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Baling Twine As Art - Kyneton Agricultural Show

Deanna Neville, Castlemaine.

What would you expect to see at an Australian Agricultural Show? Cattle with their deep, caring eyes, sheep panting in straw-lined yards and cheeky hens peering at you sideways. What about the piercing screams and clenched-shut eyes of white knuckled kids on the pulsating carnival rides? Do you remember the smell of onions and the sticky texture of fairy floss? Not much has really changed.

I got involved in running a community art project at the Kyneton Agricultural Show in October 2006. It was a ‘Baling Twine as Art’ exhibition, inspired by Jill Redwood’s regular Earth Garden column in which she regularly praises pretty much anything at risk of being unnecessarily discarded on farms - tyres, wire, plastic bottles to name a few, and in the case of issue 113, baling twine. Jill describes baling twine as ‘an infinitely recyclable repair kit’, that can be plaited into an unbreakable horse halter or reins, knotted into little macramé hammocks to store pumpkins or bigger string bags used as hay feeders. Jill says, ‘it keeps me hat down, pants up, me boots on and the gate shut!’

I’m a freelance community development worker and I like exploring the capacity of art as a communication tool, particularly regarding environmental issues and sustainable practices. The adage, ‘reuse, reduce and recycle’ lends itself well to art and sculpture projects, particularly when the dusty and rusty object d’art of the farm scrap heap glisten to the keen eye like diamonds on a beach.

Baling twine began life in Australia as processed hemp, securing hay and straw bales the country wide for decades. The political agenda of hemp production has had its place in the headlines over time and I’m guessing that it was also the trend for plastic and its superior strength and longevity that paved baling twine’s colourful way into our rural landscapes. Nevertheless, my father still has some 20-30 year old bales in his hayshed secured with hemp, some breaking as he hurls them in the direction of my mum’s compost heap with similar heartiness as he did some 30 years ago. And until the oil runs out, we will always have plastic baling twine - blue, yellow, orange, black, white and sexy pink.

Today’s colourful plastic baling twine is pretty tough and quite prolific - very prolific actually. I’ve often come across pieces seemingly thrown onto the side of the road, maybe blow out of the back of a ute or come off a trailer heading to the tip. A good alternative for tying down a tarp, but maybe some folk just don’t have the best knot-tying skills in the world! I admire those who do... There are some pretty nasty things about baling twine too. It really is disastrous if it contaminates a wool clip, devaluing the whole bale and maybe the entire stock. There is also the tragedy of stock being lamed from a tangle of twine in the paddock or wildlife in the bush caught in discarded remnants when on the move. One woman told me of her mother’s discovery that her milking cow had died from ingesting baling twine. She kept the matted, deadly evidence as a crude reminder.

But on a more colourful note, give baling twine a go as art. There were 30 delightful entries in the Kyneton Baling Twine Art competition and the first prize winners were both local Kyneton folk - Elizabeth Darling with ‘Something Fishy’ and Airlie Darby, aged 12, with ‘Swept Away’. Elizabeth sourced her blue, white and yellow baling twine from the bins of local stock agent, Perry’s Produce, and wove it with threads of silver into a wire fish bowl, further decorated with colourfully painted plastic fish - recycled little soy sauce bottles well known to Japanese foodies. Airlie cleverly combined her school metalwork skills with intricate twisting of twine to create a decorative and functional brush and shovel set. The second and third Adult places went to Donna Mullen from Long Gully with ‘Protest Against Meaningless’ and ‘Pods’ and Junior places to Samuel Jones, 9 of Kyneton with ‘Spring Chickens’ and Ryan,10 & Tadyg, 11 of Maldon with a shared entry, a hat called ‘The Pied Piper’. The judge, Maxine McKee, said of the efforts of all the entrants that they were innovative, creative and resourceful. The collection included beautiful fashion outfits, quirky headwear, woven chair insets, macramé, knitting, crocheting, traditional basket weaving and painting. There was an African mask, a mat, chickens, ponies, a giraffe, dolls, little baskets, a wig, a dress, an entire outfit, a vase, wreath, chimes, collages, photographs, wall hangings, a shawl, a goose, a hat, chairs and three pods. Many of the pieces were made from 100 percent baling twine, which means really getting rid of this abundance in a fun and functional way as well as reducing its impact on the environment. It also brought people together to be creative, so I’m told, and many of the works lent their great ideas to the curious and ambitious who are never in short supply of these remnants.

So yes, apart from this and the newfound market of wine, olive oil, lavender products and the like in the agricultural landscape, nothing much has changed at the Show. The little ones still squeal with delight clutching baby lambs or patting calves, dusty farmers exchange wise murmurings from near the pens of prize ewes and extraordinary kitchen cooks still proudly show their fayre - the traditional fruit cakes, lemon butter and scones.

It’s still the same. It’s still worth a look. It’s still a unique, great Australian venture steeped with 150 years of agricultural tradition, still in the country but near enough to the city. It’s still a great day out, the Kyneton Show.

website: www.macedon-ranges.vic.gov.au

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