Luke Keogh

People are in their landscape and exploit landscapes. In other words, we have a highly personal relationship to a landscape, but with our needs for survival we also take from the land, subsequently we are creating a landscape. To start, let’s diverge off the Queensland path for a moment and ponder two important words: exploit and landscape.

The Collins Australian dictionary gives two possible definitions for the verb exploit: (1) ‘to take advantage of (a person, situation, etc) esp unethically or unjustly for one’s own ends’, or (2) ‘to make best use of: to exploit natural resources’. Already our words are getting messy. For we can exploit people, and often unethically, but then to exploit the environment is making best use of the natural resources.

Exploit is an abbreviation of the Latin word explicitus or explicare meaning ‘(the book or roll) has been unrolled’. Explicitus according to Klein is related to the word explicate: ‘to unfold, uncoil, unroll, unfurl, spread out, explain, expound’. Completing the noun –ation denotes action, process, state or condition. So our exploitation of Queens-land has been an unrolling, an uncoiling, a spreading out of the scroll of the land, creating the landscapes of today.

Let’s turn to landscape, again the dictionary: ‘an extensive area of land regarded as being visually distinct’ and the dictionary’s example: ‘ugly slag heaps dominated the landscape’,  already we might be at Mount Perry in the Upper Burnett seeing those slag bricks. I’m not trying for a solid definition here, but I am looking for something in the word itself. And this goes beyond those awful land based metaphors for the word, such as, ‘political landscape’ and ‘the landscape of history’; as J.B. Jackson interprets it in Discovering the vernacular landscape, ‘we should not use the word landscape to describe our private world, our private microcosm, and for a simple reason: a landscape is a concrete three dimensional shared reality’.

Landscape is a compound word with two syllables.  Introduced to England as part of Anglo Saxon German, with derivatives in middle Dutch, most of the early routes of the word denote a region, and landscipe in old English meant tract of land. The first syllable ‘land’ is variously given to mean: ‘heath, enclosure, open space’, but always one defined space and this goes back to its Gothic routes. The second syllable ‘scape’ is essentially shape (derived from skap, schaft, or schipe), meaning something created or shaped. Whilst shape is related to ‘sheaf’—a bundle or collection of similar stalks or plants—giving landscape the definition as a collection of lands, shape is also to mean something created or shaped. Shape, then is related to skab meaning to scrape or scratch. In this way landscape can be land scraped or scratched showing the collective history of a biophysical space or even a place.

‘Great is language…It is the mightiest of the sciences’, Walt Whitman sang. The ambiguity of the word landscape is its greatest asset. No matter how we wish to define it what I want to establish is at the root of the word there is recognition that lands have been scraped or scratched for hundreds of years, and if we include global environmental processes, we could say millions of years. The theme ‘Exploitation’ is a selected snap-shot of how humans have scraped and scratched the land and how this has unrolled in Queensland’s past. Here, maps are unrolled for us to gain insight into this process of ‘taking and using things from the landscape’.

In the early days of Brisbane, after the Moreton Bay penal settlement, squatters were moving through the Queensland southeast. In 1842 and 1843 there was a map drawn of the area. On this map there was a line. The line excluded squatters from settling within fifty miles around Brisbane. Stephen Simpson was the New South Wales commissioner for lands at the time and he had a residence at Woogaroo southwest of Brisbane. Simpson writes about the map: ‘it would exclude the Squatters from almost the only parts of the District which is really available for pasturage as the country between it and the Dividing Ranges is so scrubby and mountainous as to be of little value’. Thus, for Simpson, if ‘the 50 mile limit is to be enforced the Squatters will have no alternative but to go beyond the Bunya Range’. Maps are wonderful illustrations of how the land is divided up, who may take from it, and how it will be used. The Simpson letters are one example of the conversation and contestation that runs before a line is inked onto a map.

This taking and using is not only from the land, but from owners of that land. In what was once Herberton Shire (west of Cairns), unrolling maps adds a deeper layer to the area than just a hard fought rail line to the top of the Myola summit. An 1884 Herberton Shire map drawn by Peter Moffat has an inscription in the area just outside Irvinebank that says ‘Scene of a massacre of Aboriginals by black troopers’. And yet at the same time a map is a tool for colonial control, as Robert Logan Jack notes, ‘My work consists in scrambling about the mountains in advance of the prospectors and constructing a map as I go along, as this part of the country, although it has all been worked over by Chinese is absolutely unmapped.’ We can read things in maps well beyond the context under which they were produced.

So much of the exploitation of people and land appears under the prologue of development. Over a century after Dixon’s map of the Brisbane area the Land Settlement Advisory Commission published the ‘Report on Progressive Land Settlement in Queensland’, 1959. In this report there are a series of pictures of Monto—the access town to the timber settlements in the Blackbutt Ranges—coming with the caption: ‘A comparatively few years ago, the places where these pictures were taken were merely cattle paddocks.’ The right use of the land, to the commission, is the most important single function of Government: ‘we either develop and populate our country or eventually we must lose it’. Under the heading ‘Australia’s dependence on Primary Production’ the report says ‘on their sound progress and prosperity most other things depend’.

Queensland, and even Australia, depend on primary production. They are one of the biggest ways we use, if not abuse, the land. The report on Progressive Land Settlement concludes its introduction by stating ‘From time to time, in Queensland’s land history, it has been necessary to pause and take stock of the position to get our bearings, to see where we are going.’ But it does not take a big government report to set the path for where we are going. We can all do that as individuals; a deeper understanding of this landscape, wherever that might be, is very important for all of us. It might even be as insignificant as turning off a highway to see something else.

In the main fiscal debate of 1879 an anonymous letter writer to the Brisbane Courier said on 1 May: ‘It is much better for people to be engaged in outdoor manly industry than to be mewed up in reeking factories of a stinking city’. It was ‘outside’—but I’m not too sure how ‘manly’ it was—doing research for a project in Central Queensland that I saw some of the remnants of this ‘taking and using from the landscape’.

I filled up my car at a petrol station in Rockhampton, in the boot was a tent dripping with dew and an empty container of food, I was heading for Brisbane after a week of chasing coal miners and coal poets. The lady at the petrol station said it was ‘only about forty k’s’ to the place I wanted to see. I pull off the double lane Bruce Highway and head along a winding country road. The climb starts; a road sign reads ‘not suitable for caravans’. My old car growls, I put the automatic transmission into third and use the left lane. At the top of the range the view back to Rockhampton made it worth the climb; if you look hard enough you might see the coal ships making their way for Japan. I push on for another few kilometres through low brigalow scrub and the orange soil of road-cuts. Then I get to a town.

It’s a nice town with old buildings and neat gardens. Going through the town I randomly take a right at a pub on the corner, follow the road for a short while and get to a park; a memorial park that you expect in a lot of country towns, commemorating fallen soldiers. I stand at the boot of my car with the coffee steaming from the tiny cup of my recently brewed flask. I am on the high side of a riverbank looking over a set of badly scraped hills on the other side. Later, down at the river, I will see a notice that reads: ‘NO SWIMMING: Water in this river is acidic with the potential to cause skin and eye irritation’. I sip my coffee and am happy that I made the effort to make a detour off the highway to see Mount Morgan.

In this park at Mount Morgan I find something I wasn’t looking for. It is a public art installation, it’s called ‘A stencil on a post-industrial landscape: Mt Morgan Goldmine 1882-1990’. It is an artwork acknowledging the industrial impact of goldmining, but it easily represents so many other industries: coal, bauxite, uranium, copper, timber, sugar and pastoralism, to name the most exploitive. The explanatory plaque begins: ‘This topographical cut-out is a synthesis of the Mt Morgan range, that Edwin Morgan walked over on the afternoon of the 10th July, 1882. The outcome of that walk was the development of the Mt Morgan goldmining industry.’ It goes on: ‘The passage of time can romanticise the impact of goldmining on the landscape and the human spirit’. With its rusted steel and carefully placed rocks at the base of the sculpture, over time it will leave its own stains on the land, a reflection ‘of the ongoing decay of the post-industrial environment in the Australian landscape’. The artist, Peter Wolden, concludes: ‘This decay process should not be thought of as an end, but as a beginning or genesis of a new landscape and era’.

Wolden’s hope for the future is comforting but the artwork is harsh, like good art should be. The landscapes of this theme are as harsh as the rusting reminder of the topography that was once the Mount Morgan range. Don’t fear them, or wish them go away, see them unrolled, watch the scraping and scratching. And maybe one day you might make the detour off the highway and enter a landscape and realise that ‘I am part of this process too’.

References and Further reading (Note)

Ernest Klein, A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language, Amsterdam, Elsevier, 1967

References and Further reading (Note)

Gerry Langevad (trans), The Simpson letterbook, Cultural and historical record of Queensland, 1979

References and Further reading (Note)

Glenville Pike, In the path of pioneers: the history and progress of the Herberton Shire, Brisbane, c1950

References and Further reading (Note)

Felicity Jack, Putting Queensland on the map: the life of Robert Logan Jack: geologist and explorer, Sydney UNSW Press, 2008