Opal Mining
 We Planned to Go Opal Mining – portrait of Anuradha Patel. Tor Roxburgh, 2011 (oil on canvas)

Earlier this year Omnibus Art Gallery had an exhibition of artworks inspired by Australian stones. The show was held in conjunction with the National Museum of Earth and People (Sofia, Bulgaria) and was curated by Velislav Georgiev (aka Will) and Nikoli Stoychev.

When Will invited me to participate and gave me two pebbles, I started thinking about the natural world. My feelings about nature never quite match nature’s reality. Rocks turn out to be too hard, the earth is dirtier than expected, the wind is colder, the ground is more uncomfortable, the sun is hotter. My artworks are an attempt to tell this sort of story.

The two paintings I created are about a plan to go opal mining in Coober Pedy that Anuradha Patel and I concocted after we got infected with opal fever when passing through that mining town in 2010. At least, we thought it was a plan and then, later, we realised it was a fantasy.

We Planned to Go Opal Mining – portrait of Anuradha Patel, shows Anuradha in front of our imagined caravan beside our imagined claim. The glare of the sun, the abandoned tools, and the rocks that are not opals signify my thought process in coming to terms with the reality of the hostile natural environment in outback South Australia and in relinquishing my attachment to our plan. The ‘Danger’ sign is a reworking of the signs that appear along the highway on either side of Coober Pedy and within the town itself. Instead of a falling stick figure, I have painted an upside down, dancing Ganesh (Indian Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles). I thought Ganesh was apt for Anuradha and could also symbolise that we, each of us, carry our culture with us regardless of where we are.

The second painting, Will Said He Was Going Home – portrait of Velislav Georgiev, shows Will driving off in our red Citroen in a very determined manner. Will didn’t catch opal fever. Right from the beginning of Anuradha’s and my fantasy, Will said 'NO WAY. I'm going back to Ballan.'

Will Said He Was Going Home – portrait of Velislav Georgiev. Tor Roxburgh, 2011 (oil on canvas)
Spacesuit Paintings

Self-portrait at Uluru: I am a tourist
Copyright Tor Roxburgh

I drove up to Uluru with Will and Anu in 2010. For me, it was a 50th birthday pilgrimage. Time to have a look at the inside that great beast: my continent.

Growing up, there was this idea all around me that the centre contained the country’s heart – maybe its soul. It felt like complete bullshit. But I hadn’t been there. So I didn’t know.

I turned 50 and… well… having a party seemed trivial when I felt as though I was beginning something new and strange. Turning 50 made me remember that I didn’t know anything; turning 50 gave me feelings of preposterous grandeur; turning 50 made me free.

We drove to the red centre in the red Citroen. As we drove, we talked and listened to music in the car. We watched the country change and change and change. I held the camera out the window and shutter went click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click.

We stayed in suicide-décor motels, the last of which had instructions on the bed that told visitors not to buy alcohol for Aborigines. What??????

We saw Uluru in the morning. It was pink.
We saw Uluru in the day. It was flinty, stony, baked, sandy, leathery, rusty, brownish, orangey, red.
We saw Uluru at night. It was black.

Anu walked all the way around Uluru. Will and I walked part way round. Will stepped on it, on just a little bit of it, with his leather brogues. I thought he might slip, but he didn’t.

I came across alcoves and puddles of sand.
Silence and noise.
We came across a couple who used to live next door to us in Brighton, who suddenly seemed to like us when I’d always thought they disdained us.
The thickest sound was birds' wings ruffling the air.
The sky was excessive, nice, open, blue.
I felt like a tourist.
I looked at everything through my lens.
I didn’t know if I was going to break traditional laws or respect them, but I didn’t take photos of sacred formations.
My camera clicked like a bird, clattering across the rest of the rock.
I was foolish and not foolish.
I didn’t belong there. I didn’t feel Australian.
But I was there. Looking. Catching. Thinking.
I realised I was just another space traveller.

When I got home again, I painted myself at Uluru, camera in hand. I decided there should be a personalised call sign on my suit:
Victory (Victoria)
Open (April)
Love (Felicity)
Rooks’ Castle (Roxburgh... sort of)
I thought I sounded like a porn star.

Portrait of Anu & Will
Approaching Kata Tjuta: we each of us come, sitting on our culture
Portrait of Anuradha Patel and Velislav Georgiev
Copyright Tor Roxburgh

We drove from Uluru to Kata Tjuta. I thought the trees looked like soldiers, like an army.

Inside, we were the only people and the three of us walked together, between the rocks. It was like walking towards a vagina, like walking up a vagina. The rocks on either side were heavy, rusty thighs.

Will and Anu sat down on the benches. Anu lay down and looked backwards. She looked so sensual and beautiful. Will was talking and pointing towards the cleft. I took a photo and I thought about how much we’d brought with us:

That last bit, cultures, is usually invisible to us. We think of ourselves as normal. It is the Other who is different and caught in their culture.

I looked at Will and Anu, sitting on the benches, sitting on their cultures and I realised I wasn’t the only space traveller, the only explorer.

I painted Will and Anu and gave them personalised call signs for their space suits. This is Will's:
Glorious (Velislav)
Defender (Marco)
Earth Worker (Georgiev)
This is Anu's:
Luminous Heavenly Body (Anuradha)
Record Keeper (Patel)