Give your support to State of the Arts Media – a great service with a bright future

State of the Arts Media has just two weeks left to reach their crowdfunding goal of $4000. If they can’t reach it by November 23, they lose the benefit of the donations pledged to date. Their aim is to commission 23 stories from five local writers to continue building a record of arts and culture across western Sydney and regional New South Wales. It’s founded on their generous and audacious vision that the arts help to build understanding, innovation and social cohesion.

After much experimentation, Natalie Wadwell of south west Sydney and her co-founder Lucinda Davison of the NSW south coast established their multi platform website State of the Arts Media at the beginning of the year. At their campaign launch on October 23, they raised $1300 and are now 40% of their way to $4000. The campaign was developed under the umbrella of the international not-for-profit Start Some Good crowdfunding instigator and its Parramatta based event Pitch for Good. They help people initiate and independently finance their own social enterprises.

A year ago, I asked if there was a future for this blog Western Sydney Frontier and following Natalie’s enthusiastic response, State of the Arts Media is now a more than worthy successor. I have gladly contributed copies of my book Passion Purpose Meaning: Arts Activism in Western Sydney as rewards for donations to their fund.

Natalie writes –

There are 3 ways that you can help

Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. You can help us reach our all or nothing fundraising goal by mobilising your community to help us reach $4000 by the 23rd November. Without your support, we risk walking away with nothing.

Are you in?

  • Contribute to our fundraiser. You can choose from some awesome rewards, including copies of Katherine Knight’s book, Passion Purpose Meaning: Arts Activism in Western Sydney. There are only eight $50 vouchers for Taste Cultural Food Tours remaining. You can snap one up before they all go! Gift it to a friend or spoil yourself.
  • Share. Tell your friends why you support SOTA Media. We appreciate that not everyone can financially support our campaign, so don’t forget to include #cultureiseverywhere and we can say a BIG thank you!
  • Read. You can click here to read the talk that started it all at Pitch for Good Parramatta. I spoke about the importance of documenting art and culture from beyond major cities. Will you let me know what you think?

I’d really appreciate any support you can send our way, .
Are you feeling like a cultural crusader?

In creativity,

It will soon be four years since Natalie addressed a TEDxYouth@Sydney forum about engaging communities through art. Already in her second year of cultural theory at UNSW’s College of Fine Arts, she was fed up with the lack of creative opportunity for young people in her home suburb of Campbelltown and the constant assumption that people in western Sydney don’t appreciate arts and culture anyway.

She was well aware that the region already had some outstanding arts facilities and programs, like Campbelltown Arts Centre, almost entirely as a result of community advocacy supported by local councils, but there was little for independent young people wanting to explore opportunities for themselves. She knew it was tough, but there wasn’t much encouragement for a career in the arts and little of a climate that welcomed discussion, ideas and experimentation that might support such development.

Rather than accept the status quo, she set out to acquire the skills and experience necessary to enable the emergence of a self-sustaining dynamic creative environment. It had to be okay to trial things and learn from your mistakes. She volunteered and sought mentorship opportunities with creative venues like Campbelltown Arts Centre, 107 Projects in Redfern and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art to analyse and develop some alternative approaches. She was accepted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs last year and completed a course that gave her more of the tools and mentors she needed.

Check out all the links in this story and support in whatever way you can. Five dollars would be a help and $35 will reward you with a copy of the book. We will all benefit.


Yes, this blog does have a future – building on each other’s achievements!

Well, hello again! It’s more than two months since my last post. In that time, I have been sorting and culling files, books and other records and generally downsizing. Many were used in the writing of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, published in 2013 and in the subsequent publication of this blog Western Sydney Frontier – beginning in 2014. Simultaneously, it has meant a chance to reflect on the last 45 years of arts and cultural development I have witnessed and the monumental changes that have occurred across the region.


In the midst of this period, I was honoured to open the first exhibition of the recently formed Blacktown Studio Artists Collective, Blank Slate. It is a perfect illustration of what has happened in that 45 years. Distance and isolation remain facts of life, but population growth, cultural diversification, growth in social infrastructure like education and the arts and the determined advocacy of hundreds of passionate individuals has produced  extraordinary change.

Above is Blacktown Sun’s photo of the exhibiting artists, Jan Cleveringa, left, Nazanin Masharian, Suzannah Williams, Rosalind Stanley and Alex Cyreszko. Nazanin says “Blank Slate is a metaphor for the collective; we’re not sure what we’re going to be yet. We’re open to the energy of the group and what comes up,” They are all well educated, widely experienced and willing to explore their own histories in a context of local and global issues like displacement by war and colonisation, the impact of changing technologies, and climate change. They came together under the auspice of Blacktown Arts Centre and are also committed to Blacktown and its future.

ian-zammitThen last week I had the immense pleasure of an evening of conversation over dinner with two inspirational people, Ian Zammit, left, and Natalie Wadwell, right below. Our evening resulted from both of them contacting me after I questioned whether this blog has a future. Having reached the age of 75, I am increasingly reminded of my own mortality and the need for me to pass on the baton of networking, support and promotion. Both Ian and Natalie grew up in western Sydney. Each was creative and imaginative, but frustrated by the limited opportunities available locally. Ian grew up in Emu Heights, pursued music and theatre studies and completed an honours degree at Middlesex University in the UK, in 2006. He returned to live in Penrith and for five years worked at Carriageworks arts centre in Redfern. Then he took a gamble on working full time to develop Emu Heights Theatre Company with a group of local artists, teachers and business people and the support of his wife Michelle. The company survived five years of successful productions and work with local schools, but decided to close last year when facing unending struggles for money and resources.

Far from giving up, Ian recognised the need for more collaboration and mutual support among theatre people and established Theatre Links in the West, which meets monthly and shares theatre information through its Facebook page. His track record is leading to increasing professional employment opportunities for him in Penrith and Liverpool performing artsNatalie Wadwell - ARI forum.

Similarly, Natalie has been confronting the frustrations and challenges for young people in her local area and continually investigates, analyses and instigates creative solutions. With an appetite for learning, strategic thinking and a commitment to improved opportunities, she established an online presence with Wadwell Initiatives, giving her own background as a writer and creative instigator and a summary of her projects, writings, ideas and vulnerabilities. She has a Bachelor Art Theory/History (First Class Honours), UNSW Art and Design (2012-2015).

Earlier this year, she graduated with 16 other young people from the inaugural accelerator program conducted by the School of Social Entrepreneurs for young people wanting to drive social change in Western Sydney. Now, she is working with Lucinda Davison, founder and editor of the online publication State of the Arts to develop the site as an online platform promoting a more inclusive arts and culture conversation across New South Wales. “It aims to bring together creatives, art writers, performers, musicians and art organisations to investigate, engage and promote the diversity of creative initiatives and cultures. From the northern plains to the southern basin of NSW, including Greater Western Sydney and the ACT, State of the Arts will be a guide from country to coast.

State of the Arts brings together the broad experiences of art and culture “out there” to take art off its pedestal, because culture is everywhere.” Natalie is determined to ensure that western Sydney is well represented and the platform provides scope for lots of participation. Do check it out and consider contributing. State of the Arts is a more than worthy successor to Western Sydney Frontier and for the time being, we can gladly cross promote each other’s posts. In the meantime, those people who left generous comments supporting the continuation of my blog can feel pleased.

wagana-becky-chatfield-and-jo-clancy-2016While most of the arts and cultural achievements in western Sydney are the result of sustained collaborative effort and many disappointments, some require even more commitment than most. For Becky Chatfield, above left with Jo Clancy of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains, there are daily encounters with casual racism and denial of her own deep sense of identity. Statements like “Aboriginality is just unnecessary. It’s not really in the best interests of Aboriginal people. It’s not good for Aborigines to remain Aborigines.”

A week ago on Facebook, she posted “I tossed up whether or not to watch First Contact last night but decided I had to, the issue is too important. So many people saying ‘ignore it, don’t worry about it, give it no energy’. But unfortunately, I feel that I must indeed give energy to it and I believe we all should, because David Oldfield is not the only one with these sickening views, Australia has many people who think the way he does and I can’t close my eyes to it. I have a responsibility to my daughter and to all of our children to at least try. I will continue to spread the beauty of our culture, and I will call out the bullshit.
I want change and it won’t come unless we actively tackle the situation together.”

Then out of the blue came a contact from Anton Arets, an artist I hadn’t seen for 30 years. It was followed by a completely unsolicited response to my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney  – one that reflects the views of Ian and Natalie. “I have Blog - PPM book coverjust finished reading it. It is such an excellent, well researched and insightful publIcation . . . This book will help everyone contemplating a career in any of the many art forms and cultural support networks, to appreciate that its not an easy road, that there will be challenges, disappointments, limited budgets, rejections, lack of community support and opportunities – just to mention a few.. But they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They need to build on the foundation set by the many dedicated artists and artisans before them, and capitalise on every opportunity that presents itself or is even self created, regardless of how small it appears on the surface. Effort always pays dividends.

“Just thinking….. What the book highlighted in my mind, amongst other things, was how the Aboriginal community and also the European/Asian Migrant population, the New Australians, were basically told to bury their identity or ‘shut up and fit in..’  Art gave them their voice back, and helped them research and regain their identity as individuals worthy of dignity and respect. Its a voice we cannot afford to lose.

“As the powers-that-be continually implement and endorse the time tested quality of not listening to the general populace, this may end up being the only voice we have.”

In officially launching Blacktown Studio Artists Collective exhibition Blank Slate, I gave each of the artists a copy of Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney to thank them for their inspiration to the rest of us and to let them see themselves as part of a rich continuum of creative arts development in western Sydney. They work in a wide range of media to give expression to their ideas. Blank Slate continues at Blacktown Visitor Information and Heritage Centre in the original Blacktown Primary School, Civic Plaza, Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown, (across from Blacktown Library), until January 28, 2017. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm.

It’s a pleasure to know that Ian Zammit and Natalie Wadwell are looking forward as much as I am to getting together again early next year. All good wishes in the meantime.

“Living Traces” offers an international vision for North Parramatta heritage site

1-living-traces-griefThanks to the vision and passionate commitment of artist Bonney Djuric, the current exhibition Living Traces – a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition – is giving us a glimpse of possibilities both poignant and beautiful. The possibilities are implicit in her proposed International Site of Conscience embracing the convict Parramatta Female Factory and the Parramatta Girls Home. Both lie in the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct, a key site of Sydney’s colonial history from 1792 and part of the land of the Burramatta clan of the Darug people for at least 20,000 years.

This core of Australia’s national history is now threatened with subdivision and development by the NSW Government through its agency UrbanGrowth. The girls home is currently under investigation as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse and former individual male staff members are the subject of criminal investigations.

living-traces-workshop-bonney-djuricBonney, left, and the late Christina Green were the co-founders of Parragirls in 2006. Both had been institutionalised in the Parramatta Girls Home under a punitive welfare model  in the 1970s, though like most of the residents, neither had committed any crime. Both had struggled in adulthood to understand the harshness of their experiences and to find healing from the consequences. Parragirls was founded to assist other former residents to find similar recovery. As part of this process, following a chance meeting with artist Lily Hibberd, Bonney initiated the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project with Lily as creative director in 2012. There was little or no money. The early stages involved bringing to light through photography, history documentation, artworks, multimedia presentations and installations, a record of the abuses and punishments of life in the institution. A theatre production, a symposium conducted in partnership with UTS Shopfront and quiet meetings with former girls returning to face their past were all part of the process. They began to reach a wider public totally unaware of the history.

living-traces-workshop-gypsie-hayesAs Bonney explains in the Living Traces catalogue, “Important to both of us was coming up with a new model of ethical practice to engage with and interpret institutional sites of confinement that would place former occupants at the centre of the process rather than at the periphery as subjects, footnotes. . . . Slowly we have built community interest in the site, connections to arts, history and the museum sector, and are rekindling its early Indigenous history. Most importantly we’re exploring new ideas on how these sites can be used, and who should be involved in the process.” There are no similar models to guide the process. Aboriginal artist and Parragirl Gypsie Hayes, above, in a Living Traces workshop.

living-traces-workshop-jenny-mcnallyFor those of us who grew up outside Sydney and NSW, it it difficult to comprehend the fear and shame associated with the girls home. Although originally intended to provide safety and education in life skills for disadvantaged girls from the 1880s, instead it became a focus for brutality, moral judgements and the abuse of power, especially by male officers. As Bonney says in a video interview in Living Traces, “we were told we would never amount to anything.” Civic leaders and the media echoed these judgements, and until the home was forcibly closed in 1986, teenage girls were commonly threatened with the girls home if they didn’t behave. It was a mode of control and punishment, including shaved heads and solitary confinement, that had its origins in British naval practice in earlier centuries. Although Bonney and Christina Green (aka Riley) were each treated very differently in the home – Christina’s Aboriginality compounded her punishments – both buried their experiences until painful memory triggers became inescapable. For almost every former resident who survived the ordeal, this was the pattern – profound shame, guilt and burying memories of the past. Parragirl Jenny McNally, above, and her Living Traces collagraph, below.

living-traces-jenny-mcnallyLiving Traces, a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition has been a year long project with funding assistance from Arts NSW. Among the traces of the brutal and demeaning history perpetrated in the 19th century buildings of the Girls Home are names, initials and statements scratched into doors and window frames by girls locked in solitary confinement. So many records have been lost or destroyed by the state welfare authorities, and others not yet found, that sometimes the scratchings are the only evidence that a girl was ever there. Professional artists Gwen Harrison and Sue Anderson conducted 16 workshops with 12 former Parragirls to create delicate multilayered collagraphs incorporating traces of these scratchings and others in which they respond to those marks on their own lives. The results are printed on exquisite German etching paper, displayed individually throughout the exhibition and gathered into collective artist books.

living-traces-bethel-its-time-for-transparencyThe exhibition is laid out in Bethel, left as seen at the launch of Living Traces, the children’s hospital built in 1862 for the adjacent Roman Catholic Orphanage opened in 1844. Both buildings were subsequently part of the Girls Home. A catalogue and information sheet guide visitors through rooms upstairs and downstairs, where sound recordings, videos, and installations create an atmospheric context for the stories being told. Upstairs in particular the sight of stripped back walls and scratchings on doors bear grim witness to the girls’ experiences. With the official opening on Saturday, September 24, performance artist Zsuzsi Soboslay, presented the verbatim story of Jenny McNally’s struggle against shame and hiding her past from her family. As she spoke, she quietly wiped a window clean to reveal the words – It’s time for transparency. Her strength and dignity were almost palpable and her audience was deeply moved.

1-living-traces-its-time-for-transparencyArt is transforming a terrible history into a transcending experience uniquely personal and universally relevant, from which we can all learn and draw inspiration. Lily says, “Living Traces offers rare insight into the continuous history of a justice system that criminalises, incarcerates and punishes vulnerable children to this day.” For Bonney it is “opening up new ways of understanding ourselves as a nation who never questioned the rule of authority when it came to the fate of those who were placed in institutional care.” The goal is a Memory Museum for Women and Children for which they have already amassed a huge archive.

But there is an elephant in the room potentially threatening the future of the project, other than from the NSW Government. Without a unified voice, the government could easily ignore alternative proposals to their plans. In the last two years, government proposals for the site have led to the rise of the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, which has been instrumental in mounting a widespread inclusive campaign to save the 30 hectare heritage precinct. With the National Trust and Parramatta Chamber of Commerce, among others, they envisage a world class cultural, educational and tourist precinct that is economically viable and remains in public ownership. They have tried to engage Bonney and the Memory Project in the process. Last October they conducted a symposium about the future of the precinct drawing on a broad range of expert opinion and continue to garner support and commission alternative concepts to those of UrbanGrowth.

living-traces-bonney-djuricPrevious experience has taught Bonney to be deeply distrustful of heritage organisations, which “domesticate” or sentimentalise colonial history and fail to see the continuing impact on contemporary society. It is only her highly strategic and total commitment which has brought the project this far and won global recognition as the first Australian member of the 200 strong International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Bonney’s Living Traces collagraph, left.

About the Parramatta Memory Project Lily explains, “The Site of Conscience founding ethos is to bring ‘Memory to Action’ past and present experiences of women and children who have been in state welfare institutions. It is place of recognition for women and children who have been subjected to terrible injustice, cruelty and punishment in welfare and juvenile justice systems. Parramatta Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home are conjoined as the mother and child of this system from its colonial origins and legacies from the 20th century to the present day.

living-traces-gypsie-hayes“The Memory Museum for Women and Children will make the physical and emotional link between the Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home and the intergenerational and contemporary issues for all those who have similar experiences. This is a museum of inclusion: a home for otherwise disparate and vulnerable people: Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations and many others who have been treated unjustly and abandoned by the state and their carers.” International Sites of Conscience generate huge visitor numbers, she says, and strong economic returns. Gypsie Hayes’ Living Traces collagraph, left.

It’s time to talk. In the meantime, UrbanGrowth has just announced –


Growing ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct

Two days of panel discussions, working sessions, inspirational presentations, site tours and displays to help us grow ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct. Thursday and Friday, November 10 and 11. The Chapel, Norma Parker Centre,
1 Fleet Street, North Parramatta NSW 2145.
is free to attend. Pre-registration is required, as we have limited space. Register

I regret that I shall be unable to attend, but you can still make a contribution by phoning  Sara Wilson on 0419 815 087 or emailing

Living Traces continues only from Friday September 30 to next Sunday, October 2, 2 – 6pm, 1 Fleet St, Parramatta North.

Workshop images – Lucy Parakhina; Collagraph images – Lily Hibberd; Other images – Suzette Meade

A dance of many dimensions whirls around arts and sciences

1-PRG - Gravity and Wonder - Solar EclipseThere is a dance of many dimensions occurring around arts and sciences in the region. In the meantime, thank you to those who responded to the last post. A loss of internet and phone lines for six days and continuing household sickness has delayed follow up, but it will happen.

Reaching for the stars is just one element of a full program of activities for families, students and specialists to accompany the Gravity (and Wonder) exhibition opening at Penrith Regional Gallery, this Saturday, September 3, at 4pm. Topics will range from the impact of gravity on gardens to the glories of the night sky through the Western Sydney University Observatory telescope. Among the images on display will be the 1922 image, above, of a solar eclipse, part of the Museum of Arts and Sciences collection. The exhibition will be opened by Professor Barney Glover, vice-chancellor of Western Sydney University and president of the MAAS Board of Trustees, responsible for the controversial planned move of the Powerhouse Museum from Darling Harbour to Parramatta.

PRG - Powerhouse-Observatory_credit-Prudence-Upton-016-300x300On Sunday, September 11, there will be an adult and family day of exploration in the gallery gardens. Among the attractions will be Sydney Observatory gravity model demonstrations, left, and a conversation with landscape artist and host of ABC TV’s Gardening Australia, Costa Georgiadis, below. Costa’s conversation with David Duncan and Peter Western will take place in the gallery’s beautiful succulent garden. They will discuss the unique and curious elements of gravity and PRG - Gravity and Wonder - costa_large-300x300gardening.

Gravity (and Wonder) will present an all day Gravity Geeks Art + Science Symposium at Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, November 5. Artists and STEM researchers, educators, students and audience will come together in discussion and demonstration. The work of artists who collaborate with scientists in illuminating scientific concepts and related research concerning gravity will be presented.

Managed by Museums and Galleries of NSW and assisted by a Dobell Exhibition Grant, the Gravity (and Wonder) program will include star gazing from Western Sydney University Observatory and from the gallery gardens. Make sure you make at least one visit before the exhibition closes November 27.

On September 4, the National Trust presents a talk Saving the Powerhouse by Kylie Winkworth, heritage consultant and former trustee of the Powerhouse Museum.
The NSW Government proposes to sell and relocate the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta. The trust opposes the sale of the Powerhouse but supports the establishment of a museum at Parramatta. It believes there has been inadequate consultation on the options. Tickets.

Metadata-2-website-bannerIt will be dance and science that combine in three performances at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, from September 15 to 17. Metadata, image above is the new project of one of Australia’s leading contemporary dance companies, De Quincey Co. Metadata continues the company’s cross art form, cross disciplinary and frequent cross cultural explorations. They describe Metadata – pure light, moths and mathematics as an exploration of the latest developments in physics and cosmology. Metadata will be presented by Form Dance and Riverside Theatres and each performance will be followed by an arts-science exchange led by science academics from the University of Sydney. Bookings and information.

Respond quickly to threats and great opportunities

NPUR - proposed redevelopmentYou have until 5pm, this Sunday, July 24, to make a quick submission to the Parliamentary Enquiry into Crown Land. Better Planning Network, through North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) says, “The NSW Government is proposing major changes to the way Crown Land is managed. This includes transferring Crown Land back to local councils and prioritising a business model. This will see the disposal and sell-off of parcels of Crown Land.” Among the lands likely to be affected is the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct, for which UrbanGrowth NSW is currently developing a master plan – NPRAG’s impression of the initial buildings proposed for the site, above.

“In response to community concerns, a Parliamentary Inquiry has been convened to investigate: – the adequacy of community input & consultation regarding the commercial use & disposal of Crown land
– the benefits of active use and management of Crown land
– the most appropriate & effective measures to protect Crown Parramatta Gaol - ABCLand
– the extent of Aboriginal Land Claims over Crown land & opportunities to increase Aboriginal involvement in its management’.

Click proposed changes to find out more and click on this link to make a quick submission, which you can personalise. Parramatta Gaol, ABC photo right, is the subject of a successful land claim by the Deerubbin Aboriginal Land Council.

There are some great opportunities to learn new skills and participate in fascinating explorations. Tracks: Western Sydney is a pop-up program for young writers. On Saturday, August 6, Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) at Parramatta will host a day of workshops conducted by Express Media in partnership with Westwords – western Felicity CastagnaSydney’s literacy organisation for young people. You can take part in a fiction masterclass with Sarah Ayoub or a non-fiction masterclass with Rebecca Giggs. Young writers can find out what opportunities are available for them in western Sydney and beyond with Michael Campbell, Lily Mei, Sarah Saleh and David Graham. Then find out what happens when you have been selected for publication from Susie Anderson, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Kylie Fornasier and Felicity Castagna, pictured above. And if that’s not enough, listen to the work of some of western Sydney’s hottest young writers. Costs, bookings and details.

From Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest comes an exceptional opportunity. The gallery is about “to embark on a landmark project in partnership with the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences and Western Sydney University and needs volunteers to assist with its smooth running. This opportunity will particularly suit people interested in both art and science and is part of the upcoming exhibition Gravity (and Wonder) and its accompanying series of public programs. The exhibition and program examines gravity as a universal force, holding all things in place and in relationship to each other.

Penrith R Gallery - Gravity (and Wonder) Amy“The exhibition will bring together objects, historical drawings and photographs, technical and measuring instruments from the collection of MAAS alongside the work of contemporary Australian and international artists who have sought to engage with gravity and its wondrous elements. In addition to exhibiting existing art, new artworks have been commissioned from Sandra Selig and David Haines and Joyce Hinterding.

“Volunteer Invigilators will be required across the period 3 September – 27 November. Volunteers will be provided with training and induction and will work under the supervision of gallery staff.

“Deadline for applications: 31 July at midnight.
To apply: Please visit our website and read the extra information, then complete the downloadable application form and return it to us by the deadline.”

Haines and Hinterding - Gravity and WonderAs a preliminary to the opening of Gravity (and Wonder) art and science will intersect in a talk to be given at the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, on Monday, August 15, between 6 and 7pm, by David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. They are an artistic partnership, whose work is inspired by scientific concepts, while science is the foundation of their research and eventual artistic production. Their work is focused on the unseen and unheard – forces of energy, the environment and hallucinations. Their talk will precede their participation in the opening of the Gravity (and Wonder) exhibition at Penrith Regional Gallery on 3 September. Details and bookings.

Artists fight to preserve gallery’s heritage in Leacock Regional Park

Klaphake studio 3Is there nothing that will stop the Baird Government from pursuing the destruction of treasured cultural landmarks and robbing communities of their soul? Artists and supporters in south west Sydney are hoping there  is something, but the record so far is deeply discouraging. The latest property under threat is the former studio and home of Alice Klaphake, who opened south west Sydney’s first private modern art gallery in Leacocks Lane, Casula, in 1976. An unpretentious and intimate space, it was the former scientific laboratory of her late husband, Dr Wolf Klaphake. The Modern Art Gallery became a popular gathering place for local artists and crafts people. Alice was a feisty artist and community activist, whose gallery attracted artists and visitors like Lloyd Rees, Margo Lewers and Elisabeth Cummings. She was a great supporter of local artists and among her first exhibitors were Lorraine Maggs and Fonika Booth. Alice was 75, when she closed the gallery in 1984.

Klaphake studio 2She later sold the property to the NSW Government to become part of a Georges River cultural corridor. It is well connected to the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, where an ampitheatre was built in recognition of her contribution to modern art in the region. The land is controlled by NSW National Parks, which in 2012 drafted a plan of management for Leacock Regional Park. Her son, author, sculptor and botanist, Van Klaphake has continued to live at Mount Omei, as the property has long been known, and which has been his home since 1949. Now artists and friends have rallied in support of him. Van has been asked to leave the property and is deeply concerned about the future of Mount Omei. “We always envisaged that it would become an artists precinct and continue to support emerging artists in the region. I’ve written to the Minister but I’ve still been asked to vacate the property at the end of June, even though I’ve lived here since I was 2 years old. I’m concerned the property is earmarked for demolition.”

Klaphake studio - Mai's RiderFor the last three Sundays, groups of artists have organised brief exhibitions of their work in the former gallery space, drawing attention to the threats facing its future and celebrating Alice’s contribution to their lives and community. They have posted their concerns on social media and urged people to contact their local state MP Anoulack Chanthivong. On the first Sunday, June 12, Mai Nguyen-Long exhibited her work Rider, right, among pieces by 19 other artists. Mai posted “A heritage assessment is being conducted but at the same time Van Klaphake has been told that National Parks plan to demolish the buildings and the premises must be vacated by 30 June. As part of an uncertain farewell / act of support, artists have joined the Gallery to stage 3 exhibitions 3 Sundays in a row.”

Lorraine Maggs with Cut Loose (Oil)For June 19, another post urged “It might be raining but the Sunday Series continues!! Plunge into the reality check pool with confronting and thought provoking works by Vieterartist Ray Beattie & Julie Textworthy this Sunday at Mount Omei. Acclaimed artist Lorraine Maggs will exhibit a diverse range of works including oils, mixed medium and 3-D works and sculptures at the final Sunday series on June 26. Van Klaphake will exhibit his detailed botanical drawings and meticulous bird carvings.” Left is Van’s photo – Lorraine Maggs with a fantastic oil titled “Cut Loose” The same work can be seen in last Sunday’s exhibition of her work, below.

Last Sunday Keryn Coulter posted, “I have just returned from viewing the Big Fish Little Fish Exhibition at Mount Omei Gallery Casula. The gallery has a wonderful history and is under threat of demolition by the State Government. Thank you LoKlaphake - Lorraine Maggsrraine Lois Maggs for inviting me along. It really is a quite magical place and should be preserved.” Her observations correspond with Van’s own views, “I hope that this exhibition will be an opportunity for the public to visit this magical place, to experience Leacock Regional Park’s wonderful birdlife and to support local artists as my mother and her community always envisioned.”

The artists are posting – PLEASE HELP SAVE MOUNT OMEI Write to: Macquarie Fields State Member of Parliament, Mr Anoulack Chanthivong MP, Shop 3 Ground Floor, 2–6 Oxford St, Ingleburn 2565. Or you can phone his office 02 9618 2077 or email

Could this be Penrith’s creative hub for the future?

Breuer Building - Penrith 1Local artists and theatre makers are holding their collective breath that an appropriate buyer might purchase a building currently on the market in Penrith. For some years they have been seeking a suitable space as an arts and cultural hub, where people can work together to create events and products, to teach and learn from each other and to provide a flourishing centre of inspiration for the entire community. The building is the only one in Australia designed by modernist architect Marcel Breuer, whose most famous work is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. It was one of several around the world originally designed for the Torin Corporation, manufacturers of air moving equipment. The building was designed in collaboration with architect Harry Seidler and landscape architect Bruce Rickard. It was completed in 1976 and state heritage listed in 2009.

The BreueBreuer Building - Penrith 2r building is located in Coombes Drive just off Coreen Avenue.  Photos of the building by Max Dupain were published in Architecture Australia, Vol. 66, No. 3 in July 1977. On Facebook Billy Gruner has posted some of the photos, see left and below. He asks “Should this be the new centre for Art, Culture and Design in the West? The fabulous Marcel Breuer building is for sale in Penrith. This building needs to be lobbied as the location of a Centre of Contemporary Arts and Culture in the West. Penrith Breuer Building - Penrith 3set on the river at the foot of the Blue Mountains already houses the Western Sydney University, TAFE, a major hospital and medical centres. Many would like to see this national treasure  turned into a community asset. Please pass this on to friends and associates.” On Theatre Links in the West, Ian Zammit says, “This could be a game changer for our city and our cultural life.”

Penrith was the first local government in western Sydney to provide a home for the region’s first professional theatre company, Q Theatre, in 1977. It opened a regional art gallery in 1981 in association with the Lewers Bequest, and launched The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in 1990. The Joan, as it became known, also incorporated the Penrith Conservatorium of Music.

While these spaces are greatly appreciated and well used, they are too costly and inappropriate for the messy activities and experimentation that can produce the completed works for presentation in these other facilities. The Breuer building looks like a perfect solution. What do you think?