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Byron Shire
November 27, 2022

Mullumbimby childhood celebrated in poems, art

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Edwin Wilson, The Mullumbimby Kid
Edwin Wilson, The Mullumbimby Kid

A new exhibition opening at the Tweed River Art Gallery on Friday celebrates in poems and prints the childhood in Mullumbimby of painter Edwin Wilson.

‘The Mullumbimby Kid’ opens at the same time a national touring exhibition ‘Illumination: The art of Philip Wolfhagen’, showcasing works by the acclaimed landscape painter from Tasmania.

The Wolfhagen survey exhibition was developed by Newcastle Art Gallery in partnership with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

During the exhibition opening celebrations on Friday 8 August at 5pm, Philip Wolfhagen will give an exhibition preview talk, followed by refreshments at 6pm, and official opening speeches by Lauretta Morton, assistant director, Newcastle Art Gallery at 6.30pm.

On Sunday 10 August at 2pm, Edwin Wilson will share his personal stories and poems about his Mullumbimby childhood.

Wilson was born into an isolated farming community at East Wardell. By 1948 he had moved to Mullumbimby, which means ‘little round hill’ in the local Indigenous dialect, and describes a hill in the region of first settlement, near the current golf course.

With the arrival of the railway line in the 1890s the town moved to its current location, closer to its guardian mountain, ‘Chincogan’ or ‘Chinny’, an Indigenous initiation ground and fertility site.

Gallery director Susi Muddiman said that after growing up on the flatlands of East Wardell, Chincogan’s form was imprinted on the Wilson’s developing psyche.

‘The locals said Chinny was 999 feet high, but needed to be 1,000 feet to be a “proper” mountain’, Wilson recalled.

In 1953, after the conquest of Everest, Wilson and two friends built a 12-inch cairn of stones on Chinny’s summit, to give it mountain status. His first book of poems, Banyan (the first of some 26 books) was dedicated ‘for Chinny’.

The Big Scrub

Mullumbimby had been part of the ‘Big Scrub’, a great forest that had stretched from Lismore to the Queensland border.

The first clearings were made to provide grazing for the bullock teams used to haul the cedar and other timbers.

While living at Mullumbimby, Wilson became a lover of nature and orchid enthusiast, which led to his attainment of a science degree in chemistry and botany, and employment in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

Ms Muddiman said that although Wilson remembers making drawings before he could read or write, a visit to the Queensland Museum and Art Gallery (c. 1953) inspired him to paint.

He went on to study Art as an elective subject at Armidale Teachers’ College in 1961, and The History of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales in 1966.

‘His forced departure from Mullumbimby in 1959 was very painful, and left Wilson ‘Mullum Dreaming’ all his life,’ Ms Muddiman said.

The first edition of his memoirs, The Mullumbimby Kid: A Portrait of the Poet as a Child, was published in 2000.

Ms Muddiman said that in 2003, when he met his long-lost brother Edwin/Jim (1939-2008), some of the mysteries of their Gothic childhoods were at last explained, necessitating a second edition of The Mullumbimby Kid, published in 2012.

‘Meanwhile, the eternal balancing of the responsibilities of life, family, and career had intervened with his artistic ambitions. However, on his retirement in 2003 he attended art classes at the Lavender Bay Gallery, was elected an Exhibiting Member of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales in 2008, and won First Prize (Medal of Distinction) at their 2010 Spring Exhibition.

‘In 2003 he began work on a series of Mullumbimby landscapes, inspired by Egon Schiele’s Landscape at Krumau. The Mullumbimby Kid is the result, a quest for a lost Paradise, when distance breeds enchantment.’

Philip Wolfhagen, Transmutation
Philip Wolfhagen, Transmutation

Capturing light

Philip Wolfhagen is a landscape painter and a master of creating works that capture the changing light and mood.

Ms Muddiman said his paintings depict subtle changes in temperature and atmosphere.

‘To view his paintings is to be seduced by the fleeting elements of weather and the ever-changing qualities of nature. It is this ethereal quality that makes his art so appealing to both collectors and art galleries in both Australia and overseas.’

Based in Longford, Tasmania, Wolfhagen considers himself a ‘stay-at-home kind of artist’ and says he wants ‘to paint what I understand and love and not rush about being a tourist artist’.

Ms Muddiman said he is a diligent artist with a strict work schedule.

‘Wolfhagen paints from 8am-1pm six days a week, this work ethic enables him to produce extensive bodies of work.

‘Wolfhagen has always been committed to the landscape genre which has a long tradition in Australia.’

Both exhibitions are on display until Sunday 12 October.

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