Forbes in central NSW has always been active in art, but after drought, a devastating mouse plague and COVID-19 had dire effects, local artist Rosie Johnston came up with the idea of putting large-scale sculptures in among the golden grasses and red river gums of the Lachlan Valley.
Now, Sculpture Down the Lachlan is under installation. By the end of this year, 25 large-scale sculptures will dot a 100-kilometre trail starting in Forbes and continuing along the Lachlan Valley Way to Condobolin.
Art in the Australian bush is nothing new; ancient storytelling works of the world's oldest continuing culture stand witness on the rockfaces and cave walls of spiritually significant sites.
And while Australia's post-European-settlement inhabited countryside largely became agriculture and mining-focused, civic and community galleries were developed to offer contrast to and respite from the every-day.
More recently, art has come to mean regeneration. In once struggling-at-worst, sleepy-at-best rural centres, silo art is attracting road-tripping tourists. It's a phenomenon that began in Western Australia in 2015, when interest in towering murals in the Wheatbelt town of Northam inspired other rural municipalities to look at their looming grain storage monoliths anew.
Victoria's Silo Art Trail, spanning 200 kilometres in the Wimmera Mallee claims to be the world's largest outdoor gallery, with 13 sites, each within a driveable distance from each other. The silo art works have boosted visitor numbers in an area once largely overlooked by tourists.
Organisers of Sculpture Down the Lachlan are hoping their trail will do the same. There are now 21 works in situ, including "Wandering" by David Ball, "Sonata" by Suzie Bleach and Andrew Townsend, and "Gum Swamp Birds", close to four new bird hides at Gum Swamp Wildlife Reserve. Other highlights include renowned artist Stephen King's 10.5-metre-high "Tower", and the original "amazing" sign at Forbes.
"There is a strong artistic edge to the country which shows up bravely at this art trail," says Trudy Mallick, chair of the Forbes Art Society.
"Visitors and locals will gain a deeper sense of place as the sculptures reflect the culture, history and people of the region."
In September, visitors can combine the trail with Grazing Down the Lachlan, a three-day food and wine festival returning after a two-year break.