Introducing a collaboration which brings together art and storytelling to illuminate the real and imagined history of a lost island in Australia
A joint project between Belinda Howden and Deb Mansfield, The Island Could be Heard by Night is an immersive series of visual and sound-based artworks focused on the history and myth surrounding the former island of Nobby's Head in Newcastle, New South Wales.
The project culminated in an exhibition, online publication and opening performance at Newcastle's Lockup Gallery earlier this year. In the accompanying literature, Nobby's is revealed as the site of an incredible amount of human interference since it first got in the way of its European colonisers.
Located at the head of the Hunter river, "the visiting tall ships of the early colony viewed the island as an obstruction. The threat of shipwreck at the mouth of what could be a very productive port resulted in significant tunnelling into [its] base".The aim of the digging was to diminish the site with explosives, but attitudes soon changed when coal was discovered.
Extensive quarrying saw the island reduced by one third of its original height. By 1818 all the coal had been extracted and the last chapter in Nobby's history as an island began. A new effort was made to harness its productivity by constructing a breakwater which would connect it to the mainland. After some thirty years of toil by UK convicts, the structure was complete; Nobby's existence as an island was over.
Belinda Howden and Deb Mansfield currently live in Newcastle NSW, Australia. Mansfield is an Associate Lecturer at the School of Creative Arts, University of Newcastle, where she is also completing a PhD. Her research focus is the island she cannot reach. Howden is a PhD candidate at the Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, where her research investigates islands used as curatorial or cultural objects. They have both completed island residences, the former in Newfoundland and Tasmania, the latter in Iceland. They are both die-hard islophiles.