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 (not the ogre)



Project Details
Ask Noeline…(not the ogre)
HD 1280p video with sound, pebblecrete, polystyrene, inflatable PVC, synthetic turf, 2009

In the DVD director’s commentary of the 1971 film Walkabout Nicholas Roeg remarks how odd it is to see a swimming pool beside the harbour when shooting for the film in Darling Point on Sydney Harbour.  For Roeg, the pool exemplifies an anxiety that Australians have; wanting to have it all and at the same time being terrified of losing everything.  A quick glance on Google maps satellite view of Sylvania Waters shows us that literally every house has a pool next to the water. For the Donahers of Sydney’s Sylvania Waters, the pool was the jewel in the crown of their achievements.

Like Roeg’s Walkabout and the recently re-released Wake in Fright, Sylvania Waters produced by the BBC’s Paul Wilson, is a viewpoint of Australian life from a non‐Australian perspective. The reaction to the series was negative and disturbing. Audiences immediately protested, denying that the Australia it depicted was the Australia in which they lived. Noeline Donaher was demonised and ridiculed, becoming the world’s first casualty of reality TV. She was viewed as the other to be despised for not fitting the prescribed role of what we expect women to be. Noeline was too rough, too materialistic, too loud for her own good.

In Ask
 (not the ogre),  the swimming pool becomes the iconic backdrop for a reassessment of the Noeline we saw in the series. Her face,  like an apparition, fades in and out of the water revealing to us a kinder picture of her than the one on the show. Noeline, like us, disliked the edited Paul Wilson version of herself and saw it as “other”. The powers of selective editing are used again in this work to show the qualities of Noeline that we somehow missed; the sound bites I have used position her as a caring person whom people come to for advice. Using the aesthetic of a collage cut out from a women’s magazine, Noeline is presented as an advice columnist, sharing her wisdom and experience with us, and an ordinary Australian mother. Noeline is not infallible but she is not the ogre that she was made out to be.

Ask Noeline. She may have an answer.

Commissioned by Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre for the exhibition Reality Check: watching Sylvania Waters, curated by Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham.

Exhibited at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Gymea, NSW in 2009


Production Credits

John A Douglas: HD Camera, Video and Sound Mixing, Digital Compositing, Sound and Video Editing, Installation Design

Noelene Donaher: Sound Samples from Sylvania Waters (1992)

Tim Benuik: Gallery technician and installation management

Stills Documentation: Silversalt

Curated by Daniel Mudie Cunningham

Thanks to gallery MOP.

All material from Sylvania Waters (1992) used with kind permission of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC TV)

Catalogues, Articles, and Reviews

Reality Check: Watching Sylvania Waters catalogue, Introduction by Michael Rolfe, Essays by Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Andrew Mercado, Anna Lawrenson, 96 pages, full colour, ISBN: 9781921437144, Order from Hazelhurst Regional Gallery: 02 8536 5700, $25 plus postage

The Sylvania Waters Project (ABC TV, Artscape Series, 2009)

Bec Dean, ‘The Edge of Reality’ online exclusive, RealTime issue #93, Oct-Nov 2009

Reality Check: Watching Sylvania Waters, video documentation, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, 2009 (Camera and editing: John A Douglas)