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Desert Life, the art of Central Australia, review of new exhibition

SarahTreeWalking into Desert Life, an exhibition by Sarah Brown which opened yesterday at the M16Artspace in Canberra is like being transported to Alice Springs. Except perhaps that the carefully-controlled temperature in the gallery is more moderate.

It is a strange language that is often used to describe the Red Centre. People talk of the dead heart of Australia.  Of arid wasteland. Of a vast nothingness. As anyone who has lived there will attest, and as Sarah’s work shows, nothing is further from the truth. Her paintings portray not only the unique colours and shapes and space of Central Australia, although that alone is an extraordinary feat. But also the rich abundance of life there is, if only we choose to see it.

To look at her paintings is to feel the sting of the spinifex spike if spinafexyou accidentally brush bare skin against it, to see the history of the earth in the walls of the MacDonnell Ranges. It is to need your sunglasses to look at the startling whiteness of the towering ghost gums against the bluest of blue skies. It is definitely not empty. Or dead. It is mysterious and magical and unique. And Sarah’s paintings convey that truth.

I first met Sarah when I went to interview her for a newspaper feature article.  We met at her home which is as charming, colourful and unorthodox as she is. Quite apart from the very large dog which spent most of the interview on my lap, it has a labyrinth-like layout including a secret cellar. Scattered almost carelessly around the home were beautiful paintings of land that was a mirror of the country I had walked through that

Uluru and Kata Tjuta, ancient treasures of Central Australia

IT’S not yet 6am and we are all quiet in that way you are before you are properly awake. When we get out of the small coach we can just make out the angular shapes of the young desert oak trees in theUluru
inky darkness. As we walk up the narrow sandy track through the dunes someone makes a joke about how he hopes the snakes get an earlier start than humans and have already slithered off into the spinifex. An elderly English couple look slightly dubiously at the undergrowth.

Finally we arrive at the viewing platform and scan the pre-dawn sky. All around, people are gathering, setting up their cameras. There is an air of expectation. As the sky lightens, the vast iconic shape of Uluru emerges in the distance, suddenly dazzling as the rising
sun seems to transform the rock into something alive. In the photodistance, to our left, Uluru’s bigger sister, Kata Tjuta is also waking, seamlessly transformed as the sunrise hits from iron grey, to dark purple to vibrant ochre.  Watching the sun rise over Uluru is more than just an event to be ticked off the “bucket list” but is something that becomes imprinted on memory.

Most of the visitors sharing the experience are staying at the Ayers Rock Resort. It is like a small village that has separate living centres such as the top-of-the-market Sails in the Desert through


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