A farming couple, a bizarre US Route 66 attraction and the imagination of 20 Aussie artists has resulted in a stunning yet unintentional tribute to Australia's most iconic brand.
Being stripped, painted and mounted sounds painful, yet these barbaric-sounding actions are what brought the tribute to life.
Ootha station owners Graham and Jana Pickles were traversing Texas, enjoying Route 66, when they chanced upon vintage Cadillacs half-emerged from the ground decorated with graffiti. The strange, yet mesmerising, sight sparked a light bulb moment. What if they did the same on their property in central west NSW? "You ought to go to Ootha" was a chant I kept hearing from others a few years ago. Why? To see the attraction that the Cadillac-inspired Pickles ended up creating. They had help, of course. The local tourism board, fellow farmers, and a local mechanic all volunteered, with the latter also donating the HQ Holden in which he'd completed the Big Lap - twice!
The Pickles envisaged a dozen art works, inviting renowned artistic types to each turn one ute into something extraordinary. The idea really took off, and in the end 20 Holden utes^ were transformed into wild and fantastical creations.
The very first was by Lightning Ridge artist John Murray*, resulting in a dreamy cloud-encased ute decorated in galahs with a larger bird sculpture flying above. His 'Circle Work' piece and the other ‘art utes’ all proved so popular that the Lachlan Shire Council arranged to transfer the Utes in the Paddock to a new site for safety in 2018.
The result? A spectacular, one-of-a-kind art tourism attraction bound to get you giggling that took the gold gong for the Best Sculpture Trail or Park at this year's Australian Street Art Awards.
Another of the artworks, by Michael Jones, is entitled The Stockman. Encased in a mural of a drover with his billy on the fire, it happens to mirror the origins of Holden.
Founded in 1856 in South Australia as a saddlery manufacturer for drovers and graziers, the company was one of the first in the country to realise the potential of the iron horse. So in 1908 Holden started building car bodies, fitting their designs over the top of other vehicle company's chassis.
It was during this phase that US-based General Motors (GM) became involved with Holden. They had been selling cars in Australia since 1902, with their first dealership north of Adelaide. Then in 1924 GM forged a deal with Holden to produce car bodies solely for them. Seven years later GM took the next step in recognition that Holden could evolve into a nationally dominant brand, purchasing it to create the General Motors-Holden's Ltd (GMH) subsidiary. They quickly scaled up for full local production, but WWII intervened and GMH placed all its energies into manufacturing for the military. Only a year after the war ended though GMH began reworking on what would become the very first fully Holden car. A smaller version of an unsuccessful US Chevrolet design, Prime Minister Ben Chifley smiled broadly when shown the first one to roll off the production line, declaring “She’s a beauty” in November 1948. It was the start of a 70-year love affair between the metal magnificence and the nation.
Only in 2002 did Holden lose some of its shine - as cheaper imports began to flood the market, Australia turned for the first time in greater numbers to brands other than Holden. Then 18 years later - a decade after the Utes in the Paddock came to life - the country's most iconic brand was declared dead.
Want to relive the glory years of this once mighty machine? Then you really ought to go to Ootha - and then continue just a short way further down the road to Condoblin. Yep, that's where you'll now find the appropriately renamed Utes in the Park.
^ 19 survive, 17 were on display at the start of 2021.
* Artists are John Murray, Shane Gehlert, Peter Browne, Michael Jones, Peter Mortimore, Eris Fleming, Paul Blahuta, Greg Brennan, Belinda Williams, Stephen Coburn, Karen Tooth, Lewis Burns and Jim Moginie.
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