18 April 2024

Sculpture Forest a symbol of hope and healing for Snowy Valleys communities

| Edwina Mason
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sculptural exhibition

Batlow’s Robyn Veneer Sweeney’s work features among that of local, national and international artists in the new Sculpture Forest in Bago State Forest near Laurel Hill in the Snowy Valleys. Photo: Sculpture by the Sea/Facebook.

Three touching new dimensions were today (18 April) added to the Snowy Valley’s blossoming sculpture trail in a remarkably poignant salute to the stately Bago State Forest in the aftermath of the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires.

Situated between Tumut and Tumbarumba, the landmark forest was one of the biggest casualties in the Dunns Road fire, which razed much of the Snowy Valleys region, but today a picnicking public were on hand to applaud the opening of the new Sculpture Forest, a new gem in the crown of one the most significant regional public art collections in the world that is the Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail.

The event marked the start of a four-day art, food and wine weekend across the region but, more significantly, acted to unify the Snowy Valleys community as they work to heal, build local pride and reinvigorate a sense of place in the aftermath of the fires.

The Sculpture Forest offers a range of experiences at three very different sites including the village of Laurel Hill, Pilot Hill Arboretum and the nearby Alpine Ash Walk.

The 13-piece collection of works by local, national and international artists includes those by Batlow’s Robyn Veneer Sweeney and Holbrook’s Lorraine Connelly-Northey.

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Three very different sculptures, including one by Sweeney, will feature at Pilot Hill Arboretum, among historic plantings of more than 50 tree species from all over the world dating back to the early 1900s.

Sweeney’s work Containment Lines – referring to a strategy used by firefighters to contain fires – acknowledges the miracle of the survival of the arboretum, which was ringed by fires, and references the Japanese process of Kintsugi, where gold is applied to a resin glue to repair broken objects, rendering it more precious.

Eight sculptures also feature along the stunning one-kilometre Alpine Ash Walk which meanders through forest near Pilot Hill Arboretum, with more to be added.

Among them is the collection of narrbong-galang (many bags) by Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey of Holbrook, whose work with rusted, salvaged metals in combination with feathers, shells and echidna quills, expresses an Indigenous history coexisting with a settler colonial society.


Folly Interstice – winner of one of the most coveted sculpture awards in the world – is now on permanent exhibition at the site of the new sugar pine plantation in Bago State Forest. Photo: Sculpture by the Sea.

Two large sculpture installations at the site of the old sugar pine forest at Laurel Hill, next to Batlow Road on the Snowy Valleys Way between Batlow and Tumbarumba, include Western Australian artist Tony Davis’s seven-metre-high jarrah timber and steel sculpture Folly Interstice, winner of the $70,000 Aqualand Sculpture Award.

The Sculpture Forest is a collaborative effort of Sculpture by the Sea, Forestry Corporation of NSW and the local community in direct response to bushfires which also saw the loss of the much-loved Sugar Pines Walk and Pine Cathedral experience.

Originally planted in 1928, the sugar pines at Laurel Hill held a story of the Snowy Valleys’ rich pioneering history but were, to many, the area’s best kept secret, the scenic backdrop to many a photoshoot and the heartland of adventure-seeking children.

Sculpture by the Sea founding director and CEO David Handley said it had been a humbling privilege to work with the local community to develop the Sculpture Forest in response to the Black Summer fires.

READ ALSO Black Summer survivor reflects four years on after flames destroyed his Batemans Bay home

He said it provided an opportunity for the Snowy Valleys community to come together to heal, build local pride and reinvigorate a sense of place alongside a fledgling forest of newly planted sugar pines, while also providing an important boost for local tourism and hospitality businesses.

Forestry Corporation of NSW’s Brendan Grimson said the Sculpture Forest built on the success of the amazing Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail which was, “a real testament to the hard work of a small team of passionate locals combined with national and international artists”.

“State Forests of the Snowy Valleys are an incredibly magical destination which provide the perfect backdrop for this significant collection.

“We highly recommend visitors plan ahead and spend a number of days exploring all that the region has to offer.”

From April, the Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail will have grown to more than 50 by artists from 14 countries at 12 locations across 150 kilometres of the Snowy Valleys, including the towns of Adelong, Batlow, Tumbarumba, Talbingo, the hamlet of Tooma and the three Tumbarumba region vineyards.

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