Give me some art a-mung the silos

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By Jen Gourley

THERE’S something new and extremely pleasing to the eye as you enter Biloela from the Burnett Highway. It’s a stunning artwork laid out on a metal canvas of three silos at the Australian Mungbean Company. Vivid blue skies, hazy hills in the distance, fields of mungbeans painted a vibrant green, two iconic cockatoos, and a lovable fox terrier in the centre.

Jonnie and Damien White of the Australian Mungbean Company in Biloela wanted to do more than just ordinary advertising on a billboard or a TV or radio commercial. This beautiful mural is a tribute to the mungbean farming community of which they’ve been a part for many years and a gift to the town as well.

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and this picture tells a story of farmers out in their fields, checking their crops, and the beauty of Biloela and the Callide Valley. It also tells a story of a very loved dog who sadly has only recently gone to that great mungbean field in the sky.

The dog in the mural is based on a cute little dog named Yamaha (Yamie for short) who belonged to Jonnie and Damien’s daughter, but the canine companion on the silo also portrays all the good little farm dogs in the area.

“He’s really there representing all the little offsiders that all our growers have. They all seem to have a little offsider,” Jonnie said. “He’s there representing all little dogs that hang out with their bosses in the paddocks every day.”

Murals don’t magically appear overnight. They require talent, skill, creativity and especially dedication when they are painted on hot summer days when the temperature hovers around the mid-30s. The masterminds responsible for this striking artwork stretched out over three silos are Drapl and The Zookeeper, two artists whose reputations are becoming well known across Australia. Previous murals of theirs include the breathtaking silo art at Thallon, near St George, the beautiful GrainCorp Silos at Sea Lake in Victoria, and the charming mural of a young boy playing with his toy dinosaurs at Hughenden.

Closer to home, The Zookeeper painted that happy kelpie featured on the side of a building in Moura, and other artwork at the caravan park by the Dawson River. And Drapl is responsible for the captivating murals that have brought so much joy to Monto.

Jonnie approached the two artists about six months ago, and even though they were in great demand, it all fell into place when Zookeeper (Joel Fergie) and Drapl (Travis Vinson) discovered they had a week free recently, arriving in Biloela on Sunday, armed with their paintbrushes, spray cans and bucketloads of creativity.

Travis and Joel began collaborating six years ago with their work on the Thallon silos.

“That sort of started our journey of wanting to paint really big,” Travis said. “So, we got our boom tickets and just decided that that’s what we wanted to do. There are not many people who can upscale to that sort of size because it’s a lot of preparation, there’s a lot of tricks of the trade to learn how to do it to that scale, and also to learn how to paint without putting too much detail in it so it can be viewed from a distance and look right. We really try to do a bit of photorealistic work but also more artistic painting style, almost like an oil painting.

“It’s been a really busy few years for us. Murals are really taking off. I do a lot of advertising work and in Brisbane it’s almost gone back to the olden days when signwriters did the advertising, it wasn’t printing. People like to see the hand-painted stuff, letting the artists put their own spin on things.”

The prep work began on the Sunday afternoon and, amazingly, the whole project was completed by the Thursday, but while it was quick, the two artists were still faced with some challenges, including the summer sun.

“Jonnie did warn me about the heat at this time of year but there’s always ways around it with painting,” Travis said on the Wednesday. “We get up at 4.30am, come here and paint until 9am and then it gets a little bit too hot. But we’ve been having breaks from about 9 to 2 or 3pm and then come back and paint until about 9 at night. Because they’re steel silos, with the amount of heat that they absorb, the paint just dries as soon as it touches it. You can’t really move the paint around with a brush and the spray paint just dries instantly so you need it to be in the shade to be able to paint properly.”

However, even the heat has its positives for silo artists.

“It is good that it’s drying and we’re getting lots of layers on there while it’s hot,” Travis said.

The pair did their research for the mural – studying the landscape, visiting local mungbean fields and getting a sense of the place.

“Every town we go to, we immerse ourselves in the town, figure out what makes the town tick and what people like. And then it’s just about making the customer happy and also giving something to the locals and travellers. We’ve actually sort of saved towns that were going bankrupt because there were no visitors and stuff like that. With Thallon, six years ago, it was really amazing to see how many people it brought by painting a silo.”

Before the silos in Bilo had even been finished, they were already listed on the silo art trail and getting attention from the Australian Street Art Awards Facebook page. Drapl and The Zookeeper’s artworks are a big hit with grey nomads, who often pull up for a chat with the artists while they are at work. Travis said he enjoys having a yarn with them, adding with a cheeky grin that taking pictures along the silo art trail is a bit like ‘Pokemon for grey nomads’.

Soon there will be grey nomads and other travellers pulling up in Biloela to take photos of the new silo artworks, and it will be great for the town.

“I’m glad that Jonnie had the vision for it because we’ve driven through Bilo a lot to go to certain areas, we’ve done a lot of work in Middlemount … we went through here three times last year and I always look and see the silos and go, ‘Are they worth painting?’. The big silos that you’ve got in town – they’re nice, they’re in a good spot but they’re not very visible whereas we like to try to do things that are on the road into town. And, also, this is good because you’ve got the park across the road – it’s a safe spot for people to pull over.

“I think the first silos that ever got painted, a caravan drove straight through a fence because the driver was looking up and they didn’t see what was in front of them,” Travis said.

So, while there aren’t any nearby fences to accidentally drive through, the ideal spot to pull over and admire the artwork is at the park area across the road from the Australian Mungbean Company on the Burnett Highway. There you can safely park, hop out of your car and snap away at those blue, blue skies, green, green fields, two gorgeous cockatoos and one beloved dog.

Photos by Jen Gourley

Drapl (Travis Vinson).
Drapl adding the finishing touches to the artwork he collaborated on with The Zookeeper.
There’s a fine art to painting a cockatoo.
The final result.
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