Despite possessing less gratuitous bloodshed, A Country Practice was to the 1980s what Game of Thrones was to the 2010s. Both television series had memorable weddings, beloved characters killed off and iconic animals threaded into the storylines. Aired twice a week on the Seven Network from 1981 to 1993, A Country Practice regularly had the nation talking about life in the fictional locale of Wandin Valley, a quiet rural town made up of locations in and around Hawkesbury, NSW.
Focusing on the connection A Country Practice has to Hawkesbury and its wider community, Hawkesbury Regional Gallery curators Rebecca Turnbull and Diana Robson have brought together a selection of archived film, scrapbooks, costume props, vintage knitting patterns and original sketches for the exhibition The Wonders of Wandin Valley. To compliment the memorabilia sourced from locals and long-time fans of A Country Practice, artists Liam Benson, Julia Drouhin and Sanne Kok Drouhin, Freya Jobbins, Simon Mee, and Jason Wing have created newly commissioned works which respond to the series and reframe its central themes through a contemporary lens.
Multi-disciplinary artist Liam Benson spent much of his youth in Glenorie, a town close to Hawkesbury and many sets used in A Country Practice.
To create his large-scale photographic work Going Home, 2019, Benson focused on nostalgia and the landscape, exploring bush settings of personal significance and those used in the television series. “I sought out my own nostalgic landscapes and decided to pay homage to the long winding fire trail tracks I used to explore as a teen,” Benson says. “Making Going Home was a way to connect to an under acknowledged core ingredient of A Country Practice: our relationship to the bush and how it is represented in our cultural subconscious, especially now with bushfires sweeping the country.” Depicting great swathes of sheer fabrics billowing through native bushland, Benson likens the rippling fabric to “ghosts travelling through the landscape” and fleeting feelings of nostalgia.
In order to consider how times have changed since A Country Practice was aired, French Australian sound artist Julia Drouhin collaborated with her daughter Sanne Kok Drouhin, to create the animated video A Country Distracts Us, 2019. “We were really interested in the character of Shirley Gilroy and her role as a pyramidologist who meditates beneath a pyramid at night,” Julia explains. Using a combination of stop motion animation, collage and sound, they imagine that Shirley has moved on from her humble beginnings in office administration and is now “the mega power woman” reigning over a female driven, sci-fi landscape full of animalistic shape-shifters and new age vibrations. “It was a very interesting process for us because we are not only immigrants, we are also mother and daughter,” Drouhin says. “We are different generations with different opinions.”
Also including work by Simon Mee, Jason Wing, and a life size sculptural portrait of Wandin Valley’s top lamington baker Esme Watson constructed by Freya Jobbins from flesh coloured doll parts and blocks of Lego, the exhibition reinvigorates the past with its mix of beloved memorabilia and contemporary art. Celebrating an enduring part of Hawkesbury’s communal history, The Wonders of Wandin Valley is a quirky reflection on how a television series can become an important part of our personal psyches and a powerful vehicle for memory.