Blair Athol Recut: treasures and erasures

This is the continuing story of my Siganto Fellowship project: Blair Athol Re-Cut, a pictorial and oral history project about mining and a town that no longer exists, to be realised in the form of an artist book.

IMG_2541I am now well and truly into the printing phase of my Blair Athol Re-Cut project and on days when I have spare hours you will find me etching with the friendly crew at Lismore Art Space. It’s been a long time between photo etching plates and never have I been so happy to have filthy hands and ink under my nails! I have to thank printmaker extraordinaire Darren Bryant for his assistance and advice during the printing phase, in particular the process of selectively wiping the plates to get the look that I want.

IMG_2998The twists and turns abound as I continue working on the project and share stories and conversations with other artists. During a break from printing at Lismore Art Space a couple of weeks ago I shared a meandering conversation with Darren about the project, site specific practice, collections, earth and coal, mining, and about my son who has recently started work in a soil testing lab. All of this talking led to the discovery in an antique shop in Lismore of 800 mini test tubes which now reside in my living room, ready to be filled with ephemera from the mine site at Blair Athol on my next visit in early October.

IMG_3004Some of these test tubes will be housed in the bottom of the clam shell box, resting beneath the hard cover book depicting old maps and pinpointing places of interest to me in the township of Blair Athol, when it was still a town! Days spent in Sydney last week with book binder Monica Oppen have allowed a certain clarity around binding methods, box construction and book cloth and the excitement towards the final look of the book build!

During the process phase of the project the research into the history of the Blair Athol town ship continues. Revisiting ‘The Life and Death of a Town’ by Diane Menghetti on my most recent visit to the State Library, I discovered that there was a taped interview conducted with my Father at Emu Park, in 1992. My parents moved to Emu Park in Central Queensland when the property at Blair Athol was sold and it was here that Diane came and interviewed my Father for the book. Subsequent phone calls to the Historical Society in Clermont (the nearest town to Blair Athol), the Clermont Library and the James Cook University in Townsville, where Diane Menghetti taught, have yet to reveal the existence of the elusive tape. I am hoping to have a sound component in the final artist book and the tape could be just perfect. Will I ever find it? I hope so.

IMG_2991As the project evolves so do events in Bentley on the North Coast as the resurgence of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) interest in the region picks up steam once again. Let’s hope that people power will continue to prevent this scourge from destroying our home environments, and the health and livelihoods of my extended community.

IMG_2997The feeling of solastalgia returns once again and I wonder what treasures and erasures will I discover on my return visit to Blair Athol.

Julie Barratt