Desert Art

Story and Photography by Colin Kerr

Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

Standing silently like ancient stone gods, Broken Hill’s Living Desert Sculptures are like a scene from a lost world

Once the undisputed home of lizards, emus, kangaroos, soaring hawks and wedge tail eagles, these residents of the rolling countryside outside the New South Wales town of Broken Hill now share their space with a new, large “god-like” set of neighbors.

The brainchild of Gosford-based sculptor Lawrence Beck, the 12 imposing creations were carved from 52 tonnes of sandstone transported from the Macculloch Ranges east of Wilcannia, about 240km away.
Bajo El Sol Jaguar silently greets the morning rays of a new day

With the largest single stone weighing in at eight tonnes, the massive effort of shifting these blocks into their current hill top locations, with the assistance of local contractors and Broken Hill City Council’s engineering team, was then matched by those who turned the rough sandstone boulders into the shapes we see today.

A team of sculptors from Syria, Damascus, Georgia (part of the former Soviet Republic), Mexico and Bathurst Island, working side by side with Aborigines and white Australians, began back in 1993 the painstaking job of transforming the sandstone. The sculptors worked completely with hand tools (no power) to create their desert sculpture dream.

To facilitate the sculptors’ work, a camp (known as the Sculpture Symposium) was set up near the site 8km out of town. Tents were put up, a kitchen assembled, a water tank brought in, showers and toilets built, beds and bedding supplied by the local hospital and the town’s State Emergency Service looked after the all important job of catering

With more manpower, vehicles and support provided by the Broken Hill City Council – as well as financial assistance from the Australia Council for the Arts, and the local Broken Hill residents digging deep in their pockets – this project had a strong and wide-ranging support.

 

Perched high on a hillside known locally as Sundown Hill, for weeks on end, feeling almost like gods themselves, the sculpting team worked diligently on their super-hard sandstone boulders. Cold chisels failed to dent the stone, and tungsten carbide hand tools were sourced from local miners as the team slowly, but surely, saw their project taking shape.

Silent sentinels 

 

By night around the campfire traditional Georgian folk songs would compliment the Bathurst Island Shark Dance or Mexican ballads of love – all echoing across this Outback landscape in an air of friendship, co-operation and achievement.

In the end, 12 sculptures encircled the hilltop, including Nhatji (Rainbow Serpent), Thomasina (Waterbird), the Bride, Motherhood, Moon Goddess, Tiwi Totems and the most photographed piece of all with its circular hole – The Jaguar (Bajo El Sol Jaguar), created by Aztec Indian sculptor Antonia Nova Tirado from Mexico.

Many visitors to this fascinating site prefer to make their almost pilgrim-like visit here at sunset or sunrise to witness the last or first rays of the sun shining through the Jaguar’s circular mouth (representing the light of day) or to experience the strange silhouetted shapes against the colorful sky.

While the sculptures are the centre piece of the Living Desert Reserve, they are only part of what has been created here. Spread over an area of about 2400 hectares, the park is designed for those with an interest in the ecology of the environment.

Adjacent to the car park is a picnic area with free gas barbecues, toilets, tables and a weather shelter. From here a 20-minute walk trail to the hilltop sculptures is punctuated with information boards, a bridge crossing, lookouts and occasional seats to rest and take in the views.

For those with a little more time and energy, there is an extended walk (that takes about one-and-a-half hours) circuit trail back to the car park.

 

The Living Desert Reserve - Information

 

The Living Desert Reserve is 8km north of Broken Hill in New South Wales via sealed road. Car access to the sculpture site is available for a fee ($6 plus $10 key deposit). 

A brochure is also available for $1.10. Contact the Broken Hill Visitor Information Centre, phone (08) 8087 6077 or web site www.murrayoutback.org.au

 

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Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.