This sign is on a road that traverses the fertile, black-soil plains between Croppa Creek and Pallamallawa, north-east of Moree, in NSW. It reminds us that things taken for granted in other places, such as roads, are daily challenges built into the fabric of rural Australia.
It tells us that this innocuous looking road surface is only temporarily safe.
That, in case you can’t recognise it, this road when wet, is sticky, heavy and slippery: often treacherously so. Getting bogged here, up to the very axles, ask anyone, is a risk not to be anticipated lightly. Black soil dries like concrete. if you do make it through, those tracks gouged into the road surface will be there until the grader comes again.
Whenever that’s likely to be.
Sometimes locals have a second road on the edge of the table-drain that’s used as an alternative: less damage to the road, both now and later.
It’s a warning, but it’s also simply local information on a signpost.
How many non-locals would have no idea, if not for that sign?
I firmly believe that the more we know of any situation, the more informed can be our decisions. Thank you to those who let us know of the local vagaries, especially ones that can put others, and us, in peril.
Can it be more?
I love the idea that this sign feels allegorical. I’d like to think that it is a reminder of how our artistic journey, as practitioners and art-business-people, has moments in it that involve warnings, decisions, and potentially dodgy roads. Perhaps it’s a warning that we should check the weather before we go anywhere new – all the facts about a project, market factors, attitudes, cultural differences, suitability, sustainability.
There are many ways to get from Croppa to Pally.
As well as the most direct route, there are all-weather roads that involve going the long way, via bitumen. Sometimes they involve leaving a car at the front gate and walking in, or out, or cadging a lift across a creek or a broken road.
Once, further west from Moree, it suddenly rained and I needed to get a lift on the back of a quad-bike to get to the workshop I was teaching. The rest of the weekend I stayed in town, not the original plan at all, but the only option.
As artists, we create new things. It’s what we do. We’re constantly going down new roads. This sign is a reminder that even if the road ahead looks dry and passable, it may not always stay that way.
Somewhere, in the back of our mind at least, we need to have a Plan B.
There's always a sign
Even if the warning isn’t in big white letters on a red background, there’s always information available for decision-making.
We can build in systems – allow time, write lists, research.
We can ask others – professionals, friends, advisors.
We can ask ourselves. Don’t underestimate intuition. The more we trust it, the more it will stand us in good stead. Start easy, learn to listen to our feelings of a situation, and identify the differences between stress, fear and excitement.
Life isn't a fair-weather undertaking
Don’t get me wrong, I love getting off the beaten track. We don’t want to spend all our life, and our art practice, staying on the bitumen. Life is MUCH more interesting when we get onto the dirt roads and away from the built-up areas. If we are to make Art that belongs to us, our art needs us to find our own road. That may not be as easy as it looks at first glance.
My Advice to Artists
Build flexibility into your practice. It will help when it rains.
Be determined to get where you want to go. It will help when that particular road becomes impassable.
Learn to read the signs. The signs of warning, but also the signs of excitement and the signs that this is indeed the road you’re meant to be on. It will help you to get where you want to go – come rain, hail or shine – and it will make the process so much easier to navigate.
On that note, I might add that the direct or easy route, when it comes to making art, isn’t necessarily the most effective. As creatives, our lives and artworks are richer for the journey, even if the roads are precarious, ill-used, or not sensible during the wet.
It’s your road, and that matters.
Effective creatives check the weather forecast, and balance it against the state of the road and the imperative of the project. Then, with all the information at hand, they get the job done.
Make their art.
Their own art.
That’s what really counts – no matter which road you take to get there, or how frightening the signs might be.