What’s Happening #6: Fleurieu Drift

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Handheld mic, hat and beer at Normanville Surf Life Saving Club – April 2017

Over the past couple of weekends L and I have made our way down the coast to check out a few events happening as part of the annual Festival Fleurieu program. On the first weekend we checked out longtime family friend, Ruth Eisner’s open studio at her wonderful property, Mulberry Farm; then this weekend we checked out a couple of exhibitions and attended a concert by Margie Russell at the Yankallila Agricultural Hall supper rooms. Both trips have been enjoyable and revitalising since it’s been great to get down my hometown digs and catch up with some folks I haven’t seen in a while. This weekend also provided a good opportunity to make some more field recordings for my Fleurieu Sound Map project which is now in its seventh year.

Fleurieu Sound Map beginnings

From 2011-2012 the Fleurieu Sound Map gathered momentum with a flurry of activity as I darted all over the region with a handheld recorder in tow. This was an exciting time as I found myself revisiting familiar places and redicovering them with a fresh aesthetic appreciation. At the time I had an Edirol HR handheld recorder for my captures, and whilst it was up to task most of the time, its flimsy windshield and noisy preamp prevented me from capturing certain environments faithfully – where winds sheared over the microphone’s diaphragm, or conversely where environments were so quiet that the noise floor of the device would be the most prominent feature in the recording.

Beyond the recorder itself, I started building my own hydrophones as a way of capturing sonic activity in bodies of water. I went through a number of hydrophone variations incorporating piezo transducers enclosed within pill boxes, film canisters, shoe polish cans and on one occasion, a condom. What I realised – each time I heard the DIY hydrophone fill with water – was that I probably wasn’t up to the task of making hydrophones that are reliably water tight and that I should get around to buying some, which I did later on. Still, a couple of my inventions worked for a while and captured some nice sonic activity in water and beneath sandy substrates.

“Nancy” the hydrophone in 2012.

One of the reasons why 2011-12 was such a fertile period for skipping all over the region and making hundreds of records was because I was engaged in an art project with the WIRED Lab and Country Arts SA which would culminate in the latter half of 2012 with the National Regional Arts Festival, Kumawuki in Goolwa. Our work, Southern Encounter was a group multimedia work and my headphone installation, Echocline featured field recordings from around the region.

With this project behind me by the end of 2012, in the following years I managed to keep exploring the region and expanding the sound map, largely thanks to routinely visiting the sculpture I constructed south of Lady Bay and compiling an album of Fleurieu-centric field recordings for my 3Leaves edition, The Path Described (2013).

Five Year Itch.

Prior to heading back down south for the Festival events this month, I realised it had been over a year since I’d last updated the sound map. The last update in February 2016 included a dearth of material from a weekend in Carickalinga the previous year and a single recording made in Yankalilla during January 2016. In spite of finding time to get down to the region I was finding it to be a struggle to find new locations to capture, let alone finding reason or motivation to capture particular locations.

It didn’t help that some of the locations I found (when I had a recording device with me) just weren’t very interesting at all:

Why bother recording this location? Why am I here? Nothing’s happening at all! OK, I haven’t documented this particular location, but let’s be honest there’s nothing going on here and I believe that nothing is going to happen. I’m wasting my time here.

This was happening a lot. I’d arrive at a location with the best intentions and nothing would happen at all, or – to an equally frustrating extent – a potentially good recording where a chosen element unique to the location was clearly emphasised would be compromised by a human (I presume) cranking up a chainsaw, angle-grinder or techno album somewhere nearby. I was caught between two extremes on an axis of a) nothing or b) too-much-information – the former is a waste of everyone’s time, the latter is a blemished document.  I was becoming fed up with the whole process and the limitations of what I could achieve with my equipment on hand. I was still restricted to a handheld recorder since I didn’t have the motivation to invest in more high scale equipment due to my growing discontent with my sound practice at the time (see What’s Happening #1: Therapy for more on this.)

So I purposefully took a break from updating the sound map. When L and I went down to visit the Nude sculpture in August 2016 it was the first time I hadn’t taken my recorder with me, instead opting for my camera to document the state of the largely destroyed sculpture.

Solastalgiac

Diverging from the sound map, over the years I’ve watched the Fleurieu region change in visible increments, noticing prominent swathes of vegetation reclaiming the hills and gullies whilst conversely land is cleared and houses pop up in towns and on their outskirts. The tension between nature and human activity is particularly felt on the Fleurieu. It occasionally causes a measure of anxiety in me.

I remember the first time I felt an unease towards changes in the surrounding landscape. In the early 1990’s a large parcel of agricultural land was sold off near Lady Bay and a large scale housing development covered the hillside and a golf course was carved out of the ground. The Links Lady Bay took a long time to get going and for its first decade it looked like a geniune folly with only a few houses constructed and the golf course stalled at nine holes and situated in what looked like a cow paddock (which is what it was previously). Now, over 25 years later it has the semblance of something like what the original scale model looked like when myself and the locals saw it proudly displayed under perspex outside Normanville’s shopping centre. Elsewhere, other pockets of land have been sold away and a combination of residential and holiday houses spread over plains near the town.

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It’s a delicate topic of discussion for a town like Normanville. After all, a significant chunk of the region’s economy and employment has relied on tourism and development since the 1970s. The resort at Wirrina Cove was one of the first developments of this kind in the area. I completely appreciate this reality and that this sort of progress in regional towns around Australia is a vital component to keeping communities intact.  The Links development and its golf course are hugely beneficial to the area and it employs plenty of people including some I knew in high school. The compromise is, of course trading off bits of the landscape (and potentially the environment) for progress. Within the scope of my experience, this can be summed as a solastalgia of sorts and has comprised a large part of my ongoing relationship with the region when I was living there and when ever I’ve returned.

The term solastalgia was coined by Australian,  to describe the emotional impact on the inhabitents of a community who experience significant changes to their immediate and/or surrounding landscape. Albrecht’s case study that derived this term related to the impact felt by communities in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales where the large scale expansion of open cut mines had radically altered surrounding landscapes whilst impacting aspects of the environment – such as the air quality and wildlife. Aside from communities’ ongoing concern with open-cut mines, unconventional gas extraction and a certain coal port development threatening the Great Barrier Reef, a significant issue for communities is the sprawl of suburban developments which encrope into native vegetation or agricultural land.

In the case of sprawl, this is what one will see as you make your way  to the western coast of the Fleurieu. From Noarlunga through Seaford to Aldinga and Port Willunga, expanses of large houses pop up, creep and rub against pockets of farmland. So again we return to that onerous issue of progress and what we’re willing to compromise for it. From the vantage of what’s been happening in and around Normanville over the past 30 years, this is small fish compared to things like the current aberration that is Seaford’s Vista development which saw a huge chunk of farmland progressively covered with McMansions and an obligatory Aldi supermarket. Enough said – I won’t go there for risk of steering this post into rant territory; my cup of tea’s not strong enough to clearly articulate where that particular thread is heading. Another time, maybe.

Thankfully, nobody is mining for coal or extracting gas in or around Normanville, there aren’t plumes of coal dust filling the air and there are no spikes in lung infections or cancer in the community. All that is really happening is that more houses are being built to accomodate growing families whilst fufilling a demand for more holiday accomodation in the area.

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Normanville Heights, as seen from the Bungala River running through the local caravan park.

When I reflect on such a thing it seems like the term solastalgia was custom built for such a dramatically nostalgic individual myself – one who is so acutely affected, moved or piqued by the slightest of change to an environment. I believe this is one of the reasons why I started the Fleurieu Sound Map – where photographic media failed to adequately document (and in some way preserve) a place, the audio option would come in.

The here and the now

Given the struggles with my mental health this year, my lifelong tendency to get so hung up on the rampant scourge of humans and their prediliction or expand their turf across and into everything might not seem like such a good thing to ruminate on, especially when I’m making an effort to clear my head of particular anxieties. However, to my suprise (and relief) I found on my recent trips to Normanville that my concerns relating to this have diluted somewhat and that I’m comfortable accepting it as more of a drift of ‘stuff that happens’. I’m cool with it – as long as everyone looks after the native vegetation, sand dunes, animals and stops pumping vile shit into the Bungala River.

 

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The places we inhabit hold a deep significance for us. We feel connected to them through memories, objects, landscapes as well as the mysteriously intangible – the things we can’t quite put our finger, eye or ear to. Familiarity and change are part of this drift. There’s such a strong poetic to a hometown and through the Fleurieu Sound Map and its various field recordings I found myself slipping further into the mystery of the town I grew up and its surrounding areas. Since it continues to change and unfold, I don’t see any reason why the Fleurieu Sound Map should end – or ever end for that matter. I’ve just got to scope out some interesting locations and wait patiently for the angle grinders to abate. Unless of course the recording emphasises the angle grinders. It could happen.

So, with that in mind there will be some new additions to sound map shortly. It’s something a little different and it may potentially raise some new questions and possibilities for this project. But more on that when I get around to posting.

In the meantime, drift on.

Flashback 2014: Mulberry Farm dam recording with hydrophones

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Back in September 2014, L and I spent a weekend at a family friends farm near Yankalilla. One morning a went out to make some recordings across the property – exploring the surrounding scrub, hills, gullies and creeks. Near the homestead there’s a dam where I made some hydrophone recordings. Though I’d listened back to some of my above-grond recordings made around the farm, I never got around to properly examining these hydrophone recordings.

I was going through some Fleurieu-centric recordings, scouring my archive for some material to put on the Fleurieu Sound Map when this one came up and it piqued my interest. I imported it into RX, tweaked the EQ and gain slightly and it came to life. What is revealed is an underwater environment teeming with life and activity – everywhere. The spatial quality that I captured in this recording is very impressive. I thought I’d mislabelled this with one of Rolf Julius’ dense polytextured installation pieces. There’s a lot going on here.

The recording consists of three primary sound elements:

  1. A high-pitched cloud of incessant activity – micro-gestures, metallic flutters, sibilent voices and crackles.
  2. Distinctive scratching and rhythmic activity of (what I presume are) yabbies. There’s some really nice foregrounded polyrhythmic activity that can be heard distinctly on the left and right channels.
  3. A myriad of other voices – some weaved into the texture of dense sonic clouds, others emerging occasionally into the foreground. A variety of squeaks, flutters, gurgles and other related verbs and adjectives that currently elude me.

Enjoy!

What’s Happening #3: Distance and decay – Revisiting journeys south of Lady Bay and the construction of the land sculpture, Nude (2011-2016)

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South of Lady Bay – July 2011.

Sometimes being alone in the wilderness can do strange things to me. I love being alone and some of the happiest times during my childhood was when I was left to my own devices and my imagination. A child is expected to do weird things – after all, they’re preoccupied with exploring the world and observing how it gives way or pushes back to their whim. When you’re a fully grown adult such curiosities are less permissible, largely by virtue of bodies that don’t readily recover as quickly as that of a younger human.

It was mid-winter in 2011.  I had set off before dawn from Normanville caravan park and had made my way down south along the coastline. A gloomy light had emerged as a approached Lady Bay with the roar of the ocean in my ears and breeze chilling my face. I was on a field recording trip, starting what would eventually become the The Fleurieu Sound Map – documenting sites along the coastline. Lady Bay was my primary destination. Having arrived there by around 7am, I made some recordings of the water gently ebbing over the reef at low tide, the ambience occasionally punctuated by the cry of a distant crow. As I sat on a compacted lump of seaweed drinking coffee from a thermos I looked further south down along the coastline. It has been a long time since I’d ventured beyond Lady Bay on foot. I recalled a trek south of Lady Bay sometime in during high school with my brother and a friend. We’d almost made it down to some caves before the failing light made us wary and we decided to turn back. Slightly intoxicated by that bit of sudden nostalgia, I ate a couple of mandarins, packed up my recording gear and set off for the caves.

By the time I’d reached my destination an hour or so later, the allure of discovery and trekking through a fog of mild exhaustion had firmly established itself and the caves weren’t good enough for me – I wanted to go further. This involved scaling a steep two-metre  incline comprised of brittle slate and sandy soil. The destination in mind was frankly ridiculous since all that lay beyond this impasse was the breakwater of Wirrina Cove – not an awe-inspiring man-made wonder. I got about a metre up the incline and was focused on securing my foothold when a lump of soil gave way in my hand and I embraced nothing but air for about half a second. Hitting the ground thankfully wasn’t too bad (a grazed hand and bruised arm) but the mental admonishment I gave myself was particularly severe. Yes, I do strange things when left alone in the wilderness. Had I seriously injured myself, no-one would find me for days…maybe weeks. In local lore it is mentioned that only weirdos venture as far as the caves. So on the remote chance I been found I might have had my kidneys harvested and been subsequently tortured to death.

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Maybe it’s the fault of an adult imagination, untethered and unencumbered from its real-world responsibilities. In this scenario your guard is let down; the natural world soaks into the consciousness, full of allure and curiosities: C‘mon! Climb this! Look under that rock! Eat this! You’re only atoms, it doesn’t matter! Everything’s in a perpetual state of entropy!

Maybe nature’s a similar enabler to alcohol and drugs – unlocking an index of escapism. Nature won’t necessarily inspire you to climb onto the roof of a train at high-speed, but it still may lead you to do a myriad of dangerous shit which might lead to – maybe – perishing on a remote beach with a twisted ankle.

I started my long trek back to Normanville, but shortly after leaving the caves I decided to rest on a grassy rise which overlooked a stony beach. I went down to investigate the beach, which consisted of an even stretch of covered in large rocks and stones; and a slope consisting of small pebbles and shells which fell away into the shore. At one end of upper section of the beach a surfeit of driftwood had accumulated from a recent storm. Without thinking about it too much, I gathered some large pieces of driftwood and began constructing a sculpture. My intention was to construct this sculpture as a personal landmark of sorts – something relatively innocuous, but which distinguished itself enough from the surrounding landscape to be recognisable to the wandering eye. I also thought it would be interesting to have a work in a remote location that I could return to from time to time.

***

My hometown of Normanville is full of personal landmarks which I didn’t happen to construct. One such landmark was a small house on the corner of Field Street. I wrote about this house quite recently since I had been  informed by my mum that it had been demolished and sent through a photo of the vacant lot.

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October 2016

I was fairly rattled by this image; it was as though a chunk of my memory had been erased. Houses and buildings are routinely demolished, but this is the first time it had ever occurred so close to home – so close to an actual past home since the property pictured on the left is my childhood home. The only trace of this property which remains is the concrete dome-shaped enclosure for what I believe is a septic tank below the ground. Everything else is gone: the cream coloured exterior, thick wire fence and a corrugated tin shed with a cross painted on it.

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Corner of Cheeseman and Field Street – January 2011

Demolition is such a radical, immediate way of demarcating the present from the past. Rather than following a linear trajectory of transformation and/or decay, within a matter of hours visible histories are wiped out and can now only be experienced through reproduced images and memory.

***

The sculpture that I was constructing on the beach some five years earlier would never be demolished per se, but rather would be subject to the transformative (and occasionally destructive) whim of the elements.

I called the sculpture Nude, owing to its raw materials and exposed proximity to a body of water and surrounding environment.

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Nude – July 2011

2012-2015:

In order to get to the Nude sculpture, you’ll need a sturdy pair of shoes, some water, maybe a snack, plus surveying the state of the weather is always a good idea. Between 2012-2016 I would park at a lookout point off the main road, a couple of kilometers south of Lady Bay. From here, there’s an excellent view of the southern coastline – the impressive cliffs, rocky beaches and procession of coves and bluffs from Wirrina down to Rapid Bay. Nude‘s location is a couple of kilometers from this point and the beach that hosts the sculpture is obscured from view. It takes roughly about 45 minutes to get there on foot.

I’ve visited the site five times between 2012 to 2016, managing to get there once a year – mostly in Autumn when the weather is less prone to arctic-style wind chill and dumping buckets of rain. On a couple of occasions my partner Lauren has joined me on the trip and I’ve been frequently surprised how much further the journey actually is compared to the idea I have in my head..much to Lauren’s chagrin.

The steep hills on one side, the ocean on the other. I’ve always found these hills impressive. Whilst not necessarily cliffs, they convey such a strong physical dominance over the surrounding environment – gentle grassy slopes graduating into steep cliffs of clay and rock.  On clear days I’ve spotted hawks gliding gracefully on thermals against the blue sky. On one occasion, Lauren and I watched a fox make momentary eye contact with us before darting up the hillface with incredible speed and precision. When walking south toward the site, I cant help but spend some time looking up at the summit of the hills and scanning the rock outcrops for signs of life – expecting to see something indistinct move from one point to another, casting a curious gaze downwards at me/us. When I’m alone on this trip, occasionally I feel this overwhelming feeling of contentment couple with a deep sense of insignificance. As the trip progresses the bars denoting reception of my mobile phone ebb away – I’m at the mercy of nature here. The ideal tonic for doing stupid shit, perhaps?

Further along, the remnants of a man-made boundary appear.

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Following the boundary up the hillside, lopsided fenceposts and a tangle of rusty fence wire disappear into the hillside. At the summit, a couple of lonely posts lean out along with a small bare tree bent by the wind.

In May 2015 I attached a couple of contact mics to the fenceline as it rattled in the wind. Thanks to the wonderful Kate Carr for the inspiration on that one.

After rounding a couple of coves that involve climbing over large boulders, the beach that hosts Nude comes into sight. It always takes me a while to locate it from this point, but my reference is a small thorny shrub that sits alongside the sculpture. Approaching it is always a new experience – observing the way it’s altered its appearance in between each visit (roughly a year each time) – being collapsed to one side, its wooden planks on the top bent by the weight of rocks, or its regular inundation of sour sobs and the occasional weed.

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Nude in 2013.

Photos are taken of its current state for documentation and then I search for a plastic bottle concealed under a plank of wood and several rocks:

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And within the bottle:

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A series of notes – starting at the time of construction in July 2011 through to (currently) August 2016. Each of the notes details the date of the visit and the current state of the sculpture.

2016 – an ending of sorts:

As Lauren and I made our way down to the site in August 2016 I had reservations about this visit. In the previous month, the metropolitan area of Adelaide and Fleurieu Peninsula had been hit by severe storms. Torrential rains led to flooding in many areas whilst wild winds and powerful tidal activity wreaked havoc along the coastline, washing away dunes and completely destroying a couple of jetties. The Bungala River – with its estuary at Normanville beach surged with volumes rarely seen in living memory. It seemed as though no area along the coastline had been spared. With this in mind, I expected the worst for my sculpture to the south.

Obviously, part of the intention of constructing the work was to observe its gradual degradation and ultimate return to the natural environment as its materials decayed and are pulled away by winds, gravity and the tides. All original intentions and recent knowledge of the storms aside, I was still suprised and strangely moved by what I encountered.

 

The sculpture, which on my previous visit in May 2015 had retained a degree of its original semblance was now practically obliterated, save for a square of planks and rocks on the ground. The array of wood and stones that been torn from the sculpture now lay scattered around its foundations with the ever-present sour sobs poking out through the vacant spaces.

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August 2016

In spite of this destruction, the bottle was still there and I added a new note to it before concealing the bottle amongst the remaining wooden planks and stones:

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I was feeling slightly melancholy at this time, but wasn’t exactly sure why. Lauren and I commenced our journey back to the car and I wondered if I would return to the sculpture the following year.

Looking back now, I can see a correlation between this event and my more recent reaction to the demolition of the house on the corner of Field Street that had prefigured so strongly during my childhood. Perhaps in the case of Nude, its decay from one iteration (2015) to the next (2016) had occurred too rapidly? Over the past four years I had grown accustomed to the sculpture’s elegant collapse against the elements, yet I hadn’t anticipated a shift as dramatic as this. Its appearance on this visit had given the impression it had been demolished much like the house – albeit by nature.

When I originally constructed the work in 2011, I knew (at the very least subconsciously) that I would grow attached to it and documenting the work through photos and notes would only reinforce this feeling. I had suspected that one day it would be wiped out, but I always thought that its position on an elevated section of the beach would protect it from the most monstrous storm and tides imaginable. In August 2016, I stood at the wreckage of the work imagining that destruction by natural forces. It must have been extraordinary – with gale force winds belting the landmass and huge waves thundering into the rocks, waters surging upwards and penetrating the sanctity of a structure laid bare.

That’s something that I can certainly appreciate now: how one can ascribe such intense feelings of possession, protection and expectation over an object regardless of its form – a body of work that represents (initially and/or over time) something deeply meaningful and personal. That its destruction occurred in isolation has heightened this appreciation: I wasn’t there to protect it, I couldn’t protect it, and yet I never intended to protect it.

***

It’s late in the evening. I’ve spent the last three days coming and going from this post. Whilst fairly certain of the direction this writing would take, the work itself has come to mind with increasingly intensity; insofar that I’m very tempted to make the trip this weekend, just to see…what’s there? An array of memories are down there – my clumsy fall from the incline near the caves, Lauren’s little rock towers by the sculpture, the inclement weather – but there’s still a spot by that thorny little bush, where in 2011 I marked a spot for myself to return to. It’s still there, it’s changed…but it’s still there.

 

 

The Path Described reviewed by Field Recording.de

http://fieldrecording.de/2017/02/12/field-recording-review-tristan-louth-robins-the-path-described/

The Path Described” creates moments of reminiscing, which are sometimes very cautious and then again astonishingly impressive.

A lovely suprise today to be informed that my 2013 release, The Path Described has recently been reviewed by the German online magazine, FieldRecording.de. If you check it out, you’ll need to run it through google translate or similar. With kind thanks to Sebastian-Thies Hinrichsen.

Discreet Concert for Onkaparinga – Live at Sauerbier House, Pt Noarlunga 10/12/2016(excerpt)

Had such a great time down south this afternoon performing an extended three-hour set of discrete electro-acoustic ambience for the art opening at Sauerbier House. Here’s a small excerpt from the performance (desk > recorder). When I find the time (obv. in the new year) I’ll compile a longer version for the Bandcamp page.

Great opportunity to rock out the new Earthquaker Transmisser pedal too!

Goyder’s Line v.3 in the works

I’m currently in the process of revising the Goyder’s Line Max/MSP patch with the intention of streamlining the drawing process and adding some additional features to the interface.

In addition to this, the work will be expanded with the incorporation of a video component for a potential exhibition/performance of the work in the future. A summary and audio of of v.2 (2015) can be found below.

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A snippet of the revised Max/MSP patch

Goyder’s Line Version 2 release notes (accompanying the Maurilia Sound Studio Volume 4 edition):

“Goyder’s Line” – recorded in April 2015 – is a composition for Max/MSP, vocoder and effects modules. For its structure and form, the work references the geographical boundary (or isopleth) pioneered by George Goyder in the mid-1880’s to denote and determine patterns of rainfall in South Australia. The work’s sonic character (derived from sawtooth waves and the feedback of a Moog MF-108M module) results in a continuous drone; consisting of rich, wavering harmonic tones and textures which are intended to be evocative of the colours, climate, topography and relative stillness of the landscapes that Goyder’s Line passes through.

The past is a foreign country

Field Street, Normanville. At no.3 is the cottage that I spent most of my childhood and teenage years. On the corner of the street was a property which sat adjacent to no.3 – a small, relatively unassuming early 20th Century cottage with a couple of large spaces which used to have horses kept in them. This afternoon my mum sent me an image revealing that this property had recently been demolished. I was slightly stunned – it feels as though a significant personal landmark has been erased. Whilst the little cottage and its surrounds are nothing particularly striking, the more subtle elements of the property – its creamy pink colour, the rusty corregated fences and the peculiar white cross painted on the outside of a backyard shed – are images that have resonated with me since early childhood. I also have a particularly strong childhood  memory of routinely running my hand along a rusty, yet smooth thick wire which ran through its fence on Field Street. A lot of what I have associated with Normanville in recent years (aside from the cottage at no.3 and the town’s main street) strongly gravitates to this now demolished and razed property.

This significance is further illustrated by the fact that the two Garden Ruin albums – their material drawing heavily from memories and observations in and around Normanville – both feature this property on their album covers.

As you get older, living with the past becomes all the more beguiling.