WA’s rugged Great Southern region is full of arty surprises for the intrepid road tripper, discovers Ara Jansen.
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In the third instalment of Seesaw Magazine’s series showcasing the arts in regional Western Australia, we head into the Great Southern.
Go south and keep going until you hit the southern coast. It’s the mix of rugged coastlines and pristine beaches close to the wilds of the bush which has lured artists to make this region their home. Many of them create works which are obviously inspired by the natural environment.
While you take your art journey, be sure to enjoy a bit of a green prescription and take some time in nature. A gentle walk, a hike or a swim might even inspire you to pull out a camera, sketch block or journal to make some art of your own.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what’s on offer, but it should get you inspired to set off on your own road of discovery.
The Stars Descend is a trail of contemporary dance performances that aim to transform how people see and care for our country.
Directed and produced by dance artist Annette Carmichael, The Stars Descend highlights the importance of climate action and restoring health to the land. Inspired by eco-restoration efforts across the Gondwana Link, Carmichael wants to convey hope to audiences.
The story unfolds at five regional locations in significant ecological areas – including Porongorup and Fitzgerald Biosphere in the Great Southern – between 17 March and 1 April 2023 (the other locations are Margaret River, Northcliffe and Kalgoorlie).
Co-created by Western Australian artists working with local community members, each performance forms a chapter in the over-arching story.
Performances will take place in spectacular outdoor settings to celebrate the rich biodiversity and ongoing restoration along the 1000km ecological pathway.
Follow the The Stars Descend as a 16-day odyssey or watch stand-alone performances in each location.
Discover more than 80 beautifully restored vintage surfboards which document the evolution of surfing at The Surf Gallery at Youngs Siding, not far from Denmark.
This curated exhibition charts the history of surfing from early Polynesia through to the present day.
There’s also a collection of vintage surfboards, digitally remastered surf footage from the 70s and a peek into a surfboard shaping bay and workshop.
If you’re a board rider, this is also the opportunity to BYO board and chat about any needed repairs or restoration.
Dubbed by locals as a toyshop for grown-ups, Albany’s Designer Dirt features art, crafts and makings from more than 20 local artists.
Be inspired by jewellery, textiles, metalwork, candles, cards and prints. It’s a creative hub for gardeners, artists and outdoor enthusiasts and has turned into much more than just a landscape supply store since opening 10 years ago.
Owners Jane and Ian Michael flex their own artistic muscles by making large form custom-made garden art pieces, which you might also spy around town and onsite. They also do hands-on workshops.
Take a slow drive through the bush to enjoy the Chainsaw Sculpture Drive on Mercer Road in Albany.
Created by award-winning chainsaw artist, Darrel Radcliffe, this selection of large wooden sculptures includes a rhino, a cello, a girl with a horse, wandering monks and even a wooden chainsaw embedded in a tree. You might even see the artist working on a new piece.
Immerse yourself in Noongar culture
The Kodja Place, in Kojonup, tells the stories of both Noongar and Wadjela communities, side by side.
In the Kodj Gallery, you’ll find a Noongar creation story, as well as Noongar artefacts, personal stories and animal tracks that lead you to the Storyplace, where you can experience stories from both Noongar and settler communities. You can also head to Yoondi’s Mia Mia, a gathering spot that includes two mia mia or kornt, the bush shelters traditionally used by Noongar people.
Head to Kinjarling (Albany) to take an Aboriginal cultural walking tour with Kurrah Mia. There are three walking tours on offer, ranging from 90 minutes to four hours long, to learn about Menang heritage and culture.
Kurrah Mia also has a shop, which includes educational books, boomerangs, kodjas (grinding stones), taap (knives), message sticks, hand-painted cards, silk scarves, hats and bags.
The 2023 Southern Art and Craft Trail (28 September – 8 October) usually includes the towns of Albany, Torbay, Kronkup, Elleker, Little Grove, Denmark, Walpole, Mount Barker, Lake Grace, Nannup, Kojonup and Gnowangerup.
More than 50 venues including cafes, wineries, galleries, local businesses, community halls, libraries, art centres, studios and pop-up spaces exhibit art. There’s a huge diversity in the work which ranges from textiles, painting, sculpture and jewellery to printmaking, photography, pottery and woodcraft.
Across the trail artists will also hold demonstrations and studio talks. Check the website or pick up a booklet to lead you along the trail.
On the way to Denmark, you’ll find Meleah Farrell’s photography studio on the doorstep of West Cape Howe National Park. Her gallery is nestled amongst 10 acres of beautiful coastal, wildlife-protected bush. Walk the beautiful bush path to discover this hidden gem amongst the Marri trees.
Sharing this space is The Coastal Studio, showcasing the work of potter, porcelain maker and floral designer Narelle Clark who creates handmade functional pottery.
Located not far out of Albany, Torbay Glass Studio & Gallery has been a working studio and gallery for 35 years. They create multi-dimensional artworks, fused stained glass and copper foiled stained glass windows as well as etched, painted and slumped glass panels, while the gallery is filled with glass objects, large bowls and platters including etched glass and glass jewellery. The dedicated gallery features paintings and pictures by invited artists.
Plenty of wineries have now added art to their offerings so tastings and lunch at your favourite place are now paired with the opportunity to stimulate another sense.
If food is your form of art, then Taste Great Southern (4 – 14 May 2023) will tickle and intrigue your palate. Across Albany, Denmark, Mt Barker, Frankland River, Porongorup and Katanning the festival will feature long lunches, unique dinners, degustation, premium pairing events, community markets, music events, wine sessions and more.
Check out ArtSouthWA for a directory of Great Southern members which includes details about artists such as Abigail Parker, Adventures in Wood (a collective of woodworkers), textile maker Ruth Halbert and fine artist and jeweller Zoe Phreo.
Arty and historical Albany
Albany’s Vancouver Arts Centre is a vibrant community arts centre and gallery and hosts many local art groups from spinners and weavers to the film society, pottery, floral and camera clubs.
Drop into the Museum of the Great Southern to see their static and travelling exhibitions. The museum overlooks picturesque Princess Royal Harbour, on the site of first European settlement in Western Australia.
If you walk out the back, you’ll see the Brig Amity which was used in several voyages of exploration and settlement in Australia in the early 19th century.
Other museums in Albany include:
- The Convict Gaol & Museum,
- National ANZAC Centre, Patrick Taylor Cottage Museum and
- The Historic Whaling Station.
And don’t forget to check out the WA Museum’s WAnderland website for more ideas!
Pictured top: ‘Raindrop Firepit’ by Designer Dirt at Misery Beach. Photo: Lata Photography
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