Over several months, I have been mapping out a project I would like to undertake about deserts/’the’ desert. In my early 20s – freshly tattooed and distinctly directionless – a friend and I jumped into her car and then ventured to rural New South Wales to catch up with another friend. From there, two of us drove, somewhat ill-prepared, to Alice Springs and Uluru, stirrings of a girls’ own adventure with hints of Hunter S. Thompson as we rolled towards a quivering horizon.
The photographs from this trip are stored in a box somewhere, though my memories are of a salty ruddy earth, muted scrub and endless highway. For months, after returning, I refused to wash the red dust from my green boots. It was never, for me, the emptiness that is so often spoken of in descriptions of the desert and arid lands. My interest in the desert landscape has remained since then through many encounters with people, work and culture. At roughly the same time, a couple of years earlier, John cycled through the Sahara and worked in the Middle East. This remains something of a mystery to me and there is a sense of duration and endurance in this feat. A folder of photographic negatives, salvaged from ad hoc filing under the house, sits on a bookshelf awaiting attention. So to begin with, we will unearth this archive as the basis for a more speculative approach to desert geographies.
From our more recent engagements with settlement and sustainability, we are also addressing the futures of desert communities and towns. This country is mostly desert yet mainstream cultural imaginary and design seems to overlook this while romanticising the outback: though Aboriginal custodians keep culture and story alive. And so, this new project, rising from the ground of previous inquiries about place, change and field, is starting to take shape out of tangents and tendrils – restless memory, adventurous spirit, desire for change, recognition of climatic extremes to come – of experience, writing, travelling and futuring.