Shelter is a place where the human body can be more comfortable in its environment. Sheltering is not the same as dwelling. People living in pre-agricultural worlds – nomads, hunter-gatherers, created modes of shelter which were effective and disposable. I have photographed many shelters and dwellings in remote places over the years. But it is hard to locate these images – packed away in boxes, many lost. None of them were digital of course. So I have included here photographs from public or commons collections similar to those I was able to take while travelling and “in the field” in my former life. My former husband Peter Hamilton, an architect, documented the variety of shelters in the Everard Ranges in 1970 and 1971. He took hundreds, maybe thousands, of photographs. Paul Memmott, anthropologist and architect, used his work in his outstandingly important book Gunyah, Goondie + Wurley: the Aboriginal architecture of Australia, University of Queensland Press, 2007.
Aboriginal “wiltjas” created from tree branches and spinifex made wonderfully adaptable shelters. They could be demolished and rebuilt at a moment’s notice, abandoned, burnt down after someone died, recreated in another place. They offered shelter, not dwelling. Dwelling took place in the land, in the environment itself.
The same is true of the indigenous peoples of southern Thailand and Northern Malaysia. I visited several camps and settlements of the people known as Maniq in Thai, Orang Asli in Malay. These were the original indigenous inhabitants of the Malay Peninsular. Some groups were still living a nomadic life in the region between Pattalung and Betong when I was there in the early 1990s. In Northern Malaysia, Orang Asli live in permanent communities today and struggle to maintain their identities in a polity which does not recognise them as having specific group based land rights. The settled people live in permanent dwellings in villages.In Thailand though I was lucky enough to see many temporary shelters though, still in use in the remotest hills.
Modern societies misunderstand both sheltering and dwelling. Real estate, private property and the bureaucratization of space have destroyed their real meaning.
I love looking at how people living in Australia in former times built everything from simple adaptable materials. Photographs here reflect my fascination with these structures and the places they occupied in collective history. Vernacular buildings especially those made of corrugated iron and bush timber are especially beguiling. All of the following are my own photographs.
Corrugated iron was the material of choice in Australia as soon as it became readily available. The number of surviving iron huts and houses is dwindling rapidly today. Part of their charm is that they get old. But the new iron buildings replacing them are square, organised, professionally built. We should treasure the old buildings made by people with their own hands and their own imaginations.
Living in bushfire areas, as I do now, the question of what to build with has become desperately important. How interesting that the new bushfire compliant building codes call for the use of corrugated iron again.
But I also love to photograph elegant and beautiful Australian buildings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Since living in the Blue Mountains I have been fascinated by the variety of architectural styles in this small area. The Carrington Hotel (below) offers great visual pleasure on account of the glass, lighting and symmetrical elements in construction and decoration.
Out in the countryside there are are many other fascinating vernacular Australian buildings. There are some wonderful examples in Broken Hill, where my daughter and I went recently. I photographed mainly the empty landscapes and am planning to paint a series based on them, but a few images from the town belong here as well.
Hotels and shops are among the most important public buildings in rural and regional Australia. So many are abandoned now, as rural towns shrink and fade into ghost towns all over the countryside.
Pubs are often the last men standing. I loved the shape and form, and stonework, on the only pub in Capertee.
My exploration of vernacular building should not omit weatherboard and fibro. Some images of the old house on the Hawkesbury River as well as the “new” fibro cottages build in the 1960s belong here as well. Putting these images together is still a work in progress.