Art shows the way to caring fields

Friends across the divide: a woolgrower and an animal activist


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Chick Olsson's shearing sheds painting that celebrates wool, and the contribution of sheep to Australia. Photos: Col Bettles

Chick Olsson's shearing sheds painting that celebrates wool, and the contribution of sheep to Australia. Photos: Col Bettles

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Mulesing crisis in wool industry created unlikely friendship

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From the outside you'd probably think this was the most unlikely of friendships to ever occur in Australian agriculture.

One person is a high-flying executive with interest in animal nutrition supplements, he has another company making groundbreaking anaesthetics for mulesing of sheep (Tri-Solfen), runs a woolgrowing enterprise near Goulburn and is regularly trooping the world looking for new business opportunities - oh and he's a director and a former chairman of the Australian Wool Growers Association - and he paints.

The other person is a member of the Upper House of NSW parliament who is an accomplished singer and puts his own personal wellbeing on the line to fight for the rights of animals. He once declared that it would be better to phase out animal agriculture in Australia rather than try and pursue such failed land management programs as getting rid of feral cats.

But across this great intellectual and political divide the two men, woolgrower Chick Olsson and Animal Justice Party's Mark Pearson, have become great mates.

Woolgrower Chick Olsson at the opening of the art exhibition at NSW Parliament.

Woolgrower Chick Olsson at the opening of the art exhibition at NSW Parliament.

The fruits of their friendship was there for all to see in NSW Parliament last month when Olsson was one of four artists to be part of an exhibition in the foyer of NSW Parliament, an event Pearson helped organise.

It was Olsson's fourth exhibition. He learnt his craft from his mother, and now he paints with his artist wife Michelle, art is an important part of their life together. Olsson dips his lid to his wife whom he says is a far better painter and sells more than he does.

Olsson is not just inspired by the rural scenes he often sees, including the plethora of shearing shed architecture we have, but also Australia's rich art heritage, from Blackman to Whiteley to many contemporary artists.

"Growing wool is an art form in itself," he says. He has huge respect for sheep, likens them to god-like beings on earth and it's been his passion to make sure they suffer as little as possible in their lives, being a crusader for applying pain relief for sheep during mulesing. It's now taken up by almost 80 per cent of farmers in NSW.

His art takes him to "another place". "All art is wonderful in my eyes. My wife and I love painting together, it's our special time. " His painting of woolsheds with a woollen twine between them, epitomises what he says is the great history of sheep in Australia and a celebration of the ancient fibre of wool. The woolsheds are a wonderful legacy left on many farms, he says.

Mark Pearson at the exhibition launch.

Mark Pearson at the exhibition launch.

He met Pearson when he was campaigning for better treatment of sheep in the paddock. They toured overseas to reassure Europeans that something was being done about the mulesing process to make sure sheep didn't suffer. Pearson says sheep naturally stay quiet when under threat - a primal urge to stay quiet from the days "when they were hunted by wolves".

It was when Pearson did a video of mulesing that he first met Olsson. "That film went around the world and created a crisis for the wool industry," Pearson said. "Chick was the man who told other woolgrowers 'this is an issue we need to turn our minds to'. I mean we uphold the sheep in Australia and then we go about mutilating it. We have been able to work together to find a pain relief for an animal that has been completely misunderstood."

Olsson says: "We have a very deep friendship based on mutual respect". "He's taught me a lot about how we need to respond to growing pressures especially from the younger generation, who demand higher accountability for the treatment of animals. It actually makes sense, if you are kinder, you will make more money."

Pearson is a talented singer and showed his stage abilities by turning into Dame Edna at the exhibtion launch at parliament.

He said Olsson and his friendship had been "an amazing journey" and "extraordinary" and Olsson's love of nature was evident in his works. "When I see these works I am inspired they are very like what the Gadigal people of this area would paint, there are very interesting similar themes, that the land has a spirit and vibration that strikes a chord with humankind where time is not a limitation." And it's proof that people with differing opinions can find a solution and forge new paths.

We have a very deep friendship based on mutual respect. He's taught me a lot about how we need to respond to growing pressures especially from the younger generation, who demand higher accountability for the treatment of animals. - Chick Olsson, woolgrower, painter

He lauded the works and said it was "a galaxy of light" that moved around the walls. "This is a marvellous coming together, a nexus of works, It's vibrant and alluring."

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