During the Nineteenth Century Scottish Highlanders left their homeland and braved the journey to Australia. Their values and traditions were repressed in the aftermath of the failed Jacobite Rising of 1745 in Scotland. In the years that followed the failed rebellion, dominant landowners pursued the greater profit to be made from sheep farming, evicting tenants from land their families had inhabited for centuries. Looking for a way out of the poverty that had taken hold of their communities, many Highlanders sailed to Australia, seizing the opportunity to start a new life in the ‘Empty Land’.
Leanora Olmi began photographing the Scottish Highland and Island clearance sites in 2004 and has brought these images to Victoria as part of her Masters studies at VCA. The project is a personal exploration of the remote and unforgiving wilderness of the Highlands and Islands, the beautiful and haunting expanses of rural Victoria, and the people that link them. The strong bonds of family and community that were so important in the Highlands were destroyed by the clearances. The Scottish Highlanders came to extreme conditions in Australia; they entered the unknown. Their journey was hard and their battle with the land and the original Australians was a cruel one, setting in motion the same chain of evictions and displacements that they themselves had fallen victim to in their homeland. Olmi’s resulting collection of photographs are clear and haunting.