The torrential Sydney rain has finally stopped and it’s looking more like beach weather. If ever I need to know the weather forecast, experience has proved that the most reliable method is to call my friend in Geelong. Whatever weather she is experiencing on that particular day is the weather we will have in Sydney the next. It’s uncannily accurate—more so than conventional weather reports. Regardless, I’m in an airconditioned office today so will not be needing the suntan lotion, and no, that’s not her in the picture.
I love this sculptural gate, which is in the grounds of a vineyard on the Bellarine Peninsula. The vineyard is a huge concern, with a cafe, restaurant, accommodation and cellar door—all very impressive. But what I enjoyed most about my visit there was a wander around the grounds, which were full of things like rusted, once-functional machinery (some of it just lying around, some of it repurposed), a whole garden of succulents planted in teapots, rescued buoys hanging from a clothesline. I was in awe of the vision that inspired the overall plan, and the apparent ease with which it all seemed to come together, despite the fact that it must have taken a huge amount of hard work.
The hula circle, on the lawn in front of Maui’s Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch, was originally a ring of cypress trees planted by King David Kalakaua in the 1870s. The circle, in which his dancers would perform, symbolised an era of reawakening for Hawaiian culture and tradition. In 2012, two of the 145-foot trees were destroyed by a late winter storm, and others were subsequently found to be unsafe. To preserve the deep meaning of the circle, artist Tim Garcia was asked to carve the remaining stumps in a way that told their story. The result is an arresting and beautiful sight: three hula dancers, three guardians, two obelisks, an infinity vessel and a figure representing Kalakaua, his arm raised in a welcoming gesture for all to come and celebrate the legacy of Ulupalakua. Halau—hula schools—come from around the world to dance in this circle, which the locals say has become more defined with the loss of height. And the salvageable wood from the old trees was milled onsite for new fencing.
These magnificent birds loom large on the roadside about half way between Geelong and Ballarat, overseeing the entrance to a free-range egg farm. The egg farm prides itself on its humane practices and healthy birds, and if the chooks are anywhere near as jolly as their giant metal guardians appear to be, then they are happy chooks indeed. The surrounding landscape is scrubby and flat, which makes the metal sculptures—there are three of them—an even more arresting sight to behold.
The NSW town of Walcha is quite a surprise. For a place with a population of around only 1600 it has a rich history: sheep farming, cedar, gold and slate mining for starters. In 1950 a Tiger Moth was the first aircraft to spread superphosphate in Australia. More recently Walcha Telecottage was established, which aids interaction between local communities with job training, education and internet services, and also produces the Apsley Advocate, a free and widely distributed weekly newsletter. Walcha has significant buildings, significant natural beauty, significant flora and fauna, notable sports people and artists, and a swag of OAM-awarded residents. And if that’s not enough, there are 41 pieces of open-air art around town! The sculptures are outstanding, and I was particularly taken with this figurative work, by Tom Deko, made from oil drums.
This is one of the more surprising installations I have come across. Drive along Australia’s number one highway (no less!) through Cobargo and there it is, on the western side of the road: a patch of sandy, weed-ridden vacant land, made home to a collection of garden gnomes. Great care has obviously been taken with the sign that stakes their claim. You can still see traces of the pencil guide lines and it is constructed well enough to withstand the blustery wet weather of the day I first saw them.
Jan Mitchell’s hand-painted bollards are located along the Geelong waterfront from Limeburners Point to Rippleside Park. There are more than a hundred of these quirky and likeable figures, all of whom have played some part in Geelong’s history: there are sailors, footballers, brass bands, fishermen, bathing beauties, firemen, explorers, rowers, performers, as well as these lifesavers. Many of the bollards are made from wooden pylons recovered from the Yarra Street Pier which was destroyed by fire in the 1980s. I love the work that has gone into them. They are meaningful (not only historically, but in their contribution to the revitalisation of the town), well-crafted, and most of all their humour and whimsy proves that artistic endeavour does not have to be heavy and serious to be significant.
Here’s something you don’t come across every day: a rusty metal topiary elephant in a suburban park. The park has quite a history: it was known as the Pleasure Gardens, and was the main attraction of the nearby Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, which in the 1840s and 50s was Sydney’s equivalent of a European spa resort. There were walkways and arbours, an amphitheatre, pavilion, botanical gardens and formal terraces. Australia’s first zoo was here too, with Bengal tigers, bears and, needless to say, elephants.