While the rest of Sydney headed into the CBD for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, a couple of friends and I headed west to the Penrith Regional Art Gallery. One of the guys I was travelling with has a work in the exhibition “Wonder Mountain”. Through my friend Kate, I’d also met a couple of the other exhibiting artists.
The first thing I noticed on arriving at Penrith was the smell of a country town. Even though Penrith is on the outskirts of Sydney, it’s very much a country town in lots of ways. The river dominates the landscape. Housing on the streets varies considerably: the McMansion and the old weather-board cottage can sit side-by-side. But overwhelmingly, what distinguishes where I live now (in the centre of Sydney) from Penrith is the smell. As we arrived at the the gallery, I jumped out of the car, headed straight over to the river, and I could “smell” I wasn’t in Sydney anymore.
What followed was a brief moment of wondering “why did I move to Sydney, when I could have stayed living in the country”. It’s been several months since I’ve felt that way, as I haven’t been home to Lismore in over twelve months. But every time I have the experience of being in a country town I have similar feelings. For a good part of the exhibition opening, I sat in the garden and simply enjoyed the environment. In particular, it was great to simply sit there and watch the live art by Hua Tunan (画图男).
It was raining on and off for a while, and although the heavier rains forced me inside for a while, I was also happy and content to get a little wet. Growing up on the North Coast has clearly had an influence on me – turned me into a bit of a hippy. :)
Over the next few hours I chatted with a few people, including a local couple who had also lived in a number of the country towns towns I’ve lived in. We chatted about some of the “lost jobs” no longer evident in country towns. We chatted about the “black pubs and the white pubs” in places like Bourke where we had both lived. In so many ways it was a stark contrast from so many of the gallery openings I’ve attended in the inner city of Sydney, taking me back to the many years I’ve lived in the country.
As for the exhibition itself: there were works I really liked, and works I didn’t like so much.
After the exhibition a whole bunch of us enjoyed dinner at a local Thai restaurant where the food was suprisingly spicy. Quite often in country towns, the local Thai and Chinese restaurants tone down the level of chilli they use. That was not the case this time. So yeah, a really nice experience.
Although we had a vague idea it would be fun to make it back in time to see at least a small amount of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, we never made it. I’ll make it next year, I’m sure. I mean, it doesn’t vary much from year to year, does it?