In terms of the spatiality of Adelaide, Bowden is less than 4 kilometres from Adelaide’s CBD, and adjacent to the Adelaide parklands. The location was similar to the inner, middle class suburbs like Parkside and Kent Town, and yet Bowden had become an industrial zone with its contaminated land. The Bowden-Brompton of the 1980s was an industrial suburb with a mixture of housing, factories, shops and small offices and warehouses.

My understanding of Adelaide’s history is that suburbs west of the city of Adelaide and the parklands, such as Hindmarsh and Bowden, had been earmarked as industrial areas prior to 1945, primarily because they were in the vicinity of the road and rail links between Adelaide’s CBD and Port Adelaide. The industrial origins in the 19th century lay in the small cottage industries supported by both residential and industrial expansion. As the more noxious industries moved into the area in the early 20th century, the wealthier residents began to move out. The inner western suburbs of Adelaide continued to be earmarked for industry in the early 20th century by the modern urban planners.

In the imagination of ‘civilised’ Adelaide in the eastern suburbs in the 1980s Bowden as an older western industrial areas, represented the grotesque horrors and terrors of urban life, with its shady characters and their irrational, uninhibited desires and passions. It was seen to be a place that you ventured into at your own risk. The earthy and gritty character of the older, industrial Bowden of the 20th century embodied the urban myth of it being a threatening, sinister urbanscape, and a foreign place. Bowden became the place beyond the pale that was supposedly haunted by savage beasts and evil spirits. What happened in the shadow lands behind the Gasworks at night was crime, not romance.

Christophe, Bowden

Though many post-1945 European migrants (Greek, Italian, Yugoslav) were attracted to the area because of the low cost of housing,  industry expansion quickened after the 1940s. It was still a residential area in the 1970s, but by the 1980s the official view of Bowden-Brompton was that these suburbs were old industrial areas, and that the desired industry expansion could take place through purchasing the adjoining residential property.

These residential properties were seen as being outworn and obsolete. They had reached the end of their economic and useful life, and their low property values encouraged the intrusion of factories and businesses. The substandard  housing was considered to be only worthy of demolition. The depressing character of sub-standard dwellings, combined with noise, odours, dirt, smoke pollution and heavy traffic, meant that Bowden was defined as Adelaide’s slum. Slum, for many Adelaideans, meant an incidence of disease and delinquency, the threat of disorder, crime, mental illness, alcoholism and death.

In the 1980s the concerns of the people who lived in the slum for better living conditions for themselves were ignored by the state government. Even though there was limited room for industrial expansion in Bowden, and industry was moving to Adelaide’s northern and north western suburbs, the former Hindmarsh Council, which had been captured by industry, had little interest in greening the suburb, improving the quality of the environment, or urban renewal. The state government, in turn, had no conception of urban infill with higher density housing close to the parklands. This only emerged in the mid-1990s.
For the then Hindmarsh Council urban redevelopment of the land in Bowden meant redevelopment for economic purposes which, in turn, meant industrial expansion. That meant an opposition to Bowden becoming a more liveable urban area. The market ruled and, consequently, there was little understanding of the social purposes of human cohabitation through supporting a community that saw Bowden-Brompton as a home. For the residents industrial expansion meant displacement and homelessness.

Rolleiflex TLR
Gibson St, Bowden

The conflict arising from citizens in opposition to government and business was a central feature of the rebuilding the Bowden-Brompton area. The initial spark was the US inspired report, the 1968 ‘Metropolitan Adelaide Transport System (MATS)’. This proposed modernist circuit of freeways required major property acquisition, and it identified Bowden-Brompton as the potential site for the four-level spaghetti central freeway interchange with many flyovers. The inference from MATS was that the residents were dispensable.

The acceptance of the MATS plan by the state Liberal government had resulted in the compulsory purchase by the Highways Department of over 300 houses. These houses were destroyed or allowed to fall into disrepair as the MATS plan was fought. The MATS plan was shelved by the Dunstan government in the 1970s, which had been elected on a policy that opposed the MATS plan. The MATS owned land and houses in Bowden was sold around 1980,  with much of the housing in Bowden-Brompton  being annexed by industry.


The above spatial history is a first attempt at a cognitive mapping by producing a knowledge of the situation we find ourselves in without pretending to understand the totality of the global. Cognitive mapping is a way of making connections though co-ordinating the existential and phenomenological experience of people in their daily lives and the abstract global economic, political and social totalities that we already inhabit. In late modernity there is a gap between individual and phenomenological experience and the structural intelligibility of an expanding globalisation whilst cognitively mapping this gap produces narratives —- a mapping that unfolds through time and is appropriate to the social, economic realities that we inhabit.

It is an initial attempt to begin to see and map an urban space of a suburb of Adelaide so as to develop a sense of place and local urban experience. It is to begin to map what it feels like to live daily life through living through by constructing an image of the city in both terms of spatial location and to be able to imagine one’s historical and social location.

The residential architecture in Bowden prior to its recent gentrification consisted of cheaply built working class cottages. They were dark inside, full of salt damp during the winter and hothouses in the summer. This housing had no insulation, and there were few street trees to provide some shade from the summer heat. In the 1980s these cottages were still situated amongst plastics factory, three foundries, building companies that specialised in building panels, warehouses, and delis. The suburb was dumpy and dingy,  the foundries were a very dirty, polluting industry.

A lot of the land in Brompton had been contaminated by industry. For instance, a toxic cocktail of chemicals was dumped into the old pug holes under the houses. Pug holes were dug for clay to build bricks, and then filled with rubbish from the various companies in the area. The toxic cocktail then spreads where there was groundwater. The condition of this industrial urban space was known in the 1960s. Nothing was done because, though Adelaide saw itself as as a garden city, Bowden was a deformed, urban space.

A more liveable urban area for residents was not part of the agenda of the old Hindmarsh Council, which was primarily interested in supporting business and industry, not the residents. Hence the conflict between residents and government over industrial expansion. This conflict started to ease with new low income housing and the emergence of cooperative housing with the Hindmarsh Housing co-operative. The cooperatives were initially set up to provide housing for people at risk of losing houses to industrial development. They were able to buy land to stop further industry expansion, to start to green the area, and to develop housing for people who wanted to live co-operatively.

The convergence of community and government concerns in the late 1980s resulted in a rezoning the Hindmarsh council area as residential, noxious large scale industry relocated, and the promotion of housing co-operatives. Quietly, in the background, the small industries started to vanish along with its workers.

The imagining of the urban environment placed an emphasis on community form of political activism in the early 1980s and it saved Bowden-Brompton from becoming solely an industrial park. The fightback  for the development of the housing co-operatives was a politics of urban renewal to rebuild and strengthen the local community. It was undertaken by a collective subject, in which the self of the individuals is derived from participation in the community’s collective agency and narration.


The process of de-industrialization, which created a space for urban renewal in Bowden, expands, or links, the suburban mapping to the regional, national and global economy, thereby orienting the cognitive mapping toward the social totality. This cognitive map is a figuration, rather than a true representation of a global reality, as it is extremely difficult to map the economic flows of capitalism as global system. The cognitive mapping is an allegorical structure that attempts to tell another spatial tale about a sense of place: it helps to render the past intelligible through remnants and an appeal to the imagination.

For instance, the allegorical structure of cognitive mapping puts a perspective on what happened in Bowden as an insight into the concrete historical situation in South Australia. The process of de-industrialization in Adelaide is one of the devastation of manufacturing and the working class and the privatisation of public services. South Australia becomes part of the left-behind parts of the country, with its closed shops, unemployment, and a working class future in a zone of casual labour, flexible contracts, an invasive surveillance regime. This mode of economic rationality causes disquiet in the working class heartlands about where the country was heading.

Economic rationality held that the process of de-industrialization, which had started behind the recessions in the 1970s, meant that the options for South Australia appeared stark: change or slowly decay into a rust bucket state. By the 1980s de-industrialization in South Australia looked as if it would result a long, protracted and painful experience and the working class was going to bear the brunt of these changes. The future of South Australia in the 1990s looked to be one of working class job losses, economic stagnation, poor job prospects for the working-class youth, poor educational qualifications, high illiteracy and innumeracy rates, increasing unemployment and poverty, and decreasing population as young people left the state for work in Melbourne and Sydney.

De-industrialization at a national level was an ongoing neo-liberal process of the decline of manufacturing, the concurrent emergence of free market globalisation, privatisation of water, electricity and telecommunications and underfunded public services.The destruction of Australia’s manufacturing base also happened in the oldest inner city-based plants in Melbourne and Geelong, where little new investment had occurred. The process was one where the manufacturing industries disappeared or survived by going to China. This industrial decline was the unravelling of the postwar economic economic order.

If the MATS plan and industrial expansion in Bowden had been blocked by citizens, the economic forces of globalisation that were destroying South Australia’s tariff protected industry were too powerful to roll back. By the 1990s the effects of the economic flows of the capitalist system were rising blue collar unemployment, disappearing full time jobs, closed stores on the high streets, marginalised young people and a growing realisation that the distant people who rule through globalized markets simply do not care about the social and environmental costs of neo-liberal globalisation. The 1968 project to transform the world had failed, and many of the survivors of these struggles moved into the spaces of relative freedom and autonomy represented by the university.

Economic rationality held that the shift to an open economy within global modernity required the older manufacturing industry in Australia to decamp to China. China emerged as the new superpower, its economy boomed with low cost manufacturing, and it became Australia’s largest trading partner. The mining states of Queensland and Western Australia became China’s quarries. Australia rolled in cash from mining. John Howard promised us that we would be comfortable and relaxed, whilst starting the culture wars and the attacks on a public funding for a wide range of cultural institutions, including the Arts Council, public broadcasting, the humanities and the universities. Modernity had multiple beginnings but no ends: the multiple models or stages of capitalist economies in different countries or regions shift from being temporal periods to becoming contained in global social space.

These peripheral pictures of historical Bowden are an unfashionable realist form of documentary photography premised on the indexicality of the negative to reality. Its focus is on a classical concern with the relation between reality and representation as opposed to one concerning the multiplicity of relations that extend from a digital photograph. The photos are, in Lukács terms, description rather than narration.

The fragments highlight the industrial nature of Bowden before its urban renewal and gentrification in the first decade of the 21st century. Bowden has been greened up, infilled with higher density housing, and spatially reinscribed as Bowden Village, which has gone hand in hand with modernising Adelaide’s CBD. These pictures are fragments of the working class life in Bowden in the 1980s, and they connect us to the forgotten history of one of Adelaide’s older industrial areas — an early rustbelt if you like.

The image-text moves beyond the caricatured ‘strawman’ version of realism as a simple referential naivety — the transparent window on a stable world marshalled by the documentary photographer as an omniscient narrator. This version held that in so stabilizing the referent the realist photographer comes to be an apologist of what exists. This caricature — the reduction of the documentary/realist image to a form of “illustration”—- enabled modernists to promote themselves as innovators and to construct themselves as the instigators of a radical breach from tradition.

resident, Gibson St, Bowden

The fragmentary photographs of Bowden are not a passive reflection of an event or object. As Hegel argued art is a specific historical form of embodied meaning that expresses our sense of ourselves as beings in the world in terms of sensuous appearance. In modernity art is a form of critical reflection: it is reflective as it involves thinking about art. Art’s truth content is of the world whilst also offering critical reflections upon it.

Since this truth content is inseparable from the sensuous particularity of an art work, the kind of knowledge implicit in art works is different from the knowledge of objects given by the natural or social sciences. The instrumental rationality in the theoretical and conceptual ways of knowing the world for self-preservation and the control of nature is one that creates modern science, economics and bureaucratic rationality, needs to get rid of sensuous materiality, concreteness, and the experience of those things.

The core thesis of Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory is that a modernist art practice criticises an abstract, instrumental rationality as a mode of domination by remaining a repository for an alternative mimetic rationality. Modernist art becomes the voice of sensuous particularity against abstract rationality — art is a refuge for mimetic comportment. Mimesis is found in modernist art because art is a sphere which in Adorno’s time is free from the demands of self-preservation and the pursuit of profit. Modernist art in taking up the detritus of experience, the fragments of material reality that are broken due to that social reality being devoured by capital, preserves in art the fragments or ruins of the representational world.

Cambo 5x7 monorail
Wall, Bowden

Modernism is no longer the dominant and leading edge of high culture but, though it is exhausted, its haunting power remains as a long shadow over the present. The underlying conflict between an instrumental reason (an extrinsically formed capacity to produce universals) that obscures the non-identical (the individual particularity of things that is supposedly lost when they are subsumed under a general term) and mimesis that discloses the non-identical remains. The ‘non-identical’ is what is left behind by the conceptual apparatus of instrumental reason, which presses experience and judgment within increasingly constrictive bounds, into which experience, judgment and ethical life do not in fact fit. Mimesis serves as a constant ‘return of the repressed’ – it is through mimesis that we find the possibility of the irruption of these suppressed experiences, impulses, and so forth. Mimesis’ functions as a short-form reference to these non-instrumental phenomena.

The non-identical is no longer viewed as the isolated particular which it is forced back into being by identity-thinking. The particular is now seen as standing in a pattern of relations to other particulars, a historically sedimented ‘constellation’ which defines its identity. The non-identical is disclosed through a mimetic rationality, which holds the promise of resistance to a dominate order as a mode of contact and engagement: one that is marked by awe, respect and supplication, but also, to the contrary, productive of an affective bringing-close, which moves humans toward the rhythms of nature.

Art for Adorno is rationalized through and through, and itself a species of identity thinking., but it is a product of identity thinking that harbours the illusion of a resistance to identity thinking and the existence of that illusion within the work of art makes a difference that matters to the truth of the work of art. Mimesis stands for the fuller experience of reason that is repressed and denied by identity thinking, yet still operative within it. Artworks are true—and their truth is aimed against the falsity of our way of thinking.

Art as a form of reflective sense making is a shift away the modernist conception of art photography in modernity being a form of self-expression and a celebration of personal liberty from certain norms and conventions. A plurality of sedimented content is embodied in the photos: they are a force-field of tensions of social, cultural and economic forces of a historical moment are bought together into a constellation.

The pictures make visible through the remnants of industrial capitalism what had become invisible in history. These fragments are evidence of past lives, failures and destruction that make visible the darker side of industrial modernity. They place us outside of ourselves and our memory in much the same way that we are outside of, but a part of our another person’s memory. They enable us to glimpse the forces and situations beyond our recollection, and help us to interpret the fragmentation of experiences, and decipher the hieroglyphs of modernity in the darkly, haunting past of industrial Adelaide.