Max Powell from Glen Innes and Michael Burge from Deepwater draw inspiration from an old railway gatekeepers cottage

Max Powell and Michael Burge at the gatekeepers cottage
Max Powell and Michael Burge at the gatekeepers cottage

Two of Glen Innes' most talented residents are part of an exhibition at Tamworth Regional Art Gallery this month.

Art Word Place focuses on the interplay between text and image, and will run during Artstate Tamworth until Sunday, December 8.

Writers from the Arts North West region were commissioned to create a short poem based on their home landscape. Selected artists then used this composition as the basis and inspiration of a new work capturing the identity and sense of place of the New England North West.

There are recurring themes - of rivers, plains and sky, of drought, of adversity but also of optimism.

Deepwater based author Michael Burge was born at Inverell and grew up on a farm outside Delungra. After living and working in the Blue Mountains, the United Kingdom and Brisbane, Michael returned to the New England region in 2017.

"My husband and I found a property that we fell in love with at first sight," Mike said. "It's an off-grid paradise with one of the original gatekeeper's cottages from the railway line that's been long closed between Armidale and Wallangarra."

Michael was asked to write for Art Word Place by creating something for local artist Max Powell to respond to.

"This was instantly inspiring to me since Max's work was some of the first locally-created artwork I saw after moving to the Glen Innes region. He's more accomplished and admired than he'll tell you, and I sensed that I'd need to write something that could be rendered in three dimensions."

Michael said he was drawn to write about the railway heritage of the land around his home because the whole place is evidence of historic transport corridors.

I sensed that I'd need to write something that could be rendered in three dimensions

Michael Burge

"The cottage was built in 1885 because the New England Highway once crossed the Great Northern Railway here," he said.

"Wherever they couldn't build a culvert or a bridge, a gatekeeper's cottage was installed, usually built from bricks made onsite.

"Long-term locals told me about how the route of the highway was altered in the 1950s, leaving this cottage in a world of its own."

Max visited Michael at home and showed him which of the bricks in some of the garden walls are the local, Glen Innes-made ones with their distinct dark colouring.

"We sat on the old verandah of the cottage, just where the gatekeepers would have come and gone," he said.

"Everyone who visits the place and sits in that spot can view this little vale pretty much as it was always seen, a kind of gateway into Deepwater from the south that is no longer experienced by travellers."

Michael said he decided to respond to the landscape as it is now: "with the detritus of the railway and the visible signs of nature reclaiming the man-made elements".

Walking the tracks by Max Powell

Walking the tracks by Max Powell

Max said he loved the story of the gatekeeper's cottage written by Michael.

"I found it a rich source to draw from in the making of my ceramic work," he said.

When Max sent an image of the completed work to Michael, he was thrilled.

"The colours and textures are very much aligned with what I envisaged in my mind's eye," he said.

"There's a sense of crumbling order, and the indelible image of the railway tracks, but the work is also a receptacle in which something can be collected, and that captures this place so well."

Art Word Place was developed in partnership with Arts North West, and Caroline Downer curates this exhibition.

"It was important that Artstate Tamworth showcased work from across the Arts North West region - so that is actually twelve local government areas including Tamworth," said Ms Downer.

"I wanted to make sure each LGA was represented in some way. Our region is known for its literature; in fact, places like Armidale are considered a creative hotspot in this area. Literature is not something that is often highlighted at arts conferences, and this seemed a great opportunity to showcase this are of creative endeavour. "

Ms Downer said it was interesting to see the similar creative processes for both writer and artist.

having the link back to place and landscape has really made this exhibition about our identity here

Caroline Downer

"And having the link back to place and landscape has really made this exhibition about our identity here in the New England North West.

"I am absolutely thrilled with the work that has been produced and want to thank everyone involved for their enthusiasm. It is going to be a fantastic exhibition."

Max Powell is now preparing for his annual Open Studio Exhibition on December 7 and 8.

Michael Burge has just completed the first draft of a long-form piece of fiction that recreates life in his gatekeeper's cottage in 1902, a pivotal drought year at Deepwater and a critical year for Australian women, who were pressuring the government to call an election so they could use their newly-gained right to vote.

"I've got that manuscript on the back burner for now while I am preparing other stories, but I can't wait to share it," he said.