(Australia 1959 – )
127.1 x 222.7 x 6.5 cm frame
‘one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape #2’ is from a series photographed in the central desert, in the area belonging to traditional land owners the Wirrimanu community near Balgo in the north east of Western Australia. Many of the images feature the vast space and distant horizons of the dessert landscape, the type of view that has unsettled many non-indigenous visitors to this region. This dramatic image however is one of the few in which the foreground and what is depicted there is the main focus.
A burning car billows forth flames and dense black smoke which obscures sightlines into the surrounding landscape. The car has no engine or tyres and is a roadside wreck that has been stripped of anything useful before being destroyed. Cars and vehicles are incredibly important to the local communities, for transportation and connection to the townships, for medicine and food supplies and for visiting family members. The ingenuity of ‘bush mechanics’ in repairing broken down vehicles is legendary.
And yet this burning car also implies a sense of random violence, of a sacrificial pyre in the dessert which marks some act of destruction and recalls the dystopian futuristic genre of films set in the outback such as the Mad Max series. This image embodies the unreasonable fear many non-indigenous Australians feel when they encounter the unfamiliar dessert as well as the reality of the violence that sometimes occurs in remote settlements. It is a visually striking image that conveys some of the complexities of how the dessert has been represented in cinematic and mass media imagery as well as how it is experienced and lived in today.
Vivienne Webb, The unquiet landscapes of Rosemary Laing, ‘Exploring place’, pg. 6-35, Sydney, 2005, 13, 45, 59 (colour illus.), 73. pg. 43, 46 are references to the 'one dozen unnatural disasters in the Australian landscape' series