An elsewhere world: the sleepy Tasmanian mining town which became an arts mecca

NSueenstown confuses the eye. The historic town sits in a moonscape valley of bare, sterile hills; a dead river the colour of pumpkin soup runs through its heart. These are the scars of the mine that is the reason the town exists.

Raymond Arnold, an artist, describes approaching Queenstown as dropping into an elsewhere world, sequestered in the ancient, dark rainforest of Tasmania’s wild west coast.

“It’s the Mount Arrowsmith portal,”그는 말한다. “The geology changes, you’re leaving one bedrock for another, but it’s not just physical, it’s also psychological and emotional. I’ve always felt free and unencumbered here.”

With the mine now in hibernation, it is artists who are waking the place from its slumber. A who’s who of Tasmania’s arts scene are lining up for a slice of Queenie, where grand historic buildings, leaning with neglect, suggest wealth long gone.

Government geologists tumbled through Arnold’s portal in the 1860s and later found vast riches. The Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company was formed in 1893 and ran one of the world’s largest copper mines; the company built the town, a railway and a hydro-electric power station.

Over the centuries the town has risen and fallen with the fortunes of the mine and locals have developed a unique connection to the landscape it altered. In the 1990s, so attached were they to the denuded bare hills caused by decades of acid rain, the town even fought efforts by the mine to revegetate.

American metallurgist Robert Sticht was the company’s first manager and became one of the wealthiest men in Tasmania. The magnate appreciated art and filled his fine house on the hill with rare books and art, including Rembrandt etchings and 50 Albrecht Durer woodcuts.

오늘, Arnold often reflects on the cultured Sticht and his “Faustian role in reducing the Queenstown Valley to ruin”. Arnold, a printmaker and painter of international renown, is credited with sparking the town’s arts-led renewal . He moved to the outpost almost 20 여러 해 전에, and with artist Helena Demczuk settled in an old building.

There they established an art and residency program that hosted Australian and international artists and staged more than 50 exhibitions. The town was in such decline two decades ago a visiting student bought a house for $2,500.

“It was a pretty violent place,” Arnold says. “An angry resident blew up the petrol station. Somebody got jilted and burned down a house. That hard edge has melted away now.”

Arnold’s next art project is a workshop in an old school and he is now in talks with the council about developing social housing and a cooperative in an abandoned art deco building.

Arnold may have been the catalyst for the arts boom in the town, but it was a festival, 그는 말한다, that resolutely turned the town around.

“Unconformity has done for Queenstown what Mona did for Hobart,”그는 말한다.

The Unconformity was born in 2009 when the town was still hopelessly dependent on the mine. It was led by volunteers, including Travis Tiddy, a Queenstown kid who took himself off to arts school and returned to the call of the landscape.

“None of us had ever worked on a festival before,” Tiddy says.

The Queenstown Heritage and Arts Festival, as it was first known, was well received. “We started to understand that arts can be transformative to a place,” Tiddy says. “For a town that’s had a dormant mine for more than a decade, that people want to move here for a cultural reason is a great outcome.”

Tiddy is now the artistic director of The Unconformity, which holds a biennial festival and runs programs – including an artist-in-residence at the local public school, where kids now contemplate arts, not mining, as a career.

Emma Bugg, an artist, bought property in Queenstown after realising Hobart was beyond her budget. “I ended up with a church and hall which was a bit of a curveball," 그녀는 말한다.

“I love the incredible contrast in the landscape. It’s so rugged, raw and brutal. Then you drive 10 minutes and you’re in rainforest and feel if you lie down and fall asleep you’ll be consumed by the wet dark forest.”

11 월, the American artist and curator Kirsha Kaechele descended on the town with her husband, David Walsh, the owner of Mona, 과 40 mates to celebrate her birthday.

“The rule was you had to be dressed in cowboy attire for the three days," 그녀는 말한다. “There were wanted posters of me all over town.”

She is reminded of her time as a young artist in Berlin or New Orleans. “So many abandoned buildings, a downtrodden community in a majestic location," 그녀는 말한다. “Anywhere that’s had an economic collapse is an artist’s dream.”

Kaechele is buying land to establish a 24 Carrot garden, her program that teaches children to grow and cook healthy food.

Inevitably, the gentrification of Queenie is sending real estate prices skywards. Brian Ritchie, a rocker with the alt-rock band the Violent Femmes, was at a recent auction the council held to recoup unpaid rates. He missed out on land for his tiny house to mountain bikers flocking to new tracks in the area.

“Mountain bikers are so loaded,” Bugg laments.

Shane Pitt, the mayor of the West Coast council, which is based in Queenstown, says the auction netted four times what was expected. “The town’s changed a lot,”그는 말한다. “We’ve seen arts and culture take over.”

The other-worldly scenery is also attracting camera crews. On the heels of the SBS neo-noir series The Tailings and the Paramount+ adventure series The Bridge, ABC’s black comedy Bay of Fires will use Queenstown and nearby Zeehan as a backdrop. The lead actor, co-creator and producer, Marta Dusseldorp, has also snapped up a place.

Anthony Coulson is a miner turned tourism operator who is restoring the town’s art deco Paragon Theatre. He witnessed the “end of the old ways” of brass marching bands and drinking, smoking and illicit gambling as a kid growing up in Queenstown.

For him the change began after the blockade of the nearby Franklin River in the early 1980s, a pivotal battle that spawned the Greens political party and protected vast swathes of wilderness. “We started to realise we could not keep ripping up that wilderness, that it was our greatest asset,”그는 말한다.

Coulson has seen many booms and busts – but this one’s different. “Mining is no longer the silver bullet,”그는 말한다. “This is the new Queenstown.”

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