Remaking the Land - 'Views of Tower Hill'These four works, collectively titled 'Views of Tower Hill', are descriptive of the history of an extinct volcano in Victoria's south west. Twenty-five thousand years ago it erupted and implements found in layers of volcanic ash indicate aboriginal presence at that time, these were the Koroitgundidj people. The first painting 'Landscape with drooping she-oak' is evocative of the ages, pre-contact, when the Tower Hill islands were very densely and diversely vegetated, and the lake or crater was a rich food source and wetland. This was documented by Eugene Von Guerard in 1855 in a remarkable painting commissioned by James Dawson, the then aboriginal protector for Victoria's Western District.
Within five years, however, this landscape had been virtually denuded by early settlers, given over to stock grazing, and the Koroitgundidj people dispersed. 'Landscape with Blackberry', the second painting, is a comment on this extraordinary pace of change. How odd that in a region of flat, low-lying naturally-occurring grasslands, the Europeans should seek to cultivate such a magnificent natural feature, perhaps it did not conform to the pastoral idyll of groomed landscapes and bucolic pleasures that brought with them.
The degradation of Tower Hill continued unabated, with crop growing, quarrying for scoria, rubbish dumping, and an attempt to drain the swamp and divert the waters to the Mayne River (see the third painting 'Landscape with skeleton of Estuary Perch').
In 1892, however, public pressure brought forth a decision to have the area made a National Park. It was not until 1961 that a reforestation programme was commenced by school children, naturalists and concerned citizens. For over half a century, the Tower Hill islands were home to feral animals and introduced weeds. By the beginning of the 1980s, around 250,000 shrubs, trees, grasses and rushes had been planted. The last painting in this series, 'Landscape with Fairy Island and fern frond' is a testament to the determination of the community to reverse such a sullied history and restore the land to the original. Today the reforestation is mostly complete, there is little top storey to speak of, but in time the majestic manna and swamp gums and blackwoods will reassert their presence - the endemic fauna is very cautiously returning.
Curious that we should remake the land and then make it back again in the course of two hundred years, what might we do in two thousand?
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Prepared by Tim Sherratt (Tim.Sherratt@asap.unimelb.edu.au)
for publication on ASAPWeb. Last modified 22 June 1997.