posted on 21 Sep 20 | by

Chris Johnston has found her 'heart place' in the serene hamlet of Green Gully, Newstead. With decades dedicated to her work as a cultural heritage consultant, she now treasures time to sneak into her light-filled studio to sculpt clay into functional, elegant works of art, (be sure to take a peek for yourself during the annual Newstead Open Studios program).  It was a match made in heaven upon joining the committee of the Newstead Arts Hub, as her love for heritage and art serendipitously converged. The Hub —  a former railway station comprising of the original brick station building, booking office, platform and goods shed — has breathed new life as a vibrant community art space where locals and visitors gravitate for exhibitions, workshops, and events. 

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Tell us about yourself and how you got involved with the Newstead Arts Hub

From watching the great initiatives at the Arts Hub from a distance, I got involved a couple of years ago when the Hub was working through some issues and looking to develop a forward plan. The committee asked me to come and facilitate a couple of very interesting round-table discussions. So, when they called for new committee members in 2018, I put my hand up. I guess I just got hooked! I live in one of the many outliers around Newstead — in Green Gully. I've been here for around 15 years— a refugee from inner city Brunswick where I'd lived and run a cultural heritage consultancy for several decades. I loved the buzz of the inner city, but now I love the quiet and the space. At the time I was looking around for somewhere to live outside Melbourne, and started focusing on places not too far from Bendigo railway line. When I came to Newstead for the first time to look at a house, I just loved the drive through the bush, the historic look of Newstead and being on the edge of the vast volcanic landscapes of western Victoria. And after buying a lovely hand-crafted muddle in Green Gully, I discovered the Muckleford Fault - how good is all that geology for a clay person like me! 

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What can visitors expect to see or experience at the Newstead Arts Hub when you re-open? 

The Arts Hub is a beautiful space, even when it's empty. It is flled with light and has great energy. But with art on the walls, it's just stunning! The COVID-19 shut down has been a sad time: no art and no people inside the Arts Hub. We've almost had the doors open several times, but have had to postpone reopening. Fingers crossed, we'll re-open in December with a retrospective exhibition of scraperboards, watercolours, lithographs and photographs by John S Turner: botanist, educator and artist (1901 - 1991). John was the Professor of botany at Melboure University from 1938 to early 1970s. He was a passionate conservationist, and I knew him briefly when I worked for the National Trust in the early 1980s. I'm really excited about this exhibition — it will be very special. 

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Tell us about your creative practice

I work in clay. I loved it from the first time I did a class in wheel pottery back in the early 70s. But I didn't take it up again for many years: running a business took up all my spare time. I started again around 2000, doing some classes with Jane Sawyer, then going to TAFE and finally to Canberra School of Art as a distant student. I'm really interested in connections to place: sometimes I'm responding to a story or an event and at other times to the shape of a land form. Growing up in Murrumbeena, then living for so long in Brunswick—both places where there were brick factories and potteries nearby—means that I've always had clay beneath my feet and under my fingernails! 

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What is it about Newstead that inspires so many creatives to live and work there? 

That's a hard one! I think like attracts like. Newstead is a small, supportive community that welcomes newcomers and invites people to get involved. And there are so many ways to be creative here: it might be through art, but it might also be through gardening, or food, or community. Look at the Community Garden for example —it's a living art work—and the food created for our community lunches is equally inspiring. In Newstead there always seems to be space for new initiatives. We have an amazing array of community-created events: Newstead Live, Newstead Open Studios, Words in Winter, the Arts Salon biennial exhibition, and more. Of course, a lot have had to be postponed for a year because of COVID but I'm sure they'll be back and better than ever! 

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What else do you recommend for visitors to Newstead?


When visitors come, I love to take them up the fire tower on Mount Tarrangower (Maldon) — to see the landscape from above. And then back through the Muckleford Forest, to look at wildflowers, listen to birds or stop at an old mining site. Perhaps a stop at one of the two wineries at Welshman's Reef. Back in Newstead, it's coffee in town and then a visit out to Antares Iron Art Garden - Roger McKindley's quirky place (pictured) - is always a treat! And I love it during Newstead Live or the Castlemaine State Festival when Newstead buzzes with people, and then it's quiet again the next week. We really have the best of everything here. 


For more information on the Newstead Arts Hub visit their website, follow them on Insta and facebook, and sign up for their newsletter to keep an eye on upcoming exhibitions and workshops.