Travelling in the Mallee

With our last few weeks in Australia ticking away, Alex wanted to get out of town and get a little more site seeing and photography in. He had the idea of a sunrise image of the Brim Silos, a site that in January 2016 had been turned into a road side Art attraction by world renowned street artist Guido Van Helten. This silo was to be the first of 6, as part of a 200km long art trail through the heart of Victoria’s Mallee District.

The Mallee and Wimmera regions are found in the north western corner of Victoria. The area is famous for Mallee Eucalyptus, wheat, sheep, gold and even a little world class rock climbing or sand dunes, depending on which corner you end up in.   The Silo trail will be a collaboration between famous Street artists and the local governments, community groups and private companies, such as Graincorp, that work and operate in the region. Other supporters such as Taubmans paints, Loops Colours, Juddy Roller Art Management and the Regional Arts Fund, also providing the support necessary to get the project off the ground.  The idea ultimately is to increase visitation and revenue from tourism in a region regularly hit hard by droughts, floods, fires and the ever fluctuating agricultural commodity markets. The plan therefore was to head out of Melbourne and explore this region in the north east of the state.

So leaving Saturday afternoon and hoping there would be enough daylight hours left when we got to Brim to pitch our tent, we started up the Calder freeway, with a 4 hour drive to our destination. Essentially a LONG way to drive for a sunrise shot especially when we weren’t sure if sunrise would work for the composition, not having visited the site before. Fortunately Brim has a lovely little recreational and campsite area with new facilities for visitors, including fixed BBQs and hot water showers.  The tent or powered caravan sites work on the honesty system, a simple process of slipping $10 a night into the secure box on site.

We arrived just before sunset and set up our reliable little Vango Spectre 3 man hiking tent. Brim being a very small country town only has the 1 pub, a garage and 2 churches, making the choice for where to go for dinner very easy. The pub aka the commercial hotel was nice, had friendly owners and did a good steak. We have no review on the churches or garage. Luckily we finished eating about 8:10 and with sunset due about 8:35 we rushed to get back to the right spot.  Ideally it would be good to be set up before golden hour starts but from experience we know that in the country, kitchens close early, so it was: eat then get the shot, or likely not eat at all.  Luckily we were at the silos and shooting just as they were being bathed in a gorgeous warm glow from sunset.

Sunset in Brim

Alex, with tripod set up and camera metered for the scene, had started shooting just as someone in a truck pulled up in front of the silos to take a photo of their rig with the artwork.  The passenger and designated snapper apologised as she realised she had entered into the composition, as the whole interrupted scene lasted for about 2 minutes Alex just kept shooting throughout anyway.  While post processing preference is for the image taken without the truck in the foreground, ultimately the interruption just provided a different narrative to shoot for a few minutes. The following day we would see many of the same make and model of trucks, filling up and depositing grain at other silos up and down the trail. Whatever had been the outcome, sometimes the right light is only there for 30 seconds and so continuing to shoot no matter what is the only sane approach; especially if you have just driven 4 hours to get to the place.

With the shot taken, we carried on shooting for about an hour and then headed back to the tent.  Bathed in mosquito repellent we took in the stars, still trying to settle on where the southern cross was for the billionth time and decided to head to bed early. The possibility of trying some star trails, was discussed but as the reason for travelling up the day before was to get sunrise shots the next morning and with neither of us being known as early risers, getting some shut-eye won out.  The alarm was set for 5:00am with sunrise expected at 5:50.

With 5 am came a chorus of native bird species, slightly drowning out the Banjo Frog calls that had echoed from the lake beside our camp site all night.   For the amount of frogs we heard over night you would think the local mosquito population might be better kept in check, but a wetter than normal spring this year had proved to good a breeding season for the little buggers. The bonus of getting up early is no one is around and you really get to just enjoy the sounds of countryside sans traffic and people.  With a nice smattering a clouds to add some interest in the sky and no one else out competing for the shot, the early morning start was definitely the right decision.

Brim Silo sunrise
Sunrise in Brim

Being all wrapped up in Brim by 7.30 am, we headed north an hour to Patchewollock. The drive took us along the edge of the Wyperfield National Park, a nice break in the scenery of wheat fields.  The silo in Patchewollock, painted by Fintan Magee, is of local farmer Nick Hulland. This idea of capturing real locals and the realities of life of the area is the truely great aspect of the art project.  The silo in Patchewollock mark the end of the proposed trail and so we turned the car around and headed back towards Melbourne, with plans to see one more silo and find some breakfast.

Patchewollock Silo art

Hopetoun, is the largest town we went through on the northern part of  trail and seemed the most likely place to find an open cafe on a Sunday morning. Fortunately, it was also only about 40 minutes south of Patchewollock.  The breakfast wasn’t going to be gourmet, just a good honest country fry up and a great cup of tea, exactly what one needs after a night in a tent.  Alex, an English man through and through, after 5 years in Melbourne is now so used to specifying what type of tea he’s after, asked for his standard “English Breakfast Tea” and was delighted when the lady looked at him blankly and said, “Sorry, we only have normal tea, is that ok?” Appetites satisfied it was onwards south to Sheep Hills.

Time to take in the crop

After about an hour we arrived at the third silo, still in the process of being painted by Adnate.  His work is amazing, with many of his amazing realistic portraits seen on walls and down laneways in Melbourne. The work at Sheep Hills, features the Wimmera Elders Ron Marks and Regina Hood with a young indigenous boy and girl.  It symbolises indigenous knowledge being passed down to the younger generation.  It is just beautiful and unfortunately thought we ended up being a week too early to see the completed project.

Silo Adnate
Sheep Hills Silo by Adnate

When the silo art trail is complete in Mid 2017, with the three remaining locations in Lascelles, Roseberry and Rupanyup, finished, it will truly be well worth the drive out of town.   Even with only three of the sites complete it was a great way to spend 24hrs, seeing some world class street art and exploring a little more of country Victoria.

Photography Specs from this trip:

Canon 6D

24-70mm f/4L IS

70-200 f/4L IS

Cokin P164 Polariser

Manfrotto 055CXPro3 Tripod

Cokin ND8 Filter