Features/Road trip series/Multi-arts

Tripping into the Wheatbelt

30 August 2022

There’s more than wildflowers in the Wheatbelt, discovers Ara Jansen. You can find art and culture aplenty – you just need to know where to look.

In this new series Seesaw Magazine is heading out into regional Western Australia to see what cultural delights await you.

The first instalment of this series of guides takes you to the Wheatbelt to discover some of the region’s many festivals, art galleries, museums and other gems – some depicted on giant silos, others tucked away.

By no means exhaustive, these events and destinations remind us that WA is a place filled with creativity, interesting things and energetic people making them happen.

Learn about Nyoongar culture in Northam

Our trip begins on the foreshore of the Avon River in Northam, at the Bilya Koort Boodja Centre of Nyoongar Culture and Environmental Knowledge.

Recognising the rich Aboriginal and environmental presence in the Nyoongar Ballardong region, the centre offers an interactive educational experience. It is designed to protect, celebrate and share the culture of the Nyoongar people and highlights land management practices that draw upon the knowledge of the land’s traditional custodians.  

The centre also offers opportunities to visit local sacred sites with a Nyoongar guide and enjoy an annual calendar of activities, events and exhibitions.

York Festival
24 September – 9 October 2022

Selina Teece Pwerle ‘Antarrengeny – My Country’ 120x120cm will be on display as part of Spring Salon at York Festival

Just 36 km northwest of Northam is York. The much-loved annual York Festival features three weekends of arts, crafts, jazz, writers, comedy, dance, storytelling and theatre. Activities are many and varied: you can listen to music and speakers, learn how to letterpress, make sock puppets, go on a guided walk, make damper, see the York Society of Art & Craft Awards and more.

Plus if you missed Fringe World 2022 hit Bogan Shakespeare presents Julius Caeser or Steamwork’s award-winning dance production JULIA, this is your chance to catch those shows.

While in York, check out the colonial and federation architecture, antique stores (there’s an annual antiques and collectibles fair), bookstore, local galleries and the York Motor Museum. Investigate the region’s history at the York Residency Museum.

Carnamah: small but arty

A painting in traditional First Nations style, of foot prints heading towards a central location, surrounded by three islands of multi-coloured dots.
‘The Exchange’, an artwork gifted to the Exchange for use as a logo, by artist Eddie Saunders

Carnamah is in wildflower country about 307kms north-east of Perth. Though the town only has around 400 residents, it boasts a bi-annual art award and galleries which contribute to a small but active arts scene. A recent exhibition included a weekend heritage festival featuring a long table dinner and free art workshops.

The Bank Gallery, as its name suggests, was a bank and residence in the 1930s and has been restored and re-purposed as a regional gallery. The Exchange is an arts studio, book exchange, community lounge, digital learning hub, tourist information and event space with free wi-fi. Out front is the Community Bush Garden growing bush food and medicinal plants.

Carnamah Historical Society & Museum has a physical and virtual museum and is a treasure trove of information about the area and surrounding towns, including historic records like car registration and cemetery records.

There’s also a dedicated artist residency house in Carnamah if you’re an artist or creative practitioner wanting to spend time in the regions.

A picture of an exhibition at Wheatbelt gallery The Bank Gallery in Carnamah. The paintings are of wildflowers.
A small but active arts scene: Helen Ansell exhibition at The Bank Gallery in Carnamah. Photo: supplied

Be welcomed into Nungarin

North of Merredin, the annual Nungarin Harvest Festival (30 September – 2 October 2022) kicks off on a Friday night with a BBQ tea and a chance to meet the locals, followed by a concert. On the Sunday, Nungarin’s main street comes alive with the Nungarin Wheatbelt Markets featuring more than 50 stalls. At 10.30am make sure you’re on the main street to be part of the annual Blessing of the Header for a good harvest for the coming season.

A band plays at the Wheatbelt town of Nungarin.
The Nungarin Harvest Festival concert. Photo: supplied

With bright suns on the entry gates, you’ll be welcomed into the Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum. Nungarin was a pioneering and army town which served as an important stopping place during the 1880’s Gold Rush and a strategic army depot and workshop. Between 1942 and 1962 Nungarin was a depot for Australian Army personnel, supplies and machinery, and the museum is in the original workshop. See vehicles, uniforms badges, the armoury and a 10th Light Horse collection.

The town has a population of around 230 who live across more than 1,100 sq kms. They pride themselves on being RV and pet friendly and are proud of their heritage pub – The Woolshed Hotel – and monthly market Sundays.

A day of art in Narrogin

Lovers of art take note, there’s plenty to see in Narrogin. Start at NEXIS (Narrogin Exhibition Space) which hosts up to 10 exhibitions and fundraising events a year while Arts Narrogin hosts exhibitions through to workshops, theatre and concerts.

The charming Narrogin Old Courthouse Museum was originally built as a school in 1894 and was also used as a bank and a courthouse. It’s home to an original magistrate’s bench, prisoner’s dock and witness stand as well as exhibits from local doll and pottery factories, medical displays, early farming items and Aboriginal artefacts.

The recently completed Stories of Us: the Narrogin Heritage Walk Trail celebrates the town’s well preserved heritage buildings. The 1,250m stroll through the CBD reveals 25 interpretive signs with trail directional markers. The trail head is at the visitor centre. A brochure is available or do a virtual tour online.

Sitting alongside Narrogin Brook in the centre of town, Gnarojin Park features 100 black tiles on the Centenary Pathway which tell intriguing stories about life in Narrogin over 100 years, a Noongar Dreaming Path and a 1,500m recreation trail. There are also sculptures and installations on First Nations themes.

“The Charnock Woman’ by Ross Storey, with facilitator Danka Scholtz Lorenz, is one of the sculptures in Gnarogin Park.

Local Aboriginal artist Ross Storey has recently finished a sea-life mural at the Narrogin Regional Leisure Centre, which pays homage to Nyoongar culture. See other murals and public art pieces at the racetrack, primary school and senior high school, town hall piazza, shire offices and outside the health service.

The Shire of Narrogin has an extensive art collection. While a few pieces are hanging in the shire offices, it’s hoped that a much larger number will eventually go on rotating display once the Narrogin Railway Station restoration is completed. It’s opening date is still to be announced.

Follow the Public Silo Trail

From Northam to Albany via Merredin, Katanning, Pingrup, Newdegate and Ravensthorpe, the Public Silo Trail has transformed humble grain silos into glorious works of art. Each of the towering silos on the trail feature huge murals, telling the stories of people, flora, fauna and the land as well as of heart, hard work, history and resilience. In some places the art has spread to street walls and transformer boxes too.

In some places the silo art has spread to street walls: Brenton See for PUBLIC Silo Trail, Katanning, 2017. Photo: Bewley Shaylor, courtesy of FORM

Dive into WAnderland

Thousands of rare and remarkable items in museums, cultural centres and private collections across Western Australia have now been brought together in a new online portal called WAnderland. It’s packed with hidden treasures and tales – from the cultured to the kitsch and everything in between.

The website opens a doorway to WA’s fascinating regional collections – inspiring you to hit the road and experience them for yourself. Discover the collections on your device and add things that intrigue you to an online itinerary planner so you can build a bespoke bucket list for your next real-life adventure.

The Wheatbelt features in the portal and includes the Koorda Motor Museum and Military Collection, an interesting tapestry at the Wongan Hills and Districts Museum, a collection of rail carriages in the disused wheatbin in Minnivale Rail and Heritage Centre and the pink portico of the Ballidu Contemporary Arts Society and Ballidu Lodge Art Gallery which contributes to a vibrant local art community.

From the cultured to the kitsch: Cat-themed tapestry at the Wongan Hills and Districts Museum. Photo: Bo Wong

Be guided by poet John Kinsella

As a Wheatbelt resident, this WA poet has been hugely influenced by the region. His poem Inland is about the country east of York through to Quairading while Rain Gauges explores colonisation and environmental damage across the Wheatbelt. Both are featured in his new anthology, “The Ascension of Sheep: Collected Poems: Volume One (1980 – 2005)”, which could accompany you on your next Wheatbelt journey.

The cover of Wheatbelt poet John Kinsella's book "The Ascension of Sheep: Volume One (1980-20005)

One of Australia’s most prolific poets, Kinsella says his poems about the Wheatbelt consider the contradictions and complexities of settler presence and attempt to approach decolonisation and environmental repair while understanding the different communities and issues around agriculture.

“I am a strong campaigner for Indigenous rights over country, bush preservation, habitat restoration, and animal rights,” he says. “As a Wheatbelt-living person, I write from inside not outside. It’s never a simple picture!

“One of my early short sequences of poetry deals with salinity and life managing to hold on… and in some ways it’s as a poet writing out of the damage, out of the salinity, that I got known.”

Kinsella’s poems consider how we might be regionally communal and internationally responsive at once, without ever succumbing to economic globalism: a mode of living he refers to as “international regionalism”.

Hear John Kinsella talk about his poetry at the York Festival on October 2. Kinsella and Glen Phillips exhibit paintings and drawings at the Sandalwood Yards Gallery during the festival.

Want more ideas for cultural road trips? Check out our interview with Famous Sharron about how she’s helping to promote some of WA’s lesser known tourist destinations.

Pictured top: Dadajaal Dance Company at York Festival. Photo: The York Festival

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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