I love solo road trips, because I can jump on the brakes whenever I see something of interest to photograph, assuming there’s not somebody right behind me of course. (Ask my hubby to pull over while he’s driving and by the time he’s sighed with exasperation, weighed up whether he can say no, and begrudgingly found a ‘suitable’ place to pull over, the photogenic scene is likely receded in the rearview mirror or is out of view back around the bend.)
So I was happy to be travelling solo on Tasmania’s Bruny Island earlier this year (between Sydney lockdowns), because I was pulling over regularly for colourful roadside fruit stalls, pretty painted street libraries and old fridges filled with edible goodies, like the best wood-fired sourdough I’ve ever eaten from The Bruny Baker.
But it was a particular piece of street art that really caught my attention. Perhaps roadside art is a better moniker, as this eye-catching sculptural installation spans the corner of a paddock at the junction of Main Road and Simpsons Bay Road.
The Bruny (Beyond) Blue Farmer is a round-faced female farmer in a blue brimmed hat with matching pinafore and gumboots. Considering her face is made from fencing wire I love how it radiates cheeriness. I just makes me smile – broadly. I also adore the details, like the little bluebird on her shoulder, the pretty flowers at her feet and the cute canine sitting obediently.
It turns out this is more than just cheerful installation, as the accompanying sign noted. This was part of a project with Beyond Blue to raise awareness of mental health and remind people to look out for each other, hence why the famer is ‘looking out’.
Local artist Gretja Van Randen involved the whole community, consulting with students from Bruny Island District School on the design, sourcing discarded blue bailing twin from farmers and getting members of the Men’s Shed to weld the frame. Volunteers taught the students how to weave, knit and plait the clothing and community members helped with knitting and weaving whenever they called into the Community Centre. What a great way to bring people of all ages together in a fun way. Turns out this is the fourth Big Blue Farmer installation, with others dotted around Tasmania, all ‘looking out’.
Later in the week I pull up at a sign saying Art Garden. Sprokkelwood is a sprawling garden of mature European trees, tranquil ponds and shady arbours, interspersed with sculptures in timber, wire and found materials. For $10 you can explore the garden or have a picnic in the grounds. Kids would adore rolling on the lawns or searching for the enormous fairy toadstools sprouting between birches, maples and willows.
I find artist Keith Smith in a shed grinding a concrete sphere. Turns out his partner is Gretja Van Randen! We join her in her studio surrounded by a variety of mediums, from paints to felts. She tells me inspiration for the Blue Farmer project grew out of an awareness of the impacts of suicide across four generations of Keith’s family.
In the garden Keith explains his farmer father suicided when he was young and it has impacted his whole life. He finds art therapeutic and shows me a twisting sculpture that represents him awakening from his past life into a happier new life. It’s a powerful metaphor for the importance of art to mental health.
Keith loves the garden, designed 23 years ago by his then wife. He takes me on a tour, pointing out a Mexican weeping pine, whose needles hang like hair, and old fashioned rugosa roses whose perfume is intoxicating. It’s such a peaceful garden and I wish I had more time to linger.
As I leave I notice a small blue farmer near the gate. He’s looking out, of course.