The dented kitchen sink looked like blokes in hobnailed-boots had danced on it. Beyond the termite-eaten floors and graffiti-splattered walls, vandals had smashed windows and doors.
Yet a group of Goulburn artists were overjoyed these bashed-up, 1891 rest rooms, were now their responsibility to repair and occupy.
Built for tired train drivers to sleep in at the end of their shifts, the barracks had stood empty for 20 years. They had once comprised 12 bedrooms, a kitchen and toilets for men finishing their work far from home in the early hours of the morning.
“We were desperate for premises,” Goulburn and District Arts and Crafts president Carol Divall said.
The artists had been moved on from previous accommodation when one of its members overheard a throw-away line during a meeting with the Goulburn council – the old barracks were available.
The group successfully applied for the railway property – standing on the eastern side of the main southern railway tracks off Blackshaw Road – and rolled up its sleeves to begin repairing the “absolutely ghastly” building.
Receiving $130,000 in grants, the gallery finally opened in 2012. And on Saturday the group celebrated its 10-year anniversary, having re-purposed and saved a heritage asset from total destruction.
The aptly-named “Gallery on Track” reflects the collective efforts and flair of its artists. These multi-skilled people include Robyn Primrose who became the driving force in overseeing the renovation.
Other team members include Lynette Brown – who has served as treasurer, secretary and on rosters – and her husband and builder Rodney, and Helen Dwyer and husband and carpenter Kevin. They were among early volunteers who decided to take out the ceilings to expose the original arched and raked-timber that forms today’s architectural highlight of Gallery on Track.
Carol said spending grant funds on Goulburn tradies had paid dividends. “Because it is a local project and you get local people, they have a vested interest in things, rather than outsiders.”
Another volunteer Cherie Oxley designed a cottage garden to complement the heritage building.
Heather West, who leads a small team of volunteers in the garden, said a posthole digger was used to sink holes through the heavy road base, otherwise it would have been impossible for anything to grow.
Inside, the layout evolved over the decade according to Carol.
“One time we just said why not make that end for artist-of-the-month, or the gallery end and move that and do this…so then you rope the husband in and it happens,” she said.
The gallery has been brought to life with hard work, innovation and art.
In 2016 pottery ceramicist Penny Saxton and textile and collage artist Karen Egan’s joint exhibition sold out. These days, acclaimed artist Stavros Papantoniou’s classes bring a steady stream of students.
His classes, regular workshops and ‘Creative Needles’, a group which makes quilts for those who have been abused, are conducted in the Crib Room.
Fellow artists and friends are regular customers in the timber-and-brick gallery, along with visitors from Sydney and Canberra. “They love it for unusual and not-too-expensive gifts,” Carol said. “One of my banes is people don’t put enough [money] on their work, for the amount of effort that’s involved.”
Enough surplus revenue is still generated to pay ongoing maintenance, but bigger jobs such as rising damp may need more grant funding. Members collaborate on maintenance with Transport Heritage NSW, which is responsible for the property.
Open Wednesday to Sunday, Gallery on Track is run entirely by volunteers, including skilled people over the years who have introduced software for financial management and bar coding for paintings, pottery and other pieces on sale.
But the gallery’s long-serving artists worry volunteers are becoming scarce.
“Where do you get the new volunteers?” Carol asked. “We’re getting old, where is the new crew? It’s really difficult. When you look back over 10 years you have a lot of treasurers, and secretaries, people who have given an awful lot to the organisation, you cannot single out people.”
Inquire about volunteering at Gallery on Track. Gallery on Track, at 2 Blackshaw Road, Goulburn, is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm but is closed Good Friday, Easter Monday and Anzac Day.