This is the fifth instalment of a series of posts covering my a residency at Sauerbier House in Port Noarlunga which commenced in October 2018. As part of my preparation and ongoing research I am following the course of the Onkaparinga/Ngangkiparri river from its source to the sea.
This post will be a little shorter than the previous ones which have documented my stops along the course of the Onkaparinga/Ngangkiparri River. The last post (covering trips to Mount Bold Reservoir and Clarendon) was written over three weeks ago and in the interim between then and now I’ve commenced my residency at Sauerbier House in Port Noarlunga. Understandably, time (and energy) have gotten away from me. We still managed to get out to our next designated stop at Onkaparinga Gorge on Sunday, but the time/energy reserves simply can’t produce something as in-depth and literate as the previous posts. I’m just a bit too consumed by the work at hand whilst in residence.
Nevertheless, I’m still committed to completing this journey to the best of my ability and to continue making observations and documenting the process.
I was again joined by my partner Lauren for this trip and the weather was ideal for a long-ish walk through the Onkaparinga National Park. To get to the gorge on foot within a reasonable timeframe, the best access points are via Gates 11 and 12 up Penny Hill Road (via Hackham). Being the weekend we expected a decent amount of visitors, but the more remote access points were certainly going to be less busy than the main gate and the lower lookouts.
We made our way down to the gorge via one of the Sundew Tracks which passed over a plateau of sparse vegetation before coming to a lookout that provided a wonderful vantage point of the gorge and river below. The contrast between the landscape of remnant vegetation and the surrounding pastoral land was striking. Our previous stop in Clarendon was probably only about five kilometres from this point (due east-ish).
A view looking east from the Sundew Look out.
From here, we continued onto the gorge and river as the track narrowed considerably. The vegetation became much denser as the path zig-zagged down progressively steeper gradients. Eventually we arrived at the river’s edge.
This part of the gorge was a stunning landscape. On our way down we had occasionally heard the river flowing, but from a distance (and a given vantage) it appeared completely motionless. Up close, we could perceive a steady current coursing through the river, evidenced by visible fronts on the surface of the water. At its edges, the sun streamed through a honey-tinged transparance that revealed a silty floor, rocks and felled branches covered in slime and moss. Little insects could occasionally be seen skirting the surface. Large boulders and sloping rocks provided nice vantage points, whilst paths wound through grasses led to little coves and other secluded areas. A swinging rope had been suspended from a branch of a large eucalypt. A platform to swing from it out over the river came in the form of one of the enormous boulders. I took my shoes off and gave it a go, making two complete swings before misjudging my return on the third trip and bashing my toe into a rock. Lauren proceeded to audibly roll her eyes. I do this kind of thing a lot. Thankfully I didn’t injure myself too much and the grotesquely cracked nail on my big toe looked a lot worse than it actually felt.
Since I knew that this trip on-foot would a bit more intensive than the previous ones, I couldn’t bear the thought of carrying a tripod and mic rig up-and-down about two kilometres of a steep path. Even though Lauren was with me, it seemed like a bit more of an imposition to ask her to carry extra gear when the priority was lightness. So, I kept gear a little more practical this time around: my new Aquarian hydrophones, the Sound Devices Mix Pre 3 recorder and my handheld LS-100 recorder.
This was only the second time I’d used my new hydrophones and the results were absolutely brilliant. There’s a considerably stronger low-to-mid frequency response with these which really brings so much more presence to the recording. This aspect had been sorely lacking from my previous hydrophone pair, and although I could subsequently boost these lower frequency bands in post-production, having all of the audio’s constituent parts revealed in-situ makes the process of monitoring and observing environments so much more enjoyable!
With the hydrophones dropped in the river, the currents which we’d seen were certainly audible – a consistent throb of motion, joined by rivulets of sibilant activity. Surrounding this, water skimmers panned across the hydrophones stereo profile, whilst other creatures prowled the water and floor of the river, occasionally making contact with the mics.
I made a couple of open-air recordings with the hand-held recorder, positioned with a little tripod. I’ve only listened back to these recordings once (time has been a bit limited this week), but the serenity of this location is certainly evident – the ambience of the river flowing, varieties of finches and wrens sounding out and the chatter of insects.
Although we passed other visitors coming and going on the Sundew Track as we made our way down to the gorge, it seemed remarkable that we managed to have the riverside location to ourselves for a bit over an hour; almost completely uninterrupted.
An excellent trip – certainly the highlight on these roadtrips.
From here, I’ll be picking up the final stage of the journey by covering Old Noarlunga and then walking along the river to Sauerbier House in Port Noarlunga, followed by a short walk to the estuary.
So, I’m currently enjoying a super relaxing holiday and when I’ve torn myself away from a cycle of sleeping, socialising, reading, cricket and cricket, I’ve been roaming around looking for compelling sounds. Here’s a broken fence I found down in Port Noarlunga the other day – being gently articulated by some dry grasses.
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.
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.
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.
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, Glenn Albrecht 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.
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.
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.
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:
A high-pitched cloud of incessant activity – micro-gestures, metallic flutters, sibilent voices and crackles.
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.
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.
An early Sunday afternoon in Wirrabara. My ears, still acclimatising to the quiet of the town following the Producers Market catch whatever comes into relief (however brief): the rustle of trees lining the main street pavement, the faint rumble of a car engine or distant machinery and the occasional twitter of birds. In spite of these sounds – both tangible and hidden – the overall impression of this place is a strangely uneasy, empty quiet.
I’m accustomed to this type of quiet. My hometown of Normanville on the Fleurieu Peninsula, which in spite of being more populous and fitfully vibrant during the warmer months, is partial to the same kind of mid-to-late afternoon lull. Since I’ve spent most of my adult life living in the city, it’s occasionally surprising to become enveloped by this quiet, whilst acutely aware one’s own presence (or agency) – marked out by the sound of shoes on gravel or the rustle of clothes. This is maybe one reason why we find streets, buildings and vehicles with a perceived human absence so disconcerting. Within this environment one becomes so much more aware of their own presence.
The Wirrabara Town Hall is rarely used these days. It is split into two main spaces – the original hall, built sometime in the early 20th Century and a small recreation hall with adjoining kitchen probably constructed sometime in the 1960’s. Within the smaller hall, there are shafts of golden sunlight spreading across the floor but the expected warmth is virtually non-existent. It is incredibly cold in this space, the adjoining foyer and larger hall. Within these cold, enclosed spaces and shut off from the empty main street of Wirrabara, it feels as though as I am a little further removed from the world.
A border of gold paint frames the stage of the main hall and deep blue and black velveteen curtains drape across the stage. Florescent lights and ceiling fans are suspended from a ceiling consisting of beautiful pressed tin panels. To the rear of the hall above the main doors is an elevated projection room. Overall, the hall is in immaculate condition – giving an impression that it’s hardly been used in a very long time. There are some indications that the hall may have been used recently – such as a box of children’s toys and books to the rear of the hall, however this is certainly an anomaly. Behind the curtains of the stage is an old piano (recently retuned – another indicator of recent visitors?), upon lifting the piano’s lid I notice its prominently chipped keys suggesting plenty of use over the years.
To the rear of the stage area is a large overhead speaker protruding from the rear wall and appearing to be fixed to a canvas petition. It’s a peculiar looking thing – a huge magnet and voice coil enclosed in a solid wooden box with a square shaped diaphragm. The wooden box has a sticker on it indicating that the speaker was purchased from ‘Benbow Amusements’ with ‘Gladstone’ written below (Gladstone is a town about 30km south of Wirrabara). It’s difficult to place the vintage of such a strange looking loudspeaker, though the 1940’s and 50’s come to mind.
I make a sound recording of the main Town Hall space, positioning the hand-held device on the lectern so as to capture the ambience of the space from the stage. The discrete buzz of fluorescent lights provide a hushed continuum as incidental sounds from the building and outer periphery materialise: the creak of the roof in the sun, a whisper of wind, the muffled trill of a magpie, a passing vehicle, an unidentifiable murmur, a rustle of trees.
It’s a quiet world out/in here.
Later this/next week: PART 3 – Wirrabara Forest and other locales.