Thursday, 20 June 2013

Hill End: Life in a slab hut

Beautiful morning light filters through the old front windows

Ive just returned from a month artist in residence at Hill End, staying at Haefligers Cottage, where artists Jean Bellette and Paul Haefliger lived on and off during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s. Hill End became an artist community in the late 1940s and the isolated landscapes inspired many Australian artists including Russell Drysdale,  John Olsen, Donald Friend and Margaret Olley (to name a few). The cottage was built in the 1860s during the first gold rush in the area, part is built with wattle and daub construction (mud and sticks) and the kitchen is slab construction. 

I arrived just on dusk. It had been raining all day and the road from Bathurst was steep and windy. Beautiful scenery, amazing hills that look down into deep valleys, but I did not have time to stop and look, wanting to get to Hill End before dark.

Thankfully I did. I was advised to arrive early so that I could get to know the quirks of the house. There are a few. One of them is that there are no overhead lights in the cottage. Lamps illuminate everything, in the corners, near the front door, there is even one in the kitchen.

I love the old door handle to the loo

The loo
This means that at night (in winter 5.30pm) its dark outside. The lounge and bedroom (a wall has been removed so that the bedroom is raised a step and part of the main room) is illuminated by lamps which throw a lovely light, but are not so good to work by. There was also no electric lights in the purpose built studio. I quickly learned to adapt to the house, waking early to make the most of the day, and then settling down in the evening in front of the fire. This was when I read information relating to the pioneering history of the area, knit or simply to gaze at the fire and think.

View of the bedroom from in front of the fire place in the lounge  room.
Another quirk is that the house has absolutely no reception for mobile phones or internet. Before I arrived I was planning to do all sorts of things on the internet, not to mention my morning ritual of getting up, making a coffee and catching up on my emails before the day gets underway. All this changed and I relinquished my grasp on the outside world. I discovered that this was a good thing and gave me time to focus. The house also has no clocks, and since I only have my mobile phone, which in the city is many things as I can check maps, emails, time, temperature, not to mention make calls, in the bush it was just a clock - and even it stopped working!

View from the studio looking down the valley at the Post Office
The countryside was timeless and without the constant interruptions/diversions provided by technology I observed the world around me. I began to learn to tell the time by looking at the sky and shadows..... I could almost accurately guess how cold it is... (we had a serious frost one morning and to tell how cold it was I walked on it. The grass crackled underfoot and my guess was it was about -4 to -5 degrees, which was later verified through chatting the with locals in the village). Another thing was the stillness. There was hardly a noise in the valley with the exception of the abundant bird life. I could hear the geese honking across the town common and the chattering of magpies out in the garden.

I enjoyed all these things. It was quite liberating and I think it was the cottage's way of saying 'slow down, take time out and relax. Enjoy and notice your surroundings'...

The kitchen - the ceiling is so low that I could easily touch it. The cottage is gorgeous with loads of character especially being full of beautiful old furniture belonging to Jean Bellette and Paul Haefliger.

Lovely soft light filters through the kitchen windows

One afternoon I was doing a lino cut in the kitchen with the wood fire oven going to warm the room. The wiring in the cottage is so old that if you plug any two appliances into the one socket, ultimately the fuse blows. And of course, I was trying to use the iron and lamp at the same time. The lights went, which took all the electricity in the room. I was left wishing I had an old iron that could be heated on the stove!

In the studio - note the little pot belly fire in the corner

The entire place is magical and full of inspiration.

A big thank you to Bathurst Regional Art Gallery for selecting me to participate in this most amazing opportunity and an experience of a life time. I have so many ideas they will continue to inspire me for many years.

Further information if you are interested:
- An article other Australian artists who were inspired by Hill End.
- Textile artist Julie Ryder wrote a great article about her residency in Murray's cottage - the other cottage in the residency program. 
- Other artists who have participated.
- Article by Inside Out

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