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
Cheela Plains Station, Paraburdoo WA
Today there was a sense of space and spaciousness, not only in the land itself, but also in the time hours and company of the people around us…
Everyone seemed much more at ease today and people felt more comfortable exploring parts of the station on their own or in smaller groups. Lauren, Sam, and I wanted to get to our painting spot at sunrise so we could get in some painting time before it got too hot. The daytime temps were now in the thirties (a big change from the five degrees at home). We drove out at pre-dawn to a hill we endeared with the name ’Chomp’ because it looks as though a dinosaur has taken a chomp out of it. It has a name, however traditional Yinhawangka elder, Ivan Smirk, (whom I’d met the night before), could only remember its creation story, which tells of a time when the moon hit the earth. All agreed that it felt like a sacred place and I am drawn to paint it every time I visit. Lauren rolled out a huge linen canvas on the ground and Sam and I climbed up the nearest hill to get a more aerial perspective. As the sun rose over my right shoulder, it cast long shadows across the plains and lit up the orange hues of ‘Chomp’ and the other hillsides.
I sat on my painting stool with a concertina sketchbook and pencil in hand, following the sun as it peeled over the ridge, and a new body of work was envisioned. I planned a series of work which would take in the 180 degrees of this view. While up on the ridge I also wrote notes, took videos, and created gouache colour cards to assist me when I got back to my home studio.
We joined the others at Woongarra Pool, where we soaked our away any remnant vulnerabilities. All six women waded in the pool, feeling connected and part of a very special creative sisterhood. In this pool, we openly shared our experiences as women, artists, mothers, and individuals.
We were content and calm in this place.
Cheela Plains Station to Tom Price and Karijini approx. 100km
Taking it all in our stride (including flat tyres)…
We left Cheela this morning. And most of us felt like we didn’t want to move on just yet. Although the station was probably pleased to see us go after some of our late-night giggling – the nan and pops in their vans would definitely be waving us off cheerily.
On the morning of departure, we separated into three cars, Jess stayed back to interview station owners, Evan and Robyn Pensini. She had a fabulous discussion relating to the geological focal points on the property and the significance of the rocks found in the area which record 3500 million years of geological evolution of the Pilbara. On the way out of the station, Jess, Sam, and Rachel stopped to check out a cave recommended by Robyn. Here Rachel collected some Snakewood (acacia) from a nearby fire pit to use on glazes back in her studio. Sam also found herself completely fascinated by the curly, spiralling, branches of the trees.
Anita, Lauren, and I headed to Tom Price to stock up on groceries before heading out to Minhthukundi (Hamersley Gorge). We all went for a lovely swim in the gorgeously cold water before each of us found a quiet place to respond to this special spot. At one point, when all the other tourists had left, the wind stopped and the sun cast an eerie shadow across the rippled rock formations of the gorge. It was quite a magical experience, one no doubt, amplified by how present and connected we all felt after a few days responding creatively to the landscape.
Anita, Lauren, and I then headed out on the heavily corrugated road to our night’s accommodation at the Karijini Eco Retreat before the sunset. Followed MUCH later by the other girls who had unfortunately had a flat tyre. Rachel saved the day, fixing the tyre, and getting them back on the road.
It’s been wonderful to experience having time alone in this remote landscape but still knowing you are in close enough proximity to others to feel safe.
Karijini National Park
A bit of Dolly Parton and red dirt never hurt anyone…
Today everyone decided that we needed a break from driving around (and flat tyres) and chose to stay at the eco village and relax. After breakfast Anita and Sam took over a corner of the Eco café where they sat, drinking coffee and then later, wine while they drew the twisted white trunks of the Gums against the intense blue of the ranges.
Rachel, Jess, Lauren, and I went for a hike down to the base of Joffre Gorge which was within walking distance to the Eco Retreat. When sat, enveloped in the dark, cool, and curved rock walls, we chose not to create, but instead sit and be. Beneath the echoes of other tourists’ voices further down the gorge, we sat and took in the immense energy of the gorge. We then climbed slowly back up to the top to have some lunch and meet with the others.
Before embarking on our creative venture, we had all created our own concertina books to share around and today we pulled those out and placed them on the ground for everyone to contribute to. We were all singing along to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ (which has terrible lyrics but a good tune), as we worked on the collaborative artworks with our cheeks burning in the late afternoon sun.
We were covered in red dirt and paint and relishing in the playful, beautiful freedom that comes from mark making, using just the dirt and rocks.
Karijini National Park
Six women squeezed into a car, on the brink of something special…
Today Jess was up at the crack of dawn, while we slept soundly in our bunks, capturing the trees surrounding the village on film in her pj’s. Once awake, there was a sense of urgency amongst the group, with everyone wanting to make the most of our last day together.
We all wanted to head out and explore the Dales Gorge waterholes together, but we only had one vehicle between us. We didn’t want to risk taking the hire car on the heavily corrugated roads with no spare and risk another flat, and Anita’s little Jimmy was on limited fuel. So, we decided that the best option was to squeeze all six of us in my ute. The forty-five km out to the gorges at Karijini National Park felt like it was a lot longer. But the drive was most certainly worth it. After climbing down to the gorges, we enjoyed a luscious day of swimming, drawing, photographing, and walking between Fortescue falls and Fern Pool. Some even had a deluxe fish foot cleaning session in the fern pool.
On the way back from Dales Gorge we were talking about “art scars”, those words or acts or attitudes of others that scarred us as artists and even caused so much damage that we actually stopped our practice. We also spoke about our personal lives and how we balance art and the responsibilities of life. It was quite a special way to round off the trip.
Travelling together in one car, we pointed out interesting landforms to each other and discussed what inspired us. We took regular pit stops to stretch our legs, take photos and wander amongst the spinifex, trees, and rocks.
What an anomaly we were! Passing us by on the road were retired couples in their monster trucks and supersized caravans, young families and FIFO workers. And then there is us, six women squeezed into a car, travelling through this harsh environment, looking at the same landscape through such different eyes.
Six women squeezed into a car, on the brink of something special. An opportunity to express this experience of the ancient Pilbara Landscape In Her Voice.