ALBURY: ART AND SOUL
It’s all happening on the NSW side of the Murray River
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,