Louise Gresswell: Re-form

Making, unmaking. Louise Gresswell’s textural paintings form sensory narratives as the painted boards are broken and re-formed with a subtle rawness. Imperfections of the handmade are welcomed as individual paintings grow into their own eccentricities.

Investigating her own subjectivity and its relationship to vulnerability and protection, Gresswell explores the materiality of paint. Thick, gritty layers of paint are gradually built up over time and sometimes scraped, dug into and pared back. The debris of the studio is utilised as holes are patched and cracks are stuffed with whatever is at hand, string, canvas, hessian and cardboard. There is an act of defiance in the cutting and an implied comfort within the suturing.

Gresswell explores the psychological and the intuitive through non-representational painting.

Louise Gresswell, Untitled (soft pink with red), 2020, oil on board, 35 × 27cm. Courtesy the artist and Gallery 9, Sydney

Gallery 9
17 June to 11 July 2020
Sydney

Roomsheet available on Gallery 9’s website

2020 NPPP and Darling Portrait Prize People’s Choice Awards

The online votes have been counted, and the winners of the National Portrait Gallery’s 2020 National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) and Darling Portrait Prize People’s Choice Awards have been announced.

Congratulations David Darcy; winner of the $10,000 Darling Portrait Prize People’s Choice for his portrait of his neighbour, 86-year-old farmer and environmentalist Wendy Bowman who has endured three decades of battling the multinational mining companies that surround her property. She has been evicted and relocated but continues to fight for the rights of landholders. ‘The portrait expresses a life of experience, vitality and resilience,’ says John Liangis, of the Liangis family, founding benefactors of the National Portrait Gallery.

On winning, Darcy said he was overwhelmed: ‘There are so many amazing artists and works in the exhibition. Wendy is a strong woman with incredible character and painting her was an absolute joy. She has been an advocate for the environment for forty years, and has done so much for the community.’

David Darcy, Wendy Bowman, 2019. Courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, Australian Capital Territory

Congratulations Klarissa Dempsey; winner of the NPPP People’s Choice for Wonder, a portrait of her daughter Tayla playing on Country homelands near Alice Springs.

‘High-spirited, mischievous, intelligent, curious: these are some of the words that come to mind while thinking of her. Tayla always asks questions and needs to know the ‘why’; I love that about her. I love that she is one of the kindest souls you will ever meet, with the most caring heart. This moment was captured on Country homelands, where Tayla spends her time playing endlessly with her brothers and sister and cousins, riding bikes, walking to the creeks, playing with the dogs and being carefree,’ reflects Dempsey who will receive Fine Art printing to the value of $2,200 thanks to SUNSTUDIOS.

Klarissa Dempsey, Wonder, 2019. Courtesy the artist and National Portrait Gallery, Australian Capital Territory

NPG Director Karen Quinlan AM said; ‘While the gallery was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were thrilled to see so many people voting for the prizes online – more than 7,000 votes were cast.

‘These Prize exhibitions are extremely important – a way artists can have their work shown in a national gallery, alongside their peers, and for audiences, a diverse and uniquely Australian insight into the art of portraiture. The subjects of the two People’s Choice Award winners affirm this – from the spirited charm of Klarissa Dempsey’s Tayla in Wonder, and the wise gaze captured by David Darcy of Wendy Bowman, who I suspect has seen much in her life,’ Quinlan said.

Now that the NPG has reopened in Canberra, the NPPP and Darling Portrait Prize exhibitions are on show until 26 July 2020.

portrait.gov.au

Australian arts online guide: The best live streams and on-demand comedy, music, theatre, exhibitions and more – ABC News

Galleries have started reopening (albeit with reduced numbers and scheduled attendance) — but it’s going to be a while until we get back into theatres, and even longer until we can contemplate sweaty, shouty live music gigs.

In the meantime, there is plenty of theatre, comedy, dance, writers’ talks and all that jazz to be found online.

This guide focuses on Australian content, with occasional international gems thrown in too.

There will be a genuine world premiere, live streaming arts, streams from the archive, on-demand dates, bite-sized bits of content from Australian artists, galleries and theatre companies, and recommendations for the best “virtual” exhibitions.

Tuesday, June 16

7:00pm AEST: The Bogong: Blak Futures
The Emerging Writers’ Festival opens with three First Nations artists — Travis De Vries, Emily Munro-Harrison and Tre Turner (Stone Motherless Cold) — delivering visions of the future, “from warnings to blueprints of blak futurism”. Join the livestream and check out the rest of the festival’s program on the EWF website.

Wednesday, June 17

You can visit multi-disciplinary artist Darren Sylvester’s studio and hear about his work (pictured here is 2003 artwork If all we have is each other, that’s OK).(Supplied: NGV)

6:00pm AEST: Live in-studio visit with Darren Sylvester
The National Gallery of Victoria brings you into the Brunswick studio of multi-disciplinary artist Darren Sylvester, who will discuss his ongoing exploration of pop culture, music and consumerism. Hop onto NGV’s Instagram for the live stream.

7:00pm AEST: The Lockdown Monologues
Melbourne playwrights Jane Harrison (Stolen), Tom Holloway (Storm-Boy) and Jean Tong (Hungry Ghosts) have written monologues based on real stories of Australians living through COVID-19, for the Malthouse Theatre. Register to receive the streaming link for this second performance in the three-part series, via the Malthouse website.

Weekly, 7pm AEST: Sound Gallery Sessions
Monash University is live-streaming recitals from its David Li Sound Gallery into your home, every Wednesday evening from 7pm. Tonight: Melbourne singer-songwriter Elizabeth.

Weekly, 7:00pm AEST: Arts Centre Melbourne’s Big Night In with John Foreman
Musical director, composer and pianist John Foreman joins forces with the Aussie Pops Orchestra and guest performers to bring you a weekly musical entertainment show, streaming on the Arts Centre Melbourne website. Tonight’s guests include singer-songwriter Lior, soprano Claire Lyon and singer Danielle Matthews.

Thursday, June 18

Fortnightly, 7.30pm AEST: MSO Live (live stream)
The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has moved from a weekly to a fortnightly schedule for its popular streaming series, and returns to the auditorium this week, performing Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland, followed by pieces by Australian composers Lisa Illean (Januaries) and Peter Sculthorpe (Djilile), before concluding with Copland’s stirring ode to American landscape, Appalachian Spring.

Friday, June 19

The Reservoir Room has recently hosted live-streamed gigs by Ursula Yovich and iOTA, among others.(Supplied: The Reservoir Room/Philip Erbacher)

7:45pm AEST: Cabaret at The Reservoir Room (live stream)
The Reservoir Room is a new studio in Sydney’s Paddington Town Hall, dedicated to live-streaming cabaret performances and boasting high-production values and sound. The venture also supports performers by charging a small “entry fee”. Its regular Friday-night mixer is hosted by performers Catherine Alcorn and Rodger Corser, with performances by “resident Goddess” Verushka Darling and pals from the cabaret, music and musical theatre world. Tonight you can catch Prinnie Stevens, Mark Trevorrow, Matt Copley and Ben Mingay. Tickets start at $5.

Saturday, June 20

Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe will be one of the writers appearing in ABC RN’s Big Weekend of Books.(Supplied: Magabala Books/Matthew Newton)

10:00am AEST: ABC RN’s Big Weekend of Books
The cancellation of writers’ festivals across the country has left a gaping hole in many book lovers’ hearts, so over one epic weekend, ABC RN is mounting its own festival. The first day includes ABC RN presenters in conversation with literary superstars including Trent Dalton, Christos Tsiolkas, Carolina Setterwall, Kevin Kwan, Bernadine Evaristo and Bruce Pascoe. Tune in to ABC RN from 10:00am to 6:00pm.

8:00pm AEST: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports (live stream)
Experimental electronic outfit Alaska Orchestra (led by Megan Alice Clune, alongside Heather Shannon and Mara Schwerdtfeger) are performing their interpretation of Brian Eno’s groundbreaking 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports, live from Sydney Opera House‘s Joan Sutherland Theatre. Alaska Orchestra first performed this work at the 2018 Vivid LIVE festival; this time they’re bringing in artist Carla Zimbler to create live visuals to accompany the gig.

Weekly: Poet Laureates of Melbourne
The Melbourne City of Literature office is sending out a new poem by a different poet straight to your inbox every Saturday. Sign up for your weekly dose of poetry reflecting on and responding to these strange times.

Weekly: Isol-aid music festival
Head over to Isol-aid’s Instagram towards the end of the week to see who will be appearing in the latest edition of this weekly weekender. Previous iterations of the festival have seen Courtney Barnett, Ngaiire and Missy Higgins perform pared-down 20-minute live sets from their homes.

A view of Spectra light show by Japanese sound and light artist Ryoji Ikeda, for Dark Mofo in 2018.(Supplied: MONA/Jesse Hunniford)

Weekly, sunset to sunrise AEST: Spectra live stream
Every Saturday from sunset to sunrise, MONA streams Ryoji Ikeda’s light and sound artwork Spectra on its website.

Sunday, June 21

10:00am AEST: ABC RN’s Big Weekend of Books
The second day of ABC RN’s celebration of books, readers and writing, includes interviews with Hilary Mantel, Elizabeth Gilbert, Garth Greenwell, Tara June Winch and Tony Birch. Tune in to ABC RN from 10:00am-5:00pm.

Eurovision contender Montaigne will perform a short set for Make Music Day.(Supplied: Sony Music)

7:30pm AEST: Montaigne (live stream)
Montaigne is live-streaming a short set at the Art Gallery of New South Wales to celebrate international Make Music Day, as part of the gallery’s Together In Art online series. Head to the Facebook event from 7:25pm to tune in.

Mountain is narrated by Willem Dafoe.(Supplied: Sydney Opera House/Maria Boyadgis)

8:00pm AEST: Mountain
To cap off a week of streaming events celebrating Richard Tognetti‘s 30 years at the helm, Australian Chamber Orchestra is presenting an online premiere of Mountain — a visually ravishing documentary that explores “humanity’s obsession with mountains, wilderness and the sublime force of high places”. At the 2017 Sydney Film Festival, the ACO performed a live score for the film that included music by Arvo Part, Vivaldi, Beethoven and Tognetti himself. A recording of that Sydney Opera House performance will be made available for 48 hours on the ACO YouTube page.

Recent releases available on demand

Sydney Film Festival is screening Our Law, a new documentary about Western Australia’s first Indigenous-run police station.(Supplied: Sydney Film Festival)

Sydney Film Festival
For the 67th Sydney Film Festival, the festival has gone online with four film strands available to stream until June 21, including new Australian documentary, European women in film, Australian short films and short films by screen practitioners with disability. Tickets available on the SFF website.

St Kilda Film Festival
The St Kilda Film Festival is also now online with 100 short films available until June 20, including the opening night session celebrating Indigenous activist and performer Gary Foley, five of Jane Campion‘s early short films, and a selection of Australian coming-of-age short films.

Cuatro
Sydney Dance Company has teamed with Sydney Symphony Orchestra to create four new short video works; each video features a collaboration between a dancer and an instrumentalist, choreographed by SDC artistic director Rafael Bonachela and directed by Pedro Greig. It is releasing a video each Friday via its Facebook page; Cuatro Part 3, a collaboration between dancer Juliette Barton and cellist Umberto Clerici, drops this Friday June 19.

If This Be Nothing (June 11-25)
Six weeks ago, Sydney indie theatre company Montague Basement set out to see how it might make theatre in these socially distanced times. The result is by its own account “a pandemic-induced exploration of what it means to stay indoors. Your most recent internet search history meets Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in a story of how we stay connected in the face of ultimate confinement”. Watch it via its Facebook page from Thursday June 11 at 7:30pm until midnight June 25.

Hannah Gadsby in Douglas, her new Netflix special.(Supplied: Netflix/Ali Goldstein)

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas
The Aussie comedian’s follow-up to wildly popular Netflix special Nanette is called Douglas (after her eldest dog) and is about power dynamics, patriarchy and language. It’s on Netflix.

60 dancers: 60 stories
During June, Queensland Ballet is releasing two new videos daily on its social media and website — each video is choreographed and performed by one of the Ballet’s 60 dancers to celebrate the Ballet’s 60th anniversary.

James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl’s story of a boy, a bunch of insects and a giant peach is being read by Taika Waititi and a drop-in cast of pals and peers that includes Liam and Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Eddie Redmayne, Kumail Nanjiani and Tessa Thompson, among others. The catch? They wouldn’t mind if you donated to Partners in Health.

Movie Night
Sydney’s Golden Age cinema has now launched Movie Night, a curated online collection of films to rent. It’ll be adding new titles weekly, but right now you can watch documentaries about the cats of Istanbul (Kedi), or the life of 89-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (Kusama: Infinity) — plus there’s a bunch of indie films from Australia and elsewhere.

ABC Arts on iview
On Arts iview you can stream productions by Opera Australia, The Australian Ballet, Bangarra Dance Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company.

You can stream an archival performance of Giselle from The Australian Ballet, featuring David McAllister.(Supplied: The Australian Ballet)

The Australian Ballet digital season
Until June 25 you can stream a performance of Giselle from The Australian Ballet archive. The ballet’s plotline may be outdated (girl meets boy, girl is deceived by boy; girls goes mad and dies; girl’s ghost saves bad man from death by a band of witchy lady-sprites) but this production by Maina Gielgud, and the choreography by Marius Petipa, are enduringly beautiful.

Together in Art
The Art Gallery of NSW Together in Art project features online performances, artist interviews and art how-to guides. It has recently added a pocket exhibition dedicated to Mabo Day.

Visual arts online

Making Art Work
Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art (IMA) have commissioned 40 artists to make new works as part of a new initiative titled Making Art Work, conceived in response to COVID-19 and its effect on artists. The first 12 works have been delivered, and most of them can be viewed online — including Tony Albert‘s take on Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball clip.

Marking Time explores mark-making and drawing in Indigenous art from prehistoric to contemporary times.(Supplied: National Gallery of Victoria)

Marking Time: Indigenous Art from the NGV
As part of the National Gallery of Victoria‘s suite of immersive virtual tours of its exhibitions, you can check out this showcase of its Indigenous art collection, which includes video by Hannah Bronte, animation by Josh Muir, neon works by Brook Andrew and paintings by Richard Bell and Reko Rennie.

Do It (Australia)
Kaldor Public Art Projects has launched the best possible lockdown art project: It asked a line-up of Australian artists, performers, musicians, architects, writers and choreographers to create a set of instructions that each audience member can follow from the safety of their home. Julia Jacklin‘s “turn crying into acting” is a particular favourite. Do It is an ongoing international project started in 1993 by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. Do it (Australia) features instructions by Rafael Bonachela, Jonathan Jones, Janet Laurence, Ian Milliss, Tracey Moffatt, Glenn Murcutt, Gerald Murnane and more.

At the centre of Watami Manikay is a larrakitj, a kind of hollow log that was originally made to house the remains of a deceased person.(Supplied: The Mulka Project)

Watami Manikay
The Yolngu artists of Arnhem Land-based multimedia collective The Mulka Project have created an incredible, immersive digital version of their work for the Biennale of Sydney. Their powerful installation Watami Manikay (Song of the Winds) mixes song, video and animation to express their manikay (ancestral songs). It’s the closest most of us will get to being on country where these artists live, in north-east Arnhem Land.

Pulse of the Dragon
This group exhibition at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre features a line-up of Chinese and Chinese-Australian artists whose work explores themes of “religious witchcraft”, folklore and mythology in Chinese culture, curated by Chinese Australian artist Guan Wei and his Beijing peer Cang Xin.

Rite of Passage
Eleven contemporary Aboriginal artists (including Glennys Briggs, Megan Cope and Karla Dickens) reflect on the 250 years since James Cook’s arrival in this now online exhibition at QUT Art Museum in Brisbane.

Seen and heard: ‘Monster Theatres’ at AGSA

At the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, the pre-lockdown media preview for ‘Monster Theatres’ was conducted in the midst of Karla Dickens’s A Dickensian Country Show (2020). A play on the artist’s name, and an apposite link with the Victorian-era chronicler/critic of the class system and advocate for social reform, the work conjures the atmosphere and itinerant nature of circus and carnival culture to give a piercing commentary on politics, gender and race. It is one of the stand-out works in this 2020 iteration of the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, for which curator Leigh Robb has invited 24 artists and collectives to make present the monsters of our time.

Megan Cope’s interactive and intricately constructed sonic installation Untitled (Death Song) (2020), for instance, offers a critique of ecological mismanagement through the mournful note of the bush stone-curlew, endangered by loss of habitat. Issues of intolerance and abuses of power, of forced migration and the refugee crisis are addressed by Aldo Iacobelli, who references the work of contemporary writers such as Italian poet Erri De Luca (‘the voyage on foot is a trail of backs’). And at the Adelaide Botanic Garden, Yhonnie Scarce’s glass installation In the Dead House (2020) makes visible the gruesome history of the nineteenth-century mortuary building as a site for the illicit collection of Aboriginal remains.

A serpentine mass of richly purple ‘suckered’ tentacles, Julia Robinson’s sculptural installation at the Museum of Economic Botany is a hybrid representation of the monstrous Scylla of Homer’s Odyssey and Beatrice, the beautiful but cursed protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1844 gothic short story. From Medusa to the terrifying Xenomorph in the Alien film series, the dangerous female – an historically disruptive force in literature, art and cinema – almost invariably meets a grisly end.  In a David Lynchian amalgam of the domestic and the abject, Erin Coates and Anna Nazzari’s 15-minute film Dark Water (2019) disturbs comfortable notions of the home (and by extension the nation) as a place of sanctuary and stability. Their meticulous recreation of a 1950s Australian domestic interior rapidly descends into an aquatic and startlingly visceral sci-fi horror film, recalling classics of the genre such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). 

With the reality of a global pandemic, works such as Abdul Abdullah’s almost deserted theatre, Brent Harris’s ‘Grotesquerie’ series (2001–09) and, in particular, Mikala Dwyer’s biohazard banners and discomfiting sick bays, have acquired a more loaded resonance. Her beaked and hooded hospital gowns (a reference to the protective attire worn by medieval plague doctors) strike an especially ominous note.

Critic Andy Butler identified the Wiradjuri words for ‘hear’ and ‘listen’ on the interior of a megaphone-like form in Dickens’s installation. Indeed, in accordance with Robb’s admonition to ‘listen to our monsters, and attend to their cautions, as we move into … a precarious and uncertain future’, sound and/or performance works – by APHIDS, Mike Bianco, Cope, Julian Day, Mike Parr and Stelarc – constitute a significant component of this biennial. Here and elsewhere, Robb allows for the possibility of a redemptive counter narrative to be heard and made manifest.  

Wendy Walker, Adelaide

The Art Gallery of South Australia and satellite venues at the Adelaide Botanic Garden reopened on 5 June for an extended run of ‘Monster Theatres’ until 2 August.

Rockstars of our rare red land – The West Australian

Camera IconDale Gorge Karijini National Park Creek Credit: Getty Images

The Pilbara tells a story ancient and modern — from the cradle of life to its contemporary towns and the industry that drives WA’s economy, and underpins that of the country.

That story all comes from the rock itself — so what better than to celebrate the rockstars of the Pilbara. With the July school holidays coming, and the interstate and international borders shut, we have the state to ourselves.

HOW TO PLAN & GET THERE

The Pilbara’s sunny but mild days and cool nights between now and October make this the best time of year to travel there.

Basically, I’d plan for two days driving there and two days back. It’s a great and safe adventure — enjoy the landscape on the way.

For the July 4 to 19 school holidays, I would drive north on the inland route, up Great Northern Highway, via Mt Magnet. Drive home southbound along the coast, through Carnarvon. (Or vice versa, of course.)

Even leaving early on Sunday, July 5 (giving the Saturday 4th to get ready) and arriving home at teatime on Saturday, July 18 (giving Sunday 19th for the clean-up and put-away before school on Monday 20th), gives 10 days in the Pilbara.

WHERE TO STAY & HOW TO BOOK

I’ve stayed in good hotels and motels in all these towns and cities, from Newman to Tom Price, Nullagine to Marble Bar, Karratha to Onslow. I did a great trip just staying in inexpensive accommodation and touring round. I’ve done most just camping all the way, both in caravan parks and national parks.

Get advice from the visitor centre nearest to the places you’re planning to stay. Find their details at visitorcentreswa.com.au.

Karratha: karrathaiscalling.com.au and 9186 8055.

Newman:newman.org.au and 9175 2888.

Port Hedland: visitporthedland.com.au and 9173 1711.

Tom Price:tomprice.org.au/visitor-centre/ and 9188 5488.

For more on national park camping:parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

For national park camping bookings:parkstaybookings.dbca. wa.gov.au

Camera IconWater in a Karijini gorge. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

TOWNS & BIG SPACES

There’s plenty of space and spots to camp out, national parks with designated campgrounds, caravan and camping parks and 24 hour stopping spots.

Inland Pilbara towns like Tom Price, Paraburdoo, Newman, Marble Bar and Nullagine have interesting histories, plenty of characters and are set in brilliant landscape. Basing yourself in town for a few days and exploring the local areas is good.

On the coast, Karratha and Port Hedland have modern industry set in ancient landscapes. They’re good, and comfortable, bases from which to explore. At the end of a suburban street, there you are, in that Pilbara landscape. Onslow is a good place to stay. Don’t bypass places like Cossack, Roebourne and Port Sampson.

10 PILBARA Rockstars

Karijini National Park and its gorges.

Millstream-Chichester and the Fortescue River.

Python Pool (Millstream-Chichester) and the “flat-top” landscape to its east.

Onslow and the Mackerel Islands.

Newman, its excellent Visior Centre (with an ore truck out the front and mine tour departures) and East Pilbara Art Centre, mostly dedicated to the work of Martumili artists, who are based there.

Hickman meteorite crater and Punda rock art site (near Newman).

The Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago, with its petroglyphs.

Karlamilyi (Ruddall River) National Park and out to the Canning Stock Route.

Real, red towns. Port Hedland, Dampier, Tom Price, Paraburdoo, Newman, Marble Bar and Nullagine have strong characters, interesting histories and red dust in their veins.

… but overarching all of this, the Pilbara’s a rockstar for me because of its story ancient and modern, from the cradle of life to modern industry).

Camera IconHamersley Range in Millstream Chichestern National Park. Credit: Supplied

THE BIG NATIONAL PARKS

The Pilbara landscape is distinctive — blond spinifex set against chocolate coloured rock. And Karijini National Park is where it all comes together in gorges and lookouts. Start with Dales Gorge, Weano Gorge and Oxers Lookout. There will swimming! (But the water stays pretty cold.) Fortescue Falls, Circular Pool and Fern Pool are warm weather treats in Dales Gorge. Weano Gorge has a relatively easy walk down steps to the basin, then along between layered rock walls and paperbark pools to Handrail Pool — another good swimming hole. I like the walk along the bottom of Kalimina Gorge, which shows off the rock’s structure. Red Gorge and Knox Gorge also both give dramatic views and pools. Camp in Karijini National Park or stay at Karijini Eco Retreat, where there’s camping and safari style tents with comfortable beds, ensuites, and a restaurant. The park covers more than 6270sqkm.

Millstream Chichester National Park takes in some of the icons of the Pilbara. On the Fortescue River, there are swimming areas at areas Deep Reach and Crossing Pool, and then there’s the welcome sight of Python Pool. And head to scenic Snappy Gum Drive, on the north side of Fortescue River. Explorer Francis Gregory named Millstream for “a fine tributary running strong enough to supply a large mill” and pastoralists worked this country from 1865 until 1967, when it became a national park. The Homestead Visitor Centre has information and walk trails. Look out for rainbow bee-eaters, sacred kingfishers and bustards. From June-August, wildflower show, with Sturt’s Desert Pea and more than 20 species of mulla mulla. Millstream has a good museum and welcoming water holes.

Karlamilyi National Park, in the east Pilbara, is the State’s biggest and most remote national park. Between the Great Sandy and Little Sandy deserts, its 1.3 million hectares includes Ruddall River. There are escarpments and plateaux, sandstone and quartzite, stony hills and undulating plains, spinifex country, salt lakes and dunes. The main drive is the Telfer-Talwana Track, or the Kintyre Track, which crosses the park from north to south. There’s bush camping but no water or facilities.

Murujuga, on the Burrup, was the 100th national park declared in WA. The Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago has more than 100,000 prehistoric rock engravings, or petroglyphs. While those on the Burrup are best known and most easily accessible, there are lots on Dolphin Island, too. Some date back more the 30,000 years. The most popular spot for art on the Burrup is Ngajarli (Deep) Gorge. Ask the local Karratha Visitor Centre for a map and ask about cultural sensitivities.

Why the Pilbara’s a rockstar

The Pilbara features strongly in the Geological Survey of Western Australia’s list of the geological icons of WA …

Its geology spans 4.4 billion years.

The Pilbara has the earliest evidence of life on Earth, 3.5 billion years ago. In a valley in the East Pilbara, that spark of life happened. Microbes lived in warm ponds, grew into stromatolites and are now fossilised. They are the earliest recorded life on Earth.

There are banded iron formations dating back 2.5 billion year old.

And, of course, it has those giant hematite iron ore deposits in the Hamersley Range.

If we’re really digging deep into our own backyard, we should start with the Pilbara rock itself. The region is one of Earth’s oldest blocks of continental crust — it began forming more than 3.6 billion years ago.

Research seems to conclude that its rocks were not formed through the more usual plate tectonics process, in which the outer layer of the Earth’s crust’s stiff tectonic plates, which drift across the surface, bump and grind when their edges touch. That process only began around 3.2 billion years ago — and rock in the East Pilbara is older showing signs of being formed by a series of “gravitational overturn” events before that.

Gravitational overturns happened when the Earth was young and too hot for the rigid plate tectonics to form. It was more like a melted chocolate bar.

Thick piles of basalt lavas erupted and formed a dense crust, which the underlying, boiling core could barely support. The base of the cooling crust was heated again by the hot mantle beneath and started to melt again, making buoyant granitic magmas.

This all led to “unstable stratification” — low density granites overlaid by high density basalts, both layers bending and flowing in the high heat. Granitic blobs wanted to rise, basalts wanted to sink. Geological scientists call the blobs “plumes” and the reorganisation process going on “gravitational overturn”.

I have travelled the Pilbara with planet evolution scientists from NASA and the Caltech — the California Institute of Technology, a private doctorate-granting research university in California. Some told me that, in terms of understanding planetary evolution, the Pilbara was more useful than the entire moon program.

To complete the geology story, see where it’s taken us in the modern era. There are usually tours of BHP Billiton Mt Whaleback Mine, leaving from Newman Visitors Centre, and tours of Rio Tinto’s operations at Tom Price.

Camera IconHistoric display in Newman Visitor Centre. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

EAST PILBARA

Newman is a good base — you could stay here a week and day trip the region. Take a trip out to the Punda indigenous art site (about 20km from town, up the BHP access road) and Hickman Meteorite Crater.

Head on up to Marble Bar and Nullagine. Near the town of Marble Bar there’s the rock bar itself with its water holes. Nearby, there’s Comet Gold Mine with a museum, Chinaman’s Pool on an A-class reserve, and Corunna, the World War II air base. A four-wheel drive is needed to explore Coppin’s Gap and Doolena Gorge.

Around Nullagine, a gold rush town established in 1888, and the site of Australia’s first known diamond find, there’s Beaton’s Creek Gorge waterhole, Garden and Daylight Pools, and the ancient rocks of Conglomerate Gorge.

SHARING MY SPOTS …

Punda rock art site. Petroglyphs of human figures, spirit characters, boomerangs, kangaroos and emus, animal tracks and symbols used for waterholes and camps. After 28km on the sealed Marble Bar Road, we’ve turned onto the wide, graded gravel BHP road, followed this for 31km, and turned off onto a 13km track to the start of the Punda valley. Ask at Newman Visitor Centre for directions and free access permit.)

Hickman meteorite crater (out of Newman, 10km past Punda). Geological Survey Western Australia geologist Dr Arthur Hickman spotted this crater in the Hamersley Range in 2007 and it has been named for him. The 260 metre diameter crater is between 10,000 and 100,000 years old, but difficult to date. Good camping.

Corunna Downs WWII Airfield (from Marble Bar, down Corunna Downs Station Road and Salgash Road.) Japanese reconnaissance aircraft scoured this part of the Pilbara for a base which they knew must be here, but never found it. Beneath them were about 300 people, most in four-man tents, obviously without air conditioning or refrigeration, and tormented by heat, flies, snakes and scorpions. About 300 people lived at Corunna Downs, most in four-man tents, obviously without air conditioning or refrigeration, and tormented by heat, flies, snakes and scorpions. The temperature can reach 50C. The combined 30th bomber group of the US Air Force and No 25 Squadron of the RAAF were here from 1942 to 1947, with missions peaking between 1943 and 1945. Long range B24 Liberator bombers thundered down these strips which are still cleared. S 21°25’53.79″, E 119°46’56.73″.

Camera IconCorunna WWI airfield, East Pilbara. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

HIGH HIGHLIGHTS

Mt Meharry, the highest peak in WA at 1249m, with a track to the top. (It’s 85km from Tom Price, via Great Northern Highway, across Juna Downs Station and Parks and Wildlife land.)

Karratha lookouts. TV Hill Lookout, via Millstream Road; Rotary Lookout, via Yaburara Heritage Trail; Salt Shaker Lookout, via Yaburara Heritage Trail; Searipple Lookout, off Searipple Road.

WET HIGHLIGHTS

Water near Newman. Eagle Rock Falls and Pool; Three Pools (a three-tiered cascade, the track to this gorge is rough); Stuart’s Pool (rock track nicknamed the “two tyre track”); Opthalmia Dam, holding back 16sqkm of water, the dam was built in 1981, modelled on the only other one of its kind, in Israel. Kalgan’s Pool. (Down a 20km track just north of Newman.)

Staircase to the Moon. View from Onslow, First Avenue; Cossack, Settler’s Beach; Karratha, Hearson’s Cove; Port Hedland, Cooke Point Caravan Park on Goode Street.

Camera IconThe Courthouse. Cossack, in the Pilbara. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

TOWN HIGHLIGHTS

Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery and a cultural centre.

Cossack, once a port for pearl luggers before they moved to Broome in the 1880s, then for gold prospectors, and then the Pilbara’s pastoralist industry. And all that history seems still alive in Cossack.

To get to Cossack and Port Samson, I have turned off North West Coastal Highway at Roebourne — traditionally home of the Yindjibarndi people, and a town gazette in 1866, with stone heritage buildings. Roebourne Art Group, at 27 Roe Street, represents Ngarluma, Guruma, Banjyima, Marthuthunira and Torres Strait Islander artists too.

PILBARA COAST

The Pilbara coast is unusual for its hundreds of islands, from the Montebellos to the Mackerels. Point Samson Peninsular has beaches, plenty of fish, coral gardens, heritage trails and historic buildings which have been restored.

For fishers …

Bluebone fish, barramundi, whiting, crabs and squid. Just about everywhere along the Pilbara coast, and on its islands, there’s excellent fishing. Drop a line into holes and gutters at dawn and dusk. The locals’ favourite destinations include Dampier, Point Samson and Cossack, Onslow, Cowrie Cove, off Village Road, near Port Hedland, and the Mackerel Islands.

For boaties …

The Pilbara Inshore Islands Nature Reserve contains mostly small, remote islands between Exmouth and Cape Preston. Winter is most popular for boating, and brings with it the annual whale migration.

In addition to good fishing and birding, there are four species of marine turtle (green, loggerhead, hawksbill and flatback) that nest on the islands — particularly the Muiron, Locker, Thevenard, Serrurier and Sholl islands. Only day use is permitted on most islands.

Launching a boat out of Dampier, Karratha, opens up the Dampier Archipelago — 42 islands and islets within a 45km radius of Dampier. Twenty-five are nature reserves and many are good for day trips. Visitors are allowed to camp on some, including Enderby, Eaglehawk, Dolphin and Gidley. Camping is allowed only up to 100m inland of the high-water mark and for up to five nights only.

Tidepole Island is now better known as Sam’s Island. Sam came to the Pilbara in 1965 and it’s said his first visit to this island was on a raft. He loved the place so much he built a “castle”, which is still there. There’s trailer boat hire and boat charter. British explorer William Dampier visited in 1699, hence the name.

The State Government announced in August that the Port Hedland Spoilbank Marina would include a four-lane boat ramp, doubling the original size of the boat-launching facility, following community feedback.

Mackerel Islands. Just over 20km off the coast near Onslow, the Mackerels reef fish, coral trout, North West snapper big schools of queenfish and golden and giant trevally and pelagics including sailfish, wahoo and, of course, Spanish mackerel. Back in Onslow, try Four Mile Creek and Beadon Creek. There’s cabin accommodation, a restaurant and other facilities.

Boaters at the Montebello Islands can camp on Primrose, Bluebell, Crocus, Hermite and Renewal Islands all year, and on Northwest Island from April to September. They can stay no longer than five consecutive nights, and within 100 metres of the high-water mark. They were the site of three British atomic weapons tests in 1952 and 1956, and bunkers, monitoring stations, tracks and scrap metal can still be found on some islands, including Hermite Island.

Point Samson Peninsular provides a bridge between the terrestrial and oceanic worlds, from its beaches to coral gardens and abundant fish. It has heritage trails and restored historic buildings. Fish for barramundi to red emperor, prawns to blue manna and mud crabs, there’s a big variety of species in the tidal rivers. And there’s good accommodation and facilities

CLASSIC WATERING HOLES

Country pubs are all about country life, and they are often where we passers-through get a close-up glimpse of locals who stick and stay.

Iron Clad Hotel, Marble Bar. The Iron Clad Hotel was first built in 1892, and is about as iconic as pubs come. Heritage listed in what has been recognised as “Australia’s hottest town”, it’s a sweet combination just screaming for a cold drink. The pub opened in 1893 during the gold rush, at around the same time that Marble Bar was officially gazette. And it stands by a long-held promise: “You’ll receive a warm welcome.” HA!

Nullagine Hotel, Nullagine. We’re 189km northeast of Newman, 100km south-west of Marble Bar and 298km from Port Hedland. We’re in the heart of the East Pilbara in Nullagine, established following the discovery of gold in 1888. Gold prospecting and gem fossicking are still popular, and diamonds and gemstones were also mined here. The pub’s also known as the Conglomerate Hotel.

Esplanade Hotel, Port Hedland. Part if the fabric of the town, the Esplanade Hotel is part of the fabric of town, and its refurbishment makes this Port Hedland’s only 4.5 star hotel.

Pier Hotel, Port Hedland. It’s been here on The Esplanade since 1914 and has a colourful history. I’ve been here on “open mic” night — a stairway to heaven, not. Every Thursday is Karaoke Night … “come over, sing a song”.

‘Dampier Sailing Club’, Karratha. A great view and welcome at what is officially the Hampton Harbour Boat and Sailing Club.

Port Hedland Yacht Club, Port Hedland. A member will sign in up to five guests and introduce visitors to a friendly crowd. The food is famous — especially the curry.

Samson Beach Tavern, Port Samson. Take great ingredients — cold drinks, good food, Indian Ocean — and add a brilliant view.

Beadon Bay Hotel, Onslow. Built in 1924 and the survivor of many cyclones. (A real stunner in Onslow is the Onslow Beach Resort.)

Camera IconRed Earth Arts Precinct in Karratha, which opened in May 2018. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

ROCKSTAR ARTISTS

There are also rockstars in the arts, of course. Look out for local arts and crafts in shops, visitor and community centres and roadhouses and, of course, in the art centres which are much hubs of the Pilbara.

Local artists display, and through their eyes we see a different interpretation of the landscape, and respond to their sense of place.

Newman Some Martumili artists might be based at the East Pilbara Arts Centre, as I’ve mentioned, but its outreach programs see art coming in from outcamps and workshops. Opened in 2016, the community has a strong sense of ownership of the centre — it’s a live and vibrant part of the region.

Then, two hours’ drive from town, Wanna Munna rock carvings are worth time, by a shady waterhole close to the Great Northern Highway. There are carvings on the rocks in a small gorge in the upper reaches of the Weeli Wolli Creek. Walk on downstream to larger pools. (Ask at Newman Visitor Centre.) martumili.com.au

Millstream Yinjaa-Barni Art is a group of artists who predominantly belong to the Yindjibarndi language group. Their ancestral homelands are around the Millstream Tablelands. Look out for the work of Clifton Mack, Wendy Darby, Donna Wills, Cheyenne Phillips and Aileen, Alicia, Allery and Dawn Sandy. yinjaa-barni.com.au

Port Hedland Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery has long been a cultural centre, with The Junction Co running the community and cultural and arts space. Exhibitions have a local leaning and it sells bespoke artsy items. Its Jury Art Prize is on in its virtual gallery. Vote at thejunctionco.com.au

Spinifex Hill Studios, the home of the Spinifex Hill Artists, in the South Hedland Town Centre, works with Aboriginal artists from many different language groups and presents art of many styles. spinifexhillstudio.com.au

Karratha Adding spark to Karratha’s still new-look town centre, Red Earth Arts Precinct is a permanent home for arts and culture. The building’s shape reflects the Karratha hills that overlook it and it has a 450 seat theatre, rooftop cinema, outdoor amphitheatre and library. redearthartsprecinct.com.au

Cossack The Cossack Art Award, run by the City of Karratha Arts and Culture Team, usually comes to a head in July and August, when up to 300 works are accepted for exhibition. The team announces: “Unfortunately due to COVID-19 restrictions we have decided to only take Pilbara based artists for 2020. But for all our regional WA and interstate friends please keep an eye out for our 2021 awards.” Entries will be limited to 150. Major events such as the gala evening and family day have been removed from the program, and the exhibition will be presented online as a digital catalogue and virtual gallery, with online sales available. cossackartawards.com.au

Distances

Perth to Mt Magnet — 560km

Mt Magnet to Karijini National Park — 800km

Karijini to Millstream-Chichester National Park — 285km

Millstream-Chichester to Carnarvon — 635km

Carnarvon to Perth — 890km

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As far as the eye can see

Curated by Rilka Oakley, ‘As far as the eye can see’ celebrates the contemporary topography of both landscape and printmaking. From Aboriginal desert storytellers and knowledge keepers, through the regional experience of World Heritage sites and journeys from city to country, to the urban printmaker’s challenge of speaking up in the face of climate change and mining, 22 artists express their individual relationships to the land through a variety of print media, describing both the vast scale and the intimate detail of our diverse natural environment and portraying Australia’s unique and varied geography – coastal, mountain, desert and island terrain. A Blue Mountains City Art Gallery touring exhibition supported by Visions of Australia.

Susanna Castleden, Bitumen Landscape (Indian Ocean Drive), 2016, frottage and screenprint on gesso paper maps, 210 x 360cm.
Photograph: Silversalt.

Julie Paterson, Mountain Landscape (in process), 2016, screenprint on linen, 35 x 44cm. Courtesy the artist and Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, Queensland

Rochelle Summerfield, Lost, 2016, pigment print on archival paper, 89 x 113 cm. Courtesy the artist and Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, Queensland

Blue Mountains City Art Gallery
12 November 2016 to 15 January 2017
New South Wales

Logan Art Gallery
27 July to 1 September 2018
Queensland

Noosa Regional Gallery
7 September to 14 October 2018
Queensland

Redcliffe Art Gallery
19 October to 1 December 2018
Queensland

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery
2 February to 24 March 2019
Queensland

Tamworth Regional Gallery
6 April to 26 May 2019
New South Wales

Devonport Regional Gallery
8 June to 28 July 2019
Tasmania

Horsham Regional Art Gallery
24 August to 10 November 2019
Victoria

Riddoch Art Gallery
22 November 2019 to 12 January 2020
South Australia

Cowra Regional Art Gallery
16 June to 19 July 2020
New South Wales