Olley’s fine mess
The chaotic life’s work of an acclaimed artist is the beacon for this verdant driving route.On the lawn below the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah, NSW, a group of schoolboys in red-striped blazers are capturing the scene in watercolour, watched over by a static row of strange sculpted cattle with silver horns.
It’s a bucolic scene, lush and verdant, with the heavy swathes of cloud obscuring the peak of Mount Warning and threatening to bring rain.
Inside the gallery, our eyes turn to a very different scene; a city artist’s habitat, brought permanently to the gallery in all its chaotic colour as a tribute to its owner, the late Margaret Olley.
When Olley died in 2011, she left the contents of her Sydney cottage to the gallery, in northern NSW, where she was born and spent her early life.
The exact recreation of Olley’s home studio – right down to the original windows and doors – brings out the voyeur in visitors, who peer through panels in the walls at more than 20,000 of the nearly 76,000 items retrieved from Olley’s home. It’s fascinating.
The re-created clutter belies the intricate planning it took to transport and reassemble it. Piles of books and magazines are stacked on chairs, vases of flowers and bowls of fruit spill over, every surface is covered with rich fabrics, sculptures, pottery, bottles of wine, baskets of wool. In the small green kitchen in which Olley cooked for her many famous guests, jars of spices line shelves alongside red pots and pans.
I reluctantly make way for other gallery-goers. I could look at this all day!
We emerge to find the threatening clouds have blown away, which makes my spirits soar, too, as I’m driving a borrowed convertible, a Bentley GTC V8, which is a work of art in itself, and I’m ready for the wind in my hair.
From my overnight base in Kingscliff, I’m mainly following the 68km Tweed Valley Art Trail through an area claiming “more artists per capita than any other region in Australia”.
First stop is Chillingham, where the old butcher shop, built in 1923, is now a gallery showcasing the work of potter John Gillson. It’s not far from the old Chillingham Store, of similar style, and still operating.
Further along the road, Tyalgum is home to many creative types. The 1908 general store sits alongside pioneer cottages turned to more creative outlets. The Little Shop Next Door features “shabby chic” and at Flutterbies, owner Haniel Medinet presides over a delightful cafe and craft shop.
Viridian Arts, at home in the 1908 village hall, is a room showcasing work by the local artists’ co-op. If you’re visiting on the last Saturday of the month, the Tyalgum Village Market lays it on with music and stalls proffering soft furnishings, lamps and paintings, organic preserves, photography and woodwork.
In the tiny village of Stokers Siding, the main attraction is the Vintage Soul arts and crafts store, where you can still find the distinctive smoked lustreware work of the late Bob Connery, who founded a pottery here about 35 years ago. Next door is Moo Moo Stitches, a vast array of haberdashery and sewing supplies.
Uki has lots of small galleries and studios in the former butter factory. Studio 9 Artspace is a working studio with resident artists, and the Uki Buttery Bazaar is held on the third Sunday of each month.