The Exhibition

I have been living in the mountains for about 3 years now, and it would be fair to say that I know very little about the place that continues to surprise and enchant me. It is a work in progress, and it is interesting to see what other people encounter when they visit briefly or live extensively in the mountains.

The Exhibition, which is currently showing at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba, is a celebration of various works that capture some of the elements of the mountains and mountain life. It is the first showing of the gallery’s own collection and is a sample from over 90 significant artworks by local and Australian artists.

One of the original tourist attractions, Jenolan Caves, is featured in 5 canvases by Evan Macleod. The painting tracks the scale of the caves, ascending from the depths of the caves into the light. There is a series of 14 artworks consisting of various well-known spots in the mountains by Peter Kingston. These pieces capture the essence of many familiar places including Leura, Katoomba, Mt Wilson and the Hydro Majestic. I particularly enjoyed the beanied dog travelling on the Scenic Railway.

Another highlight was the portrait of Jenny Kee by Scott Marr. This is a fittingly vivid portrayal using pyrography and natural pigments on paper, honouring her love of the Australian landscape and devotion to Buddhism. There is also the portrait of Kee in the 2015 Archibald Exhibition showing in the gallery.  ‘Wollangambe Wilderness’ by John Caldwell was memorable, capturing the mountain landscape in a dark mix of blues, greens and greys, along with the crisp portrayal of rocks and vegetation. There is a rolling storm gathering around the mountains, true to life.

Four of Andrew Merry’s photographs are on display, and my eyes were drawn to the Casino Cupola of the Hydro Majestic. It is a magnificent photo of the iconic dome, and I was interested to read that it was captured using a cherry picker during very specific atmospheric and lighting conditions, 18 metres off the ground. Merry was the official photographer during the Hydro’s recent extensive renovations. His other photos depicted storms, sunlight and the devastation of scorched earth following bushfires. I also really enjoyed four pieces from the Black and Blue exhibition. This was a collaboration of artists and writers portraying stories, real and imagined, in visual and written form.

All of the pieces meet the selection criteria of excellence, relevance, value and ability to celebrate the cultural identify of the Blue Mountains.

How is the cultural identity of your neighbourhood displayed?

[Photo: Katoomba outlook from the viewing platform at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre]

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It’s just … a little crush*

In last week’s post I referred to the Hydro Majestic as one of the many landmarks along the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains. While poking about on their website, I came across a link to history tours. The tours are held daily and bookings can be made for tour groups or smaller gatherings. I’ve been intrigued by the Hydro for a while, so I thought I’d go along.

The tour commenced in the Casino Lobby, a place that was familiar from old photos of the Hydro. A few of the guests of the hotel were on the tour as well, and we were given an overview of the history and the driving personality behind the hotel. Inspired by sanatoriums and health spas in Europe, entrepreneur Mark Foy travelled up and down the highway looking for a site that would meet three specific needs: a railway station, highway access and a spectacular view. Medlow Bath (or Medlow, as it was then known) offered all three.

From the imported casino dome to the breathtaking views in the Wintergarden restaurant, the old-world warmth of the old billiards room (originally a male-only domain) to the most unusual incline of Cat’s Alley, the hotel is a fascinating mix of styles, designs and architecture. Foy’s preference for arches has been acknowledged in the newly built areas of the complex, and original artwork commissioned for the hotel is on display. This includes a number of hunting murals painted by Arnold Zimmerman which form the backdrop to the stylish Cat’s Alley. The views of the Megalong Valley are spectacular, and from the top of Cat’s Alley it is possible to look down to where the farm that provided much of the produce for the hotel in the early years was located. The food was whisked up and down via flying fox.

There are several novels which refer directly or otherwise to the Hydro Majestic. These include the recent Palace of Tears by Julian Leatherdale, Evergreen Falls by Kimberly Freeman and Miles Off Course by Sulari Gentill in the clever Rowland Sinclair series which includes a cameo appearance by Mark Foy.

For me, the amazing scenery within and without the hotel only added to my interest in the Hydro. I was fortunate to have an excellent tour guide, Patrick, who wove a spellbinding story around the history of the Hydro and made it come alive.

What brings history to life for you?

*Taken from ‘Crush‘ by Jennifer Paige

[Photo of Cat’s Alley, Hydro Majestic]

It’s a kind of magic*

There are many landmarks for the traveller along the Great Western Highway. Whilst the highway’s course has altered over time due to bypasses and road changes, there are many sections which have remained unchanged despite the perpetual roadworks over the decades.

One memory of a mountain trip was on a school excursion. We stopped at Bull’s Camp Reserve at Woodford.  As we wandered about, one of the teachers explained the location’s significance as a convict stockade whilst the initial road was being carved through the mountains. A large, slightly stained flat rock was pointed out and it was identified as a flogging stone for errant convicts. I’m not sure of the truth of this tale but it lodged firmly in my mind.

As you travel towards the apex of the mountains, the familiar shape of the Carrington Hotel chimney crests the horizon. It fascinated me as a child, looming in the distance before slipping aside as the highway turned towards Medlow Bath and Blackheath. It was built in 1910 and originally provided power to the township of Katoomba as well as the hotel.

A little further along the highway is the sprawling splendour of the Hydro Majestic. It stretches for over a kilometre along the escarpment, commanding views over the Megalong Valley. Recently it was extensively refurbished, and it is once again an extremely popular tourist destination.

The old Toll Bar House is on the left hand side on the final stretch before Mt Victoria, and is another milestone along the highway. Nestled in the bend before the township, it was a collection point for tolls during the early life of the highway and continued through to 1868 when the railway station opened at Mt Victoria. It has the grace of an earlier era, a static witness to over 150 years of history.

There are many kinds of magic along the Great Western Highway. What are your favourites?

*From ‘A Kind of Magic’ by Queen

[Photo is of the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba on an autumn day]