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From Here to There: Australian Artists and Walking

July 23, 2018

In mid-July I visited Lismore, on Wiyabal land, to speak at an event for the exhibition From Here to There: Australian Artists and Walking, curated by Sharne Wolff and Jane Denison. I was one of the essayists who contributed to the catalogue, writing about the connection between walking, art, life and landscape.

The exhibition presented walking in different ways, directly and indirectly, but always as a deliberate practice used to engage with the world outside the artist’s studio. Noel McKenna‘s New York diaries were collections of observations made while walking, often including encounters with creatures, whether they be Miss Jasmine the museum cat, or the Long Island Big Duck.

A different kind of observation was involved in Rebecca Gallo’s collection of roadside debris, found during walks in Lismore during her residency for the exhibition. Collecting these scraps and shreds as she went, in the studio she set them into a new kind of life, as a mobile where wedges of newspaper, rusty bolts, scraps of plastic, and a flattered dried toad spin in a slow dance.

I too was eager to go out walking in Lismore. I hadn’t been to the town since, 1997, when I was there visiting zine friends of mine: it was so long ago I was still practically a teenager. My only memories of the town were looking at framed photographs of past floods in a city cafe, and sitting on the porch of my friend Lee’s house, a memory that is tinged green from the enclosure of the surrounding trees.

This time, my guides to the town were: a late-1960s postcard of the town taken from a lookout in Lismore Heights; a map Simon drew me of his remembered Lismore of the 1990s, and my host from Southern Cross University who I spoke with at the gallery, Associate Professor John Page. Here are some of the places they led me.

The same scene but much more green, 50 years later from the Claude Riley Memorial Lookout.

Lismore houses, raised up for protection in floods. Rainbow steps, banana trees. John and I walked around the low-lying areas near the river, where everything around felt verdant, and he told me stories of past floods and town characters.

A polite bus shelter.

Past amusements live on at the skating rink.

The beautiful Tropicana Fruit shop on Keen Street, with the sign for its previous incarnation as the Wonder Bar.

Gentlemen’s Fashions and George Gooley’s.

 

An important feature of Simon’s 1990s map: the cedar log outside City Hall.

no cordial

A strong warning for some not-so-strong drink.

The walker.

(Thank you to John, Sharne, Jane, SCU and the Lismore Regional Gallery for having me visit.)

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