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Research / Practice Article

Vol. 17 No. 1 (2024): Drawing Anthropocene

Drawings are Complicit

18 January 2024


In Australia it is well understood that landscape drawings, such as surveys and maps have contributed to ecological and cultural disaster on a vast scale. The drawing up of maps, particularly at the height of the continent's colonisation in the eighteenth and nineteenth century resulted in the genocide and relocation First Nations people and the destruction of much of their culture. In addition to this, maps and survey paved the way for drastic transformations of fragile landscapes: for example, from productive riparian zones to farmland and now dustbowls. What is less well-explored, however, is the way the practice of making drawing also resulted in violent transformations to the Australian landscape. To understand this, this paper examines several types of landscape drawings, including maps, surveys, landscape sketches and sections, and geological drawings, from the southern state of Victoria and its capital Melbourne and produced just prior to and in the early years of colonisation. It argues that in order to produce such drawings, artists and surveyors had to exert control over the landscape, sacrificially damaging it for the sake of the drawing. This paper uses a close reading of archival texts as well and historic drawings to argue for an alternate view of colonial drawing, often seen as a passive or heavily observational task.