Regional Arts NSW
Skip to content

Thinking Outside The Box | Sweatbox Art Comp


The humble sweatbox is an iconic symbol of the agricultural heritage around the West Darling region. A wooden box once used to transport and “sweat” dried fruit from the vineyard drying ground to the packing shed for processing. Since the 1970’s, these heavy boxes have become redundant after being replaced in the industry by a modern counterpart, the bulk fruit bin. As a result, they littered paddocks and were stacked, forgotten by the people but not by the spiders, in backsheds across Wentowrth Shire.

More than 10 years ago James Giddey from West Darling Arts, in his many travels around the region, noticed these timber crates had become valued only as fodder for bonfires. He thought they could be put to better use and came up with the idea for the timber to be repurposed as art.

‘What drove me to do it was seeing the large fruit cooperatives torching the boxes and polluting the area… I thought we could do something better.’ So, the RADO went around collecting as many sweatboxes as he could get his hands on and the Sweatbox Art & Furniture Competition began.

‘There has always been a tradition of using these fruit boxes to make other things,’ explains James.  ‘In the old days the blockies* would build anything with sweat boxes. Most of them ate dinner off sweatbox dining-tables.’

The competition was a success and has since evolved to secure sponsorship from Sunbeam and expand to be known as the Sunbeam Foods Sweatbox and Agri Art Exhibition where entrants are encouraged to create their work from a range of materials used in the dried fruits industry and the horticultural sectors.

The competition is open to everyone (‘from blokes in sheds, to schoolkids, to trained artists,’ says James) and this year the 11th exhibition attracted a few thousand visitors to Wentworth Arts.

The youngest person to ever win the prize was a highlight this year. Local year 9 student, Gabe Fitzpatrick, was awarded the two top prizes: the Major Exhibition Prize ($1200) and the People’s Choice ($300) for the pool table he built out of sweatboxes, hessian and rack wire in just 5 days. His pool table was purchased to be a major prize for a fundraiser for Cancer in Mildura.


Here’s more on the history of the Sunbeam Foods Sweatbox and Agri Art Exhibition:

What is Sweatbox art? from ABC Open Sunraysia on Vimeo.


*What’s a “blockie”?  Watch this: