The drive to Murwillumbah is almost as great as its gallery, writes Dionne Christian.
It's fair to say that Gerard Krefft's time as curator of the Australian Museum did not end well.
After an illustrious career largely spent exploring and bringing to world attention the natural wonders of Australia, Krefft "fell out" with the museum's trustees and was dismissed. (I'm unsure whether one of the reasons was the activity he organised for a royal tour — staging a fight between a snake and a mongoose in the museum's basement for the Duke of Edinburgh; thank heavens they now limit novel activities for royal tours to gumboot throwing.)
In any event, Krefft refused to leave the museum, barricaded himself inside and was forcibly carried out, seated in his chair, by two prize-fighting boxers. He died, destitute and in ill health, seven years later in 1881.
I know this story because I saw it in a linocut print, Krefft's Chair, by artist Rew Hanks, one of numerous artworks displayed in the 30th anniversary exhibition at the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre.
I'm not sure how knowing about Krefft — and seeing, in striking black and white, his chair with a mongoose and a snake at its foot – impacts on me. I just understand that I like knowing it and it makes, for me, the world a slightly richer place. I'd only vaguely heard of the Tweed Regional Gallery up until a month ago when I got rthe opportunity to visit. It's an excellent regional gallery, with seven exhibition spaces and a varied programme of activities and shows, inland in a New South Wales border region normally associated with beaches.
Being smack on the border with Queensland means you can change time zones simply by crossing the street in some places, because NSW observes daylight savings while Queensland does not. You need to watch that if you're flying in or out of the Gold Coast airport which serves the rapidly growing area.
When it comes to holidays, especially in Australia, there's a temptation to stick to the well-known tourist hotspots — the cities and its famous beaches. But this gallery proves there is much more to the "lucky country" than sun, sand and surf – although, it's not too far away from some spectacular beaches.
We left the stunning Santai Resort, at Casuarina Beach, half an hour before heading west toward South Murwillumbah, one of the numerous small towns in the Tweed Heads Region, and home to the gallery.
The Tweed River Valley makes me think of music, but nothing that we might think of as quintessentially Australian — like Icehouse's Great Southern Land or Midnight Oil's Beds Are Burning. Songs like that speak of a vast, russet-red land where women glow and men plunder.
This is a verdant valley of fields and farmland, looking west toward Wollumbin National Park and Mt Warning. Here cows graze and grass grows. If anything, the music is Edvard Grieg's bucolic Morning.
Then again, that's not right because the vegetation which lines Tweed Valley Way is decidedly tropical — banana palms, sugar cane and bamboo — and the river, lazy today, looks like it could turn into a torrent in a heartbeat. Or a thunder clap. Maybe it's more Robbie Robertson's Somewhere Down the Crazy River.
The gallery sits on a slight hill and is large, modern and should look out of place in this almost English landscape; instead, it looks as if it's proudly surveying the landscape. That's what gallery visitors can do from the decks and viewing windows along the length of the building, making the most of the panoramic views of Tweed River, Mts Nullum, Wollumbin and Warning, the Border Ranges, fields and farmland.
The gallery moved to this site in 2004 but it's been a feature of Tweed Heads' cultural landscape since 1988.
In 2004, fundraising plus a generous donation of land meant it could move out of a historic homestead into a purpose-built contemporary facility. Two years later, Stage II saw more space added to show off its collection of Australian artworks then, in 2011, the great Australian painter Margaret Olley, originally from Tweed, passed away. A $1 million bequest meant the building of the Margaret Olley Art Centre with more exhibition space, storage and multimedia areas, not to mention the recreation of her home studio.
It offers one of the most vivid, immersive insights into how an artist lived and worked; you could spend an age peering into the windows seeing what inspired Olley and thanking your lucky stars you weren't the cleaner who cared for it — in these rooms alone there's some 10,000 objects!
You can fly direct to the Gold Coast, then head over the border to Tweed. Return flights to the Gold Coast are from $389 with Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand or Jetstar.
For more information on the gallery, go to artgallery.