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Kids in Outback NSW learning the value of street art, thanks to art doyen

Encouraged by well-known Lightning Ridge artist John Murray, kids as young as five are getting the taste for street art.

Beside his new gallery in “The Ridge” - as locals call the town, John (pictured above) has set up a private lane way and encourages young budding artists to try their hand at painting on his walls. The results are impressive! Inspired by his quirky outback art and his willingness to encourage and coach in the street arts, the local kids are learning that art builds confidence and a sense of pride in place and community.

John's emu sits alongside art by local children on his Gallery lane way wall.

Many of John’s brilliant artworks can be found adorning local buildings around town. On numerous of these large-scale works you can see the influence these budding artists have had.

For instance, on the side wall of the Black Opal Motel in Opal Street, children assisted John by painting patches of colour, paint swipes and doodle-like images low to the ground. The talented artist then incorporated the children’s contributions into his overall design by incorporating paint brush-brandishing gnomes, inferring that gnomes had done the painting. Indeed they had!

Many artists develop signature styles. John has become synonymous with giant stylized emus. They can be found on numerous lane ways in CBD Melbourne and adorning the walls of Fitzroy businesses, as well as on a bus-stop in a tiny town in north west New South Wales called Gulargambone. This little town with a big heart – the first in Australia to create a community-run Post Office, became a magnet for street artists in Autumn 2018 when the community banded together to host the Gular Pave the Way street art festival. (More about Gular to come soon!)

However, maybe John’s most impressive emu work is on the wall facing the petrol station in his adopted hometown of Lightning Ridge. And while the mural is impressive, it’s the inclusive way in which it evolved that makes the artwork truly unique. Few know that alongside the six grand emu heads that make up the artistic composition are hand prints of dozens of local children – an inclusion that imbued the whole town with a sense of pride and ownership.

Emus are not the only birds that have caught John’s eye. Galahs and other members of the cockatoo family that form a familiar part of the outback landscape have also been given the “John Murray treatment”. For example, two hours’ drive south of Lightning Ridge you’ll find Coonamble and its galah-adorned water tower. At Utes in the Park in Condobolin, three hours further south, John’s creation includes galahs poking fun at the establishment.

And if you drive half an hour north of Lightning Ridge you’ll pass through Hebel – the tiniest of towns with a unique pub. What makes it unique? Outback charm on steroids including cheeky depictions of numerous galahs (below) that adorn walls, doors, windows and even an old phone. They’ll bring a smile to your dial no matter which way you turner!

Not your usual tourist haunts, communities in north west New South Wales have been hit hard by the drought and are reaching out to find new ways to bring much needed visitor dollars. John is determined to continue playing an active role in bringing these communities together and promoting the outback. He said that more public artworks are in the pipeline, with mega murals and quirky paintings soon to be attracting more visitors to the towns of Bourke, Dirranbandi, Lake Cargellico, Brewarinna and Walgett. The Australian Street Art Awards team will keep you posted on progress.

In the meanwhile, consider the route less travelled and head west to spend a few days in Lightning Ridge and enjoy the John Murray Art Gallery. A town renowned for shanty shacks and re-purposed buildings, this custom-built gallery is quite probably the newest building in town. It was constructed after John’s former gallery burnt to the ground in 2017. It’s so new that the gallery still has shiny corrugated iron walls - an unusual sight in a town resting in red desert dust.

Thanks to some quick-thinking locals his artworks were saved before the fire took hold and they now adorn the walls of the new gallery. Along with great originals, you’ll find inexpensive prints and quirky mementos to bolster your souvenir collection. Our fave is a emu-clad mouse pad which now travels everywhere we do!

Hop into the Ridge Visitor Information Centre on the way into town to get the dirt (there's lots of dirt in the Ridge!) on where to find all of John's murals.

The Australian Street Art Awards is a "tourism awards for public art" program - recognising destinations that use outdoor art in its many forms to attract more visitors.


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