Artists’ Eyes

The Glasshouse Mountains are beautiful and mysterious. They’ve been sitting there since long before James Cook came past in his little ship and named them, and for many thousands of years they’ve had their own Indigenous names and their own stories.

Moreton Bay Regional Council has three art galleries that specialise in exhibitions of the way artists represent local places. One of these, the Caboolture Art Gallery, has shown a range of artists’ depictions of the Glasshouse Mountains, including Indigenous artists, such as Melinda Serico.

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Many artists try to capture the atmosphere of the Glasshouses, but Lawrence Daws is my favourite. He lived near the mountains for years, and his paintings show the quality of the light, the glimmer of creeks and farm dams, the familiar shapes of Tibrogargan, Beerwah, Coonowrin and the other peaks.

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Golden Summer, Lawrence Daws

I can see the beauties of landscape for myself, as I did when from the slopes of Ngun Ngun I took this photo of Tibrogargan; but seeing them through the eyes of an artist gives me an extra layer of appreciation.

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Tibrogargan II, Lawrence Daws

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It’s difficult to paint rainforests effectively: the trees are so tall, the undergrowth so thick. Queensland artist William Robinson found ways to paint the forests of Beechmont, in the beautiful hills near Lamington National Park, which puts us above and below the forest, looking up at towering trees and down at the valleys below, all on the same canvas. He painted the birds and animals, magnificent skies, and the stars and moon reflected in mountain pools.

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Sunset and Misty Morn, Beechmont, William Robinson

Mount Barney, on the New South Wales border, is iconic to bushwalkers.

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Mount Barney under cloud

Hulking and multi-peaked, with hidden valleys and forested slopes, it is a challenge to climb, and to paint. John Rigby painted a colourful image of Mount Barney in all its jagged beauty.

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Mount Barney, John Rigby

My artist mother, Pat Fox, spent time on Cape York in the 1970s, and she took a photo, now faded, of a well-known waterhole near Weipa.

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Back home, she painted the scene, showing the reflection of saplings and trees in the still water. Comparing the two images shows how she heightened the impact through her choice of  colour and composition.

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It was a road trip through New South Wales, not Queensland, that taught me to appreciate how interesting it is to see landscape paintings and also visit the landscapes they represent. It was between Cowra and Bathurst, where the Mid-western Highway of New South Wales curves through rolling hills near Carcoar, and a river winds past the distinctive shapes of weeping willows and poplars.

Con was driving while I sat musing on the passing landscape, brown now at the end of a long summer. The land seemed familiar, but couldn’t be: I’d never been this way before.

Then I realised. Brett Whiteley painted this country. We’ve got a print of it on the wall at home.

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Summer at Carcoar, Brett Whiteley

The painting is called “Summer at Carcoar”. As well as characteristic lush curves of road and river, there are magpies and a wren, a burrowing mouse, and a fox with head and tail above the tall, gold-brown grass. It’s a beautiful picture, the pride of the Newcastle Art Gallery. I’ve since found out that Brett Whiteley often painted the country round Bathurst.

That day, for the first time, it occurred to me that there is delight in seeing the actual country painted by artists, and that it doesn’t need to be Monet’s Garden at Giverny, or Van Gogh’s Arles.

The same pleasures are to be found here at home.

Walking on Granite

Girraween?” said my hairdresser. “It’s lovely there. I had my first hangover at Girraween.”

Thirty kilometres south of Stanthorpe, in Queensland’s Granite Belt, famous for frost, stone fruit and wine, Girraween is beautiful, especially in spring, when the wildflowers are blooming. It’s a special place for many, including my family.

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Con confirms Girraween’s past party status.

“I used to go out there from Stanthorpe. We called it Wyberba back then, and things were pretty casual. We’d have airbed slides down the cascades at the Junction, then have a barbecue and hold stubby races.”

“What do you mean, stubby races?”

“My mate Ross and me, we’d float our empty stubbies in the creek and bet on which one got to the bottom of the rapids first.”

By the time Con and I revisited Girraween National Park with our children, he had become a civilised person who would never throw bottles in a creek; especially in such a beautiful place as Bald Rock Creek, flowing through the park, past campgrounds and picnic areas.

We went there towing a little camper trailer. The campground was glowing with wattles that dropped yellow balls of blossom on the camper roof.

We took the kids walking along the tracks, down to the Junction through the wild flowers, and up to the top of the Pyramid.

Because it is coarse-grained, granite is easy to walk up, never slippery unless it is wet or eroded smooth where water runs down. All that is needed is a head for heights.

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My mother was an artist who appreciated the sculptural shapes of the granite boulders and balancing rocks, sometimes adding granite sand and pieces of vegetation to give texture to her paintings.

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The Granite Belt is inspirational for artists: the rocks with their fascinating shapes, their pinks and greys, glinting quartz crystals and blooms of lichen.

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One recent early summer, Con and I visited Girraween, this time with our grandchildren. The sound of cicadas was everywhere: so loud it was deafening, a continuous, piercing, almost shrieking buzz. On a eucalypt beside the track a cicada shed its skin and unfolded its crumpled wings as we watched.

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Empty cicada skins clung to every branch and tree trunk. The kids collected them and used them to decorate their jumpers and hats.

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Our grandchildren enjoyed the rocks and caves, flowers and creek, but it’s the cicadas they remember most.

Our whole family has been to Girraween and Stanthorpe many times. I’d like to buy a house in the area, but only if I could have some boulders. If you live on the Granite Belt, you can expect a boulder or two in your yard. My cousin has built a house on top of a granite outcrop overlooking the National Park. She has a fine collection of boulders, and she’s building a garden among them. I envy her.

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