Travel Story Surprises in store as silo art trail comes to Merredin

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

The third instalment of FORM's new PUBLIC Silo Trail draws inspiration from the colours of the Wheatbelt.

Swinging into Merredin, it’s an unexpected sight: a 35m-high woman and man loom large over Great Eastern Highway, their bodies coloured by the landscapes and structures of the eastern reaches of the Wheatbelt. 

The work of WA artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers and the third instalment of the new PUBLIC Silo Trail unfolding across WA’s agricultural heartland, the artwork pays homage to Merredin and its surrounds. 

Hughes-Odgers’ burnt oranges, yellows and blues are drawn from the surrounding sky and landscape; the male figure speaking of the granite outcrops, salt lakes and winding dirt roads; the female of the town environment, horizon and sunsets. Between them are symbols of the agricultural industry and the seasons: one a pot of seedlings, the other grain ready to harvest. 

For an artist, and any of us really, Merredin’s landscape is one that’s easy to admire. “I was amazed at how open it is, the huge skies, every day we were there we had amazing changes in colour, cloud formations and the night skies — the stars are so bright,” Hughes-Odgers says. 

Standing at the base of the CBH silos stretching our faces towards the sky, you can appreciate this mural was no mean feat.

Twelve storeys up, Hughes-Odgers had to overcome “the irrational fear of being in a metal cage on a stick”, dealing with the wind exaggerated at the end of the lift, clouds of wheat dust welling up and the adrenaline pumping through his body.

Unlike the flat surfaces Hughes-Odgers is used to painting at home in Perth and anywhere from New York City to London, he had to deal with the curve of the silos, and was unable to see one side of a 4.5m face when painting the other. 

His quirky street art is not out of place in Merredin. It’s the perfect fit for the drive from Perth to the central Wheatbelt town where you come to expect the unexpected.

Out of the blue at the roadside at Doodlakine is a dead tree. But this isn’t just a dead tree; this one is wearing the most colourful of outfits. Lovingly crocheted from root to almost tip, the tree is an incandescent roadside beacon.

Museums, too, break up the long stretch of Great Eastern Highway, part of the Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail that extends out to Kalgoorlie.

There’s the surprising Big Camera Museum in Meckering, home to 1500 cameras, and the No. 3 Pump Station Museum in Cunderdin.

Closer to Perth, the Hills are a patchwork of green and yellow canola as we pass the first silo artwork outside Northam. Adorned in 2015 by UK artist Phelgm and US artist Hense, it was followed by the striking nature-inspired works by Dutch street artist Amok Island in Ravensthorpe.

Depending on funding, not-for-profit organiser FORM envisages six murals joining the trail across WA, bringing visitors to towns such as Merredin and enticing them to stay a little longer. 

Merredin itself has plenty of tales to tell, stories Martin Morris — owner of tour operator Discover the Wheatbelt and a local of 27 years — is happy to share.

First there is the beautiful Cummins Theatre, built in 1897 in Coolgardie, then disassembled and brought to Merredin by brewery owner James Cummins, then the Kalgoorlie mayor, in 1928.

The theatre bears the Cummins name and its interiors have been reinstated to their former glory. Echoes remain of famous names that have performed, from AC/DC, Slim Dusty and Sherbet to the Wiggles.

The 1938 Court House retains its architectural integrity but, across town, all that remains of the original Cummins brewery are a few ruins.

Another beautiful piece of design is the No. 4 Pump Station on the outskirts of town, now classified as a stable ruin.

My road trip to Merredin was fleeting but if you’re lucky enough to have time, make sure you linger, discover the quirks and history along the pipeline, and embrace the air, colours and sky.

Fact File

Disclaimer

Angie Tomlinson was a guest of FORM.

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