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.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents -

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.”

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words Anita Mcpher­son photos Mel Guy/grain­corp

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.

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