Glen O’Malley: ‘A Walk Around the Pekina Hundred’

Photographers walk and bushwalkers take photos on their walks either along the Heysen Trail or in the Vulkathunha- Gammon Ranges. However, despite the historical attraction of the Flinders Ranges to artists since the late 1920s, there are few art works about walking in this region of South Australia. What has been called walking art or walking as an artistic medium, has a historically marginal presence in Australia’s artistic culture when compared to the UK where the walking artist’s network (WAN) is based. Walking art is distinct from art walks as performance, such as Abramović and Ulay’s Great Wall Wal(1988). 

The marginal presence of walking art is surprising, given the rich tradition of walking and art from the haikus of Basho, to Wordsworth, Baudelaire’s theory of the “flâneur”, and the current interest in urban psychogeography.  One well known example of walking and art in South Australia is Barrie Goddard’s project 36 Views of Patawarta comes to mind. This was 10 years in the making, and it refers back to both Hans Heysen’s 1929 painting Patawarta: land of the Oratunga and to Hokusai’s well known 36 Views of Mount Fuji.

A more explicit example of walking and photography premised on walking as a medium in itself emerges with Glen O’Malley’s 1999 photo walk around Pekina. Pekina lies between Tarcowie and Orroroo in South Australia’s Mid-north. O’Malley created a conceptual art work entitled ‘A Walk Around the Pekina Hundred’, which was exhibited as an artist’s book at the 2020 Shimmer Festival of Photography in South Australia.

O’Malley says that the ‘Pekina  Hundred’ is a rectangle drawn on a map by Colonel Light, when in his capacity as Surveyor-General of South Australia, he divided South Australia into 100 square mile bocks for administrative purposes around 1836. In 1841 Captain E. C. Frome, South Australia’s third Surveyor-General, led an exploration party into the Black Rock Plains near Pekina in South Australia’s Mid-North to survey the country blocks as an immediate priority. This was a task that William Light, the first Surveyor-General, had been unable to complete. 

 The plains were marked down as dreary and wretched due to the lack of water. The lack of water was a real problem in 1848 when large bushfires burnt out part of the Pekina, Mannanarie, Yatina and Black Rock pastoral runs. With the continuous push for land by wheat farmers the pastoral runs were cut up into small farming blocks in 1871. By 1880 the good times seemed to be over. Drought was on the land once again, this time lasting for several years. Yields declined rapidly and were even further affected by rust and plaques of locusts. The town of Pekina grew only very slowly as a result.