All posts by Michael Burge

Journalist, artist, author, designer, digital publisher and mentor

Painting herself a place in the country

“Living in the country encapsulates everything I am, if I am honest.”

ARTIST Jane Canfield has picked up a swag of awards and citations for her work capturing the light, colour and industry of Australian rural heartlands. Now, her inspiring paintings are on exhibition at two galleries in the New England region, and she’s planning to turn her gaze to this unique part of the country.

As Canfield explains, the journey only begins once she experiences a place by visiting.

“I always have to be influenced by something I’ve seen,” she says.

“Although more and more I find I catch a ‘snippet’ of something and it appears like a photo in my head.

PLEIN AIR ‘Sheds and Fences, 2016’ oil on linen.

“I am finding that I like to semi-abstract what I have seen, painted or drawn, but I hope that you can still see the landscape or the inspiration that influenced the painting.”

Widely recognised as a skillful practitioner of painting en plein air (literally, “outdoors”), NSW Central West-based Canfield is often asked to describe the process.

“Many years ago I remember reading that if you find a comfy spot, you will always find something to paint, and I have found that to be true,” she says.

“Sometimes it takes time, like walking through the landscape for a while with my backpack full of art materials, dogs running around before I start to get the feel for it.

“I often spend time in a an area, not just working but talking to people. I love meeting new people and listening to stories. I think it all informs my work.”

A creative career was inevitable for Canfield, whose father and uncles were also artists.

“Dad always wanted me to be an oil painter,” she says.

“But he was the artist in the family, so I remember at 14 confidently stating I would go into graphic design, much to Dad’s, should I say, ‘disdain’? Although he and Mum supported my choice.

“I always drew and painted, but just never thought it would be a career for me.

“It wasn’t until Dad passed away, far too young, that literally two weeks later I picked up the oils and off I went.

“There was a very strange moment as I sat in my graphic design studio, and had a canvas in front of me propped on a chair, and I thought: ‘Do I dip the brush in the linseed or the turps first?’.

“I heard my Dad’s voice tell me to ‘dip it in the turps Doobs’, which was his pet name for me. Perhaps it was the power of suggestion? Who knows?”

Grabbed by the mundane

I like urban areas that are not just pretty scenes, nothing slick. I think I turn them into my own.

Jane Canfield has painted extensively throughout the country, but her new home, an historic inn in the Central West town of Lidsdale, affords her plenty of inspiration.

“It is a coal mining area, so traditionally a little bit industrial; a little bit ratty in parts, but I like that,” she says.

CANFIELD COLOUR ‘Bright Day 2018’, gouache and pastel on paper.

“I like urban areas that are not just pretty scenes, nothing slick. I think I turn them into my own.

“I recently returned from a painting trip to Tasmania and although there are no Tasmanian works here, the work ‘Bright Day’ was definitely influenced from that trip.

“The mundane is what grabs me. Places where we live.”

Canfield recalled receiving a highly commended award at Cowra Regional Gallery for an early work she saw as “just an urban painting”.

“But the judge picked up on what really does concern me: the urban ‘creep’, the lack of planning and how we have stepped backwards as far as architecture is concerned, allowing developers to just push up these horrible ‘cheek-by-jowl’ monstrosities with no concern for airflow, light, gardens, and space!

“But it’s all about the mighty dollar. We used to have innovative architecture. Now to use designers or architects seems to be an elitist thing. We are turning into a ‘cookie cutter’ mentality. It saddens me.”

Canfield’s energetic brushstrokes speak of her battle to preserve this urban/rural divide.

“Living in the country encapsulates everything I am, if I am honest,” she says.

“As a kid, being the only child of an artist, we lived in mainly rural areas. I could entertain myself, go off to the creek, walking, riding my bike or spending time with friends.”

Canfield admits that part of what draws her to the country is affordability, but it’s also about “the little things, that is what I love”.

“I often just go and stare into space. If you saw me you may think I’m just goofing off. But it’s thinking time, listening to the birds, the wind in the trees.

“As I write, sitting in my 1850s sandstone Cobb & Co inn, the sun is setting, the temperature is dropping just a tad. I can hear the ravens and the blowflies. The light is amazing. I feel the history,” she says.

“Really, I don’t know how or why people want to live in the cities.”

Jane Canfield’s exhibition ‘Place’ is showing at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, until February 28. Works are available to purchase online. She also has work at Walcha Gallery of Art.

PLEIN JANE ‘Winter Trees #9, 2018’ oil and charcoal on board.

Rural research unearths plenty of reckonings

“Should I be proud of what my ancestors and their peers achieved, or ashamed? It’s a question facing a lot of Australians.”

LONDON-BASED author Patsy Trench is the first to admit the workings of Australia’s farming history were not a natural subject for her to spend years researching. But her latest book A Country To Be Reckoned With tells the story of how a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ got to grips with our rural past through the experience of her influential ancestor, George Matcham Pitt.

“As a ‘townie’ living in London, the world of Australian 19th century agriculture was about as far outside my familiar sphere as it’s possible to get,” Trench said.

“I got to know my great-great-grandfather G.M. Pitt while I was writing my first book (The Worst Country in the World) about his grandmother, our pioneer migrant Mary Pitt.

“He was obviously a great character – larger than life, with a passion for rhetoric and a fondness for quoting from Shakespeare and Burns, which I understood was rare among farmers.”

Despite much hesitation, Trench said she started from the knowledge that the stock and station agency her ancestor founded — Pitt, Son & Badgery — was well-known in country circles, even though the company was taken over decades ago.

“In the end I decided to turn my ignorance to advantage: like the ‘New Chums’ who arrived in New South Wales in the 19th century expecting to make their fortune on the land knowing not the first thing about farming.

“I came at the topic as an outsider and I make no bones about it.”

Trench made several trips to rural New South Wales with Australian family members during her research, which she describes as “mystery tours” that led to several revelations about her subject and family.

“I knew ‘GM’ had taken up land in the Gwydir district in the 1840s, but there was also evidence he visited the district ten years earlier, along with his de-facto stepfather William Scott,” she said.

“On our first visit to Moree we could find no trace of him in the 1830s, but further research revealed that Scott and he had acquired a licence for a property on the Gwydir River, which was taken from them after several years in complex circumstances.”

Patsy also discovered a possible connection with an Aboriginal Pitt family.

“There was a Tom Pitt born in 1838, the year my great-great-grandfather arrived at the Gwydir in search of land,” she said.

“There are no signs of Aboriginal Pitts before that time, but there are now hundreds living in the area and I’ve been in touch with them and hope to meet up with them one day. It’s believed they got their name from GM, one way or another.”

Bush character re-examined

A Country To Be Reckoned With is Trench’s second major work on her family’s Australian origins, and brings to life a relatively unknown ‘Bush’ archetype: the auctioneer.

“I could quote a poem I reproduce in the book, which appeared in a Pitt, Son & Badgery anniversary leaflet,” she said.

PIONEER PITT George Matcham Pitt (1814-1896).

“They describe the auctioneer as ‘the fellow with his coat off in the pen’: a man of charisma and personality with a remarkable gift of the gab. A master at handling men and getting things going, often asked to MC events such as weddings; with a retentive memory, sharp wit and ‘captivating smile’, manipulative, optimistic and perennially cheerful.

“All that said, having witnessed an actual cattle auction last year in Wagga Wagga, the auctioneer’s job is to get the thing done as quickly and efficiently as possible, so not a lot of time for captivating smiles or clever jokes.”

Trench, a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ who migrated to Australia in the 1960s to further her acting career, eventually returned to the United Kingdom. She believes researching and writing about her adoptive country’s past has evolved her view of it.

“When I lived here in my hedonistic youth I thought Australia was paradise and the people the most friendly and welcoming people in the world,” she said.

“Now I know a bit about Australia’s colonial past I see things, and the people, a bit differently. It’s still a stunningly beautiful country with great people in it, but there’s this undercurrent of a dark past that has only really emerged in the past thirty years or so.”

Since her family was responsible for taking land that belonged to Indigenous people, Trench ruminates on whether she is complicit in this confronting history.

“Should I be proud of what my ancestors and their peers achieved, or ashamed? It’s a question facing a lot of Australians and the attitude to their colonial history seems to change every time I come here.”

In the same way that Trench’s first book The Worst Country in the World led to the journey that became A Country To Be Reckoned With, her new book seems to be demanding more storytelling of this writer.

“It’s the Aboriginal connection I would like to get to the bottom of,” she said. “Who was Tom Pitt, born in what was to become the Moree district in 1838? He seems to have hundreds of descendants but nobody seems to know who his parents were, or how he acquired his name. I am hoping to hook up with some Aboriginal Pitts who I’ve been in contact with online. There are some great stories to be told.”

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Grab your maracas as Tenterfield Goes To Rio!

THE high country of the NSW New England region is renowned for its autumn colour, but one man who was born at Tenterfield is set to be remembered with an even brighter splash at the inaugural Peter Allen Festival this September.

Parkes celebrates Elvis, even though ‘The King’ never played that corner of NSW, and now Peter Allen fans are encouraged to find their way to Tenterfield to dress up in celebration of the town’s internationally famous son.

At the peak of Allen’s career his hit song ‘I Go To Rio’ topped the Australian charts for five weeks. This high-energy number was backed up by the flamboyant, maraca-shaking, Brazilian-shirted image that became synonymous with Peter Allen’s live performances.

Headlining Tenterfield’s three-day Peter Allen Festival is multi award-winning entertainer Danny Elliott, in a tribute show designed to get the feet tapping.

Danny has earned his Peter Allen stripes performing Tenterfield to Rio for a decade, and was awarded the Australian Entertainment Mo Award for Variety Entertainer of the Year.

“To be the headline act for the inaugural festival is an amazing honour,” he said. “I am so excited to perform the show in Tenterfield and to be a part of the celebration”.

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BOY’S BIOG The definitive biography of Peter Allen.

“Unlike the stage show The Boy From Oz — which is the story of Peter’s life — this show is me, celebrating the wonderful music of Peter Allen.”

The song list of any tribute act is always of great interest to fans, and a show built around the work of Australia’s Oscar-winning singer-songwriter raises the question of what Danny will be bringing to his cabaret-style performances.

“There’s so many! Where do you start?” he said. “‘I Go To Rio’ has those fun, great Latin rhythms. ‘Once Before I Go’ is a reflective song of life and love. ‘Bi-Coastal’ has a great story behind the story, but I love it for the great bass line.”

A perennial favourite of Peter Allen fans is the song he wrote as a gift to the town of his birth — ‘Tenterfield Saddler’ — regularly requested and performed by Allen’s friends Bette Midler and Olivia Newton-John.

“‘Tenterfield Saddler’ is just one of the best ever songs written,” Danny said.

“As an entertainer, performing Peter’s songs is incredible as every one has a great story.

“It’s my job to tell that story, which is what I love to do.”

Express yourself!

In honour of Tenterfield’s most famous son, the Peter Allen Festival plans to close the town’s main street to traffic and rename it Peter Allen Boulevard for the whole of Saturday September 8.

Throughout the day, the thoroughfare will be a celebration of music, art, culture and colour.

Visitors are encouraged to bring their best Peter Allen-themed looks to town and strut their stuff along the high street, which will host artisan markets, musicians and entertainment.

Danny Elliott will feature in three performances of Tenterfield to Rio at the Tenterfield School of Arts, situated right at the heart of Peter Allen Boulevard. The cabaret-style show has proved very popular with visitors, and due to popular demand there will be an extra show at 10am on Sunday September 9. 

“The energy and flamboyance of the shows are infectious,” Danny said. “But for me, it’s the connection Peter Allen made with people”.

“Whether in a giant stadium or an intimate cabaret, he connected with everyone in the room.

“I think Peter’s strength was to tell a story. What made him so popular was also the way these great stories were performed. With such high energy, even in ballads, he seemed to have an incredible electricity about him.”

Australian performers Todd McKenney and Hugh Jackman have stepped into Peter Allen’s shoes to perform The Boy From Oz in Australia and the United States, so what was it like for Danny to get to grips with the maracas?

“From an early age I played piano and sang, then went on to learn a variety of different musical instruments.” he said. “As a singer/musician, the two things I’ve had to work on to perform Tenterfield to Rio are the dance and movements, and the fitness to keep it up for a whole show!”

And why does he think people love dressing up? “I think it’s all about the escape. To get out of ‘normal life’ and have a bit of fun,” he said.

“To get out there and express yourself, and your likes, whether it’s a footy team or your favourite singer, it’s all fun!

“I’m already excited about it. Although I think it will be emotional when it comes to singing ‘Tenterfield Saddler’. To be right there, performing songs from Australia’s greatest singer/songwriter/entertainer Peter Allen, it already sends shivers up my spine. I can’t wait!”

The Peter Allen Festival September 7-9, 2018.