Designer and photographer Ingrid Weir has worked around the world on film sets, but a little cottage in NSW’s Hill End is a very special place for her and inspired her to write a book: New Rural.
Not everyone is brave enough to take on a run-down house in the country surrounded by a garden filled with weeds and only two trees, but 10 years ago Ingrid Weir made the decision to do exactly that.
“It was an illogical thing to do — buy a 100-year-old house in a remote rural area to renovate. That night I went to dinner with the painter Luke Sciberras and saw how his Hill End cottage was a place full of art and flowers, where friends came to stay and delicious meals were prepared. It was something of a blueprint. After a long mental back and forth, intuition overwhelmed logic and I took the plunge. It felt fantastic and exciting,” writes Ingrid in her book New Rural of buying the old schoolmaster’s house that is now her second home.
At the peak of the gold rush in 1870 Hill End had a population of 8,000, 28 pubs, five banks and eight churches. But today the main inhabitants are the mobs of kangaroos grazing the paddock in front of one of the remaining churches and the number of locals has dropped, according to the 2016 census, to 102.
After the gold miners of the 19th century moved out, the artists gradually moved in and now this Central West town nearly 300 kilometres north west from Sydney is home to many creative types: painters, potters, printmakers and writers.
Ingrid, who is usually based in Sydney, gives us an insight into her country life.
Did you spend much time in the country as a child?
My grandfather on my father’s side came from Junee. He was one of three brothers. During the Depression the farm couldn’t support them all so they drew straws. He drew a short one and relocated to Sydney, becoming a real estate agent in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. As a child I visited the farm a couple of times. About 15 years ago we had a big family reunion there — Champagne at the lookout, a black-tie dinner at the local pub and a large country lunch in the woolshed!
How important is your life in Hill End to your creative process?
Very. When I was renovating and decorating the house it was a place to experiment with colour, fabrics and the like. And in the process, learn more about photography. Now I use it more as a place to replenish and renew. I think rest is an important part of the creative process. The downtime lets you process the projects you have been working on. Without thinking about it new ideas rise up to the surface in your relaxed state. A way forward is revealed…
How much time do you spend there now?
Hard to be specific as it depends on work. Maybe about five to six times a year, sometimes with friends, sometimes with family. It could be for three days or 10 days. I always enjoy that moment of getting into a packed car and heading out of the city towards the mountains.
What do you think about the importance of art galleries and residencies based in the country?
I actively seek out regional art galleries because I have been to some wonderful exhibitions in country towns. Standout galleries include the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery and the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum in Bathurst. There are two artist residencies in Hill End run by the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery. It gives a richness of texture to a village to have visiting artists, something unexpected and a different perspective.
‘New Rural: Where to Find It and How to Create It’
(Hardie Grant Books, $60) by Ingrid Weir is out now
To see more of her work,
Hill End is a place that has always fascinated our editorial director. “I lived in Bathurst when I first left school and discovered Sofala and Hill End — they are still in the middle of one of my favourite road trips, Bathurst to Mudgee.”