The towneys watched back
Ararat Regional Art Gallery, Victoria
September - October 2017
The towneys watched back consisted of four installations across the township of Ararat, regional western Victoria, during September-October 2017. The sites were: original Bull & Mouth Hotel Stables; the Ararat Public Library; the Langi Morgala Museum; and the Orchid House at Alexandra Gardens. This project revisited the colonial narrative of the ceremonial release of house sparrows from a balcony at the former Bull and Mouth Hotel, Barkly Street, Ararat.
As the Advertiser explained in 1867: 'On Tuesday morning last a cage of English sparrows arrived in Ararat by coach...' The local community of Ararat rejoiced their release ... for hours afterwards wherever one or two could be seen knots of persons gathered to watch their movements...' This project re-releases this narrative into the community of Ararat. Working with local sites and archives, the artist is interested in how we talk about colonial narratives in contemporary Australia. The title of the project also references this article published in the Ararat Advertiser 150 years ago, where, describing this peculiar event and the response by the local community, it states: '....Numbers of the burgesses had assembled to get a sight of their 'towneys' as they called them...' This article was then re-published nationally, with many 19th century newspapers quoting the Ararat Advertiser and the significant interest towards the sparrows of Ararat.
The sparrow, like other introduced species, can be viewed as a harbinger of coloniality. The release of fourteen birds was enthusiastically celebrated, but within 20 years sparrows were reviled as a pest. This project borrowed text from local archives and nineteenth century newspaper articles, re-narrating a potential response by the house sparrows to the inquisitive humans. Regional Australian cities linger with colonial affect, the tale of the sparrow in Ararat both confirms and complicates this narrative.