Robert Shapherd drawing in the Flinders Ranges

4 May - 5 June 2014

This journey to the Flinders Ranges, SA was a drawing expedition aimed at what I consider an important part of the process of drawing, to simply enjoy and witness the changes of a landscape over an extended period of time, in this case being four weeks. It was an opportunity to do a small body of detailed drawings which allowed me to observe and endure the constantly changing light and weather patterns within an ancient and permanent landscape. A landscape that has been affected by volcanic and seismic activity but predominately by wind and water erosion.

With one central base camp location at a camp site 40kms north of Wilpena Pound called Trezona, I then chose four positions along the Brachina Creek and within the Brachina Gorge to focus my drawings, venturing out to them when the weather permitted.

It was challenging to say the least, enduring icy cold winds at times and the continuous harassment of small black bush flies. The local wildlife wandered past me as if I were part of the landscapes furniture. Kangaroos and Emus were common, while a close encounter with a couple of Yellow Footed Wallabies and an Echidna scrounging around for ants a metre from my feet were added bonuses. A territorial standoff comprising a group of Magpies and Corellas’ against a couple of pairs of Hawk-like birds gave me at least 10 minutes of spectacular aerial entertainment. The birds fighting it out with some serious flying maneuvers amongst the great old river gums along the creek bed, the Maggies’ and Corellas’ being the eventual victors. On the odd occasion, bush walkers wandered up to me to look at my drawing, prompting conversations about art and the different aspects and experiences enjoyed in this great landscape.

On the final five days of my stay, drawing was all but abandoned due to rain and two days of relentless thunder storms rolling in over the ranges from the west. Although a bit soured by the inability to draw, this brought the rare experience of witnessing the “always dry” creek bed which I was camping near, transform into a raging torrent of water. At around 1am, following the first storms of the previous afternoon, I was woken by the roar of water racing down the wide stoney base of the creek. A pretty amazing experience which lasted the following two days, subsequently washing out the recently graded and repaired road which lead into Brachina Gorge, the access road to my drawing sites. I must say, I had some doubt as far as leaving the area in the coming days for my journey home along with my dwindling supply of food and drinking water. But in the final 2 days the water subsided and things started to dry out and I managed to get a final day of drawing in, packed up my gear, and headed home.

Overall, for me this was a great experience. An environment, a time frame and the seclusion to focus on my art of the moment, and a time and space to think about my own direction in life. I met a wheat farmer from southern Western Australia who was traveling northward with his wife to Darwin. John asked me if this amount of time alone was hard to achieve and I said, “well, although being quite daunting for me as this was the first time I had ever done something like this, it was great to remove myself from the tensions of all things; TV, politics, inner city living - all the things related to normal day-to-day life. This was a time to clear my mind and see clearly, all things ahead of me”. I said to John ”Even the continuous fixing and maintaining of machinery on a farm can put you in a rut and cloud your mind.”  Agreeing, John quietly smiled and with those thoughts we wished each other well in our journeys.


A couple of tips when camping and drawing:

A wide rimmed hat with a fly head net is a must-have. Also, what I found effective was the wearing of ear plugs to eliminate the sounds of the flies buzzing around my ears which, like mosquitos, I find more irritating than the insects themselves.

When camping, avoid pitching tent in or too close to a dry creek bed. A lesson learnt by a young lady camping at one of the other creek-side camping areas near Brachina Gorge. Her fellow campers told me that she, along with her car and tent were caught in the floodwaters. A terrifying night, managing to escape the ordeal with the help of fellow campers when the water flow had eased the following day.