We could feel the car climb as we navigated through the mountains, heading north on gentle winding country roads. The land is painted every shade of brown as it bunkers down for a long, dry yet mild winter. Landowners are out and about with the morning feed ritual, small clouds of dust disperse into the morning air as the hay and feed is tossed out to nourish their depleting stock.
Our car slows for the cattle grabbing precious feed along the roadsides. The herds seem to be in good condition though my heart aches for the stockman, watching over his mob and looking to the clear blue sky hoping for drought breaking relief, soon.
Upwards we climb in search of the little settlement tucked between the Nandewar Ranges and the Horton Valley in the upper reaches of the Manilla River. The place that sits on the Peel Fault, granite country to the east and folded sedimentary to the west. The town that flourished from the 1850s with gold mining, and now the centre of prime grazing and cropping country. Country Australia.
Barraba. A word that appropriately means meeting place.
Especially appropriate in July as, each year crowds descend on the town to enjoy art and craft, reconnect with old friends and make new acquaintances, encompassed by the history and culture captured in its buildings and people.
Frost Over Barraba. A celebration of painting, photography, pottery, jewellery and music that creates a glowing warmth even to the most boreal winters day.
As we approached the town centre the final autumn leaves seem to herald our arrival, fluttering like natures flags in the wisp of an icy breeze. The main street was a buzz with placards and people, the atmosphere almost bohemian as travellers mix with locals, joining together to celebrate all that Frost Over Barraba promises.
Historic shops, once standing idle and forgotten are bought to life for the weekend as exhibitors dust away the forgotten and grime to create a unique atmosphere of new wares in old frames.
A quick recharge of coffee and the most lemoniest lemon meringue tart at the Polka Dot café is welcomed before we start our expedition along Queen Street. The street is blanketed with the last of the autumn leaves, the almost bare trees brightened with decorative childrens art creating a pictorial backdrop to the artistic avenue.
I met Merlene at Merlene’s Fine Fibre Studio, sitting in the back of her store, spinning. The wheel turns at a mesmerising pace as she draws and twists her home grown raw wool into yarn. Four local women show their wares in the store where they frequently come together to share knowledge, stories and support each other. They make yarn from their own alpaca, wool and cashmere, dye it a rainbow of colours using native plants and turn into garments from booties to jumpers. We laugh when Merlene tells us she is almost considered a local – she has lived in Barraba for 34 years!
We viewed the stylish pottery works of Anna Henderson on display at Andy’s Guesthouse, feeling right at home in the comfortable surroundings warmed by another woodfire to break the chill of the winter air.
I fell in love with encaustic paintings of Liz Priestly, the lino prints of Sharyn Jones and the aboriginal cultural reflections of Jodie Herden who can paint so much meaning and detail onto a tiny gum leaf.
I chatted with Annette, who had travelled from Coolah, about her studies to become a gemologist and was drawn to her exquisite jewellery display. It was too good an opportunity to add to my own jewellery collection as well!
We wandered into the Playhouse Hotel where more fine artisan jewellery was displayed, this time by Elisabeth Cox. We almost gate crashed a jewellery making class as we freely wandered around the displays.
I stared with mouth agape as I discerned the amazing talents of a photographer I have followed for some time, Andrew Pearson who had his best works on display at the Playhouse Hotel. It was one of the many highlights of the day to then meet him in person a bit later and express how much I enjoy his sensational works.
All these magnificent exhibits – what more could there be?
The pinnacle to the festival is the Frost Over Barraba Art Exhibition at the top of Queen Street.
The memorial hall was packed with displays that showcased infants art, primary and secondary school artworks, watercolour and oil paintings as well as sculptures of numerous shapes, sizes and subjects professionally laid out for visitors to enjoy and judge as connoisseurs of fine arts. I do have to mention a friend of mine won the Watercolur section – congrats Maree Kelly with her interpretation of the Namoi River.
It was then time for us to head home, though there was some regret we didn’t take time to plan to stay for the lantern parade and fireworks, or attend the range of art lessons on offer, but there is always next year.
Congratulations Barraba – you warm a winters weekend with the pride and hospitality that is a symbol of regional Australia.
FURTHER INFORMATION + LINKS
For winners of the competitions and more details about the exhibits check out their Facebook page.
Barraba Potters and Craft Guild Inc – Fuller Gallery is open most weekdays 10am to 4pm at 74 Queen St.
Andys Guesthouse – www.andysguesthouse.com.au
Annette Piper Jewellery – Coolah – www.annettepiper.com + annetterpiperjewellery on Facebook and Instagram
Liz Priestly Artist on Facebook and Instagram
Jodie Herden – BuggArt on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BuggArt
Maree Kelly Art – www.mareekelly.com.au.
Andrew Pearson Photography – judge of the photography competition as well – www.andrewpearsonphotography.com.au + Facebook and Instagram.
Elisabeth Cox’s wonderful jewellery – Queen and Country on Facebook at www.facebook.com/queenandcountrybarraba.