Hervey Bay: famous for senior citizens and whale watching. Its whale sculptures are beautiful, too.
On Main Street an eight-metre-tall, iron bark and stainless-steel humpback whale called Nala is breaching. A life-sized aluminium whale’s tail, flukes outspread, stands in the middle of an Esplanade roundabout garden – Nala’s baby.
This is public art at its most engaging.
Some public art in regional areas is dismal. It’s as if the council wanted a piece of sculpture to enhance the town and commissioned the mayor’s brother-in-law to knock something together with chicken wire and concrete.
Things are changing.
Fine public art is popping up across Queensland, some of it by internationally-renowned sculptors.
In Boonah, south-west of Brisbane, a larger than life sized Clydesdale horse stands in a park at the entrance to town. Scottish sculptor Andy Scott is most famous for his thirty-metre-high horses’ heads, The Kelpies – Scotland’s best-known works of public art. He built the Boonah horse to celebrate the draught horses that once worked here. Made from galvanized steel bars, the horse stands alertly, its ears pricked, as if ready to trot forward to greet the visitor.
Towns need a visual focal point like this horse, something iconic to use in advertising material, something to attract business and tourism. Something to be proud of.
Across Queensland there are many intriguing pieces of public art by Christopher Trotter, and there’s one of them in Boonah, too: the quirky Blumbergville Town Clock, with a steam whistle that blows on the hour. It’s constructed in steam-punk style from old printing press parts, water pipes, bits of agricultural machinery and horse shoes.
Trotter’s sculptured plants and fungi, sinuous and organic, made from pipes, tractor seats, cement mixer bowls and scraps of farm machinery, decorate the entrance to the Mackay Botanical Gardens in North Queensland.
On the banks of the Condamine River in Warwick, on the southern Darling Downs, is a plump, granite sculpture of Tiddalik, the frog of Aboriginal legend who swallows all the water in the land, then lets it gush out in a flood. Carved from a fifteen tonne granite boulder, when the Condamine floods Tiddalik goes under water.
My daughter Lizzie and her family, driving back to Brisbane on the New England Highway, were delayed by floods there.
She sent me a text: “The Condamine is lapping at the bridge, all the locals out to see it, the statue of Tiddalik with only his eyes visible above the floodwater.”
Mitchell, west of Roma, has an attractive main street of old pubs, bottle trees and parks. There are murals on its bridge pylons, decorative ceramic pavers, mosaics of fish and birds on the sidewalk, and concrete kangaroos reclining in front of the shops.
There’s a fine windmill in the small historical park in the main street. If art is something that evokes a response from its viewers and brings to mind a way of life and landscape, then this windmill is art.
The focus on art in Mitchell interests me, and I spoke to a local resident to find out how it came to be there.
“It was in the old Booringa Shire Council days, before we amalgamated with Roma,” he said. You could tell that amalgamation with Roma had been unpopular with this former council worker.
“The old council wanted to make the most of the main street, so they put some money and thought into it, and this is the result. We need tourists to stop for a while, spend a little money in the town.”
The large amounts of money put into public art by local councils and government bodies (sometimes only after much heated debate about costs) are an investment in much-needed tourism.
In Emerald, there’s a giant copy of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” on a ten metre high easel. Childers has quaint bronze owls in the main street. Cairns has attractive water-front sculptures. The tiny town of Ravenswood, between Ayr and Charters Towers, has gorgeous ceramic tiles of birds, animals and plants all over its picnic tables, so beautiful they deserve far more people to see them.
The little town of Millaa Millaa, on the southern Atherton Tableland is in lush, hilly country once famous for dairy. In the main street is the statue called “The Reluctant Cow”. There’s a farmer straining to push a cow into the milking bail, a cattle dog and an upset milk bucket. When we were there a kid from South Australia was helping the farmer to push while his family took a photo.
Regional public art at its most loveable.
Photos: Windmill, Mitchell; “Nala”, Hervey Bay; Horse, Boonah; “Blumbergville Clock”, Boonah; Kangaroos, Mitchell; Sunflowers, Emerald; “Diver”, Cairns; “The Reluctant Cow”, Millaa Millaa.