Just an hour’s drive south of the central Gold Coast, you enter a different world. Under the sovereign eye of Mount Warning (Wollumbin), nestle the undulating green pastures of the Tweed Valley, ringed by the crown-like Border Ranges and dotted like jewels with picturesque towns and villages that make up the Northern Rivers region. One of the most popular Northern Rivers towns is Murwillumbah, known for its art deco architecture, glorious antiquing and a thriving arts community, which for four days each May hosts the Murwillumbah Arts Trail (MAT19), a celebration of all things contemporary art in Northern New South Wales. This year, from Thursday 16 to Sunday 19 May, the MAT19 organisers have extended the event to include four surrounding villages and their local venues and artists, taking visitors on a Village Bus Tour through the lush sub-tropical rainforest on the final day of the festival. We took a look at what is going to be on offer at these satellite events.
Situated at the confluence of the Rous and Tweed Rivers, Tumbulgum is a water lovers’ paradise, with fishing, boating, watersports and swimming some of the village’s staple activities. Tumbulgum’s MAT19 event curator is multi-disciplinary artist Trish Budd, who will be running a mosaic workshop and whose pieces and photography will be on display alongside works by several other exhibiting artists.
“We’re your entrance to the MAT,” she explains. And she’s not wrong. Tumbulgum is along Tweed Valley Way, halfway between Tweed Heads and Murwillumbah, and will be putting on three days of activities throughout the event. Celebrated Indigenous artists Jason King and Narelle Urquhart will be exhibiting their pieces at the historic Tumbulgum Public School (est 1872) and the Tweed River Chapel respectively, with talks to accompany the works.
Featured local artists will have their works for sale in three of the village’s cafes, also: House of Gabriel, Birdwing Café and the Blonde Baker. Visitors are welcome to stop in Tumbulgum at any time, but are encouraged to attend particularly on the Thursday, Friday and Sunday, which is when the activations will be taking place. And if you feel like following the heritage signs for a fascinating walk through the village or dining al fresco, those options are certainly available too. “We celebrate the outdoors, here,” says Trish.
Burringbar is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village not far from Mooball National Park. It wouldn’t be a Northern Rivers town without an art gallery, and Burringbar Gallery houses an eye-popping array of indigenous and primitive artefacts, collectables and local wares. Just down the street is Heath’s Old Wares, an extraordinary warehouse literally filled to the ceilings with antiques and other historical artefacts for sale, the painstaking life’s work of its owners Rob and Eva. Looking at the various hat boxes, Coke bottles, tools, marine artefacts, jewellery, photographs, antique toys, telephones and more is like a stroll through a time capsule, and is worth every minute of the drive. For MAT19, local store Giggle & Whimsy will also be hosting a live art exhibition upstairs from the shopfront on the Sunday. And while you’re in Burringbar, you might as well stop at Tweed Valley Whey for a taste of locally milked and made cheeses, as fresh as they come from the family farm.
Twenty minutes west of Murwillumbah, right on the foot of Wollumbin herself, is the idyllic village of Tyalgum, where nothing is quite what it seems. The art shop sells clothes. Main hub Flutterbies is a restaurant, coffee roasters, bakehouse, live music venue, a Marketta, conscious living store, pop up bar, art studio, gift shop and a tea room, all under one roof! The historic grocery store doubles as a book exchange and reading nook, and the local café managers, business owners and shopkeepers are also artists and event managers, putting on different hats depending on whether they’re serving locally sourced produce to hungry diners, or organising the town’s annual 3,000-strong indie folk festival.
The same team is taking care of the village’s MAT19 satellite activation, entitled ‘Fragile’. Inspired by the MAT19 theme of ‘Now you see it, now you don’t’, ‘Fragile’ take an artistic view of the Amazon, and four of the elements within it: the river, the rainforest, forest floor and birds of paradise. Each element is being visually represented by the participating artists, and will be presented both in gallery style and also performance art, with models in hand painted clothes, handmade jewellery and themed makeup walking out to music. Lead artist Kirra Springs explains why she chose the theme.
“The Amazon is the lungs of the planet. We need to think about the planet as one living organism. If someone cut away your lungs, your whole body would break down. Art just helps people to connect to these ideas on an emotional level.”
‘Fragile’ will run in the village’s Marketta on the Sunday afternoon, following their weekend Wellness Festival.
Uki is situated on the other side of Wollumbin to Tyalgum, and is known for its lush, year-round greenery and generous, hospitable community. Lisa Young owns the Uki Art Gallery, where one of this year’s MAT19 events will be held.
“I came down for a visit and just fell in love,” explains Lisa. It’s not hard to see why. Full of charm and tranquillity, Uki has become a hotspot for treechangers. Having just run an exhibition featuring local women artists, Lisa is now putting on a show called ‘Randomicity’, which brings together four very different local male artists into one show: Al Watts, The Squinting Artist, Timothy Fields, and the Green Man. The exhibition will run until 26 May, but will be a cornerstone installation of the MAT19 satellite event. In addition, there will be an exhibition by Christine Mellor at the new Mount Warning Hotel (the old one burnt down four years ago), the Buttery Bazaar Markets will be on, as well as the Uki Art Collective in the historic hall.
MAT19 runs from 16 to 19 May, and is a highlight of the Northern Rivers cultural calendar. Visit murwillumbahartstrail.com.au for full program information, and keep your eyes peeled for our next instalment when we take a good look at the main event itself.