BRD at Nathalia in the Weekly Times

The Weekly Times, long established as THE rural newspaper in Australia has published an article on MAPgroup’s exhibition (in conjunction with the Museum of Australian Democracy) of Beyond Reasonable Drought at Nathalia.

Written by Sarah Hudson, the article quotes Dale Mann extensively.

From the Weekly Times March 27 2013

IT’S impossible to fully comprehend the toll drought has taken on rural Australia.

But in the mid-2000s a dedicated group of about 40 photographers, mainly Victorian, tried to find out.

  • Beyond Reasonable Drought, The G.R.A.I.N Store, Nathalia, until Sunday and Mildura Arts Centre, May6 – June 28

The group, called MAP (Many Australian Photographers), hit the road to document first-hand the impact of what was to be a decade-long drought on our sunburnt country and its people.The result was first a book, Beyond Reasonable Drought, released in 2009, which became an Australia-wide touring exhibition of the same name, with 86 images now showing in Nathalia’s G.R.A.I.N. Store, followed by Mildura in May and June.

According to photographer Dale Mann, the drought project had humble beginnings.

“Back then it wasn’t about the book or exhibition, it was about the fact there was a story to be told in rural Australia,” says Dale, who was one of the founding MAP members.

“We weren’t paid for the work – all proceeds from the book went to the CWA. Photographers just want to photograph subjects. It’s what we love to do.”

Dale says the idea came from the US, where in 1935 a photographer chronicled the 20 million hectares of the country that had turned to a dustbowl.

While MAP photographers took their lens across the continent, documenting the way Australians work and live during drought, Dale travelled through Tasmania, Hay, Ruffy and Dimboola, with three of his pictures appearing in the book and one in the current exhibition.

His experiences were confronting.

“I was in Dimboola when I saw a sheep farmer leaning against a fence and, so I stopped to ask if I could take his photo,” Dale says. “He said ‘no’, but he wanted to chat. He was this big tough farmer and he was in absolute tears, he was so devastated by the drought.

“He told me the last straw was that his car had broken down and he didn’t have enough money to fix it.

“Everything he’d worked for for so many years had come to an end.”

Dale says the exhibition poses questions about our attitudes to water use, our personal priorities, and the durability of our national character.

“A lot of comments in the visitors’ book in Nathalia is that it’s a hard exhibition to look at. Farmers come in and it re-boots their memories.”

But fast-forward several years and Dale – who has a background in photojournalism, capturing the likes of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the UK’s Margaret Thatcher and Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev for The Bulletin and Time Magazine – now sees a very different picture to that chronicled during the drought.

As part of the Beyond Reasonable Drought touring exhibition, organised by the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra, Dale was chosen to spend two weeks in Nathalia and Mildura to document the communities post-drought. As photographer-in-residence, he went around farms, churches, the main street and up to the Picola pub, capturing residents in their everyday lives.

A selection of photographs by locals and Dale will appear on the Museum of Australian Democracy’s website, as well as on giant screens at the G.R.A.I.N. Store and at the Mildura Arts Centre. He says the experience has given him a new insight into rural Victoria.

“It’s quite amazing. I thought there would be a lot of resentment, but a lot of people made changes as a result of the drought and are happier for it,” he says.

“I spoke to one farmer who had totally altered the way he works. He hardly runs stock now, but grows corn, sells his water right and has put in covered water tank supplies,” he says.

“I’ve found many farms have made changes, with some getting out all together, working in town. Overall it’s a very positive feeling.”

The article can be read online here:

Clarification: The article above mentions the CWA as receiving all the proceeds from the book. This is incorrect.

In fact, half the proceeds went to Australian Women in Agriculture in recognition of the support they provide to rural communities.

The remaining half was retained by MAPgroup to further our coverage of Australia and her people.

Dale has been pleased with the numbers of people attending the exhibition as well as the small group of locals participating in the photography workshop.

You can view a selection of their images here.

A few images from the opening at Nathalia appear below.

The exhibition closes at Nathalia on Sunday March 31 before opening at the Mildura Arts Centre on May 6th.


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