There are only seven painted silos in New South Wales and Portland is home to one of them. Less than half an hour from Lithgow, where we are staying, a drive to see the towering Portland Silo Artwork is high on my agenda.
Portland Cement Works
The Portland Cement works, now called The Foundations, operated from 1902 to 1991 and produced cement used throughout the building of Sydney. The town of Portland sprung up around the cement factory and became known as “the town that built Sydney”.
Portland Silo Artwork
Using a different canvas from other Australian Silo Artworks, in Portland the huge monochrome artwork appears on eight tall cement bins as opposed to grain storage silos.
Painted by artist Guido Van Helten in early 2018, the work features five men and a woman who worked at the cement works.
Inspecting the Detailed Silo Art
I step out of the car and look up in awe at the extraordinary detail. While access to other silo artworks is often restricted, here I walk up to and around the silos. They tower overhead and I wonder at the skill required to create such a massive artwork.
An elderly man, wearing a striped polo shirt, supports himself with a walking stick. Another, head bowed and eyes hidden by the brim of his hat looks down thoughtfully at the ground. I examine the patterning in a leather belt, the wrinkled aged skin of an arm and the fabric folds of the men’s shirts.
In the Bath House, one of the old buildings which make up The Foundations, an exhibition of over 500 dolls owned by Portland resident Kaylin Caddis has just closed. I take my time wandering in and around the deserted buildings in the complex.
A local man explains to another couple how people “just come to see the silos and miss the best part of the town”. He points to the lake behind the silos and mentions the heritage kilns. I’ve read about the kilns and make a note to find them before leaving town.
Portland Pool and Bandstand
Across the road the art deco features of the local ‘Olympic Pool’ draw me in for a closer look. I wander into town, past a large parkland where there’s a new looking Bandstand. Donated by a community group it was opened in 2017 “in Memory of The Old Portland Bandstand”.
Vintage Advertisements by WallNuts
Turning a corner, I’m delighted to discover old advertisements decorating the wall of the local supermarket. Wandering up and down the streets, I find more works brightening up walls and creating a welcoming environment.
Back in 2001, signwriter Ron Bidwell came up with the idea of recreating vintage signs on the town’s walls to attract visitors. He gathered a group of signwriting mates who spent a weekend painting old advertisements from 1895 to 1960 throughout the town.
“Signs of Yesteryear” were born. Besides the advertisements, there’s a tribute to the ANZACs on the wall of the RSL, old movie posters on the cinema lane and a team of horses decorating the ‘Men’s Convenience’.
A couple of local men are tidying up the lawn outside the RSL. They tell me that a group of people regularly return to the town to touch up faded works and create new ones. Calling themselves the WallNuts, they continue the tradition started by Ron Bidwell. There’s even a WallNuts museum, but it’s closed today.
A Country Thickshake
After perusing the old wares in a curiosity shop, I make my way to the corner shop for a thick shake.
The young girl behind the counter may never have made a thick shake before. Her colleague helps her and there’s lots of laughter, and a few false starts. While it takes far too long to get it right, the end result is thick and rich and most enjoyable. I shudder to think how much ice cream went into making it.
Finding the Brick Bottle Kilns
Following the road around the fenced in lake, I keep a look out for the heritage brick bottle kilns. The road passes fields with cows and horses and then turns into a suburban street. We have gone too far.
Retracing our steps, we finally find the kilns. I am underwhelmed. They are easy to miss and hidden by undergrowth. A fence and tall grass and weeds prevent closer inspection.
A Pleasant Day
Returning to Lithgow via Wallerawang and along the shore of Lake Wallace makes a pleasant end to a most enjoyable afternoon.