Art transforms small Victorian towns, The Herald Sun, Michelle Pountney

The new gateway to Neerim South as part of the Small Town Transformation scheme. Image Daryl Whitaker

The new gateway to Neerim South as part of the Small Town Transformation scheme. Image Daryl Whitaker

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HEAVY trucks and mining equipment are the sounds normally associated with a quarry. Opera is not, unless you paid a visit to Dookie in central Victoria recently.

The town’s disused quarry, and many other buildings, were turned into performance venues as part of Dookie Earthed, an arts project transforming the Goulburn Valley town.

Soprano Isabel Hertaeg sang opera from the red rocky sides of the quarry, and also from the top of the Dookie silos, as part of a 12-hour arts extravaganza.

Music and performances, art installations and film screenings took over the local area and attracted more than 5000 people to the town, which normally has a population of less than 300.

Singer Isabel Hertaeg performed in a quarry.

Singer Isabel Hertaeg performed in a quarry.

Most Dookie residents were in some way involved in the project, from local primary school students who created an X in the quarry, to lifelong residents whose photographs were beamed onto the silos as part of the Dookie Behind Doors exhibition.

Dookie Earthed is one of five projects using art and creativity to transform and engage small Victorian towns.

The remote Mallee town of Ouyen celebrated their Mallee Up In Lights project coming to fruition on October 3, with a spotlight shone on the town’s iconic Roxy Theatre and its new public open space surrounds.

Avoca’s Garden of Fire and Water opened to the community last weekend, while The Verj at Natimuk will be unveiled on October 24, and the striking blue sculptural gateway Neerim Bower: Inspired by the Birds has its official opening at Neerim South on October 26.

Regional Arts Victoria director Esther Anatolitis said a third of all eligible small towns in the state (those with a population of fewer than 1500 people) applied to be part of the Small Town Transformation scheme.

“We wanted to inspire people about how art can transform a town,” she said. “Transformation is such a big vision and it needs real commitment from the community to think about how art can have a big impact on people’s lives.”

The diverse projects involved community members of all ages and artists from throughout the region who harnessed their creativity to explore the difference art can make to small communities.

“In Neerim South, what people will see first and foremost is a really breathtaking bower sculpture gateway to town. But that is the tip of the iceberg as workshops and community forums and art making and works involving artist and gallery have forged new relationships … and uncovered how many people want to be making art, seeing art and talking about art.”