Moments in our Timeless Land
Cato Gallery, Victorian Artists Society, 16-28 November 2017
The paintings in this exhibition are mainly from contrasting locations, one the atmospheric seacoast, the other the dry spring-studded north central desert of South Australia.
The exhibition features works from my painting trips to the South Coast of NSW, Tathra/ Wapengo area including Bithry Inlet, and my recent trip to the Marree Lake Eyre South region, in the Arabunna Lands, conducted by Aboriginal Elder Reg Dodd.
On the South Coast of NSW, especially Bithry Inlet in the Wapengo/Tathra area, I stayed on a hilltop looking out to the sea over green rolling hills with a backdrop of forest covered mountain ranges. Here the skies were a significant part of the experience, as the mists and clouds formed and dispersed over the sea.
The Arabunna area in South Australia stretches from Marree along the Oodnadatta track including Finniss Springs Station and the area round Lake Eyre South. This particular area of desert was occupied by the Arabunna people, and it was the presence of fresh water from springs that meant life could be sustained in this harsh environment. These springs fed by ancient water from the great Artesian Basin meant that Europeans were able to build the telegraph line connecting Australia with Europe in 1872 and the railway link (1929-1980) now known as the Ghan to Alice Springs. The water was essential for the steam trains, but now the relic water towers and railway bed punctuate the otherwise almost pristine desert.
This land is significant for the Aboriginal peoples, so I went there to hear the stories of the Land from an Elder of the Arabunna people, Reg Dodd. He told how “Stories protect the land, Laws protect the Society, You know the Laws, if you do something wrong –death”. A very strict law was necessary in this very harsh environment to balance population numbers and scarce resources.
As this trip was in mid September, memories captured in my sketches and notes are fresh and intense. Using watercolour allows me to capture fleeting moments, and shows how ordinary everyday moments can hold incredible beauty. Surprisingly, this medium can also be used to convey the enduring timelessness of this land.
It’s amazing to think that even here around Lake Eyre, there is evidence of incredible climate change. Fossils of Huon Pines and enormous Clam shells reveal that this desert was once both a vast rainforest and an inland sea. The scant vegetation means evidence of the past can easily be seen in the various rocks that are scattered over the ground.
On the coast, the natural process of change is the here and now, as minute-by-minute the soft mists and water slowly sculpt the land. In the desert, it is as if the world is frozen in time.