Roget's Circular 1999-2002


Illuminating the Macquarie thesaurus

Roget's Circular. An animated digital Thesaurus (Pub. 2001 Macquarie Library) and other art works by Lisa Roberts and Melissa Smith, installed at Gallery 101, 101 Collins St, Melbourne, for the Bicentenary of Australian Federation program.


Matter (Still life). Digital images, wood, shellac

Roget's Thesaurus is an animated interactive work I made with artist Melissa Smith. Inspired by categories of meaning in Roget's original 1852 reference work, the project evolved as an exploration of our relationships between people and places that give meaning to our lives. Between 1999 and 2000 our explorations opened up more questions than we could ever have imagined answering at that time. The outcome was surprising in relating the personal to the universal

The black doll (top centre) was made by my mother. It signifies our Aboriginal heritage through her grandmother Hannah Brown (Grampians district, mob unknown). The doll (lower centre) belonged to my English father's grandmother Lillie Williamson, wife of the Australian artist Tom Roberts. The doll was accepted as a gift by the Launceston Museum and Art Gallery as part of the story of Lillie's lifelong relationship to Tasmania. The coin (lower left) is the lesser part of a guinea, a shilling engraved by Tom with the letter 'T'. The coin may have been payment for the first portrait painted in his 'Big Picture' of the opening of Australia's first parliament (1901). I presented the coin as a gift to Malcolm Turnbull on the occasion of the opening of the Tom Roberts exhibition in 2015, on his return from the Paris Agreement international treaty meeting.

Most inspiring for me are the insights that come from this project, about the similar and different ways people experience, understand and give meaning to life.


Lisa Roberts and Melissa Smith have adopted their own definitions of Roget's categories under the headings of child, portrait, still life, letter, landscape and garden. Art is language and they each use imagery in their own way. Melissa's prints are counterpointed by Lisa's pastels, digital prints and oil paintings. The works reference many interwoven subjects and themes: imagination and memory, landscape, personal identity, family history, time, cycles and seasons.

Rachael Hogge
Community Programs Officer
University of Tasmania
North-West Centre. 2002



The project evolved from a year long correspondence between Melissa Smith (MS) and myself (LR). Between 1999 and 2000 we travelled through landscapes of our forebears, sometimes together, but mostly independently. We collected letters, photos, recipes, drawings, songs, anecdotes, locks of hair, etc. We wrote Emails to each other and we made art.


Stuff we collected and created fell naturally into categories inspired by the six categories of meaning in Roget's original Thesaurus:




Still life





We chronicled our journeys through email messages reconstructed from actual events. Composing with words, pictures, sounds and animations, we each encapsulated responses to our experiences. A key word was chosen to identify each message. Sometimes our key words might be the same, but our meanings, reflected through choice and positioning of the material, were different.


In January 1999 I was in Adelaide visiting my daughter, and in Melbourne visiting my son. Many things happened during that time which seemed significant. I composed six messages - one for each category.

I wanted to say something about my identity, and about Repton who I had just read about about in Adelaide's Barr Library. English landowners in Australia would employ Repton to transform the indigenous landscapes into romantic images of their homelands. I imagined the struggle my English forbears had in seeing the Australian landscape through Indigenous eyes, as its own place. This idea fell naturally into 'landscape'. Over the top of the image of Repton's scene I animated the signature (or mark) of my maternal great grandmother, Hannah Brown. Since completing this project, family stories, documents, and feelings of connection to Tasmania and the Grampians in Victoria, confirm to me that Hannah Brown was, as we suspected, an Aboriginal woman. She was born in Fryerstown, Victoria and her mother may have been taken from Tasmania to the nearby Aboriginal reserve at Lalgambook (Mount Franklin).



Meanwhile, Melissa was visiting her father-in-law in Ararat.
She captured something of his mood through her drawing of the surrounding land, and a word picture. The play on 'long' through image and word, suggests the panorama of his life.



A circle of shards can be seen amongst this selection of objects. These are buttons leading to the six categories. They number from the top and continue in a clockwise direction:


The other items are buttons to other places. For example the coiled leaf leads you to directly to the entrance to space/landscape. I found this leaf while walking through some virgin bush in Nabowla, northern Tasmania.



A calendar interconnects with six categories of memorabilia. The first letter of each month provides a button into that time.


The maze drawn in 1993 and used in the interactive works Terra Incognita and Lillie's Time Piece, was used to build hyperlinks between the email messages, the calendar and the six categories.



PORTRAIT (extracts)




LANDSCAPE (complete dialogue)