Nothing prepared us for WA’s incredible tourist attraction that has raised quaint Collie to new heights.
Photographs don’t do justice to the world’s largest mural, of its type, that stretches 8,000m2 across the Collie River.
Looking down on Wellington Dam at this amazing artwork engenders feelings of wanting to tell everyone you know to come and enjoy it. Cameras clicking.
And you can tell them that, if they’ve heard any great things about the Collie artwork, it’s bound to be understated.
Aussie paintsmith Guido van Helten’s creation had its anticipated doubters in the planning stage but, completed, the masterpiece is an artwork they’ve been proud of.
Even the project’s strongest supporters probably didn’t expect the fame and fortune that Guido’s mural is generating.
Completed earlier this year, the epic artwork created days of tourism traffic jams as cars emerged from the rolling hills and rolled into Wellington Dam. Most of them then trooped into town, which is having a mighty makeover with millions of improvement dollars allocated by the State Government.
Now, the tourist dollars are pouring in, including ours at the modern visitor’s centre, with the purchase of a bowl carved from local wood and a tub of distinctive-tasting local honey.
The visitor should make time available to stroll round the town. Collie has an expansive outdoor gallery, showcasing Australian artists with 40 murals on walls around the town. Duck around the buildings and carparks and you’ll be staggered with what murals you will encounter.
For his dam artwork, artist Guido spent months researching the area, considering ideas and talking to locals, including traditional owners of the land on which the mural trail is located, the Wilman people of the Bibbulmun nation.
The mural germ was planted more than a decade ago when, at the dam wall, future Premier Mark McGowan suggested to then local MP, Mick Murray, that it would provide an excellent outdoor mural ‘canvas’. The idea never left Mr Murray and fundraising moves followed.
What Guido has produced against great odds, taking into account the shape of the wall, outside working conditions and needing materials that wouldn’t deteriorate or damage the environment, is a salute to his talents, already applied to overseas murals.
Guido also brought-in the $1.5 million project under budget.
The artwork embraces panels showing migrant dam builders, picnicking Aboriginal children and a family scene with locals used as models.
Seniors may remember as kids walking across the dam wall and, like us, perhaps dropping a stone or a poor ant over the side to see how long it took to hit bottom. (For the record, our research showed ants float to safety on the wind).
There are thoughts of building a walking trail along the dam top. The bottom of the dam is still accessible, behind a wire fence that distracts from the view. The mural looks best from the viewing platform near the carpark on the hill.
Collie’s transformation has established the town as a destination in its own right with a recommended stop for local tucker at the range of eateries, especially the bakery, historic pubs, museum and surrounding country with a developing range of cycle and walking paths.
Coal, once the mainstay of the town and a large part of Western Australia’s economy, need not even be in the equation for the visitor. Attractions abound for families with play areas for kids. Just over two hours drive from Perth, Collie day trippers will be fully occupied for the whole day or more.
There’s no ‘dry argument’ about the region. The Collie River is widely enjoyed. Minningup Pool, the river’s widest point, draws swimmers and canoeists.
Stockton Lake, which can be an intense blue, draws-in locals and visitors for aquatic action and picnics. Lake Kepwari likewise.
The Collie River makes it way through Wellington National Park. Honeymoon Pool provides jarrah, marri and peppermint trees with a rope for the kids to imitate Tarzan and lob into the river.
For a bigger, or louder buzz, Collie has a motorplex with regular events of V8 Supercars and champions’ ride days.
With a long history not to be ignored, a replica coal mine has been created in the visitor centre with a coalfields museum across the road.
While times have changed, Collie salutes its toiling, underground miners and the town’s latest ventures are a mighty step forward in a new direction.
Collie is surging up among Australia’s tourist towns.