Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Tajette O’Halloran
Suburban Melancholy with a Hint of Tinsel

1597 Kilometres straight up the Hume. I was six months pregnant and Matty and I were traveling to my hometown for Christmas. Heading back home was never easy. He wasn’t there anymore and he’d never be there again. It felt depressing and I couldn’t make sense of how my past could ever coexist with my life now. I had cut every tie that might lead me to even begin thinking about all the things that had happened back then. These days Lismore felt like the ghost town it always was, but now I was no longer a part of the undisclosed happenings in the undercurrent of the town, the clandestine life force that pulsed below, in seemingly dormant places.

Apart from a few reindeer antlers on car roofs and some tinsel wrapped around the side mirrors of a passing semi-trailer, you wouldn’t have really known it was Christmas.

Christmas has never really felt like Christmas to me, not how I thought it should feel, anyway.

Christmas time in Australia is like an extended Sunday afternoon in a town with empty streets and closed shutters. The shops all shackled together like obedient troops with inoperative neons, lifeless ceiling fans and a hint of tinsel. It’s an Australian thing.

I wanted the white Christmas I saw in the movies or the Christmases I heard about from my mother’s childhood growing up in New York City. The bustling excitement, the snow, the carols and the exorbitant decorations that were intoxicatingly excessive.

I started thinking about the lead up to my Christmases as a kid. Boiling hot, still days, plastic wreaths hanging from roundabout trees and old Marge wearing a Santa Claus hat busking at the end of the Star Court Arcade. We’d make mad dashes for last minute presents and stock up with supplies before the world stopped and everything shuts down until after the new year. We’d put in requests for our Woolworth’s lunch spread that mainly consisted of mangos, salted cashews and lasagne. Nothing traditionally Christmassy. Dad would go into the bush and cut down a She-Oak and put it in a bucket under the skylight. My sister and I would drape the branchlets excessively with tinsel and baubles... and wait.

We aimed to be at Little Beach Trail campsite north of Sydney by late afternoon. We’d borrowed a tent and googled an idyllic looking campsite right by the beach. Apart from the time some friends and I got kicked out of a campground by an aggressive campsite manager or the time I forgot to bring any bedding because I was too busy making sure I had a tambourine, I hadn’t really camped before as an adult. I loved the idea of it and I’d always seen others posting their photos of effortless camp setups on long road trips. It was thrifty, romantic and seemingly easy.

We made good time and without incident arrived at our destination. We drove down a picturesque forest-lined road through a national park until we came to a sign that read “all vehicles must be left here” and advised us that there was walking access only to the campground. We hadn’t been aware of this before arriving but it was fine, we’d just do a few trips back and forth.

We began walking with as much as we could carry down the hill. We walked and walked and walked until we finally reached the site. I waited there with our things while Matty returned to get more bags. As I waited, I started to feel a little uneasy about spending the night here, so far from our car, in the middle of nowhere. Matty finally came back and we deliberated about how we were going to get dinner as we had no camping stove, or food or anything camping related other than a tent. It felt hard, not very effortless or romantic at all. We agreed that we’d pack up and keep driving to another more accessible campsite.

We drove for another couple of hours until we reached Mungo. By now it was almost dark and we still had not found a campsite. I was starving, uncomfortable and sick of being in the car so we found a pub and had some dinner. The barman gave us some rough directions to a free campground about 25 minutes away and after a few wrong turns, we finally started driving down the long dirt road that he had mentioned led to the campsite. It was pitch black and we had no bearings on where we were or what surrounded us. As we clattered along our headlights caught a couple of other tents pitched under trees but there were no lights and no signs of people. By now I felt anxious and very reluctant to spend the night here, my mind alternating between thoughts of the infamous backpack serial killer Ivan Milat and Australian cult film Wolf Creek. We stroppily and silently started taking things out of the back of the car and I held the torch while Matty looked for our tent. As he rummaged I stood there frustratingly slapping my body as mosquitos buzzed around me.

“You are fucking kidding me, said Matty”


“We didn’t bring the tent poles”

As a light wave of relief rushed over me and I feigned disappointment.

“Fuck. Now what?”

“Looks like we’ll have to get a motel, fuck.”

By midnight we had reached Port Maquarie. Exhausted and defeated, we pulled into the first motel we saw.

We checked in, parked and hauled our bags to the room. On our way we passed two men sitting outside their room. There was a clothes line strung up between poles, 8 or 9 bike frames piled up on the concrete, deck chairs, camp stoves and loads of disparate items which suggested this motel was their permanent home. One man, skinny, shirtless and shoeless was crouched over, fixing one of the bicycles with the short end of a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, his mate leaning forward on his chair, appearing to be in a heroin induced slumber. I could just make out the “I’m on Santa’s Naughty List” on the front of his singlet. This seemed to be the only sign of the looming Christmas at this motel.

The next morning, we woke early with the sun already beating through the blinds. I had a shower while Matty packed the car. In 4 hours I would be back in Lismore, heading straight into the eye of the all familiar adolescent storm that lurked in the bones of that town.

Sitting on the edge of the bed of that Port Maquarie 3-star Motel, in undies and a towel around my head, 6 months pregnant, I set up my camera and took a portrait of myself. It wasn’t clear at the time exactly what I was trying to say or of the poignancy the image would later have for me (us).

Somehow the moment and photograph did pierce the iron clad lid I had kept on the heaviness of my adolescence for all of my adult life.

It was from this photograph that my In Australia series was to begin.

Christmas ended as I should have expected it to. A big family blow out and me, once again, running from my home town. As we made our way back down the coast, I put myself in the landscape of those lifeless Australian towns that felt so familiar, and as the light turned I took photographs. Working on this series feels like returning to a familiar war zone, but now, instead of running away, I’m finding comfort in the narrative of my past, scrambling to immerse myself back in there.

Tajette O’Halloran is a Melbourne-based photographer who creates intimate atmospheric portraits. Her work portrays complex understandings of the human condition in sensitive representations of subjects at all stages of life. Everyday activities and uneventful moments are chronicled in photographic series that form loose narratives. O’Halloran’s ongoing series In Australia depicts a raw and dystopian view of life in the Australian suburbs.