Collie’s Wellington Dam mural is making waves worldwide, but it’s just one of many incredible public works to discover in the region.
Australia has an affinity for BIG things; there’s the giant pineapple on a pineapple plantation in Woombye, Ballina’s nod to its industry by way of a giant prawn, and even a big banana outside a sprawling plantation in Coffs Harbour.
The latest addition to Australia’s growing collection of ‘big’ things is yet another accurate representation of the town in which it resides. But it’s just that bit more poignant than a pineapple! Towering 34m above the water and covering a whopping 8000m2 of the Collie Dam wall, the ‘Reflections’ mural by Guido Van Helten is a retrospect of life in, on, and around the Collie River.
The making of a mammoth mural
Though it made headlines worldwide, Reflections wasn’t the first jumbo public artwork to pop up in Western Australia.
The state is no stranger to large-scale murals, with a 25 storey piece added to the west end of Perth city in 2019 and six sky-high artworks to grain towers across the Wheatbelt region between 2015 and 2018. But, dam murals – and the world’s largest dam mural, at that – marked new territory for Western Australia. Like the gigantic murals before it, the Collie Dam mural presented a challenge based on sheer size alone. But, being an unusual shape and a heritage-listed structure, painting the dam wall also came with a unique set of challenges.
“A couple of people had been contacted in Perth, and they said painting Wellington Dam couldn’t be done. I did an initial report on how much it would cost, how long you would need, and how you would go about it, and they asked me to have a crack at it,” said Travis Robinson, the project manager of the Wellington Dam mural and the wider Collie mural trail. “It was a challenging project because, if you think of drawing or painting on an A4 piece of paper, you’ve got a flat, rectangular surface, and it’s all white. It’s a blank canvas. If you take that and then put it on a 35m high wall that’s curved both vertically and horizontally, it takes some sort of genius to bring that to life!”
That genius came by way of Queensland artist Guido Van Helten. He won the tender without providing a concept, insisting that he consult with the community before piecing together such an important icon for their community. It took Helten three weeks to interview locals, finally landing on his concept as he went through photo albums with his interviewees. “Guido took photos from these people of family members, grandkids, friends – playing or working in the water, and that’s what’s depicted on the wall. They’re all photos of people at the Collie River.”
The giant mural necessitated a massive effort, with many 4.00 am starts, an elaborate abseiling rig, and four months on the brushes needed to finish the ambitious project. “Guido was only able to do one section of the wall at a time,” said Robinson. “Because of the access restrictions we had, we had these custom platforms made, and Guido was only able to do one 9.5m long section at a time. Once he’d done one section of the wall up and down, we’d dismantle it and move it across another 9.5m; he had to get it right the first time as there was no going backwards and forwards.”
“I don’t think he realised how difficult it would be until he started, and I think that was one of the big takeaways – that there are probably plenty of reasons why this mural couldn’t be done. But again, we were able to get an artist who was like, “yeah, I think I can do it. I’ve seen it done in on silos; how hard can it be?”’
On the trail
‘Reflections’ doesn’t sit alone in Collie. The piece joins over 39 other public works in the township, commissioned as a part of a broader $1.5 million state project aimed at diversifying the tourism activities in Collie. “Since the mural trail has launched, the Collie Visitors’ Centre actually reported a doubling of visitor enquiries,” noted Robinson. “Not everyone who visits a town calls into the visitors centre either, so you would assume that the number of visitors to Collie because of the mural trail are actually higher than that.”
Visitors to the region can download a mural trail map and use it to discover colourful works by the likes of Ketones6000, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Amok Island, and more, hidden down alleyways and brightening up schoolyard walls. The artworks tell a great story of the local flora and fauna, language, history, and culture.
Want to find out more about visiting the Dam Mural, Wellington National Park and Collie? Contact the Collie Visitor Centre here.