Shire Promotional Beauties [December 16]
Out in the Wimmera everything is enormous. Wheat fields march towards the horizon. The mammoth machines that harvest them are straight out of a Mad Max movie. The sky stretches further than any other sky I’ve seen, and humans are Lilliputian, tottering around under the endless blue.
I discovered the wondrous scale of things in the Wimmera on a recent jaunt to see the silo art up there. Giants with paintbrushes have been striding the landscape, stopping to paint delicate portraits on concrete wheat silos – or that’s how it looked to me.
Here in Australia we’re used to seeing giant things in the landscape. Our country towns are graced with gargantuan prawns, pineapples, bananas, cassowaries, guitars and gumboots. The boffins call these wacky installations ‘shire promotional grotesques’ and while they’re fun, many of them are also repulsive.
Up in the Wimmera, though, the giant silos are things of beauty, and the smallest details have the biggest impact.
On the silos at Sheep Hills, just east of Horsham, you’ll find the faces of two indigenous children rendered against a starry night sky. If you look closely at the eyes of the child on the right, you can see in them a reflection of the bitumen road scarring the landscape in front of him.
Further north, on the bottom of a silo at Brim, there is just a glimpse of a walking stick, the first sign of vulnerability in the elderly farmer depicted in monochrome. Her face is shadowed by a floppy sunhat but she is definitely smiling.
In Sea Lake there are three emus whose feathers shimmer in luminescent orange and red, backlit by an imaginary ‘shepherd’s delight’ sunset.
On the silo in Rosebery a man is holding a fearsome whip in one hand, but there is such tenderness in the way his other hand is stroking his horse’s head. And the working dog with the pricked ears on the silo in Nullawil looks smarter than any human I’ve ever met.
Then there’s the Murtoa Stick Shed, built to store three billion bushels of wheat during the Second World War. Nearly twice as long as the MCG, it’s a humungous hangar made of corrugated iron and mountain ash poles, and the acoustics were so good I wanted to sing an opera aria in there.
So here’s my tip. Get yourself to the Wimmera. Look up. It’ll take your breath away.
(This column was published by Fairfax in December 2019)