LEGEND (ongoing)

Legend draws direct comparisons between cartographic symbols - found in topographic maps - and the real-world landforms, features and points of interest they represent. What interests me is how the infinite complexities, variations, meanings, and histories that are rooted in our environments are reproduced as a uniform and repeatable graphic language in maps. In order to decode the map’s information, symbols are generally presented with short statements (called a legend, or key) that explain their meaning. Without this system of denotation, the symbols become purely abstract.

In this ongoing series I remove any explanatory statements and replace them with photographs of actual places the symbols refer to. I am inviting the viewer to decode the meaning through use of a ‘photographic legend’ instead. It’s interesting to consider that the symbols and the photographs are essentially ‘pictures’ of the same thing. 

But beyond the simple identification of a said landform or feature, there are deeper and more complex associations within each photograph – some historical or cultural, some social or economic, some geological, and some personal. That's because this series is not just a comparison between real-life landscapes and their abstract cartographic equivalents. This is an exploration of the notion of place in an evermore ‘placeless’ and commoditised global society - where the meanings and symbolic importance of place are being diminished or discarded, often replaced with standardised and inauthentic environments. 

[Symbols reproduced from Geoscience Australia’s Symbol Dictionary for Topographic Map Production]

Mine, disused. The site of a disused clay mine in Western Sydney. The area was first mined in the early 1900s, and also in the post-war period to cope with a growing New South Wales population. The site has become notorious for its contamination of the surrounding area despite being reclaimed and redeveloped for the 2000 Olympics.

Railway, abandoned. A section of the now closed Tumut and Kunama railway lines at Gundagai, NSW. Used during the gold rush days in the late 1800s and also for the haulage of fruit produce, the line was closed after severe flood damage in the 1960s. Its abandonment speaks to a growing disconnection between regional areas and the major metropolitan centres of Australia.

Water tower or tank. A water storage tower in a regional town of New South Wales. In August 2018 the state was declared 100% in drought, and in May 2019 it was still at 98.6%. In certain areas this drought is the worst on record. The Bureau of Meteorology declared 2019 as having the highest average and maximum temperatures as well as the lowest rainfall on record. Much of the country has critically low water supplies and the large metropolitan areas are under severe water restrictions. Australia is one of the countries most at risk from Climate Change and this is likely to put even more pressure on the country’s dwindling water resources.

Cliff. A section of cliff near an infamous suicide location in Sydney. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between14 and 44, with more than eight deaths a day.

Outcrop. A heritage listed, geologically unique rocky outcrop. The abundant xenoliths are made from material brought up to the earth's mantle, about 80 kilometres below the surface of Eastern Australia. The mineral assemblages including apatite, amphibole, pyroxene, spinel and ilmenite , and the range of compositions are unique and are not represented anywhere else in the world.

Forest or scrub, dense. Aftermath of the Currowan ‘mega-bushfire’, East Lynne, South Coast NSW. The 2019/20 bushfire season has been the most catastrophic in Australia’s history. Prolonged drought conditions created unprecedented fire danger, meaning fires easily spread through the tinder-dry environment. Record-breaking temperatures and strong winds exacerbated conditions with many smaller blazes merging to form out-of-control ‘mega-bushfires’ covering hundreds of thousands of hectares. Lack of leadership on Climate Change and controversy over funding cuts to fire services also created a highly charged political atmosphere. As of January 2020 18.6 million hectares had been burnt, 5,900 buildings destroyed (including over 2779 homes), and at least 34 people killed. An estimated one billion animals have been killed, with some likely to be driven to extinction.

Watercourse, with direction of flow. Yarramundi Reserve along the Nepean River, Western Sydney. Yarramundi (ca. 1760 – after 1818) was an Indigenous Australian named "the chief of the Richmond Tribe" by European settlers. He was a member of the Boorooberongal clan of the Darug people and was a Garadyi or "doctor". Yarramundi and his descendants have had a major cultural impact on the area. His daughter, Maria, was the first Aboriginal child to be placed in the ‘Native Institute’ at Parramatta, where she won the Yearly state Examinations ahead of 100 white children. Her marriage in 1824 to convict Robert Lock was the first legal marriage between an Aboriginal and a non-Aboriginal person in Australia. Yarramundi's son, Colbee, was the first Aboriginal person to receive a land grant. Upon Colbee’s death Maria inherited his land, which comprised of 60 acres in Blacktown and 40 acres in Liverpool - the council chamber is built on part of this grant. Maria’s descendants still live in the area.

Plantation, softwood. Belangalo State Forest, NSW. During 1992 and 1993 the decomposing remain of seven male and female backpackers were discovered in this plantation, two hours southwest of Sydney. Known as the ‘Backpacker Murders’, the killings have become a cautionary tale for travellers coming to Australia and have inspired a series of popular movies. Road worker Ivan Milat was found guilty in 1996 and sentenced to seven life sentences. But the forest’s dark history didn’t end there. In 2010 the body of a 17-year old boy was discovered. Three teenagers, one a relative of Milat, were arrested for the murder. And also in that year the remains of a 22-year old female were discovered – an ex-partner murdered her.

Road, minor unsealed. Rural road crashes contribute substantially to the overall road toll in Australia, accounting for 65% of all fatal road crashes in 2014. Crashes on unsealed roads are more severe, with almost double the rate of fatalities compared to those on sealed roads. In 2016 a driver was killed on this stretch of road in the Monaro region of NSW after veering off the road.

Recreational area. A view overlooking the old site of the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld, Gold Coast, Queensland. On 25th October, 2016 a mechanical error on the ride caused two rafts to collide, flipping one of them over, throwing its passengers into the conveyor machinery and gruesomely killing four people. A subsequent coronial inquest heard evidence from investigators who said they found seven significant faults in the ride and that it had been unsafe to operate. The ride was demolished and the site cleared but Dreamworld’s attendance numbers have still been significantly lower ever since. In 2019 the park’s parent company Ardent Leisure announced plans to spend $50m on new rides in an attempt to lure back customers.

Lookout. Black Perry Lookout, Talbingo, NSW. A recently constructed platform overlooking the traditional lands of the Walgalu People. For thousands of years people gathered here for its rich food and medicinal resources, and to partake in ceremonies. The area is one of the most untouched in Kosciuszko National Park, where natural processes are allowed to continue with minimal human interference.

Bridge overpass. A bridge at the lower end of the Alpine Way, a rugged, winding road that follows an old cattle route across the Snowy Mountains. Sitting just outside the township of Khancoban, the bridge crosses Khancoban Creek, a fishing hotspot well known for its ‘double figure’ trout (10Ib plus). In 2018, a local fisherman caught Australia’s largest trout, a 24Ib 90cm Brown Trout.

Sand dune. Kurnell sand dunes, NSW. Dating back to the Mesolithic times, the dunes are of important historical, cultural, scientific and natural significance.  It's where early European contact was made with the Gweagal Aborigines; the site is close where Captain Cook landed in 1770. Though a popular visitor destination, the area has been subject to significant human interference in the past century with sand mining, oil refining, and major housing developments all having an impact on the area. The dunes were also famously used as a backdrop for scenes from the film ‘Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome’ in 1985. 

Cave. Yarangobilly Caves, NSW. Formed nearly 440 million years ago, these caves are extremely significant to the local Aboriginal people. The presence of large numbers of stone flakes and stone tools close to the caves is also indicative of early Aboriginal occupation. Aboriginal bones were removed from the caves by early European visitors. Today the caves are a popular tourist destination.

Populated Place. Bredbo, NSW. Located on the junction of the Bredbo and Murrumbidgee rivers this small village on the road to the Snowy Mountains was historically prone to flooding. In such times the local inn was a popular place to accommodate stranded travellers. One of those travellers was Australia’s most famous bush poet, Banjo Patterson (1864 –1941). During his stay he met the renowned, fearless stockman Charlie McKeahnie. Locals claim this meeting was the inspiration for one of Banjo’s most famous poems ‘The Man From Snowy River’ – a poem that, at the time, helped shape the heroic mythologies of the bush, giving colonial Australia a sense of identity and character that differed from that of Britain.

Powerline. Powerlines, Victoria. Despite an abundance of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, around 80% of Australia’s electricity still comes from fossil fuels. Lack of Federal Government policy and their further investment in coal fired power stations, means the country has a higher proportion of fossil fuels in its energy mix than any other OECD country. Thankfully some of the State Governments are forming their own independent climate and energy policies, with some experts hoping the country can reach 50% renewables in the next few years.

Railway, multiple lines with station. Railway lines with Marulen station in the distance, Southern Highlands, NSW. Marulen is the only town in the world to sit on the 150th Meridian East, a line of longitude that extends from the North Pole across the Arctic Ocean, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, Australasia, the Southern Ocean, and Antarctica to the South Pole.The 150th meridian east forms a great circle with the 30th meridian west and is the exact middle of the Australian Eastern Standard Time Zone, where the sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm precisely every equinox.

Wreck, submerged. M24 Japanese Midget Submarine wreck site, off Bungan Head, Newport. On 31st May 1942 three Japanese midget submarines invaded Sydney harbour. Two were destroyed and sank in the harbour, but the third could not be found. But in 2006 a group of ‘weekend divers’ located the still intact submarine 54 metres below the surface off Bungan Head. The M24 was the only submarine able to launch its torpedoes, sinking the ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 men on board and injuring another 10.

Lighthouse. Warden Head Lighthousse in Ulladulla.  Built in 1873 it's one of only two wrought iron lighthouses in NSW. Not only is it a local community asset, it’s also a popular meeting place for whale watchers during the winter months. For the past 20 years, the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORCCA) has used Warden Head a one of the locations for its annual census. Numbers are on the rise and in 2018 around 35,000 humpbacks were recorded on their long journey north to warmer waters.

Pipeline, above ground and elevated (not water). Gas pipeline, near the old Catlex refinery, Kurnell, NSW. Kurnell is where Captain Cook first landed in Australia on 29 April 1770, and where he made first contact with the indigenous inhabitants of the area. Despite a public outcry and council opposition, in 1953 the State Government approved the construction of an oil refinery on the peninsula. At its peak it had a capacity of 124,500 barrels per day. Since taking this picture a few years ago, the refinery has been demolished and the site converted into Australia’s largest fuel import terminal.

Land subject to inundation. River flats, Gundagai, NSW. During the night on 24 June 1852, after weeks of heavy rain, the Murrumbidgee River burst its banks causing catastrophic flood waters to sweep through the town of Gundagai in New South Wales. The raging torrent destroyed whole buildings, leaving residents clinging for their lives in treetops. The death toll is estimated at between 80 and 100 – one third of the population at the time – and it remains Australia’s deadliest recorded flood.

Mangrove. Lane Cove River, Sydney. Mangroves are an important coastal environment that support a host of invertebrates and juvenile fish and forms the basis of an important food chain. This Mangrove area offers a nursery ground, feeding areas and shelter sites for fish such as the flat-tail mullet and silver biddy, and support many bird species. However, it has come under increasing pressure in recent decades due to industrial and residential expansion, pollution, and waste dumping.

Reservoir. Blowering Reservoir, NSW. The reservoir is part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, a vast hydroelectricity and irrigation system constructed in Australia’s Snowy Mountains between 1949 and 1974. The Scheme is widely regarded as an engineering wonder of the world and is the largest industrial project in Australia’s history. In 1978, Ken Warby set the water speed record of 511km per hour (318 mph) on Blowering Reservoir, a record that still stands. 

Footbridge. Bass Point Road, Shellcove, NSW. The footbridge links new housing developments to the green space of a nearby nature reserve. The road that the bridge crosses is used for the haulage of gravel from a nearby quarry, often during the early hours of the morning. Despite plans to expand quarry operations for another 30 years, and to increase truck numbers, the suburb continues with major housing developments - with record land prices being set in 2019. It’s a small, but meaningful example of an area struggling to balance the needs of an increasing population, economics of heavy industry, and the preservation of nature.

Gate. Entrance to a property in Riverstone, Western Sydney. Riverstone remained a small country town until the beginning of the 21st century when the housing boom and Sydney’s continuous metropolitan expansion swallowed it up. At the time of taking this image in 2014 large areas of former farmland had been released for housing developments. Landowners therefore began to wind down farming and other agricultural operations, leaving the land in limbo until the developers moved in. 


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