24 July- 11 Aug 2018
6 Napier St, Paddington
Dump is an object-initiated enquiry taking as a starting point the first official Australian colonial currency: Lachlan Macquarie’s holey dollar and dump of 1812. Dump traces at a molecular level the silver of the holey dollar, through a linked series of anthropogenic landscapes, from Spanish colonial silver mines to Broken Hill and on to the Antarctic.
This new line of enquiry continues ongoing ideas around kulturlandshaft; landscapes of the anthropocene.
Dump is a pejorative term for a place used to dispose of waste. It is also the low-value central disk of the ‘holey dollar’, the first local official currency of colonial Australia, devised by Lachlan Macquarie. The title of this exhibition takes into consideration both of these meanings in this object-initiated enquiry.
In the face of insufficient British currency in the colony, in 1812 Lachlan Macquarie ordered a consignment of £10,000 worth of Spanish silver dollars, the most widely traded currency at the time. The silver in the coins was mined from Spanish colonial mines in Peru and Mexico, which were heavily worked across two centuries under punishing human and environmental conditions.
Some of this silver came from the largest Spanish colonial mine of the time, the Potosi mine in Peru (now Bolivia). Lead released from mining silver at Potosi in the 17th and 18th century has been detected in ice core samples from the Quelccaya ice cap, the largest tropical ice-mass in the world; tracing through mineral contamination the activities of the Spanish colonial empire.
When the Spanish dollars arrived in Sydney, Macquarie had a convict- a former forger- to punch holes in the centre of the coins, creating two pieces- the outer holey dollar and the inner dump- thus doubling the number of available coins. Each coin was allocated a currency value distinct from the value of the silver in the coin. This singularly innovative act of official currency mutilation and economic magical thinking was subsequently recognised by the Macquarie Bank, who adopted the holey dollar as its logo.
Significant silver deposits exist in Australia and one of the earliest mines was at Broken Hill. The silver in the hill was first identified and subsequently mined by a horseback boundary rider, Charles Rasp, in 1883. The rocky hill contained one of the largest lead-silver-zinc mineral lodes in the world. It has been continuously mined since this time, and gave birth to the now international mining giant, BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company), of which Charles Rasp was one of the original syndicate members.
With part of his newfound wealth, Charles Rasp purchased a large decorative silver epergne, which adorned his dining table. This ornate, finely worked colonial table decoration, standing close to 1 m tall, depicts a tall silver tree on rocky outcrop, ornamented with figures of indigenous Australians, native animals and a drover on horseback, encircling the rocky hill- almost as if it was made just for this man. It was made from over 8.5 kg of silver, and the mineral origin of this silver is thought to have been Mexico and Peru.
Mining activities at Broken Hill released lead dust that spread wind-born across the dry, denuded landscape, contaminating the ground around the town at the base of the hill and mine, and bioacumulating in animals, saltbush, children and even bees. Lead is a slow neurotoxin, difficult to eliminated from the body. Bees in Broken Hill have elevated lead levels in their bodies and primary school aged children in the most heavily contaminated areas of the town have statistically higher blood lead levels and lower NAPLAN scores than their peers.
Lead containing the unique Broken Hill isotopic fingerprint from the earliest mining activities has been found as far away as ice core samples in the Antarctic. Snow containing Broken Hill lead dust fell on the south pole 20 years before Amundsen and Scott battled across that previously untrodden landscape.
Dump considers these molecularly linked, anthropogenic, colonised landscapes, while propositionally speaking to the mystical aura of belief and power around money and land.
With many thanks to thank MAAS for providing access to Holey dollars held in its collection.
With great thanks to the Albert Kersten Mining and Minerals Museum for providing access to photograph the Silver Tree.
With thanks to the National Library, for access to the image from ‘The Successful Explorers at the South Pole, 14th December 1911 [picture]/ Olav Bjaaland’.
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