Trent Stewart’s Where is he? scrap art sculpture stands in the middle of Karoonda. (ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)
The crackle of a welder, the bang of a hammer, and the click of snippers in a dry corner of South Australia’s Mallee, is the sound of junk being given a second life, to help drought-affected communities.
Trent Stewart is a farmer and shearer who lives in Jabuk and loves the land.
But when work is sparse, or time is spare, he heads straight for the shed and lets his artistic sparks fly, creating sculptures under the name of Mallee Boy Art.
“I basically just use farm scrap to build whatever the imagination can come up with,” Mr Stewart said.
“Anything from old rusty wire, to old plough shears, nuts and bolts, fence droppers, cogs — you name it — if it’s been used on the farm at some stage it’s more than likely going to end up in a piece of artwork.”
But this year, Mr Stewart’s efforts have been channelled into crafting artwork that reflects and supports areas impacted by drought.
‘Where is he?’
Just under 70 kilometres from his Jabuk home, Mr Stewart’s sculpture, titled Where is he?, sits in the main street of Karoonda after being donated to the local council that has been impacted by drought conditions.
The artist said it was a dedication it to all farmers’ wives who spend long hours running a property and ensuring the safe return home of loved ones each night.
“They were a little bit taken back at first, because when you say you’re going to give them a bit of scrap art, they think it’s just going to be a heap of junk welded together,” Mr Stewart said.
“It’s not until they got it and could see it’s actually a person … and can relate to the person you’ve built, or the story you’re trying to tell.”
In the state’s mid-north, the artist’s creation, Poppa, has been sitting in front of the Robertstown community centre inviting people to learn more about the character.
“You can sit on the chair and have a selfie with him if you’re driving through, and stop and take in some of the town,” Mr Stewart said.
“It’s just to try and get the travelling public to stop, have a break, go into the local shops and just keep the towns going.
“We rely on the little country towns to keep going, so if I can help some way … [to] bring outside money in during drought, well that all helps.”
Women making their mark
Horticulturist, Heidi Setchell, has also tried her hand at scrap art to share stories of rural life.
“Growing up on a farm you’re always making use of everything, repurposing things, and my mother did quite a lot of that,” she said.
“I remember finding an old cupboard just laying outside, perishing, and I said, ‘Can we do it up?’, and that’s how I got started using recycled materials.”
The Loxton resident said it was not until a local junk art competition came along that she was encouraged to step up her efforts, creating a life-size figure out of barbed wire.
“Barbed wire is horrendous to work with, but it’s quite effective once you’ve created something out of it,” Ms Setchell said.
“I had done a lot of fencing in a previous job … I lived up in the [Northern] Territory so all the fences were 100 per cent barbed wire.”
Ms Setchell described repairing the sharp material as “an absolute fright” and said the sculpture, named Barb, was a tribute to all the people who have worked with the metal before.
“You just get your inspiration from experiences like that,” she said.
Roos for Rudd
In Renmark, former tech teacher Dudley Siviour has been drilling and welding sheets of corrugated iron together to build three-dimensional animals that have travelled around the globe.
Dudley Siviour in his Renmark shed, constructing one of his famous kangaroos. (ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)
Fish, sheep and emus are just some of the animals he has brought to life from metal, but it was his kangaroos that have proven to be most popular.
“Kevin Rudd was given two of the smaller kangaroos, with Senator Anne Ruston helping with the sale,” Mr Siviour said.
“I’ve got two kangaroos that the Australian Government gave to East Timor to [Former President] José Ramos-Horta.
“And the town of Orroroo has kangaroos at the entrances of their town.”
Creating global connections from a country shed
Mr Siviour said his artwork connected with people across the world because of its lifelike features.
Scrap metal lines the floor of Heidi Setchell’s shed, ready to be turned into scrap art. (ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)
“I try to make them realistic, I start with the outline of a real animal and then work from there … even the little joeys look cute,” he said.
Back in his Jabuk workshop, Mr Stewart has been continuing to create beauty from junk, sharing stories of dry times and good times with people from all walks of life.
“The older generation can relate to the parts that you use. They’ll say, ‘That’s off an old header or combine’,” he said.
“Younger people are captured by how you’re actually using and recycling stuff.
“This material was previously broken or just junk and now we’re turning it into something quite beautiful.”