Category Archives: Rebels

Creativity is this scientist’s absurd Plan B

Armidale-based artist James O’Hanlon

SCIENTIST-TURNED-ARTIST James O’Hanlon features in a solo exhibition at New England NSW creative hub The Makers Shed across autumn, with an array of work inspired by exploration, discovery and pushing the limits of perception.

According to James, art as been a hobby for most of his career, “an indulgence when I had spare time and inspiration,” he says.

“Perhaps because of this, my art has become a means of complete escapism. 

“The subjects of my art are from other worlds and universes, silly ones that probably don’t make much sense. 

“Why? Because I can, and that’s the gift that art gives us, isn’t it?” James says.

‘Dirigifish’ (acrylic on canvas) by James O’Hanlon

After moving to the New England region with his family five years ago to start a new job, James says he never imagined switching careers and becoming a freelance artist and illustrator with a nifty sideline in murals.

“This region has been the backbone of my creative career and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support, enthusiasm and opportunities given to me by local people, businesses and organisations,” he says.

Sandbox to play in

In his scientific career, James has spent years exploring the natural world, so it’s no surprise that quirky animal characters feature heavily in ‘Plan B’, the title he gave his Glen Innes exhibition. 

“I have always admired artists who create their own little worlds to explore and fill them with endearing creatures,” he says.

“Whether it’s the cute clay-formed world of Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit, or the dark and gritty world of comic artists like Greg Capullo and Todd McFarlane [both North American comic book artists], I love getting an insight into the minds and passions of the creators themselves. 

“Changing the world is difficult in real life, but fictional worlds give us a sandbox to play in and explore new possibilities before we can take the first steps of making change in the real world.”

Throughout the works in Plan B, art lovers will experience themes of exploration and discovery; small characters encountering new environments and pushing the limits of their perception. 

“I enjoy creating expressive characters placed in absurd circumstances to explore ideas about how we perceive our own life experiences,” James says.

“I celebrate underdogs, problem solvers, ugly ducklings, fish out of water, and the just plain unlucky. 

“I use a range of mediums including acrylics, watercolours, ink, and digital art to tell stories, and hopefully make people smile and quietly guffaw.”

Entrepreneur

After focussing on his art career about two years ago, just as COVID started and the arrival of his daughter, James experienced a hectic two years in his new creative direction.

“It’s not a career path that I would recommend others take,” he says. 

“Nevertheless, it’s been an incredible journey so far with many more highs than lows, and experiences I never thought I would have, doing everything from illustrating books to learning how to drive a scissor lift to paint large scale murals.

“I love to work! This mindset has been very helpful because being a practicing artist is being a small business and dealing every day with very non-artsy sounding things like finances and time management. 

“I’m working hard on being as much an entrepreneur as I am a creative. 

“As much as I like bringing my own ideas to life, I also enjoy being a service provider and helping other peoples visions come to life! I am looking into the future and am excited about working with more people and organisations to bring some colour and light into their lives and communities,” he says.

Plan B: works by James O’Hanlon, The Makers Shed, 123 Grey Street Glen Innes, until May 28. A selection of works is for sale online.

Main image: ‘Humperdink’ (acrylic on canvas) by James O’Hanlon.

Torrington’s timeless tipple

“Our mead takes around one year in the main vat and another year in the bottle, at least.”

SITUATED ON A plateau between Glen Innes and Tenterfield, the village of Torrington was once a thriving hub of tin mining. Now its natural benefits have given rise to a tasty and very traditional tipple created by mead makers Pierre and Glenice Armand.

The couple created 2 Wild Souls Meadery after purchasing land at Torrington in 1979. “It was the beauty of the granite landscape,” Glenice recalls. “There was plenty of bushland without any cultivation of crops, and the benefit of four seasons. The mead making came about due to our property carrying timber species of interest to the local bee farmers. They’re always on the lookout for good bee sites, and our property had just that.”

“They paid for access to the sites by giving twenty-litre buckets of honey,” Pierre recalls. “This gave me the raw material to experiment with mead making.”

MEAD MAKER Pierre in the meadery.

A native of rural France, Pierre is the mead maker. “He grew up at the end of the subsistence farming era,” Glenice says. “The farmers produced everything for the table including wine in the south of France and cider in Brittany and Normandy. The production process was traditional and very simple. Quality was directly related to the quality of the grapes or apples and a rigorous hygiene in the making process. These are the principles applied in our mead making.”

Glenice’s qualifications and interest in alternative health underpin her passion for getting the 2 Wild Souls product out to appreciators of naturally-brewed, preservative-free beverages.

The mead making process comes from Pierre’s country of origin: “The méthode champenoise was devised by mistake when white wines of the Champagne region of France were sold to the court of England and they were bottled before the fermentation had run its full course, creating bubbles in the drink,” Glenice says.

“This process was perfected later to achieve a consistent product, and safe pressure levels in the bottles. The fermentation in the bottles produces a sediment which is called ‘lees’. In the méthode traditionelle the lees is disgorged, or removed, to enhance the presentation of the champagne to give a clear drink; whereas the méthode champenoise ancestrale that we use is a simpler more primitive process where disgorging is not carried out.”

The fermentation of honey in the mead making process is much slower than that of wine, due to the complexity of the sugars in the mix. “Our mead takes around one year in the main vat and another year in the bottle, at least, and a maturing process goes on from there,” Pierre explains. “Torrington is well suited for mead making due to its temperate climate and chemical-free environment. The cold of the winter requires heating of the shed but the summer heat is not excessive. The forest environment is there giving the raw product and the spring on our property gives us water of the best quality for mead making.”

WILD DROP 2 Wild Souls traditional mead.

Pierre and Glenice love offering mead tastings at regional festivals. “People want and expect more natural products,” she says. “We need to educate people about our mead because it is a completely new version of an ancient drink. Artisanal production like ours allows for small batches of high-quality mead to be produced without the back up of  preservatives or additives found in mass produced wines and beers.”

“We feel very proud and happy when we see the positive response from people liking our mead and giving compliments of the lovely blossom taste of our four varieties, especially when they experience the bubbles,” she says.

“Most times we hear ‘wow this is so different to what I have tasted in the past’, ‘can we drink this with different types of foods?’ and ‘when should we drink it, in the evening or only in winter?’ and our response is that people should chill the mead and enjoy it with all food day or night any time of the year.”

“Pierre and I met through our love of horses,” Glenice says. “All horses have a free spirit within them and nearly every young woman’s dream is to ride a free-spirited horse through meadows and woodlands, so our logo represents a beautiful powerful free-spirited horse with a free-spirited woman, which equals two wild souls.”

“Our dream is to see our mead being sold in the overseas market.”

This article first appeared in New England Living magazine.

Carol’s commonsense campaign

“There was a majority of men on the council and I really felt that women needed to have a decision-making presence.”

CAROL Sparks describes herself as an unlikely candidate for local government, but a desire for change in her community drove this former nurse into a political career that’s already made history in Glen Innes.

It was while co-ordinating state and federal elections for New England Greens candidate Mercurius Goldstein that Carol got a close-up look at public life.

“I went on the campaign trail and I spoke to lots of people,” she recalls.

“I realised I had a bit of a passion for it, to try and bring climate change to their attention, the problems with our waterways, and the environmental damage that was happening on the Barrier Reef.

“Then the council elections were coming up and I thought well, I could just keep talking to the people.”

Carol’s campaign for the Glen Innes Severn Council (GISC) elections in 2016 was conducted over a fortnight in a very grassroots manner.

“I just stood out on the street and said: ‘Vote me in for council’ and people liked that,” she says.

“There had been campaigning in this region in the past, but it had always been done in the newspaper.

“It was quite exciting and people were enthusiastic towards me. The community was feeling a little bit frustrated, they said we needed a change.”

A major driver for Carol was the under-representation of women in local government.

“There was a majority of men on the council and I really felt that women needed to have a decision-making presence,” she says.

“Dianne Newman was a councillor and she was feeling a bit isolated.

“I campaigned on health, women, water, and potholes. Unfortunately there’s still some potholes around, but we’re working hard on that,” she says.

Raised at Tathra on the far south coast of New South Wales, Carol’s mother’s family were dairy farmers and her painter father a Second World World veteran.

“I left school at fourteen and worked in a grocery store, before starting my nursing training at Bega,” she says.

“I went to the Keppel Islands on holiday and that’s where I met my husband, Badja.

“We sailed around the Whitsundays, got married, and lived in England for eight years where our children were born.”

After moving to the Glen Innes region in 1980, Carol and Badja established a local antiques and collectable business and a second-hand bookshop. The couple’s son Joe now owns The Book Market in central Glen Innes.

When asked about what sparked her political ambitions, Carol admits to having an internal drive that shocks a few people.

“I’m an old woman,’ she says, laughing. “And I wanted to have a change.”

“I was a registered nurse and working in palliative care here in Glen Innes for twenty years.

“There were needs in the community. We’ve got doctors on call, but it’s very different when you have a doctor right there when you present at a hospital.

“Towns in the bush tend to get poor services.”

Trial by fire

Carol served as deputy mayor from 2016 until September, 2018, when a majority of councillors elected her into the mayoral office. Looking back at her first years as a local representative, she describes the experience as a “trial by fire”.

“It still is,” she says.

“We had another lady who was president of Severn Shire Council,” Carol adds, referring to councillor Alice Clifford, who served prior to the amalgamation with Glen Innes Council.

“But we’ve never had a female mayor of the municipal council.

“That’s what women are facing all over the nation, and women are leaving politics in their droves. I suppose that’s writ small here.

“But I’ve tended to be a person who goes against the grain, and it’s been very inspiring to look at Dianne, who is now deputy mayor, and notice the changes that have happened for her whilst I’ve been on council.

“We could do with a couple more women, I reckon, just to balance it up a bit.”

When asked what she imagines her legacy will be, beyond bringing more gender equality, Carol is very clear.

“I think renewable energy, happy kids, more community gardens, and more sustainable businesses,” she says.

“We do have a tendency to be a bit old-fashioned. I’d love to bring the rail trail here, for example, with lots of backpackers coming from overseas,” she adds, referring to a proposal to alter the use of the closed rail corridor that runs from Armidale to Wallangarra.

“Volunteering is also a big thing in Glen Innes. We cannot survive without our volunteers and of course they’re all getting older, so encouraging younger volunteers is something I’ll be looking to do.”

On the issues that divide country towns along political lines, Carol is firm.

“If we care for our waterways and our creeks, we should create biodiversity and plant trees instead of cutting them down,” she says.

“To have healthy waterways is where we find most in common with farmers. They need water too, so we need to look after the environment.

“We come together though common sense.”

This article first appeared in New England Living magazine.