Interior Decoration  Installation (2013 – 2015)

Rio Vista Historic House


25 September – 8 November

10th Palimpsest Biennale, Mildura, Victoria



As Australia remembers the country’s participation in military conflicts this year with the Centennial of World War 1, this site specific installation explores the domestic implications of trauma as the aftermath of war.

The domestic is militarised, the military domesticated.

The artwork investigates the inter generational affects of untreated post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD) suffered by Australian families, over-looked in narratives our of military history, the colonial invasion of Australia and its aftermath for Aboriginal peoples, our refugee migrants, and our national identity. The artist’s reflective voice analyses the lived intimacies of childhood trauma supported by research of her father’s 2nd World War military service and the Soldier Settlement community in Robinvale where the artist grew up.


        “PTSD typically leads to emotional numbing (& hence to relationship problems), recurrent nightmares, substance abuse (traditionally, alcoholism), and, most frighteningly, delusional outbursts of violence.”                                                                               (Goldstein, 2001)


These behaviours are inflicted upon family members who may then traumatise their families as generations are  directly exposed, and indirectly effected through epigenetic means to the affects of war.


The site - the domestic environment of Rio Vista:  the heritage home built by Willian Chaffey, founder of  irrigation and agriculture in Mildura, Victoria on the Murray River. Mildura was the central  location  of Soldier Settlement Schemes for WW1 & WW2 veterans, including Robinvale, where the artist, Bonita Ely, was raised.



































Tour of Duty - a series of photographs are installed on the wood panelling throughout the house, depicting 100s of Israeli & Sinai Desert watchtowers,documented  following my father’s tour of duty as a machine gunner, WW2.



































Trench  A child sized trench is in the drawing room -  made from my parent’s bedroom furniture turned inside out



































Trench  overview -  the doors are opened so people could walk through the child-sized hiding places with a sandpit full of clods, not soft sand, with a tiny bunker.



































Dining Room’s mirror - Mirror Mirror: Ruins - a transparent photo of a bombed European city in amongst the formal setting’s fragile glassware & crockery.



































Nursery  - Baby Boy. A tiny, soft figure stuffed with vacuum cleaner lint sits on a rocking chair alone surrounded by a calming  sounds of sweet  bird calls recorded on the Murray River.



































Child’s bedroom -the Watchtower  is made from a double bed with a floor made from the springs of a child’s cot.



































Watchtower (detail). The saddest doll.



































Bathroom - Mirror Mirror. On the dressing table mirror a transparent photograph of a POW survivor with a cheeky grin and defiant body language.































Master Bedroom.  Sewing Machine Gun  The sound installation -increasingly explosive sounds of a sewing machine.

































The Sewing Macine Gun  is made from the artist’s mother’s Singer sewing machine and bobby pins.


DUKw 2015


































DUKw is based on amphibious landing crafts used to transport troops and supplies in World War 2.


































The DUKw is upholstered like a couch with macrosuade. The woodwork is polished on the outside like furniture and the interior is left raw, as in furniture construction. The bonnet is camouflage netting and the canvas used for army tents. Its base is curved like a cradle.


































DUKw interior - a slung coffin-shaped bed swings back & forth when the Dukw is rocked on its curved base, like an adult-sized cradle.



























































Rocking in the DUKw accompanied by the sounds of birds from the nursery, and sewing machine sounds from the master bedroom.

































Looking up through the camouflage netting at the ceiling, when being rocked.


































Afghan carpet patterned with bombs, rockets, tanks, trucks.


































The curved rockers & the step into the DUKw’s interior, are cushioned with rubber bike tyre treads.







































The bed is ‘bandaged’ with hessian strapping.

































Rio Vista has beautiful stained glass windows at both ends of the hallway which illuminate the DUKw with soft light.





WOOD PANELS       (Ground floor, 1st floor & stairs) Tour of Duty, Palestine (2013). Digital photographs, 11cm H, other dimensions variable. Watchtowers documented following the artist’s father’s 2/1 Machine Gun Battalion’s tour of duty in Egypt, and what was Palestine, now Israel.


DINING ROOM         (Ground floor) Mirror Mirror: Ruins (2015), digital print on clear Yupo. 75cm H x 75cm W.


DRAWING ROOM    (Ground floor) Trench (2013) – Artist’s parent’s bedroom furniture turned inside out; the Ely family’s print of Albert Namitjira’s painting titled Gums, Central Australia; clods of earth; peg; pencil; bobby pins; rabbit trap. 130cm H x 414cm W x 298cm D.

Murray/Murundi (1980). Book by Bonita Ely, pub. EAF. Two oral histories of life on the Murray River by Jack and Annie Koolmatrie of Murray Bridge (interviewed by Leigh Hobba), and Dulcie Ely, the artist’s mother (interviewed by the artist).


NURSERY       (1st floor)

Singer 11 (2015) – Sound installation.

Baby Boy (2013). Figure made from painted silk and lint.  Dimensions variable.


HALLWAY        (1st floor)

DUKw (2015) – Upholstery (macrosuade); camouflage netting; canvas; wood; metal. Rubber. 118cm H x 108 cm W x 336.5cm D. Amphibious landing vehicles transported troops & supplies in Papua New Guinea; here it is transformed into an adult sized cradle.


CHILD’S BEDROOM       (1st floor) Watchtower (2013). Cot mattress; double bed, 304cm H x 114 W x 160 cm D.


BATHROOM          (1st floor) Mirror Mirror  (2015). digital print on clear Yupo. 59cm H x 43.2cm W.


MASTER BEDROOM         (1st floor) Sewing Machine Gun (2013). Bobbypins; the artist’s mother’s Singer sewing machine. 108 H x 143 W x 178.5 cm D.

Singer, (2013).  Sound installation.


This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

This project was assisted by a grant from Arts NSW, an agency of the New South Wales Government and supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian State and Territory Governments. The program is administered by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).

This project is assisted by funding from the Faculty of Art & Design, University of New South Wales Australia