Do Brumbies Dream in Red? – Tom Goldner

I live in a place called Sherbrooke, about an hour away from Melbourne, Australia. Picture fern forests and huge eucalyptus trees. We have resident kookaburras, cockatoos and wallabies. A few months ago I woke up to a wombat scratching its bottom against the side of the house. It is an amazing place to call home. 

Along with working commercially as a photographer, I’m also involved in building community through photography both here in Melbourne and throughout Australia. I ran a community darkroom and photographic gallery where we taught workshops specialising in traditional photographic techniques and hosted a program of artist talks and exhibitions. I’m also the co-director of a photographic organisation which works across awards, publications and events.

I continually work on my creative practice. Last year I decided to further my studies and undertook a Masters degree in photography. I’m currently in the process of producing a book and developing an exhibition for early 2021. 

Share with us your journey to photography.

I discovered photography in the darkroom at high school. The process of watching prints appear under those red lights felt like magic. The way in which we can take fragments of the “real world” and isolate them on paper as a still image allows for a sort of slow contemplation which I still love today. The darkroom became a sort of escape from school, where I felt overwhelmed.

I’ve explored both social and environmental themes throughout my projects; the thing which binds them together is that they are always formed emotively. I’m attempting to make sense of the world and negotiate if things can be seen differently. My earlier work attempted to use photography as a representation of truth, but as my practice has evolved I am much more interested in the ambiguity which exists in photography. We are familiar with its limitations and I embrace that. Places become symbols and issues are complex and layered.

Tell us about ‘Do Brumbies Dream in Red?’.

At its essence, it is about how we attempt to control nature.

It’s a continuation from an existing body of work I was producing in August 2019 with a creative collaborator and cinematographer Angus Scott. We travelled to Central Queensland where we made work about the Australian coal mining industry. We surveyed the rivers and waterways which connect to existing and proposed coal mines.

Later that year we watched while so much of the country perished in bushfires. We listened to the media and public make connections between Australia’s continued investment in the mining industry and the factors which contributed to the bushfires, and we felt compelled to make work exploring these connections. A large portion of the project was made in the Snowy Mountain region of New South Wales.

During the first trip to the fire grounds in early January 2020 we came across a wild horse – we call them “brumbies” in Australia. It had died of a lung bleed while trying to escape the bushfires. I used the brumby as an entry point into Australia’s colonial history, proposing that the brumby is a manifestation of our collective actions.

I later learnt that horses only see in blues and greens, and I wondered how the world must have appeared to them illuminated by that strange red light.

The project asks, can we too see the world differently?

Short segment from ‘Do Brumbies Dream in Red?’
A film by Angus Scott and Tom Goldner. Sound and score by Sean Kenihan.
Intended for exhibition in February 2020

The Australian bushfires were watched with horror by all around the world. What was it like for you?

That summer was exhausting. The radio went from A – Z evacuating towns. Our cities were engulfed in smoke and so much country and life was lost due to the fires.

For me, the most tragic part of this situation is our continued inability to take meaningful steps towards slowing climate change. We were deliberately fed misinformation by the media about arsonists to further political agendas. I find that type of deception unforgivable.

While working on the project, were there any moments that stood out to you?

Seeing the country during that summer was uncanny. As depressing as it is to see all the damage, there is a strange sort of beauty to it too.

Watching the country regenerate after the fires has been an incredible thing to see. Eucalyptus trees grow “beards” of new growth after fires – they look like they are wearing blue furry coats.

On your website you state “I acknowledge the sovereignty of the Indigenous Nations of Australia. I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people, the traditional custodians of the land on which I live, and I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and future.” Can you talk about your reasons for doing this?

For me, it is important to recognise that my position in talking about this country comes from a place of privilege and limited understanding.

Aboriginal people cared for this land for over 65,000 years. They are the oldest living culture on Earth. We have so much we should be learning about things like land and fire management and care for non-human life.

Unfortunately there is continued inequality towards Indigenous people in Australia, and acknowledging this is important.

What are you recommending?

Timothy Morton’s ‘Dark Ecology’ is an incredible book which made me reconsider the questionable boundaries which separate us from the non-human world. It also poses some really interesting ideas on reimagining catastrophe which can be applied to the 2019 – 2020 Australian bushfires, climate change or even the introduction of brumbies into Australia.

American professor Donna Haraway’s 2016 book ‘Staying with the Trouble’ is another piece of literature which changed my ideas. Haraway uses inventive connection as a way to bind us to the non-human world, and it is what I have attempted to do with the Snowy Mountain brumby. A quote of hers appears at the beginning of my book:

Mixed-up times are overflowing with
both pain and joy—with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with
unnecessary killing of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence.
The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of
learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present. Our task
is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events,
as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places.

- Donna Haraway, 2016

Finally, tell us about a piece of art that has influenced you.

I’m currently fascinated by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s work. He is a true multidisciplinary artist and his films and ideas are a melting pot of ideology and symbolism. I’m reading his book ‘The Dance of Reality’ and delving into his films.

His projects are so challenging, ‘Holy Mountain’ is both brilliant and mad – if you are brave enough to give it a watch!

‘Do Brumbies Dream in Red?’ will soon be published as a book and is now available on presale! See Tom’s shop here.

tomgoldner.com.au / @tomgoldnerphoto