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First trip to Paraburdoo

Posted by Alex Mickle

It’s four months ago and I’ve just spent the day in Paraburdoo, after a 3am start in Perth, then meeting after meeting till the day is gone.

First trip to Paraburdoo

I’m in the plane heading south and staring down at the passing landscape – trying to see an artwork down there in the red dirt of the Pilbara.

Letting all the words and images that have piled up in my head over the past few days wash around and bump into each other. Forcing myself not to concentrate on any one thing. Allowing my mind to fool my eyes … trick them into seeing something that isn’t there. It works for me sometimes, more often than you’d think.

I’m trying to conjure up a form, an artwork that’s right for this place. Hazy and half glimpsed, objects and ideas begin to assemble themselves. An hour into the flight, red becomes green down there, and I think I have enough to go on.

I pull out my boarding pass and make a few notes on the back of it – they are just words. I make a couple of rough sketches that I hope will make sense to me later. We drop out of the bright sunlight through the clouds and suddenly it’s grey, then it’s raining.

I’ve been learning how to see like an artist since I was a kid, so it’s not all that hard anymore. If I were in my workshop I would be working these sketches up in chalk on my bench, making notes on materials I might use.

As the landing gear comes down, the tracks in the dirt have become become tracks in bitumen. There is movement everywhere down there and I suddenly realise that I won't be making any of those ideas I’ve just spent the last hour and a half coaxing into existence.

Because this project isn’t about my ideas – that’s not what I was asked to do.

The lights in the plane come on and someone announces that we will be landing soon. The fella sitting next to me opens his eyes and is now awake. I stop myself from telling David that this idea of his won’t work.

How do you turn a bunch of miners into a bunch of sculptors?

Now I’m on the transfer bus in a sea of fluorescence, and I feel as drab as the weather outside. I’m looking at the miners around me and trying to imagine them wanting to spend their down time in Paraburdoo making a hulking great steel sculpture with me. It’s taken me 27 years to become an artist, to learn and acquire all the skills necessary to do what I do. How am I going to do this, how will they do this…

I really need to think about this … till now this project was just an idea and I have been going along with it to see what would happen. Well now it’s happening and all I can ask myself is “how are we going to do this?”


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