Imaginative artists have teamed up with ambitious communities to paint massive murals on concrete silos throughout rural Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. Since about 2015 their creations have filled stark outback skies with star-lit nights, red-breasted rosellas, working sheepdogs and larger-than-life pioneers. Tens of thousands of tourists travel to long-forgotten rail sidings, reviving the spirits of close-knit, one-pub places. These activities are finding their way to the South West Slopes of NSW, where some of the best drylands wheat-growing countryside surrounds the village of Wallendbeen. At the intersection of two highways, Wallendbeen sits under two banks of silos.
Wallendbeen Community Association formed early in 2019. President Greg Quirk says painting the silos is a priority, among several other goals. Formed in part to respond to the threat of the post office closing, now about 50 people belong to the association, a strong representation in a village of 300 people. Instead of closing, a community postal agency is continuing to operate in the Community Hall with the help of 30 volunteers. “We like to think we have turned a potential loss into quite a nice win for the community. It is a good meeting and connection point,” Greg says.
Cootamundra Gundagai Regional Council has identified Wallendbeen as a village with economic potential leveraged off its location on the Olympic Highway and Burley Griffin Way. Proximity means Wallendbeen could be an afternoon trip from Young, or day trip from Canberra or Wagga Wagga, with medium to long term potential of becoming a destination in its own right, much like Jugiong, Molong or Tilba, should a service industry develop around a central theme. The community association believes towering tributes to the past and future would be such a theme, raising Wallendbeen’s tourist profile, and much more.
Among artwork themes under discussion are Wallendbeen’s military history, its outstanding agricultural qualities and music, the home-made variety that harks back to when instruments were in just about every household for self-amusement.
“A little bit of that culture is still there,” Greg says. “On a winter’s night we have a firebox outside the pub, and you will often find us sitting around there playing whatever, and having a singalong.”
The history of producing and shifting grain, stock and fruit out of Wallendbeen goes back more than 100 years. “There used to be fruit that went from Wallendbeen in boxes and some of it ended up in London,” Greg says. “There was an active railway siding there with freight being loaded on, stockyards and that has moved on to bigger points,” Greg says.
“We are hoping we end up with artwork that covers a number of key themes rather than one,” he says. “The future of agriculture will be important.” He says seeing a farmer in work shorts and old boots in an old ute can appear to the uninitiated to be fairly old tech. But the reality is far from that impression. “When you look at the gear the guys are using, they are always up for trying something new, and they are competitive, they will apply modern technology to whatever comes out, to be low cost producers of their various commodities. We are hoping we can somehow capture that and perhaps inspire the younger generation to look into the potential future for agriculture and get the appropriate training.”
Whatever the outcome, several generations are sure to be inspired as they have been in other tiny towns on the grain rail network where giant pictures climb several storeys into the air. The stock market-listed grain-handling company GrainCorp has suspended its silo art program for the time being, to deal with the ongoing drought. A spokeswoman says GrainCorp may revisit projects in the future.
In Victoria, the Silo Art Trail is described as Australia’s largest outdoor gallery. The trail stretches over 200 kilometres, providing an insight into the true spirit of the Wimmera Mallee. No timeframe or costings have been finalised for Wallendbeen, yet silos sprinkled across the countryside, splashed with artwork, remind Australians the bush prevails through droughts and good seasons. Their time will come.