The Artists

Introduction - Brushstrokes of the Coast

Victoria can boast of a coastline of great contrast. It is a coastline that varies from industrious ports and harbours to peaceful shores on secluded bays, from recreational sandy beaches to ragged cliffs pounded by menacing seas. It is also a coastline of great beauty and romance that has lured artists and inspired artworks, many of which are today considered among the icons of Australian art.

'Brushstrokes of the Coast' provides you here with a small selection of these artworks, representing areas of the Victorian coastline from west to east. A number of the artworks are wood engravings, an art form regularly used to illustrate the newspapers of their day, before the use of photography. These wood engravings and early artworks, produced prior to photography, are often the only images we have of various areas of our coastline, and they therefore play an important role as an historical and cultural record of the early settlement of Victoria.

The artworks show the wide range of geological features of the coastline, as it used to look, and although sometimes exaggerated by the artist, the features captured still allow us to draw important comparisons with the same locations as they appear today.

A number of the artworks draw attention to the Victorian coastline as a place of industry. Images range from the early sailing ships in the busy harbour at Warrnambool to the coal mine on the cliffs at Kilcunda.

Among the images provided here, are also rare early images of Gabo Island. This island, with its important lighthouse, is situated off the coast in the far-eastern corner of Victoria. As well, there are images of the early days of Wilsons Promontory, when even landing at the Promontory was shown to be a hazardous and precarious adventure.

In some instances, the artworks dramatically capture the various moods of the seas around the Victorian coastline. The images range from the calm waters of Corio and Port Phillip Bay, to the wreck of the 'Loch Ard', in the wild treacherous waters of the Southern Ocean along the Shipwreck Coast. The artists also depicted the Victorian coastline as a place of recreation and relaxation. There are images of bathing and yachting in Port Phillip Bay, as well as images of fishing and walking in such 'holiday beauty spots' as Lorne.

There are further images of lighthouses, and what have become high use areas of the coastline near to the City of Melbourne, as well as images of wilderness areas, that are now protected within our coastal National Parks. These artists have provided us with works that have a strong conservation value, and which often tell us of the type of vegetation that once grew in a particular coastal location. These same works also often alert us of the heritage value of these sites.

Many of the names of these coastal locations were derived from Aboriginal terms and information on the origin of these names, presented here with the entries for these artworks, further makes us aware of the strong Aboriginal heritage associated with the Victorian coastline. Some of the locations depicted have changed very little, while others show considerable change, caused by man and nature, since the artworks were created.

However, all the artworks remind us of our early strong links to the sea and the coast.

There was a time, not that long ago, when we relied solely on the sea for trade, and we relied on the many facilities that we built along the coast, to enable us to develop as a Nation.

Since the advent of aviation the reliance on the sea is not so strong, however these links we developed continue today as we continue to become more aware of the importance of protecting and conserving our coastline and the surrounding sea. The artists often captured in their works a virgin coastline and a sea that many believed could not be spoilt. We have since learnt of the delicate nature of these resources and the need to manage their health for future generations.

Comparing the images provided here with the sites as they are today may give us some indication on just how well we are managing our coastline, and certainly the images should be of interest to all those involved in Victorian coastal management.

Andrew Mackenzie

Left: Arthur Streeton - Above Us The Great Grave Sky, 1890
Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

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