I think the arts are vital to rural communities. They offer connection, friendship, camaraderie and in the hard times, support and distraction. I love teaching and I think artists naturally want to share their knowledge.

During the late 1960s one of Australia’s earliest indigenous arts groups was established at Cherbourg, an aboriginal settlement in south-east Queensland. Barambah Pottery was a commercial success but was inexplicably closed down in the late 1980s. Today, Barambah Pottery pieces are much sought after by collectors – so much so that the State Library of Queensland recently mounted a retrospective of the group’s work. Such was the interest from the local communities and collectors during the exhibition that Arts Queensland, along with project manager Matthew Wengert, set up a project called ReFire, with the goal of promoting the re-establishment of a new commercial pottery centre at Cherbourg.

The ReFire project brought together a number of Cherbourg artists, including two of the original Barambah Potters, Rocko Langton and Maurice Mickelo. Local potter Fay Stumm was employed on the project as tutor-technician potter. As a local, Fay knew about Barambah Pottery when it was operational, and had always been keen to try her hand at the pottery lessons the group used to give at the Cherbourg TAFE college – but the fact that she was a mother of young children at the time, living on a farming property some distance away, meant that Fay was not able to take advantage of the opportunity to attend night classes. When, 40-odd years later, she was asked by Matthew to be involved in the ReFire project it was like she had come full-circle.

“The people involved in the ReFire project are already artists in their own right,” says Fay. “They have so much talent. My role was more to supply pots for painting, as until recently they didn’t have any wheels or a kiln to throw their own. I then guided them in what different mediums could be used.”

Fay was throwing and bisque firing up to 40 pots, bowls and plates every week for the eight-week duration of the project.

Fay says she is surprised at the breadth of interest the project has inspired, but not by the interest from the artists. “They have such a passion for what they are doing.

You can see the pride they all have in their pieces, and the knowledge as well as personal and cultural history that each piece has incorporated in its chosen design.”

Fay says it is not easy being an artist in the rural and regional areas. “It can be difficult to get supplies and find people to teach you the skills.” As a country woman it is also difficult to find the time to travel long distances and to commit to attending regular classes. These obstacles then inspired a group of local women to form an arts support group – the Jumping Ants Arts Group.

Fay was an early member of Jumping Ants, a not-for-profit collective of artists and artisans living in the South Burnett region in Queensland, Australia. They regularly hold meet-and-try days, a concept Fay thinks is quite unique. “The Jumping Ants Arts Group began as a self-help group; originally artists using different mediums would come together regularly and help each other to learn a skill. People would be on hand to guide but not necessarily to teach,” explains Fay.

Over time the group has expanded to holding come-and-try days with Jumping Ants members teaching skills in public classes lasting just a few hours on a regular rotation. “I think the arts are vital to rural communities. They offer connection, friendship, camaraderie and in the hard times, support and distraction. I love teaching and I think artists naturally want to share their knowledge,” says Fay.

A few years ago Fay damaged her shoulder, which made it impossible for her to throw on a wheel, especially the large pieces she was just beginning to master. Instead of downing her pottery tools and retiring, Fay began sculpting with clay and has found a new creative outlet. “I’ve only been potting for nine years,” says Fay. “I’m 74 years old so it will probably be age that beats me, but I’ve just bought a new kiln and I’m able to throw smaller pieces again, so right now I need to pot on!”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melissa Barnett, 55yo, lives on a cattle property in the South Burnett. She had a mid-life crisis and decided to do journalism ten years ago. Currently she writes for a business web portal, and runs a farm stay business and a cattle enterprise. She bought a pottery wheel several years ago and still hasn’t thrown a pot – but lives in hope. www.taabingastation.com.au