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.

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Sustainable tourism takes off in the Northern Rivers with $7m project

There will be new ways to experience the region’s World Heritage-listed rainforests thanks to an exciting new trails project in our national parks.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) will spend $7 million to develop sustainable recreation experiences in the Wollumbin, Mount Jerusalem and Nightcap National Parks and Whian Whian State Conservation area.

The Tweed Byron Hinterland Trails Project will link Mount Jerusalem National Park and Minyon Falls in Nightcap National Park with world class hiking trails and lookouts. There will also be an upgrade to the current visitor facilities at the Minyon Falls day use area.

This is expected it to boost the regional economy by attracting new visitors to local communities and encouraging them to stay longer.

A key part of the project is 4-day walk from near Uki to Minyon Falls, offering bushwalkers the ultimate rainforest experience. Bush camps will be built at two remote locations along the walking track network in both Mount Jerusalem and Nightcap National Parks.

Taking a minimal impact approach, natural elements will determine the route reducing the need for extensive trail construction. Most of the multi-day walking track network will be of a Class 4 standard, which means the hiking tracks are best-suited to self-reliant bushwalkers with basic directional signage provided.

The network will however include higher grade walking tracks where required due to greater levels of foot traffic, such as the Boggy Creek Walk adjacent to the Minyon Falls day-use area.

Increasing demand for Aboriginal tourism experiences from both Australian and international visitors is driving a strong focus on Aboriginal culture and storytelling. Engaging interpretation, including opportunities for local Aboriginal-guided experiences, will be a key focus with the aim of immersing the walker in the natural and cultural landscape creating a strong connection and sense of place.

This project is certainly on trend, with nature-based tourism currently surging worldwide. According to an Ecotourism Australia report, there has been significant growth in the number of international visitors to Australia’s state and national parks and the potential of nature-based tourism is yet to be fully realised.

Globally, immersive experiences in nature are one of the fastest growth areas and Australia needs to continue to focus on tourism products and experiences that appeal to both international and domestic travellers, rather than relying on passive viewing of nature.

The Northern Rivers region is internationally renowned for its World Heritage-listed subtropical rainforests which are home to the highest concentration of marsupial, bird, snake and frog species in Australia. The region also holds large areas of wet and dry sclerophyll forest and pockets of sub-montane heath, which provide habitat for a large number of threatened plant and animal species such as the Albert’s lyrebird and Fleay’s barred frog.  

The $7.35 million project will be delivered in stages with completion expected in 2022. 

You can have your say on the plan with submissions closing on 11 March 2019.