Drought, fire and pestilence conspired to make 2020 a harrowing year for East Gippsland residents, but none of that was enough to halt a Wairewa local’s pursuit of happiness.
- Retired GP Elizabeth Blakeman has achieved her lifelong ambition of opening an art gallery
- She has turned a shipping container into a space that celebrates “resourcefulness and the human spirit”
- It has become a place where people can “pop in for a cuppa and a chat” after a harrowing year
The Lemon Hill Gallery is a pleasure project for retired doctor Elizabeth Blakeman, 82, and is the realisation of a lifelong ambition.
After fires swept through her remote farm 12 months ago, Dr Blakeman and her husband, Brian, needed a positive focus to pull themselves out of their 2020 slump.
They were one of 50 families given shipping containers by a donor based in the Philippines.
The containers were mostly used as storage sheds by local farmers, but Dr Blakeman had other plans for her slightly crumpled container.
“It was lovely to get a totally free shed,” she said.
The couple painstakingly disinfected and painted the shipping container, which had previously housed recycled rubbish.
Now it has been fitted out with lights, linoleum, display furnishings, and, most importantly, art.
Giant box of joy
The first exhibition at the Lemon Hill Gallery features the work of Christmas craft artist Merrilyn Flynn, from Toorloo Arm.
“I’m obsessed with Christmas,” Flynn said.
She uses recycled fabrics, wood and tree branches to create Christmas tree forest installations.
Flynn’s 83-year-old mother, Judith, has contributed knitted items to the exhibition, including a woollen Santa.
“I hope that we get to celebrate Christmas — I’m so looking forward to it after the year we’ve had,” Flynn said.
Every Sunday, Wairewa’s little gallery attracts curious friends and visitors who stop by for a cup of tea.
“It’s called the Lemon Hill Gallery because the farm is Lemon Hill, I had lemon cake and a lemon slice to serve with cups of tea,” Dr Blakeman said.
She hoped the gallery would encourage more social interactions for people in the remote farming community.
‘Resourcefulness and spirit’
Dr Blakeman intends to exhibit a collection of wire strainers in June.
“It’s not art exactly — what I’m celebrating is creativity, resourcefulness and the human spirit,” she said.
“So it’s a little bit different from an ordinary art gallery, it’s got a slightly broader scope — you could almost call it a museum.
Opening the gallery has been a triumph for Dr Blakeman, who was confronted by the prospect of her own mortality during the winter months as the fatigue and trauma from her fire experience began to set in.
“You know, the fact is that I’m now 82, who knows how much longer life’s going to go for,” she said.
“Anything that you can do that enriches it and adds meaning and satisfaction and pleasure and friendship, strengthens relationships and fosters new ones, I’m right behind that now.