Once Upon a Shire – building a book for a community – Part 1.

In November 2014, when a group of ink and paper artists got together to plan a comprehensive community project about the Golden Plains Shire, there were unexpected and delightful results.  The ideas flowed, as we considered how the diversity of the shires history would be reflected in our work.  Everyone agreed that writing and drawing by hand is vital to capture our community today and preserve our reflections and impressions for future generations to appreciate – by our hands, for your hands. By the end of our initial meeting, facilitated wonderfully by Shannon Fielder of the Golden Plains Shire Council, we were all pumped – inspired by the collective purpose and vision, with a spirit of collaboration so strong right from the start.

There really is nothing like seeing and feeling the completed book yourself. It is housed in the Bannockburn Library, in the heart of the shire, in a purpose-built reserve collection cabinet. If you are not able to get there, then the next best thing is to see our digitized copy, here.

The shire is on Wathaurong (‘Wadawurrung‘) country, a part of the indigenous Kulin nation. Bunjil the wedgetail eagle is an important symbol of this heritage, so the group was keen to incorporate that imagery into the piece. Andrew captured Bunjil’s magestic presence beautifully, and the words of Uncle Bryon and Deanne’s contemporary textural artwork brought home the ancient significance of the country we live on.  

extract from the artwork of Andrew Plant.
extract from the artwork of Deanne Gilson.

Local Wallaby and Kangaroo grasses that wave across our plains were made by Ros into paper; a tactile and substantial reminder of our interdependence with a healthy natural environment.  The lighter colour endpapers are Kangaroo grass; the darker pages used to introduce each artist is Wallaby grass. It really needs to be touched to be appreciated. The leather used on the binding is also kangaroo – a deliberate choice by the group to extend this theme.

extract from the hand papers of Ros Lawson.

The contribution of European settlers, from the 1850s also influenced our project, with the style, colours and marbled paper of the final book following principals at home in that era. Images of contemporary rural life in the shire were the focus of Anne’s prints, and a modern child’s take on Bannockburn history from Matt the author added to the richness of our final piece.  This was a big project – a real joy to be part of.

extract from the prints of Anne Langdon.
extract from the writing of Matt Porter.

For me, as a bookbinder, it was a wonderfully textured learning experience, and a tremendous honour to be trusted with all their beautiful work.  It was quite funny at the launch – I remarked to Andrew that I was completely blown away – almost to distraction – by the pages to be bound.  The responsibility to present and protect the artwork was acutely present, and each piece felt so precious and precarious until I got the book formed, and then it was all familiar territory . Andrew laughed, saying that he had a similar feeling about the completed book, “When the artwork was mine, at home, it was strewn about the floor and mixed up with materials, but now that it is in a book, it has become so precious that I’m not sure how to touch it. Amazing.”

What is certain, is that it now belongs to the people of the Golden Plains. We hope it will get folks talking and swapping local stories as they look at each page, the way it did for the people who were at the launch.  With each turning of the page, the stories and impressions flowed.


Thanks go to these folks for a very enjoyable collaboration:

Ros Lawson, the papermaker
Andrew Plant, the illustrator
Matt Porter, the author
Anne Langdon, the printmaker
Deanne Gilson, the painter
Barry Wemyss, the book artist
Jamal Twycross-Smith, the film-maker
Uncle Bryon Powell, the storyteller 

..and to Regional Arts Victoria, and the Golden Plains Shire Council, for their support and faith.

Stay tuned for part 2, to hear about the workshops and community engagement that went into making this book such an expression of our land and people.

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