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Research Process Journal

Anonymous Sojourners in the Australian Bush

St Andrews, Victoria, November 2017

In collaboration with the St Andrews Men's Shed,
St Andrews Historic Society, The St Andrews Arts Group

& The St Andrews Film Society & The Wadambuk Community Centre

Living in the Landscape Public Art Incubator

Supported by the Nillumbik Shire Council

This public art commission carries through from my work on 'curating inclusive communities' and promoting the right to the city. The project recognises a lost mining history in the St Andrews community paying particular attention to an uncommonly known history of a Chinese mining community buried in the local area. My project focused on bringing together various community partners to research and explore this lost history through a socially engaged public art project. 

The Project

Anonymous Sojourners in the Australian Bush pays attention to a relatively unknown history of a Chinese community buried at the Queenstown Cemetery in the 1850-80s during the St Andrews mining boom. A series of eight boat lanterns were created to pay respect to and acknowledge this uncommonly known history, acting as a gesture of symbolically returning a community never intending to stay. Eight was chosen to reflect the eight inquest reports, eighty or so people buried and eight as a number of prosperity in Chinese culture. The full moon imagery references Li Bai’s Tang Dynasty poem On a Tranquil Night, representing longing for home and family reunion. The project was developed in collaboration with the St Andrews Men’s Shed and in consultation with locals, the St Andrews Historical Society, Wadambuk St Andrews Community Centre, The Wadambuk Arts Group and The Chinese Museum, Melbourne.

On a Tranquil Night 

Besides my bed a pool of light

Is it frost on the ground? 

I lift my eyes and see the moon

I bow my head feeling a longing for home

Li Bai (701-762 BC, translated from Chinese)

Shedagogy: Learning through doing

I partnered on this project with the St Andrew's Men's shed, which I felt would be a suitable partner based on their vision of creating a community space for men to gather and learn from each other and to gain a sense of belonging in their local community and aligned with my own values of the arts playing a role in connecting and engaging communities in meaningful ways. After reading up on the Men's shed movement and how it is uniquely an Australian concept, it was interesting to read about the coining of the term "shedagogy" (rhyming with pedagogy) by education Professor Barry Golding (2014) to describe the process of learning through doing as a preferable educational process for older men. So it was great to find that I had my first experience of shedagogy whilst working on this project. Through research of the adult education sector it was found that older men in Australia generally don't participate as often in formal education, but are more likely to in informal situations such as workshop based activities. It has been an interesting partnership working with a generous community of skilled shed members who are interested in engaging with local histories and collaborating on the process of developing an artwork. Although in regards to a public project, this may have been my first experience of learning through a 'shedagogical' lens, but more informally, learning through my Father often happened in the garage, as I have fond memories of my Father assisting me with woodworking projects, a comfortable place for him until today. What I am finding most interesting is that the project is intergenerational and cross cultural, allowing locals to see their own community in a new light. 

The Tree at Wadambuk, St Andrews
Thursday 18 July, 2019

Today I was delighted to receive a text message from Kevin from the Men's shed. Kevin informed me that the tree that our project was suspended from was flowering profusely and that he had recently been cleaning up the area around it. He had also found out that the tree was actually a Chinese Lantern tree, a nice serendipitous co-incidence with our project. The most rewarding part of working with various communities is knowing that the experience creates meaning connections for those who are involved and that they continue to forge meaning (or perhaps seek meaning) once they have that engaged experience and have read a place in a new light. 

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