Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Monday, June 25, 2007

John Brack - an Australian Regional Artist

Photo: John Brack, Menswear, 1953.

It amy seem odd to include a story on John Brack, a Melbourne resident and one of Australia's most famous painters, in a blog focused on life outside Australia's metro centres. Yet Brack was also first and foremost a regional artist, if one focused on the life and suburbs of Melbourne.

In the words of Australia's National Gallery:

John Brack was one of Australia's most outstanding artists. He was born in Melbourne in 1920, and his work first achieved prominence in the 1950s. For over forty years he was at the forefront of Australian art and produced some of our most iconic images. More than any other Australian artist of his generation, Brack was a painter of modern life - its starkness, its shadows and its brooding self-reflection. His work is characterised by a kind of caustic realism and a strong sense of alienation, undercut with dry, sardonic humour.

Nearly all of Australia's artists are in fact regional artists in that their work reflects and is influenced by local conditions. We need to understand this if we are to understand their life and work.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Australia's Regional Dialects - Introduction

One interesting issue is the extent to which Australia has its own regional dialects. The traditional answer is no. Yet the position is not as clear cut as that.

Let's start with a definition of dialects. Essentially, dialects are varieties differing from each other in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.

Now there have always been variations in the pronunciation of Australian English, but these have usually been construed into three main groups linked to economic and social class. Thus today we have broad, general and cultivated Australian English. Forty years ago the same groups were classified as broad, educated and posh.

Like all English variants, Australian English has been evolving.

Broad English has in some ways become less broad with the spread of education.

Posh or cultivated Australian English has become broader and declined in relative importance with the ending of the BBC English influence that used to provide a common benchmark across Empire and Commonwealth countries. My daughters, as a current example, are struck by just how posh or cultivated many of the Aboriginal activists sound who fought for the 1967 constitutional change in Australia, a marked contrast from the current stereotypical Aboriginal English.

General or educated English in its turn has become broader, a similar process has occurred with New Zealand English.

So when we talk about Australia's regional dialects, we have to put this in a context of broader change in Australian English.

There have always been regional variations in vocabulary. All Australians recognise this, although they are sometimes hard-pressed to define the differences outside a few well known examples.

There have also been some differences in pronunciation and grammar, although these are harder to see and did decline for a period. However, in recent times a whole series of regional variations have started to re-appear in Australian English. Often subtle, they reflect broader cultural change within Australia, a process proceeding at different speeds and different directions across the country.

I will explore this from time to time in coming posts.

Next post.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Versatility of Olive Oil

Earlier in June I found out from a story on olives1o1, the versatility of olive oil, that if I put olive oil into the fridge it would turn into a spread. I did not know that and have been meaning to try it, using one of Australia's increasing range of local olive oils (here, here, here).

I went into the local supermarket today and suddenly found - I am sure that it is new - a shelf of olive oil spreads. I bought one to try, but when I came home I found that despite the country looking label was a margarine look-alike using local and imported ingredients. So I will have to try olives101 original suggestion.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Italy - the lessons for Australia's regions

Graphic: Italy 1796.

David Anderson had a rather good post, Understanding Italy - Nobility, wines, food and jeans, on his View Italy blog, drawing out the sometimes chaotic nature of Italian history and the way that had affected Italian life and culture, creating still treasured regional variations.

To David, these variations are to be savoured and enjoyed.

There is a lesson in this for Australia's regions, one that I have referred to before, the failure of many of our regions to properly capture and present their own regional stories.

I am not sure why this should be so, but it is. I remember chairing a session at which a mayor spoke of his town. He was, understandably, proud of its achievements. But the presentation failed because he could not get beyond municipal bounds.

This town has a great life style story when couched in broader terms, bringing out its history and regional place. All this was lost in a narrow focus on roads, bridges and parks. The sizzle was gone. Even the steak was partly missing.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that too many town and regions try to compete with the metros, defining themselves in comparison, instead of focusing on their own unique stories.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Australia's Indigenous Heritage - Big Sky Country

Photo: Muloobinda Girls Dance Troupe

Considering the length of time that Australia's indigenous people occupied the land, it's not surprising that there should be so many signs of occupation across the country despite the impact of later European settlement.

For much of the European period, Australia's indigenous heritage was largely neglected. Fortunately this has changed in recent years as Australians of all backgrounds have come to recognise the importance of our indigenous peoples and their past.

Here I was pleased to see that the Big Sky Tourism people have developed a tour of Big Sky Country from an Aboriginal perspective, offering ancient and modern artforms, memorials, cafes, bushwalks, crafts and museums. In the spacious spread of country stretching from Tamworth to Tenterfield and out to Moree, indigenous history and culture has a distinct and diverse presence.

Here’s a town by town guide to the Aboriginal cultural heritage of Big Sky Country.

The Studio, Moree

The Studio is a working art studio and base for around 30 Aboriginal students practising art as part of their Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander Cultural Arts studies through TAFE. The student artists practice a range of art including painting, sculpture, woodcarving, wood burning, screen-printing and digital photo manipulation inspired by both Traditional and Contemporary Arts. Entry is free and the students’ works are available for sale. The Studio is open from Monday to Thursday 8:30am-3:30pm during school term, or by appointment.

Moree Plains Gallery, Moree

Amongst its extensive collection, this gallery showcases contemporary and traditional work, featuring local Aboriginal artists. Phone Moree Tourism 02 6757 3350. or

Myall Creek Memorial, Bingara

The Myall Creek Memorial was dedicated on June 10, 2000 in memory of the Aboriginal people who died in the massacre on June 10, 1838. A gang of stockmen led by a squatter rode into Myall Creek Station on that date and brutally murdered about twenty-eight unarmed women, children and old men.

Located on a knoll which overlooks the site of the massacre, the memorial includes seven plaques outlining the story, with illustrations by Aboriginal artist Colin Isaacs. The plaques are in English, with a summary in the Gamilaraay language. At each plaque, stone benches enable the visitors to sit and reflect on this tragic event in history. Accessible year round, during daylight hours. Phone Bingara Visitor Information Centre 02 6724 0066.

Wee Waa Museum, Wee Waa

This museum contains Aboriginal artefacts along with more recent historical items from the region. Open Saturday from 10.00am-4.00pm or by appointment. Phone Narrabri Visitor Information Centre 02 6799 6760.

Goonoowigall Bushland Reserve , Inverell

Situated about 5km south of the town, this is a unique wilderness area of 900 hectares with marked walking trails. The name Goonoowigall means “plenty rock wallabies” so you may spot some of these creatures. Within the Reserve is the Nhunta Karra Kara Track, commemorating the Aboriginal families who made the Goonoowigall area their home until the 1960's. Brochures are available from the Inverell Visitor Information detailing the reserve and its flora and fauna. Accessible year round.

Stonewoman Aboriginal Area, Tingha

The Tingha Stonewoman Area is a rock feature used by local Aboriginal people as a teaching and ceremonial site. A sign prepared in collaboration with local Aboriginal groups tells the story of a young woman punished for breaking traditional marriage laws. The carpark to access the 1km walk to the area is 6 km south of Tingha village, which is 22 km south-east of Inverell. Accessible year round. Phone Inverell Tourism 02 6728 8161.

Amaroo Museum And Cultural Centre , Walcha

Amaroo Museum and Cultural Centre has a range of locally designed Aboriginal products for sale, many of them made on the premises. They include clothing, homeware, unusual gifts, jewellery, arts and crafts. Look out also, for the unique collection of artefacts representing the local Aboriginal people's past and ever changing culture. Open Monday to Friday. Phone Walcha Visitor Information Centre 02 6774 2460.

Yinarr’s Classic Black Coffee Lounge, Quirindi

In the Kamilaroi language, Yinarr’s means Aboriginal women. The Coffee Lounge is an all indigenous staffed café owned by the Quirindi Aboriginal Corporation, offering traditional Australian as well as distinctive Aboriginal cuisine to cater for all tastes. The idea of this unique café originated when local Donna Sampson decided to run hospitality training for local Aboriginal people. Phone 02 6746 1755.

Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre And Keeping Place , Armidale

A community based gallery where everyone can experience the diversity of Australian Indigenous arts and culture. The Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place has a permanent collection and also holds exhibitions of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal Artists. The Centre houses the Green Valley Collection, an extensive display of Aboriginal artefacts, artworks and utensils from throughout New South Wales. It offers a number of unique experiences to groups or individual visitors, although these must be booked in advance. They include cultural talks, Koori painting workshops, story-telling by local elders, bush tucker, dance, didgeridoo playing and instruction, as well as guided tours of current exhibitions and the permanent collections by Koori staff.

Guided tours of local rock art sites and horse riding in the gorges with the Buglun-gula organisation can be arranged through the centre. The Centre also has a conference centre with a bush tucker experience available on request. A small library, archival centre and research room is available for researchers. Open Monday to Friday; Saturday and Sunday – by appointment. Phone: 02 6771 1249.

Gamilarart Gallery Co-operative Limited , Tamworth

Gamilarart Gallery was formed by a local group of students and teachers who came together in the pursuit of their love of art. By uniting Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists they have been able to put true Reconciliation into practice. The Gallery is a Non-Profit Arts Co-operative and exhibits and sells both local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal contemporary art. Open Monday to Friday: 10.00am to 5.00pm Saturday: 9.00am to 1.00pm. Phone Tourism Tamworth 02 6767 5300.

Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve and Aboriginal Cultural Walk, Uralla

This is an easy, three kilometre self-guided walk that leads through one of the few remnants of natural bushland on the western slopes of the New England Tablelands. Visitors take in the cultural heritage of the Aboriginal people with signage explaining the various use of native trees, shrubs, rocks and caves. The rock art site, located 1.8kms along the track, is in red ochre and reveals a combination of circles and bird tracks.

The Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve, managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, protects both the Aboriginal site and much of the mountain and its natural environment. Accessible year round, during daylight hours. Phone Uralla Visitor Information Centre 02 6778 4496.

Woollool Woolloolni Aboriginal Place, Tenterfield

A protected Aboriginal Place situated in Basket Swamp National Park, 18km north east of Tenterfield, featuring a balancing rock which has religious and mythological importance. Phone Tenterfield Tourism 02 6736 1082.

Cumbo Gunnerah Gallery, Gunnedah

Cumbo Gunnerah was the legendary warrior and wise leader of the Gunn-e-darr people of the Kamilaroi tribe. This Gallery, opened in 1992, is of great significance for the local and outlying Aboriginal people of the district. It was set up as a Cultural Keeping Place for the curation and protection of local Aboriginal artefacts and culture. On display are stone artefacts, carved trees, weapons, shields and utensils. Open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm and after hours by appointment

Red Chief Memorial, Gunnedah

Dedicated in 1984, this is the first memorial to be erected in honour of an Aboriginal historical identity. The Red Chief was the name white man gave Cumbo Gunnerah, who was immortalised by Ion Idriess in his book titled, “The Red Chief”. Phone Gunnedah Visitor Information Centre 02 6740 2230.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Short Break to Recharge

I have decided to take a short break from posting to allow me to rest and recharge. This will also give me a chance to collect some more material for later use.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Do you want to promote your town or region - help sought

Photo: Gordon Smith - Heading north west to the Queensland border.

Would you like to promote your town or region? Do you have something special that you want to say? Are you running a special event that deserves broader publicity? If so, please send me your story, preferably with photos.

I am always looking for new material. Part of the aim of this blog is to provide core information about the Regional Australia alternative. I can research this. But I also want local stories that will bring out the texture of life across this vast continent of ours. And that's a lot harder

I dig down as best I can, but I miss so much. So here you can help me by sending me stuff.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Regional Australia food - creating regional differences

Photo: Cape Willoughby Lighthouse, Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

Interesting off-line discussion triggered by my last post on Regional Australia food, olives and agriturismo.

There were two main lines of attack.

Number one: to what degree can we talk in any meaningful way about variations in food across Australia? Number two: in suggesting that areas should aim to build their unique features in wine, food and cooking, am I guilty of trying to create artificial differences?

On the first, I think that there are already differences in food and cooking across Australia, although these are largely driven by differences in climate and availability rather than than differing regional histories and cultures. You only have to compare menus in, say, Port Douglas and Hobart to see what I mean.

On the second, perhaps I am.

I am certainly not suggesting that Australian regions should aim to create the type of regional variations that exist in Italy because these are deeply rooted in long regional histories and in varying home life. But I do think that that there is scope to focus and build on the special features belonging to each Australian region to the benefit of both locals and visitors.

We can see this to in South Australia's Kangaroo Island, for example, where they are consciously promoting local food and wine as part of the overall Island package. In their words:

The lack of large-scale development has meant that small industry has flourished and now includes a variety of products such as free-range chicken and eggs, olive oil, native jams, smoked fish, sauces and marinades.

Kangaroo Island's apiarists harvest honey from the pure strain Ligurian bees, and regional cheeses and yoghurts continue to find a place in food lovers' hearts.

Fresh seafood is featured across the Island and seasonally you can enjoy a variety of natural and farmed produce such as oysters, prawns, crayfish, whiting, snapper and, not forgetting freshwater marron - it's so easy to get a taste for Kangaroo Island!

Now all this is mouth watering. But I would like it to go a stage further, moving from differences in local produce to dishes based on that produce. Now these dishes do not need to be unique, simply specialities based upon local produce that can be presented as part of the visitor experience. In time, this will naturally produce a local cuisine if such does not already exist.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Regional Australia food, olives and agriturismo

There have been a couple of recent posts on other blogs that brought together in my mind several themes that I have been writing about.

Over the last twelve months I have watched with pleasure the spread of bottles of Australian produced olive oil on Australian supermarket shelves.

As a story on the history of olive oil on olives101 reminds us, olives and olive oil have a long history. Yet in Australia the major use of olive oil is very recent. Growing up, olive oil was largely a medicinal product. Now it is something that I use all the time, a fundamental staple.

Olive oil production in Australia has a long history. But again until very recently, its production was very much a minor niche activity. Now olives and olive oil are produced in many parts of the country. Yet there is still a problem in all this.

On his rather wonderful View Italy blog, David Anderson writes a lot on the Italian regional experience, drawing out both the texture and variety of regional experience across the country. He also writes on agriturismo, essentially the way in which rural life is integrated into the regional experience.

The position in Australia is very different. In several posts on another blog we commented on some of the failings of Australian tourism at regional and local level.

A core failing is the failure to properly identify and build on the unique features of each location or region. For some reason, all areas try to promote general attributes that they feel will appeal.

Take farm stays. This is a very different concept to agriturismo as I understand the term. With farm stays you end up with a generic list all promoting experiencing farm life in some way. There is little focus on the unique life and experiences of the area.

Or take the currently very fashionable Opera in the Vineyards, something that has proliferated across Australia's wine growing areas. This is something designed especially to appeal to metro audiences, and there is nothing wrong with that per se. But it is another generic activity copied from area to area with few distinguishing features.

This problem is not unique to Regional Australia. When Steve Irwin was appointed to act as Australia's tourism ambassador, Sydney radio presenter Richard Glover complained that he would much rather have Australia remembered for its cultural activities such as its symphony orchestras. But, as callers quickly pointed out, who is going to visit Australia to go to a concert?

The difficulty in all this is that we get a sort of metro blandness and uniformity imposed across the whole country, one that catches everyone in the same mental trap.

How does all this link to olives and to regional food more broadly?

I recently visited a major vineyard, the site of one of the Opera's in the Park. On one wall they had a small display of Australian foodstuffs including bottles of olive oil. But there was no explanatory material, they were not integrated in any way with the rest of the cellar door, many were not even local. They were just another example of a generic trend.

The same thing applied to local food. It was all just that bland uniformity called Australian modern, and this in an area noted for certain types of local foodstuffs.

If all this is to change, it has to start at local and regional level with a focus on the special features of that area. Many of those features may be the same as other areas, but the combination is always different. So let's celebrate our diversity.