Rocks are a gift for a photographer. There’s so much texture and form to play with and in their weathered state, even small outcrops can have monumental power. Best of all, rocks don’t run away or wobble in the breeze. They're a seductive point of reference for the lens, mainstays against the seasonal giddiness of sea and sky.
But geology as art is no easy sell. Rocks are not conventionally alluring. They exist of themselves, apparently cold, obstinate and unfeeling. Yet in their own way rocks live as surely as anything else in nature. They pass through phases of birth, growth and decay. It’s just the timeline us mortals can’t cope with.
This antiquity is on show all around Kangaroo Island’s shoreline. The oldest rocks revealed here are some 800 million years old; the youngest date from a few millenia back. So, while our stone-scapes can be enjoyed as abstractions and objects of intricate delight, they also flag the greatest saga of all – the life of the earth itself.
Our island is the southern outlier of the Adelaide Rift Complex. Around 500 million years ago the rocks laid down in this long sedimentary basin were twisted and uplifted to create a colossal mountain chain spanning a 1000km. The worn relics of these peaks live on in the Flinders and Mt Lofty Ranges. This same ancestral geology is laid bare along the eastern and southern coastline of Kangaroo Island.
The rocks of the Rift have been my life. Their granular edges and facets, the fissures, the bluffs and sheer faces have always been there. As a toddler I clambered over the crystal-rich boulders of Encounter Bay granite. I grew up amid the shales and quartzites of the Adelaide Hills and rock climbed on the skyline walls of Moonarie on Wilpena Pound. That, in turn, led to a lifetime of pilgrimages to walk the stone-flanked gorges of the Gammon Ranges.
I think of these rocks the way rainforest people regard trees. They are the backbone of memory; the bedrock of belonging. They tie me to the mystery of place and the transcendence of deep history.
As one of ten artists joining with the Island to Inland exhibition it seemed only natural for me to pay homage to the craggy shores of home on Kangaroo Island - plus their netherworldy connections to the continent's interior. I wanted to make big with the confronting otherness of the rocks, their ambiguity and haunting forms.
From our KI verandah I can stand looking at the stars at night and hear roar of the waves on the south coast cliffs and the same swell crashing along the ancient stones of Antechamber Bay a few hundred metres to our north. I love that booming, double-barrel basso profundo. It's the sensation of the rocks holding fast all around our island home.
In one way the cliffs declare their permanence, an adamantine spirit in the face of the Southern Ocean. As such they give vivid continuity to my personal story as an artist. At the same time their every detail betrays the turmoil of their origins as sediments layered, pressed, melted, intruded and buckled.
There's a humbling paradox here. Rocks are the most durable reminders of the upheaval that is our lot, our world. They insist, as surely as any fallen tree or crumbling headstone, that change is the vital absolute to reckon with. It's the only constant, the singular truth that makes beauty possible.
Ramps of Kanmantoo Group rocks at Antechamber Bay leading to Cape Coutts.
Cartouche, 1220 x 1250, Giclée print on German etching paper, Edition of 5
(Quartz intrusion in Kanmantoo Group sedimentary rocks, Cape Coutts, Kangaroo Island)
The Armchair, British Empire Granite formation, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary