Olleywood is our favoured destination when we have visitors. We take the winding drive up over the Burringbar Ranges towards Murwillumbah with the views of the Wollumbin Caldera to that wonderful art gallery perched on a rise overlooking the beautiful Tweed River valley.
Last month we went alone – on the 30th anniversary of the Tweed Regional Gallery, home to the Margaret Olley Art Centre.
Margaret Olley was a famous Australian artist, who grew up in Northern Rivers of New South Wales. Born in 1923, she spent her holidays boating on the Tweed River and in the sandhills of Kingscliff, before going to art school in Sydney. She died in July, 2011 in the jumble of her home, the Hat Factory, Paddington, with a paint brush still in her hand. Painting right up to her death often with cigarette in hand, she was renowned for her still life depictions of her surroundings.
Known as a wonderful benefactor in her later life, Margaret’s legacy was to allow parts of her home to be transported to the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah and form the Margaret Olley Art Centre.
The Centre was opened in March 2014, by Quentin Bryce in her last official capacity as Governor General of Australia and we managed to get an invitation to the opening. The GG was a personal friend of Margaret’s, as were the assembled well known Australian artists, mentored by Margaret – Ben Quilty, Nicholas Harding. Local Murwillumbah school children sang the national anthem. There were glitches with the sound system. Dame Quentin beamed on in her buttercup yellow suit. It was a very relaxed affair and later we were transformed by the recreation of Margaret’s home inside the Gallery.
The settlement of Margaret Olley’s estate occurred in 2014 and many of her paintings were exhibited for sale. One weekend we trouped along to the Phillip Bacon Galleries in Brisbane to view the exhibit with my art loving friend – who amazingly bought one of Margaret’s famous still life paintings. She was shocked at how easily she parted with a large sum of money but we encouraged her to invest in something so beautiful and valuable. ‘Margaret’ now hangs in the vaulted dining room of her period terrace and whenever we visit it is like talking to an old friend.
But to return to 30 years ago. In 1988, local retired politician and arts benefactor Doug Anthony and his wife Margot were instrumental in establishing the Tweed River Art Gallery in an old homestead down by the Tweed River under giant Moreton Bay fig trees. A raffle was held at the opening and incredibly we won the raffle – a beautiful water colour by a local artist. We have a photo of Margot Anthony presenting us with the framed painting. The late 1980’s and early 1990’s were a time of disastrous flooding of the whole Tweed river system and the fledgling art gallery was under threat of inundation. So, the current site was established after the Anthonys donated some of their land and managed the construction of an award winning building.
The building was opened in three stages, Margaret Olley opening the second stage herself in 2006. In that year, Margaret spoke at the Byron Writers Festival, at the launch of her biography. She talked about the importance of art galleries as community hubs, centres for creativity especially in regional areas. The Gallery hosts the Border Art Prize, an annual prize for local artists, as well as hosting the touring Archibald prize finalists each year. Many local artists’ work are exhibited and can apply to become an artist in residence. Local creative workshops, choral and musical events are held regularly in the foyer.
On the day we visited for a community picnic to celebrate the 30th anniversary, the grounds were filled with artists’ easels, children on rugs with crayons and paints, families picnicking and local musicians sending their sounds out to the majestic Wollumbin.