Hang out in the hinterland during this weekend's Mud Trail

Suvira explains heat work during the firing process

We visited well-known ceramicist and sculptor Suvira McDonald who was gearing up for this weekend’s North Coast Mud Trail

Suvira’s studio in Goonengerry is set on a steep hill surrounded by rainforest. You wind down stairs to the circular, wooden studio which has big windows looking onto the sunny garden.

Suvira expects more than 400 art lovers through his doors during this weekend’s North Coast Mud Trail.

One of the many beautiful nooks in Suvira's studio

As one of the founding members of the Mud Trail in 2012, he’s thrilled the annual event has brought so much to the region. 

“When the Australian Ceramics Association said they wanted to do an open studio day across Australia, there were nine of us local potters who took part. We decided to promote ourselves collectively and it was an instant hit.

This year, more than 20 ceramic artists and sculptors are opening their studio doors for the Mud Trail which has you winding through the stunning scenery of the Byron hinterland.

“The increasing popularity of the Mud Trail really mirrors the huge surge in demand for the handmade.

“A few years ago, restaurants got sick of anonymous white plates. Now there is a strong dialogue between the potter and the chef in terms of how they want to present their food. It’s a similar story in the home, people are now much more likely now to have a handmade teapot or serving platter.

Suvira’s ceramics practice has a focus on domestic dinnerware as well as landscape interpretations and sculpture formed in low relief and free standing modalities.

The rough textures and earthy colours of Suvira's work

“Sculpture in low relief implies it’s a wall mounted concept, when it’s quite flattened whereas high relief is where there are protruding forms from the wall. However, as a sculpture it’s not like a painting, it has texture and undulation and the images protrude from the surface.

These pieces are reminiscent of an aerial view of the Australian landscape with its rugged shapes and earthy colours. Suvira begins work on a flat surface and then builds up the image before firing it in the kiln.

It is apparent Suvira enjoys the technical aspects of ceramics and the intricacies of construction, having been a teacher of ceramics and sculpture for 20 years at Southern Cross University. More recently, he has finished a long project involving the construction of a traditional anagama, Japanese-style wood fire kiln.

“Anagama in Japanese means excavated kiln. Traditionally the side of a hill was excavated and the kiln was built inside the hill and the earth was covered back over. When kilns heat up they expand and then when they cool they settle so unless the whole thing is compressed and held it will expand to a point of collapse.

“We’ve taken that kiln design and appropriated it in the West and have found other ways to contain the expansion with buttressing or metal frames," Suvira said. 

Suvira starts placing the pieces for firing at the back of the anagama and keeps placing items in until full. He will then light the wood fire and seal it up. To gauge the progress, Suvira uses little pyrometric cones  which measure ‘heat work’ - melting at a specific point and providing a more valuable indicator than a simple temperature reading.

Inside the Anagama - the brick walls on the inside are glazed from when the ash from the wood fire rises and melts on the wall  

Some of the results from this kiln were exhibited at ‘Smoke on the Water’ National Woodfire Conference 2017. His exhibition Vestigial Vessels was a solo showing of wood fired works at Makers Gallery Brisbane in 2018. Suvira also recently showcased his work at ‘Silhouette, the Body of Nature’ at Rochfort Gallery, North Sydney

Visit Studio Suvira this weekend at 3/300 Mafeking Rd, Goonengerry.

Mud Trail map.

Got a story for the Hinterland Post? Let us know.


Lay off the glyphosate mate!

Pictured: Blair Beatie from 96 Bangalow

Why regenerative land management is key to healthy food and farmers

Just last month, Australia’s first glyphosate court case was confirmed. Michael Ogalirolo, a landscape gardener for 20 years, contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma. They argue his constant exposure to the glyphosate-based weed killer, Roundup, caused his disease.

The Origilolo lawsuit comes on the back of recent judgements in the United States where there have been three successful lawsuits against Monsanto/ Bayer for Roundup's role in causing cancer.

So why are cancer-causing chemicals still being used in food production?  

We talked to Blair Beattie from 96 Bangalow about regenerative land management and how it could help in removing chemicals from our food and water systems. 

“The challenge for farmers is generational, big corporations such as Monsanto have done a fantastic job at spellbinding people,” Blair said.

“We are already starting to see the effects of glyphosate and the issue is going to get more serious as the years go on because it’s in our food and all of our systems. It’s water soluble so it travels everywhere. We need to find better farming practices.

“I’m a huge glyphosate hater and it will never touch this property again. You don’t need it.

96 Bangalow is a small farm on 86 acres just outside of Bangalow and they want to become a best-practice example of regenerative living.

“An example of the difference between sustainable and regenerative would be if I asked a mate, ‘How’s your relationship?’ and they reply, ‘It’s sustainable’, you’d think it was a bit sad.

“Regenerative land management surpasses sustainable. It’s about giving more back, adding biodiversity, adding to the soil which ultimately adds to people’s lives rather than making them sick.

They started 18 months ago with food, healthy proteins and healthy vegetables, revitalising the land, soil amendments, creating high biology in their growing systems and regenerating the land at the same time.

“We’ve planted more than 1200 trees and we’ve got a riparian zone around the permanent creek that runs through it which is predominantly camphor and privit but we’re changing that.

The 96 Bangalow market garden is positioned a little different than most. The produce goes to restaurants such as Harvest and One Green Acre as well as health food stores. Most of what you’ll find is niche or unique products that have different flavour or nutrient profiles.

“The Okinawa spinach is one of our favourites which is a perennial you can use fresh or cooked. It’s high in antioxidants so it offers a little more nutrient bang for your buck.

"We also have succulents which is an emerging market for restaurants. Things like karkalla and sea purslane, sun rose and a few other varieties. We have salt bush is mixed in with warrigal greens as well as well as bower spinach, which is a native and you don’t see that often. 

On site there’s an innovation lab where well-known forager and food researcher, Peter Hardwick works with foraged and bush foods. Peter has more than 40 years of experience and also does the foraged food for Harvest.

“It’s kind of like ancient futures. A lot of the growing systems, especially syntropics, is based on how things have been growing for thousands of years and still are in Africa and Brazil today because they work.

"They’re symbiotic systems, where plantings help each other and feed each other, opening up different minerals and nutrients to other plants and the main thing is they’re high in biology and diversity of biology which means these wonderful funguses are making relationships with plants, offering nutrients, gaining sugars and carbon from them.

"Building those relationships under the ground is the basis for healthy and nutrient dense foods.

“Hopefully these court cases in Australia and the US will prompt a serious industry-wide assessment of the use of harmful chemicals in farming. Each day we’re proving that it’s easier to work with the land than work against it,” Blair said.


Got a story for the Hinterland post? Contact us.