By Ellen Morgan
Published: Thursday, August 13, 2020
Casting lengthy shadows on the golden crops below, wheat silos have become synonymous with our image of regional Australia.
Small country towns are marked by the concrete pillars, accompanied at times by only the local pub and the post office. In recent years, they’ve become towering works of art, transforming regional communities.
Silo art is a phenomenon Australia’s country towns are embracing. Beginning in Western Australia in 2015, it’s an initiative that’s since spread across the country. Painters and projection artists, both local, interstate and overseas, are turning silos into works of art. Here in SA, we have 8 sky-scraping country canvases.
While hard to miss in theory, finding one has been a case of luck and circumstance until recently. These days, there’s a dedicated trail – the Australian Silo Art Trail – all thanks to the hard work of one very passionate WA local, Annette Green, and husband Eric.
In 2018, Annette set out to record every silo she discovered on their travels around Australia in their converted camper-bus.
With the help of other travelling Aussies in a Facebook group, she created a comprehensive online guide of all 35 silos (and counting), as well as a series of downloadable and printed maps of each state.
In South Australia, the trail spans 1200km. From Coonalpyn in the east, to Tumby Bay in the west, the trail includes the townships of Karoonda, Waikerie, Wirrabara, Cowell, Quorn and Kimba. There’s also water tower artwork at Snowtown and Kadina.
Annette says the townships have seen incredible flow-on effects.
“The towers are helping visitors stay in the town, perhaps fill up their car, have a meal or even stay the night. For some of these towns, it’s a lifeline.
“Tumby Bay now has their own street art festival (Colour Tumby Bay), and Coonalpyn has reported an increase in their local economy, too. These works are really connecting our Aussie towns and people together.”
We had a chat with Cam Scale, Garry Duncan and Illuminart – some of the artists who’ve contributed to the state’s silo trail.
Cam Scale, Kimba
One of the most photographed of the South Australian silos, Kimba was painted by Sydney-born graffiti-artist turned muralist, Cam Scale. Cam completed the works in August 2017, an initiative of the Igniting Kimba group in an effort to bring tourism back to the regional township.
“It was my biggest job to date, and I think it still is,” he says.
“It’s about 25m tall, by 60m wide. It was a fairly big undertaking.”
The mural runs across 6 silos, depicting a young girl in a wheat field at sunset.
“There was a lot of community engagement – lots of ideas put forward and then we whittled it down to a recurring theme.”
“In Kimba, this was around the farming community, the youth and looking towards a brighter future – that’s how this work came about.”
Cam says it was important the community could relate to the work.
“I picked an image that resonates with people, and that they take away their own feelings from. It’s a universal picture that people seem to have enjoyed.”
Taking a month to complete (aside from 7 days lost to bad weather) and over 200L of paint, the mural was painted using a scribble grid technique, where the design is broken down into a number of sections.
“It’s actually a lot bigger than you think it’s going to be, because there’s more surface area with the curve of the silos,” he says.
“The image is also going to distort slightly, depending on where you are viewing it from.”
Aside from the logistics, Cam says the weather creates yet another challenge.
“High wind can cause a real problem, and you’re up on a lift to reach high sections, wearing a harness.”
But he says it’s well worth the hurdles.
“It’s a wonderful experience, and you’re in the town for such a long time. You spend time at the pub and get to know a lot of people – everyone is so welcoming. It’s one of the joys of this career.”
He says the silos are more than just a work of art for these regional communities.
“Often you’ve got people moving away from the towns, or roads no longer cutting through the towns, so giving people a reason to take a detour really helps small businesses and the community.”
Illuminart, Quorn and Karoonda
The silos at Quorn and Karoonda both feature artworks with a difference – they use projection technology to beam art onto the walls. SA-based projection art company Illuminart is behind the permanent installations, which founder Cindi Drennan says are close to her heart.
“Quorn is my hometown, so when they were thinking about developing tourism in the area, they asked if Illuminart would be involved,” she says.
“It’s a really huge honour when your hometown asks you to do something like this.”
It’s been a long time in the making, taking almost 4 years to get off the ground, quite literally. The projection features a short show to start, playing every night after sunset.
A combination of film, artwork and animations, it’s ever-changing, with the aim to explore stories of the town, Indigenous and ecological facts, rail history, and an intriguing story about the Quorn Country Women’s Association during World War II.
After this, there’s an exhibition of artworks, photos and imagery sourced from community members.
“It tells the history of the town and some of the quirky qualities of the place, the culture and the geology,” Cindi says.
“People can come at sunset, bring their snacks and nibbles, and it’s on early enough so they can go to the pub afterwards.”
There are a few chairs there, or you can bring your own.
The Karoonda silos also feature an ever-changing projection by night, all driven by local council and the community. By day, you can marvel at the mural painted by Mongolian-born Melbourne artist HEESCO.
Illuminart also has a permanent silo installation in the works at Wallaroo, as well as a number of different projection projects around the state in locations including Barmera, Mount Gambier and Victor Harbor.
“The regions are wonderful places to live, but a person who’s driving in a car from A to B will never really gain an insight into what makes that place special unless they spend a few weeks there talking to the locals,” Cindi says.
“That’s what I love about these projects – they go into the heart of the community, expressing them through art, and sharing with people what it’s like to live there.”
Garry Duncan, Waikerie
Splitting his time between the Adelaide Hills and the Riverland, South Australian artist Garry Duncan has a number of regional art projects under his belt, but the Waikerie silo was close to home, in more ways than one.
The mural depicts the theme ‘healthy river, healthy community’ – a Murray scene accompanied by cockatoos, frogs, pelicans, fish, water rats, tortoises and rain moths or ‘weikari’ (hence the town’s namesake).
“It was an important project to me because that was where I grew up [by the River], and where my kids grew up. All the species are specific to the area and I wanted it to really represent local knowledge; like it grew there and belonged there.”
The project took the passionate conservationist 6 weeks to complete, while Melbourne artist Jimmy Dvate painted an adjacent silo with a separate mural. They are the 5th silos to be completed in the South Australian trail.
“The surface of the silo was 50°C, and I had to contend with gale force winds, lightning and rain while doing it all freehand with a brush, so it was certainly a tough job.”
Garry says the silo artworks have created a way to use art as a means of connection and expression for regional communities, and our unique Aussie landscape. He says they also re-invigorate local pride and identity.
“I think there is a need for people to connect to country,” Garry says.
“We seem to have lost that connection to the countryside and the land that indigenous cultures have. All journeys start with a first step, and this is the first step.”
For more information, or to follow along the trail and order a map, visit australiansiloarttrail.com