There is a camping spot in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia that has drawn me back again and again for more than 20 years. I first went as a child free twenty-something, with a gang of friends for weekends of music, art and eating and drinking. We would leave the city after work on a Friday and make the five hour trek in the dusk. We would meet at the local pub to drive the last hour as a convoy in the inky blackness of the outback. We would wake in wonder at the view of the Ranges at dawn, amazed that we had made it there.
Days were spent around the fire, chatting, eating and drinking, or walking into the gorge, always with sketchbooks on the go. Nights of playful chat and music making sent us off to bed happy. I celebrated my birthday there more than once. It was our regular winter get away. Even when it was raining down south, the days would be sunny, although we shivered at night.
Skip forward 10 years, past the baby haze days, and the wandering toddler years. To a time when our children were old enough to play independently close by. We took our first journey there as a family, with two other families. We have now been four times with various configurations of families. On a previous visit we went for a week, there were four families with 8 adults and 10 kids ranging in age from 4 up to thirteen.
The children readily leave behind their device dependence and schoolyard politics, and play as a gang for hours without adult intervention. Sticks, stones, ochre and charcoal become their construction and art materials. Even as teens our boys have rediscovered the joys of playful, outdoor living. The fire becomes our focus, a place to cook, eat and commune. The children become mesmerised by it. Australian Indigenous people use smoke in purifying ceremonies, and we also are cleansed in our own way.
Art sessions are a necessity for me and are a good excuse for the mothers to leave the larger group for an afternoon of sketching, painting, chocolate and chat. The quiet allows us to soak in the atmosphere and to see more keenly, looking and listening deeply and creating mindfully. The paintings and sketches I make there become the inspiration for the paintings I make in my studio when I return home.
The Flinders Ranges has inspired many, many artists, most famously Hans Heysen. He is one of the most notable traditional Australian landscape artists of last century and made numerous treks to the Ranges at a time when it was a major undertaking. His former home and studio, ‘The Cedars’ is now an amazing museum and setting for art events and exhibitions. Fortunately for us it is just up the road near Hahndorf, in the Adelaide Hills.
The Flinders Ranges is a very special place. It is a powerful, beautiful, and a harsh but quiet, timeless and eternal place. It is a place that enables us all to come home to ourselves. And when I return to my studio the memories and dreams of that place inspire me to paint.