Tim Palman is a documentary photographer who hails from the remote city of Perth on the coast of Western Australia. In his latest series, he explores the urban sprawl beyond his city’s confines, photographing Wellard, a satellite estate that has been sold as the Australian Dream.
In 2016 Palman moved to Wellard, a suburb 40 km south of the main metropolitan area of Perth. As a city, Perth is considered as one of the most isolated in the world — characterized equally by its beautiful and remote nature, and poor housing affordability. New developments like Wellard have emerged on the fringes of the city, offering a solution to the exorbitant housing prices by creating new suburbs at the edge of Perth’s urban sprawl. Photographed from 2016 to 2017, this autobiographical series reflects the plight of those still searching for what Palman calls “a patch of grass large enough to play backyard cricket.” The series has been published in hardback, and the book Wellard is available for pre-order online. We spoke with the photographer about the series and his own conception of the Australian Dream.
Is Wellard an autobiographical series?
I definitely consider it an autobiographical series. The process of creating the work was very intuitive, I was photographing the things I personally found strange or interesting, even though other people might find them relatively banal. What I was trying to photograph was the space between the concept of the Private Estate and myself, which makes the work inherently about me.
What sparked your desire to document this so-called satellite estate?
Most of my photographic heroes have created bodies of work centered around the psychology of place, for example, Alec Soth’s ‘Niagara’ or Martin Parr’s ‘The Last Resort’. The process of moving into not just a new location, but a new type of location, stirred up a creative curiosity in me. I felt like I needed to depict the feelings of uneasiness and disenchantment I had and the only way for me to that was with photography.
You called this project an inquiry into the nature of the ‘Australian Dream’ — what do you think the Australian dream is in terms of this project?
The Australian Dream, on a generic level, is almost identical to the American Dream, British Dream, Canadian Dream… It’s the romantic notion of a perfectly content suburban life in which a Mum and a Dad own a comfortable house with two children. The culture of Australiana dictates that there is most likely a makeshift backyard cricket pitch in this particular iteration of utopia, as well as long days spent at the beach or lying by the pool.
And for you?
My personal Australian Dream is something which I’m not sure is developed enough at the age of 21, although it is very similar to the one stated above. What I was trying to get at with Wellard is that what makes the ideal of the Australian Dream isn’t materiality, the home itself or the family makeup — but the values and authenticity associated with it, which I’m not sure can be reproduced in a small estate of what are essentially flat-pack houses.
When they’re selling these estates, are they selling an idea of a city and community that doesn’t exist?
One of the selling points to these estates you always see is the “local train only a 10-minute walk away!” and their general accessibility to the city. To me, part of their charm is their distance and isolation from the city, although that’s an element which is actively deflected away. They are definitely selling an idea of community, although it comes in an uncanny pop-up format. I think as a result the very definition of community is being altered, with any diversities of community life ironed out. What is interesting to me is that the way our private estate, Providence, most actively performs any semblance of “community” is through the dedicated Facebook page which functions as part neighborhood watch and part buy-sell-trade page.