How it really is

Landscape photography can be a problem. It can have a tendency to prettify nature—the ‘chocolate box’ effect, the one seen too often on calendars; or it can be tempted to ‘disaster chic’, with an emphasis on ruins and devastation.

The goldfields offer pitfalls in both these directions, but Julie Millowick’s current exhibition, Surrounding, avoids both. In so doing, it offers a compelling and powerful insight into our region. Without trying for epic scenes, she presents the beauty of this ‘strangely poignant’ landscape ‘in tumult and recovery’. The photos show the ‘devastating  effects of mining and invasive plants, but also remind us of the interconnectedness that links all parts of this landscape, including its human occupants.’

Clothes hanging on a line, decaying walls, light filtering through trees, scatterings of Cassinia seeds, vegetation colonising mining sites, a small boy standing on a mullock heap, rainsoaked bush…There’s an unpredictable variety in these photos, but every one compels a close look. The poet Les Murray once referred to ‘the commonplace and magnificent roads of our lives.’ Somehow these pictures recall that phrase.

This exhibition captures the real spirit of the goldfields–ruin, abandonment, redemption–and the affection that can be felt for these astonishing landscapes. It’s to be hoped that the proponents of World Heritage listing for our region will come along for a good look.

The exhibition is at the Castlemaine Gallery [open Thursday to Saturday  11 am to 4 pm, Sunday 12 noon to 4 pm] till June 16. Don’t miss it.

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