Coles’ St James link

By Alana Christensen

A towering mural of local icon George Coles will soon welcome visitors to St James, with the town now joining northern Victoria’s growing silo art trail.

The idea to paint the GrainCorp silo has been in the works since November 2017, with St James Silo Art Committee secretary Kathy Beattie saying the town is thrilled to have finally started work on the ‘‘missing link’’ to the trail.

The addition of silo art in the small town of about 90 people creates a trail between Tungamah, St James, Devenish and Goorambat, with each artwork just a few minutes’ drive from the next.

‘‘It will be very convenient for those visiting tourist towns like Yarrawonga and Benalla to send people down and visit the trail,’’ Mrs Beattie said.

All four of St James’ GrainCorp silos are set to be painted, with Mrs Beattie remaining tight-lipped on just exactly what will be featured on the remaining three silos.

‘‘That’s something we’re looking forward to, the anticipation ... there’ll be a new surprise every couple of weeks,’’ she said.

‘‘I can tell you it will pay homage to the farming history of the town.’’

The silo bunkers at St James were built in 1943, with bushels of wheat originally delivered to the site via horse and cart, as will be depicted in the artworks under way.

Benalla artist Tim Bowtell has already started work on the first piece, a sepia-toned portrait of Coles founder George Coles and the iconic shopfront of his first store which opened in the small town in 1910.

A fixture at his home town’s Wall to Wall Festival, Mr Bowtell said his projects had slowly been increasing in size, but it was the first time he’d tackled anything the size of the St James silo.

‘‘I’ve been really inspired by the large silo art and hoped quietly that an opportunity to paint a silo would come my way,’’ he said.

‘‘Having painted murals in the Benalla street art festivals and seeing how it has transformed that community, I hope the community of St James reap the benefits of its addition to the silo art trail.

‘‘This is by far the largest mural I have tackled to date, it’s been a great challenge with months of planning. To be honest I’ve had a few anxious moments but I wanted to prove to myself that I can achieve this. Now that I’ve started I’m finding the whole experience energising.’’

Mrs Beattie said selecting Mr Bowtell was a simple task, with the committee composed of locals Jim Kelly, Doug James, Steve Murphy and Greg Holmes keen to see a local artist paint the silo.

‘‘We saw Tim’s work and we met with him and we were confident he could do the job,’’ she said.

Mrs Beattie dubbed selecting the artwork a ‘‘truly democratic’’ process.

‘‘We had three public meetings about what should go on the silo, we ended up with about 10 choices and in the next two meetings we voted. Coles got number one,’’ she said.

‘‘The Coles family have a long and close relationship with St James — the Coles children attended our local school and GJ Coles purchased the St James shop from his father, taking the first step on his successful business career.

‘‘GJ Coles never forgot where he came from, and although he has passed away, the Coles company has carried on the legacy in our local area, supporting many projects.’’

Coles donated $20000 towards the GrainCorp silo art project, with the town of St James undertaking fundraising for the rest of the funds.

Moira Shire Council has supported the community project with expertise and logistical support.

GrainCorp community manager Luke O’Donnell said it was exciting to see another piece of silo art created.

‘‘Each artwork is unique and reflects the people and landscapes of the community. Many of our people work in these regions and they are incredibly proud of the new way we are using our silos,’’ he said.

‘‘It has been fantastic to work with the St James Silo Art Committee and Moira Shire Council who have worked hard to bring this project to life.’’

With a viewing platform to be built in the coming weeks, ultimately there’s hopes the artwork will bring more people through the town.

Nearby Devenish has registered hundreds of visitors a week since painting its silo last April, with Mrs Beattie hoping St James will receive the same support.

‘‘I hope a lot more people come through,’’ she said.

‘‘Hopefully the local pub does well out of it too.’’

Once the artwork is complete in mid-April, a total of five silo art pieces will have been painted in northern Victoria in just over a year, with a sixth to be painted in Colbinabbin in the coming months.