Turn the SoilTTS News & Almanac


1 September 1997

This newsletter is written as an update on the progress of the Turn the Soil exhibition for artists and fellow travellers. It will be produced between each venue.

The Port Pirie-Mt Gambier leg



Crate rationalisation

After a couple of venues the works have now settled down and a large crate has been extracted to lessen overall freight costs of touring the exhibition. The freight contained bits and pieces, but no work.

Pirie installation

Due to a Monday opening, the exhibition was installed over the weekend. The curator was ably assisted by Loretto Hewitt (director), Barbara Ryan (assistant) and John Liebelt (programs officer). These staff worked after hours without pay (not that the gallery staff are paid anything for their full time work anyway). All the works arrived intact, and no significant damage was noted—a credit to the excellent crating. Below is a hopefully decipherable floor plan of the installation:

Pirie opening

Turn the Soil opened again at Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery at 7:30pm on a Monday night. We were fortunate to be joined by Vizma Bruns, who came up all the way from Adelaide. Vizma enjoyed the limelight as everyone took turns to congratulate her on the gleaming work.

Port Pirie turns Japanese

A dedicated crew of locals put their minds to the prospect of Australia as it might have been colonised by the Japanese. This is the outline of what they produced—Shao-lin:

Shao-lin developed out of a scenario in which traders from Okinawa settle in what we know as Australia while seeking refuge from the Portuguese. On their trail, the imperial Japanese navy follows to establish a military stronghold on the foot of Southeast Asia. As the workshop unfolded, participants considered the difficulty by which such an insular people as the Japanese would cope with wide-open spaces. Their eventual inability to control the continent leads to a retreat south, populating Minamin (what we know now as Tasmania), with a feudal samurai society. In their wake, the continent evolves as a loose federation of nationalities, including mainly Aboriginal tribes, Okinawans, Chinese and Dutch. They trade economic strength for co-existence.

The name Shao-lin comes from the martial arts temple in China—their followers seek refuge in the southern island. The Okinawans, who developed karate out of Chinese techniques, gratefully accept their mentors and a new synthesis of aggression, spirituality and dance emerges out of the contact between the two Asian peoples and indigenous tribes.

The final scenario was a little surprising. The group seemed quite willing to forgo the fantasy of a Japanese-style industrial utopia (as suggested by the ill-fated Multi-function Polis) for a more relaxed co-existence with the new land and its people. It seemed that the importation of Chinese as a central factor—not only in the history but also in the naming—was central to this tempering of Japanese intensity.

So far, nothing has been heard from any Japanese in response to this scenario. It would be interesting to learn if there is any curiosity about such a possibility, whether it is a little too close to the bone, or is even offensive to some Japanese. At this stage, such input is useful to help shape the final story. Any suggestions about how to present it to interested Japanese would be very welcome.

It turns out anyway that Port Pirie is sister city with a southern city of China, and people there are struggling to find ways of expressing that arrangement. Perhaps here they have a way.

Arena magazine

Guy Rundle, editor of Arena Magazine, has offered to publish the results of the workshop. Though this will mean extra effort, it will help to provide a public showing of the results. Arena Magazine is a publication distributed nationally that maintains a critical and informed attitude to political trends such as globalisation and nationalism.

New Hellas

Next stop is Mt Gambier, which will ironically be hosting the Yokohama Blue Lake festival during the month of Turn the Soil. There’s a strong Greek community in the region, and they will hopefully be involved in imagining what it may have been like if the Greeks had settled Australia. Given the infamous lakes of the area, it is likely to have a strong reference to the lost continent of Atlantis.