Central Queensland an ‘Art Free Zone’? Hardly.

Art correspondent John Neylon recently travelled to what he imagined would be an art free zone in Central Queensland. He was wrong.

“Two returns. Cooee Bay to Yeppoon Central, thanks mate.” There I said it. Now I feel like a local, taking the bus into town. Cooee Bay. Sounds like a painting by Roland Wakelin. I could live here, in that house, right across the reserve from the beach, where every afternoon a hippie girl hangs a hammock from a tree there and swings the day away.

Uninterrupted views. Drinks on the upper deck at sunset – or sunrise. Home brew supplies and fish and chips shops across the way. Yes, that would be nice, lost in the middle of nowhere in a white house with a blue letter box. I could become my own Edward Hopper painting.

In the late afternoon, in the caravan park, women sail down the rows with their spinnaker brunch coats at full extension. At Yeppoon Central’s Koffee Kafe, Dermott is on task. “Howsyer day been, orright?” “So far, so good.” “Great mate – have a seat, I’ll be right with you.” But he wasn’t. When the mug (not cup as ordered) of coffee arrives he expresses the thought that it was “too easy”. Nothing, I imagine, will ever be too hard for Dermott. Not that I care because today we are going down the coast to Zilzie.

Ah, Zilzie. I rate this name up there with ‘Coromandel’ and ‘1770’ – visions of palm fronds swaying above coral beaches. On the way, down past Emu Park, there is a beached whale; a sun bleached Moby Dick with cobwebbed sliding doors for jaws that gape at passing cars. It is a premonition.

central-queensland-art-free-zone-john-neylon-adelaide-reviewStranded, Kinka Beach, Queensland (Photo: John Neylon)

At Zilzie, the black top suddenly ran out. Then it was dirt. Then it was butchered scrub. Should have seen it coming. First, the too-neat rows of cookie-cutter houses with obligatory late model 4WDs and power boats line up like battery hens. And the desiccated lake with its 5 o’clock shadow of scrawny palm trees. I’d seen this before and will see it again on the run down south towards Brisbane – the march of cane toad suburbia.

Every region up here has its variant. Outside of ‘Rockie’ stands the portal of Gracemere, Central Queensland’s “hot spot for growth” according to a recent Queensland Treasury’s Regional Profiles Resident Report. Ah, Gracemere. Another of those names. The originating Gracemerians envisaged a bucolic paradise of stately homes surrounded by limpid meres.

Cut to a Woolies overlooking a scrap metal yard, where a crane is artfully arranging bits of car bodies into a passable resemblance of the Himalayas, and a sagging homestead recoiled from the encroachment of a retirement home for Sulo bins. Darkness cloaks this visual tawdriness but not the noise of endless coal trucks heading for the coast without a vestal virgin in sight.

There is art. The Rockhampton Art Gallery’s permanent collection boasts some absolute gems by artists including Grace Cossington Smith, Lloyd Rees, Sidney Nolan, Margaret Olley, Russell Drysdale and Fred Williams. Away from the comfort of vibrant, regional galleries the conventional pickings are lean. But here is a salute to French Impressionism in the passageway linking the Pomona Hotel’s dining room to the toilets. Reproductions of Monet’s picnickers may have faded to shades of magenta after years of pub service but the sentiment of the imagery lived on in the Pomona Hotel barmaid’s entreaty to try the ‘choidennay’ as a good drop to take to a barbecue.

central-queensland-art-free-zone-john-neylon-adelaide-reviewSulo Bin Retirement Home Gracemere with colonial views (Photo: John Neylon)

And so to Beerwah, the last stop on this installment of the CQ (almost) art free zone road trip. Something strange was going on. It looks suspiciously young for its age. “Where’s the old Beerwah?” The old fella sitting by the war memorial has the answer. “Behind Woolies.” Under Woolies is more like it – tons and tons and tons of cement plus you name it – lifestyle gyms, opticians, real estate agents, a laundromat, coffee clubs, takeaways of all hues, a Target, a Woolies, a BP – appear to have done ole Beerwah down.

Maybe a small weatherboard secondhand bookshop on the corner is all that remains. “Can I tempt you?” asks the proprietor. “Special offer – 10 books for $1.” I try hard, find six and hand over a $10 note. “No, I don’t want 100 books thanks – keep the change.” Remarkably two books had been on the hunt-down-and-capture list for years – George and Weedon Grosssmith’s The Diary of a Nobody which could have been written about arriviste mores in suburban Queensland and the one and only The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting which as it turns out, offers the prefect filter though which to view the Glass House Mountains.

No, it’s never a completely art free zone. The crassness and craziness of humanity on the prowl and nature on the run will always make sure of that.

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