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.
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