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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

The Town of Murals in Tasmania Australia

Sheffield had once been a thriving country town but had fallen into an almost depressingly derelict town. Buildings were being demolished and their materials recycled elsewhere. In an effort to save their town from disappearing, a few of the local citizens gathered together.

They had heard about Chemainus, in Canada. That town too, had been suffering a similar fate to Sheffield, until Chemainus resident, Kark Schultz, created the town’s history in murals. Thousands of tourists then started to visit Chemainus, their economy picked up, and their beloved town was saved. Could the same thing be done in Sheffield, Tasmania?

Local Sheffield resident and businessman, Brian Inder, and his mother in law went to visit Karl in Canada, to find out how Chemainus had gone about it. Returning to Sheffield, the town decided to do the same thing, although it did meet with some opposition from some locals who did not want a “whole lot of strange people invading out peace and quiet”.

The first murals were painted by John Lendis in 1986. In the carpark behind the IGA is the first mural commissioned. Titled “stillness and warmth”, at 16m x 4 m, it depicts the mountaineer, naturalist and conservationist Gustav Weindorfer. He is shown here enjoying his home with a variety of Australian animals. A true “open door” policy. Gustav was responsible for having the Cradle Mountain/Lake St. Clair area declared a national park.

More than 60 permanent murals around town celebrate the region’s history, tell stories of the early pioneers and celebrate the unique Tasmanian flora and fauna.

Brian Inder sent the Today Show some souvenir aprons that proclaimed “Sheffield Town of Murals, Accredited Artist”. The Today team wore them on the show one day and this promotion saw a surge of tourists to the town afterwards.

Now Sheffield holds the claim to fame of the “Town of Murals”.

There is an annual Mural Fest held during Easter each year. This international competition sees nine artists create their masterpieces in front of an audience. Each year a different poem is selected and the artist completes a 2100mm x 4800mm mural, using the poem as inspiration. People can see the art being created in front of them and watch the progress. There is then a public choice and a professional artists’ choice winners.

This is a great opportunity to show case the talents of the artists and to promote murals as a valuable art form. The paintings remain on public display for a year in Mural Park at no charge to visitors. The Park is next door to the visitor information centre, with plenty of parking, public toilets, and barbeques.

In 2020 the theme was “Visions of the Future”. Tasmanian artist Joanne Treloar painted a mural depicting “Growing Old. I imagine 50 years from now”

Past winning murals are permanently kept on display in the park. The 2012 winner, titled Postcards from Tasmania, was painted by artists Keith and Loretta Sommer from Queensland.

Take a walk up and down the main street, and murals abound, on all sides of buildings.

Opposite the visitor centre is a large mural of an amazing local man, Doctor Leslie Sender. It tells a story of how incredibly dedicated he was to the local community.

Another tells a story of Slaters and how they turned down investing in the original GJ Coles of Melbourne. It is titled “Lost Opportunity”. Painted in 1990 by Cheyne Purdue it is 5m x 4m

The Tigers Last Hunt was painted by Julian Bale in 1989. It depicts a Tasmanian Tiger’s exchange with a Tasmanian Devil. The Tasmanian Tiger (a Thylacine) was a marsupial dog, the last known one died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. Thought to be extinct there are reported sightings at various times in the remote Tasmanian wilderness.

Near Cradle Mountain was a tree where cattlemen and miners would stop to chat and exchange stores and news. The Post Office tree was recognized as an official mail point early in the 20th century. Built by Barry Cook, a fiberglass replica on the tree is located just outside the current Sheffield Post Office. Any mail sent from there, even now, is postmarked that it is sent from the tree. The mural was painted in 1991 by Cheyne Purdue and is 10m x 4.5m

The Blackberries and Sorrel mural is a streetscape mural. Painted by Cheyne Purdue in 2000 it depicts High Street in the 1930s. Two orphaned children, Dulcie and Kaurie Mace, sell vegetables to Mrs Slater from their horse drawn spring dray. 6m x 2.3m

The Sheffield streetscape, painted by John Lendis in 1993, is a panoramic view of the corner of Main and High streets, as it authenitically looked at the turn of the 20th century. The majestic Mount Roland dominates the background, as it does real life. 8m x 3m

Another John Lendis mural, this one painted in 1990, is The Spirited Troopers. These wild colonial boys are full of energy and were members of the Sheffield Light Horse Squadron.

Forth Falls are situated between Sheffield and Wilmot. Originally there were seven falls but some were flooded in the 1960s when the Mersey Forth Hydro Development was created. This mural depicts the second of the falls and was painted in 1990 by John Lendis. Painted on the wall of Mountain Mumma, in my humble opinion, the home of the best coffee in Sheffield.

The Hardest Years mural was painted in 2000 by Paul Wood and Mary Clancy. At 6m x 2.4 m, this three part domineering mural depicts the hardship of the farmers in Sheffield around 1875.

Local identity Beth Pagel thought it would be wonderful if Sheffield had a tactile mural, specifically designed for blind and visually impaired visitors. Two local artists created a mural that encompasses both town and country scenes.

The Sheffield Mt Roland Cable Car Company proposed an aerial lift (cable car) to the nearby Mt Roland. First considered in the 1990s, it would enable people who could not walk the four to six hour trek to the summit. This is a controversial subject and has divided the community. As of 2021, it has not proceeded. The mural was painted in 2015 by Julian Bale. That is not my photo taking reflection in the window on the left, it is actually part of the mural!

The Old Grocer’s shop was a popular store in the early 1900s. This is where groceries were bought before supermarkets, and the grocer knew everything about everyone. The brands displayed in the mural are still household names today: Cadbury, Peters, Coca Cola, Arnotts.

Painted by John Lendis 1988

On the side of the RSL (Returned Serviceman’s League) is the ANZAC and World War 1 Commemorative Mural, painted in 2014 by Damian Rossiter. It is a tribute to service personnel through all conflicts and in all peacekeeping missions.

John Lendis cleverly incorporated his own dog, Eno, into this mural when he painted it in 1987. The mural is 16m x 4m. Tom King was a blacksmith, born in 1860 near Sassafrass. He only had three weeks of schooling and was a self-educated man. Tom became a leader in the community and is remembered as a kind man.

The great news is that once the murals went up, Sheffield became a tourist attraction. Empty shops became filled and new ones were built. Three motels opened. Bakeries, coffee shops, art and souvenir shops thrived. Today, the town attracts over 200,000 visitors every year to this free outdoor art gallery.

Happy Travels!

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