His interest in the landscape, cultural and physical, its articulation and interpretation, is multi-faceted. For the last thirty years he has travelled throughout Australia, filling in the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, observing patterns of settlement (or not), the production capacity and exploitation of the land, all the time collecting images and thoughts. The dry country has a strong attraction so he has made journeys to all of the major ‘deserts’, The Great Victoria, Tanami, Tirari, Gibson, Simpson, Sturt Stony and Strzelecki. In 2008 he was part of an expedition to locate the explorer Larry Wells’ blaze tree in the middle of the Great Victoria Desert in an area that is now part of the Mamungari Conservation Park. The Park is an UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve containing arid zone wilderness and features red sand dunes covered with desert karrajong, acacias, desert gums and salt lakes. The search involved a three day walk in the most remote area of the continent. Dating from the 1890s the blaze tree had not been seen since by white-men.
He has been to the most easterly (Byron Bay), westerly (Steep Point) and southerly (Wilson’s Promontory) points of the continent, and the highest (Mount Kosciuszko; 2228m), lowest (Lake Eyre South; -16m), hottest (Marble Bar, WA) and coldest (Beaufort, Vic). He still has to get to the most northerly. The two iconic rivers, the Murray and Snowy, have been followed from headwaters to ocean. The high country, Victorian Alps, Bogong High Plains and Snowy Mountains, has been visited several times. And, as we are a nation of coastal dwellers, the Pacific, Southern and Indian Ocean coasts have been followed from McKay (Qld) to Derby (WA) along with drop ins to the Timor Sea at Darwin and Wyndham. Tasmania has not been overlooked with a journey along its east and north coasts from Southport to Burnie.
During August to October, 2013, Gavin and partner spent eighty days travelling through the central and western half of the Australian continent, living out of the back of their Toyota ute, affectionately known as Polly and named after the mare that carried the explorer Stuart on his journeys of exploration across Australia.
There is still much more to know and understand about place. Often journeys feel like a reconnoitre only, sit down time is needed.
Gavin has also travelled extensively in Europe and visited North Africa. In 2008 he attended an international geography conference in Tunisia and whilst there travelled to the edge of the Sahara Desert. He then undertook a study tour of public spaces in several capital cities in Europe. In 2010 he participated in an international artist’s workshop in Spain coupled with further travel in continental Europe. In 2014 he spent three months in Europe observing and writing about cultural landscapes, followed by stopovers in Istanbul and Dubai.
Some things happen in life which are not part of an ambition or plan, they just happen, and are truly bizarre or memorable. There are two such events for Gavin; one in 2005 when travelling back from the Great Victoria Desert along the Anne Beadell ‘Highway’, was standing on the spot where the first atomic bomb was exploded on the Australian mainland in October 1953 at the Emu test site. The other in 2008 was far more personal and enriching, staying in the house in Cahermerkerla, County Clare, Ireland where his great grandmother was born in 1855.
In recent years Gavin has stepped back from an exhibition practice but has still exhibited in over ninety exhibitions throughout Australia, often in non-gallery spaces; the streets, shops, bush and cliffs, as well as natural history museums and Aboriginal cultural centre. He has also exhibited twice in Spain. In 2010 he was invited to participate in La Xuntanza de Arts Plasticas de Pilono, Fundacion Casa Museo (10th Xuntanza International Workshop of Plastic Arts) in the village of Pilono near Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. Ten international and ten local artists participated, making works for regional exhibition. Xuntanza incorporates a celebration of Galician culture and cultural exchange.
In recent years Gavin has minimised his exhibition practice to focus on his cultural geography and design work with CRED.
Gavin has also curated or co-curated several exhibitions. His first was Looking at the Billboard with Lee Salomone in 1994-5 and for ten years (2003-2012) he was joint coordinator, with sculptor Greg Johns, of The Palmer Project, a synthesis of art and ecology at Greg’s 160 ha property at Palmer in the rain shadow of the Adelaide Hills. The long term project encompasses the ecological restoration of the property and exhibitions, such as the Palmer Sculpture Biennial and the ecologically based Murray Darling Palimpsest. Gavin’s work has been written about online, Boots and All: Guildhouse, and in local, national and international art and landscape publications.
Public Space Art and Design
Collaboration with other artists, design professionals and communities on public space art and design is an integral part of his work. He has been involved in several innovative public space projects, both permanent and temporary. One major temporary artwork, Look/Don’t Look, a traffic lights installation, toured to several Australian locations in the mid-1990s. In 2007 he was a Jury Member for the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (SA Branch) Annual Awards.
Bi-cultural collaboration is a particular aspect of his work and life. He has worked with Kaurna meyunna, the Aboriginal people of the Adelaide region, for over fifteen years on cultural renewal and presentation projects, public artworks and exhibitions. For several years he has collaborated with Karl Winda Telfer on a range of projects and they recently founded CRED: Cultural Research Education Design to facilitate and promote bi-cultural research and a sense of place based on sound cultural knowledge. For more information see CRED Website.
Cross-cultural collaborative public art and design works include Kaurna Greetings with Karl at Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer Research, Bulto Ityangga-Traces with Karl (and Greg Johns) at Lochiel Park Green Village; Yitpi Tukkutya Parrundaiendi-The Dancing Spirits with Karl at Flinders Medical Centre; and Tjirbruki Narna arra’–The Tjirbruki Gateway with Sherry Rankine (and Margaret Worth) at Warriparinga, a place of particular significance to Kaurna in suburban Adelaide. He collaborated with Georgina Williams, Nganki Burka (Senior Woman) Kaurna, and David Kerr (SA Museum) in developing the Interpretive Gallery of the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre at Warriparinga. He also lived at Warriparinga for four years. He and Georgina held a major collaborative exhibition Dislocation in the Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery of the South Australian Museum in 2002 and the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre in 2003-04.
In 2007 he produced the exhibition Ways of Belonging: Reconciliation and the Symbolic Value of the Public Space in collaboration with Reconciliation SA and Tandanya: The National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide. The exhibition was part of the 40th anniversary commemorations of the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal issues in Australia.
Teaching, Speaking and Writing
Gavin has been teaching at tertiary level for over fifteen years. He taught Landscape Narratives in the School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design (now School of Architecture and Built Environment) at the University of Adelaide for several years and also taught at the Adelaide Centre for the Arts for a decade, his specialist area Issues in Contemporary Art Practice. He has taught, tutored and guest lectured a variety of subjects at these institutions and at the University of South Australia and Flinders University. He has developed and presents with Karl the bi-cultural design and build workshop Wodli ngundarta–What’s behind a House for Master of Architecture students from the University of Calgary, held at the Aldinga Arts Eco Village.
He is a regular public speaker and has participated in several forums on art and reconciliation, cross-cultural collaborations and understanding landscapes, or as he says ‘habitats’. He has contributed to art, landscape and cultural geography writing in publications such as Artlink, Broadsheet, Kerb and Geographical Research as well as in exhibition essays.
He presented research papers to International Geographic Union Conferences in Brisbane, 2006, and Tunis, 2008, as well as The Royal Geographical Society, London, 2008. In 2007 his paper Ways of Belonging: Reconciliation and Adelaide’s Public Space Indigenous Cultural Markers was published in a special issue of the international journal Geographical Research on Indigenous matters.
In 2012 Gavin completed his Doctorate at Flinders University, his thesis, Phases of Aboriginal Inclusion in the Public Space in Adelaide, South Australia, since Colonisation, examines the exclusion and inclusion of Aboriginal peoples and culture in the symbolic value of the public space in Adelaide through monuments, memorials, public art and other commemorations.
In 1994 he graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours) from the University of South Australia, South Australian School of Art, when he was awarded the University Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement in the Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design. His Honours thesis was The 1994 Adelaide Festival of Arts Visual Arts Program. Is It Ecologically And Economically Sensible.
Prior to then he had been awarded two Certificates in Wine Appreciation from the Australian Wine and Brandy Association and also holds a Certificate in Whiskey Appreciation from the Jameson Distillery, Midleton, County Cork, Ireland.
Public Sector Career
Prior to his arts career Gavin worked in the public sector for twenty one years, firstly in the Department of Agriculture and then in the Department of Environment and Planning. He was the inaugural Secretary of the South Australian Heritage Committee (1978-81) during which period he also acted as Secretary to the Environmental Protection Council and the Aboriginal and Historic Relics Advisory Board. He was Administrator at the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and State Herbarium, 1981-1990.
Everyplace has a story. Cambrai was originally called Rhine Villa but the name was changed, as with other place names of German origin in South Australia, in early 1918. The river, now called the Marne, was named the South Rhine. The Nomenclature Committee charged with the task of removing German names had suggested Pongaree Villa. Pongaree is (an unknown) Aboriginal language word for ‘shade reflection in water’. The government however chose to commemorate Cambrai in northern France which was the site of the first successful use in human history of tanks in war.
The Committee proudly said it had been over the map ‘with a fine tooth comb’. But it missed two, Rheinthal Valley of the Rhine near Cambrai and Adelaide, which is the Anglicisation of Adelheid. Couldn’t change the name of the German born wife of King William IV could they now!!
Since 1935 many places have reverted to their original German names.
The German names which we have so indiscriminately destroyed were, as Pastor Brauer has said, ‘statues of liberty proclaiming and perpetuating the glory of Britain, because they proclaimed to future generations and ages that these pioneers had been accorded in a British province the liberty denied them in the country of their birth.’ We made a mistake when we decreed the ruthless destruction of such memorials of a past that ought never to be forgotten. (Advertiser, 10 February 1928, p. 12)
Such names as Verdun and Cambrai breathe memories of the war and may even, by some capricious turn of fortune’s wheel, become as odious to us as those we have recently wiped from our map. (The Advertiser, 13 February 1928 p. 6)