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Little galleries are reinvigorating towns along the south coast, breathing new life into old buildings, and are well worth a visit during a summer holiday, writes Philip O'Brien.
Summer on the NSW south coast: languid days at the beach, hanging out with family and friends, fishing from a jetty, shopping at the bay or watching the cricket and tennis, but there are also the pleasures of day trips, visiting nearby towns and villages to enjoy their attractions and different landscapes.
Particular among these are the numerous art galleries on the south coast. As Lindy Hume, chairwoman of the regional arts board South East Arts describes them, they are like "finding little gems within communities that are unique to particular places, but have a much wider, national significance".
Together with other emerging tourist attractions, these galleries are reinvigorating country towns - not only on the south coast but all over Australia. In fact, many galleries are breathing new life into disused public buildings and often, with adjacent cafes and restaurants, ensuring that visitors can enjoy standards of wining and dining, to say nothing of a good cup of coffee, comparable to larger centres.
There are far too many galleries on the south coast to include in one overview, so what follows is a mere teaser of some of the many delights available, focusing on the Eurobodalla and Sapphire Coast regions embraced by South East Arts.
BATEMANS BAY AND SURROUNDS
The Land of Many Waters Gallery at the Batemans Bay Visitors Centre, on the Princes Highway, promotes artists in the Eurobodalla region, with art ranging from beach and bush scenes to still life and abstract works. The current exhibition features work by artists, including Grace Paleg, Ian Lakey, and Ken Taber. The gallery is open seven days, 9am-5 pm. Phone 4472 6900.
It's not a trip to the coast without traditional fish and chips from The Boatshed (1 Clyde Street), located on the banks of the river, a business run by the Innes family for over 50 years.
Ten minutes from Batemans Bay is the former goldmining town of Mogo, which has been home to artists and craftspeople for decades. Among its many delights is Wattlebark Gallery (2/52 Sydney Street), which features, art and handcrafted works by local artists and is run by members of the Batemans Bay Arts and Craft Society. Open daily, 9.30am-4.30pm. Phone 4474 2243.
Up the road is Mogo Painting and Pottery Gallery, in Mogo's former 19th-century Catholic church, which features an evolving display of stoneware pottery and large landscape paintings on canvas. Open daily 10am-4.30pm. Phone 4474 4982. See mogovillage.com.au.
Travelling further south and turning left off the Princes Highway into Broulee Road leads to The ARTery (9/31 Pacific Street) at Mossy Point. This co-operative gallery displays contemporary paintings, silver jewellery and recycled furniture by artists from the Eurobodalla region. Locals recommend the coffee from the next door Muffin Shop. The ARTery is open daily 10am-3pm. Phone 4471 5946.
MORUYA TO TUROSS
Congo Crafts Gallery (721 Congo Road) is a 15-minute drive from Moruya. It comprises a purpose-built gallery and studios developed in harmony with its setting in the Eurobodalla National Park. The gallery displays work by its owners, artists Louise Megaloconomos (paintings on canvas and paper, prints, wall hangings, jewellery and tapestry weavings) and James Simms (stoneware ceramics with a range of glazing techniques). Open from 11am-5pm, every Sunday, Wednesday to Mondays during school holidays or by appointment. Phone 4474 2931.
BODALLA TO NAROOMA
In Bodalla's heritage post-office building which dates back to about 1899, Gallery Bodalla (66a Princes Highway) exhibits leading contemporary artists from the region and beyond. On show until January 19 is Revelacion, an exhibition of paintings, drawings and ceramics by Carlos Barrios. The gallery is open Thursday to Sunday 10am-4pm. Phone 4473 5011 or see gallerybodalla.com.au.
The Bodalla Dairy Cheese Factory and Cafe (52 Princes Highway) just down the hill is a fine opportunity to watch cheesemakers at work and to enjoy a wide range of meals.
Fifteen minutes south on the Princes Highway is SoART Gallery, Narooma's newest art space, which features work by local artists. It sits next to the Narooma Kinema, on Campbell Street, and is run by the Montague Arts and Craft Society, giving local artists the chance to display and sell their work. Open daily 10am-4pm. Phone 0438 430 976 or see narooma.org.au.
CENTRAL TILBA TO COBARGO
Ten kilometres south-west of Narooma, set in the foothills of Mount Dromedary, is the historic village of Central Tilba, classified as a conservation area by the National Trust. It's beautiful and popular with holidaymakers.
Among the many galleries, Tilba Woodturning Gallery (21 Bate Street) showcases Australian native timbers, woodworking skills and framed art. Open daily 10am-4pm in January. Phone 4473 7355 or see tilbawoodturning.com.au.
Brett Thompson Photography (33 Bate Street) features original landscape photography, as well as handmade fabric items and handpainted silks. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Phone 4473 7473 or see brettthompson.com.au.
The Tilba Bakery (18 Bate Street, closed Thursday, Friday and Saturday) has pies and vanilla slices that connoisseurs regard as among the best on the south coast, or try some cheese from the ABC Cheese Factory (37 Bate Street). For other galleries in Central Tilba, see tilba.com.au/shops-galleries.html
A little further down the Princes Highway is the village of Cobargo, home to the world-class Belgrave Park winery (10970 Princes Highway). Among the cafes, arts and craft shops in the main street is Lazy Lizard (51-53 Princes Highway), which features the work of nine local artists, including metal and timber sculptures, wood-fired pottery, paintings, drawings, photographs, natural-fibre products, textiles, jewellery, woodwork and chef knives. Open daily, except Wednesdays and Sundays, 10am-4pm. Phone 0404 177 941 or see thelazylizardgallery.com.au.
Nearby is another artists' gallery, Bandicoot Pottery (240 Tyrrells Road) in Cobargo. It features wood-fired work and one-off exhibition pieces by award-winning artist Daniel Lafferty and his partner, Gabrielle Powell. Open by appointment. Phone 6493 6724.
On the far south coast lie the undulating pastures of the Bega Valley. Bega has a number of local galleries to explore, including the Bega Valley Regional Gallery (Zingel Place, Bega) which is the south coast's major regional gallery. The current exhibition is the Bega Art Prize 2013, on show until February 2014, an annual flagship event which highlights the depth and breadth of regional visual arts practice. This year's categories are photomedia and small sculpture. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday 10am-4pm, Saturday 9am-noon. Phone 6499 2202.
The Spiral Gallery (47 Church Street) in Bega, is an artists' co-operative which promotes and supports contemporary and innovative art practice in a wide range of media and styles. There are two galleries. Open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm and Saturday 10am-1pm. Phone 6492 5322 or see spiralgallery.org.au
SOUTH TO PAMBULA AND MERIMBULA
Pambula is deep in the Sapphire Coast region of NSW. The Berenguer Studio Gallery (1/33 Quondola Street) features works by many of the far south coast's prominent artists, as well as sculpture using rare Australian timbers. Monday to Friday 11am-4.30 pm, Saturday 10am-noon. Phone 6495 6604.
A further 10 minutes north is Merimbula, where the recently opened Artz Gallery (Palmer Lane), hosts work by a collective of local artists featuring pottery, hand-made cards, jewellery, textiles and paintings. Open Thursday to Sunday 10am-4pm. Phone 0429 924 950.
COAST ROAD FROM TATHRA TO BERMAGUI
If you take the Tathra Road from Bega to the delightful township of Tathra, The Wharf Locavore, at the historic wharf, is worth a visit. It has a gallery with work by local visual artists, ceramicists and jewellery designers. It is run by local ceramicist Poppy Benton, also the recipient of the first Far South Coast Living Artist Scholarship. Visitors can also enjoy coffee or lunch overlooking the jetty. Open daily 8am-5pm. Phone 0427 941 747.
From Tathra to Bermagui is one of the most spectacular scenic drives on the far south coast, with plenty of stops to enjoy art galleries and fine food. The best days are Fridays, weekends and Mondays, when most galleries are open.
Driving through the spotted gum forests of Mimosa Rocks National Park brings you to Narek Galleries (1140 Tathra Bermagui Road) in Tanja, in a wooden church built about 1899. Narek Galleries has exhibitions displaying mostly object art of ceramics, glass, textile, wood and metal. On show from January 10 to February 24 is Atmosphere by Gail Nichols, featuring soda-vapour-glazed ceramics. In summer, it's open on Fridays, at weekends and on Mondays 10.30am-5.30pm. Phone 6494 0112 or see narekgalleries.com
Eight kilometres along the main road is The Ivy Hill Gallery (1795 Tathra Bermagui Road) on a farm on the side of a hill in the fertile Wapengo Valley. The gallery features the work of emerging and established artists, many of whom live and work in the region. An exhibition featuring the work of Jan Collingridge, Anneke Paijmans and Megan Payne is showing until January 13. Phone 6494 0152 or see ivyhill.com.au.
In Bermagui, stop for coffee at Mr Jones (1/4 Bunga Street) a cafe that doubles as a studio for artist, illustrator, writer and barista Matt Jones. It's open Tuesday to Friday 7am-noon, Sunday 8am-noon. Phone 0403 755 672.
Also in Bermagui, Shop7ArtSpace (73-79 Lamont Street) is a community-based art space that gives opportunities to local artists, artisans and craftspeople to affordably exhibit their work. The work of artist Sue Ellen Strain will be on show until January 16 in the exhibition Pyography. Open Monday and Tuesday 10am-4pm, Wednesday to Sunday 10am-9pm. Phone 6493 3410 or see shop7artspace.com.au.
Take in the scenic fisherman's wharf at Bermagui, enjoy fish and chips on the water's edge, or pop in for an ice-cream at the Bermagui Gelati Clinic (1/6 Bunga Street), where movie-star couple Mia Wasikowska and Jesse Eisenberg were recently spotted.