Blackall….. What can I say? I came with an open mind and left with a full heart.
Before climbing on board that ‘little’ twin propeller Qantaslink flight, I thought I would exchange and share skills, link up with other artists, work with the local children, experience a new and different environment. I certainly did all of those things; but more importantly, I found generosity and genuineness, tenacity and talent, humour and honesty. I arrived to meet strangers and returned home with new friends.
Nothing can prepare you for the expanse of the sky or the vastness of the outback. Two weeks before I stepped onto the Blackall tarmac, the terrible four year drought had broken with flooding rains,replacing the char and the dust with a sea of wildflowers and new grasses. During my stay, the nights were cool, the mornings were crisp, the days were warm – full of buzzing insects and the friendly greetings of local residents – and by the time I left, the grasses were knee high and producing incalculable seeds for future cycles.
The Living Arts Centre, previously the town home for country student attending the Blackall schools, is an incredible facility which became my home and my studio during the two week residency. It was from here that I took to exploring the streets of Blackall on foot, camera in hand, and drove to the surrounding towns of Tambo, (Grasslands Regional Gallery), and Barcaldine, (‘Tree of Knowledge’). The outback was alive in more ways than I had imagined; on the way home from Barcaldine, I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of two brolgas by a waterhole and had to slow down as an emu and two chicks crossed the road in front of the car.
My residency included a range of community-based activities. I worked with the 30+ students from St Joseph’s Catholic School, (October 7), focusing on emotive mark making and collaboration as well as two days of lunchtime bookmaking workshops with the junior students at Blackall State School, (October 12/13). After a two day printmaking weekend workshop (October 8/9), I curated and assisted to install the 100+ works in the Heartland Art Exhibition before judging the winners and runners-up for the six categories – a task which proved extremely arduous given the quality of all the works entered.
The Heartland Festival began with a BANG on Friday, (October 14), with the Official Opening of the Art Exhibition and Photography Competition followed by the Official Launch at the Heartland Bull Rides. Saturday was buzzing with plenty of finery, frocks and fascinators out for the High Tea at the Blackall Cultural Centre before a grand turn out at the Beef Producers Caulfield Cup Race Day. Sunday, (October 16), at the Wool Scour was a hive of activity with the Colour Run, Jackie Howe Blades and Blisters Challenge, sheep racing, sheep shearing, whip cracking, poetry recitals, live music, arts and crafts market and much, much more.
The benefit of being in a new environment and seeing its surroundings with fresh eyes is that it provides clarity and a springboard for the creation of new artwork.Outback Memory Patchwork(Blackall-Tambo Drive with Lorelei and Margot)is a44 piece monotype, hand and machine stitched work that is a nod to the community of ‘can-do’ individuals and the vastness of the environment which they find themselves in. With no horizon line or point of reference, each work forms part of a greater whole that is timeless, endless and awe-inspiring. They are held together by deceptively strong threads, stitched in homage to the local women I have met – the quilters, the fabric sewers, the craft makers, and thefamily menders – a patchwork of the female characters that form the fabric of and are the backbone of this small outback community.
I had thought that I knew about collaboration and generosity of spirit before I came to Blackall, I had thought that I had something to share with the residents of this small settlement. In truth, Blackall had something to teach me; more than just the enormity of the awe-inspiring landscape, Blackall showed me that the greatest vastness is in hearts of the people of the outback. This lesson and the memory of it will remain with me for a long, long time….and I will be back….the outback is in my blood now!
I want to thank Flying Arts Alliance and the Blackall Cultural Association for the opportunity afforded to me by this residency. I also want to thank the team at the Heartland Art Exhibition, the women from Marmaladies Catering, the quilting ladies, the craft ladies and the staff at the Blackall State School and St Joseph’s Catholic School. Additionally, my thanks to those who attended my workshop – please continue to create and explore printmaking.