Tag Archives: Sydney

Vinegar Hill

It seems that Sydney will host a "re-enactment" of a historical battle between convicts and soldiers:

"It was on March 4, 1804, that several hundred convicts broke out of the Castle Hill government farm, with plans to storm the garrison at Parramatta and march on Sydney, where boats would be seized and a daring escape made.
Instead, after 24 hours of confusion and conspiracy, the escapees were confronted by Governor King's soldiers and the militia on a site north of what is now the new suburb of Kellyville Ridge. Fifteen convicts were shot dead, their leaders captured and executed or exiled."
Sydney Morning Herald 5 Feb 2004]

It could be an interesting event, performance-wise, if it stays away from nostalgic cliches. Jane and I drove through a small town near the SA-Victoria border in November 2002, which was having a "dedication to the pioneers" day. It was nauseating – men in breeches and women and children in bonnets milling around in makeshift tent buildings, while a pompous country town mayor pulled back a homemade curtain to reveal a plaque dedicated to the hardworking ancestors of the town, who had survived through gruelling times, and gave us what we have today. Or some other crap.

No mention of displaced/massacred indigenous inhabitants.

Neither are they mentioned in the spiel about the Battle of Vinegar Hill. The event's official website only offers:

"Commemorating this particular event in Australian history is not to pay tribute to a Battle, or to revive the sectarian and authoritarian issues that led to the rebellion almost 200 years ago. The survivors of the battle from both camps, and their children after them, were the pioneers of this nation. Few of them had a choice in whether or not they came to this isolated land so far from all they knew. A great many on both sides stayed and became worthy citizens of a new country where differences could be settled without the bloodshed suffered at Vinegar Hill."

It's hard not to be cynical about such a statement. No mention is made of some of Australia's most famous current prisoners, who certainly have shed blood by sewing their lips together.

What is interesting, however, is the historical background to the "battle" –

"Among the embezzlers, forgers, petty thieves, sheep stealers and house breakers transported to the colony, were men whose crimes were purely political. The resentment of these political prisoners knew no bounds. Many of the Irish convicts were infuriated by the lack of official records and the resulting injustice and confusion over the lengths of their sentences. Realising the impossibility of returning to Ireland, the dissidents created a state of constant unrest in the new community. Cropping their hair in the style of the French revolutionaries, they formed secret leagues and held clandestine meetings to plan their escape. In desperation, they attempted to lay siege to the colony and demanded to be taken home to Ireland." [from a book by Lynette Ramsey Silver]

The "botched mini-rebellion" [as Silver describes it] got its name from Vinegar Hill, Wexford, in Ireland, where an "insurgence" of a much larger scale took part in 1798. More information about the Irish Vinegar Hill is available from the Irish National 1798 visitors centre website. My knowledge of Irish history is scanty, so any insights on this appreciated.

I haven't been able to locate a source as to whether any of the Sydney convicts who participated in the Sydney insurgence were also involved in the Irish one. It's a juicy thread, because in a way, the 1804 battle was already "referring" to another historical event from six years previous.

I'd also especially like to understand better this line from the visitors centre site: "The award winning National 1798 Centre offers a fascinating insight into the birth of modern democracy in Ireland."

How is this statement related to the comment by the Sydney re-enactment committee: "As part of the 200th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Vinegar Hill in March 2004, the combined Councils of Baulkham Hills, Blacktown, Hawkesbury, Holroyd, and Parramatta will be organising a Descendants Day to recognise the contribution that those involved in the Battle made to justice, freedom and the right to self determination in Australia."

One final question – the Sydney re-enactment of Vinegar Hill is being carried out by "several Groups of re-enactors who are mostly from the Napoleonic Period (1790's to 1815) and already have appropriate costume". What, or who, exactly, are these "re-enactors"?

[postscript – there is a review from the Sydney Morning Herald, (8 March 2004) here.]

expanded cinema/deborah k

yes i wish i could bring valie export too. recently she was invited to london to give a talk on her work (she lives in germany and austria) and she said she couldnt make it (at the last minute) due to the flying thing. she doesnt want to fly in aeroplanes. the transcript from that talk that she didnt give (but she sent the text anyway) is at sensesofcinema journal which is at www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/03/28/contents.html
(but the site seems to be playing up at the mo, i cant make it work. hmm)
she writes really clearly about expanded cinema and its pervasive connexion to the rest of her work.
i hear ya about art about art. i must admit to having been a nerd about some of that conceptual art stuff (in the past, in the past!) which irritates the shit out of me now.
expanded cinema however is messy, its people getting together in small rooms and showing each other stuff and talking about it, its a bit like the sydney moving image coalitions super 8 nights. its about doing stuff with very little resources, and it was very much about the london filmmakers co-operative, a unique organisation which controlled the production, collection, and distribution of its work. i am very keen to see the project happen in sydney, partly because of the dire state of the film scene there (and the video installation "scene" if you can call it that). the film scene, well, squatspace has been ranting about that for a few years, the tropfest business and the fox studios hollywood production sweatshop. the video scene, because for some godforsaken reason it seems fascinated by the idea of "immersion" and "virtual reality" yet seems to do these things so badly. i even went to the zkm organisation in germany (the home of video-immersion-virtualreality) to see if i was wrong, but i dont think i am. its a resource-heavy parade of gimmickry. this is the kind of thing that expanded cinema artists were (and still are) against, yet theirs is a forgotten history. so its partly a historical-reconstruction project. i want to remind sydney artists that you dont need huge resources to make interesting moving image work.
yah, i wouldnt worry too much about the collectible thing. a few posters sold to a gallery certainly wont qualify you for a rush at the next madrid art fair.
but seriously, im keen for the project to explore "collectability/collectivity etc" in its many senses. so if you work with "collectives" often, that may be an interesting angle to explore for this one.
also, problems with collection are to be explored i reckon. mickie has complained about a similar issue, that his small disobedience kits are collected and put on the mantlepiece by "politically minded" but not "politically active" friends and colleagues, which for him kills the piece entirely. the project should bring out those issues.
for me, you are a prime candidate, even if you sell them posters to the gallery. i hope you do. we all need the cash.
50 most uncollectable is meant to be humourous and by necessity it cant become self-important. that is what we are working away from, the self-important cross-referencing of "credible" sources who "say" that an artist is collectible and are therefore slavishly followed by the market (who knows if this really works anyway, but it makes for some ghastly magazine filler).
ruark of course has his own motivations, and there is something to be said for his proactive attempt to insert the work into the collections of major galleries. strategic historymaking or something.
alla best