Part One – In Her Voice: a Pilbara Creative Venture by Carly Le Cerf

In Her Voice – Pilbara Creative Venture

Six contemporary artists – Carly Le Cerf, Anita Phillips, Samantha Dennison, Rachel Falls-Williams, Lauren Kennedy, and Jessica Howard – come together for a week in the remote and ancient Pilbara landscape, responding and connecting to express the power and beauty of the unique environment. 

Words by Carly Le Cerf


Day 1

Home (Mount Barker) to Perth 367 km 

Overcoming mother’s guilt. They will survive without me…

I jumped out of bed in the early hours of the morning, still dark and freezing! The husband and kids were still asleep in their beds. My ute was packed the night before, filled to the brim with my gear and art supplies for the six artists heading on the trip. I climbed up into the driver’s seat, the dash confirming it was five degrees. I then quietly edged out of the driveway, the only sound being the gravel moving under the wheels. I plugged in my maps and began the first leg of the 1811 km journey to Cheela Plains Station. 

Already my shoulders had dropped, the tension of the past weeks had disappeared. The freedom of being away from the demands of family life was beginning to create the space I have been craving.  Adventure awaits!

Day 2

Perth to Geraldton 418 km 

After twelve months of planning, the excitement was a bit much for us to handle! The gin helped…

Spinifex punting sesh.

After meeting Anita on the highway just north of Perth, we tag teamed in our own cars up to Lauren’s place in Geraldton, arriving in the early afternoon. After a brisk beach walk, we watched the sun setting over the ocean from the balcony, and ate a delicious meal prepared by Lauren.

We were all giddy with excitement about the trip. All three of us talking at once! Talking about every aspect of painting imaginable, our families, and about our upcoming creative adventure together. All three of us mothers to daughters, at different life stages, but at this time, all equals, individuals, and artists.

The excitement settled somewhat as the accompanying gin took effect, and we decided on an early night. 

Day 3

Geraldton to Carnarvon 476 km 

We were just like the grey nomads, only way cooler…

Pit stop on way to Carnarvon.

We left early for Carnarvon as planned, but after only being on the road for forty minutes, the excitement and anticipation for the trip overwhelmed us and we decided to park up on the side of the road to paint. We were so eager to make the most of our time and this rare opportunity to create without restraint. 

The soft lush green and vibrant canola, set against the rugged outcrops caught our attention, as did the bent and twisted tree shapes that are so endemic to the region. Amidst the sound of distant and disconcerting gunshots, cars beeping their horns, and the more serene morning bird song, we quickly responded to the landscape with gouache in our journals and using the car bonnets as easels.

Once we felt content that we had expended some of our excess creative energy, we hit the road, joining the never-ending procession of grey nomads, heading North, chasing the sun. We moved slowly for the next four hours, along that vast length of highway, taking in the country as it morphed from the green of North Hampton to the salty peach sands of the Gascoyne, and then to the red of Carnarvon.

This day felt like an escape, all three of us leaving behind the mental load of jobs and families and giving ourselves permission to just be. 

Day 4

Carnarvon to Cheela Plains Station 550 km 

Like long lost friends, the acceptance and the joy were immediate…

Swimming at Vivash.

We were back on the road super early for our last leg of the journey to Cheela Plains and all set to travel from the coast to the Pilbara interior. The other artists were all hopping on board their connecting flight en route to our meeting point at Cheela Plains Station. 

The road heading inland was the highlight of the journey up. The road weaved through a fascinating landscape that stretched for infinity. Red oxide dirt sat stark against the grey-green vegetation, studded by an endless scattering of termite mounds. As we neared the station, the majestic Hamersley ranges enveloped us on both sides of the highway. It was absolutely breathtaking country. 

The others arrived a little later in the hire car, just in time for sunset. We all clambered to the top of the station’s iconic ‘Lucy’s lookout’, where we toasted the beginning of our creative venture. From this vista, we simultaneously felt awe-inspired. Laid out before us was an ancient and magnificent landscape, formed before even the most primitive life, one which saw ancient civilizations surge and thrive. 

On this hilltop, although some of us were only meeting for the first time, there was no sense of needing an introduction. The acceptance and the joy were immediate. An excitement at what was to come.

Day 5

Cheela Plains Station, Paraburdoo WA


Le Cerf at Vivash.

After breaky and packing our lunch into the esky, we headed out on a rough and courageous four-wheel-drive trek to Mt Vivash. Rock hopping along, for around forty minutes, with all six of us piled into mine and Anita’s cars. It was Anita’s new Jimmy (Suzy Q) inaugural four-wheel-drive debut, which handled it like an absolute champ (along with its driver). This demanding trek cemented the theme of the trip. Strong women, independent and adventurous, taking it in our stride and supporting each other along the way.

Once up high on Mt Vivash, balanced on the rocky outcrop, we looked down into the deep gorge. Feelings of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder filled me. I had visited and painted this site on previous trips and had always felt that I didn’t have a large enough painting surface with me. It is such a powerful and massive landscape. I was excited to return, prepared this time with my large easel and A1 Arches paper. We stayed there for a couple of hours, each artist spread out along the ridge existing in their own little bubble, collectively tuned into the wonder of the place. Budgies swooping and screeching and the wind echoing through the gorge below us.

We then slowly made our way down the track to the base of the gorge to explore the barely accessible waterhole. We weaved between river reeds, over rocks and past big hairy spiders to eventually plunge, screeching and laughing into the freezing pool where we swam to the sound of frogs and a rudely intrusive raven, feeling one with the landscape we were just creatively responding to.

Then back to the station for a delicious homestead meal before hitting the sack, feeling the empowerment that comes with heading fearlessly into a landscape with open hearts.  

Day 6

Cheela Plains Station, Paraburdoo WA

There were no set goals – each artist worked in whatever medium the place, mood, and the time inspired them to…

Anita at Bloodwood

As was now our routine, we headed out at dawn, making the most of the slow energy that is special to this time of the day. We drove the twenty-six-km to the station gorge road where a few of us commenced a spinifex painting session, revelling in the soft creamy grasses against the purple and indigo skies. I loosened up by working on two hillsides simultaneously in inks and watercolour. Rachel went collecting and found some interesting rusted machine parts that might inspire future sculptural works. We were all excited by what everybody else was experiencing, witnessing the way the ideas flowed without restraint was a precious gift.

After a midday swim at Woongarra Pool and a rest, we drove out of the station gates, fourteen km West to Bloodwood Lookout, another of my favourite sunset painting locations. We four-wheel-drive up the steep incline to the top of the hill to take in the magnificent vista. From up there you can see a vast and rich plain, studded with an abundance of bloodwood trees. The yellow light before sunset kisses the tops of the trees and the plains fade from rich red to purple along the horizon.

I once again retrieved the large easel out of the back of the ute and created a painting in direct response to the landscape before me, taking in the long purple shadows. Bloodwood Lookout is somewhere I return to each time I visit the station, and I have produced a number of works based on the location. Painting on that evening, with the warm sun on my face, felt like a bit of a homecoming for me. 

Jess caught some excellent drone footage, looking back over a western section of the Hamersley ranges, while the others expressed the place in their own way. The sun sank fast so we hit the road back to the station before it got too dark to see the cows basking on the warm bitumen highway. 

Evening drinkies preceded another great meal. It was a very merry evening that even included some dancing, with Anita recording all the funny little moments in her journal for future reminiscing. It was a reward for a great day. Not necessarily in how much we made but because we each connected deeply to the country in our own way. 

We each collected our visual memories and recorded feelings through doing and experiencing, that will fuel future bodies of work.


To be continued next week…

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