Sunburnt: Landscape Architecture in Australia – BOOK LAUNCH REVIEW


The exhibition of Sunburnt: Landscape Architecture in Australia at RMIT showcased photos and drawings taken from the book and inspired us by the beauty and diversity of projects presented by Sue Anne Ware and Julian Raxworthy. The talent of the Landscape Architects has been truly celebrated in Sunburnt.

The framing essays give added impetus, appreciation and empathy to the visual masterpieces presented from all over this land. In fact, the book is poetic in the way it covers every aspect of our country – our sunburnt country. It is a work of art brought to life, just like Dorothea MacKellar’s timeless poem, “My Country”, brought our surroundings to life more than 100 years ago.

I love a sunburnt country

 A land of sweeping plains

There are several projects included in the book that pay tribute to the imagery celebrated by these famous lines.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta: A natural wonder, where the landscape architecture has subtly incorporated that which already exists. Gini Lee gives a comprehensive background to this monolith and the sensitivity with which the landscape architects, worked side by side with the custodians, to achieve harmony, and to intensify the natural beauty of our sunburnt country.

The Garden of Australian Dreams: In the words of Ware, this garden “forges an allegorical connection to Australia’s red centre”. Ware explains the complexity of this project, its many intricacies and cultural layers.

The Australian Garden: Jo Russell-Clarke eloquently talks us through the myriad of art works, that sculpt this museum of Australian landscape. At its heart, lies the extraordinary Red Sand Garden that encompasses MacKellar’s line “Core of my heart, my Country”. It is a centrepiece so special, that no feet can tread. It is colourful and vibrant, invading our senses, and summarises the delicacy and fragility of our landscape.

I love her far horizons

The flat expanse of greater Melbourne is transected by a sequence of spectacular sculptural artworks in the Craigieburn Bypass project. We read a vivid description of these elements. The slithering steel footbridge rises up over the roadway and strengthens the horizontality of our land.

A significant number of projects that express and celebrate our love and proximity with the coast are also included. They strengthen our connection with the “jewel sea” and each offers a new and unique experience that builds upon our coastal life. For example:

* The Cairns Foreshore: A highly crafted landscape and constructed ecology.

* Glebe Foreshore: An elegant coastal promenade where design navigates ambiguous terrain.

* St Kilda Foreshore: This project brilliantly embraces both city and the beach by accommodating urban culture on its edge.

The introduction to this book is written by Bruno de Meulder and Kelly Shannon and is aptly titled “The Full Monty”. We are alerted to the full exposure of our Australian continent to extreme weather events. Our vast landscape is full of contrasts: droughts, floods and fire occur and cannot be ignored.

The recent devastations in Queensland, Perth and Victoria prove the urgency for us to anticipate and respond to nature’s unpredictable force. We are exposed. We cannot hide. We are made aware of how vulnerable we are, how vulnerable is our environment and how nothing of “humanity’s manipulations survives without continuous care and investment”.

Sunburnt encompasses every aspect of our sunburnt country – even her “beauty and her terror”. The Treetop Walk is beautiful in the way it shifts our experience to heights previously we could only imagine. It allows us to peer over the edge at some of the sections that reach giddying heights. Maybe it’s not terror, but it’s enough to remind us how small and fragile we are, and how our landscape is the same.

And it’s enough to remind, even the most casual observers, of the beauty of this “wide brown land”. Its wonders have been respected, preserved, and even accentuated with many of the works featured in Sunburnt.

As a young professional with an interest in research, Sunburnt offers an honest critique that is, in itself, a project of Design Research. It is a project of collaboration and the book retains a discursive quality that is unique to Australia.

It reveals the common thread of our interest in articulating a local narrative through abstract and literal modes that is specific.

The book for me is a landscape in itself that celebrates the “lie of our land”, where “in wondering, and wandering, about the lost surfaces of the world, (…) our aim is not to restore them, to landscape them, but to bring the irregular ground back into the poetic and historical picture.” (P. Carter, Lie of the Land) So, “let the ground rise up to resist us, let it prove porous, spongy, rough, irregular.” (P. Carter, Lie of the Land)

We congratulate Sue-Anne and Julian on Sunburnt. It truly reflects their commitment, hard work and the strong love both hold for our country. It is their dedication and ongoing contribution to landscape architecture that has formed the backbone to this inspiring book.

It is a true reflection of where we are right now. We are challenged to review our landscape and profession, to acknowledge our beginnings, our evolution and our future.

Unlike the scope of architecture, there has been little research created by landscape architecture academics that reaches the distances that Sunburnt has already begun to traverse. It marks a critical and exciting beginning.

by Emma Wood,

Sunburnt: Landscape Archicture in Australia was launched in Melbourne at RMIT University, 3rd June 2011

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One Response to Sunburnt: Landscape Architecture in Australia – BOOK LAUNCH REVIEW

  1. Natasha says:

    Great review Emma. Sorry I missed the launch!

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