Lachie Hinton travelled to Nauru in September 2018 to reveal the conditions of refugees and asylum seekers detained by the Australian government. Through art, photography and film, LIMBOLAND aimed to capture the psyche of living in limbo on Nauru, humanising people who's stories have been hidden under the secrecy of offshore detention.


His fieldwork photographs and drawings formed the basis for the current development of a series of paintings of refugees on Nauru. Documenting the barely visited Nauruan environment, Hinton used 35mm black and white and colour infrared film to photograph refugees around the remote island of Nauru. He employed the psychedelic colour shift of the expired Kodak Aerochrome 1443 III film as a way to explore the concept of living in limbo.

"I used colour infrared film to render the surreal nature of Nauru from the perspective of people who have been mentally debilitated from years of detention. For many refugees who were traumatised, absent-minded and withdrawn from their external realities, Nauru appeared strange and dreamlike, reflecting the otherworldly nature of the film."



PaintingsDrawings

Portrait of Iraqi Refugee
oil pastel, watercolour, ink and wash on paper

2018

Abdullah (Lebanese Refugee)
ink and wash on paper

2018

Adbullah (Lebanese Refugee)
ink and wash on paper

2018

Abdullah Sitting on the Couch
oil pastel on paper

2018

Abdullah Sitting on the Couch
ink and wash on paper

2018

Portrait of Iraqi Refugee
ink and wash on paper

2018

Saji, 8, a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee stared vacantly while lying on the couch during an interview. Visibly absent-minded, her eyes rolled uncontrollably at times as she sporadically  lashed out at her father, seemingly without realising. Having cut her own arm from the trauma of five years on Nauru, she spoke openly about wanting to kill herself, should she find a knife.

I photographed Saji and her father on the beach at Yaren. Standing in front of coral rock pinnacles, she was unresponsive and lethargic with a tension that creased her face.

The Krishnalingams, Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, posed for a family portrait at a dilapidated hotel in Ronave, Nauru. Despite being worn down by five years detention they were remarkably humble and giving. Sukirtha, who was 15, told me her dream was to become a meteorologist, while her 14-year-old brother Mahinthan said, "I want to be a doctor so that I can look after my parents." With their futures in limbo, the tag DESTINY on the wall seemed almost uncanny.

Dilapidated hotel. Captured at Nibok, Nauru.

At Yangor beach a local Nauruan boy was digging in the sand amid a backdrop of crumbling phosphate mining infrastructure. Jutting out of the turquoise water was a monstrous dilapidated cantilever, once used to transfer phosphate stock onto shipping vessels. Having collapsed, the corroded metal skeleton loomed in the background, where piles of barnacle encrusted scaffolding and rusted shrapnel trailed up to the shore.

I found discarded household appliances strewn among the the bushes in Buada. Washing machines, dryers, ovens and various white goods were scattered at the tail end of a colossal scrap heap beside the road to the Refugee Processing Centres. It was apparently unclear as to why they were rotting among the greenery, overgrown and unnoticed. The sight of rubbish in the landscape was a recurring theme throughout Nauru, and as I began to question why there was so much material shit piled around the place I realised that on the world’s smallest island nation the tip was bigger than the town.

Standing on a dilapidated hotel courtyard, I captured the ocean view over Nibok. I found many decayed and antiquated hotels throughout Nauru, which seemed to serve as a grim reminder of the fate of the country. Nauru was once the second richest country per capita after making a fortune out of phosphate and its hotels were heralded as the most luxurious places of leisure in the Pacific Islands. When its resources ran out, Nauru virtually went bankrupt. The railing of the abandoned, gutted hotel was broken in two from corrosion and trailed off to an empty pool overgrown with shrubbery.

This dilapidated building was part of a phosphate processing complex in Aiwo. The fractured framework of the run-down facility stood precariously, it’s rusted insides plastered with a fine, white dust that stuck to the fabric of my clothes. I found out later that the dust contained cadmium, a toxin that had disastrously poisoned the air and water in Nauru. Refugees complained of the dust inflaming their eyes and causing pain in their bones. While wandering the site I tried not to breathe it in, though I walked out several skin tones lighter.

At the roadside in Buada was a burnt-out wreckage of a car. A passing tropical storm had saturated the ransacked chassis, which sat lonesome in a dirt clearing flanked by tropical plants. The bare, rusty shell was completely stripped of any salvageable or valuable parts. Infrared film typically created a stark contrast between organic and inorganic material, or the living and the dead – yet the warm downpour had wet the car’s corroded frame, allowing pink shades of the living vegetation to gleam across its surface.

For a lengthy stretch of dirt road that led to the Refugee Processing Centres, a towering stack of metal wreckage obscured the scenery. Some kind of junkyard, with mangled car bodies, trucks, industrial equipment and random redundant objects were meshed together, stacking several metres overhead at some points. The pile of scrap and waste had clearly been corroding into itself for some time, engulfed by vegetation that had creeped its way into bent sunroofs and busted-out window frames.

Nicknamed “Topside”, the inner, raised section of the island was where Nauru’s once abundant phosphate reserves existed. It also doubled as a rubbish dump. Taking this photo of pinnacle rocks involved meandering around a dirt track littered with bottles and plastic bags. The area had been totally ravaged by decades of unsustainable mining and the depleted phosphate fields resembled a barren moonscape of pitted rock. After photographing the open-cut mines in hellish heat, I concluded that Topside could only be described as an infertile wasteland.

What at first appeared to be a palm-protruding, tropical paradise, Nauru became much more discomforting after a journey to the Refugee Processing Centres (RPC’s). Hidden within a maze design of pot-hole ridden, dirt roads dissecting the phosphate mines of Topside were three securely guarded refugee camps. To reach the camps, refugees swerved their motorbikes along the hazardous route, dangerously competing for space with mining trucks. Sticky and sweating, I tried to remain inconspicuous as I crawled past the guarded camps, which were undoubtably in the hottest part of the island. It was harsh environment to be in, let alone live in, home to children who played among the dirt and carcinogenic phosphate dust.