South Coast artist Naomi Crowther continues to paint despite the difficult conditions on the coast currently. She hasn’t really got a choice: her art is her job, and her painting sales support herself and her two boys.
Many Canberrans have seen Naomi’s work at the Old Bus Depot markets in Kingston over the last 20 years at her fortnightly pop up gallery stall. Her distinctive style uses very thick paint to form flowers and birds on tonal backgrounds in beachy blues and dramatic red, white and gold.
Crowther trained in art at the ANU Institute of the Arts and moved from Queanbeyan to the coast six years ago. The beach a few minutes’ walk away is usually a place for snorkelling and bodyboarding for the family. But last week that same beach was almost the scene of a rushed evacuation from home.
The weatherboard family home is in leafy Sunshine Bay, seven minutes south of Batemans Bay.
“My home backs onto a reserve, so I spent days preparing the house prior to the New Year’s Eve fire,” she says.
“Even then I thought it was about to burn when the skies went dark and the huge red fire could be seen out the back. I was in tears as I said goodbye to my five chooks and was getting ready to put the dog and cat in the car.
“Then the RFS were in my driveway and said that although they couldn’t guarantee my home would be safe, it was better to stay inside with the animals than evacuate to the beach right now due to the hot thick smoke.
“I stayed and watched for flames and spot fires. My home is still standing, unlike others a few streets away.”
The beaches are still there too, but reminders of the fires are everywhere. “The more protected beaches in coves that don’t face the open ocean are full of burnt eucalyptus leaves, dead birds and ash,” Naomi Crowther says.
Homes that are still standing are also dusted with ash, inside and out, and everybody is cleaning. Many people are still in tents and caravans or at the evacuation centres. “We had my son’s friend staying with us after his family of seven escaped from their home with only what they were wearing, so we are extremely grateful we have a home,” Crowther comments.
The Kings Highway closure meant that even food was scarce, and the power was off for days. “The first police escort with two Coles trucks was a godsend as most people’s ice had melted after the third day without power,” she explains.
At first she didn’t feel ready to go back into her home studio, but life goes on, and the bills don’t stop for a bushfire.
“Two days ago the smoke cleared enough to see blue sky for the first time in about three weeks which lifted spirits greatly,” she says.
“I am reminding my children how lucky we are, and that I may not have my regular income but at least we are alive and have a house.”
With the highway to Canberra blocked and power still uncertain, many people would be taking a break. But this hard-working artist is not one to wait around.
“I’ve had to postpone my five ‘Sip & Create’ art workshops which I conduct from my studio due to the Kings Highway closure and the poor air quality.
“I’ve had to change my plans for my business by concentrating on social media to sell paintings to provide for my family. I feel so lucky to have a strong client base who have started ordering paintings this week,” she says.
“My regular Canberra customers have been the lifeblood of my practice for many years. Some of them have homes here at the coast and have commissioned special paintings from me to suit their interior spaces.”
Canberra residents continue to support Crowther’s art practice, and she is already wielding the paintbrush again. “I didn’t feel like going into the studio until I started received orders from my recent Facebook post with my ‘buy a painting’ appeal. Now I’m back in the studio, and my boys helped me unwrap all my new canvases ready to paint!”
Crowther will be missed at the next Kingston markets, but her work can still be seen online. “The main way is through my Facebook page, as our communications are still quite intermittent, I have trouble updating my website and Etsy store,” she says.
“I don’t know when the highway will open but I’ll be back when I can get there.”
You can find Naomi Crowther’s art on Facebook.