‘You Are On Dharawal Land!’ is a new work by Anne Zahalka, which will be exhibited in the exhibition You Are Here as part of Photo 2021. Anne Zahalka has spent her career subverting colonial ideas of an Australian pristine landscape. In commissioned work for this exhibition, Zahalka digitally intervenes into photographs of landscapes that she has a personal connection to, seeking to understand her place in this country today.
The Illawarra region is home to the Dharawal people who occupied the coastal areas, the swamps, plateaus and inland river valleys here for over 6,000 years as the ice-age receded. Traditional stories tell of their arrival at the mouth of Lake Illawarra in canoes when the Ancestors were animals. They brought the Dharawal or cabbage tree palm with them from the north and are named after this sacred tree. The Illawarra escarpment with its lush rainforests, subtropical vegetation and coastal topography has since drawn artists to record its beauty, many choosing to live under its canopy and along its sloping shores. It is now my part-time home.
You Are On Dharawal Land! is based on Conrad Marten’s Mullet Creek, Illawarra, 1853 a watercolour of the area Kanahooka near Wollongong and depicts a massive fig tree set in a verdant rainforest. Sadly no remnant of the forest exists along the creek after large scale land clearing of the Dapto plain for farming and, later, residential and commercial developments.
Taken during the bushfires of a tinder dry rainforest, the lush ferns and palms with parched with broken fronds, this photograph records many element sand moments of this place at that a particularly time. As I crouched behind a broken tree trunk amongst the feral, gazing through the eerie light of the nearby fires, I looked for the ancient spirits who had travelled along tree roads between earth and sky holding memories of their passing, and realising I would not see them, I was comforted to know that the Dharawal people had.
Anne Zahalka is one of Australia’s most highly regarded photo-media artists having exhibited extensively in Australia and overseas for more than thirty years. Her works are held in major public collections including National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australian Bicentennial Collection, Parliament House, Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria, Sir Elton John Collection, Deutsche Bank Collection, International Polaroid Collection, USA, and Visart, New York. She has been included in milestone international exhibitions such as a solo show at the Australian Embassy in Washington; Three Australian Photographers: Bill Henson, Tracey Moffatt and Anne Zahalka, at GEM/Fotomuseum in The Netherlands, Supernatural Artificial at the Chulalangkorn Art Centre in Bangkok, and the Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Tokyo.