The Crimson Thread

Erin Lee

2020 - Ongoing

The Crimson Thread is a work in progress that examines the omnipresence and honouring of colonial history in Australia. The title of the project is taken from a quote by Henry Parkes (1815 – 1896), a colonial politician who described Australia’s connection to the British Motherland as, “the crimson thread of kinship, which defined Australia as a bastion of ‘whiteness’ in the Asian region.”

As a way of documenting the enduring connection to the British Empire and ceaseless commendation of colonialism, the project retraces the Royal Tour made by Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh in 1954. This was the first, and to date, the only reigning British monarch to visit Australia and the tour is still a source of pride for many of these towns.

Alongside this documentary approach, the project interweaves still life objects representing the notions of ‘progress’ that drove imperialism, Australian landscapes which reimagine the mindsets of early colonial explorers in a strange land and staged portraits to illustrate certain archetypes set by colonialism that still persist today.

The body of work questions the perpetuating existence of the Commonwealth, the Queen as head of state and the role of these institutions in the creation of systemic racism and white privilege which exists universally today. It presents history in an amorphous way that allows viewers to decide for themselves where the work sits between fact and fiction and to reflect on the relevance, or irrelevance of these imperial institutions which still exist.



‘Enough is as good as a feast’ is a close English translation to the Swedish term, ‘lagom’ which describes the Swedish way of life, one of consensus and equality, sustained by a sense that things are sufficient just as they are.

I propose to create a photographic investigation into how this term manifests itself visually and permeates Swedish culture. Working within the town of Landskrona I will interweave environmental portraits with other elements of daily life which express this idea such as food, architecture, communication and other aspects which will surely arise during the investigation and residency timeframe.

How can a state of mind be represented visually? What feelings are evoked by depicting a set of customs? How can a way of life be captured through commonplace scenes? I contemplate, what may be elicited from Landskrona as a visual representation of ‘lagom’.

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  • Hanging Rock landscape. The unique geographical formations of Hanging Rock are considered sacred to the Indigenous Australian Peoples. The site is located near the ancestral boundary of three distinct Aboriginal language groups, the Dja Dja Wurrung, Taungurung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Peoples who inhabited the area prior to British descent.

  • Swans were introduced to Australia by colonists. Black swans are nomadic and have erratic migration patterns depending on climatic conditions, however, have survived in high numbers in the wild.

  • Pillars of Melbourne University, for which the foundations were laid on 3rd July 1854, Melbourne, Victoria. The city of Melbourne was originally known as Naarm, inhabited by the Wurundjeri Peoples for an estimated 40,000 years before the land was taken over by British colonisers.

  • Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Portrait, photographed by Dorothy Wilding and hand-coloured by Beatrice Johnson in 1952 to mark her ascension to the throne. The sitting resulted in 59 original copies of the portrait sent to embassies of the Commonwealth countries, including Australia and was later adapted for use on banknotes and stamps. Queen Elizabeth II is still featured on all Australian coins and the five dollar note.

  • The introduction of religion played a crucial role in the 'progress' which drove imperialism.

  • Shepparton, Victoria. Prior to British invasion the region was originally inhabited by the Yorta Yorta People.

  • Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Ballarat, Victoria. The city of Ballarat is situated on Wadawurrung Country.

  • The tenets of Christianity were used to justify many actions of the colonisers.

  • The idea that the European race was superior to any other played a crucial role in the 'progress' which drove imperialism.

  • The Victorian flag flies outside a home in Ballarat, Victoria. The Victorian flag is a modified version of the Australian flag which features the imperial crown of St Edward above the Southern Cross.

  • Graffiti found in Mildura.

  • The constellation of the Southern Cross helped colonial explorers navigate the Southern Hemisphere seas yet in modern times it has come to be a symbol of colonial patriotism and a popular tattoo in Australia.

  • Horse and carriage rides around Echuca. Echuca was an important town along the Murray River in the 19th century river trade. The town is also part of the Traditional Yorta Yorta Lands.

  • St Thomas’ Roman Catholic church situated within a native eucalyptus forest in Steiglitz, Victoria, named after the first European colonisers who arrived in the district in 1842, brothers Charles and Robert von Stieglitz. The town is now preserved as a historic park where visitors can see remnants of buildings, mines and other historic artifacts honouring the colonial and gold mining history. Before European invasion the Kurong people, from the Wathaurong Aboriginal group resided here. By the 1880’s almost no Aboriginal Peoples remained in the area.

  • In 1918 Red Cliffs was chosen as the site of what turned out to be the largest soldier settlement in Australia. Prior to European settlement the district was home to the Kermin Aboriginal People.

  • Colonial cottage, Castlemaine, Victoria. Castlemaine became a gold rush town in 1851 and is located on Dja Dja Wurrung Country.

  • Highway near Echuca.

  • Swans were introduced to Australia by colonialists. White swans have not survived in the wild and can now only be seen living in captivity.

  • Gazing upon La Trobe’s cottage, the original home of the state of Victoria’s first Lieutenant-Governor, Charles Joseph La Trobe. The cottage is situated on Bunurong Country.

  • The troubling existence of the false category of ‘whiteness’ and the practice of ‘whitewashing’ are elements which continue to influence our view of the world around us.