Making an ‘Ewe Turn’ at Northampton
Wendy Buss Aug 2018
Northampton celebrates the Community Art initiative the Ewe Turn project.
Northampton in the shire of Northampton on the Western Coast of WA is a charming little rural town just 51ks north of Geraldton .With a population of only 800-1000 people the main street Hampton Road is only a few blocks long and I could say to you say “ blink and you would probably miss it altogether” but any visitors heading up the W.A coast to Kalbarri and beyond as they turned into the tiny township of Northampton I am sure will agree with me in the first block of the main street your eye is inevitably drawn to the splendid and distinctive architecture of the Sacred Heart convent
And also right next to it visitors attention is no doubt doubly captured by the sight of the heart stoppingly lovely St Mary in Ara Coeli church right beside it both stunning architectural achievements of the late Monsignor Hawes renowned architect and catholic priest who arrived in the Midwest to serve in the in the Geraldton Diocese in 1915 and who graced the harsh red landscape with over 15 churches and religious buildings which he designed and helped to build .
Influenced in style and design by the architecture of the European cathedrals his eclectic and romantic buildings were a combination of Gothic and European especially Mediterranean architecture rendered in distinctively Australian “hammer dressed masonry “ which reveals the natural colour and beauty of the stone used .The Rev Hawes wished for his architectural works to be considered as ‘poems in stone’ which might bring his congregation closer to God and the St Marys church in Northampton certainly inspires such awe and reverence.
As you cruise on up the main street in Northampton to the next block you pass the impressive heritage village store still which I was later to discover set up in the manner of the old emporiums and general all purpose stores of yesteryear.Its not hard to understand why Northampton was actually listed as a historical town of importance in 1993
However since early July this year visitors passing through Northampton might also find some other unexpected curious blips of colour dotted through the township catching their eye and piquing their interest as they drive past and if they care to slow down and look more closely at this unusual phenomenom
( no the aliens have not landed ) they will discover these blips are actually life sized gaily decorated fibre glass sheep which have been created as part of a huge community art project bringing colour and interest and quirkiness to the townscape .
The project is called the ‘Ewe Turn’ project and consists of no less than 30 diversely and gaily decorated life sized fibre glass sheep taking up their permanent posts all over the town the point of their presence being to encourage visitors driving through the town to stop make a ‘Ewe turn’ and go back and have a second look at Northampton . These thirty life sized gloriously decorated creatures have been painted in widely varying designs and styles as diverse as the individual people and personalities within the township Invited to work on them .The whole town came out in force in a community gathering to celebrate the arrival and presentation of the 30 sheep to the town which as street art will take up permanent residence at various spots about the town adding colour and interest and quirkiness to the townscape
Indeed it becomes apparent within a few minutes of being in Northampton that the Arts and craft scene is alive and well and a vibrant and important part of community life here.I cant help but notice and am intrigued by the predominance of spaces dedicated to art ….As I have said Although the main street only consists of three blocks art spaces are definitely out front and centre in the mainstrip .
Theres the little community hall which used to be the Roads Board Office with the gaily signposted arts and crafts notice on the front door while up the street in the next block you come to Studio One a shop front thriving Artists gallery shop and studio and a little further up the street in the same block an Aboriginal Art Gallery is in the process of coming together.
This was music to my ears as a former creative arts primary teacher for whom art and craft is a passion and also as a Rev Hawes admirer I myself had done something of a u turn after I spotted the little hall advertising its art and crafts activities and as the bus I was travelling on drove up the main street Hampton Rd and I sighted the the splendid convent and the beautiful St Marys church I felt inspired to stop off and spend more time in Northampton and discover it some more on my return .
So now here I was .I had two days to fill in in Northampton working in with the trans WA buses who only go every 2 days . Eventually I would catch the Saturday morning bus and head to Geraldton where I would catch the plane to Perth.
I arrived on a Thursday morning and checked into the Motor Hotel or the middle pub as it is known to the townsfolk and was out and about pretty early I ate a scrumptious breakfast served by some delightful ladies at The Shearers Café one of the only three cafes in town and I pondered how I would fill the next two days .
I didn’t have to wonder for long. After breakfast as I cruised up the main street and I came across the Studio One gallery and shop brim filled with exciting art and craft treasures .I gazed for a long time like a kid in a candy store through the windows at all the lovely stuff for sale .
Gallery One Craft Studio
Anyone who knows me well knows that art is my weakness: well art that is that speaks to me and some of those pieces were already talkin loud and calling out my name . I was still travelling and knew really I didn’t have a single inch of extra space in my suitcase not one single inch I tell you but I could already see two or three creations calling longingly out to me .”I was made for you . We belong together .Take me home Take me home .”
rying to talk common sense to myself about my already overwhelming bulging suitcase I noticed a sign on the Studio One Door with a timetable of arts sessions which were happening each week at the studio and as serendipity would have it the s scheduled for that particular day were spinnning and felting and even better the sign said visitors passing by were warmly invited to stop by and join in .
Well need to ask me twice . I was in like Flynn . You see I had wanted to learn the art of felting for a long time .I had spent the last couple of years engrossed in making beautiful tea cosies and it was my next sequential step in expanding my skill base to learn felting. I had been wanting to learn it for ages and so it all seemed suddenly very kismet .
I couldn’t believe my luck that by some magical serendipitous cosmic timetabling I had arrived in town on exactly the right day that felting classes would be taking place . I couldn’t wait for ten o’clock to come .
So after breakfast then browsing the local op shop and catching up on some local goss a bit after ten I rocked up to Studio One where I announced I had come along to learn felting .
The studio was already a hive of arts activity with Dianne sitting at her spinning wheel spinning and another lady called Lyn busily packing her impressive acrylic art works to enter in to art competitions throughout the region .
I was directed to a lady called Meg who was the felter in the group Actually Meg was setting up to work on one of her own advanced pieces but when she could see me standing there with shining eyes and eager anticipation ready to roll with the felting she very generously put her own project aside aside to offer me a beginners lesson .
While Meg ducked home just up around the corner to fetch some materials she needed for our lesson I had a chance to peruse all the delectable art and craft items on sale and here on the other side of the glass window sadly I was not so resistant to all these beautiful items lovely charms .
All my resolve not to be swayed when thinking about that bulging suitcase were weakened and a beautiful applique covered in vibrant orange and blue butterflies fairly danced off the wall insisting it belonged to me The piece was called ‘Secret Garden’ created by fabric artist Dee Nunn.I was smitten and happily parted with my cash for such a lovely and reasonably priced item item which was probably worth 4 times as much
Meg was soon back with the necessary materials and the felting lesson was underway .I was in bliss for the next couple of hours as Meg showed me how to take special yarn called ‘roving’ and fold it around a resister which is like a template to create the shape of your object .There is a lot of wetting and patting and rolling in the method Meg showed me it was a very rhythmic and repetitive and meditative process. Eventually I emerged from the class with a very creditable structure that really did look like a tea cosy . I took back it to my motel room and sat it over a mug to retain its shape as it dried.
Felted Artworks by Meg Brooks
Meg showed me some of the pieces she herself was creating. She had just come back from a five day felting workshop in Melbourne so was full of enthusiasm and passion for her craft. The piece she showed me were simply stunning sculpted pieces ,shell like structures and tree like renderings which gave you some idea of the heights of artistry to which felting can be taken.
A big thanks to Meg for her her time so graciously and generously given and for being such a patient teacher as well.I enjoyed a lovely chat with the other ladies Dianne and Meg I met at Studio one also .
Art and craft seems to fairly premeate the lives of many of the 800 -1000 or so population of Northampton and seems to act as a vibrant creative meaningful unifying force within the Northampton Community .There are at least several dozens actively practising arts and crafters in town . of A delightful lady called Miho who helped to prepare my room at the hotel and is also a face painter turned up to participate at Studio one with her knitting after she had finished work and was all smiles delighted with a spinning wheel someone had gifted her .
More Crafts at Gallery One
There are a number of various Art and craft cooperatives and groups in Northhampton Meg Brooks tells me The Creative Obsessions is the umbrella group with various other groups including the Arty Tarts and All Stitched Up and a spinning and weaving group as well as scrapbooking and quilting happening . Some work out of and sell at Studio One gallery /shop and the other groups work out of the little community hall down the road and I was told do the more traditional crafts like knitting and crochet and quilting
Past community art events have included the Airing of the quilts annually showcasing the handiworks of the towns talented quilters and purple bra day where thousands of bras were strung up along the towns streets and edifaces to raise money for breast cancer.
Being myself a passionate advocate for the value of art and craft to enhance and enrich the quality of life in any community , to see the creative visual arts and crafts squarely up front and centre of the town in Northampton was beautiful I thought. One usually finds art modestly tucked away inside the folds of the more dominant business interests ….in a place but here in Northampton the balance has shifted and art and craft predominantly practised by the ladies of the town seems well and truly seems to hold its own .
I really appreciated too the inclusive vibe and how the artsy ladies of Northampton extended warm welcome to visitors passing through .
One other adventure I had at Northampton was the chance to stay at Monsignor Hawes Convent.I say the chance to stay which I did attempt to take but alas did chicken out .When I first saw this beautiful building there was no doubt in my mind but that it was haunted …..I asked around the township and everyone had a story ……not that the ghosts were evil or anything but presences from the past were definatly hanging around.
Yet when I learnt the convent offered budget accommodation at 30 dollars a night I fairly leapt at the chance to book a night there . More I think to get a chance to see inside the building…
The managers of the accommodation at the local visitors centre gave me a bit of a pep talk one of them assuring me he had stayed there by himself for several months and never heard or saw a thing. It didn’t really help matters though as I handed over my thirty dollars when I learned to that I would be pending the entire evening almost entirely by myself in the building ….
The inside of the building though was a bit gloomy sadly I felt had none of the elegance and style and romance of the outside facades …. As I climbed the creaky wooden stairs over which shone a sing bare lightbulb hanging on a long cord and made my way to a bare single little cell with two very simple beds made up my confidence just flailed and my imagination kicked into overdrive .
I could imagine some ghostly irate mother superior looming out of the darkness waving a rosary in my face chiding me for my self indulgent excesses or the bare light bulb swinging wildly on its cord without the hint of a breeze or the eyes of the madonnas on the wall shiftily following me around …..Nah!! it was all too much for me ..
I just got the creeps and beat a hasty retreat back to my motel room which was very modest but after the convent suddenly didn’t seem half bad at all. I’m sure the managers of the convent accommodation got a bit of giggle when they went to do the housekeeping and saw that my bed had clearly not even been slept in .the place is definately very clean though and a very well priced accommodation option in Northampton perhaps for a group with a spirit of adventure and someone to cling onto on the off chance something might go ‘bumb’ in the night.
I also got to see the inside of St Marys church though and that was a whole different story The inside of St Marys in Ara Coeli is simply beautiful with whitewashed Spanish arches and beautiful leadlights and pictorial plaques and plush red fittings. One cannot but help but feel closer to God/dess sitting in that lovely space .
I also visited the Mary Street railway precinct which was really interesting. The railway line museum precinct is important because it contains the last remnants of the first railway line in WA which was discontinued in 1957. The train line ran through from Geraldton to Aruna ( famed for its proximity to the Rabbit proof fence) the Mary Street station at Northampton coming into operation in 1913 .
The trainline contributed to the strengthening of agriculture and mining in the region and the trains carried everything from passengers and mail to fruit and veg wheat grain and wood fertilizer and stock and even coffins (with bodies inside )
This quaint tiny little station has been preserved and stands surrounded with steam engine and rail paraphernalia and information plaques which tell of a bygone era when ladies had their own waiting room at the station
Out the back of the station I unexpectedly came across this most magnificent gum tree Now then no one really prepared me for the beauty of the West Australian tree life their sheer size and vitality which continually takes my breath away .They stand there as living breathing custodians of time and place …stalwart endlessly patient silent ambassadors of some greater benign force being and working for the preservation of life on earth for without them human life on the planet would cease to exist .
This particular beauty spoke to me and nearly reduced me to tears trying to take a photo to capture what I saw and do her justice .She stands there growing as she has done for decades tucked away around the back of the little railway station. She’s probably barely noticed by many people but she stands there anyway thriving silently through rain hail and shine beautiful providing oxygen ,probably giving shelter and home for birds and critters and flourishing as the best loveliest tree she was meant to become …….she spoke to me that tree..I felt humbled and awed by her patience and tenacity .
In coming away from Northampton I have since learnt there is a whole heap of historical attractions I missed this time around and certainly hope I get to head back there to spend some more time there some stage
I encourage visitors passing through to stop make a’ Ewe Turn’ and give this charming little town a second look especially now with the wildflowers in the area that bloom every year starting to be at their best .Stay a while and enjoy its lovely warm hospitality ,its natural beauty its thriving arts and crafts scene and its historical interests . I reckon you’ll be glad you did .
The Studio One Gallery is located at Shop 1 Hampton Road Northampton Enquiries for the Studio One gallery/shop/studio opening hours can be made to Meg Brooks on 0499 436 876 or Brenda on 0429341179