Viviane Dalles

Photo Essay : - Terra Nullius, Australia, 2010/12

Terra Nullius, from the Latin, describes a land without an owner, an empty land. Whilst it may be inhabited, it is not actively farmed. During the colonisation of Australia by the British, the principle of Terra Nullius was evoked in a bid to legitimise the continent’s invasion. The indigenous population was considered to be an inferior race destined to become an insignificant part of the population, perhaps even to disappear over time.

On 28th April 1770, the British explorer James Cook declared the continent Terra Nullius. This declaration paved the way for the creation of a new penal colony: between 1788 and 1868, 165.000 British convicts were sent to this new continent by boat.

Over two centuries later, in 1992, the High Court of Australia declared the country never to have been Terra Nullius and retroactively invalidated this principle following a fierce battle for the recognition of Aboriginal land rights.

In 2012, Australia has a population of over 22 million inhabitants. The big majority of Australia’s population lives on the continent’s periphery in large cities such as the capital Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne. Nevertheless, about ten percent of Australians call the centre of the country home, otherwise known as the Bush and the Outback, an area which covers over two thirds of the territory.

The following photographic essay was largely undertaken in the state of Northern Territory, where time and distance seem endless, at 360 degrees, the horizon becomes an obsessional sight.

The people of the desert adapt to the lifestyle that their isolation imposes, accepting their vulnerability to an often savage landscape. The roots of these people, some established here longer than others, run deep. Others have come from a faraway land, the Outback has given back more than they ever wished for. In the middle of nowhere it’s then a new beginning and all remains to be done.

The silence allows us to better hear ourselves. We leave behind any artifice.

Gaye Nichols

Appearing like a mirage on the edges of the Red Centre, the few cities such as Alice Springs are depicted as a consu- mer’s oasis, a land of plenty. Life takes on a totally new dimension as soon as your car leaves the asphalt to head down these dusty roads: to live on a vast cattle station requires autonomy and a great dose of mental strength. For those young pilots servicing the communities always beyond the break of the horizon, it’s a level head that’s needed. And for others who live without electricity or mod cons, there is a deep-rooted sense of belonging to the Land.

In response to the great isolation experienced by part of the population, Reverend John Flynn founded in 1928 the Flying Doctors to deliver by plane medical assistance to the inhabitants of remote stations. In 1944 the School of Air is born, the radio suddenly enabling isolated children to continue their education remotely. Today still, children don’t go to school, school comes to them via internet and skype.

In those parts of Australia, children wait for the postman with anticipation. As their only contact with civilisation, he/she is a messenger and brings news from town. But one must not be delayed, the postman’s round is far from over and there are still parcels to be delivered. And once night falls misfortune is never far.

I crossed paths with Franck, an Aboriginal healer whose existence is centered on keeping the story of his people alive, Mike, an Australian-Maori boxer who follows in his grandfather’s footsteps by criss-crossing the desert with his tent and his boxers, an adventure which started in the 1920s. I also followed Sarah, the 24 year old pilot who flies over the desert, Henry, the 11 year old boy driving a 4 wheel drive, Shaun, a farmer whose dream is to visit Rome one day. Further north I went deep into the tropical vegetation of the wetlands, with Eddy for whom his native land holds no secrets. These are some of the many people who shared a fragment of their lives with me, a grain of sand from their desert.

Rugged and magnificent, violent and luminous, this savage landscape and the people who live within it; a story of personal adaptation.

Viviane Dalles 2012

Gaye and Mick’s living room at the back of the local Post Office in White Cliffs
  
  
     
  
  
A bushfire, Undoolya, which means the shadow of the eagle’s wing.
  
Moving between two worlds, at some point you create your own world. White Gate, Alice SpringsQuote by Frank Ansell
     
  
As the inhabitants of this Land for over 50.000 years, the Aborigines consider human beings to have come from the Land to which they will one day return. In short they belong to the Land. Trees, plants, animals all have their place here as much as mankind – this gives way to a profound sense of respect for all these spirits who co-exist.Emily Gap, Alice Springs
  
Australia is the land of lost children.White Gate, Alice SpringQuote by Frank Ansell
  
Moving between two worlds, at some point you create your own world. White Gate, Alice SpringsQuote by Frank Ansell
     
  
Legend has it that the word gangurru means I do not understand. Dispatched by Captain Cook, the naturalist Joseph Banks is said to have tried to make contact with a native by pointing to a grey Kangaroo to which the native kept repeating gangurru, transcribed as «kangooroo» or «kanguru». In 1970, two centuries later, the original meaning of the word was discovered by John B. Haviland, a linguist conducting research on the Guugu Yimidhirr people.
  
Northern Territory, 2011
  
     
  
Map indicating the route pilots follow in the north of the Northern Territory.
  
6.00am, at the Chartair base in Alice Springs, Sarah single-handedly wheels her plane out, a Cessna 210.
  
The flights between the cattle stations being sometimes very short – 5 mi- nutes – Sarah flies at low altitude. Tem- peratures within the Cessna can then reach 45oC, turning it into a real oven.
     
  
Responsible for her plane’s mainte- nance, Sarah carries out systematic checks before and after every flight.
  
Sarah takes her lunch break as she waits for locals to arrive with mail for her to take back to Tennant Creek to be posted.
  
Due to a tightly scheduled delivery round, Sarah only spends 10 to 15 mi- nutes with the locals at each stop.
     
  
Each station and remote community has their own runway and in most cases, their own plane or helicopter. It is vital in case of an emergency as it allows a medical plane from the Flying Doc- tors to reach even the most remote of places in a very short amount of time.
  
Henry, 11 years old, lives with his pa- rents and his sister Laura on the 8000 hectare Cawnalmurtee station.
  
Set up at the back of a restaurant, the only grocery store within a 300km radius stocks the strict minimum for locals and travellers, New South Wales.
     
  
The only grocery store within a 300km radius stocks the strict minimum for locals and travellers. White Cliffs, New South Wales
  
11-year-old Henry talks to his father on the radio whilst driving his parents’ 4WD. In the Outback, it is not uncom- mon to see children aged 7 years and over driving vehicles on stations. It can come in handy both for daily work and in case of an emergency.
  
Waterhole set up for cattle in the middle of the desert.
     
  
  
Aboard the helicopter, the pilot spots cattle running through the dry bed of the Flinke River. Once the animals have been found, he radios the rest of the team who are travelling by motorbike or by car. They will then take over to herd the animals along the tracks to- wards the penning area.
  
     
  
After being corralled by motorbikes, cars and helicopters, the 2500 head strong herd moves towards the penning area.
  
After being corralled by motorbikes, cars and helicopters, the 2500 head strong herd moves towards the penning area.
  
After being corralled by motorbikes, cars and helicopters, the 2500 head strong herd moves towards the penning area.
     
  
  
Once the animals are penned, it takes 4 to 5 days to let them through, one by one, to tattoo and vaccinate them and trim their horns before they are loaded for the abattoir or redirected towards another pasture. Cattle spend 4 to 5 years in pasture before they are sent to the abattoir.
  
Shaun, 30 years old, is from Queens- land. He comes from a family of three sons and is the only one to have chosen a life on the land. For him, the sense of space and freedom is priceless, des- pite the day-to-day hardships. A faint smile appears as he timidly says: It’s not as if I know how to do anything else. He works seven days a week, ear- ning A$230 per day (as a team leader) with free meals and accommodation.
     
  
Cassandra, Casey and Luke rest in the shade of the road train, a truck designed to transport cattle, which can pull mul- tiple trailers up to a total length of 53 m.
  
End of the first day. The road train will make 3 to 4 trips per day from the penning area to the cattle station over 5 days. On board are approximately one hundred animals, spread over two levels. The average price - depending on weight – is A$1000.
  
Once the animals are penned, it takes 4 to 5 days to let them through, one by one, to tattoo and vaccinate them and trim their horns before they are loaded for the abattoir or redirected towards another pasture. Cattle spend 4 to 5 years in pasture before they are sent to the abattoir.
     
  
  
At the campsite near the Flinke River Shaun and Paul enjoy a relaxing eve- ning by the campfire as the rest of the team sleeps.
  
     
  
  
  
The bus is finally ready to go with the Boxing Tent stored in the back. Michael has just said his goodbyes to his family who will stay behind in New South Wales. Over the next 4 days he will cover close to 3000 kilometres in order to reach Darwin in the country’s north for his next upcoming show.
     
  
The show is about to start. For the third time, young Prodie has been given the honour of keeping the show in rhythm with the traditional Bell's drum.
  
Donna sells tickets for the Boxing Tent. Spectators pay A$20 to watch the fighting. Noonamah Tavern
  
Michael introduces his boxers to the gathering crowd. Michael has kept the format and the decor of the tent as it was designed in the day by his grandfather. Darwin
     
  
Hands shoot up in the crowd asking to be selected by Michael for their chance to fight. Alice Springs
  
Michael Karaitiana, Noonamah Tavern.
  
With over 200 spectators, the Boxing Tent is in full swing tonight.
     
  
The fights are seductive and not only to adults. Children can some- times put up their hand to fight
  
Men, women and sometimes children are allowed to take part in the fighting. Noonamah Tavern
  
     
  
Once the show is over only the boxers stay back in the tent. Michael pays them between A$20 and A$50 depending on the quality of their fighting.
  
Michael takes down the big top the day after the show.
  
     
  
Introduced to Australia in the 19th century, camels were imported from India and Afghanistan to help with the construction of the telegraph line and colonisation of the Australian desert. Today their numbers have grown to almost a million with some taking centre stage at eccentric events such as the Alice Springs’ Camel Cup.The camels disappear against the red dirt of the racetrack whilst their riders flap about, setting off laughter within the audience. A cloud of dust gathers, a head appears, yet another camel goes off in the wrong direction. Clumsy and panic stricken, the whip comes down but it’s too late, the race has already been lost.
  
  
     
  
Eddy’s silence is palpable. His hand slowly reaches for his packet of rollies on the dashboard of the 4WD. Scanning for the smallest of details that might indicate the passage of a few wild animals, his eyes are fixed on the horizon. Gripping the steering wheel, Michael, at once anxious and excited, with a knife and hunting gear attached to his belt, is ready to pounce at any moment as he casts side glances at Eddy. Hunting allows Michael to let off steam and provides meat for his dogs.Eddy knows this region well, his aboriginal maternal roots are firmly set in the green expanses of the Wetlands, part of the Kakadu area in the tropical region of the North. From paw prints to the curve of grasses, or the trajectory of a bird against a bright blue sky, nothing escapes his keen eye.A black spot appears behind a tree in the distance, then two spots, then three. A still silent Eddy gestures slowly to Michael, slowly from the end of his fingertip, a rollie ready to go in his hand. Eddy has barely lit his cigarette before Michael lets his dogs loose and strides off into the bush. Ear-piercing noises are heard; it’s probably Pepper and Monkey, the more agile dogs, who are already hanging off the wild pigs’ ears.
  
  
     
  
  
  
Eddy
     
  
  
At the beginning of the 20th century many aborigines worked on stations as cattle breeders and held the reputation of being good horsemen. Nowadays few remain and only a handful of horse races are still organised by aboriginal communities such as in San Teresa, located dozens of kilometres from Alice Springs.The event takes place without fanfare, banners or drums – only a few locals sell cold drinks from an icebox at the back of their vehicle. Two hours later the races are about to begin. As the last check before departure, the local security agent hands the breathalyser to the riders already saddled up.
  
At the beginning of the 20th century many aborigines worked on stations as cattle breeders and held the reputation of being good horsemen. Nowadays few remain and only a handful of horse races are still organised by aboriginal communities such as in San Teresa, located dozens of kilometres from Alice Springs.The event takes place without fanfare, banners or drums – only a few locals sell cold drinks from an icebox at the back of their vehicle. Two hours later the races are about to begin. As the last check before departure, the local security agent hands the breathalyser to the riders already saddled up.