It now takes twice as long to travel the one hundred kilometres along the scenic Lachlan Valley Way between Forbes and Condobolin in the Central West of New South Wales. No one is complaining though, because the extra time is taken up by pulling off the road to inspect some amazing sculptures.
In 2014, under the guidance of the Forbes Art Society, a prize was awarded for public sculpture. In 2017, the first large-scale artwork was erected along the Lachlan Valley Way. This was the iconic Amazing sculpture, a huge 3-D red word standing stark beside the road. It rises from the dust, grass, or flood waters, depending on the western conditions. It was mostly made by locals who wanted to see the job done.
Now, more than twenty commissioned sculptures stand in Forbes or line the highway between that town and Condobolin. They are funded by the state government’s Restart NSW program, Forbes Art Society, Lachlan Shire Council and Evolution Mining.
Ten of the works can be found in parks in Forbes and the remainder in roadside reserves. It would be hard to drive by without noticing the features. Most can be seen from the road, and all have large tourist signs indicating the location.
After pulling off to visit the first few, it soon becomes evident that these are becoming familiar friends. Although each sculpture is unique, each location has a friendly and familiar feel. The short access road leads to a ring of large white barrier stone blocks around the car park, with other blocks arranged for seating. A gravel path leads past a people-counter post to a plinth with a circular information plaque and then there is the sculpture beyond.
The locations have been chosen well and are very scenic. The site invites the traveller to linger, to admire the art and the surrounds. A picnic table at each location would be a welcome addition.
The works in Forbes are mostly conventional sizes but once let loose out along the highway, they grow to huge proportions.
Just south of Forbes near the Condobolin turnoff is the huge and popular Goanna or Varanus. It stands in the Gum Swamp Reserve beside the wetland with bird hides.
Tower is an entirely wooden structure that depicts an old tank stand. It represents the importance of water in the rural landscape. There is a man standing at the top of one of the support posts. He is leaning out and gazing down. He makes the viewer feel quite uneasy.
The comical piece of the whole exhibition is Road Kill, a mammoth rusty structure depicting vehicles travelling along a ribbon of road, like all the viewers have done to reach here. It would be hard to travel this road without seeing the remains of our national animal along the edge. The sculpture turns the concept of road kill around, as a giant kangaroo swats a vehicle with a cricket bat, with cartoon sparks radiating.
The unusual Sonata is the latest work to be installed. It is so new, that it doesn’t feature on the brochure. It depicts a girl playing the violin on the back of a bull. The girl and bull are not alone, as when I visited, another sculpture environment was being constructed a short distance away. It will depict wild horses. Across the side road is a quaint little country church which makes for a picturesque roadside viewing community.
A personal favourite is Heart of Country, where a native hunter stands over four metres high beside the road with a ridgeline of boulders as a backdrop. He strides forward with purpose. His body, feet, spear, and arms are all facing forward but his head is turned, and his gaze is over his shoulder as if something is just not quite right. To show how the changing landscape adds to the changing meaning of the artworks when I visited in mid-winter, the hunter’s gaze was turning away from the huge fluoro-coloured rolls of baled cotton arranged in endless rows in the paddock opposite. His chest is open to expose rocks; a true heart of country.
Campers and vanners have a bonus when exploring this section of the Lachlan Valley Way, as apart from caravan parks in Forbes and Condobolin, there is an excellent free-council camping area in each town.
Forbes has the reserve in Wheogo Park beside the lake and Condobolin has the Gum Bend Lake reserve. Both have new amenity blocks.
By 2023, the Forbes Visitor Centre will move to the old Lachlan Vintage Village history complex, south of town. Though not one of the official sculptures, the bushranger Ben Hall statue will return to its original home.