On Friday arvo I packed my pink canvas bag full of clothes I wouldn’t wear and headed west, to Bunginderry, a sheep and cattle property that mixes agriculture with art retreats. It’s an ideal location to get the creative juices flowing, with blood red dirt and contrasting luscious splashes of green. Budgerigars flit around with more energy than a toddler at dawn and the landscape inspires thoughts of early pioneering and an Indigenous heritage. It’s simply delightful.
I’m here as part of a Vast Arts regional artist development program. There were a few spaces left in the program when I bluffed my way in a few months ago and it has been an opportunity to map out what I want to achieve from my photography. I’m here with a smattering of talented artists who live in intriguing places, including Mt Leonard, a 1.9million-acre cattle station, and on the wild dog barrier fence in remote South Australia. We all practise art in different ways, including watercolours, pastels, printmaking and, of course, the photographers who work so hard they need a nap every afternoon.
Now, I take my weekends more seriously than a racehorse trainer with his prize gelding and while preparing for the weekend I was initially concerned that there would be little time to wind down after a stressful week in the office. But at the idea of the retreat, I was elated that I would escape the weekend routine and push my comfort zone into something different. I left Quilpie, and the promise of a corker party, for a ripper sunset drive. After 80km, I found a group of ladies sitting round a fire sipping on red wine like it was mothers milk. The weekend was looking good.
We are staying in the most luxurious shearer’s quarters this side of the great divide but I couldn’t shake the camp-fire induced feeling of camping. Instantly I decided that showering would be taken off the agenda for the weekend so that I could completely shake my town-life away.
We progressed inside to a home-grown roast lamb and the sort of get-to-know-you chatter that makes the heart sing. I have never thought of myself as an artist but I felt innately at-home with these ladies, discussing acrylics, canvases, light. I relished hearing their tales of success, of art touching an audience and of tantrum-inducing disasters. I loved their dry humour. After just five minutes, we’re laying into each other with the sort of sarcastic mirth that even my close mates struggle to interpret.
I was lucky to score a room with my mate Lorraine, and we yakked away into the night like excited school kids. She woke me early, at bloody six o’clock, after a night riddled with mid-range snoring and the occasional fart. Although I won’t blame her for the flatulence.
As a burgeoning photographer it’s been extraordinarily valuable to discuss aperture and composition with my colleagues. To shout out, ‘what’s your iso on’ and learn that the settings I was using were way beyond sensible. No wonder my colours were pale red when I was aiming for the sort of bold that stops a pole dancer on their way home from work.
We spent yesterday afternoon testing our lungs on a red sand hill with wind-crafted ripples and sunset light. We have scrambled across dry creek beds and rocky outcrops, with our painters sketching the landscape and photographers searching for the perfect angle. I have been blown away by the interpretations of the striking places we have seen.
We drank wine on the sand hill, before the first car drove away with the esky.
I’ve learned that farts in the tin toilet outside echo to a sound beyond that which is usually humanly possible. And, shockingly, I did not discover that myself. I went without a shower for the weekend and reused my trusty trackpants. From this, I was on the receiving end of words including grungy and smelly. But I didn’t waste any of my creative time, or nap time, in the shower recess.
For my own photography, I’ve discovered that people and animals engage me more than landscapes. I am so proud of this photo I fluked of this very unhappy and exceptionally protective bird.
Tonight I’ll go back to civilisation, to my own rickety bed, to the first shower in days and, tomorrow, to my job. I will be forever grateful that I had a weekend that was different to all others and that encouraged me to think beyond my existence, to challenge myself to create and pursue loftier, more creative dreams.