Silo Art Reaches the Hunter

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Heritage & Historical, Hunter Valley, News, Street Art ~ by Throsby on  6 Apr 2019

Merriwa joins the silo art club.

Artists are painting a mural on Merriwa’s disused GrainCorp silo that locals hope will put their Upper Hunter town firmly on the tourist trail.

They hope this will be the first stop for a string of silo artworks to rival Victoria’s famous silo art trail.

Surface preparation on the concrete silo bins. Image credit: Lee Spendlove of Authority Creative

Merriwa grain silo is, like all country silos, an imposing structure. It’s three 10 metre-round concrete bins stand 42 metres high, situated just north of the Golden Highway as it enters the township’s east. 

Honestly these things ARE overpowering and that is just a fact,” says Kieran Ryan, a silo model enthusiast.

The last trip up to Merriwa, that I was involved with comes to mind, and I remember as we reached the outskirts of Merriwa, over the rolling hills, we were greeted with this fantastic monolith being the S052 Merriwa Silo, like a magnificent welcoming beacon in the near distance, and we then knew that our journey was complete.

Big, yes they are big.

Applying concrete primer paint to the silo bins. Image credit: Lee Spendlove of Authority Creative
The Rural Town

Merriwa, a township of almost 2000 people, lies 200 km from Newcastle, within the Upper Hunter Shire in the far western reach of the Hunter Valley geographic zone, and in the shadow of the Liverpool Range.

Originally the property of the Wiradjuri people and known as Gummun Plains, the word ‘merriwa’ was interpreted as grass seeds, or the flour thereof.

Each year it holds the Festival of the Fleeces that began in 1990, a local fund-raising event that celebrates the region’s agricultural heritage.

Residents formed the Merriwa Railway Society to preserve the town’s rail heritage dating from 1917, which includes the station, signals, points, and a manual turntable. Member Duncan Carey regularly adds progress photographs of the silo mural work.

This relatively small town stands large in both present day amenity and historical significance. Its story is well told at AussieTowns.com.au – a read that will leave you with a strong sense of what it is to be Australian.

Design

The community of Merriwa chose the design, with a sheep in red socks in a field of golden foliage, populated by Australiana: a hut and windmill.

Art management team Authority Creative (AC) represents artist David Periera, who consulted Merriwa locals – especially school children, which probably accounts for the mural’s playful theme: a fresh departure from the portraiture adorning most silo art, beautiful though they are.

Without support by two Australian-owned companies, GrainCorp who proactively offered the silo, and generous materials donation by Resene Paint the project could not have happened.

Graincorp own the assets (some sites are active and some are not). For the past few years Graincorp has been actively seeking projects of this nature,” said Christopher Skyner, founder and director of Authority Creative .

Both Graincorp & Resene are companies with wonderful community values and both attempt to give back where possible. There has not really been any requests for publicity, but of course we like to mention them whenever we can.

Resene has donated a significant portion of the paint for free, as to be part of the project. We will use 160 litres of Resene Concrete Primer and 234 litres of Resene Lumbersider Acrylic Paint. Approximately $6000 worth of paint.

Though AC has not been involved with any other Hunter region projects, they are widely known and employed around Australia for many iconic commissioned works, such as Fintan Magee’s MARCS Festival Melbourne work, and ABC’s Flinders Street Surrey Hills Follow the Wanders work.

Mural supporters, from left: Alan Fletcher of Upper Hunter Shire Council, Belinda Olteanu of Upper Hunter Shire Council, David Lee Pereira the lead artist, Amy Roser of Authority Creative, and Steve McDonald of Upper Hunter Shire Council
Image credit: Lee Spendlove of Authority Creative
In The News

The project would hopefully be the first of many more silo art installations for New South Wales,” said Josh Connell, GrainCorp Senior Manager of the Northern Supply Chain.

It’s great to promote the town of Merriwa on the tourist map and we are very proud to provide the canvas for this eye-catching design. The artwork is unique to this area and injects a local element to the silo art trail.

We’re looking forward to adding to the trail on GrainCorp sites throughout New South Wales in the coming years."

Upper Hunter Mayor Wayne Bedggood thanked the Merriwa Tourism and Promotion Committee for their ongoing work, and GrainCorp for their agreement to partner in the public art project.

Public art was made a priority in the Merriwa Town Centre Master Plan after feedback from the community.

The silo’s art will be an attractive and eye-catching marker for Merriwa,” said Cr Ron Campbell, Chair of Merriwa Tourism and Promotion Committee.

This will be a great tourist attraction visible from the Golden Highway, [and we] are very excited for the project to get underway."

Mural lead artist David Pereira ~ Image credit: Lee Spendlove of Authority Creative
And Those Silos

In Australian cities, street art grew to epic proportions when it migrated from disused walls in back alleys to embellish entire skyscrapers.

Regional Australians, who equally embrace street art, rose literally to the challenge. As passive custodians of a massive network of hundreds of GrainCorp silos dotted through the countryside, they saw these canvasses standing silent and unadorned as too much to bear, too valuable to waste.

Merriwa’s retired GrainCorp silo comprises three, 10 metre round, steel-banded concrete bins. A 15,000 tonne capacity bulkhead was added in 1969. The structure, including base and bulkhead, stands 42 metres high, dominating the valley. Kieran Ryan’s excellent detailed collection of on-site photographs give a clear idea of the scale and construction of the buildings.

GrainCorp began in 1917 as a government enterprise and was know for decades as the Grain Elevators Board, operating hundreds of regional silos at railheads. It was privatised in 1992 with farmers gaining a large block of shareholdings.

In NSW dozens of grain silos have been retired for reasons of economics, attributed in part to state government railway line closures – some blame diverted funding to coal-carrying lines, that “squeezed out grain freight” and others directly accuse the government of infrastructure underspending. Improved roads fostered the ubiquity of modern diesel trucking, despite rail being, as it always will be, the cheapest form of bulk freight transport. Ask the coal miners.

In 1917 an 80 km stretch of Merriwa railway line branched from Muswellbrook and run via Sandy Hollow, but the line north of that township, the Merriwa span, was shuttered in 1988.

Farmers were forced to invest in expensive on-farm storage, and in many cases – where local grain sales were non-existent – chose to truck their grain directly to Newcastle, over distances of hundreds of kilometres (thus increasing road upkeep costs).

Older Merriwa grain croppers will recall the anger and anguish of being locked out of their local silo, and the consequent financial viability that threatened their livelihoods.

It will be grim irony should the brightly decorated structure bring some revival to this country town’s fortunes.

Silo Art Gallery

Silo Art Trail, Victoria

The Silo Art Trail mentioned early in this article is photographed by WikiMedia user mattinbgn and thus generously made shareable under Creative Commons licensing.

The string of decorated silos is “Australia’s largest outdoor gallery” and stretches over 200 kilometres across Victoria’s Wimmera Mallee, linking townships of Brim, Lascelles, Patchewollock, Rosebery, Rupanyup and Sheep Hills.

You gotta love those names.

Brim, perspective ~ Image credit: mattinbgn

Brim silo mural – vehicle in the foreground shows scale. Painted by Guido van Helten in December 2015 ~ Image credit: Brucephython

Rupanyup ~ Image credit: mattinbgn

Patchewollock ~ ~ Image credit: mattinbgn

Rosebery ~ Image credit: mattinbgn

Sheep Hill ~ Image credit: mattinbgn

Lascelles 1 – it’s a bugger when they paint all around the thing ~ Image credit: mattinbgn

Lascelles 2 ~ Image credit: mattinbgn

Below, setting up for work on the Merriwa silo.

Image credit: Lee Spendlove of Authority Creative


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