A new environment? This was a tough one. It was tempting to use this challenge as an excuse for a beach holiday, with summer just ending here, but I resisted! It would have been a bit of a stretch to call a weekend at the beach “experiencing a new environment”.
By chance a friend contacted me about joining him on a road trip west (being the city girl I am, I had almost forgotten that there was a west!), out through the Lockyer Valley, one of the richest areas of farming land in the world. I started reading about a small coal mining town called Acland that was all but abandoned. An abandoned town so close to the city, near an operational mine, and on prime agricultural land? We had to go and try to make sense of it ourselves!
Clever me only took my phone camera so I wasn’t able to capture everything quite as I’d like.
The town of Acland was founded in 1912 and once had a population of over 300, with about 60 homes in the town centre. In 2005 a coal mine operator started buying up the homes. From here the story gets complicated and today only one resident remains. You can read more about him and the town here.
When we pulled into Acland I was expecting to see an abandoned town with rows of dilapidated buildings to explore. Instead, there was a main street with manicured gardens and vacant blocks with mowed lawns. It felt almost like an alien craft had come in the night and beamed away all the buildings. One occupied house remains, along with a handful of other abandoned buildings including a church, school, and a few houses. There were slabs of concrete where houses used to stand, and some remnants of the demolition process with nature creeping back in all the cracks and gaps. The last resident, Glen, maintains the gardens that his family established, including a number of native eucalyptus trees. It is a place unlike anything I’ve experienced before, that is for sure.
It is a beautiful place and you can feel the love that Glen has for (what is left of) the town, but there is also an overwhelming feeling of loss. I wanted to capture this in my print but after spending a good chunk of my allotted time for this challenge trying, I had to concede that the story of Acland is too complex to capture in one print (and that I don’t completely understand all those complexities!). Instead I turned to my journey through Acland and what I had personally seen and experienced. Quickly I started to notice the same motif kept popping up, both in the crumbling buildings and flora, as well as the windmills we’d passed on the road. I started to build my sketches around these shapes and eventually things started to fall into place.
When I look at the final result it reminds me of the wonderful day I spent with friends venturing into the unknown. I particularly like the way that the branches curve around. In my mind they are taking the scenic route, turning off down unexplored paths because… “why not?” and discovering something amazing there.
Picking colours was almost as challenging as coming up with the pattern itself. I wanted to stay true to the faded and muted tones that I found in the environment (in a colourful way) and once again I found inspiration in the eucalyptus trees scattered over Acland. Nature is a wonderful thing with plants often consisting of harmonious colour relationships and eucalyptus plants are a great example of this with their dusty greens and complementary pinks. I didn’t take any great pictures of the trees myself but luckily a local artist, Sophie Munns, had previously visited Acland and posted a photo on her blog, so I was able to pinch some lovely colours from her image.
Finally (if I’ve kept your interest this long!) a big thanks must go to Madeleine and Ellen for a first assignment that not only challenged my skills and creative process but also encouraged me to discover and visit a wonderful place before it is lost forever.