In the past I have shared a number of blog posts highlighting the growing trend of installing sculptures in every town, street, park or wherever you darn well please. I love that outdoor sculptures break down any barriers that may exist between art and the general public. Perhaps it is art by stealth? Who cares? It encourages anyone and everyone to interact with the pieces and instantly, everyone’s an expert!
There are few places in Australia that ‘do’ outside sculpture like the small rural New South Wales town of Walcha.
Walcha is rich in superfine merino wool, the tastiest beef cattle AND high quality artistic talent. Without ignoring their agricultural roots, they have really positioned their community as an artist hub and sculptural mecca.
Kicking off in 1996 with one stunning fountain in the centre of town, Walcha now has over 50 works of art along the creek that wends its way through the metropolis, as well as dotted through the main street and other parks. Even the welcome-to-Walcha signs have thrown tradition out the window and broken the usual ultra-conservative local government aesthetic. It is the perfect sign of what to expect from this vibrant little community.
The majority of the sculptural pieces reflect the surrounding environment being roughly hewn out of timber. These items are often rustic and chunky, but also showcase the cleverness of the people wielding the chainsaws. A very unforgiving sculpture tool, I imagine, and I wonder how many wooden limbs and other body parts have been accidentally lopped off requiring the artist to go back to the drawing board? Or the forest?
You don’t have to travel far in Walcha to spot artworks. In this town art also has a practical purpose and the streets feature a large number of carved seats, perfect for encouraging people to sit awhile, and many of the shop and office verandah posts have been replaced by hand-carved poles. It is hard to take a photo of these to do them justice. The variety of patterns and miniature people are impressive.
The people of Walcha are lucky to have some beautiful walking paths dissecting their community. The morning I took my heart-starter stroll, the paths were busy with walkers of all ages, walking their dogs of all ages. Even though I was a stranger to town, I was heartily greeted and warmly acknowledged. Nice one.
The main path hugs the edges of the Apsley River. Unfortunately the river had contracted to a few small stagnant ponds. Not very attractive to humans, but still interesting to the bird life out and about early to catch the worm, or the water bugs.
As I walked, I was blown away by the diverse range of sculpture made from a variety of materials and placed ‘just so’ to maximise the backdrop. It is hard to pick a favourite as each piece showcased a depth of imagination and skill, but you would have to go a long way to see a more striking sculpture than ‘The Whale’. Who expects to see a six metre high whale breaching out of the mown grass and 361km from the ocean?
To me the beauty of this sculpture, as well as its incongruity, is its sense of energy. In the early morning light you can almost see the water sparkling off its sides. Perhaps that was the dew? I was waiting for it to majestically crash back down to earth with a great splash and wave of foam. Yes, I know I am getting carried away now, but it is pretty stunning.
The Whale is made up of hundreds of strips of galvanised steel. I wonder how the artistic process works? The artist looks at a pile of steel and says “there’s a whale in there”? Or it is all designed first and then they wonder what material to construct it with? I know if I looked at a pile of steel that is all I would see. I am in awe of people who can design things in their minds and transform them out of their hands.
It was a slow walk that morning as I stopped to admire all the different artworks. There will be plenty of other walks in the future where I can focus on getting the heart-rate up. In Walcha, it’s all about appreciating the artistic vision and talent of their community.
I love it when I stumble on a small rural community who defy expectations and reinvent themselves. They acknowledge their agriculture heritage and reflect their natural environment as well as celebrating home grown innovation and imagination.
What is the best thing you have discovered in a small town?
What: Walcha is a small Northern Tablelands town of 1 450 people. It features the freshest air, gorgeous old buildings, chainsaw sculpture and sheep. Lots of sheep!
Where: Walcha is an easy 500km drive north-west of Sydney. While that sounds like a long way, the scenery to get there is stunning and it will take you well off the highways.
When: If you really want to get amongst the art of the region, head to Walcha in late October/early November to see everything at its finest as part of the Artstate Regional Celebration.
Why: Head to Walcha for plenty of art, tranquility and a stunning natural environment including five national parks – just waiting for you to tie your hiking boots on.
How: Getting to Walcha by car is by far the easiest option. Alternatives include flying into either Tamworth or Armidale or catching the bus from Tamworth (originating in Sydney).
Who: A visit to Walcha would appeal to people needing a bush getaway and a serious dose of solitude and beauty. Alternatively family road trips (are we there yet? Are we there yet?) would definitely benefit from a stopover here.
Related Posts: What else does Walcha have going for it? Plenty of retail therapy, quirky shops, art and craft outlets and beautiful parks. Read about it here.
Related Blogs: Need more Walcha art goodness? Then read this article by city-slicker Anne Ryan outlining her impressions of art in the bush.
Read About It: This region has a rich (or not so rich depending on how you look at it) bushranging history, dominated by Captain Thunderbolt. To learn more about his seven-year crime spree and Robin-Hood approach to life, grab a copy of Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady. Available from Book Depository.
#chainsawsculpture #travelinspo #walcha #outdoorart #artistictravel #ruralandregional #ourbackyard