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image icon 'First view of the salt desert - called Lake Torrens'

'First view of the salt desert - called Lake Torrens'
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is an 1843 watercolour painting that shows a lone horseman, possibly the artist, E C Frome (1802-90), looking though a telescope at a salt lake, now called Lake Frome. This was one of a circle of vast salt lakes that, for many years, blocked the path of explorers trying to find a way to the centre of the continent. The work, which measures 18.0 cm x 27.8 cm, shows a thin strip of apparently endless flat landscape, dotted with clumps of saltbush and two straggly trees, contrasted against a large expanse of cloudless pale-blue and gold sky.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an example of work by an explorer artist - Frome succeeded Colonel William Light as Surveyor General of the newly established colony of South Australia, and surveyed large areas of the colony, including mapping and recording new territory to the north of the newly established city of Adelaide as far as the Flinders Ranges
  • is a striking image of Australia's interior, and the first of many such images in the history of Australian art
  • captures a moment typically experienced by many early inland explorers - a lone horseman scanning a featureless horizon in the hope of finding something of significance
  • vividly communicates the harsh reality of the situation, and perhaps the feelings that many inland explorers experienced
  • employs powerful visual devices to help convey a sense of loneliness - by reducing the scale of the figure on horseback, and lowering the horizon, Frome has been able to give full weight to the empty sky
  • is among the first works that mark the beginning of a strong exploration-subject tradition in Australian art - mid-20th-century artists Sidney Nolan (1917-92) and Albert Tucker (1914-99) also used themes of colonial exploration and explorers in their art to explore changing Australian community attitudes towards the land (the inland in particular) and to colonial history as a defining element in the search for national identity.