A BACK ROADS ART TOUR
The silo art trail is opening up new opportunities for small towns like Goorambat, a place John Young, Pauline Young, Sue Gall, Greg Gall and Jenny Reaburn call home.
The silo art trail is opening up new opportunities for small towns like Goorambat and Devenish.
ASK anyone for the address of the Goorambat silo and you’ll probably be met with a quizzical look. Even those who know where it is and suspect why you want to visit the one horse town, home to one of the most recent additions to the silo art trail, would probably think it’s a pretty silly question.
The enormous, disused silo which sports a breathtaking mural of a barking owl is on the main drag in town, located 15 minutes from Benalla, where there’s not much more to see except a pub and a church. Images of that majestic mural by Melbourne based street artist Dvate, who is known for his colourful, realistic designs, often of endangered species, have been shared around the country and around the world.
The district may technically have a population of around 350 people, but the town centre, if you can call it that, would only be home to a handful. Yet together they somehow managed to pool their time, money and resources and get a remarkable project off the ground.
Goorambat and District Community Group president Greg Gall said the community wanted to put their town on the map and take advantage of the growing popularity of Benalla’s Wall to Wall Festival by getting their silos painted. He said thankfully silo owners, locals Kelvyn and Judy Greaves, were 100 per cent behind the idea. The town formed a committee, put their hands in their own pockets, sought sponsorship from what turned out to be generous donors such as the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Science of the University of Melbourne and managed to top it up with a grant from the Benalla Rural City Council.
“It took a bit of doing and nearly 10 months in planning to get it off the ground, but we did it,” said Greg.
“These things just don’t happen, not without good people behind the scenes doing the work - and the generosity of sponsors was overwhelming.”
Initially it was difficult to find an artwork concept that was going to suit the town, but after consideration of a couple of alternatives, artist Jimmy (Dvate) entered the picture and came up with the perfect idea. His interest in conservation and the suggestion to paint an endangered barking owl, which used to make its home in the ironbark habitat around Goorambat, fit the bill.
“There’s lot of faces on silos so we thought let’s do something a little bit different,” said Greg.
“Dvate spent a lot of time at the Healesville Sanctuary where that actual owl (called Milli) lives today and took some photos, then he gave us two suggestions, and that’s how we settled on what’s there now.” >>
Greg said the artist and his partner spent around two weeks on site and it was a pleasure having them in town where they were warmly welcomed by the community. And the finished product more than met their expectations, receiving praise from both residents and the estimated 10,000 visitors who have already visited the mural since it was completed in March this year. Greg said the hotel is doing a booming trade providing lunch to hungry tourists, and a couple of savvy local ladies dedicated to fundraising for cancer research, set up a stall near the silo and sold out of baked goods in three hours.
“Tourism has been huge - the number of visitors has been a lot more than we anticipated,” he said.
“We thought it might last a little while but it’s still going and people are coming from all over Australia and the world. It’s put our little town on the map, brought our community together and we’ve got something there now for the future generations.”
And Greg said it’s not the end of their plans to reinvigorate the small town, with more art in store for the next Wall to Wall Festival in 2018. The broader silo next to the barking owl has since been decorated with a pastoral landscape, and the Uniting Church in town is home to ‘Sophia’, an artwork completed by street artist Adnate during the 2017 Benalla Wall to Wall street art festival.
Other projects the committee is tackling include adding signage to historic landmarks in the district and they recently purchased and restored a 1964 Case 930 Comfort King tractor, which will be the first exhibit in a new museum celebrating the history of the town.
“It’s great bringing people to a little town a lot of people wouldn’t have even heard of, or would have driven straight past without glancing back at,” said Greg.
“And now with Devenish just down the road, St James hopefully getting theirs off the ground and another silo done in Tungamah, you’ll have a trail all the way to Yarrawonga.”
Travelling down the road to Devenish, visitors to another quiet, country town which boasts a post office store and hotel, are mesmerised by the murals on 30 metre silos which reach high into the sky. The paintings of a First World War nurse and a modern-day combat medic, which reflect the changing role of women in the military and society, were completed just in time for Anzac Day this year by Melbourne-based artist, Cam Scale.
Local farmer Kevin Mitchell, one of the initiators of the project, said the choice of subject matter was in part to differentiate themselves from silos found in the west of the state, and to include young, fresh faces in the artwork. He said a friend mentioned there was an artist in Melbourne who wanted to paint a military nurse on a silo and when he brought the idea back to the four person committee, which includes Kevin, David Lidgerwood, June Howard and Robyn Hooper, it was something the team immediately embraced.
“It was very appropriate for Devenish, because 50 young people from here put their country ahead of themselves and enlisted for World War I, and a military nurse came from our area, so it fell into place nicely,” Kevin said.
“We also expected to have Australia-wide interest in a topic like this because it’s so relevant to so many people.”
The committee made it happen, raising a considerable amount of money and garnering support from the Benalla Rural City council and the owners of the silos, Graincorp, who Kevin said “were both fantastic” throughout the project.
He said while a number of corporate sponsors made contributions to the project and a $12,000 grant was secured
from the Victorian Government and Victorian Veterans Council, one of the main ways they raised the money needed was to establish an acknowledgement board recognising people who either lived in the district or were associated with it.
“It struck a chord with people, who wanted to support us - I think our theme was important to them - and they have been incredibly generous,” he said.
“I would never have thought we could have raised as much as we have. And the number of visitors we’re having is staggering – people are enjoying journeying along the back roads discovering little towns they never knew existed, and we’re also enjoying stopping and talking to them. The artwork makes people communicate - which is nice.”
Kevin said everyone in town was thrilled with the finished artwork and they also thoroughly enjoyed the company of the artist in the weeks he spent there. There are now plans to get him back for a new project, to paint a light horseman on an adjacent, shorter silo, which is expected to be finished by Anzac Day next year.
The town’s artistic centrepiece which took around three years from inception to completion continues to be popular with visitors, attracting 1700 in the first week alone and more than 10,000 in less than three months. It’s a positive development that’s not lost on the silo’s owners.
Graincorp’s corporate affairs manager Luke O’donnell said the company worked with Kevin from the start to help him understand the challenges behind repurposing non-operational silos. He said the company also partnered with Benalla council, whose support was invaluable.
“The silos are built as industrial work sites, so to transform them into a tourism destination is a challenge,” he said.
“Safety is a number one priority and part of that is having a dedicated viewing and parking area, so Benalla council came on board, prepared the land and did an outstanding job ensuring the site could be enjoyed safely.”
Luke said Graincorp was part of the foundation of the silo art phenomenon, which began in the town of Brim back in 2015, and they get a lot of enquiries from different communities and towns who have great ideas.
“One of the biggest challenges we have is the suitability of the site and then the cost of painting such a large artwork which can range from $40,000 to $60,000, which is a big investment for a small community,” he said.
“The hundreds of litres of paint, the hiring of an elevated work platform, construction of signing and fencing - it all adds up and unfortunately not every community can go ahead with it.”
In the case of Devenish, the choice of subject matter was something that particularly resonated with the company, which works with artists to ensure images won’t be, among other things, “commercial, religious or political.”
Luke said the reason Graincorp supported silo art was because it added to the fabric of the community, so the spirit of the artwork needed to be positive.
“We have a lot of different silo art projects which focus on the landscape which are beautiful, and there are some which focus on local characters, but this one was the first which acknowledged some kind of spiritual element within the Australian culture,” he said.
“We feel like it really hit a nerve both in acknowledging small regional towns that overwhelmingly contributed to the war effort, but also to the role of women, and it was done in a very respectful way which was broadly welcomed by all members of the community.”
IN TRIBUTE / Artist Cam Scale captured a spiritual element in his work on the Devenish silo.
SKY HIGH / Painting on the Goorambat silos was a logistical challenge for artist Jimmy Dvate.CELEBRATION / In Devenish, Kevin Mitchell was proud to finally cut the ribbon with (from left) artist Cam Scale, Benalla Mayor Don Firth, Graincorp regional manager Peter Johnston and Devenish primary school students.