THE MIDLANDS HIGHWAY – WHIMSY AND PATHOS
A series of topiary trees line the sides of the Midlands Highway between Tunbridge and Oatlands and as a child travelling down this highway it was always a cause for great excitement identifying each of these trees. Created from 1964 onwards, there were originally 120 of these topiary trees, but when a new highway was built in the 1980’s some of them were left behind. Others were moved but not many survived the transition and now only a small number remain, but these continue to delight travelers with their whimsy.
As adults, with childhood recollections of sitting in the back seat of the family car with tartan rugs and sticky lollies, we now see these trees through the car window and remember the photograph taken next to the reindeer, the duck at the rest area, sitting on the fish and wishing we could climb on board the train.
The topiary tree paintings embody the notion of a connection between childhood and adulthood and how we are shaped by those memories.
In 1996 a dead Eucalyptus tree was painted red by Landcare to symbolise the serious plight of Tasmania’s rural tree decline and the widespread erosion in the Woodbury area. Some read this tree as heresy and burned it. Near Oatlands you will now pass the word TREE made out of pine in 1997 and also painted red. The message (the original tree) has become the word TREE. As personal property and a work of “art” this TREE is now protected.
In 1980, near Jericho, a second dead Eucalyptus tree was painted yellow. Rumours circulating were that, it had been painted by a group of artists, that it was painted by the CSIRO or that it was painted by Landcare for the Olympics. In any case, the yellow tree charmed travelers with its idiosyncratic whimsy. The tree is now gone, the answer of its removal only known by a few.
While the Midlands Highway is a focus of playful fancy it is also a highway of tragedy and sorrow. Near Campbell Town is a man’s memorial to his brother who died in 1981. “To the World You Were but One but to Me You Were the World” are the words on the plaque at the base of this monument of devotion, in memory of a lost sibling.
On the highway there are now crash markers that remind us of loss, of our own mortality and to pay homage to the brightest stars in the sky. They are also symbols to show that we must be reminiscent in driving with diligence on this highway.
The Cleveland Union Chapel with its gravestones and sentiment of sadness is a metaphor for bereavement and the transience of life.
The Midlands Highway, also known as the Heritage Highway, runs from Breadalbane to Brighton. Over a hundred years ago a series of European trees were planted and some of these remain today. For example, the trees on the hill at Conara Junction which resemble sentinels silently keeping watch over the past and present. Also the solitary tree at Campbell Town, leaning forward in its endeavour to battle the prevailing winds.
The Landscape paintings are a declaration of site and season. They are metaphors of the changing seasons and the effects these have on the landscape. Colours are emblematic in these paintings, illustrating the aridness of the protracted dry spells and the lushness of the Midlands when they are rejuvenated by the fleeting arrival of rainfall.
The Midlands Highway, Whimsy and Pathos exhibition is a narrative of a personal and visual connection to this landscape and representative of certain times and places, past and present. The paintings hint at familiarity and rather than the images being direct representations, they are taken from memories, and with this connection an understanding that a sense of place equals a sense of self. The exhibition is also indicative of the journeys that we take and have taken, and that life is joyful but also ephemeral.
Mandy Hunniford 2008