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

 

                                                                                 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.

 

 

St Mary ‘s in Ara Coeli

 

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.

 

Inside St Marys church

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

 

 

St Mary’s 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 .

 

Northampton Tree

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

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Making a Ewe Turn at Northampton

  1. You have done Northampton proud Wendy. Thankyou, and thanks too for sending me your other stories. I loved Happy Cat

    1. Thanks Margaret
      Not hard to do Northampton proud its a beautiful little town and the creative ladies of the town make it especially so !!
      Wendy

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