A study in brown

February 25, 2013

During a drive to Hobart last week and while passing through 50 kilometers of burnt out landscape, I couldn’t help but notice the many exquisite panoramas of brown beauty blurring by.


When one sees the spray of a rainbow off the end of a hose on a summer’s day, or is intrigued by the magic that takes place inside a clear glass prism when an entering beam of white light exits as a neat array of colours, the eye’s fancy is nearly always tickled by the vibrancy of colours revealed: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Brown, however, is no where to be seen. Why? It is certainly a colour, but like pink is not found in the spectrum.

And strangely enough, when one looks at the linguistic history of language formation, those human societies that have words for colour (all but two), the hierarchal ordering goes something like this: languages with just three colours have black, white and red; those with four or five colours add green and yellow, and then, the following sixth colour is always blue. Even in agricultural societies where the earth might seem to be more closely observed than the sky, linguistic acknowledgement of brown is always placed seventh.


Most people know that combining blue and yellow creates green, and, that mixing yellow with red creates orange. But what colours are used to create brown? The answer is a mixture of yellow, red and black. These are the same three colours in the The Australian Aboriginal Flag — where black symbolizes Aboriginal people, yellow represents the sun and red depicts the earth and peoples’s relationship to the land as well as representing ochre which is used in ceremonies.

Instead of calling mainland Australia the “sunburnt country”, perhaps it should be the “brown country”.


Another interesting question is whether or not people have heard of the term “brown study”? Although not frequently used, it means: to be in a state or mood of deep thought; sometimes associated with gloomy meditation or melancholy.

Looking at the photos I took of the burnt out landscape last week — a landscape most certainly a study in brown — I have to ask myself whether or not the land itself was presently in a Gaian mental state of “brown study”, pensive, perhaps moody?

One thing is certain: If I can put away any thoughts of the destructive qualities of the fires, there is a peculiar beauty to this browned off, seemingly lifeless landscape.


Ultimately, if I personally have to make a choice, I would place a brown landscape seventh on my list of places I would chose to inhabit.

Upon reaching home and driving down the mile and half driveway I created with a bulldozer 20 years ago, the green sidelines are evidence enough to me of the appropriateness of this decision.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

douglas February 26, 2013 at 7:38 am


prue February 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Interesting my experience is that mass colors like that give me certain strong feelings like when I drove though the fire areas of 2008 late last year I was struck by the beauty of the landscape at the very top of the mountains, mountain after mountain where the fire was so hot it actually kill the trees, it was seemingly endless forests of straight, silver, dead gum tree trunks reaching towards the blue sky, in contrast to lower down the mountain where the new green shoots were exploding from the blackened tree trucks everywhere.
It gave me a feeling I cant really explain the only words that comes to mind are awe and inspiration, it was a very tactile experience, it made me want to paint!! It is the same feeling I experience when I see masses of Autumn colors or wild flowers in the desert.

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