DARK CORNER: Locality and Forestry in the Central West

Vincent Wozniak-O'Connor




Casual references to the ‘middle of nowhere’ are applied variously to the spaces west of the peaks of the Blue Mountains, with land eventually regaining classification in the ultra far-ness—from the east— of Western Australia. Within this uncompiled space between the near and far, clusters of ‘locale only’ towns bypassed by highways lie in the shadow of pine plantations. In particular, the town Dark Corner demonstrates a seemingly self-attributed marginality. The promise of Dark Corner as a locale offers a combined description/location without discernable attributes, instead only terminating corners of a map and promising only to fulfil the status of being almost nowhere.




The seemingly planetary-scaled pine plantations surrounding Dark Corner attract special user groups drawn to the forestry coups, based on enacting a narrative of ‘Exploration’ using the circuitous logging roads. Perpetuating this kind of exploration relies in part on a willingness towards spatial amnesia that ignores existing and competing knowledge, enabling users to access unbuffered terrain ready for ‘exploration’. The danger of this narrative lies in the ambivalence towards Indigenous spatial knowledge systems and extensive land management and plantation forestry that makes ingress a casual right. The pine forests between Sunny and Dark Corner appear to be the stuff of nature, yet are sustained only by a high intensity agro-industrial program of timber creation. The challenge while traversing the network of forestry sites is to remember that the exotic mushrooms, native wildlife and thick canopies are incidental effects of a high-yield agricultural system.




The practices involved with plantation forestry in the Central West connect incomprehensibly to finished timber products. Auditing the network of forestry sites after clear-felling reveals an expanse of uprooted stumps, scorched timber waste and native regrowth shrivelled by herbicide. This cycle of land use sees a continuous churning of felling and replanting, often to the extent that new seedlings are planted into hillsides still blackened from burning off undertaken the previous day. On the high plateau near Daylight Creek strewn with timber fragments I remember Sylvan’s evaluation of Radiata plantations:

It is too often blithely assumed that all forestry is an environmentally benign activity, because wood is ‘a renewable resource’… a forest considered as a natural area, as an ecological unit, is only renewable under certain limited sorts of exploitation and management, and conversion to pine plantation clearly is not among them.[1]




Undertaking an archaeology of the recent past and a condition report of forestry processes traversing the Dark Corner plantations uncovers discrete practices accompanying timber generation: Harvest residue piles, minor camps, and the various conflicting qualities of timber in various states on the route to technical products. The most surprising qualities of the Radiata pines spreading along Dark Corner road are the minor stands of unlogged pines not subjected to silvicultural practices due to inaccessible or accidental locations. Surrounding the overgrown cemetery is a particular stand of thick, misshapen looking Radiata almost unrecognisable compared to nearby pencil-straight trunks of the vigilantly maintained plantations.







While photographing along Back Creek Road and undertaking the often-repeated process of repacking the DSLR between balled-up clothing and recording gear I hear the slapping sound of a rifle nearby. The few sharp cracks of the rifle are accompanied by a mental processing that occurs immediately afterwards refuting the possibility that someone is shooting close by. I immediately begin matching various comparable yet unlikely foley scenarios, such as the collision of metal plates, rock falls and other decreasingly plausible comparisons as I quickly back track towards the main road. Approaching the road I consider the broader role of equipment as even the technicality of field recording is tied to compact recording tools and a variety of products that enable a special transport stages to exotic and remote sites. The dependence on equipment requires technical intervention to the extent that even the overlooked role of boot manufacturing and siliconised nylon permit access to potentially wild spaces supposedly separate from the technicality of cities.




Arriving at the map location denoting Dark Corner, the black asphalt transitions to gravel, coinciding with the end of the Google Maps ‘street view’ imagery. The few properties in the area flanked by pines quickly pass on the road pressing further west, yet the idea of this area as a cartographic blank as per the lack of photographic rendering is disarmingly false. What is present instead of an unrendered zone is a network of restricted mining sites, fire towers and stands of colossal unlogged pines in deep marsh. Again the road tends westward intersecting with lesser trails and localities




[1] Sylvan, Richard. The Fight for the Forests: The Takeover of Australian Forests for Pines, Wood Chips and Intensive Forestry. edited by Valerie Routley and Sciences Australian National University. Research School of Social Sciences, 1974.

Further reference
Benediktsson, Karl. “”Scenophobia”, Geography and the Aesthetic Politics of Landscape.” Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography 89, no. 3 (2007): 203-17.

Vincent O'Connor is an artist and researcher concerned with recording sound from plants. Projects are often based on handmade electronics and are increasingly involved with the conditions of plantation...

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