Decorated termite mounds reveal Outback secrets


CDU Masters student Ian Hance is collecting stories and painting portraits of decorated termite mounds

CDU Masters student Ian Hance is collecting stories and painting portraits of decorated termite mounds

The quirky tradition of decorating termite mounds in the Northern Territory Outback is being documented by a Charles Darwin University Visual Arts Masters student.

Ian Hance is painting portraits of termite mounds dressed in clothing and other obscure items, which he photographed along the Stuart Highway between Darwin and Alice Springs.

As part of his Masters project, Ian also has created a website for the public to anonymously share their experiences of creating or viewing dressed-up termite mounds.

“We’re hardwired to find facial features in the termite mounds when we look at them so dressing them up to look more human is a natural progression,” he said.

“There is obviously an amusing element to them that is typical of Aussie humour, but some of these mounds appear to be more sinister.”

Ian said there was a high concentration of dressed mounds along the highway between Katherine and Larrimah, along with large clusters around Threeways Roadhouse and near Alice Springs.

He said he had driven up and down the highway four times and spotted mounds up to two metres tall wearing items such as masks, hats, bottles, bras, helmets, goggles, sticks and wheels.

“Many have a sexual element to them, while others appear to be brandishing a political statement or were created by tourists to commemorate their travels in the region,” Ian said.

He said among his 350 photos were mounds dressed as soldiers with sticks for guns, tradesmen wearing hi-visibility clothing, and even a biblical reference to Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture.

Ian said he had seen a substantial number of mounds dressed as Santa Claus in the lead-up to Christmas last year.

“Generally, they are humorous, but some are quite moving,” he said.

“It doesn’t hurt the termites.”

To share a story about an experience encountering or decorating a termite mound, you can contact Ian on Facebook.

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