World’s largest outdoor art gallery on the cards for outback SA


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By Melissa Keogh

Marree woman Jo Bonner is overseeing what she hopes will become the world’s largest outdoor art gallery in a bid to boost tourism in outback South Australia.

Two artists are already on board the Artback Rail Trail which aims to eventually see various outdoor public artworks installed in small SA towns along the old Ghan railway.

Jo, 63, is vice president of the Marree Progress Association, which has secured a $20,000 grant, from Regional Arts Australia through Country Arts SA’s Step Out Grant, to support the first two participating artists, Raylene Klinger and Susan Michael.

The women have already begun work on their projects and will showcase their creations in Marree from July 7-13, coinciding with the town’s popular camel racing event, the Camel Cup.

While the exact nature of the artworks is yet-to-be revealed, one of them will involve an old red Ghan carriage in Marree, with its surface prepared by Work for the Dole participants.

An abandoned train station in Marree.

Jo says she is aiming for at least two artworks – which could range from sculptures to murals – to be unveiled each year.

She says she hopes the trail will eventually connect small towns along the old Ghan rail route, including Lyndhurst, Farina, Marree and Oodnadatta.

“At this stage we’re hoping it could run from Port Augusta to the Northern Territory border, which could make it the largest outdoor gallery in the world,” Jo says.

“The artworks could be on walls, buildings … outback towns have many old stone ruins that would be perfect so there’s a lot we can do.”

Jo says she encourages tourists and locals to participate in the artworks or watch as they develop.

She says she was inspired to bring the Artback Rail Trail to life because it could help boost tourism in the outback and rejuvenate interest and business livelihood in small country towns.

The Marree Australian Camel Cup is one of the biggest events on the town’s calendar and a main fundraiser for the Marree Progress Association. The first two Artback works will be launched the day before the races.

“We have all that rail history and the outback attractions like Farina and Lake Eyre, but we’re still not quite getting that tourism and getting people in,” Jo says.

“If we can increase the time tourists spend here it’s going to increase tourism in the town, leading to substantial growth, more employment opportunities and maybe even encourage people to consider what it’s like to live here.

“Even if the visitors don’t stay over night but buy a cup of coffee … every little bit counts and it’s keeping the services alive.”

Jo says she was inspired to create an outback arts trail after learning of a long, public railway trail in Canada and seeing the success of the Silo Art Trail in Victoria.

“With the Silo Art Trail, all those little towns were dying until they created artworks on the silos and now the towns are booming,” she says.

“People go there to watch the artists in the cherry pickers painting the silos.”

Jo moved to Marree three years ago from Adelaide with her husband.

Together they own the Drovers Run Caravan Park, while Jo is also a relief teacher at Marree Aboriginal School.

“I really knew nothing about Marree before I moved here, but I’d always had a liking for the outback and was always fascinated by the colours of the landscape,” she says.

In February 2018 Jo’s commitment to her community helped secure her as a finalist for the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.

AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award winner Alex Thomas, left, with finalists Jo Bonner and Lauren Thiel.

She says the acknowledgement had helped spread the word about the Artback Rail Trail and shed light on country communities in the Far North.

“We really have to market these outback places because it’s important for the people who live here.

“It’s not just about the art.”

An exhibition of works by local and SA artists will unfold in the Marree Hall in July.

Artists will also present workshops, including night photography and landscape painting, in the evenings at Drovers Run Caravan Park.

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