A walk through my suburb of Aspley and surrounds. In part, I hoped to develop my experience of this place and discover different ways of being here. I was aware from my regular walking and cycling that public artworks and other cultural forms were located around the creek and pathways. It’s important to note that this walk is intended to somehow replicate the experience of just walking – of ruminating, walking, noticing, sensing and curiosity. I was interested in understanding how ‘the public’ or ‘the shared’ plays out in a suburban environment where greyfield and residential development dominates the natural corridors and ecological remnants. How do such cultural and ecological forms and networks interact? I was curious about how place is marked in the suburbs, the changing register of site and location, the subtleties of space and place. In this context, I was particularly interested in the role public artworks play in shaping the commons or a common and how fluid the idea of public art might be or become as an expression of meaning.
In the course of this investigation, I was also working on Long Time, No See? which required a number of engagements with the locality for field testing. My engagement with this place, over a life time, has been difficult and my entanglement has been messy. My walking endeavours a practice of space, as Doreen Massey describes space itself, as “multiple trajectories, a simultaneity of stories-so-far”, an acknowledgement that space is always relational and under construction.
This walk commences at the park on the corner of Stringybark Drive and Martindale Street where there are several sculptures integrated into the park and remnant bushland adjacent to Little Cabbage Tree Creek. From here, I walk along the creek corridor to Albany Creek Road, through the housing subdivision where the drive-in used to be and then to the intersection of Graham Road and Gympie Road. Then along Zillmere Road, Dorville Road, through bushland adjacent to the Carseldine Government Precinct (former QUT campus), Beams Road and into Fitzgibbon Chase where public artworks have been integrated into a recent housing development. The walk ends at the Hidden World Playground on Roghan Road, Taigum. The photographs include landscaping and public art as well as informal practices like graffiti and stencil art with a view to considering the fold of topography and topology in this space.
In the suburbs, people do not tend to walk except, increasingly, for the purposes of a daily constitutional. It can sometimes be difficult plotting a comfortable and secure path even though there is proximity to remnant bushland and bushwalking, creek corridors and parks. In the suburbs, there is a tendency to go somewhere else to walk rather than go for a walk. Suburban walks have been carried out by others; most famously perhaps by Robert Smithson whose ‘suburban odyssey’, The Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey, was published in Artforum. While he logged his walk photographing and annotating the ‘stuff of suburbia’, he ultimately found it to be ‘full of holes’, unlike the tightness, originality and compactness of New York City. Strangely, I first read this article in an issue of Artforum discovered in a secondhand book stall at a nearby flea market. In my internet searching for more information about this text, I found Roberta Mock’s introductory text in Walking, Writing & Performance: Autobiographical Texts,in which she reflects on both Smithson’s essay and her own lived suburbia.
Clearly, as many (including Smithson) have made explicit, the forms of suburbs and cities are different and in walking, as a spatial or aesthetic practice, we become acutely aware of those differences. In noting this difference the suburbs are characterised as, Mock has found, “void and empty, denied a legitimate sense of past and future, and, perhaps even worse, of either the present or (human) presence”. Careri too is unforgiving about the bereft and deprived quality of suburbia, saying that “there is no enjoyment, no satisfaction, no emotional involvement in walking through the nature of suburbia”. Suburbia is both a landscape forgotten and a landscape of forgetting. I wonder if that stems from neglect – a lack of cultivation – or from an enthusiasm for the newness of suburbia, as progress, new life, retreat or aspiration.
Sculptures: Owl, Snake, Frog
For several years, I walked here each day, along a concrete pathway that followed the waterway, adjacent to backyards as a kind of connecting tissue or sinew in the suburban world that pretends to be at home in nature: a bushland setting. Heavily shaded by the well-established trees, mostly gums, the green rolled away from the road. Dogs barks and bird calls rippled across the tree tops. Several small sculptures were dotted throughout the landscape: three animal figures carved onto timber posts and two carved wooden figures, one is a lizard and the other is a fish. They are crumbling, weathered, splintering and splitting. At my first sighting, the figures are unexpected. However, as I observe others walking through here, they are generally ignored. Perhaps just part of the landscape.
Except one day. While sitting on a nearby bench enjoying a breeze in the shade, I notice a man standing next to the post-mounted figures of an owl, a snake and a frog. He looks carefully at each of the works and turns to walk towards me. And I stand to greet him. Birds are flying around, swooping to pick at the ground. He explains that he is visiting after a 17 year absence and recalls when the works were made. He doesn’t remember the details but says the artworks were commissioned by the developer responsible for the surrounding estate, possibly as a condition imposed by the Council, and that a wood carver had worked on site, attracting interest from the local community. He said he was pleased to see that they were still there though agreed that they needed some maintenance. While the surrounding housing estate and bushland has matured and developed, the small sculptures have fallen into disrepair, decaying over their near 20 years.
As small sculptures, they seem like small interruptions in an otherwise uncomplicated or easy space. Even that, however, may be illusory. I don’t think of them as artworks as such, but taking a panoramic view, walking around and through the field, other sensations become enmeshed in the experience of place. I can see they have a place. They are not just inserted here, but somehow a response, a representation that says something about this place and that has become part of this place. Borrowing from Ingold’s descriptions of ‘object’ and ‘thing’ (after Heidegger), I think of the scene or the field as a thing, as “a ‘going on’, or better, a place where several goings on become entwined” (Ingold, 2010). The artwork, now in its decaying state, is enmeshed in a ‘going on’. The artworks can be thought of as things rather than objects, as part of the field in formation. In order to be a thing, a different kind of engagement is necessitated, one that is predicated on inhabitation or dwelling through walking and all that entails. To be concerned less with the objects in a space and more with meanings (Careri, 2003; though Careri refers to ‘things’, he seems to be writing about ‘objects’) and formation (Ingold, 2010). Walking, I trust, is one way of seeing from within and drawing contours between thing, place and topology.
The big fish is located near the western bank of the creek. It is cartoonish as a ‘fish out of water’ in a creek system that is experiencing stress. Its mouth is wide opened as if gasping for air or laughing. The paint is now flaking and worn. The timber is cracking and split, with fragments having splintered off, including parts of its fins.
I have never seen children run to discover it from a distance or crawl on its back. I have never heard them squeal with pleasure at the sight of it. In my wildest imagination, I’d like to think of gigantic fish having lived in this creek system when the waters flowed quickly and deeply, spilling over the banks during the rainy months.
Insects crawl all over it and into the splits in the wood. It has been claimed or reclaimed by the environment from which it was hewn. Or at least that’s what I would like to think: that the work was carved in place using timber sourced from the locality, where the bushland was denuded for farmland, then denuded again to build the suburban houses that now hug the hills and streets, leaving just the creek corridor as remnant or refugium.
A particular kind of suburban narrative emerges. The contradictions are jarring, and perhaps a topological view allows us to think through both connections and disconnections.
After mocking the big fish carving, I discovered – some months later – that it had vanished. No trace of it having been situated on the bank of the sluggish brown creek. As I walked by there sometime later, I looked for the big fish, searching the spaces between trees. It had become something my eyes now seek out as a measure of space and marker of place. Perhaps I was mistaken about its location. No. It was definitely gone. And with that, sadness quietly knotted in my body. “What a shame,” I whisper.
Walking away, I turn around just to double check. This momentary knot of sadness was perplexing. I had not cared much for the carving, thinking it a flimsy engagement with place and space, though somehow enjoying some of the visual and narrative tricks it played.
The removal of the big fish marks a seemingly recidivist drive towards the ‘saming’ or ‘nowhereing’ of suburbs and the emptying of place in the name of maintenance or risk schedules. It seems uncaring. The source of the sadness, though, is my certainty that the carving will not be replaced and that there will be no further efforts of curatorship and craft in or of this space. Nothing that resonates with that initial care for place; no preparing of the ground; nothing of poiesis.
There is loss.
Further north along the creek bank there is another carving: a big lizard, perhaps a water dragon, resting on a fallen log. As I approach it living water dragons scurry away into the bushes and water. It’s as if the sculpture is a kind of ‘mother ship’. I’ve walked through this park, mostly along the concrete pathway, for several years and never noticed this before. Like the fish, it is carved from timber, perhaps another sourced from the locality. It is weathered and worn, splintered and split.
There is a billabong nearby sheltered under a rainforest canopy. It is pungent and cool under its cover. During heavy rain, the hollows in the slightly undulating ground fills with water creating large ponds in which ducks splash and paddle. And there are always bird calls here too, sometimes with such intensity. A cacophony of calls remind of the abundance of life in this seemingly still and quiet place. Walking here is a form of engagement and a way of thinking, as well as a way of moving.
In expressing a concern for life, Ingold writes of the formation of living things; the joining of the earth and sky. The sculptures have drawn me into this oasis, reminding me that life and living prevail and mesh in many ways in these suburban fields; they are much more porous than first appearances. Through this walking and seeking out pathways, there is thought and movement seeping into other fields of circulation and knowing.
And so I retrace my footsteps, walking through the shade and pausing again to study the small sculptures and survey the locale of the park, before returning to the street and continuing along the sometimes cracked footpath, across the bridge to the other side of the creek. On the opposite side of the street, there are houses: the sort often referred to in the real estate advertisements as ‘luxury homes’, but in the way of McMansions, they look like bloated parodies. This side of the street bounds the creek bank with pockets of green spaces, plantings and rehabilitated bushland. I’ve often wished the Council would build a viewing platform between the trees, over the creek. Though, perhaps a masterplan is what’s really needed.
I rarely do this. Ordinarily when walking, I just keep walking. With a tendency towards restlessness, I rarely stop and sit. Having walked past this spot many times over several years, I decide to sit on the seat in the shade of a cluster of Moreton Bay Figs by the creek bank. The fig trees, which I suspect were planted as part of the landscaping, are yet to develop their tangle of aerial roots that will support their long, heavy, silvery branches, slowly spreading and tearing at the footpath and road. A metaphor perhaps for the surrounding neighbourhood which is only one or two generations old; fixed in place though perhaps not quite rooted. As my footsteps crunch across the leafy ground, more water dragons take flight into the long grass. As the grass rustles bush turkeys emerge, picking and scratching. They keep their distance from me as I sit, tapping on my tablet.
To sit here is to feel myself sitting in the simple timber seat in a space created or left for sitting. Would I have lingered here if it was not for the invitation of the seat? Perhaps, even, endeavoured to climb one of those trees. As a refreshing breeze rises, I draw deep breaths, coaching myself to sit up straight, and draw breaths deeply into my body. The sound of birds and machinery, the odd passing car, is a cruelty. In sitting I begin to consolidate this thought about a masterplan. A plan is, I suspect, an object, not a thing. Can a plan be a thing, a ‘going on’? A large spider repairs its damaged web in one of the trees. Planning always looks from the outside in, not always at ground level. With Ingold’s evocative images of the earth and the sky mingling, I wonder about the ‘god’s eye view’ of spatial planning and an approach to planning that is brought down to earth so that the earth and sky might mingle.
Can planning do what Ingold says art should do: “follow the forces and flows of material that bring the form of the work into being” (2010)? Following is imperative. In this process of walking, I am endeavouing to follow, finding points along the path that form the path. In this following, a field might become recognisable and emerge. In his borrowing (or following) of Deleuze and Guattari (2004: 410), Ingold identifies itineration as the modality for improvisation:
The artist – as also the artisan – is an itinerant, and his [sic] work is consubstantial with the trajectory of his or her own life. Moreover the creativity of the work lies in the forward movement that gives rise to things. To read things ‘forwards’ entails a focus not on abduction but on improvisation (Ingold and Hallam 2007: 3).
Can we think of, conjure or perform a kind of planning that can do just that? Could planning engage or encounter a place in the way that Ingold describes as Environment Without Objects or EWO? A new form or style of planning might bring place to life through altered social and aesthetic practices and spatialities.
Graffitti (since removed)
The infrastructural is always present, shaping the folds and flows of space. There are utilities as well as exercise equipment along the pathways; a cycle lane is painted onto the road. On more than one occasion I’ve passed through here and there has been graffiti on the services box. But I enjoy this word “once” emblazoned here in gold on the industrial austerity of the utilities box, set against the backdrop of bushland. It makes me laugh.
Once someone walked here before me, spray can in hand, and wrote this. With an adroit flourish, it heralds the past, almost nostalgic. It signals a loss, as though it is not like that anymore, one of many waves of change. It accounts for the one and only even though the graffitti appears elsewhere. It suggests specialness or aversion, as though once was enough. It begins a story as in ‘once upon a time’, though makes no promise for a happy ending in this mesh. Here in this suburban world of tangled memories, lost ideals, singular possibility and hidden dreams, all kinds of stories are lived, inscribed and living.
Once there was a time and place called ‘Once’ …
Kony 2012: Stencil Art
Stepping away from the roadside pathway into the bushland-made-parkland evokes more vividly the experience of fairytale. In the gothic imagination, the forest is haunted and dark populated with hidden menace and mystery. Though in our suburbia, the forest is just a remnant, perhaps even a suggestion, of what once was, lying between the ruminating creek and a row of tended backyards. Pathways, only recently, have been laid to enable the daily rituals and habits of egress and regress, and in recognition, finally, that urban form has a role to play in human health, safety and activity. Pathways provide for a sense of knowability and certainty. A path, it is assumed, goes somewhere.
Here, at this juncture, lies a small suburban protest. A creative moment elicited, entreated, by the pulsing mesh of digital media. Here, in this suburban world, a reminder that we are that connected in this world, an act of global citizenship and resistance. Here, in this orderly suburban assemblage where culture overwrites nature, a stencilled utterance stains the concrete, disrupting routine. Yet, it elevates my heart and spirits to know that someone has taken action, even, made a demand. In my mind, I create another story of a young woman or man, having conspired with school friends, agrees to participate in this global action. They create and share their stencil designs, each returning home – or better still to art class – to secretly cut them using materials provided by the state education system. Then, having created a ruse, venture into the night with the blessing of parents or guardians to perpetrate their acts of social media sanctioned civil disobedience.
It’s not often that any kind of global activism plays out here: the odd political poster and more aesthetically motivated graffiti tag or sticker. It evokes the Deleuzian idea of ‘topological events’ which are determined by ‘reciprocal relations’. These relations are “precisely non-localizable ideal connections, whether they characterise the multiplicity globally or proceed by juxtaposition of neighbouring regions” (1994, 183). It raises my expectations: perhaps it is a sign of things to come as the digital economy and social media campaigning expands to engage more people in more ways in public conversations and change. In the year of this stencilled sign, the Occupy movements exploded and rumbled around the world in the wake of the Arab Spring. Public and urban space became the battlefields of civil liberties, democracy and equality; a faceless and symbolic solidarity emerged. With it, came the claiming or reclamation of public space, reverberating with demands for fairness and justice. To make demands of one oppressive regime is to make demands of all them, even as a trio of faded stencilled signs on a path in a park in a Brisbane suburb, evidence that there is a conscience in this place yearning for alternate realities and possibilities.
Shortly after relocating here, I started to explore with a view to plotting a daily walking path. The busy roads were too inhospitable and the suburban streets too monotonous. When I discovered the Cabbage Tree Creek walkway, it seemed like a breathing space. I stumbled on a group of young boys on BMX bikes who claimed the topography of the shifted watercourse, altered over centuries of moving earth and running water. Though altered more cruelly since colonisation.
As an earthform, the now empty inlet provides drainage for the sometimes heavy storm water. A long dry spell, however, made the earth hard. The rolling and bare curves gave the riders momentum and challenge: riding between the trees whose writhing roots clutched at the dirt. As they lived the freedom of flight and motion, they cheered and joked, sometimes sliding on loose rocks and falling, tearing the softer ground. They ride back and forth, up and down, over and above, along and around. The boys are joyous and powerful, full of admiration for their friends’ prowess. As a type of inhabitation or experiment, theirs is provisional, particular and improvised.
In the knotting of their manoeuvring, the riders create an elaborate fabric that weaves their practices to this place. For a brief time, in my wayfaring, I leaned against a tree observing these riders as they cast lines of trespass and flight, hovering momentarily at the mingling of earth and sky.
A gathering of trees
A year later and I am sitting in the auditorium at GOMA in Brisbane attending a Q&A with Richard Long. Long is renowned for artworks made by walking through landscapes. Sometimes inscription and sometimes intervention, his work has a sense of duration, presence, passing and discovery. It’s the kind of discovery that can only be made by changing something. That’s what humans do. Long offers quiet and modest explanations, pointed and concise, while a rotating slideshow of his work screens behind him. There is a relationship – an exchange – between the scenic and the scene. I mean scenic in terms of the picturesque or image and the scene as a site or sculpture. Both have particular kinds of relationships with space, time and experience.
There does, however, seem to be something of Heidegger’s dwelling and building in Long’s working and walking, particularly in the development of a language assembled from earth. The works seem to revel in their contact with the ground with the sweeping of clay and upturning of rocks by hand, or by feet that repeatedly press their rhythm into the earth as if drawing. Ideas like drawing, painting and sculpture seep into the realm of action and the artist in action. These are acts of drawing, acts of painting and acts of sculpture built from the land itself. Goings on.
It causes me to reflect on this gathering of trees. Perhaps because the trees are almost a circle and give the impression of having gathered here rather than having grown here. In their midst, I am sheltered and shaded. For another project, the Long Time, No See? project, I visited these trees as part of my walk, stopping here to photograph them and reflect on their precious gifts and muse about the planting. Pointing them out to others we wonder how they came to grow in this almost circular formation. Speculating is like being drawn into a mystery, myth or secret as I wonder whether the landscape was designed or not. Even as remnant, ‘saved’, there is a sense that it was designed or created, that the parkscape was tended and the trees nurtured with intent. The intentional comes into play.
Here I have contemplated developing a local iteration of University of Trees, a social sculpture developed by Shelley Sacks. In the space of the social and environmental, expanded and relational ideas of art bubble and spread as a topological engagement. I imagine offering this space as a site to begin a creative and poetic process for redirecting our thinking and action: the project requires trees as the trees are our teachers. Its gentle fold into the Long Time, No See? Project seems to herald that possibility. Stepping into and out of a clearing that was once a mighty forest and out of which a new forest might flourish.
Painted signal box
Having followed the length of the creek to its point of intersection with the road, my walking continues along Albany Creek Road. It is a stretch of typical suburban development – more of the same. Service Station. Shopping Centre. Storage Facility. There are meagre attempts at landscaping around the edges while the non-descript bulky buildings float in bitumen planes. Then. Retirement villages. Gated communities. Villa and chalet estates with names like Tuscany Villas and Aspen. All shielded by high brick walls. Large leafy trees, including some aged eucalypts, line the ordinarily busy wide road. Walking further the sad image of a painted signal box emerges, an almost pathetic nod at the idea of ‘public’ in this space of passage and retreat. Now graffiti tagged, the image, titled Sunny Day by Daniel Worth, makes no apology in its depiction of the colourbond roofs of seniors accommodation just visible over high fences, like some compound of detention; the bright sun hovering above. Throughout Aspley, as a further indication of the level of care for this area, the most notable and visible public artworks are painted signal boxes.
Further along this stretch, arranged around a red gum which burns such a stunning shade as it sheds its skin, are two bench seats and garden beds. Another gesture, so arresting, even insulting, in its futility. Yet, I do wonder about the seating and its relationship to the tree. What if, rather than futility, the seating offered some vantage point to study this magnificent tree? Like some small rupture in the continuum of thoughtless disengagement, there is a small space for contemplating a red gum as a remnant of a disturbed past.
Big bowling pin
And then, in the absence – or retreat – of public culture, private symbols assume significance. Like this big bowling pin adorning the bowling alley. The almost classical positioning and formal framing of the entrance, building facade and landscaping give it an aura of significance, as a landmark. It is deceptive, as the building has an industrial quality, like an airplane hangar. My walking habits were just that – habits – having identified a daily walking route, I habitually walked in a counter clockwise direction from home every day for a couple of years, until one day, for reasons that are now elusive, I decided to walk in the other direction. As I walked around a corner and along a ridge, the bowling pin came into view. In walking clockwise, I had not realised how visible it was and how the sightlines converged on it in the manner of many ‘big things’ which are kitsch and ‘out of place’. As I walked towards this suburban monument, I marvelled at how it floated above the rooflines against the backdrop of bushland and parkland.
I pause to reflect on the oversized bowling pin and how it might be more of a symbol of this locality than the logos of fast food franchises or the rows of homogenous or supersized housing. Yet, it seems like a vestige of a different kind of suburbia, somehow historic in relation to the rise of the automobile and automation. As Andrew Hurley writes of American bowling alleys, there is also a sense of the bowling alley as “the people’s country club” with its garden suburb setting, playing a role as a third space and offering some space for community gathering and family togetherness.
I had strayed off the path for a while, distracted by pressing issues like completing my studies and tending to other work related matters. I have been gone for some months returning here to this point in the path as if it was bookmarked. Placemarked. It’s a quiet and inviting spot concealed at the back of a recently constructed housing development. I judge it harshly because it is walled, like so many others along the main road, dissected from place. Once the site of a drive-in theatre, the fourth to open in Queensland, there is little suggestion of this romantic past. Of the convergence of families, friends and lovers in their cars, arrested by the cinematic radiance cast from the large outdoor screen. I remember that. Long closed, the drive-in grounds lay dormant for many years. Weeds broke through brittle bitumen while the small projection room and diner fell into disrepair. It was one of my first experiences of a suburban ruin: a dreamland turned wasteland.
The pathway, however, sutures the torn ground of this disconnected place. Drawn along the silent suburban street which bears the name of the old drive-in – Starlight – into the bushland and the string of parks along the creek. The concrete is etched with simple motifs, a small rupture in the otherwise smooth surface. I am aware that these are just token attempts of creating texture, most likely created by a well-intentioned designer. I wish I had carried some chalk so that I could colour the forms and leave my own mark, so that the chalky dust might cling to the soles of passersby and scatter across the ground; at once rewriting and erasing that ground and blurring those hard lines.
The housing estate is very neat, still with an aura of newness and care, particularly in relation to the landscape and landscaping. One of the first things I notice is the water sensitivity. The stormwater system includes a network of landscaped swales growing native grasses and other plants, arrangements of rocks allow water to drain. With tree lined and orderly streets, there is a garden feel that subsides to more chaotic bushland in the interplay of landscape and landscaped, informal and formal. At the end of a deadend street, there used to be a trampoline. It was never clear whether it was for public use – trampoline bombed – or whether the home owner had simply claimed the public space of the street as an extension of their yard. It was one of the few instances of something being ‘out of place’ here and a suggestion that the suburban – as a space of family – actually involves children with this remaking of the street for play.
Nearby, in the middle of a small park, abutting the creek, a modest playground is sited. It includes two timber structures for sitting and play. One is a square platform. The other is a curved structure comprised of a bench and a ramp that encircles the tree, a reflection perhaps of the complex root structure yet to develop. Both structures address or engage the young Moreton Bay Figs, which I am realising are a significant feature of the locality. Why settle for a platform when there are trees to climb? I’ve seen children in trees from time to time. I’m always surprised when I see them nested in the forking branches or swinging from the limbs. It happens so rarely. There’s a hint of wildness as the children slither like snakes and slink like big cats.
Even though the structures are appealing, playgrounds, sometimes, seem to lose their sense of play. Instead they are protective and protected. Play is reduced to a perfunctory set of activities or actions. Unlike the other installed play equipment, the wooden structures, however, seem to provide something more rudimentary, even elemental, in their simplicity. The ground rolls towards the creek where landscaping offers countless opportunities for exploration and adventure. But still, I am searching for the undesigned.
While much of this writing has been drafted in the field, the panoramic images make me look again and look differently in my transcription. They distort and differentiate. The space itself is transformed. As I study this image, I notice a transition taking place; in the parlance of urban design and planning, a transect. Strangely, when walking I was not so aware of it. The path is a line – a path, a contour, a current, a crossing, a boundary. In reading this place, I begin to detect a steady transition from the built to the landscaped to the natural (natural in this sense refers to both the remnant and the rehabilitated). Even here, in the arrangement and materiality of the trees and structures in the playspace, there is a slow yielding of design and rules. Further afield, it becomes somehow restorative and metabolic, engendering an awareness of the creek as a site of difference.
Can planning be evocative? Perhaps – as it attempts to lay a framework for things that are yet to happen – it needs to be expressive and inquiring. For some, that might be more prescriptive than evocative. However, ‘evocation’ might become a powerful method in a planning and design activity that is reflexively grounded in culture: again, this idea of intention and intentionality is at play. Evocation is a quieter and more subtle process of raising possibilities and eliciting response. It puts plan and planner in relation with others. Perhaps that’s where some part of planning needs to be situated, the work it needs to do in the field of imagination and the sensory – as story, as map, as image.
Land and water
A rather clumsy term – ‘Ecosystem services’. It provides configuration where social, cultural, economic and environmental needs converge to recognise that sound stewardship is foundational to the wellbeing of humanity. In planning and environmental management, ecosystem services refer to the benefits society accrues from ecosystems, biodiversity and ecological processes. The connectedness defines ecosystem services:
To qualify as a service, ecosystem structures and functions must contribute to meeting human needs and wants, which necessarily includes intangible and subjective aspects because the selection of ecological structures and functions, and their particular characteristics, that are considered to benefit humans changes with knowledge, technical, social, and cultural development (Daniel et al).
The interplay of human-made and natural systems is realising new approaches to the relationship between landscape, landscaping and infrastructure. I’ve heard it said that northern Brisbane did not experience severe flooding in the 2011 flood event because of the rehabilitation of the wetlands and the capacity and resilience of the waterways and stormwater systems to cope with inundation.
Some time ago, I participated in a consultation process in which members of the community were given maps and asked to annotate them with their experiences of place in relation to active transport. As I studied the map and considered the networks of streets and waterways, a landscape of tension points and islands became evident. As I drew lines and movements on the map, a suburban archipelago emerged as so many disconnections and fragments. The obvious tension can be found where the waterways meet the main roads, where built and natural environments meet. For me the defining feature of this locality is the creek and its tributaries, but the dominating feature is the highway and its constant stream of traffic. At the points where they meet, the engineered infrastructure is unforgiving and relentless. The creek, however, is persistent.
I might speculate about the original flow and churn of the creek as it traced a path towards the bay after a volcanic history. Much of what we experience as the creek now has been made by us in our settlement and development of the land, not exclusively by the millions of years of geological sediment and motion. Yet, the creek continues to play a life affirming role in this cultivated anthropocentric world. It is that tension, again, between landscape and landscaped. As I consider the landscaping around the creek, the degree to which it has been recreated – or created anew – is striking. The landscaping, while seemingly sensitive and careful, is designed in ways that capture and manage the flows of water. A human hand is apparent. A person does not find a place to sit and enjoy the sensory experience of this place – a place to sit is made for them of the hewn stone and arranged rocks, only slightly off the path. It is the trickery of landscape; we are always at a threshold, outside of it, removed from it. Not quite dwelling.
Perhaps once the water coursed through here. Now, because it has not rained for a while, only a few waterholes remain in the otherwise dry creek bed.
What makes for public and art in this place? Both seem so tentative and tenuous. Ecosystem services, infrastructure, public art and public space are intrinsically formative of the commons, or at least some semblance of it. There is a need to consider cultural services and public culture in the ecosystem services framework – this includes landscape aesthetics, cultural heritage, outdoor recreation, and spiritual significance (Daniel et al). Elements such as design and art also need to drawn into this framework of services.
The [Millennium Ecosystem Assessment] defines cultural services in terms of the “nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems,” and specifically lists “cultural diversity, spiritual and religious values, knowledge systems, educational values, inspiration, aesthetic values, social relations, sense of place, cultural heritage values, recreation and ecotourism” (cited in Daniel et al.).
The meanings we create are enmeshed in the ecological. In a locality that is so heavily vested in the creation of the private – property, ownership, consumption, space – and the protection of privacy, the idea of the public becomes a conundrum of what remains, is leftover or remnant. Are the strips of the gated and walled communities yet another symbol of the trashing of the commons? While the commons and the public seem in many ways undervalued, there are subtle signs here that the shared or common-use lies at the heart of local identity. A tremulous pulse. How can artists and designers build on and with this? As Daniels et al. argue some purpose needs to be mustered “to highlight the importance of cultural services, including their potential to motivate and sustain public support for ecosystem protection”.
More than conservation, the ecosystem services framework might offer a realm for experiment for a different kind of design and a different kind of art, drawn from thinking differently about ecology and thinking ecologically. As Morton proposes:
Thinking the ecological thought is difficult: it involves becoming open, radically open – open forever, without the possibiling of closing again. Studying art provides a platform because the environment is partly a matter of perception. Art forms have something to tell us about the environment, because they make us question reality.
As I cross a timber bridge, with more etched motifs at its thresholds, I am entangled in ideas of how art, design and ecosystem services can be integrated as a kind of shift from engineered artifacts to enabled environments. The Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) has developed a practice of ‘eco-acupuncture’ by which to redirect design challenges posed by the intersection of system lines: “to changing trajectories of development and overcoming paralysis and short-term resistance, our aim is to identify opportunities – small domains of potentiality – that can become sites of design intervention to shift the path of innovation on a new trajectory: towards sustainable, resilient conditions”.
Something changed for me as I walked through this place; something changed as I started to write about it. Something changed for me as my thinking was attuned to the concepts of place and placemaking as constructs that can disavow the metabolic, biological and ecological, except in gestural and token ways. Places like this demonstrate how we grapple with ideas of place, space and environment; how divides between the human and non-human are designed, maintained and reinforced. What if, as Morton, proposes, we engaged with and in “the thinking of interconnectedness” and recognised the “infinite connections and infinitesimal differences”. For Morton, this multiplicity is the mesh.
John walked with me along a portion of the concrete path, sharing discoveries and experiences. While we had lived here for some years, we rarely took time to explore. Now, we often walk along these banks – the story always seems different. I would like to tell a story of a flourishing lifeworld that rose from a volatile earth, seared and shaken by volcanic bursts, frozen and cracked under sheets of ice. As it thawed, paths were cut through fine dust and soft sand. Those waters swept stones, clay and pebbles into the silting river beds. I try to speak this language of earth time and geological phenomenon but it overwhelms.
For many years, I’ve been formulating a project that explores multiple ways of knowing and experiencing places and sites. Perhaps I have written about this elsewhere. The project arose from an array of quite different textual engagements. For example, I was quite interested in the way that Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues was assembled as a compendium of stories from women about their experiences and knowledge of the ‘terrain’ of their bodies. For me, this was a mapping exercise that excavated deeply entrenched cultural taboos and exploitations as well as the more technical operations of medicine and military (such as rape camps). There is a sense of diversity and multiplicity in this work that I found equally provocative and confounding, affirming an acute awareness that a body is never just a body.
Then, in a book about bushwalking in South East Queensland, I noted the initial chapters provided a detailed overview of the topography, geology and geomorphology of the area, with an overview of ancient volcanic activity, rock strata and other phenomena through the lens of earth science. Obviously, I needed to appreciate this to appreciate my subsequent experiences of bushwalking. Walks across the country are also walks in earth time. There were also descriptions of the flora and fauna as well as some references to Indigenous history and knowledge. In the context of an interdisciplinary and intercultural conversation, carried out through walking, such exchanges of information might enhance our knowledge of a place as well as inform how we relate to and engage with that site – to map its breadth as well as its depth – so that we might read it differently or knowingly when we reach the summit of the hill or pause to gaze across the valley. Walking is not just movement, it is a medium.
Scientific and technical knowledge might add to our experience of a place, inform and interleave with our cultural response. It is somehow potent to know that places have a history – both natural and cultural – beyond our own presence in that moment, to know that the Earth is very very old. Let me be clear that, for many reasons, I find the word ‘natural’ difficult and jarring. In my mind, I formulated that proposed project to draw on a range of historical, scientific, technical, political, philosophical and other material (such as traveller/explorer diaries, farm journals, newspaper reports) to tell the stories of places as they are grounded in the Earth, as they are shaped through our actions and desires. Fundamentally, I enjoy the nuances of assemblage – it can cope with contradictions and gaps, multiplicity and difference – like edited (or curated) collections of historical documents.
The idea returned to me again not so long ago when I was working on a quarry project. I was enthralled at a community meeting when a geologist provided detailed descriptions of how sediment was layered through flooding and tidal changes, how a river changed its pathway over thousands of years. In this account, I remind myself that the Earth is not the landscape. In the process of this work, I read about solastalgia – a phenomenon observed by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht – which occurs when the environment you call home changes unrecognisably for reasons beyond your immediate control (say, mining, development or deforestation). That is, degradation of or displacement from a landscape or environment that one is somehow connected to can evoke mental illness.
Another enduring influence is the work of Gaston Bachelard who, in Earth and Reveries of Will, which in part considers the possibility of living a grounded life, wrote, “Earth presents challenges to us, enticing our interaction with or, more dynamically and actively, provoking reactions to an array of possiblilites for engaging our energies.” To imagine the Earth is to somehow imagine ourselves, possibly to develop what Albrecht describes as an (embodied) ecological consciousness. In speaking of these places, in reading them and recounting them, it is possible to understand something of its complexity as well as the complexity of the knowledges that enabling this knowing.
I had a sense that this proposed project would be best presented as a series of readings or conversations, potentially with some kind of interactive or performative element like a ‘walkshop’, a process that underpins the Long Time, No See? project. The project idea has returned to me of late with the proliferation of catastrophic events and extreme weather – flooding, fire, earthquake – reminding me that geologic duration is persistent and slow.
A sign describes the efforts of local community members to rehabilitate the bushland, planting 9000 trees over seven years. As I read it, the idea for this project that dreams sedimentary forces of the earth resurfaces.
In Biogea, Michel Serres provides an account of a feast day, Mundus Patet (the World Opens), in Ancient Rome held three times per year when the earth yawned to release “the unworldly lament of the dead”. He writes of the vapours and mists that arise from the gaping earth to inspire the ecstatic insights of oracles. He writes of humanity’s need to allay fear through myths and rituals as constructs and performances of knowledge and meaning. Serres’ writing breathes and each breath enlivens. He writes that Mundus Patet also means the world is hidden and that our acts of knowing and meaning also veil and conceal. He evokes an earthly tension between revealed and hidden, like the breath itself.
Having crossed another bridge, the path winds between a row of community facilities and the creek. On the other side of the creek, there is a caravan park, in which sorrowful things happen. Here there is a rock – a monolith, though perhaps small by monolith standards – set in a corner of a paved carpark in a now bereft garden bed under the shade of a tree, perhaps a Leopard Tree. One side is tagged and the other is bare. A seam of shimmering crystalline quartz is visible on its western face, having formed under the pressure of magma so many eons ago. Perhaps the rock marks a boundary or distance. Perhaps it heralds a marking of time and place that is meaningful to different people, calling to rememberance and memory. Though the rock is seemingly cut, broken or blasted from igneous extrusions. And we marvel at the agedness of the earth, its duration, endurance and durability, formed of and marked by such tumult.
Nearby, the earth gapes. It is true. There is a geological anomaly from which mud, water and gas seep from a crack in the ground. The mud spring is described on a sign as:
a rare geological formation of which there are only possibly two in Australia. Although the formation always existed, in 1946 they started to grow rapidly larger until, there were five mounds 3 metres high. In 1970 a bore was sunk to 360 metres to look for natural gas. Further tests showed there was a substantial amount of methane gas at 1300 metres The mud goes down to 30 metres. A stream of water runs from a sub artesian basin behind Bald Hills. The water hit a clay capping which is over a dome of gas. In 1970 the Brisbane City Council moved the mounds when it excavated to lay a large water main across Graham Road. As a consequence of the excavation a huge amount of mud started to surge up from a hole accompanied by a dreadful smell of hydrogen sulphide gas … The land around it then sank. Sheet pilings were dumped on the mud to form a caisson, the pipes dragged through and 12 truckloads of concrete were placed over the pipes to hold them down. The crust is only 15 cm thick.
Other anecdotal reports indicate that similar sinkholes appeared elsewhere, as a threshold where earth, ground and sky meet. Here the earth remembers its turbulent volcanic past and the soft mergings of warmth, clay, water and gas.
Painted signal box
Moving on, John and I rest at a park on the corner of Graham and Gympie Roads; the traffic roars. The creek intersects the highway. As we sit and chat, I think back to the lone rock we just passed. It evokes an artist book John made in 1982 called Ten Menhirs at Plouharnel, Carnac, Morbihan, Bretagne, France, which is now held in the State Library of Queensland’s James Hardie Collection. In my reflecting, I realise similarities between that work and this work. The obvious connection is the immersion in fieldwork and walking, and the use of notebooks and fieldnotes as an interpretative process. In their address of the cultural dimensions of the environmental, both projects demonstrate practices of meaning making and sense making.
I like this word – practice – it conjure doing, iteration, learning, rehearsal, habit, method. Pierre Bourdieu’s writings, obviously, come to mind with the concepts of habitus and hexis in our engagements with space, culture and meaning. Where once the earth rumbled and trembled, now it is the traffic which thunders and speeds along the highway. Another painted signal box is located on the street corner near the signage for the housing estate that lies beyond the fences and hedges. One day, when a new road is etched along the western border of this estate, it will become an island, part of the ever-fracturing suburban archipelago, fragmented by the intersections of infrastructure and remnant ecological corridors. Where once earthquakes and volcanoes formed and shattered islands, now it is roads.
The image on the signal box is intriguing and looks like a puzzle or riddle to be solved. The artwork, titled White Clouds by Douglas Trudgeon, features a, a form of Japanese performance. The image is influenced by Zen Buddhism and ink painting. As an artform, Noh is simple, stripped back and open to its audience. The mask motif is used as a symbol, suggesting alternative ways of being and living aligned to Buddhist principles and spirituality. The small signal box may signal to the many thousands of daily passersby that the parring back of life has mystery and beauty, that all things are connected, that striving for stillness requires discipline and that the wisps of white clouds symbolise raised awareness and mindfulness. As a philosophical and spiritual proposition, it stands in contrast to the surrounding abundance and excess wrought of destruction.
The Noh mask is set against signage presaging an English ideal of ‘hamlet’. This leads me to ponder the naming conventions of suburban housing estates and garden suburbs with their suggestions of the bucolic repose of manor living: Aspley Keep, Fitzgibbon Chase, Carseldine Hamlet. Earlier I noted the villas and chalets hidding behind their gates and walls – blatantly segregated and removed. There are so many lies in the lie of the land. The suburban is an ad hoc patchwork of estates each proffering a utopian ideal where community and landscape, as remnants, take shape around repetitive rows of homogenous housing. In this sameness and enclosure, an ideal of security of emerges. More likely, though, given the bareness and spareness of public space, the ‘privatopic’ prevails in a gardenesque setting. This is what is so perplexing about suburbia as a kind of neo-Arcadia. Sprawling parks and carparks and rolling green spaces, yet space for the civic, like the plaza or the square, is absent.
I’ve bemoaned the lack of an entry statement for Aspley in other blog posts and in a letter to the editor of our local paper. Zillmere Road, which joins Gympie Road and the creek is an edge of sorts. Beyond here, a different kind of suburbia lies in wait, sprawling and creeping along the highway. The local area plan makes reference to Aspley as Brisbane’s northern gateway. As such, I have suggested that an entry statement is warranted as the highway yields the usual suburban offerings of car yards, fast food, petrol stations and big box retail. Perhaps it’s a specially commissioned marker or planting of landmark trees which frame the road and bridge crossing over Cabbage Tree Creek. Perhaps it’s just some acknowledgement of here, of place, of entering somewhere (rather than a non-descript nowhere of suburbia). Perhaps it’s just recognising what already exists at that point and enhancing it, like a row of pines further up the road. I’ve noticed a young crooked pine situated next to the bridge on the bank of the creek. It seems apt to acknowledge such trees given the association of that vicinity with forest, catchment rehabilitation and timber milling.
The remnants of timber milling are visible in the neighbouring property, located on the northern bank of the creek, with stacks of massive logs. This may have been the site of an old timber mill that had operated for some decades during the early period of settlement. There is also a cluster of small timber structures including a small dock further along the creek. They are suggestive of simple industrial or agricultural buildings with pitched roofs and log supports. Some are close to collapse; the timbers are greyed and weathered. They are at least a century old, coinciding with the acceleration of settlement since the mid 19th century. Like other larger land holdings in the area, this is a vestige of an industrial and agricultural past that succumbed to suburban expansion by the mid 20th century.
Large logs remain on the site, providing indications of the magnitude of forest and tree growth in the area. One piece of log is at least two metres in breadth, cut at its fork and lying in the centre of an open field. Perhaps the logs are the residue of clearing this site for farming. The locked gate carries a sign prohibiting entry. But the log looks like a heavy and broken heart, its arteries severed, disembodied. And a mighty terrifying crack of torn limbs might have echoed through the once dense bush; falling branches might have crashed to the ground and like a stranded leviathan, it lay there, where it fell, for decades. For Ingold (1992), “to perceive the landscape is therefore to carry out an act of remembrance, and remembering is not so much a matter of calling up an internal image, stored in the mind, as of engaging perceptually with an environment that is itself pregnant with the past”. Other historical photographs also establish the heavy forests that grew in the area. The other side of the main road, where Carseldine Hamlet now stands, was once a vineyard nourished by the rich volcanic soil.
Habitat is a public artwork by Mandy Ridley and year seven students at Aspley State School, installed as part of a new bridge extending the cycle and walkway adjacent to a big box bulky goods retail hub. The project was completed after my initial walking, when the Enabling Suburbs group took Mandy on a guided creekside walk. We offered to work with her to develop a more nuanced understanding of the locality before other community engagement processes were implemented.
We retraced some of the steps I have already taken – along the pathways from the Aspley Rotary Park to the Brisbane Mud Springs then to the Allen Guy Walkway. It was a valuable experiment and, while not formally a walkshop, provided a platform for improvised and reflective explorations of the area to support Mandy’s inquiry about the place. As a group of built environment practitioners, our attention was drawn to the tensions between the ‘natural’ and the ‘built’, prompting us to question the legitimacy of that divide in urban environments, especially when there are far greater tensions and fragmentations at times between the built elements of an area.
After our walk, over a cup of tea in the picnic shed, we discussed some questions about the relationships between spaces and communities – the informality brings out other strands of conversation and connection. With the anomaly of the mud springs, we reflected on the locality’s volcanic and geological past, noting also the overlays of the Indigenous, industrial and agricultural history of the area – part speculation, part oral record and part written.
More generally, Mandy’s work is driven by an abiding fascination with pattern and memory. Her engagement in this project has seen her work with children to encourage an appreciation of biodiversity and living systems. The resulting laser etched and cut panels that adorn the bridge represent something of an interdependent and dynamic ecosystem – from large to small, from life system to life form. The chaotic codes and chains of life itself emerge. Seen through the eyes of children, it is enthralling and gentle as a gesture towards ecological thought and communication. As Michel Serres writes “each thing reverberates in every other thing”.
The southern creek banks have been rehabilitated with new plantings. New seating has been installed along the path, which swings under the highway with smooth curves, touching the edges of the creek. During rapid and heavy rains, the creek is prone to flash flooding. The traffic rumbles above and rubbish from the neighbouring retail centre invades the landscaped space. Yet, such landscaped, engineered and infrastructure arrangements of space and culture seem to reinscribe a sense that we are outside ecology rather than embedded in it, shaping it, changing it. I wonder, though, if we do not really see landscape here but rather its image. As Wilhelm Krull states “We need to be aware of a new whole, an entity that goes beyond individual elements, that is not bound to their specific meanings, and does not mechanically assemble them into a design – that is when landscape happens”. My practice here, in walking this path and writing this field, endeavours a more wholistic reading and process, an alternative synthesis or charting of spatial relations and the contemporary landscape that yields a more encompassing view of public art.
Painted signal box
This walk is long; longer than I initially anticipated. Having recently had surgery, I am feeling tired and sore. John urges me to return home offering his arm for support. I grudgingly agree and resign myself to a walk comprised of not just many walks, but retracings and rewritings. If only my steps could be etched into the ground as I walked and walked again, connecting and reconnecting along this path, redefining this field of passage and inhabiting anew. For Krull, “Working topologically means examining in detail the planned site of intervention, understanding it in relation to other aspects – such as landscape, infrastructure, or built structures – organizing the space landscape architecturally, and considering people”. Here my experiment involves walking, investigating and writing topologically.
A painted signal box offers a patchwork of patterns and stencils. Titled Art-Deco by Nyree Cooper and Emerson Cooper, the work simply aims to brighten up the road with playful and decorative elements. While the locality is not heavily pedestrian trafficked, school children pass by each weekday during semester. The work reflects the surrounding pastische. Yet, there’s something, for want of a better word, dark permeating the suburbs. A heavy realism anchors the suburbs; it can provoke rejection and abjection. When I was at school a younger student – a child – was raped on her walk home along this street. At the time, there was more bushland. Sadness descended on the whole school at the realisation that fairytale fortunes were to be heeded, that wolves lurked in the shadowy scrub. A shocked awareness of predators and the dangers of loitering. Suburban stories, both fictions and realities, are many.
The walk was paused for some months then resumed one hot day when my bicycle got a flat tyre. Walk with my bicycle, I continued to walk and note. The walk recommenced on the corner of Dorville Road and Zillmere Road, outside the Aspley Special School, opposite the signal box.
The marsh is concealed by grass and bull rushes and the water flows into the bush. It’s the day after a storm and the greenery reverberates with the ruminations of marsh frogs. Their distinctive call repeats in short clicks, and bursts with a popping sound. The auditory experience makes for an abrupt change from the usual sound of cars breaking and speeding up at the nearby traffic light. Though it is subtle and requires care and attentiveness; tuning, attuning. At times, I have stopped along my cycling path to record frog and bird calls on my phone and post it to Audioboo. Because of the traffic, better recordings are made elsewhere.
Ingold has described sound as a medium, proposing that we listen in sound, that we are never external to it even when sound is ‘over there’. I sensed it as I walked by this spot – the sound of the frogs held me in its envelop. For Saussure, sound binds us. This patch is meshed into the topography of the place that connects to the creek corridor and cycle path, where human intervention has retained habitat in a way that enlivens vitality. A small marshy fragment reclaimed from invading species restores an auditory ecology, restores health. In sound. In ecology. In place.
In my walking, I have become acutely aware of how infrastructure occupies urban space as a technological web of utilities, signs, stopping points, barriers and the like. In this suburban world, the infrastructure megaplex assumes greater spatial significance and dominance. The investments in place are, generally, investments in infrastructure. Even public artworks can assume a kind of infrastructural significance. This musing now represents a point of departure, representing how narratives, landscapes and discourses of infrastructure have come to supplant more nuanced considerations of the urban and suburban, and of public space. Even though much of it is of our own making, landscape, like ecology or earth, is not an object from which we are removed, somehow ‘over there’; it is here with us and we are in it, part of it, connected to and within it.
Boomgate graffiti (since removed)
Taking the path at the edge of the former university campus, I catch glimpses of bright colours through the trees. Even though the campus is now called the Carseldine Government Precinct, I continue to call it ‘the former university’. It has a woeful quality as a reminder that the university was lost and felt as a loss. I noted graffiti tagging on several of the majestic gum trees in the clearings.
Turning a bend, revealed a boomgate painted with stripes of colour, like a rainbow. It was unexpectedly pleasurable and as I took photographs, a man – an elderly fellow – walking his dog emerged from the bush. Looking confused, he asked me what I was doing. So I explained that I thought the boomgate looked good. Shaking his head, he said it was a strange thing to do. As I patted his dog – a heavy-set blue healer cross with a big head, wide jaw and frantically wagging tail – he told me about how the campus had been taken away from the community by the government. He didn’t approve of the affordable housing plans for the nearby housing estate, and this site should have remained a university. “Hopefully there will be a good result,” I proposed. “I don’t trust the government – not the previous mob or this lot,” he responded. Then he turned in the direction of the boomgate. As he started to walk away, the dog bounded into the undergrowth, he said it was good to walk along that stony path that disappeared into the bush lining the creek, which forms a boundary between the campus and the nearby school. I’ve never walked that path, taking the boomgate to signal no entry.
As a small intervention, this rainbow boomgate doesn’t make a dramatic statement about reclaiming space, DIY transformation or poetic identity. It is something that someone did as they passed through here with a bag full of colours. The quickly painted strips of colour have a gestural, informal and improvised quality. Here is a moment of encounter, a gentle surprise, even a gift. It has that sense of opportunism of much graffiti – out of public view, on the run and on the sly. A secret discovered. It suggests a welcome, a threshold to cross rather than a barrier that repels.
The paint has now been removed and the boomgate returned to bare steel.
For several years, I have tried to instigate initiatives for the former campus. When it closed, I submitted a proposal for a social enterprise and design hub that could offer opportunities for co-working and small business incubation. I thought some part of the campus could be offered for use by non-government organisations and non-profit organisations. I had this idea that creating a social enterprise cluster in the suburban context could enhance the social economy while also activating the campus through an engagement process. The site should be a resource for the community. I also proposed that engaging communities in design thinking and social innovation would enhance suburban sustainability. The proposal was formulated through my involvement in a state government engagement process called the Ministerial Regional Community Forum and duly stifled by the bureaucracy, along with other proposals.
In time, the state government announced that the campus would be redeveloped as a regional government office, offering a decentralised location for public servants, adjacent to a proposed urban village, despite the community’s clear desire to retain community and educational uses on the site. The decision was made without significant consultation and this triggered a range of anxieties in the local community. The day after the announcement, I attended a ‘community conversation’ to address some local issues, specifically community aspirations about the future of disused university campus which had been vacant for nearly two years. Anxiety and fear can be so overwhelming, so stultifying, so closed, so political. From beneath that anxiety, the contradiction implicit in self-interested-public-mindedness, emerge propositions informed by needs from across the district – a different kind of environmental, community and education hub. Rather than resist change – because it is clear that things cannot stay as they are – there is a gradual opening up to other opportunities that support these community ideas which included consideration of peak oil and food security. However, when government decision making and ‘community conversations’ don’t delve deeply and don’t pave the way for a more generative and creative process, a process that stimulates and challenges, the opportunity for co-design is lost in a clash of ideologies, ideas and ideals.
Communities and community groups can be at their best when they engage and when they collaborate, when they address issues in their breadth and complexity, in a practical and hopeful way. Such a process reveals the complexity and productivity of this discourse rather than establish a truth or ‘realpolitik’. It’s not enough to just frame these outbursts as resistance. It feels a little like part of a bigger culture war, fundamentally about the meaning and reproduction of the suburban landscape, about what does and doesn’t belong and about the recursive set of relationships between places, politics and communities rather than futuring in any disruptive or transformative sense. It is at the heart of synoikismos, through which citizens consider how they will live together, how they will share space and create place: it’s about negotiation and learning.
This prompted some reconsideration of the discourse of participation and collaboration. What of co-option and consent? This rethinking was also provoked by Markus Miessen’s treatises on participation, such as The Nightmare of Participation. Miessen proposes a post-consensual practice and this has given me cause to reconsider some of my ideas about the role of participation in synoikismos. There is a certain naivety – even utopianism – in thinking that it is possible to appeal to conventional models of participation, inclusion and good intentions. He addresses the paradox of participation as creating “a common ground where activists must cooperate with the very states, armies or militias they originally sought to confront”. Miessen suggests that participation results in a closed system where choice is diminished. From this description, it is clear that the soft politics of participation may simply serve to quell resistance. Instead of being invited in or summoned to the table, Miessen proposes participation as a way to enter politics and forcefully enter an existing discourse. In this conceptualisation, participation is intervention, disintegrated and disassociated, yet is still able to “prepare the ground for productive internal struggle” through creative intellect and a will to generate change. Conflict, he seems to argue, can be an enabling force that creates an agonistic and antagonistic space. What underlies this work is a critique of democracy – this critique plays out by undoing the innocence of participation and, therefore, those other social constructs of public and community.
This is a complex and difficult argument because, as Miessen’s admits, there is a turn away from a normative style of democracy that can be misread as ‘crypto-facism’. However, Miessen is also proposing other forms of political agency and changemaking. Perhaps problematising those things upheld as virtuous and interrogating the power relations within them that may lead us into alternate ways of thinking about participation, community, communication and culture.
It is a lesson in power and power relations writ large in the dynamics of outlying communities which are characterised as dormitory; sleepy and slow to stir from their slumber. It was also played out through the process of Regional Forum: a disengaging form of engagement. In her essay, Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces, published in Art & Research, Chantal Mouffe explores the proposition that “artistic practices could contribute to the struggle against capitalist domination but this requires a proper understanding of the dynamics of democratic politics; an understanding which I contend can only be obtained by acknowledging the political in its antagonistic dimension as well as the contingent nature of any type of social order.” Here she questions Habermas’ notions of the public sphere, consensus and communicative rationality, drawing on Arendt and Kant, acknowledging Lyotard’s differend. There is something more fractious and tense going on. Delving further, in a comparative study of Mouffe’s agonistic pluralism and Ranciere’s sporadic democracy, there is essential recognition of conflict and disagreement; it diverges from trajectories of communicative and political rationality, spilling into the politics of governance and policy making.
Yet, I understand that, as Healey says, planning should not be regarded “merely as an enterprise in imagining futures but as a practice of bringing imagined futures into being” (2010, p. x). My interest in the campus has not waned and, more recently, I sought to instigate the development of a public artwork for the site that sought to address a convergence of social and ecological narratives associated with the site and surrounds. Funding was sought, but not granted, for a project that would enable the community to develop concepts for a public artwork that would further develop an emerging public art, ecology and culture trail along the northern suburbs cycling and walking path and creek corridor to Fitzgibbon/Taigum, a trail that my walking and cycling has, in part, revealed. Public art and placemaking was not included in the program for refurbishment of the buildings.
This proposed project was also striving towards a more encompassing and integrated vision and practice of place in an area otherwise fragmented by large land uses. It was proposing placemaking and reconnection to develop smaller scale public spaces in suburban contexts that are more inviting and convivial while enhancing engagement with public space and active lifestyles. The project was a response to community disappointment about the closure of the former campus and sought to develop a creative and interpretive framework that enhances a spirit of adventure and an experience of (re)discovery of both place and locale. As the pathway intersects roads and rail, users would be able to access it at several points and design walking experiences of various lengths. As the area is also a meeting point for many modes of transport – road, rail, bus, walking and cycling – this can be part of an active transport strategy.
Over time, it may be possible to develop a series of site specific public artworks that draw people into and through the landscaped grounds and recreational facilities, so as to enhance engagement, awareness and use. This is particularly important as development intensifies in the locality where nearby acreage is being redeveloped for housing. This project could play a role in further animating the site and locality, creating amenity for workers, local residents and users and catalysing additional uses, particularly on weekends when the site is vacant – a weekend market, a cycling festival, skate or BMX facility and/or community garden may be viable options for this site that direct our attention to synoikismos. It calls for a curated approach in which public art is foundational to new methodologies of city making and (sub)urban living.
Then, in June 2014, a farmers’ market opened. The first day was a swimming success with thousands of people attending; the ordinarily quiet internal courtyard hummed with activity as visitors dined, chatted, walked and shopped. The overheard conversations and feedback on social media were overwhelmingly positive, with further acknowledgement of peak oil and food security issues. Some commented they were pleased to return to the old campus again – even the market advertising refers to the location as the “old QUT campus”, more memorable and meaningful – as if some imagined and torn social and (sub)urban seam had been temporarily pinned together.
Clock Corner Shopping Centre
Emerging from the campus grounds on to Beams Road, there is a small local convenience centre opposite: adjacent to the Carseldine Train Station and a park. With its clocktower and monolithic signage, the centre is striving for a presence. I admire the ambition, and the recognition of locale. It makes a statement about context that is enjoyable and, in some ways, ironic, recognising the tradition of clock towers at train stations and universities. The suburban setting belies any suggestion of a vision of grandeur, yet symbolises a need for a ‘centre’ in an otherwise dispersed place. The surrounding infrastructure defines the locality. The small centre introduces an aspect of townscape that endeavours to mark place, define physical factors and meet human needs in a way that responds to the locality. For a brief time, a small craft market operated in the car park.
While the clock continues to keep time, once attuned to the rhythms of trains and lectures, the other mechanisms are broken or dormant. Beneath the clock face there is an arrangement of 10 bells and below them is a small platform that curves around the tower. Now sealed, the platform bridges what appears to be two arched doorways. On the ground there are two door panels which also seem to cover former entry points. The arrangement of elements suggests that the bells, variously tuned and sized, once sounded at regular intervals which also triggered a mechanised movement of figures that traversed the platform. I imagine that when the bells pealed, a model train moved around the platform under the bells. However, a friend later informs me that a figure would emerge and strike the bells; given the height, of the doorways and the arrangement of bells, this makes more sense. I speculate about whether the movements and sounds were discontinued because neighbours complained.
The clock tower, set back from the road across the field of carparking, is dwarfed by the monolithic signage advertising the resident businesses. A small and highly sculpted garden bed featuring austerely shaped trees and shrubs occupies a corner of the block while another painted signal box, titled Inspired by Art and Nature by Liz Fleet, is situated next to it. The centre includes the usual local convenience services: health, dining, coffee, beauty, professional services and retail. Some ventures have not prevailed, like a small Asian grocery store, while others, like a Red Cross office, signal changing fortunes. Further along the road there are new housing developments on once peri-rural residential blocks or bushland as well as a sporting field, retirement village, a golf practice range and a wrecker. There were plans, now shelved, for the development of an urban village, which local opposed. At public meetings, it was baffling listening to the layperson’s view on planning and design.
As an exercise, I once prepared a proposal to develop the Carseldine train station as a community hub with ideas that enhanced economic, social and environmental performance and integration of the locality. As I walked around studying the area, I considered the ‘what ifs’ … public art, bike co-op, co-working, water sensitive design, enhanced walking and cycling facilities, streetscaping and furniture, infill and mixed uses. I wonder what sort of conversation is required locally to catalyse such a transition towards a more sustainable hub. With such important infrastructure as a university campus now government precinct (which generally turns its back on the locality through an arrangement of buildings huddled around an inner sanctum), connections with place that address aesthetic, contextual and social considerations and interfaces seem warranted.
In bemoaning the lost opportunities in this place, I reflect on Richard Ingersoll’s study of the aesthetic dimensions of infrastructure. He recognises that “infrastructure can enrich the life and imagination of the city” if “citizens and designers could demand more of infrastructure than just its primary function”. In continuing my ‘what if’ thinking, I wonder what it might take to restore the mechanisms on the clock tower and encourage interaction, whether there is the possibility of an artful or interactive way that socially integrates infrastructure, place and community. Michael Mehaffy calls for “a shift to a different and more effective kind of planning … to seek greater understanding of the dynamics by which a city spontaneously self-organizes and the ways those dynamics can be guided and catalyzed by planners toward much more benign outcomes”.
Where culture connects, planning has disconnected: “Culture’s capacity to connection, and to transcend the frame of planning forms, has an unrivalled ability to promote joined up planning, and to deliver planning transformations”. Young describes the need for culturised planning which involves the ethical, critical and reflexive integration of culture into planning and potentially other areas such as public administration, corporate strategy and development thinking. It calls for a practice of continuous interpretation across spatial and strategic practices. In the suburban context, this art of planning, as an act of curating, participation and public art, is cultural, compromising and generative; it can be restorative, richly meaningful and regenerative.
Taking the overpass at the train station, I exit into Lavender Place where a landscaped entry statement has been developed. Featuring sandstone blocks, a wide sealed path and plantings, it offers amenity in an urban design palette that continues through the housing estate. If I had designed public spaces for a street named Lavender Place, recognising that other streets in this estate are named after flowes and trees, I would probably take a cue from this most fragrant and restful of plants by integrating a scented garden that attracted pollinators and encouraged people to sit and breathe. What a pleasing start and end for the daily commute – a walk through a fresh and fragrant open room. Deep breaths while crossing the threshold to and from the day’s labours.
In much of my walking, particularly around here, I have become accutely aware that I am focusing on what is absent, what is not here rather than what is. In part, it’s because my own small plans for place and community have not amounted to much: a series of what I tend to regard as well intentioned attempts to catalyse a different path, or pace. I wonder about a different kind of urban palette, perhaps more like urban coding or recoding, which offers multiplied ways of making sense of networks, buildings and spaces. Sitting on a sandstone block, which I presume to have been quarried from the various tunnel works in the city, I consider that perhaps those modest propositions are design fictions optimistically seeking to inscribe another kind of suburbia and excavate other meanings from the suburban bedrock.
A design fiction is an approach to design drawn from speculation; a story we can tell ourselves or a metaphor we can contrive about how things could or should be. Even a provocation, although earlier I was musing about the idea evocation and evocative planning. Perhaps evocation makes for a more inviting and open approach. As Julian Bleecker says, “design can be a kind of fiction making.” There’s a riff between fact and fiction, present and future, imagined and real. That riff can render the current reality obsolete. The future is already among us, unevenly distributed and pooling.
There’s a tight relationship between this kind of figuring and memetics. Memes are understood as a kind of ‘cultural DNA’, and memeplexes are understood as meme complexes or as memecomplexes. A design fiction doesn’t do much until it joins a network of signs, symbols and representations. There are, of course, other ways of talking about cultural tranmission such as social pyschology and sociology. Futuring is part of this picture; not just in the sense of casting things and ideas into the future but in terms of ‘making time, making a future’. The material and the semiotic are tangled. Narrative work, however, requires meaning making, not just storytelling.
We are all entangled in design and architectural fictions about home and place – these are the tales we tell ourselves – and the power of the memes they produce. Other design fictions – not just scenarios or plans – are required. A design fiction of here, the design fictions of world cities, a world of urban stories (Saskia Sassen). There are design fictions of world suburbs too. In community consultations for suburban developments, such as the one where I am now walking, residents oppose higher density and social housing proposals in suburban areas as harbingers of social decline. It conjures the dystopic design fiction of ‘slumburb’. Another design fiction, coalescing at the convergence of place, public art and planning, might be the reassemblage, reinvention and reterritorialisation of suburbia as innovative, healthy, creative and productive space.
I am not sure if I have mentioned this but I tend to walk hard and fast. The soles of my shoes wear out quickly. I am not a slow pensive walker, so this exercise is somewhat different to my usual practice of walking. I always seem to be in a hurry; the speed fires my thoughts which are quick and random. This slower pace, and the pauses for note-taking, at first seemed onerous and laboured, but now they feel much lighter.
For a while my walking has parted ways with the trajectory of the creek, which curves and spreads through this region. There are marshy flood prone pockets where water swells during the rain. Walking to the housing estate, Fitzgibbon Chase, which was developed by a statutory authority, water sensitivity has been well integrated into the streets and green spaces. It was necessary as the area if generally flood prone and the whole development site had to be raised using debris from public works and tunnel construction from elsewhere in the city. The change is not only in the topography but also the archeaology and geology.
A small patch of bush has also been retained around a park. It’s always a relief to see the retention of habitat and biodiversity. Not only to celebrate the sensory layers of the rambling and chaotic Australian bush, but to recognise that tabula rasa comes at a cost. Along a dirt path, mostly cleared of fallen leaves, branches and bark by the movements of successive passersby, a clearing features an arrangement of sandstone blocks cut from the underworld. It is the kind of place that I think of as khora or chora – rather than topos – both formed and unformed, touched and untouched, somehow other. I can see through the bush into the streets, though there is a sense of seperation here. Stepping onto one of the rocks, I take another look around and then upwards through the leafy treetops to the sky, then leap to the next and the next and the next. Finally back to the ground with a thud and a puff of dust which hovers in the air for a while before it is dissipated by a gust of wind. Breathing through my mouth, the earthen grit sticks to my tongue.
Sitting. Breathing. I occupy the space of earth and sky, and it seems unsettled. Or perhaps it occupies me, and I am unsettled. I can never quite tell. This site feels secluded and hidden, but I know it is, in fact, quite exposed. It is not mine alone, not only for me. Although, for this moment I occupy and treasure it. Other walkers hesitate then continue. However, the array of rocks suggests something more communal, more shared, more tender. I’d like to make a mark or a gesture before I move on, just a temporary signifier to welcome others. Rebecca Solnit describes ‘walking-as-art’, observing “the ways every gesture can be imagined as a brief and invisible sculpture” (p 276). Each presence and encounter can shape the psyche of a place, alter its meaning, always feeding back into its cultural envelop. I’d like to write myself into this place; inscribe it with my hopes and fears. I enjoy the sense of my movements and flourishes as being sculptural, leaving some imprint in this place. Perhaps I wish I had dropped sand or stones, or some other disruption, as I walked leaving a trail, as if afraid of getting lost or going nowhere; as if inviting others to join me, imagine this formation and transformation of the world. I am aware, vaguely, of the impossibility of inhabiting this world in its becoming.
In returning to the street, I study the slow rehabilitation of the wetlands and the raised and levelled ground readied for construction. On one side of the street, a neat row of housing extends beyond the park, and the other is all but empty except for some display homes. Often, parks and green spaces are retained in Brisbane because they play a role in water management; that is, they flood and are unsuitable for building. They are spared as a buffer. In discussing the difference between occupation and inhabitation, Ingold explains that “[a] world that is occupied … is furnished with already-existing things. But one that is inhabited is woven from the strands of their continual coming-into-being”. And so, in walking, I am attempting to explore some part of this coming-into-being through inhabitation.
I am somewhat vested here as John curated the public art program for this new estate, working collaboratively with artists and community members to develop layers of experience and knowledge of place. In preparing the ground for occupation, much of the bushland was cleared to make way for the ordered laying of roads and landscape. Some of the large gum trees remain and there is some attempt to retain the habitat of the sugar gliders in the bushland beyond. The sugar glider nest has become the logo for this suburban place and its stylised image appears on bus stops and park structures. It is another contradiction of suburbia as gardenesque while establishing segregation from the reality of the bush; appropriating signs and symbols of preservation and care. It is very much about ‘in’ and enclosed – rather than being ‘here’ and open. In his study of the Heideggerian concept of ‘raum’, which is generally understood as clearing, Ingold writes “a clearing for life that makes possible such activities as building and cultivation, making things and growing things” (Heidegger, 1971, page 154). It’s not an emptying of the landscape but its living and aliveness.
It is my hope that when artists create public artworks and when curators, like John, weave them into and through spaces, they engage through openness or opening, with a deep understanding of clearing and the potency of cultivating, making and growing. There is, then, much room to move, to be, to dwell in the building of artistic and curatorial processes. I hesitate, given my general and broad understanding of these concepts, considering that the curatorial process is, itself, a kind of clearing. Or, perhaps, it is a line of flight, that writes the ‘texture of the land’ (Ingold). For Ingold, “This texture is what I mean when I speak of organisms being constituted within a relational field. It is a field not of connectable points but of interwoven lines, not a network but a meshwork” (Ingold, 2007a, page 80). While the rationale for public art is often framed in terms of identity, placemaking, active lifestyles, social inclusion and sustainability, curating is a conceptual, meaningful and topological mapping for and with living space.
This place has been made anew, not so much from the ground up, but more likely from the sky down. In developing the curatorial strategy for this place, new relations were created. Yet, on the ground things have happened – taken shape – and the curatorial and artistic processes have sought to enhance awareness of these surroundings through projects like these musical railings along the bridge near the bus stops (and at two other sites in the estate), developed by artists Nameer Davis and Barbara Penrose. It is unexpected. The work is a musical instrument – by hitting the railings with a stick (shoe, ruler or other ordinary object), a passerby can play music. Here the steel railings are arranged to play Mozart’s A Little Night Music (or A Little Serenade/Eine kleine Nachtmusik), though once a passerby understands the order of the tuned railings other compositions are possible. The word serenade derives from the Italian serenata which means “an evening song”, and literally “calm sky”, and from sereno which means “the open air”, and as a noun refers to “clear, calm”. The Latin serenus means “peaceful, calm, serene”. It is also influenced by the Italian sera meaning “evening”, from the Latin sera meaning “late”. The idea of the serenade is romantic and temporal – referring not just to the comings and goings of people to and from home, but also suggestive of the evening stroll, fading light, calming rhythm, easy tempo and pleasing social interplay. There’s enchantment in the everyday in this imagined space of neighbourhood.
In applying a ‘dwelling perspective’ to curating, Ingold seeks to account for building “as a process of working with materials and not just doing to them, and of bringing form into being rather than merely translating from the virtual to the actual”. For Ingold, a point of departure lies in positing a relationship between dwelling, rather than building, and weaving, rather than making, where process is prioritised over product and the activity is defined “by the attentiveness of environmental engagement rather than the transitivity of means and ends”. These curatorial and artistic inquiries, sometimes playful, are less concerned about fixed and marked points in time and space, than on the conditions for and of living and wayfaring; for goings on.
At the end of the road, adjacent to bushland, a new community centre has been built. Surrounded by landscaped gardens and greens which then yield to the bush. Like many of the green spaces in the city, it has the quality of a “marooned ecosystem”, as Roger Keil and Rob Shiels describe. It is built to address the surrounding environment – both rehabilitated bushland and emerging neighbourhood – to create a nexus, of sorts, between the ecological and social. As a hub for an emergent social ecology, there’s a sense of anticipation and transition, especially in the framing through a large undercover space. It is designed in a way that is site and climate responsive, offering passive cooling and opennness. The building is low set, in keeping with the scale of surrounding development, with blades of weathered steel forming an outer screen. Over time the steel will oxidise.
Again, as part of John’s curatorial program, artworks have been integrated in to the hard and soft landscaping. The public art is comprised of two components which comprise the work Living Traditions. They highlight contemporary and traditional interpretations of the natural and cultural dimensions of place and community.
Barely visible, a surface design has been etched into the paving at the Centre. Based on the flight patterns of native bees, this design was developed by artist Lucas Salton. Styled on honeycomb, the design highlights the centre as a hive of activity and provides a playful approach to wayfinding. Whenever I walk through here, I like to stand in the hexagons, or step from one to the next, along the pathway into the covered spaces. While the hive is an obvious metaphor for community and relationships, there are deeper meanings on offer. Juan Antonio Ramírez has undertaken a detailed study of the bee hive metaphor in art and architecture. The land of milk and honey is one of utopian glory, embedded in biblical and classical narratives of the divine and virtuous.
When my family returned to Queensland and settled in Aspley, for the second time, I was in grade 5 at a local primary school. My teacher initiatived a beekeeping project, somehow gaining permission to set up several hives and plant a garden of native flowering trees in the furtherest corner of the school. For that year, my classmates and I were immersed in a world of apiculture, and honey harvesting. It stands as one of my happiest childhood memories serving as a disruption to the repetitive monotony of school lessons which kept our restless childishness class and desk bound. Here, we our curiosity was unleashed as we learned to enter into exchanges with the natural world – to discover that ecological processes and careful cultivation were fundamental to our existence and our pleasures.
The second part of the work features ‘sculpture modules’ which are installed in the gardens and softscape. This series of domes, modelled as stylised bee hives fabricated by Lucas Salton (though they may seem more like termite mounds given their groundedness), house magnificent menageries and were developed by artists Andrea Fisher and Britta Gudd in community workshops with local residents and school children. In the workshops, Britta Gudd helped children use modelling clay to develop fantastic and familiar characters and creatures that populate a secret world concealed in the landscaping around the centre. They also decorated template cutouts of native fauna, developed by Andrea Fisher, such as fruit bats and sugar gliders revealing a nocturnal lifeworld. A teacher at the local school expresses her appreciation explaing that “our kids don’t often have these kinds of opportunities to be so creative and involved”.
Capturing the sunlight using solar panels, the domes radiate light into the evening like small beacons. It reminds us, I hope, that there is a need to be cognisant of the world we inhabit as one of precarious biodiversity and multiplicity. The works reference contemporary and traditional motifs that pay homage to the diverse influences shaping the community and culture. There is a sense of surprise, engagement and play at the heart of these works, a more meaningful inscription of care of and for place arising from this process that approaches curating-as-dwelling.
Hidden World Playground
The Hidden World Playground, designed by artist Russell Anderson, is also one of Brisbane City Council’s wifi enabled parks by which the space folds into and out of virtual and imagined realms. It is located further along Roghan Road.Here I can sit and update my fieldnotes on my tablet, accessing EverNote and the web. It’s easy to be here in the shade, online, listening to the squeals and excitement of children as they proclaim their discoveries of this hidden world. The infrastructural dimension of suburban space operates at different scales. Further afield, at the edges of this locality, there is a highway and a long corridor of high tension towers.
While the works at the community centre operate at a smaller scale as windows into other worlds, this environment is more immersive and narrative driven. Reviews of parks and playgrounds on the web comment that it’s worth ‘going out there’, acknowledging that travel into the suburban heartland for a day out is not a usual chosen day out. The artist has constructed an elaborate fiction, loosely related to the history of the site, about the emergence of subterranean creatures. The former landfill site, reclaimed for recreational use as the urban footprint grows, is now tapped for methane and a landfill gas collection facility is located next to the playground for electricity generation and greenhouse gas reduction.
For Anderson, this provides fuel for fantastical storytelling. He explains that there have been mysterious sitings and inexplicable discoveries at the site for over 30 years. This includes the discovery of remains of a unidentified gigantic creature. Scientists investigated sinkholes, and eventually found a system of underground tunnels: “shut off for millennia, a fully self-contained eco-system had evolved with entirely new orders of fauna and flora”. Here the large unknown creatures flourished, having evolved to feed on methane. Anderson explains that:
Subsequent expeditions were mounted to fully map and catalogue the cave system and its inhabitants. The creatures had been living underground for millennia. The siting of a waste station over the cavern had leached contaminants which created tetrogenic mutations, increasing their proportions from insect-sized to elephant-sized. Tools, writing, art, and architecture of an extinct society of sentient marsupial mice were also found. No clear correlation between their extinction and the forced evolution of the larger creatures has been found.
The playground recalls this mutant ecology and lost society and includes life-size representations of some of the creatures, such as the sand worm.The sandworm, like the earthworm, is essential for the health of the ecosystem, reminiscent of the sand-worms in Dune. As Woodward notes,”the worm has enjoyed—and continues to enjoy—a lively speculative life”. Anderson too conjures a science fiction, an imaginary of the underground – or an ungrounding – which also seems linked to the liquid and gaseous geology of the nearby anomaly. It is a place of creativity and activity, offering many discreet spaces and experiences for exploration. As I watch some small children scramble across the platforms and shelters, then down the slides into the sand, and then climbing on to the backs of the sand worms skimming across the dunes, the other worldliness unfolds as mesmerising and fantastic, though rooted in more frightful home truths about ecological ruin and waste. Play needs stories as well as sensations. Here, small stories and tall tales weave an imagined and regenerative myth of time, space, ecology and place.
My walk ends here. Keil and Shiels describe the suburban as both a boundary object and a boundary space, often defined in terms of its lack of urban qualities and features and its lack of ecological consideration. It’s possible, from here, to return to the creek corridor and walk to Sandgate on the bay, where more public artworks integrated into the landscape design along the foreshore. Between here and there, a football field, a buddhist temple, a school, a retirement and aged care village, a works depot, a research facility, a racing horse training field, more sporting fields, roads, highways, overpasses, industry, train station and train line, bypasses … An all too familiar and repeated pattern/non-pattern of suburban development, both contextual and decontextual. However, my task here has been to unravel and follow a path that traced new stories for and of suburbia. I was surprised to find them in the leftover and edge spaces arising from ecology, recreation, institution and infrastructure. My challenge here, as with all this fieldwork, was to make meaning in the field. I have endeavoured to do this through walking and writing with a view to somehow mapping and stretching the topography and topology, of inscribing and extricating other meanings in this field.
While the suburban field can be eerily bereft, this walking reveals other hidden landscapes, stories and worlds. What surprises me, naively, as I return repeatedly to the panoramic images is how roads occupy so much of the visual field, how they dominate so much of our lived experience. Even with their distorting tendencies, the panoramas make this explicit, yet as I moved through the space I was able to diminish it and put it in its place, focus on the small and the detailed. People don’t tend to walk in the suburbs. I encounter only a few people each time I walk. The scale, familiarity and segregation of suburban space plays out, infrastructure overwhelms, divides and bounds. Corridors clash and frame. There are also hybrid spaces along the way. Small spaces and events encountered along a long walk make for difference and pleasure in an otherwise disjointed and fractured field.
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