Margaret Olley comes to Murwillumbah

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Just before Christmas and after a very sad time in the family we needed to get away for a few days. We propped in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast which was a bit busy for us with main roads anterior and posterior and a frac close to Surfers Paradise in Schoolies Week, horror of horrors, but also close to Byron Bay, Nimbin and the Tweed Gallery Murwillumbah.

I hadn’t been there for twenty years when my former mother-in-law was the curator and when my son was 4 and the situation was cyclonic and dramatic in more ways than the weather, and when it housed the Moran Prize in a weatherboard house in the town.

This time we drove into a cavernous underground car park decorated with images of Olley’s floral extravaganzas. I felt a frisson which continued throughout the exhibitions of salt sculptures, Stephen Bird’s ceramics (lots of dicks) which made me think, Grayson Perry, so very excited, and thrill of thrills-Olley’s recreated hurly-burly home.

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Ben Quilty’s chunky and penetrating portrait of Olley inspired me to write a short poem at the time, but to witness all angles of her boho-chic-bag-lady home was something else. I dream of being an Olley and I know I never will be. She could live and thrive in clutter and mess marvellous to behold and much more healthy than my studied, dusted collections of preloved tat.

Born in Lismore, Olley has come home. What a dream. The salt and pepper squid was pretty special too. Bit salty if anything. Great view from the restaurant. The Byron beer not a bad drop. 13 unlucky for some. Not for us.

All this fabulousness including the land, funded by Doug Anthony; art lover, farmer, republican. His politics I vehemently opposed in the heady seventies. He requested only a porthole from the main gallery looking out to his property. Such a huge divide between country and city Australia coming together in this inspired art space. Brilliant.

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