Themes Back

In 1989 a trip to Flinders Ranges South Australia ended up extending north up the Oodnadatta Track to Central Australia. Places visited included, Standley Chasm, Redbank, Ellery Creek Big Hole to the west of Alice Springs and N’Dhala Gorge to the east and also Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon. This was the first trip dedicated to producing artworks so the car was stacked with art materials! I didn’t want to limit my creativity and didn’t know what would work best.

What followed was a huge learning curve! I had sketched in the outdoors many times before but this was the first time I’d taken paint and canvases. Also I wasn’t really aware of the effects of heat, dust, wind, bugs!

It was an amazing experience and invigorating to be able to record the colours first-hand. I tried oils first but found it not practical when travelling because the artwork had to be allowed to dry while continuing to travel. One Oil painting from north of the Flinders Ranges I decided must have been a painting of a sacred site because wherever I rested that painting it would be caught by a freak gust of wind and dumped in the sand and gravel! After rescuing it a number of times and picking out the gravel one day along the Oodnadatta Track I had it resting on the roof rack out of the way while boiling the billy and a freak gust of wind once more lifted it off the rack and pierced it with a stick right through the canvas!

The presence felt in the outback was incredible. The age of the landscape and the evidence of Australia’s First Peoples seen in rock carvings and paintings was life changing for me. When we hiked up N’Dhala Gorge there was a place where a number of channels in the gorge converged, there were many ancient rock carvings on the the floor of the gorge not at first noticeable but suddenly there were sounds of wind and birds that seemed to be travelling to our ears from a distant place or time and that chill down the spine that said we should leave that we shouldn’t be there. We respected that warning.

Often when cooking up breakfast the sounds of dingoes were around us as they obviously smelt our eggs & polenta pancakes cooking and wanted us to share. Although eerie it didn’t feel threatening. The vast landscape gave a sense of freedom and timelessness that I will never forget. For my art, experiencing the colours and spirit of Australia’s interior was irreplaceable!

As I said I tried oil paints first and some conte pastel sketches but abandoned the oils because of the travelling difficulties. In Central Australia I tried acrylic paints but because I hadn’t used this material much at that stage I hadn’t worked out the best way to use acrylics. I was using them the same as oils but found the paint drying on the palette but persevered to produce a painting of Olgas (Kata Tjuta) from a track running behind the rocks where we also came across a herd of wild camels.

I found the method that worked the best for me on this trip was to make a sketch in oil pastels of the features on the landscape then wash in the colour quickly with watercolour, the watercolour wouldn’t mix with the oil medium of the pastel. This method allowed me to work quickly to catch the changing light of the desert.

Later in 1989 I travelled to Queensland on an all-night bus to deliver a painting to the Churchie Grammar Emerging Artist Award. The sketches drawn on this bus trip inspired Colour & Meditation 1989 an exhibition at Roar 2 Gallery in Fitzroy. I was struck by the desolate landscape through inland NSW and heat mirage.

The influence of these trips has remained for years. I have included a couple of paintings that demonstrate this:

More Ancient Than Time 1997, was a reaction to the experience - that the Australian outback seems to make Western cultural history seem small in comparison so I have placed the Venus de Milo like a tiny ornament in the landscape.


Rocks on Beach 1999 shows a rock collection placed on a magazine photo of the landscape as a comment that most Australians viewing the continent via the media. I also like the visually surreal play of imagery in this work.