The Ethics of Rural Place-Making: Public Space, Poetics, and the Ontologies of Design

Emily Potter


The small settlement of Hopetoun in the Victoria’s north-east – Mallee country – is oriented physically, economically and socially around Lake Laschelle. Large signs map the way for the tourist to its edge, where boat ramps and picnic sites await. And yet there is no water here and has been none for years. The presence of water in its absence is palpable. Over three years I followed water around the drought-ridden Mallee, a participant in a creative research project that sought to poetically recollect and assemble stories from this country as an experiment in place-making. Via collaborative practice between artists, with local community, and with the material environment of the Mallee itself, this still ongoing project brings poetic practice to bear on questions of political urgency – drought, climate change, community distress – usually the province of the techno and social sciences. In a land cultivated to take note of water’s absence, the project began to assemble its presence. This paper discusses this project as a methodological experiment that raises unsettling questions about the ethics of place-making in a context of post-colonial environmental change.

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