Central Darling Artist Gallery

sign at Wilcannia Arts Centre


CAMRA researchers at UTS are building this online showcase of the artists and makers living and working in the Central Darling Shire of NSW's far west.

Over the next few months more artist profiles will be published here.

Gaye Nicholls, organiser of the 2010 Whitescapes Art Exhibition in White Cliffs, is working with the team to develop content and UTS social research student, Sinead Ambrose, is researching and writing a history of the Ivanhoe women station artists, the Painters of the Plains.

For information contact Lisa Andersen  or Rosie Catalano .

Annette Minchin

networks, Annette Minchin

Annette Minchin, networks

(2010, mixed media, for International Womens Day)

Art Forms: mixed media

Lives: Sunset Strip (near Menindee)

Born in New Zealand, Annette Minchin currently lives and works at Sunset Strip on Lake Menindee.

Annette studied fine arts at RMIT, Melbourne, during the 1960s - the era of the large American Abstract Expressionists - where she developed 'a strong line and painterly mark'. Based in Sydney during the 1970s she became involved with the Women's Group at the Tin Sheds Gallery where her work became more 'gender-focused, personal, quirky and collaborative' using mixed media.

With a studious background in fine arts, computer technology and new media, Annette has since exhibited extensively: all the way from Menindee to Melbourne, New York, London and Vietnam.

What inspired you to move to the remote Central Darling region of NSW?

The Blue Mountains was its usual charming self but I was unwell and wanted big blue skies and red dirt. We arrived in Lake Pamamaroo (that extraordinary lake system!) meaning to camp but, as I was too sick at the time, we rented a house at Sunset Strip - a whole community of tin shacks (which vary greatly in ambience). So we asked at the pub if anyone wanted to sell their shack and bought one off some people who wanted to whizz off somewhere else.

What effect has living in Menindee had on your practice?

Annette MinchinI am not distracted and I have a focus. I've got this little shed-studio filled with books and odd jays and, because I haven't got anyone else to speak to about creativity, it all gets channelled through my work. So it's really interesting I think in that regard, it's not dissipated. 

What materials do you use for your art?

I use a lot of sand and a lot of sticks and seeds and I collect a whole lot of stuff locally.  But I also use traditional papers and paints. I am often now doing online Adobe seminars and they're very useful technically because I do quite a bit of digital work.

What do you think is needed to help people in the Central Darling be more creative?

A space dedicated to showing art all the time. The process of art is layered: firstly you've got to work through your own 'stuff' and create something but then showing is part of it. You need to go through that shudder of exposing yourself and getting a response.

I think out here people can live comfortably in their little zone of doing their own thing and living for their art but they're not being challenged or exposed. It's a personal challenge to show work: to have people look at it, not necessarily to sell.

Out here people tend to think that if art is not sold it's not any good and I think there's an awful lot of work out here that is good but isn't for sale or even seen. 

Image: Annette Minchin at her Sunset Strip 'shack', 2010.  Photo: Lisa Andersen

Edited from an interview by Lisa Andersen, 15 October 2010.

Barbara Gasch

jewellery by Barbara Gasch

Barbara Gasch, jewellery (opal and silver) 

Art Forms: jewellery

Lives: White Cliffs


Dugout 142, Smith's Hill

White Cliffs, NSW 2836

White Cliffs Master Jeweller and opal miner Barbara Gasch originates from Darmstadt, Germany. She trained under master goldsmiths Horst Seifert and Rudolf Deutler, and studied at the College of Fine Arts in Berlin, Art Academy in Prague, completing her master's certificate in Frankfurt.

In 1969 Barbara opened her own shop in Watzeviertel, which she describes as 'a wonderful, creative and rebellious time,' where 'I developed my political consciousness, made jewellery and had wild success.' 

In the 1980s she moved to Australia and, after some travelling, moved to White Cliffs and opened up her own shop, Outback Treasures, which featured jewellery made by dipping insects, leaves and seed cases in silver.  More recently Barbara has retired from jewellery making to become an opal miner.

What inspired you to settle in the remote town of White Cliffs?

Twenty one years ago I wanted to search the world for a place where I could grow old with dignity. I started with Australia - because I had no idea about Australia - and a friend and I hitchhiked to White Cliffs in the first month and I just fell in love with the place and spontaneously bought my dugout. 

I just couldn't believe how beautiful it was and I loved the remoteness.  I still think White Cliffs is the most wonderful place in the world.

What do you think makes it unique?

I love the climate, the animals and especially the insects - these huge spiders and beautiful creatures - the dragons and the frogs (which we have at the moment). I love the flowers and I love everything which is a survivor.

How does living in White Cliffs inspire your creativity?

White Cliffs is a place where I can live as an artist in harsh, brutal and beautiful nature and develop something new.

Barbara Gasch

Also, I think because it's a place where you don't have any culture at all - it is free of culture but in a positive way - which lets you do whatever you want without being restricted. That's why I am so creative here.

White Cliffs is like a magnet that attracts special people. The Outback has a purifying effect and somehow it cleans you. In the city you have to always be the best, the most beautiful, the most 'blah, blah, blah' - you don't have that here. There are no rules or expectations. You just are what you are. 

What materials and techniques you use in your artistic practice?

I always love to integrate something weird in my jewellery [snake skeletons, opalised shells and worms, mice tails and paws, lizard skins, scorpions and grapevines] to create one-of-a-kind pieces. 

When I moved here I started working with electroforming. It's really magic. In an electroplating bath I can place insects, plant parts, skins, objects in a precious metal 'wrap', so to speak, and to build a self-supporting layer. It is very tricky and a lot can go wrong. For me it's always a surprise what works really well and what doesn't want to work at all.

Describe the piece of jewellery featured here.

Electroforming really suits opal because you build the materials up around the opal rather than squeezing it in to a setting. For this piece I coated kangaroo poo with silver, and also put a fly on it. Finding a good fly is not easy! Every fly is hand carved and you have to have it intact - all the feet have to be on it when you're electroforming so it's plenty tricky.

After I finished that piece I said to my partner that I should actually stop doing jewellery now because I can't better it. I think it's beautiful.

Image: Barbara Gasch showing her private collection in her dugout home, 2010.  Photo: Lisa Andersen

Edited from an interview by Lisa Andersen, October 2010.

Cree Marshall

Swinging Rock Band, Cree Marshall

Cree Marshall, Swinging Rock Band

 (2006, wood, steel twine and rocks)

Art Forms: found art, assemblages

Lives: White Cliffs

Contact: Linz46@activ8.net.au

What is your background?

I'm from New Zealand originally and when I was younger Australians were still caught up in a 'cultural cringe'.  New Zealand somehow never got caught that way so I grew up with beautiful artists as part of my childhood. My mother was very keen on design and so eventually I moved into interior design, my first career.

When did you begin to produce found art works?

When I retired I came out to White Cliffs to write but then started looking at objects around me and thinking 'isn't that thing beautiful' and 'I might be able to use this and that'.  One day a friend said, 'You're an artist' and I thought, 'Not really, I'm just someone who likes putting things together'. It wasn't for years that I thought 'actually, I am creating art'.

What inspires your creative work?

The land here is so powerful and I find treasures constantly.  A gorgeous piece of wood, a rock, a bit of rusty metal or piece of timber and when I see it I immediately think 'now I could do this'. I can't help myself. I see these things and I have to do something with them.

When I see something that is wasted and thrown away I'm intrigued to pick it up and look at it in a different way.

What effect has living in White Cliffs had on your practice?

When I came here I looked around and thought 'I am either going to love it or hate it'.  I knew immediately that the land itself was so powerful that either I would have to escape from it or I would never leave. That was twenty-odd years ago...so I love it.

You designed your own underground home, or 'dugout'

There are locals who would laugh if you suggested it was an art form or a piece of sculpture but if you look at the dugouts of White Cliffs, all of them have people's personalities in them - quirky, odd, different things.

In this particular area round the Blocks and up on Turley's Hill they were heavily mined and the dugouts followed the workings and so they tend to be very serpentine. They just wind around and have odd shaped rooms so my design followed that shape.

Describe the art work featured here, 'Swinging Rock Band'

I found that divine piece of wood on a local property and my husband found a tractor counterweight which I used for the base and the upright is a steel bar. The 'strings' are plaited twine wrapped around rocks. They swing at different speeds (because of their different lengths) if they are pushed.

Edited from an interview by Lisa Andersen, 2 October 2010.

Cree Marshall, Dugout

Cree Marshall: Dugout bedroom and mosaic floor, White Cliffs.

Eddy Harris

River Gathering, Eddy Harris

Eddy Harris, River Gathering (2010, acrylic on canvas)

Art Forms: paint on canvas, ceramic design, wood carving

Lives: Wilcannia

How did you start as an artist?

I am Paakantji. I was born in Wilcannia, lived here most of my life.  My family's all from here and It's where I'm connected to my Dreamtime.  

Until the early 90s I worked on the mines in Broken Hill but when the mines were closing down I had to look for another avenue of work so I started painting sandshoes. Because I'd played rugby and Aussie Rules I had a big connection of people who started buying those sandshoes from me.

Then I wanted to do wood carving so the Land Council helped me buy the materials so off went the art journey.

I remembered my old uncles carving boomerangs on the riverbank and my brother used to carve them when he came in from the bush and I've learned from Badger Bates. I always wanted to do art but in the old days the old people wanted you to get an education. But artefacts and making things were always around. You always saw it but you didn't ask too much about it - you've got to watch.  Only if the old people called you over then they'd tell you something and show you how to do it.

What inspires your art? 

I remember my childhood really well so I've got a clear mind and a lot of visions of how I can paint and what I can paint.

I don't just paint a picture, I paint a story. That's what I see out there - as you go along and go to the bush collecting artefacts - I see different things and it all comes together and then I can just paint.

...and the ants?

I went to the river with my brother collecting timber for our artefacts and I saw these ants. One was dead and the others were carrying it. Then, when we were having lunch, I chucked a bit of bread and the ants came together again and carried it away. They kept coming together and I said, 'That's it! Ants, they're like us.  They come together when someone passes on and they come together for a meal like we do and most of the time these fellas carry over-their-weight, like us.' So I started painting the ants.

What's it like living in Wilcannia?

Everyone's so friendly and you've got family around you. And you're connected with the land.  You know where to go to get your materials. If you want to make a dish you know the area and you know where to find your timber.

I've got a lot of good memories here.  When I was a kid, seeing the Darling River come up. The flood waters would come up and then go down and then the water would go crystal clear and you could see fish swimming around. We used to chase the fish around as kids and some days gather on the riverbank as a big family.

What about the future?

I've started designing on ceramics at the Wilcannia school - doing the stories - and it looks good. It's just all a little bit harder when you're Aboriginal artist trying to break ground from here.

I've got a lot of things to paint but I also want to get the message to our people to go forward with their art.

The 'art game' to us is our life.  I mean, it's not just art, it's about kinship and connection. It's not muck-around art, this is us as people.

Not enough people ask us at the moment, but we tell our story through our artwork and we'll eventually put Wilcannia on the map. The more we get that across, with some of us breaking through the barriers, like Badger Bates and my brother Wadi Harris, it'll mean better communities.

Edited from an interview by Lisa Andersen, 12 October 2010.

Jan Lawler

Jan Lawler Secret Men's Business

Jan LawlerSecret Men's Business (pastel) 

Art Form: painting, found objects

Lives: Balranald

Jan Lawler is an artist from Balranald NSW, just outside the Central Darling Shire border. She is actively involved in local arts and cultural activities including her work with the Balranald Ink Group, South West Arts, the Five Rivers Outback Festival and the restoration and running of the local art space, The Gallery. Jan has also been a member and organiser of the Painters of the Plains for 25 years.

She prefers working with pastels, painting portraits, landscapes and still life of what she describes as 'blooming junk' - her arrangements of flowers and found objects. Jan regularly shows and sells her work in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria. In 2010 Jan held her first solo exhibition in Griffith.

What is unique about the Far West?

I love the landscapes: the skies, the colours and just the openness of the plains. I'm orginally a the city girl but whenever I've been away I just feel at ease when I start to cross the Hay Plains. I like the people, I like the lifestyle. 

Describe your creative practice?

I'm a traditional realist artist.  I'm mainly work with pastels but I also work with oils and watercolour and drawing, a lot of drawing.  I paint landscapes, still life, animals and people. 

My favourite found objects that I use in my artwork seem like a lot of junk. But to me these 'junky things' are very special - people have given to me what to others are worthless.

How are you involved in the arts and culture locally?

I'm involved with our local art gallery, South West Arts, a theatre we've restored and any other cultural activities that come along!

I'm most proud of the art gallery in Balranald's old Masonic hall. It's been a really hard road to preserve that old building, one of only four remaining historic buildings in town. We set up a committee and bought it and we now hold exhibitions and workshops there. The gallery has a permanent collection of paintings including pieces from the old homestead at Abbotsford.

What has living here taught you about being an artist?

I think one of the most important things is to be true to yourself. I could probably do much better in selling work if I worked 'for' the market. But I don't do that, I do the things I love and if other people love them too that's a bonus.

Be true to yourself.  Don't chop and change just because the market does.

What do you think is needed to help people living in the Central Darling be more creative?

We need more access to the arts.  We don't have the money or the expertise within this area to run workshops or to promote the arts and creative practices are the lowest priority. The local schools don't even teach art anymore. (That's the biggest disappointment, really, the way it's been pushed aside and it's all computers, computers, computers!)  There's no music teacher, there's no art teacher. Many young people are creative but are not academic and so they get left behind.

Also, people don't seem to value the creative process or the results of it as much as they used to. Everything has to make money or be seen as a means to an end. We don't accept 'having a good feeling' as a result.  Being creative - thinking 'I've actually made this and I could put this on the wall' or 'I could wear this' - gives people positive vibes about themselves.

Tell us about your best time out and why was it such a good time?

In 2003 we celebrated the 25th anniversary for the Painters of the Plains. About 50 people came back. We all brought a piece of artwork to hang and we had an old shearer's cook doing the catering. She did all the cooking for us and we had a great weekend. Lots of laughter and reminiscing.  

Edited from an interview with Sinead Ambrose, May 2011

Jan Lawler Bloomin' Enamel

Jan LawlerBloomin' Enamel (pastel


Jan Lawler Winners and Losers

Jan LawlerWinners and Losers (oil

Jo Duncan

Jo Duncan, Kookaburras Garden

Jo Duncan, Kookaburra's Garden (2009, acrylic)

Art Form: painting

Lives: Sunset Strip

Jo Duncan is a self-taught artist who lives on Menindee Lake at Sunset Strip. Her art reflects her love of local wildlife and scenery. Birds and native flora are recurring features in her paintings.

Jo regularly exhibits with the Willyama Art Society and has had exhibitions in Menindee and Broken Hill. A number of her paintings are available at her online website and at Art on Argent Gallery in Broken Hill.

What inspired you to move to the remote village of Sunset Strip?

I was living on the Central Coast of NSW when my sister and her family moved here. I came out here for a holiday and loved the place so much that I stayed.

What do you enjoy most about living out here?

The scenery and the people. The quietness, the solitude, the wildlife, the birds.  You see emus walking along the beach and kangaroos and all sorts of things. There has been a lot more wildlife since the water came back [in 2010 after a long drought].

Tell us about your art.

I paint wildlife and scenery from the local area. I usually begin by taking photos and then one out of 50 or so has the 'wow' factor and I start from there. I work on the background of the painting first, which takes a few days to get done with all the layers. Then I add in trees, birds and-or gumnuts. (I especially like doing gumnuts!)

I'm compelled to do the art, I feel driven by a force. When I see something beautiful I think, "I must paint that".

What effect has living in the Central Darling had on your artistic practice? 

It's had a big effect as I've turned from a part-time artist into a full-time artist.

Sunset Strip is away from the busyness, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here you can go for a walk if you need to find some inspiration.

Has your style changed since you moved to Sunset Strip?

It's developed over the years living here. When I lived on the Central Coast I'd paint wildflowers and native plants from photos; but it's not the same quality.  Here I don't have to go far for inspiration, I can just paint what's in front of me. Finding inspiration in books or magazines is totally different to painting from real life.

I also started writing dates on my paintings because the scenery always changes here. Since the drought broke, what used to be a dry dust bowl in front of my house is now water everywhere.

Edited from an interview with Lisa Andersen, 15 October 2010. 

Joan Vagg

Joan Vagg, Australian Native Flora Joan Vagg, Australian Native Flora Joan Vagg, Australian Native Flora

Joan Vagg, Native Flora Triptych (watercolour)

Art Forms: painting, drawing, quilting

Lives: Hillston

After grazing sheep and cattle with her husband on their remote property in the Central Darling, Joan Vagg retired to the town of Hillston where she has continued to pursue her artistic practice as a painter, quilter and art teacher at the Hillston Red Dust gallery. 

One of the founding members of the Painters of the Plains, Joan has worked with pastels, oil and watercolours for more than 35 years and has won a number of competiions. Nowadays, she takes commissions from local people who find her by reputation.  

During 2010 Joan completed an extensive tour of the Outback.

Describe what it is like living in the Far West.

This area consists of quite large properties and the homesteads are a long way apart. People live in isolation but they get together for all sorts of things. On the whole the landscape is fairly flat but in some places it's rolling plains. In good years it looks very luxurious and in bad years it's full of dust storms. It is a lifestyle of extremes and it can be a very difficult but most of the people who live there say they wouldn't live anywhere else. 

What do you like about where you live?

The clean air, the freedom and the lack of stress. The busy city life we leave behind.  

Although we're always terribly busy, people have time for each other. I can remember being bogged on the road and being pulled out by passers-by or being helped to change a tyre, things like that. 

I like the independence of the people here. I also like the wide-open spaces, the landscape, the flora and the fauna and the whole atmosphere of the West.  If I were to leave I would miss that level horizon.  

Describe your commissioned work.

I've been 60 kilometres out in the bush today surveying a site that people want painted as a wedding present for their son. It's a scene of their property. People also like paintings of local wildflowers.

What is your best memory of living in far western NSW?

The art classes at Ivanhoe. The Painters of the Plains started more than 30 years ago (we were all a lot younger then!). We had a tutor who came from Melbourne six times a year and we gathered in an old homestead that was lent to us by the owners. We camped there and we learnt to paint. 

I remember the time we went to Mungo National Park to do some painting and we camped in the shearers' quarters.  We had a big fire and it was absolutely freezing. I couldn't get warm all night.

How has living here inspired your art?

The unique colours. The washed out bleached landscape in the summer and the lush landscape in the winter and all the colours in between. My artwork reflects whatever the seasons dish up. 

I carry my pencils and sketchbook with me all the time and I'm creative wherever I go. You have to be when you live in the 'back blocks'. Creativity is a part of your life. You can't go and buy it so you've got to make it. 

Edited from an interview with Sinead Ambrose, May 2011.

John 'Macca' McCaskill

LISTEN to Macca's Poem 

Art Form: bush poetry

Lives: White Cliffs

John 'Macca' McCaskill was born in Mansfield, Victoria. When he retired from 30 years service in the police force he began living and opal mining in White Cliffs for eight months of the year.

Macca self-publishes his poetry. 

What inspired you to move to the opal-mining town of White Cliffs?

I always say, 'West of the Darling the people are great'. It's a beaut community and I feel at home here. 

When I lived in Melbourne years ago I did a lot of flying. I'd go away on safari trips and as soon as I got over the Murray I'd look ahead and say 'this is heaven'.  Miles and miles of nothing. 

When I get up in the morning the only thing I can hear is the ringing in my ears because I'm getting old and that's what happens when there are no other sounds.

What is a 'good time out' in White Cliffs?

We had an art and music festival here in 2010 and I emceed the poet's breakfast. I'd never been to a poet's breakfast before and it was absolutely brilliant. The whole festival impressed everyone so much that we're going to have another one next year.

What effect has living in White Cliffs had on your poetry?

My bush poetry wouldn't have happened if I had not lived here.

In my previous life I would do a bit of a poem about something that happened in my work or whatever, but since I've been here I've had the incentive. The quietness, the bush» I put it toward a bit of bush poetry and mix it with a bit of opal poetry.

Why opal?

It's just so beautiful. When you're mining and you see it in the face of the wall of the mine it shows the most brilliant colours. It's a real buzz to see good opal. If I made one million dollars today, tomorrow I'd still be out digging the damn stuff. It gets you in.

Can you tell us the background to this poem?

I was driving on my way back from Queensland (which I don't usually do as I normally fly). My cousin had passed away and I called in to see an old mate I mined with. He was mining near the Queensland border at the time and the camp was a mess. After I left, when I was back in the mine, I started penning this poem.

Edited from an interview with Andrew Warren, 2 October 2010. 

Lyndall Bennett

Lyndall Bennett artwork

Art Forms: pastel, watercolour, oils

Lives: On a 200,000 acre cattle station between Wilcannia and Ivanhoe

After growing up on a property outside Broken Hill, Lyndall Bennett has spent the last 48 years living and working with her husband on their cattle station between Wilcannia and Ivanhoe in western NSW.

For over ten years Lyndall studied under tutor Lance McNeill as a member of the art group The Painters of the Plains. Working with pastels, watercolours, oil and pencil Lyndall's life on the land is strongly represented in her artworks, livestock being one of her favourite subjects.

Throughout this time Lyndall regularly exhibited at Painters of the Plains group exhibitions as well as winning awards for her work in Balranald, Condobolin and Adelaide.

What do you enjoy about living on a cattle station in the Central Darling?

I've been a country girl all my life.  I like the isolation and I just enjoy country life really.  I just like it quiet and peaceful and you can come and go as you please and I think (mainly) that you're your own boss. You can do things at your own time, at your own leisure and you haven't got people wanting- knocking on your door and trying to sell you something - which people get in towns.

I like the countryside and animals and birds and all that that goes with it. The seasons have a lot to do with it.  To see your animals nice and fat and shiny and the country in good heart and not blowing a dust storm or something like that.  But we have some very bad memories of it too, of the drought and the dust and wind.  

What effect does where you live have on your practice?

I mainly paint landscapes or landscapes with animals.  I also paint still life, but I prefer the landscapes - it's what we live with, that's what I know. It's a part of me, the animals are a part of me.

I like to paint something that describes the moods - the hostility and the unpredictability as well as the tranquillity. I like to put the memories into works on canvas.

You're influenced by the seasons. I found that during the drought that's what I painted.  Dust storms and dry land and skeletons and the things that I saw.

How were the Painters of the Plains influenced by the fact that most of its members lived on stations?

Occasionally we'd go out to each other's properties and paint something on that property and we'd share ideas like that. There was an appreciation because everyone's property was different.  Our property is all open plains and scrub land then we'd go to Mount Manara and they've got hills and rocks and at someone else's place and there were old sheds and really paintable things like old wagons The group had a real community spirit.

Edited from an interview with Sinead Ambrose, May 2011.

Sue Dowton

Sue Downton, gourd artwork Sue Dowton, gourd artwork Sue Dowton, gourd artwork

Sue Dowton, gourd artworks (acrylic on gourd)

Art Forms: painting (gourds and wall hangings)

Lives: White Cliffs

Sue Dowton was born in Swan Hill where her education was largely by correspondence. 

She expressed an interest in art at an early age with great success, achieving As for it in her school work. After getting married she renewed her interest in painting by entering her bird studies in water colour in the local show, winning first prize.

Sue now lives in an underground dugout in White Cliffs and brings gourds to life with her creative paintings.

What inspired you to settle in the remote town of White Cliffs?

My family and I have been coming up to White Cliffs in the May school holidays since 1975. A friend of ours invited us up to have a look at the place and my husband Ron fell in love with it straight away because he wanted to do a bit of opal mining.

What materials and techniques do you use in your artistic practice?

I used to be great mates with an old lady who was an artist and art teacher in her time. One day she suggested painting on gourds, so while I was away I came across some gourds for sale and I bought some for her and myself.  That's how it all got started.  

I also do wall hangings. I usually paint birds on them in watercolours or acrylic. 

Are there opportunities to exhibit your work locally?

Gaye Nicholls, who runs the White Cliffs post office, organised an exhibition in Broken Hill for us local artists to participate in. I took my gourd in, which she was quite stoked about and then after that exhibition she organised to run an exhibition out here as well so I entered my gourds in that too.  That was the biggest art festival we've had here.

What places inspire your creativity?

I love to go out and do paintings at Clancy's and Tibooburra because it just looks like it's a painter's dream out there, the way the trees have blended in with the rock formations.

There are artists that come out here and they just love the open spaces, they love the sunsets and the colours of the sky. It's quiet and peaceful.  You haven't got a lot of interruptions while you're painting.  It's so good.

Edited from an interview with Alexandra Djurichkovic, August 2011.