The year I arrived in Broken Hill Janine Mackintosh of Kangaroo Island won the Outback Art Prize which is held annually at my beloved Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery. Her work, Droughts and Flooding Rains, was a mandala composed of stitched twigs. It was one of my favourites as well as the one the judge selected.
Each year artists are invited to submit work in any media which reflects the spirit and diversity of the Australian Outback. Finalists are selected for the exhibition by a committee and three prizewinners are selected by a visiting judge. In 2012 my lovely friend Rick Ball won with his powerful work The Land-Broken Hill and Darling River. Ian Tully’s prize winning entry Personal Mobile Broadband Satellite Receiver in 2013 was
controversial and I would have bought elements of Liz Butler’s Lines of Demarcation in 2014 but couldn’t as it is an acquisitive prize and the work is now owned in its entirety by the Gallery.
In less than 12 months of outback living I was enthralled by the spirit and diversity of the place. Long regular walks in the bush, picnics in creek beds, visits to Mutawintji were all sewing the seeds of my own response to the desert.
In late 2014 we knew we would be leaving the Hill, and I knew that it was now or never. The piece that had been gestating for over two years, loitering in notebooks, littering the house with its potential accumulations, had to be made. And so, over seven months, the Desert Walking Gown emerged. And that meant making hundreds of paper thin polymer gum leaves and stitching them onto a cape by hand. It meant making and collecting countless bones and pods. It meant gratefully accepting the offering of a dead emu who no longer needed all her feathers.
It felt like a ritual. It felt like a reflection on my time here, discovering the beauty and harshness of this country, responding to the depth and dignity of the landscape. Learning to love a place that wasn’t Nepal. As my labour became more intense over the past last weeks, it has felt more special.
I don’t know whether my Desert Walking Gown has been accepted for the Exhibition. I will be euphoric if it is selected. (And, if I am honest, disappointed if it isn’t) But it has been a wonderful experience making it. It has felt very vulnerable, very congruent, very authentic. I can’t sing. This is my love song to the outback.