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September 2016


Dressed up termite mound in Australia Dressed up termite mound in Australia Dressed up termite mound in Australia Dressed up termite mound in Australia

A selection of dressed-up termite mounds captured on camera by Ian Hence

Grey nomads among termite mound decorators

Quirky dressing up 'leads to littering'

Ian Hance

Ian Hance with some of his termite
mound paintings

By Dennis Amor
Have your say

THE quirky practice of dressing up termite mounds in Australia's far north has come under fire.

Traveller and Caravanning News reader Debbie Bendon believes that adorning the nests in clothing, hats and other paraphernalia is nothing short of littering.

She said the perpetrators never returned to remove "that nice tee-shirt or hat" which eventually left a scar on the landscape.

"They look so crappy as they deteriorate," she complained.

Mounds up to two metres tall have been spotted wearing an assortment of props including wigs, beards, masks, hats, bras, bottles, goggles, helmets, sticks and wheels.

Businessman, artist and Charles Darwin University student Ian Hance has been documenting the bizarre tradition as part of his Masters and PhD studies.

He operates Darwin's Framed art gallery and has collected around 400 photographs of decorated mounds, turning some into fascinating paintings.

Caravanning News asked him for his views on the "habit" of dressing up termite mounds.

"The practice has been spreading and pops up right across the tropical north or wherever there are termite mounds which are human sized," he explained.

"The aesthetic aspect is debatable.

"Many people find them interesting as roadside attractions in what they see as a boring landscape.

"So far I have found that tourists and grey nomads are the main dressers-up, although in some areas the locals have a go."

Mr Hance said his PhD thesis, titled Endogenous Endomorphs:The Human Clay, looked at the combination of what he saw was a unique humour typical of the north combined with concepts of the abject and uncanny.

"This idea of anthropomorphising termite mounds has been ongoing since at least the war years," he said.

He thought the idea of removing items after three months was "optimistic".

"Most people who dress them are passing through," he explained.

"I have many photos of tour bus tourists with signatures and dates on tee-shirts etc.

"Most are international tourists who are unlikely to pass this way again."

Mr Hance said some termite mounds had been dressed in a way that suggested the person responsible was making fun of someone they knew.

The target was often named, he said.

"I have consulted entomologists about the practice and most say it's unlikely that the dressing-up impacts on the termites.

"They simply incorporate the materials into the mound."


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Copyright 2005 Dennis Amor
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