Sarah Neville


Speculative Culture/ Weather Lore 3

Speculative Culture/Weatherlore
Family in residence
Oratunga Sheep Station
Flinders Rangers October 2015


The artistic residency with my family at Oratunga sheep station in the Flinders Rangers is our third annual pilgrimage to places that speak to us about critical changes in the weather. Over three years with my husband Matt and daughters Miranda 6 and Florence 2, we have had our ears to the ground following leads on emergent stories and sayings about the weather in times of climate change. As artists we record the stories of the community, respond to the environment and reflect on weather lore, evolving in these times and speculate about the future.

Weather lore is based on observation of the environment and the effects that changes in the weather have on insects, animals, birds and people. At Oratunga, Weather lore both ancient and futuristic, indigenous and pastoral was sort through conversations with locals. Chats with the publican and locals at the General Store, lunch with the Post Master and visits to the local pastoralists revealed much and little. In the tradition of Aussie laconic humour we learnt that sometimes it gets hot in Tasmania too and when there are a lot of ants you got a problem with ants.

We observed how the local industry has shifted over time from mining to farming and now tourism. The resilience of the people and their ability to adapt and evolve demonstrates their passion and commitment for this land. There are mining tours and demonstrations led by travellers and farming tours and demonstrations led by those who grew up on the land. Challenges in accessing small townships, communication and sustainable food are just as much an issue now as in previous generations and every success or failure in business is determined by the weather.

In recent history there has been an 18 year drought which has seen sheep stations destock and sell off sizable property. Before that the Flinders Ranges were renowned world wide for the beauty of their wild flowers in Spring, which have not been seen to that extent for more than 20 years now. The weather is extreme and erratic; in an hour it can go from 40 degrees to 12 degrees with the sudden appearance of a freak storm. Too often rain never comes and then when it rains it rains. We experienced first hand how a storm can rain down and fill dry creek beds, block road access in a matter of minutes only to empty a day later.

We heard from a local farmer that if a creek dries up rapidly then a storm is coming and that that if a black patch is seen on a road then rain will come in a couple of weeks. However weather is too variable here to predict. Not many phrases have not been turned, that recognise commonalities in weather patterns. In respect to current changes in the weather or global warming it is too hard to link the feeling of the climate being too hot with this particular moment in time. The most common phrase being when its hot its too hot and when it rains it rains.

We danced in disused woolsheds, stared down tribe of feral goats, kicked dust off rusty farm machinery, reported flocks of ghost sheep to the publican, dined on feral meats in a scene from gourmet traveller and yarned with caricatures of farmers. This place represents a frontier of civilisation that once was. It is more possible to visit than live and those who live here live off the promise of those who visit. People cannot afford to be unfriendly but they cannot hide their defensiveness. Asking questions about the weather, the very changeable and variable weather that sustains their lively hood is too personal. Does it get really hot here? Sure but I've heard it gets hot in Tasmania too! What do you observe about the change of seasons? Well there was a recent drought but the drought in the 60's was worse! And what about 1890? Yep we've had worse. Its cyclic. The weather moves around the ranges in a circle. You can see it from the front porch of the pub. Bad weather goes round in 10 year cyles. We are ok thanks. Everything is going well. Our industries are very important.

1877, Nov 12th local news
"The clerk of the weather has been during the past week in a very eccentric mood, consequently we have had extremes of calm and storm, clouds and sunshine, heat and cold but no rain."

The wind shapes the landscape and there are many visual narratives in that. There are also many dream time stories which we have not heard yet. Our meeting with the indigenous people has been put off to another time. An Earthquake report from the local news in August 1871 mentions that the local Aboriginal people were greatly alarmed and said that,"- the noise proceeded from the mouth of a monstrous snake entombed in the bowels of the earth and that the shaking of the ground was caused by the struggles of its vast body."
The Artist Family in Residence model, which has sustained this research was a great match for this residency. Matt, Florence and I were alone, without outside arts facilitators, in a large sheep station homestead.

Interestingly even though we were based in a house, domestics were not in focus. The house is beautifully set up to nurture creativity and the landscape and the weather immediately dominated our experience. Our presence as a family definitely softened our relationship with the larger community and experiencing the world through Florence's senses certainly heightened our observations of the world around us and fed into the richness and depth of our artistic enquiry.

The artistic project Speculative Culture/ Weather Lore is still in the research and development stage. Stretching over three years so far we have dug out old stories that describe the weather, sought out new narratives and imagined speculative scenarios. Art making and family life with young children will be managed on a day to day basis. Now comes a time of reflection, writing articles and contributing to blogs. Next we will define the second stage of the project and plan for further developments.