an·thro·po·cen·tric (nthr-p-sntrk) adj. 1. Regarding humans as the central element of the universe. 2. Interpreting reality exclusively in terms of human values and experience.
A practical demonstration of anthropocentrism is to be found in the naming of prominent features of the landscape. For example: “The Sleeping Lady”, being a local name for the eastern slope of Mount Watkins in the Hamersley Ranges, describing the profile seen when approaching from the west, or “Cathedral Pool” being the name given to a rock pool in Wittenoom Gorge that lies cupped to the underbelly of an cliff, the eroded face of which evokes the ceiling vaults of a cathedral.
In the mid 1930s, The Albany Advertiser published the articles “Strange Rock Formations” (1935, 49-50) and “Where Rocks are Other Things” (1936) in which local rock formations were described as “freaks” and in anthropocentric terms. On their list were: Dog Rock, Shark or Eagle Rock, Pulpit Rock, Helmet Rock, Devil’s Gap, Natural Bridge, Boat Rock, Wagon Rock, Koala Rock, one described as looking like a chimpanzee, another like a snarling dog’s head. The name of a particular feature of the landscape may be anthropocentric, but - when it comes to particular speaking positions, in terms of discourse - they can be even more specifically so. The prominence at the eastern edge of the Gap is referred to by the National Park Ranger as “Gorilla Head Rock”, whereas rock climbers call it “Sea Wolf”. The discourse of rock climbers, a vocabulary specific to their activities, in which every rock face and every variation of climbing it has an individual name, also offers possibilities for poetic transformation. Rock faces are walls, wave-ledges are platforms, boulders can be blocks, protrusions, flakes. In South Coast Rock: Guide to Rock Climbing on WA’s South Coast, author Shane Richardson describes Climb 15 on the Natural Bridge’s “Orca Wall“: Climb the slightly overhanging, left trending lay back crack (the stomach of the ‘diving killer whale’) to finish up the thin crack above. (23) The naming of aspects of landscape in familiar terms renders the unknowable known, the unfamiliar familiar. Likewise, story attempts - by filling in the gaps (no pun intended) - to make the unknowable known. The local narrative describing underwater caves at the Gap (used in my poem “The Gap” in Southern Edge) arose from an attempt to explain how a woman could vanish completely. An alternative angle is that some local narratives are actually cautionary tales, arising not from historical events but because the contemplation of a feature of the landscape incites the viewer to imagine potentiality, the possibility for harm. Another perspective offers the possibility of redemption, she is not dead but alive in the caves from which there is the likelihood, like other women vanished into the underworld (such as Persephone and Eurydice, for example) that with some kind of upper-worldly intervention she might emerge alive. There are many areas on the Australian coastline called the Gap. Sydney’s is notorious. In fact, most sites bearing the name, and similar names, are notorious. Dare we entertain the notion that reputation (and story, in this case) is semantic, that it could be linked more to a name than it is to a place? Fact or folklore? It is almost impossible to say. These days, suicides on this area of the South Coast do not receive media coverage, and therefore most information, true or false, is related through the gossip-network, where after much repetition and elaboration stories of suicides are more legend than “truth”. In view of the mobility of urban legend, it isn’t inconceivable that these “local” legends, restricted to a degree by the requirement for certain features of the landscape to be present, might move from place to place, attaching to certain features of landscape rather than specific places. The Gap at Albany hasn’t always been the focus of white people’s local lore. In fact, until the construction of an adequate access road for vehicles in the 1930s – built to encourage tourism in the Albany area – the Gap was barely accessible except by a rough walk trail. In documentation from that period, the zawn is christened “Devil’s Gap”. Compare the semantics of the name “Devil’s Gap” with that of its neighbour “Natural Bridge”. The contradictions are ironic indeed. The name “Devil’s Gap”, metaphorically loaded with Christian foreboding, is attached to the place which appears to be the most dangerous - all froth and noise, unpredictable winds, waves thundering into the crevasse. Yet, statistics appear to show that most people who die in that particular area are washed to their deaths by surges sweeping under the seemingly benign “Natural” Bridge. From: The lighthouse keeper's wife, and other stories ; and, Ceremony for ground : narrative, landscape, myth