AUSTRALIA'S most dramatic art gallery has no walls. Instead, an array of sculpture is set against a backdrop of sheer limestone cliffs that fall 100 metres into the Southern Ocean. There are no surrounding buildings. Only natural light plays on the artworks. Its remoteness, on the west of South Australia's coast, only adds to its beauty.
The Great Ocean Tourist Drive just north of Elliston - 170 kilometres north-west of Port Lincoln - is the remarkable setting for Sculpture on the Cliffs, a community art project that was established to commemorate the Encounter 2002 celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of British navigator Matthew Flinders's meeting with Nicolas Baudin's French expedition in the waters off South Australia.
Under the initial theme of the Meeting of the Winds, to signify a meeting of cultures, minds and artists, the 2002 exhibition featured 25 sculptures dotted along the cliffs from 20 local and interstate artists, carrying bold themes of colonialism and the meeting of three cultures - English, French and indigenous. It also serves as a potent social statement, raising sensitive issues about early settlement in the district, such as the contentious local myth that suggests pioneer farmers herded indigenous people off the cliffs. Some of the art made deliberate reconciliation statements.
The idea for the clifftop gallery was shaped by artist John Turpie, part of a robust community of about 20 artists within Elliston's 500 residents. The project's great success drew an estimated 30,000 tourists to the tiny fishing town during the three-month exhibition, which has resulted in the Sculpture on the Cliffs Festival becoming a biennial event.
Several original pieces have remained on the clifftops as permanent exhibits, having been purchased by the District Council of Elliston. Artists from around Australia are invited to submit pieces for future exhibitions. Several artists come to Elliston to create or install their pieces.
Sitting boldly atop the cliffs, sculptures featured over the years exude both poignancy and wit, from Turpie's wry Everyone is a Boat Person, a sculpture of a suspended dinghy, to Byron Burgoyne's bold dot paintings on three timber doors titled Doors to a Brighter Future and Todd Romanowycz's giant thongs, standing like proud beach culture totems.