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December 2, 2022

Big Scrub show opens today in Ballina

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Wudjeh (Red Cedar) in Spring. Photo Tom Wolff.

The photo exhibition ‘Stories of the Big Scrub’ is one of a number of new shows opening at the Northern Rivers Community Gallery in Ballina today. Photographer Tom Wolff talked to The Echo about his exhibition, which shines a light on the precious remnants of lowland tropical rainforest scattered across the region.

Mr Wolff said the new show represented the culmination of two years of photography in what is left of the Big Scrub rainforest, Widjabul-Wiabal country, extending from Wardell in the south up to the caldera, and from the coast, west to Lismore.

‘Most of it was cut down over a pretty short period of time, but there are a lot of remnants still around, and I took the time to go to a lot of the different areas.’

He said there are ten works in the exhibition, photographed in Booyong Reserve, Victoria Park and other areas.

‘I was trying to capture it as best I could,’ said Mr Wolff. ‘It’s me trying to understand the rainforest, because this is where I grew up. And it’s an important part of the landscape. Also, in some ways, I’m trying to imagine what it once was.’

It sounds like it’s tied in with your own identity?

‘Yeah, I would say so,’ he said. ‘I think I’ve come to realise that as I’ve got older. As a child I was racing black bean seed pods down the river and not really thinking about it, but now I realise that it was kind of a part of me from when I was young.

‘I grew up on the coast, but I used to go up into the hills in summer and go to the world of waterfalls; all the waterways around the area. Now it feels like it’s coming full circle, as I’m starting to appreciate what the landscape was and what it still is, and what it could be in the future.’

Ascending. Photo Tom Wolff.

Tom Wolff shoots on traditional film. ‘Yeah, they’re all 35mm photos,’ he said.

‘And they’re all colour in this show, but different sizes. I’ve tried to capture different moods and settings within what we perceive as the scrub now, as well. I’m trying to bridge that gap a little bit.’

Translating the natural world

Mr Wolff says he used to take more photographs of people, but is becoming increasingly interested in nature.

‘As I’ve gotten better at it, I’ve been trying to look at the natural world up close, and translate what I see to other people, because I’ve realised that everyone sees the world quite differently.

‘So I’m trying to translate what I see,’ he said. ‘It’s not always easy to do.’

Tom Wolff and his partner Shaya Lambrechtsen are also the people behind Revive the Northern Rivers, which is has an educational role in relation to what’s left of the Big Scrub, as well working on regeneration and active improvement of the local natural environment.

He said the organisation has been looking at where things stand in 2020. ‘And where can we see ourselves by 2050?’

Photographer Tom Wolff. Photo supplied.

Does photography and art have a role in that? ‘Yeah, definitely,’ he said.

‘I think art has a big part to play in the regeneration of landscapes. Definitely. I think it’s got a huge role.’

Official launch

The new show will be officially launched on Thursday 1 September at Northern Rivers Community Gallery in Ballina, from 5.30 to 7.30pm, together with works from three other artists, but all the new shows will be available to view at NRCG in Cherry Street from today.

‘Stories of the Big Scrub’ will run until 16 October. Find out more here.

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