The Silo Art Trail & Changes in the Agricultural Landscape
We are travelling to South Australia where we will continue to nurture the seeds we sowed earlier this year. Our journey has led us from campsites on the Murray River to the Silo Art Trail — Australia’s largest open-air gallery. It’s a trail that stretches 200km, linking little know rural towns in Victoria such as Rupanyup, and Sheep Hills in the south with Brim and Patchewollock further north. These communities are so far removed from Sydney that it’s hard to believe we are still in the same country!
Welcome to the vastness of the Wimmera Mallee where sheep and wheat farming have been the mainstays of the economy for decades.
The grain silos arrest our attention. They stand tall in the flat landscape that stretches for miles. Donated by GrainCorp, the disused silos date back to the 1930s and are ideal canvases for the mural portraits. What started as a small community project at Brim brought so much attention and optimism to the town that it led to the creation of the Silo Art Trail. The murals link 6 towns in the area and celebrate both the Aboriginal history and their connection to land as well and the lives of generations of Australian farmers. The portraits force you to linger and appreciate the unique spirit of this place and ask that you gain an insight into the joys and hardships of life in rural Australia. Similar to many other bush communities, this region was badly affected by the Millennium drought in the early 2000’s — considered the worst since European settlement. The trail has brought a breath of fresh air to these communities, attracting travellers from near and far to meander through a part of the country that had been off the beaten track.
The Silo Art Trail is a wonderful distraction, but is it enough to sustain this district through the economic, social and climate challenges that lie ahead?
Driving through this dry and dusty landscape, with barely a tree to break the monotony, I’m surprised wheat can grow here. My untrained eye finds that the practice of monoculture has left the earth completely devoid of any nutrients. My suspicions grow as we watch a farmer spray an unknown green chemical over the parched earth. The fumes are overpowering; I ask myself what toxins might end up in the bread on my plate? Farmers in Australia may have learnt to adapt to our variable climate but accelerated climate change will bring with it another set of challenges. Climate forecasts for this area predict an increase in temperature and a decrease in rainfall resulting in more intense drought periods.
Are the farmers who have toiled here for years and the landscape resilient enough to survive what’s predicted? Is it time to ask how we might regenerate the dead soil as described in ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’ — a book I am yet to read — by a revolutionary farmer called Charles Massy. He writes how we can break away from industrial agriculture and the global profit-obsessed corporations and instead create healthy food and thriving communities. We could also consider how indigenous Australians looked after the land for thousands of years. In his book ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’, Bill Gammage describes the landscape that the first Europeans discovered when they arrived here. It had been managed so well that it looked like a large European estate.
Buckminster Fuller inspired us to stop fighting the existing reality and put our efforts into building a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. This is what our idea of Circular Economy Innovation Hubsis all about — and why we have travelled to South Australia. We are working with researchers like Assoc. Professor James Ward at UniSA who says:
“Understandably, people growing up in cities can be blissfully unaware of the scale of our dietary footprint; we all see our ‘built’ footprint — houses, roads, carparks, airports, etc. — but most of us are utterly disconnected from agriculture. So let’s remedy that by trying to visualise our [agricultural] ‘foodprint’.”
In his article, “Urban Agriculture: Could Regenerative Cities Feed Themselves?”he asks how much land is needed to feed a given population. We are especially interested in his research where he models various nutrition plans to calculate the land required to produce this food.
Our work explores similar themes. We are convinced that reconnecting people with their food systems creates meaningful work and is an important component of creating living environments that are healthy, resilient and connected. We believe it will help us live in such a way that we have a positive impact on the land, leaving the place a little better than we found it.
There’s still a long way to go but we are here for the long haul. It’s an exciting place to be.