In Arts + Entertainment

A World-Renowned Street Artist Goes Rural: Visiting Victoria’s Silo Art Trail

The Wimmera-Mallee in Victoria is wheat-growing country, and towns throughout the region such as Brim, 356kms northwest of Melbourne, were once the epicentre of local farming communities.

When railways were built from the 1880s so were colossal concrete silos, some up to 30-metres-tall, to store wheat and other grains until they were transported to major centres.

But the decades of changes in agriculture, along with the closure of many railway lines, left many silos abandoned. Today, they form Silo Art Trail, an outdoor art collection so stunning, it’s seen visitor numbers to the region increase by 30 per cent.

How the Silo Art Trail came to be

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Painted silos at Brim.

Brim dates from the 1890s, when a railway line was established amid the flat landscape. These days the town, where you can buy a half-acre (2,000 square-metre) block of land for $15,000, has a population of 171.

In 2015, world-renowned street artist Guido van Helten, whose large-scale artworks adorn public walls in cities across Europe and the USA, spent three-weeks at Brim. Perched high on a cherry-picker, he painted a colossal mural depicting the people of the region on a disused silo.

By 2017, more artists had visited the area to paint large-scale murals on some of the region’s decommissioned silos, and the Silo Art Trail was born.

Visiting the Silo Art Trail

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Silos at Sheep Hills.

Travelling from Melbourne, Rupanyup, 290kms northwest of Melbourne, is the first of six small towns that form the Trail, which stretches 200kms through the Wimmera-Mallee.

In the early years of the last century, Rupanyup boasted three hotels, three banks, three churches, about 12 shops, a Good Templers’ hall, several schools, two flour mills, and a newspaper.

But like many wheatbelt towns, Rupanyup fell into decline. Today many of its shops are closed, and the town’s last remaining watering hole, the Commercial Hotel, poured its last drink last year.

The past few years have seen a change in Rupanyup though, with growing numbers of tourists arriving at the town’s old silos.

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Silos at Rupanyup.

Once featureless structures next to the railway station, which closed in 1983, silos now feature local netball and football players Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidemann, immortalised by Russian mural artist Julia Volchkova.

From Rupanyup it’s 33kms along the Henty Highway to Sheep Hills via Minyip, a town featuring several historic buildings including another Commercial Hotel – thankfully open to thirsty travellers.

A dot on the map, Sheep Hills was once busy with a school, Mechanic’s Institute, a couple of banks, several pubs, a coffee palace, some shops and a racing club.

But there’s not much there today save the modest Mechanics Institute, the Railway Hotel (closed), and one of the most photographed of the Silo Trail murals.

Created by Melbourne-based artist Matt Adnate, the vividly colourful silo murals of Wergaia elder Uncle Ron Marks, Wotjobaluk elder Aunty Regina Wood, and two young children, celebrates the region’s Indigenous culture, and stands dazzlingly against the stark landscape.

Eighteen-kilometres northwest is Warracknabeal, the main town within the Yarriambiack Shire and a veritable metropolis with a population of around 2,400.

silo art trail

An old Mallee region shop.

Here many travelling the Silo Art Trail overnight in motels or caravan parks – you’re now 343kms northwest of Melbourne – or pause for a meal at one of the town’s eateries.

From Warracknabeal it’s 26ms north to Brim, passing a flat landscape where windmills turn slowly in the breeze and huge tractors kick up dust as they plough vast paddocks.

At Brim, van Helten’s epic murals of four farmers, rendered across four concrete silos, stand magnificently against a wide blue sky: like all silo artworks, it has been strategically selected for maximum visual impact.

Sixteen-kilometres north is Beulah, another town where time has stood still. There’s a caravan park (with two new cabins) beside the Yarriambiack Creek, and the Victoria Hotel serves counter meals Monday to Friday lunch, and Saturday night.

About 11kms north you pass through Rosebery, where silos painted by a Melbourne artist called Kaff-eine depicting two local farmers stand starkly against the timeless landscape.

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Hopetoun’s Lake Lascelles.

From here it’s about 15kms to Hopetoun, home to the Mallee Bush Retreat on the shores of Lake Lascelles, which is like an oasis amid the arid landscape.

Accommodation in newly-built buildings resembling mini-silos and cow sheds is from $30 per night. There’s also free camping around the lake perimeter.

Hopetoun, population 750, features some historic buildings and the community-owned Hopetoun Community Hotel, which serves meals and has motel-style accommodation from $100 per night.

Back on the Henty Highway it’s 26ms northeast to Lascelles where Melbourne artist Rone painted the faces of local couple Geoff and Merrilyn Horman, who now overlook the area where their family has lived and farmed for four generations.

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Rooms at Mallee Bush Retreat.

Lascelles is home to the Minapre Hotel – “a grand pub in the middle of nowhere”. This classic country pub has accommodation in 13 basic rooms, one with an ensuite.

The Silo Art Trail ends at Patchewollock, where Brisbane-based artist Fintan Magee depicted local farmer Nick “Noodle” Hulland on the town’s twin silos.

This small town is home to the Patchewollock Hotel, dubbed the Patche Pub by locals, which serves counter meals such as steaks and parmas, and rooms are $70 per double.

Patchewollock, 426kms northwest of Melbourne, 380kms east of Adelaide, lies in one of the most sparsely populated corners of Victoria.

There are still hundreds of blank canvases just waiting for more artists to capture the singular spirit of the Wimmera-Mallee and the people who live there.

(All images: Sandy Guy)

Published 19 July, 2019