Designed for Alt Material - Community (April 2021)
‘Smoko’ is an assemblage of collected materials featuring remnants of the bygone tobacco industry that once boomed in my hometown of Myrtleford, Victoria.
An abandoned fence stringer, chainsaw milled then hand-shaped by my father and I, forms the seats – the timber’s unique grain and character guiding the final form of the work. Salvaged ‘tobacco pins’ found near the derelict tobacco shed next door to our property, now straightened and polished, become the many legs that support the timber seats. Much like the many hands that shape a community, these pins form a grounded foundation as relics from the past.
Myrtleford’s post-war tobacco farms were populated by migrants from all over Europe, though for the most part, by Italians. Migrant communities layered with rich cultural heritage flourished in Myrtleford. Migrant women in particular played a significant role, not only in the domestic sphere but also in the workings of the tobacco farms themselves.
In the early 2000s however, the tobacco industry was pulled from Australia seemingly overnight. This closed a chapter on a complex weave of generations of tobacco farming families and migrant seasonal workers.With a renewed concern for displacement of community, the loss of skills and lost time, ‘Smoko Stools’ attempts to speak to the legacy of these resilient intergenerational communities.
Personally, I believe the conversations we should be having are those that enrich our cultural identities and inform our cultural heritage. We must look to the past to uncover forgotten skills, connecting to the wisdom of past communities and learning from their resilience. In looking forward, we must first look back. Like the act of tobacco curing, we must practice the preservation of past knowledge. In doing so, we may just find the answers we’ve been looking for.