Street artists land in Australia’s outback.
Across the country, painted silos are turning fading rural areas into open-air art galleries. Locals hope they bring tourism, too.
Article written by Sarah Reid, adapted from National Geographic article printed May 2020
Life isn’t easy in rural Australia, where your nearest neighbor might be hundreds of miles away, and it could be years between each rainfall. But farmers in southeastern Australia have had it particularly rough over the past couple of years, with crippling droughts forcing many to sell off their livestock to survive or even walk away from their agricultural businesses for good.
In southwest Queensland, the cotton- and sheep-farming community of Thallon (population 257) is one of many Australian outback towns now at risk of being wiped off the map by climate and population changes. Passenger railway services to and from the town—located roughly 355 miles southwest of Brisbane—stopped in the 1990s, hastening its decline.
“By 2015 Thallon was on its knees, so we got the community together to see what we could do to reinvigorate the town,” says Leanne Brosnan, secretary of the Thallon Progress Association. Ideas the group helped to implement included a statue of a six-foot-tall hairy-nosed wombat in a park and, in 2017, a massive mural covering four 98-foot-tall grain silos opposite the town campground.
Dubbed “The Watering Hole,” the outsize mural by Brisbane street artists Joel Fergie and Travis Vinson depicts a fiery sunset over a landscape dotted with sheep, rainbow-hued rosella parrots, and a scarred tree—a nod to the region’s indigenous community, which strips bark to make weapons. It took the artists—who go by The Zookeeper (Fergie) and Drap (Vinson)—21 days and 500 cans of spray paint to execute the piece, working from the basket of a long-armed crane.
Their sky-scraping efforts were worth it: “The Watering Hole” has been a lifeline for the community, and it was named the best work of public art at the inaugural Australian Street Art Awards in 2019.
“Thallon wasn’t a tourist destination at all before,” says Brosnan. “The mural now entices visitors to come out here and maybe spend a few bucks at the local pub. It has given locals a bit of hope for the future.”