Finding Jesse of Newnes – an industrial ghost town on unceded Wiradjuri and Dharug lands: an exhibition by Linda Adair.

Finding Jesse of Newnes – an industrial ghost town on unceded Wiradjuri and Dharug lands by Linda Adair. An exhibition at the  Darlington Installation Project (DIP), in association with intelligent animal, from 19 September 2022 to 16 October 2022.

 Poems from Finding Jesse of Newnes

Aunty Jesse was a favourite aunt and one of the great influences in my early childhood. Researching our family history, I had found that she was born in Newnes a century ago and, pre-Covid, I visited the museum at the Newnes Hotel and crossed the fjord to walk along the industrial relics side of the Wolgan River to understand what her experiences were like. In the tiny museum I found evidence that her grandparents and parents lived there in the early, optimistic days and after the First World War.

I decided I wanted to know more about what life would have been like for Jessie of Newnes so applied for an artist residency at BigCi, Bilpin on Dharug land. I knew the BigCi library had information about the Wollemi, and in particular the Wolgan Valley and the town that began as Wolgan but was renamed to honour the capitalist Sir George Newnes who spent a fortune building the shale mining complex.

Most of the canvases in the exhibition were painted in April-May this year as an adjunct to writing a series of poems, of which Wander on paper grounds appears below.

By painting scenes from photographs  — either those I had taken at Newnes or from historic photos in guidebooks of the Wolgan as well as shots I took on a group field trip to the Capertee, I encountered the topography that would have surrounded my aunt as a child. And it was a topography of the pagodas that fascinated me. Painting and writing interplayed to help me answer heartfelt questions and consider from a child’s point of view what life would have been like in the sad failed town that was the bedrock of the character of a generous and sophisticated woman I knew. Jesse lived on Gadigal lands as a young woman so it is an honour to have her story appear here.

 Poems from Finding Jesse of Newnes

Sales enquiries for the images below can be made via email: ia acknowledges the custodians of the Gadigal lands and their elders past, present and emerging. ARTIST SUPPORT 20% of any sales will support Koori Kitchen Lismore via Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, Redfern.  

Download the exhibition catalogue here: LINDA ADAIR-FINDING JESSE OF NEWNES_DIP exhibition catalogue_.190922-161022


1. PORTRAIT OF JESSIE, MY AUNTY Acrylic, gouache and ink on canvas 400mm x 400 mm. Not for sale. My dear aunty was born in the failed shale mining town of Newnes one hundred years ago. This portrait is based on how she looked in 1972. She was a wonderfully generous soul who indulged children and it was only decades later I learned she had lost her mother as an infant and under the policies of assimilation and The Stolen Generations, carefully concealed her First Nations heritage.
2. STILLNESS AND RESPECT. Acrylic, gouache and ink on canvas 450 x 600 mm $700 Based on a tiny, curled eucalyptus leaf I found on a singular basalt and sandstone rock halfway up the steep talus (rubble slope) at Airly  because there was something special about this tiny signal to pause. I spent some hours there alone, enjoying the views, sounds and identifying species, as well as writing and picnicking and feeling the spirit of the bush.


3. BEAUTY TAKEN FOR GRANTED Acrylic and gouache on canvas 450 x 600 mm $600 Inspired by a view of the pagodas near Airly, another failed shale mining town in the Wollemi. From my seat on the rock beside the curled leaf in image 2, I took photos and sketched as I heard groups of avid bush walkers going further upslope to “conquer” the challenging terrain and the scramble over the pagodas of the Gardens of Stone.


4. PAGODAS FROM THE TALUS SLOPE Acrylic and ink on canvas 410 mm x 410 mm $500 This is a closer view of the pagoda structure which formed as iron indurated layers formed between older sandstone layers. Once the Great Dividing Range was formed by uplift what had been submerged was exposed to the elements. As water and wind erode the sandstone, the iron rich and tougher shells remain longer, giving the rounded profiles emphasised here. Over time the iron shells will break and become more fragmented as they appear in the garden.


5. THE GUARDIAN TREE. Acrylic, gouache and ink on canvas. Not for Sale.
This huge hollowed-out tree stood at the edge of a densely treed slope that felt like a very sacred place. Taken by its majesty, I had walked towards the ancient tree and felt a palpable energy urging me not proceed past it. My focus has been the outer bark and shape of this beautiful tree. I intentionally omitted any details of the hollow out of respect to the Traditional custodians of this country. 


Acrylic and gouache on canvas. 400 x 500 mm $650 This house was typical of miners huts in the early 1900s. I wanted to emphasise the presence of the towering cliffs and the looming bush which would have made glimpses of blue sky difficult in the smoke filled valley..
THREE SCENES OF NEWNES IN THE 1920s: Acrylic, gouache, pastel and ink on canvas. Each panel measures 510 mm x 250 mm. $600 for the three images.


10- 12. VERTICAL TRIPTYCH OF NEWNES/WOLGAN RELICS: Acrylic, gouache and ink on canvas. Each panel measures 250 mm x 500 mm. $900 for the triptych.

The local Aboriginal people referred to the meeting place of the rivers as Wolga, as well as the endemic vine that grew there before European hooved animals were brought into the valley to graze. This vine gave the Wolgan Valley its name.
Despite huge sums of money spent by the British publishing magnate Sir George Newnes to build infrastructure including 64 Scottish retorts, the exploitative industry failed at Newnes within five short years. The world had moved on from shale oil, much like the world is moving on from coal today. Repeated efforts to extract shale and refine it failed. It was a product no one wanted but the message did not reach the investors until it was too late.
Today, tree ferns grow around the Glow Worm Tunnel, the old railway route that was built to take shale oil to Newnes Junction and beyond that, Sydney.


13. WOLGAN VALLEY GAP. Acrylic, gouache and ink on canvas. 400 x 500 mm. $375 Less than a decade after the brutal Bathurst Wars, colonists had established their herds in the valley floor. The impact of land clearing is glossed over in the white histories of the area. The work is based on historic black and white photos. 


14. WOLGAN VALLEY IN GOLDEN LIGHT. Gouache and acrylic on canvas. 600mm x 300 mm. $375
This pastoral scene is bathed in golden light because the lands to the west of the Blue Mountains were effectively treasure where pioneers made fortunes running their livestock at the expense of the native bush and the Traditional Owners. Grazing sheep and cattle was what ensured the survival of the Empire’s colony at a vulnerable time. Note the autumnal European tree inside the cattle fence and the receding wilderness outside. It is an often repeated emblem along the boundaries of the Wollemi wilderness. 


15.NEWNES SCHOOL HOUSE — JESSE ATTENDED AS A YOUNG GIRL. Acrylic on canvas. 510 mm x 400 mm. $500.
Jesse was one of the luckier students as this building with fireplaces to warm the rooms. This permanent building was built well after peak enrolments had dwindled . It was only used for a handful of years and was then moved to another town. Only the fireplace remains today. Prior to this new schoolhouse the children of hundreds of shale miners had suffered freezing cold winters in tents and an iron shed.
 Poems from Finding Jesse of Newnes


Linda Adair is a (re)emerging artist (having stopped art making as work life and family took up her time) and is a poet, writer and a publisher of Rochford Press, and co-editor of the online Rochford Street Review. She spent most of her early years living unwittingly on Darug Land and now works and lives on Darug and Gundungarra lands in the Blue Mountains. Her extended family comprises First Nations people and she pays her respect to the Traditional custodians of the land and Elders past present and emerging on whose land these images were made and where they are shown.

Adair’s artwork has been shown in Sewn Up and Sewn Up 2 in 2020, and at BigCi Open Day on 15 May 2022. This is her first solo exhibition.

Her debut poetry collection The Unintended Consequences of the Shattering was published in 2020 by Melbourne Poets Union and her work has been the anthologised in the following collections: To End All Wars, Messages from The Embers, Poetry for the Planet, Pure Slush Volume 25 and the Volume on Work. She has been published in various online and print journals, both in Australia and internationally. She has read her poems at festivals, conferences and venues around the country and has been a featured poet in Cuplet, Newcastle, Live Poets at Don Banks, and will be reading in Poetry at the Pub in Newcastle in late October.




Comments are closed.