ONE OF MY earliest memories is my dad’s workshop in Mudgee. He used to make guitars in an old shearing shed and I remember his tools, the smell of the wood shavings, and generally having an interest in what he was doing. He planted a small vineyard on the property, too — a couple of hectares of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Making and fixing things has always given me a lot of pleasure, and I guess I get that from Dad. I was a placid kid and I would sit and occupy myself for hours drawing, playing with stuff, figuring out how things went together and how they worked.
When I was about four, we moved to the NSW Mid-north Coast. It was a bush block, about 40 hectares. We grew lots of vegies, but we weren’t farmers. A lot of the people had moved there to be in nature, rather than to farm, and they were interested in sustainability, which was a pretty out-there concept in the early ’80s. Our house had solar power and rainwater tanks; lots of people had the same — mud-brick houses and wind generators.
My mother used to read The Lorax to me all the time, and it had a profound effect on me. I read it to my son now. He loves it, even though he’s a bit young to understand it. It’s amazing to see how relevant the story is today, and to think about how progressive it was to talk about that back then. That book instilled in me an awareness of looking beyond the picturesque, to see what you’re really looking at. It had a big influence on my understanding of landscape.
Me and my brother, Carlo, fought a lot, but we also got along well. Living out in the country, you didn’t have your mates next door to play with, so you play with each other. We always wanted to live in town so we could ride our bikes with everyone else. We had friends, but there were distances involved. That’s why you had to learn to ride things and drive things.
To get to school we had to catch the bus at the end of our two-kilometre dirt road, so from the age of nine, I’d drive the car to the bus stop, with a booster seat. I also learnt how to fix the car. Same with my motorbike. If it stops and you’re halfway to the middle of nowhere, you need to know what to do. I think it’s great to know practical stuff like that. City kids were very different. They didn’t know how to change a clutch cable or work a lawnmower.
Even as young kids, we’d take motorbikes and go off camping with our friends for days on end. You’d know there was some track over the mountain, and you’d spend a couple of days getting there. It was great. We didn’t have to be protected from anything because we were out in the countryside. There was never a sense of danger. We had a very free and beautiful childhood.
I feel privileged to have had those early years in the bush, getting to know the natural world. I think it’s vitally important, too, that we learnt things like the names of trees at school. If you don’t know what something is, you don’t think about it or care about it.
I’ve lived in Sydney for years now. I love the city, but I also love the solitude of the country. I enjoy a great mix of both. I go out into the bush for days at a time, take all my food, and don’t see anyone. You can really focus and slow down. Painting outdoors, I’m in absolute bliss. I feel utterly at peace.
CLOCKWISE, FROM LEFT Baby Guy with his brother, Carlo, and grandfather, Ronnie, in 1975; Guy’s father, Anthony, driving a tractor at their Mudgee vineyard; 11-year-old Guy, driving the family’s “paddock basher” to the school bus stop; enjoying the view from a rock shelf.