Lifestyle Travel Red Heart of Inside Australia
Red Heart of Inside Australia
Written by Peter McClelland
Wednesday, 28 June 2017


The images for this article have 27062017-DSCN6124been provided by Dr Rob Davies 

It’s a long trip from Perth to Kalgoorlie on dead-straight bitumen with not much else for company than an equally arrow-like water pipeline. And if your eventual destination is the Lake Ballard statues don’t be tempted to tarry long at the Super Pit because you’ve got another two hours driving in front of you.

If you tell people that you intend to spend at least a couple of days on the Great Eastern Highway to walk on a muddy salt lake they’ll probably look at you twice. But there’s a lot more to it than that! And it all began with the 2003 Perth International Arts Festival – its 50th anniversary, no less – when world renowned artist Antony Gormley was commissioned to install his Inside Australia exhibit on what must surely be the world’s most remote art gallery.

The London-trained sculptor has degrees in archaeology, anthropology and art history and an obvious fascination with the the human image, most of which are distinctly unusual in both form and setting. Gormley’s famous Angel of the North sits atop a hill near Gateshead in England, its steel structure standing 20m and its wide horizontal wings spanning 54m. An installation on an English beach entitled Another Place has 100 cast-iron sculptures of the artist’s own body facing towards the ocean, many of which are completely submerged at high tide.27062017-DSCN6125

So, anything attached to the Gormley brand is bound to be quirky.

By the time you get to the statues you’ll have around 700km of bitumen in your rear-view mirror plus a short 50km blip of unsealed road from Menzies to Lake Ballard. If there’s rain around it’s worth listening to ABC Local Radio or checking with the friendly Menzies Visitor Centre on the state of the red-gravel road.

But there’s plenty of interest along the way before your wheels hit the dirt, despite the fact that after you leave Perth on the Great Eastern Highway you’ll be behind the wheel for nearly eight hours without passing through a town with a population of more than a few thousand. You’ll see plenty of trucks and road-trains, some with a DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVES label emblazoned down both sides.

There are also plenty of kangaroo carcasses, both fresh and not-so-fresh, along the side of the road and each one of them should have a label on their swollen stomach saying, DON’T DRIVE AT NIGHT!

The Ettamogah Pub in Cunderdin, derived from a Ken Maynard comic strip, is a uniquely unmissable piece of architecture and the town of Northam is well worth a pause for coffee and cake. In winter the Avon River is spectacular.

Towns such as Merredin, Southern Cross, Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie all have easily accessible and well-appointed caravan parks but be warned – some are situated uncomfortably close to the railway line. Train drivers are legally obliged to blow their horn approaching every single town and that’s not great in the early hours of a cold morning!

Many of the hotels in Coolgardie and 27062017-DSCN6141Kalgoorlie have bars with names such as The Golden Dawn and The Shiny Nugget. The food and service can be variable and we’ll never forget a stop for coffee and cheese toasties in one particular Coolgardie pub. Suffice to say it’s not a pleasant memory.

But the first sight of Lake Ballard and Gormley’s statues is stunningly unforgettable! The salt lake covers approximately 10sq km with an occasional domed hill rising above its surface that shifts from soft and muddy to firm and crystalline. Wear old shoes, wetsuit boots or even go barefoot because the red mud sticks like glue and there is no tap of any kind at the camping ground.

An overnight stay would be basic at best, with a few BBQ fire-pits and a drop toilet the only ‘luxuries’. Nonetheless, you’re almost guaranteed to witness a stunning sunrise with Gormley’s sculptures spread in stark relief across the lake.

The sculptor laser-scanned people living in Menzies and mapped half-a-million digital coordinates to create bodily cross-sections before drastically reducing them in size to form Insiders – a total of 51 ‘taught abstract shapes’ to quote the artist. They were then cast in an alloy containing molybdenum, vanadium and titanium.

It’s a typically thought-provoking work-of-art from Gormley and the entire trip is well worth taking.

Go there, it’s wonderful!

By Peter McClelland