015. Photography: Mark Ashkanasy.

  • Robe/s, 2015 'Cairn marking a migrant passage to the Central Goldfield'. Photography: Jude Anderson.

  • Robe/S, 2015 'Alluvial field of estrangement'. Photography: Jude Anderson.

  • Robe/s, 2015 'Place of abandon'. Photography: Jude Anderson.

Collecting Landscape: A Scenographic Meander

Respondent > Tanja Beer

In September 2015, I took part in Robe/S, a project which explored the act of global itinerancy within Victorian migration landscapes – initiated and curated by Jude Anderson of Punctum Inc. I was one of a group of selected artists invited to undertake a section of the goldfields track in response to the thousands of Chinese migrants who walked from the small port of Robe in South Australia across unmarked country to the Victorian Goldfields in the 1850s.

My response to this historical context was to undertake a ‘scenographic’ meander in collaboration with two women (Angela Campbell and Amy Tsilemanis) by surveying a small section of the mass migration route undertaken by Cantonese workers in Ballarat. Through the act of three women ‘performing’ a scenographic passage across the Central Goldfields, the project aimed to explore how Australian landscapes are shaped by migration and how these landscapes shape experience.  

Our task as artists was to consider how historical migration landscapes could be placed at the centre of contemporary experience. We wanted to capture or ‘collect’ how the spatial, visceral, sensorial and haptic dynamics of our selected passage might shape feelings of estrangement, ‘strange belonging’ or dis/connection as we responded to the un/familiarity of landforms, cultural contours and climatic conditions. By examining ways to reveal the historical narratives of cultural and regional development, we asked: How do the layers and fragments of historic and contemporary migration shape our sense of being in the world? How do we relate to these fragments and how do they inform our conception and perception of space? And what are the tactics that we might use to capture these sensory experiences?

We began our walk from Open Monument, a newly minted public art work by Chinese Australian artist John Young, and finished our trek at the end of the ‘old creek road’. As we engaged in the act of imagining the migrant experience of ‘estrangement’ for ourselves, we actively scoured the ground for clues, accidents, chances and unforeseen circumstances of the ‘unheimlich’.  Our journey was a surrogation of sorts, but what was revisited was not the Chinese experience, but their own connection with landscape and the materials that we encountered as part of it.

Using place-based scenographic, eco-material and scientific methodologies, our project sought to reveal alternative narratives of cultural and regional development through a direct engagement with the haptic and sensorial. We collected specimens in glass jars, leaving white quartz stones (provided by Punctum Inc) to mark our progress. We collaborated to author and document the journey through our direct engagement with found objects, photography and field notes a collective experience of a familiar landscape made strange. Geological, temporal, material, vegetable, human and non-human forces were ‘preserved’ in jam jars (as ‘marquettes’ or ‘miniature worlds’) in an attempt to capture the essence (or ‘concoction’) of the meandering experience. The journey became a scenographic investigation in reconnecting human experience with landscapes of the past and of the present.