Places in the heart


Sharyn Egan Flannel flowers 2018. Installation view, Ngara – Ngurangwa Byallara (Listen, hear, think – The Place Speaks), 2018, Oakhurst. Co-commissioned by Blacktown Arts on behalf of Blacktown City Council and C3West on behalf of Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. © Sharon Egan. Photograph: Anna Kučera

In her remarkable book A field guide to getting lost, Rebecca Solnit writes of how the ‘places in which a significant event occurred become embedded with some of that emotion, and so to recover the memory of the place is to recover the emotion, and sometimes to revisit the place uncovers that emotion. Every love has its landscape’.

Solnit’s beautiful words resonate with many of the contributions to Together In Art’s regional focus, and they make a fitting introduction to the reflections below, in which three gallery directors and curators from greater Western Sydney and across the State write about a place close to home that has a hold on them.

Goulburn: walking the Wollondilly 

By Gina Mobayed
Director, Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

Goulburn, you prevaricated. Known for your super-max prison, infamous ram, whipping winds and a faded claim to be Australia’s first inland city, you never told me about your theatre, your lilac sky, your gallery, your gentle hills and curious heart.

It took some time, but Goulburn revealed itself as a place hungry for attention from a wanderer like me. I have trodden paths from Mount Batur to Baalbek and now I charge my soles along the Wollondilly River Walkway most weeks. Eyes are wanderers too, so as I walk I watch this lush river listen to its locals; rosellas, ducklings, gaggles and people, chattering and greeting one another in passing.

Now, there is something else listening to us along with the river: two giant skipping stones that will never skim a smooth watery surface. Grounded by their sheer weight, they are exquisitely carved from Wombeyan marble and Marulan onyx by a former local, artist Alex Seton.

Alex Seton

Alex Seton Anything will bounce if you throw it hard enough 2020. Commissioned by Goulburn Regional Art Gallery and on display at the Wollondilly River Walkway, off the Avenue, Goulburn. © Alex Seton. Photo: Alex Seton

What a gift that Goulburn has space for these gentle works to come home and rest on the shore of the Wollondilly River. They will call to the water for years to come.

Having moved away from my centre of Sydney a few years ago, I still call to the city. But, for now, I am content treading a gentler path in this kind place. Goulburn has been good to me and now I know its greater truths.

Blacktown: the place speaks 

By Paul Howard
Curator, Blacktown Arts

In Blacktown, there’s a large patch of grass where the M7 motorway and Richmond Road intersect. Some might call it a paddock. It has been an important meeting place for the people of the Darug Nation for at least 40,000 years. I have been told the grass originated in Brazil and many of the trees were brought from northern New South Wales or even Queensland. But there are a few large native eucalypts that bear witness to past events on this windswept patch of grass.

In the middle of the green reserve, against a backdrop of traffic noise, stands a cyclone fence. It was assumed the fence was erected to protect the archaeological significance of the site, but it’s there to protect people from the heavy metals still present in the soil from when the site was a dumping place for unwanted cars and machinery. This was after there was a dairy farm on the site. And long after it was the site of a colonial residential school.

Places in the heart

On the site of the Blacktown Native Institution in Oakhurst. Photo: Paul Howard

In 1822, Governor Lachlan Macquarie commissioned the building of the school, where babies and children were taken from their Aboriginal families, and removed from Māori families in Aotearoa (New Zealand) by the overzealous missionary Samuel Marsden, to re-educate and ‘civilise’ them in the Protestant way. Some babies and children died in the school. The families were forced to camp at the perimeter fence. Despite being viewed by the authorities at the time as a failure, and closing after only six years, the Blacktown Native Institution is often referred to as a birthplace of the Stolen Generations. It is considered to be one of Australia’s greatest mistakes.

However, over the course of the last seven years, many First Nations artists have made new work on site with the Darug community and helped raise awareness of the great cultural, spiritual and heritage significance of a place that symbolises dispossession, loss and forced child removal. A collaboration between Blacktown Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and UrbanGrowth NSW, the project is called, in the words of the Darug, Ngara – Ngurangwa Byallara (Listen, Hear, Think – The Place Speaks).

In 2018, ownership of the reserve was handed back to the Darug Nation from Landcom so that the land may finally be healed and cultural practice may continue on Country. If you visit the site now, you’ll see Sharyn Egan’s eight-metre-tall Flannel flowers, woven with marine rope and based on the native flower of the local area. Egan’s flowers stand sentinel over the history and the present healing of the site. Driving past, you could be forgiven for not noticing the importance of this place. But, as the words of the Darug remind us, the place speaks.

Places in the heart

Sharyn Egan Flannel flowers 2018. Installation view, Ngara – Ngurangwa Byallara (Listen, hear, think – The Place Speaks), 2018, Oakhurst. Co-commissioned by Blacktown Arts on behalf of Blacktown City Council and C3West on behalf of Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. © Sharon Egan. Photo: Paul Howard

Northern Rivers: the solace of stones 

Brett Adlington
Director, Lismore Regional Gallery

During lockdown, I found myself so grateful that our family could walk from home to some areas of incredible beauty and solace – especially a little rocky cove called Boulder Beach.

During these walks, I thought about the people stuck in apartments in cities across the world, particularly those who were unable to leave their homes except for absolute necessities. Walking with my own children, I thought of other children, such as those in Spain, who couldn’t breathe open air.

Boulder Beach is a 5-minute walk from my home – but it feels like  another world. Approaching from an adjacent beach, you drop from a grassy headland into a grove of littoral rainforest with pandanus and tuckeroo trees. I often feel that I am descending into a South Pacific village garden.

This bit of coastline is unlike much of the rest of the Northern Rivers, with small coves, cliffs, rock platforms, large boulders (thus the unoriginal naming) and pebbles galore. This landscape amplifies the activity of the ocean, so that tides, swell and salt-mist all combine uniquely each time you are there. Given all the rocks and boulders, many people unleash their inner Andy Goldsworthy and make artful rock piles all over the beach.

Places in the heart

Boulder Beach, Ballina. Photo: Brett Adlington

A hidden gem is a deep rock pool of crystal-clear water. When the tide is right you can leap in as waves crash against it. We swam there most days in the early phase of isolation. I have often thought that this particular location will hold lifelong memories for my sons. As I said to one of them, sitting there together in the middle of a pandemic –  this little bit of beauty will always live within us.