Concrete silos built during the expansion of the wheat industry after the First World War with the change to bulk handling are dotted across the wheat belt rising sharply from the flat plains, an accepted feature of the bush.
Increasingly, they are becoming well known for the recognisable images promoting the villages in which they are situated drawing interest from passing visitors.
Adjacent to a rail siding, they have the been the delivery for generations of wheat growers, but as the industry embraced larger yields, the need to upgrade the infrastructure meant the concrete silos are redundant for their original purpose.
However, they are still suitable for storing grain grown by local farmers: and when Weethalle district farmer Paul Northey became aware the silos would be sold by GrainCorp he made an offer to purchase the site in November 2016.
“We bought the silos to store our grain,” Mr Northey said.
“A lot of our grain was stored in silo bags, and when these silos became available it made sense to buy them.”
Mr Northey, a director of Baronlonga Pastoral Company, explained he wanted to store enough grain to get his sheep flock through dry times, and the purchase of the silos was a rational economic decision.
“It also gives us the option of selling grain, and we have sold barley,” he said.
“But the opportunity to store grain for our stock was the main reason.”
The silos now feature classical images of a shearer making the first blows into taking a fleece from a Merino sheep, and a farmer standing in a paddock of wheat and assessing the quality of the growing grain.
The idea of painting the silos at Weethalle came from an original approach from the local shire.
“This is a brain-child of the Bland Shire,” Mr Northey said.
“They originally approached GrainCorp when they owned the silos but it was only when the silos became privately owned the shire approached us and we jumped at the opportunity.”
A committee of ten was formed including Weethalle district residents and shire Councillors who worked together and formed the concept of a suitable image to promote Weethalle and the farming district.
“The committee decided sheep and wheat were the backbone industries of the area and we wanted to have suitable images,” Mr Northey said.
“They don’t represent anyone, but are generic images.
“All of these bush communities are bigger than just one or two people and the idea of the shearer and the sheep represents our sheep industry and the grain industry is the other important enterprise on our farms.”
Such are those quintessential images, Mr Northey said they could represent any small town across southern Australia, not just Weethalle and harking back to a time when the wool and wheat industries created great prosperity in the bush.
“We had the idea, and the Bland Shire advertised for expressions of interest across Australia from artists,” he said.
All of these bush communities are bigger than just one or two people and the idea of the shearer and the sheep represents our sheep industry and the grain industry is the other important enterprise on our farms
The expressions of interest were shortlisted to three artists and when each came and looked at the silos, Mr Northey said Heesco Khosnaran came up with basis of the finished image.
“Heesco was born in Mongolia and I don’t know if he had been to art school, but he has a natural talent,” Mr Northey said.
“It took him a fortnight to paint the silos … he didn’t put a grid on the silos, just a few squiggly lines to outline the shearer and then just filled it all in.”
Mr Northey is impressed by the finished product, and amazed by the ability of the artist who had no previous connection with sheep or wheat.
“It doesn’t look anything at all up close, but when you stand back everything is in perspective,” he said.
“For a bloke who had never seen a Merino sheep before, it looks like a Merino sheep!”
Mr Northey said the numbers of people who are now interrupting their journey along the Newell Highway is unbelievable.
“Sometimes there could be 20 people here looking at the silo,” he said.
The Weethalle Silo Art Project was supported by Country Arts Support Program, Jemalong Wool, Quade Moncrieff Livestock and Property, Haymes Paint and Dunk Insurance.
It was officially opened by Bland Shire Mayor, Tony Lord on 1 July 2017.