Colonial Ghost Stories

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1) Elysian Fields, Tartarus, Asphodel Meadows and Charon the ferry man (Death Bird): A series of 4 paintings based on The Colonial Ghost story of Greenmans Inn This is the story of an Inn built on the Hawkesbury that turned into a violent place of murder and notorious act of cruelty. It was said the barmaids were kidnapped. Men were often tied down to rocks and drowned by the incoming tide or weighed down with rocks and feed to the sharks. The ghost of woman with a small baby now haunts the area, presuming both her and child died some horrible death. She is seen in broad daylight with a child in her arms. The paintings for this series focus on the ideas of settlement and civilization and the worlds and underworlds that souls inhabit. The painting Charon the ferryman (death bird) 172 cm x 160cm oil on canvas, ferries on a raft men up the river and into the adventure. This painting also uses bits of another story “The death bird” where strange screeching from a bird precedes a death. Elysian Fields 172 cm x 160cm oil on canvas shows the utopian existence of industry, like Prometheus or Vulcan a new civilization with laws and ideals, to taming the wild. Tartarus 172 cm x 160cm oil on canvas shows us what happens when the human condition turns for the worst. Lower than Hades, it is the place of monsters, the walls of the Inns cannon are like the tree layers of night that encompass Tartarus. In the painting the Asphodel meadows 172 cm x 160cm oil on canvas, it is the land of indifference, the in-between world of the soul, it shows a rowboat on a beautiful river, in it, a young woman, a small girl, and a mother breastfeeding her baby. 2) Convicts Bride and A Convicts Ghost: A series of two paintings based on the colonial ghost story of a convict and his bride A convict who protested his innocence was sent from England, and assigned to a landowner in Windsor, his wife followed and became a servant in the landowner’s house. The convict and his bride escaped with a boat down river. They were soon found and he was shot through the heart. His ghost is seen hovering over Cowan creek. The painting Convicts Bride shows the moment of capture. A young woman sits alone in a creek bed besides her in shallow pool lies a deer, shot through the heart, both strangers in their surroundings. A doe looks on while sulphur crested cockatoos fly away. The painting A Convicts Ghost tells of a woman who remains tied to a single point on the Hawkesbury River above floats the ghost of her husband. These works are attempts to use the language of mythology to help create history. A convict ghost is based on the work “The lady of Shallot” by Waterhouse a Pre-Raphaelite painting. The Pre-Raphaelites were anxious to create a mythology for England. The interpretations of history are as various as the individuals who report them. Sometimes the establishment of simple tales into historically important events are urged on by the need to have a history, any history. This history eventually becomes part of a culture. The lack of familiar local stories for the first settlers, I believe helped in the recording of so many ghost stories in Sydney and the Hawkesbury. Some Ghosts become famous such as Fischer’s Ghost, where an areas whole Identity can become associated with the tale. History Painting in general records events, its need is not as necessary now as before the industrial revolution. But History painting like photography or the documentation or any historical event can only tell a small version of that event, from a particular point of view and is usually politically loaded. History painting at present has the greatest scope it has been able to enjoy for some time, it’s no longer bound by the truth, or more, has to have the pretence of being so. Within the expanded field of Art I believe that history painting in particular exists on a plane bound on its edges by History, politics, fantasy, and documentary. 3) The subtle Serpents bite 1804, a Young boy is bitten by a snake, and is helped home by a stockman and his younger. The young boy dies. His grieving mother one day just disappears and is thought to have drowned. His Father is also drowned while trying to save some of his flock. The remaining son was moved to an uncle who dropped dead. The tombstone of the boy and place became known as haunted hill and school children often visited the site. The fascinating thing about this story is the imagery and the symbols, in the main painting, the subtle Serpents bite, the artifacts of the story, serpents, shepherds, flock etc, become the elements of a more familiar story of western civilization. It is as though the young colony can establish a history of tales that have the same structure and underlying moral as those from the lands the colonials left.
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Cheney, Graham
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