photograph, 2004, c-type print

Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy

The Lake Project: Redneck Dreaming

Redneck- How do you describe what a redneck is? Have you ever met one? Or have you seen one on TV? I wonder if it's a very PC word to use anymore? Is it like nigger or chink? I suppose a redneck, in broad terms, is a white person from a lower socio-economic stratum, living in an agricultural community who holds political viewpoints which are considered conservative and have a propensity to own handguns.

Dreaming- In Australia, "the dreaming" has a special meaning. It's not like the dreams we have when we go to bed. The dreaming, to our understanding of it, is religious/philosophical knowledge of life itself. Some folk say the dreaming begins with the creation of the earth. It's said that the giant rainbow serpent created the rivers and mountains by slithering around the land, forming the earth into the shape it is now. The dreaming is not just a creation myth. Some say that we are part of it and living through it right now: that we are all part of the dreaming.

Of course, the title of this photo Redneck Dreaming is very sensational. It is a photograph taken by the side of the road whilst on an art residency in Western Australia, in the Wongan Hills. We were a couple of urban fools, living in the country for a month. Most of the people we met were really friendly, welcoming and interesting. Were they rednecks? Maybe some of them were, but like most Australians, if you didn't act like a total wanker, they were very accommodating.

Have you ever read a travel guide which compares the relative price of a MacDonald's hamburger in different countries? How awful is that? An embarrassingly narrow world vision like John Travolta's character in Pulp Fiction. When people travel, some folks like to eat the local fare whilst others prefer to stick to the food they are used too. When the Europeans came to Australia, they thought there was nothing there to eat. For the first few years after colonization everyone relied on eating meat and flour shipped in by boat, even though there was plenty enough to eat if they had bothered to ask the Koori people.  

So eventually in Australia, along with British food tastes, came English farming practices to cater for those tastes. But as any English backpacker can tell you: "the weather in Australia is different from back at home then".

One of the strangest negative effects of agriculture in Australia is soil salinity. Salinity happens when all the trees are chopped down and grass or crops are planted on the soil instead. As everyone knows, trees have deeper roots than grass or wheat but what people didn't realise was that the trees transpire the water that is deep down in the earth. When this doesn't happen the water beneath the earth rises bringing the concentrated salts beneath the earth with it. This is very bad. The salt kills the soil; eventually nothing can grow in the soil.

Which brings us back to the lakes and the lake project. Sometimes, the problem is so bad, whole lakes of salt water come to the surface. The lakes are the antithesis to pools of life giving water; they just sit there, stale masses of salt water created by white man's ignorance.

Driving along in the countryside of Western Australia, you can see lots of these pools of dead water. At the site where we took this photo sits a hamburger shaped rock beside the highway. The rock has been painted by some redneck joker to have a smiley face on it. It looks like a serpent's head. Behind the serpent's head is the dead salt lake. Every time we drove past that crazy snake head we were reminded of our presence in "the dreaming". It seemed that white man had tried to transform the land by his own hand, only to create the abominable salt lakes: thwarting his efforts to control the land. And there by the side of the road was the redneck manifestation of the rainbow serpent: laughing at white man's stupidity.

Redneck Dreaming