In the heart of Lachlan River country at the geographic centre of New South Wales, a dynamic celebration of Australia’s outback culture is building momentum. Residents around the central west town of Condobolin are buzzing about a quirky project developing on a nearby station. Iconic model Holden utes are taking on new life as part of an ambitious artists’ tribute to life in the outback. “Utes in the Paddock” is the brainchild of Graham and Jana Pickles, graziers whose passion for the outback led them to start a Dorper Sheep Stud on their historic cattle station Burrawang West at Ootha near Condobilin.
While travelling Route 66 on a trip across the United States, Graham and his wife, Jana were drawn to an unusually popular attraction aptly named “Cadillac Ranch”, located in the west Texas panhandle near Amarillo. Along side Route 66, ten classic Cadillacs, buried to their windshields, provide a public spray paint graffiti canvas for anyone inspired to leave his mark. Intrigued by the ranch’s popularity, and with hundreds of highway miles remaining on the Pickles’ journey to Los Angeles, the “Utes in the Paddock” concept grew from a whimsical ‘what if’ seed to a plan with roots in outback Australia. When Graham returned to Burrawang West Station, he called in to see Mike Taylor of Mike Taylor Autos in Condobolin, who was immediately on board and the Utes team began working on the project in August 2007.
Utes for the project were donated by residents from the area who caught the ‘utes bug’ after learning that many of Australia’s most gifted outback artists are donating their time and talent to create this unique tribute to life in the bush and outback.
Although previously known primarily for his fearless cross country car rallies and speedy water skiing prowess, local auto mechanic and NRMA serviceman, Mike Taylor has gained a new reputation for previously undiscovered artist talent and engineering skill. Working tirelessly to source, transport and prepare the donated utes for their new role as canvasses in the gallery, Mike plays an integral role in the project’s success by providing artist and specialized engineering consultation to the artists. Using his natural charisma and wit, Mike attracted the help of local talent such as Brad Brown and Scott Edwards of AgriWeld and Barry Wright to assure the utes are properly supported and prepared to withstand the effects of outback weather.
Lightning Ridge’s famous John Murray was the first artist to join the team, demonstrating keen enthusiasm for the project by creating the initial artwork for the series of utes to be displayed in the “Utes in the Paddock” gallery. Murray’s “Circle Work” features a flock of galahs at play, encircling a 1971 Holden HQ series ute as it floats through the air towed by a flying sculptured galah. “My ute is called ‘Circle Work’. ‘Circle Work’ is the practice of madly driving a ute flat out in circles, better performed if ‘bundie'd up’ at a Bachelors and Spinsters Ball (a traditional bush get together for young blokes and ladies). I have used the galah as a reference to the larrikin lads and ladettes driving such utes. I painted the ute sky blue and have the galahs flying in a circular motion around the ute. The galah towing the ute away represents the ‘fun police’.”
Joining Murray in the project, Shane Gehlert completed his striking painting of “Epitaph to Fossil Fuels” on a 1977 Holden HZ, which took its place in the paddock in late June, 2008. Featuring Gehlert’s signature Roboroo amid stunning outback hues of red, orange and blue, Shane’s ute reaches upward to the sky. Perched on its tailgate, “Epitaph” creates an undeniably imposing impact on its audience. “The roo watches you as you move from one side of the artwork to the other –I don’t know how he’s done it, but Shane has an incredible talent.”
Peter Browne, of Silverton fame, was inspired by time spent with his good mate Pro Hart for his painting of a 1976 HJ ute which features vibrant outback colours, spontaneous splashes of colour across the bonnet and many of Peter’s famous Emus to complete his artwork for the collection.
“Fourteen utes are on display now” says Graham “and we hope to have at least 4 more in place by the end of August this year.” Joining John Murray, Shane Gehlert and Peter Browne, accomplished contributing artists from all over New South Wales and Queensland include Michael Jones, Peter Mortimore, Eris Fleming, Paul Blahuta, Greg Brennan, Belinda Williams, Stephen Coburn, Karen Tooth and Lewis Burns.
In keeping with the community spirit of the project, industrial artists Brad and Scott of AgriWeld Dubbo and inspired young artists of the local Wiradjuri Arts Group have turned their creative energies into original artworks for the gallery. Participants and visitors anxiously await installation of more utes to be displayed in coming months.
Thousands of visitors have already travelled to the little town of Ootha drawn by the quirky outdoor “Utes in the Paddock” gallery to discover its magnificent panorama and share in the celebration of outback life depicted by its high quality artworks.
The gallery gives people from all over Australia and overseas another reason to visit central west NSW. “We want to draw people to this area so they can experience first hand the beauty, adventure and wonder of outback Australia. It’s a surprise for most visitors to discover how vibrant, progressive, resourceful and welcoming outback Australians are, and how invigorating it can be to get out and explore the heartland. Everything you could possibly want is available in surrounding communities to make a visit to the area a ‘must do’” Graham Pickles says.
“While the gallery certainly adds texture and another layer of interest for guests of Burrawang West Station, the project is really about promoting the bush. ‘Utes in the Paddock’ is an invitation for people living on the coast to cross the sandstone curtain and for people from other states to come for a visit to central NSW. The character of people who live here is at the very heart of the Australian psyche and these are the Aussies who are largely responsible for forging those values in which we as Australians take pride. Values like mateship, having a go, resilience, tough yet compassionate, fun loving, and hard working.”
Ute fever is on the rise. Cases are popping up in communities all over the state and beyond as word of the gallery spreads. From motor cycle groups to antique car clubs, holiday makers and historical societies, the utes have a magnetic appeal for people of all ages and virtually anyone interested in cars, art, history, culture, big things or just plain fun!
“15 utes are on display now” says Graham “and we hope to have the remaining 4 in place by early next year.” Contributing artists from all over New South Wales and Queensland include John Murray, Shane Gehlert, Peter Browne, Michael Jones, Peter Mortimore, Eris Fleming, Paul Blahuta, Greg Brennan, Belinda Williams, Stephen Coburn, Karen Tooth, Lewis Burns and Jim Moginie.
In keeping with the community spirit of the project, industrial artists Brad and Scott of AgriWeld Dubbo and inspired young artists of Condobolin Youth Services have turned their creative energies into original artworks for the gallery. Participants and visitors anxiously await installation of more utes to be displayed in coming months.
Stay tuned to this site for updates of activities, events and all things “Utes in the Paddock”. Who knows where this road will lead us, but the journey’s a wonderful ride.