AL­BURY: ART AND SOUL

It’s all hap­pen­ing on the NSW side of the Mur­ray River

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - Su­san Kuro­sawa

THE metal ob­long frames a bend of the Mur­ray River cre­at­ing a living pic­ture of mov­ing wa­ter, sturdy gums, and cy­clists and walk­ers mov­ing past as if cross­ing a screen. This pow­er­ful in­stal­la­tion by Katrina We­ston, sim­ply ti­tled The Big­ger Pic­ture, is one of 11 con­tem­po­rary sculp­tures and in­stal­la­tions on the new Yindya­marra Sculp­ture Trail in Al­bury. Run­ning from the Kre­mur Street boat ramp to the Wonga Wet­lands, it’s a pas­sage of al­most 5km that presents un­fold­ing nar­ra­tives of the Wi­rad­juri peo­ple in the most em­blem­atic of Aus­tralian set­tings. The sec­tion is part of the broader Wa­girra Trail, a planned net­work of 70km of river­side walks that will even­tu­ally connect greater Al­bury to Lake Hume.

The sky is a crisp blue, the air is crack­ling fresh. Dar­ren Wighton, one of the fea­tured artists, in­forms me that the Mur­ray is Milawa Billa in his lan­guage and it tells many sto­ries, con­nect­ing his peo­ple with cousins up and down its 2400km reach. Wa­girra, he con­tin­ues, means “to step on the ground” and so we do, cir­cling the art­works, which have sto­ry­boards and can be fur­ther in­ter­preted via an al­tered re­al­ity smart­phone app, which in­cludes ex­pla­na­tions from the var­i­ous artists, such as Ta­mara Mur­ray, cre­ator of the Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Shield, a mixed-steel work that shows a fig­ure hold­ing their hands “in a po­si­tion of sub­mis­sion”.

I fall into step with Un­cle Ken (call me “Tunny”) Mur­ray, an el­der of the Wi­rad­juri com­mu­nity, who worked on the Maya Fish Trap sculp­ture. “Coffs Har­bour has got the Big Ba­nana,” he jokes, “but we’ve got the Big Fish Trap.” And a gi­gan­tic thing it is, de­signed by Un­cle Tunny, Wighton and An­dom Ren­dell at the Abo­rig­i­nal Men’s Shed and en­gi­neered, like many of the pieces, by lo­cal firm JC Butko.

The Maya Fish Trap

is fun­nel-like in shape and the orig­i­nals would have been wo­ven from reeds and adapted to snare fish of spe­cific sizes as well as al­low­ing smaller species to es­cape through tiny open­ings. “It’s amaz­ing,” says Wa­girra project leader Steven On­ley, “how the artists’ draw­ings and con­cepts have been re­alised in metal and industrial ma­te­ri­als.” Be sure to look for Ruth Davys’s Bo­gong Moth Migration, which fea­tures moth forms suspended from a stain­less steel pole, and watch as they dip and dance on the wind. There are also carved wooden works, in­clud­ing the un­miss­able Googar, fash­ioned by Wighton from red river gums.

“The sculp­ture is a larger than life ver­sion of a small wooden toy goanna that our chil­dren would play and learn with in tra­di­tional times,” the sto­ry­board tells us. “The goanna is also a well-known totemic sym­bol through­out Wi­rad­juri coun­try.“But Wighton also has a comic take on pro­ceed­ings. “The goanna has an­other name around here. Any­one guess?” I look at this man with pow­er­ful foot­ball-play­ing shoul­ders. I am al­ready aware of his sparkling wit. Goanna?

Has to be South Syd­ney NRL star Greg Inglis, fa­mous for his try-scor­ing goanna crawl. Wighton and I shout out his name at this same time. “Yay, Rab­bitohs!” I add, per­haps a bit too loudly.

As this thor­oughly en­joy­able morn­ing ends, I re­alise I have forgotten to ask the mean­ing of Yindya­marra. “Re­spect your sur­round­ings and walk slowly,” says Un­cle Tunny. I can’t think of a bet­ter phi­los­o­phy.

Mean­time, vis­ual sto­ries and images in more for­mal sur­round­ings are set to be show­cased at the Al­bury Art Mu­seum, a $10.5m re­de­vel­op­ment of her­itage build­ings un­der con­struc­tion in the cen­tre of this thriv­ing city on the Mur­ray’s north­ern banks. The venue will be part of the QEII Square Cul­tural Precinct, en­com­pass­ing an en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre, li­brary, con­ser­va­to­rium, dining out­lets and park­land dot­ted with stately Chi­nese elms and old trees. The art mu­seum, with seven flex­i­ble dis­play spa­ces, is be­ing billed as much big­ger in scope than a gallery — the fa­cil­ity is de­scribed as “the largest and beste­quipped ex­hi­bi­tion space out­side Syd­ney”, de­signed to take block­buster ex­hi­bi­tions, and with a 24-hour “skin” show­ing com­mis­sioned light­ing shows and ki­netic art.

A ded­i­cated space will fo­cus on the works of lo­cal artists; James Jenk­ins, Al­bury City Coun­cil’s direc­tor of com­mu­nity and recre­ation, says there will be a Cre­ative In­dus­tries Hub of hot desks for lo­cal artists, pho­tog­ra­phers, film­mak­ers and in­te­rior and graphic de­sign­ers to work in a col­lab­o­ra­tive en­vi­ron­ment.

My tour is a hard-hat pre­view but the en­ergy and pur­pose here is ev­i­dent as it is else­where in Al­bury, which has a pal­pa­ble buzz of re­ju­ve­na­tion. Re­gional cen­tres such as Bendigo and Bal­larat in Vic­to­ria have en­joyed art-led re­nais­sances and Al­bury City Coun­cil es­ti­mates its art mu­seum could at­tract at least 80,000 vis­i­tors a year, with a flow-on ef­fect to ho­tels, shops and tourism at­trac­tions.

The 140-room Atura Al­bury has just opened, the lat­est un­der AHL’s funky and life­style-driven Atura um­brella. With blow-up flamin­goes in the pool, chic restau­rant, groovy de­tail­ing and semi-industrial in­te­rior de­sign, it is al­ready king of the Dean Street walk.

Opened as a Trav­elodge by Gough Whit­lam in 1971, the medium-rise ho­tel has had var­i­ous in­car­na­tions but none as “on mes­sage” as this lat­est beauty, with open­ing spe­cials from $159 for bed, break­fast, WiFi and switche­don ser­vice. Al­bury, it’s time.

Artist Dar­ren Wighton and the Maya Fish Trap sculp­ture;

Googar on Al­bury’s new Yindya­marra Sculp­ture Trail, be­low; Ruth Davys’s Bo­gong Moth Migration,

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