Visiting Rouse Hill House, I was fascinated by the intersection of the human and animal worlds that occurred at the moment of colonisation. The house is filled with animal materials and depictions. I thought about the native animals the colonists found here and displaced, and the exotic animals they brought with them – as pets, livestock, fashion, even furnishings. Kathleen Rouse lived amongst lifeless European creatures; trophy heads of stags in the hall, bone cutlery at the table, horsehair-stuffed chairs, sofas on carved paws with their footstool-young peering out from under their leather-upholstered flanks. I brought specimens from the Australian Museum, collected around the time and place of Kathleen's childhood, into provocative relationships with the strangely animalistic objects I took from the Rouse Hill Estate Collections – an echidna study skin was displayed with 19th century pincushions, or a stuffed possum amongst fur stoles. Magical Golland was a world of juxtaposing and overlapping representations of animal life; from taxidermy to furriery, from study skins to furnishings, from species to specimens.
A meandering chain of Eucalyptus twigs linked the rooms of the exhibition. The composer and sound artist, Boyd, placed sound speakers within the branches, to emit his haunting sound track, "Continental Drift". The painter Euan MacLeod created dioramas inside the antique wardrobes of The Treasury. Kathleen Rouse's obsession with royalty and the social hierarchy of the "old country" was undermined in the democratic unruliness of this Coronation Hall. Finally, in The Eucalyptus Room, with natural light streaming in the uncovered windows, the reality of the contemporary Australian environment came to fruition, as the Eucalypt twig chain swirled around the ceiling and vanished up the chimney. Here the visitors, adults and children, could sit down to make their own constructions of Eucalyptus twigs. These were strung on the walls, adding to the regenerative thickets of The Eucalyptus Room.
Kathleen Rouse's Golland was imagined in a time in Australian colonial history when the realities of a strangely different social and physical environment were changing the way people perceived nature. This process was encouraged by Darwinism and the emergence of the new ecological sciences. Magical Golland explored these changes and the still evolving sense of being 'at home' for non-Indigenous Australians.
Creating Magical Golland was a huge and rewarding task – it was a privilege to work with all of the artists and the curators, technical staff, collections managers and designers of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and the Australian Museum. I am ever grateful to the Trust for its vision in making this possible.
Music for Magical Golland played by the Original Otto Orchestra Saxophone Quartet with Peter Kennard on Percussion