PAST | Reading the landscape

Posted on 12/03/2013


I’m writing at the meeting point of a few writings and threads, including my current immersion in revising the workshop for Long Time, No See? for which I’m addressing the recognition of traditional owners and this has triggered some connections …

Aspley is located in the traditional territories of the Turrbal people who occupied the area of land extending far inland to the Gold Creek or Moggill, as far north as North Pine. There are important pathways and waterways running through Aspley. Gympie and Albany Creek Roads are built on Aboriginal pathways and, to the east there is the Nudgee Waterholes, an important camp site and ceremonial site.

My good friend and artist Tracey Benson recently posted some work and maps on her Mediakult blog. Tracey’s current work is concerned with interrogating subjective experiences of landscape through mapping. Through googling and researching local history, she found some historic maps and aerial photographs of Aspley and surrounds. Tracey has reinscribed the Aboriginal pathways that ran through the locality on a third aerial image, which is copied below. This includes Maundrell Tce, and I am unsure whether this was an Aboriginal pathway or whether the preferred route might have been Old Northern Road given the terrain. (See our discussion in the comments section below.)

As I note in my earlier post, there is often a strong connection between pathways, topography and waterways. Where there are both pathways and waterways, there is potentially ready access to food sources and good camp sites. The creek and pathways mark out a territory that roughly correlates with the Aspley centre from the intersection of Albany Creek and Gympie Roads to the confluence of the creek, its inlets and the pathways. This is marked on the map below: blue is waterways, some of which have been sealed over, and red is pathways. The landscape also rises to high ground and a ridge, with the lower ground probably prone to flooding. That makes this area, I suspect, a once reasonably agreeable camping or meeting spot, not of the significance of Nudgee, but certainly a serviceable resting spot when on a long journey. Potentially, the landfall acts as a natural trap with the creeks acting as soft boundaries that inhibit animal movements. The Wikipedia entry about Aspley says that the new Gympie Road, built from 1868, “travels a route much different to the original aboriginal track”, so there is a need to look for some older maps.


Incidentally, the first Aspley Hotel, the Royal Exchange Hotel, was built roughly at the intersection of Gympie and Albany Creek Roads, as a rest and watering stop for travellers. Note the beautiful bunya pines along the road, now long gone (see our artist book about the loss of bunya pines in the locality).

Another couple of points seem to be worth making here too, also drawing on my earlier post about pathways and territories. In his account of Aboriginal land use and management practices, Bill Gammage talks about the ways in which undergrowth was cleared from forests in order to minimise fire risks and enable easier passage through  forested areas: that seems to be the case here. This resulted in a landscape that resembled a park: it was both landscaping and land management. Looking at this 1887 photograph from Aspley, I note the lack of undergrowth in the forest beyond the clearing; only very small and young trees are discernable. Because the clearing is devoid of tree stumps, it is likely that this is also the result of traditional land use practices where the clearing was maintained over generations. This seems to be indicative of Gammage’s description of Aboriginal land and fire management.


Gammage is one historian who has provided some insight in how to read the landscape. Pathways, as I said earlier, laid out systems of knowing, connecting and living on the land and shaping territory.