Rural ghosts

THE desolate town halls of the Wheatbelt have a nostalgic, bittersweet pull for photographer Brad Rimmer.

His parents met and fell in love in one when his dad was playing saxophone in a band, and Rimmer has vivid memories of the town hall at Wyalkatchem, where he grew up.

“If I ever hear Suzie Quarto’s Devil Gate Drive, I’m 13 at the annual school social, ripping the streamers down and trying to impress the girl I was too nervous to ask for a dance, with really bad dance moves up close to the DJ’s intense strobe light that made the world appear to be in slow motion,” he says.

• Fremantle-based photographer Brad Rimmer and some of the Wheatbelt town halls he photographed (below).

The Wheatbelt is to Rimmer what the Roman Empire is to Catholics – a quasi-religious mix of guilt, nostalgia, joy and other conflicting emotions.

For the past 20 years the award-winning photographer has been capturing the sprawling region in all its moribund glory, culminating in two photographic books Silence and Nature Boy.

A sort of forlorn love letter, his unflinching work doesn’t sugarcoat an area which has experienced great economic decline and a mass exodus of young talent.

Silence was a mix of landscapes and portraits of teenagers and people in their early 20s,” Rimmer says.

“They represented a generation who were often left in limbo in rural communities juggling the huge decision of ‘Should I stay or should I leave?’

“I understood this dilemma having been in the same predicament at that age while working on the wheat bins at 19 for a year after failing high school.”

For the final part of his Wheatbelt trilogy Nowhere Near, Rimmer spent two years photographing about 80 town halls in the region, after contacting local shires and scouring Google Earth to find out if they still existed.

“To give you a scale of the size of the wheatbelt, it’s almost the size of Britain and was cleared within 70 years, particularly after the first and second world wars,” he says.

“The halls represented a time in the wheatbelt history that has vanished within a generation

“Even now looking at the halls I feel that weight of what was and what has been lost. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. These halls are evidence of a time when people gathered and shared experiences without outside interference. I photographed each stage from the same position. This is the point of view that we all recognise when entering any hall or theatre. A lush curtain and place of possibilities removed from the outside world of the harsh and uncompromising wheatbelt environment.”

Rimmer invited celebrated Perth poet John Kinsella to write seven poems in response to the photos, adding an extra layer of meaning and reflection to the works.

The Fremantle-based photographer says each town hall has its own unique personality, but one particularly struck a chord.

“The Buntine hall is one that summed up all that weight of a place no longer used but you can’t help but feel the spirit of place and all of those who have danced and shared love, loss and celebration within it,” Rimmer says.

“I have been photographing the Wheatbelt from when I first got a camera aged 14, though it took me until I was in my early 40s living in Perth, from 19 and travelling frequently to Europe, to be mature enough to really see and understand the place and how to photograph it in more than just a cute representative way.”

Perhaps the whole project can be traced back to some existential dread – the town hall where Rimmer’s parent met and fell in love, no longer exists.

“This made me realise the fragility of place and time, that nothing is here for ever,” he says.

Nowhere Near is at the Art Collective WA gallery, Cathedral Square on Hay Street in Perth, from September 16 – October 14. For more info see




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