Landscape Carnarvon Range, Queensland, 1948

Sidney Nolan, Landscape Carnarvon Range, Queensland, 1948, Ripolin on board, 91 x 121 cm, The University of Western Australia Art Collection, Tom Collins Memorial Fund, 1953, © Sidney Nolan Trust

Dr. Catherine Noske is a lecturer in Creative Writing and editor of Westerly Magazine at the University of Western Australia. Her research focuses on contemporary Australian writing of place, and has been awarded the A.D. Hope Prize from the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. She has twice been awarded the Elyne Mitchell Prize for Rural Women Writers, and her current manuscript, a novel, was shortlisted for the 2015 Dorothy Hewett Award.

“In South of the West, Ross Gibson reminds the reader that culture and nature are concepts, categories we apply to spaces in order to narrativise them, seat them in relation to human experiences. Nolan as an artist was inordinately aware of the narratives at play in the ‘natural’ world – explorers, Ned Kelly, scenes of outback townships. But this painting trades less on the iconic. Humming with the heat that rises from the ranges with the gloss finish of Nolan’s signature Ripolin house paint, this is a scene that seems to demand we listen rather than speak.

There is movement in this painting. The feathery detail in the waving grasses of the foreground is a light note, something delicate before the bold and almost abstract stacking of rocks, their startling colours, the dark realism of the mountains in the distance. The sky itself is not empty, but alive with the subtle shifting of cloud, drawing the gaze endlessly upwards. It pulls at me – this is why I chose this work. I find myself, in looking at it, following again and again the path that Nolan offers, from the foreground wandering out towards the mountains and then up, achingly up, into the light.

It is not easy, this painting. Any impression of simplicity is deceptive. It reminds me of loving to the point of pain. It seems to hold desire, but simultaneously an awareness of the realities of such longings. That possession of such a place is not possible. That terra nullius is a myth. There is enough of the surreal here that the gesture of the painting is laid bare: this is not the place, this can never be the place, this can only ever reach for the experience of it, and offer it in silence to those who wish to listen.”

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