In the 1840s a report concerning a white woman taken captive by an Aboriginal tribe in Gippsland, Victoria, circulated amongst the small colonial population. For years afterwards the story intensified, with the positioning of a single white female forcibly living with the local Aborigines justifying the colonial expansion in the area. Davis’ “First sighting, near Flooding Creek” is part of a series which explores the story in exquisite detail.
In the 1960s a local resident recounted the story of the White Woman, stating “a boat party of five men exploring Lake King saw a lot of wild natives on the shore … Over the top of the sand dune they saw the upper half of the body of a white woman who was trying to press forward to them and was forcibly being held back by Aborigines … the hostile nature of the natives prevented the men from doing anything about it”.
A newspaper from 1840 reported that numerous items of European origin were found at the Aboriginal camp, including children’s clothing, medicines, newspapers, cooking utensils, a bible, and a dead child in a kangaroo skin bag. This emotive imagery effectively reinforced a division between how the two cultures were perceived: the enlightened colonialists, the primitive Aborigines.
The newspaper report confirmed the European belief that the Aborigines were savages who needed to be removed from the white settlements. The gendered positioning of a virtuous white Christian woman in the servitude of Aboriginal men furthered a sense of moral indignation, whilst also providing a sense of titillation for the readers at the time.
Despite several rescue expeditions a white woman was never found, however a figurehead of Britannia taken from a shipwreck was discovered in the possession of the local Aborigines. Was the figurehead the source of the story?
This sound composition interprets Davis’ work by imagining how the unfamiliar sounds of the Gippsland marshlands heightened a sense of trepidation in the early colonialists. The White Woman is out of sight, yet her presence in the mythology of the landscape is palpable.
To view more of Jan Davis’ work from this series please visit Grahame Galleries.