(current work in progress), 2018
'The Jewel' is a project due to be complete in early 2020, which seeks to explore the complex and ongoing colonial relationships to the Australian landscape. Blurring past and present, the video installation will reconstruct Louise Lovely’s 1925 silent film ‘Jewelled Nights.’ Filmed in Zeehan, Tasmania, ‘Jewelled Nights’ has been deemed lost and now only exists in the form of outtakes held in the National Film and Sound Archive. However, from the material left behind, we can decipher that it tells the story of a young woman who escapes from an unhappy marriage, disguising herself as a male prospector and finding refuge in an isolated mining town.
Like Louise Lovely, I will be both director and performer. The reconstruction will acknowledge the present as it delves into fragments of the past. Sets and backdrops will merge current day Zeehan with a historical one. The work will reveal the reconstruction process, bringing the audience’s attention to the boundaries of the set, slippages in time and the presence of the author. The work will draw parallels between the constructed nature of influential historical narratives and film. Performing as my mother, I will draw on my own history with Zeehan, reenacting scenes from my childhood during a transitional time when we lived in the Heemskirk Motor Hotel (the only hotel in Zeehan.) The work will memorialise the in-between, the unknown and what it means to be lost when you are ‘someone else’ or ‘somewhere else.’
Osmiridium discovered at Savage River.
Osmiridium is a popular name for a naturally occurring alloy of the metals iridium and osmium. Osmium derived its name from the Greek word osme which means odour as it produces a poisonous gas when heated. This gas blinded Louise Lovely's character, in Jewelled Nights, during an altercation at Savage River. Iridium was named after the Greek goddess of light 'Iris' because of the elements lustrous grey-white colour.
The three parts in Marie Bjelke Petersen's novel will also form the structure for The Jewel:
1918 - 1925
Short clips of footage from different Australian films, cut together like an abstract narrative in the National Film and Sound Archive.
One of the scenes, from a mystery feature, shows a miner mourning the loss of his wife.
My mother jogs along the outskirts of the mining camp in the Pilbara. Along her path is the lone grave of Margaret Straughn who died of heat exhaustion in the last leg of her journey from Europe to join her husband.
"We stayed in the Heemskirk Motel for the first few days waiting for the rest of our belongings to arrive by removal truck. Eventually we moved into our house at Fincham St Zeehan. It was clad in metal sheeting which was an army green colour. "
"When entering Zeehan the feeling was a little oppressive, a long wide Street, treeless and stark. When we first came there to live in 1981, a bush fire had gone close to the town leaving the surroundings blackened and bare.
Of course life was not all bliss. Mining bred status and class so the manager lived on a man made hill and one was expected to attend dinners and wives belonged to some auxiliary..."
VHS from the National Film and Sound Archive have the same clips repeated on various tapes, sometimes combined with other footage. On this particular tape, a mysterious thumb can be seen holding up the archiving information in the first few seconds.
Archivist Bernard Lloyd, animated the two minutes of footage and production stills to tell a section of the Jewelled Nights narrative. The 20 minute reconstruction tells a very different story to Marie Bjelke Petersen's original book. It plays daily at the Gaiety Theatre as part of theWest Coast Heritage Centre, Zeehan.
The Gaiety Theatre will provide both a set and screening for production and exhibition of The Jewel.