Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood
Position Doubtful is an astonishing, sprawling memoir of place. Returning annually to the Tanami desert country in which she had lived as a child on a remote cattle station, Tanami Downs (though for her it is always Mongrel Downs), artist Kim Mahood works with the traditional owners of the Tanami desert country to map the landscape and memories of the region.
The mapping project begins in Mulan in 2004; its central purpose is, as Mahood relays, ‘to create a cross-cultural document that shows the interplay between Aboriginal knowledge and western scientific knowledge in a form that is easily accessible to both Walmajarri and kartiya [white people]’. At this first coming together, Mahood sets out a canvas map on which she has drawn a grid over a printed satellite image of the area. As the first person starts to recount their knowledge of the area, the bounds of the map prove insufficient. Notations start to clutter the sides and when everyone leaves, Mahood adds extra strips of canvas to the sides at odd angles to accommodate the mapping of place that has been told.
In the way of that first map, Position Doubtful moves outwards, reaching back from the mapping into earlier annual trips that Mahood took, including her visits to the salt lakes near the station she grew up on, and her time living and working at the art centre at Balgo.
In the early 1960s, Mahood’s father had sought to map stock routes over the Tanami using an aeronautical map on which the notation ‘Position Doubtful’ appeared with some regularity, a notation Mahood takes as a metaphor for white Australian movement through the country.
In Position Doubtful, Mahood charts her experience of place and lays out a space in which we can begin to see the multitudes of place and memory that create the country.
Marie Matteson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.