10 August 2023

Art on the water: Arthur Boyd's Bundanon is a beautiful experience

| Genevieve Jacobs
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rural landscape with kangaroos

Kangaroos graze at dawn below the Bridge at Bundanon. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

The sun is just beginning to shimmer along the huge bends of the Shoalhaven River. A cormorant ruffles his feathers on the dock and grazing kangaroos are shadowy in the pink dawn light.

This is Bundanon, a gift to the nation from one of Australia’s greatest 20th century painters, Arthur Boyd. Now home to an art gallery and accommodation in addition to the colonial sandstone Georgian homestead, a few lucky people currently stay each month for the Bundanon Experience.

Arriving for lunch on Saturday, you begin at Bundanon Homestead, shaded by towering bunya pines on a rise above the Shoalhaven. Built by the Mackenzie family in 1866, the house is beautifully plain, almost spare in its detail.

Four equal spaces on each floor – a library, dining room and double music room with Steinway piano below, bedrooms above – sit within deep stone walls set with cedar-lined window embrasures. The polished cedar floors were cut from the surrounding South Coast bush and the walls are hung with huge paintings by Arthur, his wife Yvonne, his brothers, parents and children.

The family still stays here often – walls of books, cabinets full of pottery and worn rugs are testament to a place well loved by four generations of Boyds, one of Australia’s great creative dynasties. In Arthur’s studio, paint tubes litter the work table and there’s a slit in the wall, cut to extricate the great painting of eucalyptus forests he made for new Parliament House in Canberra.

sandstone homestead

The original sandstone homestead at Bundanon dates to 1866. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

Boyd landscapes are all around us – Pulpit rock in the mid distance, powdery sand beaches on the river and mist rising through the white trunks of the surrounding bush. A bush walk with an excellent guide takes us through the botany of dry sclerophyll and rainforest and along a riverside path designed by artist Janet Laurence to reflect layers of colonial intervention. Wombats and kangaroos graze, unruffled by the tourists.

Although it’s nearby as the crow flies on the 1000-acre property, the Riversdale homestead originally owned by Arthur and Yvonne, the gallery, and the accommodation are all a 20-minute drive around the river from Bundanon.

Here, the Arthur Boyd Education Centre designed by Glenn Murcutt (and the venue for early morning yoga) rubs shoulders happily with the original timber farmhouse, the Simon Mordant Library and the new gallery recessed deeply into the hill.

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Bundanon Experience guests stay in the dramatic Bridge extension by Kerstin Thompson Architects, cantilevered across a deep natural gully to allow light and air to flow through the spaces and water to run its natural course beneath.

The warm, wood-lined interior opens onto a series of compact but beautifully executed rooms panelled in blackbutt and using colours drawn from Boyd’s palette.

There are large comfortable beds, excellent showers, hanging spaces and windows that can open wide to the elements. The intention is to rely on cross-flow ventilation instead of constant climate controls (although the rooms were pleasantly warm during our stay). At intervals along the Bridge there are open spaces for coffee, comfortable chairs and rugs for late night drinks or early morning reflection.

river view from pavilion

Morning yoga classes at Bundanon. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs

Dinner is three courses from executive chef Doug Innes-Will, whose previous gigs include the six-starred Qualia on Hamilton island and QUAGOMA in Brisbane. While the starting charcuterie plate was perhaps slightly pedestrian, the fish entree, confit duck main with Paris mash and carrot and lavender dessert were well balanced and beautifully presented alongside local wines from Cupitt’s Estate.

After an optional early morning flow yoga class, breakfast and a tour of the current museum show, The Polyphonic Sea, followed. The group show of New Zealand artists was heavy on installation work (why does this now so often include flashing lights?) including an evocative sound piece made at Bundanon echoing the river, birds and passing life.

Maori artist Sarah Hudson, who was a resident artist at Bundanon, created a video piece that referenced digging into the hillside, reflecting on the body and the actions of water on stone and earth. We are made of dust and unto dust we shall return, but in the meantime our spirits can soar like angels.

The Bundanon Experience is currently available on a monthly basis. Click here to book. Individual stays finance two children from local primary schools to participate in day learning programs at the site. The Art Museum, Boyd Collection Display and Ramox Cafe are open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm. Bundanon Homestead is open Saturday and Sunday only.

Genevieve Jacobs paid her own expenses. Reviews are not based on a commercial relationship.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on Riotact.

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