Art in the Outback

Is there art in the outback? Isn’t that the place where rednecks and yokels abound? Couldn’t expect much in the way of art from that crowd, could you?

Well, brace yourself for a surprise.

The photo above is of a community shelter in the main street of Hughenden in outback Queensland. Having made use of it several times during my forays into the outback in the last couple of years, I can vouch for its functionality, and would also like to make a case for its artistic merit. Those who accept the big-city definition of art may not be convinced. Ho hum, they might be inclined to say. Nothing to see here.

But the art produced by any given community, whether in city or country, will always tend to reflect what is foremost in the minds of that community.

Windmills are vital to the very existence of a town like Hughenden. Windmills, I venture to suggest, dominate the neural networks of all residents of this town whom, I might add in passing, I have found to my satisfaction will always be ready to extend a friendly hand to visitors. Windmills provide access to the water of the Great Artesian Basin, without whose water the town would not be on the map. Windmills are as critical as that. So, they will sooner or later make their presence felt in any art produced in the region. Hence the above.

Have a look at a road map of Queensland, and compare it with a road map of that other mammoth state, Western Australia. In the outback of Queensland, there are any number of small towns like Hughenden with populations not exceeding 10,000 people or thereabouts. By contrast, the map of Western Australia shows that, in the outback, towns of this size – of any size – are much less prevalent. WA is not blessed with a Great Artesian Basin.

The exception would be places like Kalgoorlie or the Pilbara, whose massive wealth in resources means that money will be spent delivering water to them by any means necessary. By hook or by crook. It is interesting to speculate what variety of art would blossom in such places. The chances are it would not involve windmills.

People in the big cities often fancy themselves as the ultimate arbiters of art. But art is more flexible than these people would have it.

All art counts. You can always learn something from it. Even in the outback.