Hunkering down

After a ferocious night and the wind still howling, we hunker down, mostly on the front veranda of the Coward Springs residence once the Station Master’s House when the Ghan passed this way. The sun shines on us and we are out of the wind.

Janine continues with her daily diary – a timeline of the camp in found objects, natural and made. ‘Things I see in the course of the day – linear things.’ The long strip of jute is reminiscent of the long horizon or the old railway track.

“It was a pre-planned exercise because I wanted to make something that was durable and transportable.’ But the value of the group dynamic revealed itself on the first day when Kenita suggested hat she pull jute threads from the strap to sew on the objects.

‘I choose things that appeal when I pick them up but I lay them out for contrast in colour and material.’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The artists on the veranda seem to have a plant focus, perhaps concentrating on the small things to block out the larger all consuming wind.

Maggie is focused on space and her place in it. She first visited the wetlands but could not find space there. She certainly found it at Lake Eyre and is contemplating how to convey the scale – on the edge the enormous cracked plates and the corrugations, the expanse of blindingly white salt. Perhaps a vertical Japanese paper series. ‘With the vertical you feel like you go a long way. But with the horizontal …’ She and Deb discuss the possibilities and rummage through their sketchbooks. Deb is thinking about corrugated iron.

Whatever Maggie and Deb, realise, I have no doubt it will be evocative of the space we are all in for this short time. Each in her own way.

The day ends with a group meeting. Do we want an exhibition to come out of this camp? Yes we do.


Island to Outback is supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund through Country Arts SA

Shooting the breeze

Kangaroo Islanders are used to severe winds, and it’s a lot windier back home at the moment. But back home I wouldn’t be living in a tent whose insides bear a layer of fine red dust – over everything.

Stop complaining. Today I see the Brolgas up close. For the full prehistoric nature of their faces see @quentinchester on Instagram.


We brave the wind in the morning and the pottery workshop continues. Janine mimics a found piece of wood from the butchered Dead Finish tree and forms a pot using tools that are new to her as well as her fingers and hands.


Deb works and works on her pot. Is she satisfied with the shape and texture yet?


Kenita alternates between her clay work and her weaving. She says that arriving at Coward Springs on the red moon inspired her red moon weaving. She thinks about the women who came out to these remote areas in the early days and the tough life they would have had. She is making her Mirraca moon necklace for them, for that female endeavour in the landscape.

Her clay weaving was inspired when out at the mound springs she saw how the foliage in all the plants was intertwined to protect from the wind swirls. ‘In this environment everything needs many layers of support.’ She’ll weave in string made from local rushes after the clay is fired.


Mirraca [Arabunna for red; spelling not known] moon necklace in the making on Kenita’s knee


We retreat to the museum – out of the wind – in the afternoon, when Gethin gives us tips on sound recording on our phones. Some of the artists are interested in incorporating sound into their art practice and this helps them make a start. He demonstrates different types of microphones and their purposes for those who want to move up from phone alone.

Gethin (centre) demonstrating a directional microphone

Audacity, Gethin says, is very good, and free, sound editing software, and demonstrates its use as well. And he generously offers one-on-one tuition back on Kangaroo Island to those who want to learn more.

It’s a wild and wet night at Coward Springs and across much of the state. The best thing is that the dry landscape has a drink, and we all survive the night.


Moving day

Was it the inspiration of Lake Eyre? Or was it just that the first few days of ‘what am I doing?’ what can I do?’ ‘I’ve hardly got any time to get anything done’ came to an end? Whatever, today was moving day.

Action sprung up all around. Quentin arriving in the dark at Coward Springs mound springs to grab the first light; Dave and Ruth filming in the earliest rays; Ria, Prue and Nick painting that morning glow of the wetlands.

Ria and Prue at the wetlands

Two Brolgas came to visit as they do, and made a heron seem like a small bird.


Not everyone rose that early but they awoke ready to make art. Deb’s clay class attracted a crowd  – some who had not worked clay before; some who revived the pleasure; some who continued on as they were. First-timer Janine said that she enjoyed it immensely. Maggie shared the bench and painted.

Prue, Ria and Maggie at the potting bench

It was a busy day. I took four visits to brolga environs, begging them to come in closer (and envying Ria – they practically landed on top of her when they flew in). Sitting in on the clay moulding and watching imaginations run riot under Deb’s minimalist instruction. The conversation was instructive, illuminating even, though not necessarily about working clay.

Kenita and Janine work that clay

The museum housed in the Engine Driver’s Cabin has been beautifully restored and curated by Greg and Prue. That was the location of my interview for Dave and Ruth’s film, with Gethin controlling the sound.

Quick off to the spa before the crowds descend for Ria and Deb.

Janine’s heading to the glass garden to make today’s collection for her linear diary of the Coward Springs camp. More on that tomorrow.

I jump in with Quentin and Dale for a trip to nearby Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park and the Bubbler mound spring within. But The Bubbler is  not cooperating – bubbles schmubbles. The sun is setting. Quentin is not getting the photos he wants. Then a juvenile Brown Falcon settles on a prominent branch and proceeds to pose no matter how close Quentin gets and which angle he approaches from. There’s always something to capture with the camera.

A quick visit to the placid Blanche Cup and then off for a long walk to a new mound that does not meet expectations let alone exceed them. And we head back towards the thin strip of orange sky above the horizon while we can still see where the car is.

It’s wine o’clock. Buffer up against the mosquitoes.

My god, Lake Eyre

Work? What work? Today was about taking in more beauty and wonder and marvels than my brain and heart and soul could possibly digest.

But first our guide, Reg Dodd of Arabunna Tours, showed us an ex-Dead Finish tree near the roadside, which some person(?) had recently taken a chainsaw to for firewood. There are almost none of the small trees, like Dead Finish and Mulga, left on these plains. Surely they would have been a scattered feature of the landscape not too long ago. And seashells in their millions, interspersed with the occasional fish vertebra where an ancient seashore was to become a borrow pit for road works until the local people stopped that atrocity.


On to Lake Eyre south. Not the lookout far from the shoreline but into an area known to Reg, and a lucky few, right next to the shore.


Down the short cliff across a mottled salty plane we walked. Then gingerly across plates cracked from the salty layer  – some brittle, some firm – to the thicker crust of white, white salt extending, it seemed, forever.


Travelling away, I could almost convince myself that the cracked plates were gentle waves and the salt behind was water rippling with a non-existent breeze.

How to top that off? How about some cooking mounds that would escape the western eye but were verified by ash underneath the gibber, and fossil bivalves and trees. Not quite but …


And the occasional flower (without my flora, a pelargonium and a chenopod)


Island to Outback is supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund through Country Arts SA



Brand new day at Coward Springs

Waking up in the desert is an altogether different experience from your own familiar bed at home. It’s cold, the birds are yelling it’s a brand new day, and no household chores are niggling at you to be done. Sounds like a template for inspiration and creativity.

This is my first morning at the Island to Outback, Kangaroo Island artists’ camp at Coward Springs. The others woke here two mornings ago when I was just setting out from Kangaroo Island.

But here we all are now: Artists Deb Sleeman, Janine Mackintosh, Kenita Williamson, Maggie Welz, Nicholas Burness Pike, Quentin Chester, Ria Byass, Prue Coulls; filmmakers Dave Foreman and Ruth de La Lande; sound whizz Gethin Creagh; writer Kathie Stove; and supporters Dale Arnott, Holger Welz and Greg Emmett.

Island to Outback is supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund through Country Arts SA

Have we won yet?

Southern Ocean coast near Pennington Bay, Kangaroo Island. Photo: Quentin Chester

Earlier this year, the environment minister in South Australia declined to sell some coastal crown land that developers wanted for part of a golf course. It was a big win by a community who fought an intense campaign within a short time window. And we still really don’t know whether the win is real or token. We’ll see.

Read it here on the Live Encounters website

Art Museum of Kangaroo Island

AMKI_logoThat sound’s good doesn’t it?

Art Museum of Kangaroo Island – an inspiring building housing the art of Kangaroo Island, displaying travelling and temporary exhibitions, and hosting visiting artists.

A group of brave Kangaroo Island women – Deb, Janine, Kathie, Ria and Sarah – have set out to build this place. I count myself (Kathie) among the brave, that’s when I’m not feeling terrified of the task we have set ourselves.

We are not thinking small. We want a regional gallery worthy of the artists of Kangaroo Island today and yesterday, and of the landscape and beauty of Kangaroo Island.

Our first task is to set up a funding base so that we can operate and look for the kind of big bucks that we will need to plan and build the Art Museum of Kangaroo Island.

Our crowdfunding campaign has 11 days to run. We are almost at our stretch target of $20,000. But whether we reach it or exceed it all funds raised will be put to building a case and an organisation that can make the Art Museum Kangaroo Island deserves.  Please help with even a small amount.

See our local member Rebekha Sharkie speak for us in the Australian Parliament.