by Kim Kelly

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GLOBAL & LOCAL

Last night I went to an arts networking soiree in what passes for the big smoke in my shire – the town of Blayney.

My kind of town, Blayney has a population of about five thousand – a figure that jumps to a whopping almost seven thousand if you include all the little villages dotted around her. It’s essentially a farming centre, a place to get the tractor serviced, and set as it is in the spectacular green and gold hills of the Central West of New South Wales, it’s endlessly beautiful, too.

But the truly wonderful thing about living in a shire like this is that it’s brimming with people who do stuff rather than talk about it. Over the past two years I’ve called this place home, I’ve met a seemingly disproportionate number of artists and they’re an eclectic bunch.

There’s Rebecca Price, the silversmith, who makes exquisite, bespoke jewelry in her workshop on the main street, White Rock Silver. There’s Tom Miller the blacksmith and his partner Monika Altmann who have a magical bush gallery called Metal as Anything out at Newbridge. There’s Cecily Walters who creates images from handmade felt that look like dreamy watercolours, and Loretta Kervin, who paints and crotchets her sunshine onto just about anything. There’s the rainbow joy of Tracey Mackie’s canvases capturing the creatures we share this space with – the cows, chooks, horses, dogs and sheep.

There’s internationally renowned Wiradjuri artist, Nyree Reynolds, whose ethereal depictions of people and place seem to step out of the ancient mists that clothe these hills. Nyree spends a great deal of her time with the school children of the region, too, switching their little souls on to the power of their creativity, and – so I learned last night – always paints while cuddling either a Siamese cat or a chihuahua.

Last night I also learned that there’s a piano museum in the tiny village of Neville – the only piano museum in Australia. There, they restore old pianos – as old as the 1840s! – bringing them back to life not only as playable instruments but so that a new generation might marvel at their breathtakingly intricate craftsmanship.

And I’ll never forget the lad who swaggered into the pop-up art gallery in town last Christmas, boots dusty and still smelling of the paddock, with his portfolio of photographs under his arm. Gorgeous! And his photos weren’t too bad either.

None of the people I’ve just mentioned do what they do for the money or the glory or because someone in Sydney thinks it might be fashionable. They do this stuff because they love it, because they want to create beauty, and because exploring and recording and expressing our experience of life always makes a contribution to understanding who and what we are as humans. And I’ve only mentioned a handful of them here.

Our networking soirees happen every winter via Charles Sturt University’s Arts OutWest program – by the sparkling energy and enthusiasm of Tracey Callinan, who heads up the team, and Penny May, who’s just joined them as our local mover and shaker. Clinking glasses with us last night was also General Manager of Blayney Council, Rebecca Ryan, who spoke about all the creative ways she’s promoting our shire to the rest of the country – and the world. Rebecca’s vision is that when people find out what’s on offer they’ll want to spend whole holidays here, visiting each of the villages, discovering our artists, tasting our produce, delighting in the landscape, breathing in the fresh, cool air…

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As we were all chatting away, inspiring each other, I was reminded of a comment made a few weeks ago by a young woman over the other side of the world, in London, when she was asked about what Brexit – the UK’s exit from the European Union – meant to her. She said, appearing astonished that anyone should ever consider a boundary to connectedness a good thing: ‘The future is global and local.’

And so it is. It’s an idea that’s being harnessed by my publisher – The Author People – right now. Breaking boundaries. Valuing the authentic over mass-market corporate machinery. Valuing passion and its multilayered transactional power over productivity spreadsheets. Many of us are tired of being told what to buy and what to love. But the tide is turning. Or perhaps returning to a time when how and why things are made is of equal importance to the thing itself. A time when there was no metropolitan monopoly on the vanguard.

It’s a little-known historical fact that no-one embraces the new like rural Australians do. Our farmers were among the first in the world to embrace the automobile and the aeroplane, and then radio, and now the internet. The tyranny of distance makes it so. And I think our future will show a resurgence in the worth of our cultural connectedness to the land out here, too. Our diversity, complexity. All our colours.

Why not? After all, my novella, Wild Chicory, is making her sweet mark these days – a story, ultimately, of how I came to live and write in this place, the flowers of my country lane sprinkled across her cover. A little piece of Blayney Shire set free across the globe.

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The launch of Wild Chicory at White Rock Silver earlier this year, photo by local scriptwriter Joe Velikovsky.
The photograph that heads up this piece shows one of the garden installations at Metal As Anything.