In March 2012 Rodney Pople won the Glover Prize, Australia’s most prestigious landscape painting award, for his work “Port Arthur”. Pople’s depiction of Port Arthur uses a classical style to blur the site’s colonial and modern histories. Controversially Pople included a small figure in the foreground, that of mass-murderer Martin Bryant.
On the 28th April 1996 Martin Bryant entered the historic site of Port Arthur with a semi-automatic rifle. After setting-up a video camera on a cafe table Bryant proceeded to shoot patrons and staff. By the end of the rampage 35 people were dead, 21 had been wounded. Bryant is now serving 35 consecutive life sentences in prison.
For those who survived that day the judge’s decision to award Pople with the first prize was marked as dubious and insensitive. Pople is now the object of intense debate with his detractors claiming the placement of the figure in the painting glorifies Bryant. In his defence Harrington writes Pople’s painting presents the landscape as being more than just bucolic beauty. It expresses the idea that our darkest histories are indelible stains on our landscape – its scars. In response to the debate Pople has said Bryant is sort of fading into the distance compared to the power of the whole landscape but he is part of it. I am not in any way glorifying Martin Bryant but to ignore it is looking in the wrong way as well.
On a recent trip to Port Arthur it was impossible to disregard the events from 1996. Walking amongst the ruins and the open lawns it was easy to feel Bryant’s presence looming over the picturesque site. Inspired by the British National Gallery’s sound programme this composition interprets Pople’s painting through the use of field recordings, most of them taken at Port Arthur.
You can visit Pople’s site here.