At 2am on Sunday night of the 11th of October,
Stephen King arrived back at Blackfellows Gully, our sheep and cattle
property in Walcha, in the Northern Tablelands of NSW, with a truckload
of sculpture and two visiting sculptors. They had come from a four
day event called Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi Beach. The two sculptors,
Tom Deko from Goroka in Papua New Guinea and Emmanuel Watt from
Vanuatu, had been invited by Sculpture by the Sea to Australia to
be two of the first international sculptors to participate in this
enormously popular event. Despite some very brisk and windy weather,
this year's event attracted 120,000 visitors, who came to see over
90 sculptures on the coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach.
Not even the organisers would have dared to hope for that many people
to take an interest in sculpture.
Stephen King, also a sculptor, had invited Tom and
Emmanuel to come to Walcha to see the Australian bush and to take
part in a sculpture workshop to be held over three days in the environs
of Stephen's workshed. During Sculpture by the Sea he also showed
them some of Sydney. After some big nights with all the other sculptors,
talking about stuff that only sculptors talk about, they were taken
to Bondi cafes for traditional greasy breakfasts and then onto the
art galleries around Paddington and Surry Hills including Coventry
gallery, where an exhibition of Tom's work was arranged for the
near future. Good humour overcame the language problem and by the
time the sculptors had dismantled and loaded up all their sculptures
again on Sunday afternoon, they knew each other well enough to insult
each other's person and country.
The trip was long and not very comfortable. Only
one vehicle was passed on the way up the mountains between Gloucester
and Walcha and Tom and Emmanuel took it upon themselves to take
turns to stand sentry over Steve's driving, who had demonstrated
some tiredness, even on the dirt. In hurried Pidgin English they
urged each other to keep up the chat to him. Safely back in Walcha,
the weary travellers settled into our studio where a small fire
was attempting to take some of the chill out of the night, not enough
for poor Tom who had to warm his blankets by the fire before he
could sleep. Tom had been cold enough in Sydney but he had been
reluctant to wear any proffered jumpers. The next morning he was
to been seen wearing jumpers down to his knees and a day later,
some trackpants were finally donned for the first time in his life.
Tom diligantly kept the fire going and we suspect that one of the
reasons that Tom worked day and night on his welded steel sculpture
was that it kept him warm.
On that same first morning, Emmanuel spotted a large
stringybark root lying around near Steve's sculpture shed. The first
day was supposed to be a rest day with perhaps a visit to a shearing
shed, but being the sculptor that he is, Emmanuel set to work immediately
carving the root and transforming it into a sea monster full of
references to traditional story and legend from Vanuatu. Not to
be outdone, Tom decided to make a huge warrior, over four metres
in height and width, using some sheet metal that had once lined
an in-ground swimming pool. It was so ambitious a project that on
departure day Tom reluctantly had to leave Steve instructions for
its completion. At present it stands in a half- kneeling position
holding a shield in one hand and a spear in the other, on a horizon
line overlooking the gully. It has an extremely commanding presence.
On Tuesday, Steve took them to the New England Regional
Art Museum in Armidale where Tom gave a slide talk to local artists
and art enthusiasts. Emmanuel also talked to individuals and showed
photos and books and magazines where his work has been featured.
On their way home, a detour to Apsley Falls gave the sculptors an
appreciation of the mighty gorge in the Wild Rivers National Park
just east of Walcha. Emmanuel remarked "no second chance"
as he looked down the precipice. That evening another slide talk
was held at the Old School Gallery in Walcha to a small and interested
audience. Everybody was emphatic in their admiration for both Tom
and Emmanuel's work. Steve's father, Ted King also couldn't help
but share a few memories of his time in Goroka during WW2 and of
his affection for the people of Goroka and how lucky we were to
be visited by these two special artists.
On Wednesday, the workshop which had been organised
by the Walcha Arts Council, officially started but by then Emmanuel
was finishing his monster and Tom's warrior was well under way.
Nigel White arrived from Mudgee as did Reuben Lockwood, a young
Koori artist from Armidale and Thursday haled to the noise of every
hand-tool, power tool and chain-saw we own making a cacophony of
sound which did not stop until after dark. Steve started on a huge
stringybark carving of an "earth mother" which became
a joint project for them all. Emmanuel conceived the idea that it
represent the union of the artists' different cultures under the
nurturing guide of the creative mother in nature. Each of the sculptors
present carved a face onto the head of the pregnant figure, each
face representing each artist's means of expression and own culture.
From left to right: Tom Deko, Nigel White,
Emmanuel Watt, Stephen King
By Friday lunch, Emmanuel had almost finished another
sculpture of a person behind the mask that we all hide behind when
we present ourselves to others - beautiful in its simplicity of
form and subject. There were new sculptures everywhere. That afternoon
Walcha Councillors, a representative from State Forest and other
interested people visited the "open day" and saw an exhibition
of the sculptures from the workshop and Sculpture by the Sea. It
is hoped that some of these sculptures will be purchased to reside
in public places where they will continue, in their artists' absence,
to communicate with the people.
The coming together of these sculptors produced a
phenomenal body of work and the kindred spirit in which they worked
won't be forgotten by those who allowed themselves to be taken by
Julia Griffin (King)