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 The Property

 
 
 

Philosophy

There are many sources of creativity but one particular genesis that interests Harrigans Lane Collective directors, Bruce and Jocelyn Wolfe, is ‘place'. We engage with a place in a multitude of ways, through all of the senses. A natural, forested property on a south-eastern escarpment of the Granite Belt has become a very special place for us and the centre of our creative pursuits. Harrigans Lane has evolved to be a venue for exceptional arts adventures, brimming with an inner life. We particularly acknowledge and pay respect to traditional custodians who have gone before us in this place, the Jukembal, Kamileroi and Bundjalung nations, amongst others.

Besides engaging artistically with the place through photographing, painting, and using the timbers and stone to build, it has been the home of ‘sounding’ projects and performances, as well as inspiration for architectural and sculptural structures. The projects are essentially place-inspired, born out of an evolution of ideas from Bruce and Jocelyn and interested collaborators from diverse fields of practice. The Piano Mill, with Clocked Out, Erik Griswold, and Vanessa Tomlinson, symbolises this and remains a core activity.

There is little space in the commercial world for such creative and experimental pursuits. However, creative, interdisciplinary projects are described as contributing to the mature and innovative society that Australia aspires to be (see Throsby’s Art, Politics, Money, 2018, p. 17). We hope Harrigans Lane Collective contributes to this vitality in some small way through a continuing program of innovative arts pursuits.


Introduction

The Wolfe Family Trust purchased the 200HA property in 2007 with the view to extending their interest and support for the arts and have a more hands on role in that support.

Following the initial clear for the home, some roadworks, infrastructure and dams, a number of building projects followed: shed/workshop, dwelling (the lodge), Artists Studio, Piano Bar, Piano Mill and Suntori Stage, Hibiki Bath House, remote performance stages and amenities, Lagavulin performance chamber, Limeburners library and listening room and a number of retreats currently under construction.

The first concert at Harrigans Lane was in the Lodge in 2013, with Clocked Out performing Time Crystals. Clocked Out brought the Piano Bar at the dam to life the following year, and again in 2015, this time with a finale amongst the trees back at the Lodge, exhibiting the work of Renata Buziak. With an amazing performance of music, imagery and dance, Renata’s projections illuminated the movement of performance artist, Jan Baker-Finch, skipping ropes and the trees of the forest. Called Unfolding Rhythms, this time-lapse video was the result of an experimental process Renata calls biochrome. The process has become the hallmark of her photographic work.

It evolved naturally that Clocked Out would become our Ensemble-in-Residence and this was made official with The Piano Mill project in 2016. They continue to curate, direct, and perform in Easter at the Piano Mill. Renata and Jan continue to play key creative roles in the event, along with a host of musicians and collaborators whose contributions are documented on the Piano Mill, Lagavulin and Events pages.

Film writer Debra Beattie, sculptor Bruce Reynolds and composer Colin Noble are amongst the first who have had studio residencies on the property. From 2020, we aim to offer a program of collaborations or studio residencies for artists, writers, and composers.


History

Driving into Harrigans Lane for the first time on a misty eastern escarpment in the granite belt between Stanthorpe and Tenterfield, we saw a troubled history unfolding. Different sources claim different tribal boundaries of the area, but the Githabul, Kambuwal, Jukembal, Kamilaroi, Bundjalung, and Keinjan nations are known to have a long-standing history in the area. They hunted there in the warmer months, possums supplying fur and food. Bora rings, camping places, rock markings, and marked trees are evidence of their pre-European existence. During the 1840s, squatters moved from New South Wales to the granite belt and all but wiped out the tribes before anyone thought to learn something about them, or from them. From the 1860s, the area came into the hands of graziers, tin miners, and loggers. Bushrangers also roamed the country, sharing hideouts around those magnificent granite outcrops with the likes of the hairy-nosed wombat. Battles won and lost on this land are familiar frontier stories.

This country has a harsh beauty. Explorer and botanist Allan Cunningham first visited the area in June, 1827. His diary entry states, “Large detached masses of granite of every shape towering above each other, and in many instances standing in almost tottering positions[1]. The eucalypt, banksia, and acacia scrub left from the graziers’, miners’, and loggers’ clearing efforts, and from the regular burning by aboriginal hunters over thousands of years, don’t inspire with pearly bark and silvery leaves. No, these trees are struggling survivors, sending roots into the poor and coarse sandy soil of decomposed granite; barely surviving periods of long drought, flooding rains, fire, and ravaging westerly winds. The common eucalypt features brown, striated bark and many bear precarious limbs amongst a scant crown of foliage. The banksias are gnarled, their delicate brushes pale, and the acacias are spindly. But if they are not a pretty sight, deeper in the scrub there are treasures: gullies and gorges that have escaped the ravages of human hands and nature’s tirades.

The tin mining that attracted hundreds of people to this area in the 1850s also attracted George Wilson (spelt with one ‘L’). And here, the European contribution to our local history commences. Based on an account by the late Jean Harslett (Fellow of the Royal History Society of Queensland at the time), Wilson chose to settle in the area and establish a major general store. He developed a regular service of supplies to mining camps along the “Tenterfield Run” and as far as the “Maryland Run”. This subsequently became the Old New England Highway leading to the North. Much of the road was very rough, especially the creek crossings. One day, Wilson lost control of his wagon at one such crossing, and the wagon and its contents were all “tossed into the drink”.

The story goes that this event gave rise to the area becoming known as Willson’s Downfall. But it doesn’t explain the double ‘L’. The reason has been passed on by a descendent of George Willson.  After George established his business, he decided to marry a Tenterfield lady. He wrote home to England that he planned to marry an Australian girl. The letter took 3 months to get there by sailing ship and it then took 3 months for Wilson to get an unexpected reply. His parents had assumed that an “Australian girl” meant an aboriginal girl and wrote to inform him that he had been “cut off with a shilling” (an old English expression for ‘disinherited’). He was so upset he decided to change his name, and put plans in motion. After some consideration, he decided on the simpler action of changing the spelling to double L. He fathered 10 children who also bore the same spelling.

At the time, the thriving village of Willson’s Downfall had a hotel, “The Coach and Horse”. Indeed, there were hotels about every ten miles along the route, used for fresh horse changes, rest for travellers and a drink for thirsty miners. The area also boasted a school, post office, court house, watchmaker, jeweller, dentist, town common, police station and cemetery. And Willson’s Downfall goal, built in 1876, is claimed to have been Australia’s most secure gaol at the time! A simple, one roomed structure about the size of an outdoor dunny, the goal was in use right up until the 1970s. It now reposes in the Stanthorpe Museum grounds.

While that is the backstory to the locality of Willson’s Downfall, we look to Melvin James Sawtell Harrigan for the Harrigans Lane story. Melvin Harrigan’s stepfather owned a stock and station agent in Tenterfield in the late 1800s. In 1907, Melvin successfully applied for and received his first 1,280 acres of land, 23 miles north of Tenterfield, on the western side of what is now called Harrigans Lane. The property was named after the creek flowing through it, the Bookookoorara[2]. He spent his first night camped on the selection in July 1907; a frosty welcome, with howling dingoes and other nocturnal animals for company. He grazed mainly beef cattle and sheep, but also built a dairy. He experienced his first snow on the property in July 1909, and sighted Halley’s Comet in April 1910. After a very wet year in 1931, with crows and foxes killing his young livestock, he decided to go into tobacco. With his wife Mary and their children, he moved to Mareeba.

And now, just to bring us back to the moment, two pale-headed rosellas, with astonishing breasts of blue, take to the sky at the turn-off into Harrigans Lane from Mt Lindesay Road. Brown dust billows behind, black angus heifers lift their heads in an anomalous green field extending to the west, the Bookookoorara is about to be crossed where the wood ducks nest, and the great mound that is Bald Rock is about to become visible in the west beyond the grazing land.

From the two dusty lanes of Mt Lindesay Road, which services seven National Parks in this tableland country and is a major link between Queensland and the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, we enter Harrigans Lane. We are down to one dusty lane, a shuddering timber plank bridge, and deep ruts. It makes a gradual up hill and down dale climb over 3.23 kilometres to reach just over 1000 metres at the gate. It then continues steeply downwards to cross the Boonoo Boonoo[3] River and disappears into paddocks before it finally emerges again, some 20 kilometres onward, to connect with the Bruxner Highway between Tenterfield and Murwillimbah. The track into the property from the gate brings us to The Burrow. It is the name given by children of previous owners to the old hut that welcomes you at the end of the driveway.

It was a hot day in the middle of a drought when we succumbed to the charms of The Burrow and bought the 450-acre property. To the north and west, eucalyptus saplings, white banksias, and bracken-loaded scrub were left to compete with each other after the big timbers were taken out; and to the east and south were gullied pockets of majestic white and brown gums, tree ferns, stag-horns, delicate native sarsaparilla, as well as splendid fungi and moss. Over its breadth, we found the bird and animal life to go with such a diverse ecology. But it was the spring-fed creek that sold us. Only 30 centimetres wide in parts, this ‘creek’ was running in a drought. You could hear the comforting sound of trickling water and feel the squelch of swamp under foot.

[1] Hunter, J. (2015). Vegetation and Flora of Bald Rock National Park. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.1.2967.4081 
[2] Aboriginal word meaning a long stream
[3] Aboriginal word for poor country for game (pronounced bunna boonoo)


Natural Challenges

Bush Fire
Bush fire is a constant threat with usual dry seasons that are common across Australia. Areas around the main buildings a groomed to reduce fire load. Signs of the last bush fire (2001) can still be seen on the lower bark of some trees but there was no damage to property.

Storms
Storms are common and sometimes severe. Large eucalypt trees are susceptible to being blown over due to the loose granite soils and there relatively large canopies. Significant overland flow in the small creeks and gullies can be spectacular but does not pose any real threat to people or buildings. There has been one Tornado in the past 20 years which traversed the property in a 20m wide band, felling trees and tearing the tops off others; there was no damage to property.

Drought
Although not common, there have been occasional long periods of low rainfall in which some vegetation is lost to the dry conditions.


Infrastructure

Water

  • Water collection and storage is critical for drinking, comfort and amenity as well as for firefighting.

  • The property collects rain water from a number of the buildings and reticulates this to the central buildings.

  • Water storage pumped from a small dam to the highest point of the property may be used in the event of fire

  • There are a number of small dams on the property to support and encourage the variety of wildlife

Power

Harrigans Lane Collective is Off Grid and is served by a small sustainable system comprising

  • 5kw Photovoltaic generation

  • 2kw wind turbine

  • 5 kwh lead acid battery storage

Additional back-up power is provided by a 7kva diesel generator. This power is reticulated to the central buildings