Art in the Flinders Ranges South Australian History

Art in the Flinders Ranges.

Aboriginal cave paintings.

Many forms of art have been practised in the Flinders Ranges. The first artists were the Aborigines during their thousands of years of living in, and travelling through, the Flinders Ranges. Long before the Aztecs or Egyptians practiced their art, Aborigines used the rocks as their canvas to make large numbers of paintings or carvings. In traditional Aboriginal societies there was a great interest in art. They expressed their art through painting, engraving, carving and modelling. It can be seen on rock walls, animal skins, wooden items, on the ground and on their own bodies. Often their art had a religious meaning. One of the mediums used in their art was ochre, which was highly priced, especially red ochre. One of the best ochre sites in the Flinders Ranges was near Parachilna Luckily some of these art forms have survived the ravages of man, beast and time and can still be seen and admired at different locations in the Flinders Ranges. Although some of the best known sites are at Oratunga, Yourambulla, Red Gorge and Chambers Gorge, there are numerous other localities in the Flinders Ranges where they can be admired.

The paintings at Arkaroo Rock are found on the underside of a huge rock and were probably begun nearly 6000 years ago. They are either drawn, using dry pigments like ochre or charcoal, brushed or applied by finger using wet pigments mixed with water, animal fat or blood. Arkaroo Rock, first discovered by Europeans in 1957 has been used by the Adnyamathanha people for thousands of years.

Non-Aboriginal artists, visitors and locals alike, have tried to capture the grandeur of the ranges and its flora and fauna as well. The first artist to do so was William Westall. He sketched the still un-named Flinders Ranges in March 1802 from Matthew Flinders' ship the 'Investigator'. Ever since the occupation of South Australia and the progress of the northern exploration and settlement of the Flinders Ranges, surveyors and artists have used their pen, pencil, brush and camera to draw, sketch or paint the Flinders Ranges in an attempt to capture its vistas and spectacular and elusive atmosphere.

In 1842 Thomas Burr produced some interesting sketches. Edward Charles Frome and James Henderson made some of the first paintings and a few sketches during their 1843 trip to Lake Frome. Samuel T. Gill accompanying Horrock's ill fated expedition in 1846 was also an early artist. He returned a year later to make some additional sketches and watercolours.

Aboriginal rock carvings.
George Goyder produced a sketch 'Mud Hut of Mt Brown and Devil's Peak' in 1857 and others of the Willochra Plain, Wilpena Pound and Mount Serle. B.H. Babbage produced some drawings of the Flinders Ranges in 1858. Many of these early sketches and paintings can now be viewed at the South Australian Art Gallery. The principal role of these artists, especially the surveyors among them, was to record the country for scientific or economic reasons. These artists were the official photographers of these early expeditions into a new land.

Several of the early pastoralists and later some of the wheat farmers also made sketches of their surroundings. Unfortunately most were made in station diaries or in their own and are not readily available to the general public. It was not really until the twentieth century when painters and photographers ventured north and discovered the Flinders Ranges.

Hans Heysen made the first of his many journeys into the Flinders Ranges in 1923. Heysen was enthralled, describing the Flinders Ranges as 'the bones of nature laid bare'. Heysen was the first to sketch and paint the Flinders Ranges for their artistic merit, recognising them as subjects of commercial worth. During 1926 Heysen had visited the Flinders Ranges and was highly impressed with its scenery, in particular its great variety of beautiful gum trees. Many years later he said; 'The Flinders region has held a 'spell' over me ever since I first went there looking for new material for brush and pencil. Since then my interest in this unique landscape has grown with each successive trip. The great Red Gums in the creek beds fill me with wonder; their feeling of strength of limb, of vigour and life, suggest the very spirit of endurance'. His well-known watercolour, Guardian of Brachina Gorge, was finished in 1937 at his home, the Cedars at Hahndorf, from several drawings made in the early 1930s.

He was not the only one filled with wonder and the potential commercial value of producing paintings of the Flinders Ranges. Many of these artists had visited the Flinders Ranges previously as tourists but came back later to record what they had admired. During the 1960s Ronald Coudrey's Kanyaka Country and Land of the Arkaroo, Gary Gaston's Rawnsleys Bluff, Terry Lewistka's Track to Moolooloo and Margaret Lang's Creek Bed At Telford provided some excellent paintings of the rugged landscapes that form part and parcel of the Flinders Ranges.

Others quickly followed, Margaret Carr, Allan Thomas Bernaldo, Melvine Duffy, Fred Klix, Janine Parsons, Max Ragless, Charles Rawling, Jeffrey Smart and George Whinnen. Artwork depicting scenes from the Flinders Ranges can be seen at several Art Galleries and Museums, particularly in Quorn and Hawker. Since 1982 Hawker is home to the yearly Hawker Art Exhibition, which is now known throughout Australia.

During the early 1930s a vastly different form of art was in the process of development. It would eventually turn into a multi million dollar industry. This success story started at Italowie Gorge in the Vulkathunha Gammon Ranges where now well known R.M. Williams was camped with his family near a spring and date palm. One night the family was joined by a man known as Dollar Mick and a lasting friendship developed between Dollar and Reg. It was Dollar who showed and taught Reg all he knew about leather and the items which could be crafted from it. After many trials and errors, Williams was able to make stockman's riding boots, stockwhips, saddles and many other busman items. One of Williams' earliest customers was Sidney Kidman.

Photographers have also been attracted to the Flinders Ranges. One of the earliest photographs taken in the Flinders Ranges was that of the Blinman Police 'Station' in about 1862. After the 1870s government officials often took photographs of the Flinders Ranges. Many policemen, stationmasters, teachers, church ministers and pastoral workers kept photographic records of their experiences in the north. Harold Cazneaux first visited the Flinders Ranges in 1937. His photographs soon found their way into many publications both in Australia and overseas. His best known picture is that of The Spirit of Endurance, showing a giant red gum on the edge of a creek and regarded as his most Australian picture. He was followed by Bernd Stoecker, Stavros Pippos and more recently Pete Dobre, have done much to focus attention on the Flinders Ranges.

Horrock's Pass

Because of its beautiful surroundings, historic buildings and climate, several films have been made in the Flinders Ranges. The first, in 1949, was Bitter Springs followed by Kangaroo. Both made use of the rugged landscape of Warren Gorge and the town ofQuorn. Other films which have used the Flinders Ranges scenery, and some of its locals, have been Back of Beyond, Robbery Under Arms, The Sundowners, Gallipoli, Sunday Too Far Away, Epsilon, A Thousand Skies, The Territorians, Alice to Nowhere, The Light Horsemen, One Night the Moon, filmed near Hawker, Kings in Grass Castles, Holy Smoke, Disappearance and Serenades. The last two films have used Leigh Creek as a base. They have all captured much of the Flinders Ranges' aura.

The four most recent films made in the Flinders Ranges were Lucky Miles, set in 1990, dealing with the topic of 'boat people'. Rabbit Proof Fence, made around the Leigh Creek area and dealing with Australia's Stolen Generation. The Tracker, made at the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the Northern Flinders deals with a racist police officer hunting a fugitive Aborigine.The last film using the Flinders ranges as its background setting was Wolf Creek, a chilling horrer thriller, written and directed by Greg McLean and John Jarratt, of Picnic at Hanging Rock fame, as the fictitious psychopath.

A completely different form of art, and entertainment came to the Flinders Ranges in 1988 when 'Opera in the Outback', with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, was staged near Beltana to celebrate Australia's Bicentenary. There are still more and different forms of art to be admired in the Flinders Ranges. There are the numerous ruins of mine buildings, railway structures and naturally the Cornish chimneys. They are most certainly a form of art as well. Last but not least there is Talc Alf just outside Lyndhurst on the Strzelecki Track.

More recently another form of 'art' has been added with the 'Marree Man, a drawing of an Aboriginal warrior. Discovered in June 1998, it turned out to be 4.2 kilometres long and about 28 kilometres around making it the world's largest piece of art. The artist responsible for it is still unknown.

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