Breeza Artist Camp03.07.2013
The Country Arts Support Program is an Arts NSW devolved funding program, administered by Regional Arts NSW and local Regional Arts Boards on behalf of the NSW Government.
Couched between the Great Dividing Range to the east and the Warrumbungle Range to the west are the 1.2 million hectares of richly fertile land on the north-western slopes of NSW known as The Liverpool Plains. Spectacularly scenic, the region is dotted with communities each with a rich history and a unique vision of the future. Last year, a group of artists flocked to Breeza (population. 140) for a week, to capture the beauty of the region through art.
‘When I was a teenager, my parents moved us from Sydney to Breeza,’ recalls Jane Creagan, the coordinator of the Breeza Artist Camp. ‘Dad wanted a quieter life and some horses so they bought the Breeza Post Office.’ The ceramicist grew up in the village in the 1970’s but moved away as an adult.
‘I hadn’t been back to the country for 10 years when I had to go back to the Liverpool Plains for a funeral last year,’ she explains. It was then that she was struck with the natural beauty of the region which is currently facing changing land use. ‘I started wondering, is anyone going to document this area as it is now?’
This thought triggered a flurry of activity, as she got to work on the idea of an artists camp in the town. Arts North West auspiced the grant for the project through the CASP fund, and assisted Jane to promote the opportunity through their newsletter and website.
‘We put out expressions of interest in Gunnedah and Inverell, into the Australian Artist magazine, and Arts North West got the word out,’ says Jane. ‘It was extraordinary how some people came to hear of us, through word of mouth on the bush telegraph.’ For Jane, the coordination of the project was unlike any task she had ever undertaken and she gained a wealth of skills during the journey. ‘When I started out, I could hardly send an email,’ she recalls. ‘It was a first.’
Though small, the Breeza community is a proudly self-supporting and independent, but they were willing to allow the artists into their town to capture the story, characters and place. Paul Mathews, a Gunnedah photographer, connected with and invited photographers to join in the project. Over 24 artists and 9 photographers, both local and visiting, gathered to spend a week discovering and documenting Breeza; including an installation artist, musicians, a filmmaker, painters, a blogger and more.
Painter and musician, Carl Cree, assisted the set-up by building the campers a bush shower and constructing tarps, which helped make base camp a homely retreat for the artists, after the days spent exploring the picturesque Liverpool Plains. He jammed with local musicians to entertain the campers and local residents with music in the evenings. Carl was interviewed by the media who flocked to the camp to share the story of the unusual event. ‘It’s a great thing to create art,’ he told the local press, ‘but it’s an even greater thing to facilitate artistic opportunities for other artists.’
The week-long artist residency took place from the 14th to 20th of March 2013 at the Breeza Community Hall. ‘These days, the importance of the Memorial Hall is huge. In the past, there was the garage, shops and post office, but now the only community area left is the hall. So for them to allow us to use it – they had to cancel the weekly yoga class – for the artist camp, was very generous and a big sign of their approval.’
Andrew Pursehouse, who Jane Creagan describes as ‘one of Nature’s gentlemen’ is the owner of “Breeza Station”, the largest farm in the area, as well as former president and current secretary of the Breeza Progress Association. He was a great champion of the project from early on, hospitably making facilities on his farm available to the artists and sharing the history of the land. Along with a handful of the Association members, he was able to help the artists discover the landscape he calls home.
‘The artists radiated from the hall where they were staying,’ he explains. ‘I was able to help them get from A to B and point them towards roads they were looking for or where particular people lived.’ His property, which was once the workplace of notorious bushranger, Ben Hall’s father, features an historic wool shed and is surrounded in 180 degree views of The Great Dividing Range, with the family homestead overlooking the Mooki River.
The artists soaked in the majesty of the natural surrounds for inspiration, with the help of the maps Jane supplied and local directions, as well as learning about the past. Breeza was a larger settlement than neighbouring Gunnedah in the 1850’s. Helen Lickorish, an indigenous local showed artist ancient sites of cultural importance; one of the villages brought his pony and trap down for the artists to see; and 83-year-old pastel artist, Judy Baker, who was raised on the plains outside nearby Denistone, took part in the camp and shared stories of her childhood and the Breeza that was.
According to Andrew the response from the locals varied from enthusiasm to bewilderment. But for the artists, writes Gail Galloway on her blog, the local characters themselves were a wellspring of inspiration. Documentary filmmaker, Emily Hungerford, captured on camera many of the curious locals who stopped by the camp on film and found them ‘absolute gold’, says Jane.
The Breeza Progress Association saw the value of the project from the beginning and, though some locals were cautious about the project, there was a sense that expressed objective – ‘to record the country for past, present and future’ – was significant for the community.
‘We are all a little fearful of coal mining and coal seam gas moving into our area,’ says Andrew. ‘So, any way we can promote the productivity of the land as it is, we think is important.’
Community goodwill was a big part of what made the project work, says Nicci Parry-Jones, Executive Assistant and Arts Project Coordinator at Arts North West. ‘It was very much a community project which reached across a broad cross-section of art forms,’ she says. ‘The project sparked people’s imaginations. The idea of capturing a landscape at a moment in time had meaning for people who didn’t even know of Breeza.’
When asked if he met amongst the artists, most of whom are regionally based, people who hadn’t ever heard of Breeza before, Andrew doesn’t miss a beat, ‘Oh yes,’ he deadpans, ‘you come by those.’
‘There were three pubs here at one stage, and now they are all gone; the railway station was pulled down; the grain silos closed; and the grocery store has closed. Unfortunately, as a village, Breeza was much more thriving in the past. So the focal point of the community is now the memorial hall.’ While the farmer may be nostalgic for a time when Breeza was more vibrant, he’s looking forward to the exhibition of the works from the camp, in September and the Breeza Progress Society have voted to donate the usage of the hall. ‘It will be good. It beats monthly bingo,’ he jokes.
The region boasts black soil that is so fertile it allows for diverse summer crops and winter crops to grow. ‘We’re blessed with beautiful black soil plains and between them there are low hills and the distant views of the Great Dividing Range,’ says Andrew. ‘Combined with the moisture-holding capacity of the black soil and the pristine water from layers of underground aquifers and very reliable rainfall, the land is some of the best in the country.’
‘We need to record this history,’ he says.
Breeza Artist Camp exhibition “The Plains 2381″ will take place at the
Breeza Memorial Hall on the 21st – 22nd September 2013.
Follow the developments on the Breeza Artist Camp Facebook page.
Read an account from particpating artist, Gail Galloway, on her blog.
Image: Photograph by Malcolm Frend, “Merrilong Pastoral Company” (2012)