Rod McRae Exhibition, 'Wunderkrammer'


A couple of weeks ago, we stopped by the Hawkesbury Regional Gallery to view the newest exhibition of Rod McRae's, Wunderkrammer, The Cabinet of Wonders. Located on the second level of the Deerubbin Centre in Windsor, this is an exhibition of great complexity. The artist's work is unusual -- animals displayed both in and out of their natural enviroment coveying our (human) relation to each species. While one may, or may not agree with his philosophy and his activism, McRae provides that rare opportunity to think and to ponder our relationship to the natural world. 


For students 12 and up, exposure to the complexities of our world provides an opportunity to think comprehensively and organically. . . to answer questions about our activities within and our responsibilties to the natural world.



For the primary school kids, it can be an introduction to nature and art. That being said, it is important that we protect the little ones from some of life's harsh realities, so we suggest that parents or teachers see the exhibition before the children view it. From an artistic prespective, this is an amazing exhibition and every child can grasp that.





Media Release: 15 July 2016 - 4 September 2016



Imagine the gallery filled with real wild animals including a zebra, a lion, penguins, antelope, fox, fawn, fish, rabbits, a baboon and a polar bear! This veritable ‘cabinet of wonders’ brings together sculpture and various media to discuss a broad range of conservation issues, from climate change to big game hunting.

Says artist/curator, Rod McRae:  Each work explores an animal ‘issue’ using real preserved animal bodies (taxidermy) to tell their stories. Using the real thing creates art that is both authentic and empathetic. I argue that sculptures of animals rendered in resin, plastic, stone, wood or metal cannot speak as directly to us as the real animal. Each work touches on a different aspect of the human-animal relationship including biodiversity, pollution, climate change, conservation and stewardship. Each work asks us to examine our responsibilities as fellow travellers on this planet. (NB All the animals in Wunderkammer have been ethically sourced)


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This is the narrative of dedicated readers -- three St. Albans' book clubs -- with a vision which they brought to fruition in 2013.


St. Albans is tiny, with a famous pub -- Settlers Arms -- a church, an historic B&B or two and the restored Price Morris charming cottage (elf-contained). An historic School of the Arts, high on a hill  and a river -- the Macdonald divides the village -- topographically speaking. If you have yet to make your way to St Albans, you are missing a world all unto its own -- a parrallel world once you cross the Hawkesbury River on the Webb Creek ferry. 300  'hardy residents'. Isolation. Silence rarely found in today's world and a landscape beautiful beyond words. 


  A scene from St.Albans village


In 2013, the three book clubs came together to run a book swap and the rest is history. A simple sentence makes such an endeavor sound easy -- but this Festival is anything but easy.

In 2014, the swap expanded into a day long 'Book Feast' with writer, Kate Grenville (The Secret River) and local writers meeting in the village's School of the Arts. By 2015, the Writers' Festival grew legs and stood on its own -- 25 authors speaking over three days. For 2016, the delicious menu serves up 60 writers speaking in 60 sessions!  There are names you will recognise and a few newly minted authors you will want to know. We love the group's PR line:  "Celebration of the book as opposed to the celebrity" penned by Nikki Gemmell in 2015.


For more details read the synopsis by Catherine du Pelous Menage, artistic director


  2015 presenter


In 2013, the three book clubs in the tiny Hawkesbury village of St Albans decided to get together to run a book swap. The village is home to about 300 permanent residents and many ‘weekenders’.  St Albans is in the heart of ‘Kate Grenville country’ where her book The Secret River is set.  The area was developed as farming land in the early days of the colony, with good access to the Macquarie towns of Windsor, Richmond and Wilberforce. This led the indigenous Dharug and Darkinjung peoples of the area being dispossessed and worse, the subject of The Secret River.


The book swap rapidly became a  day long  ‘Book Feast’ with Kate Grenville and local writers in the village’s School of the Arts. In 2015 the Book Feast metamorphosed into a fully fledged Writers’ Festival with its own website and 25 writers speaking over three days. 2016 will see nearly 50 writers speaking in over 60 sessions.


The story of this success lies in the quality of the writers and the hard work of the organisers and volunteers. The Festival receives no arts funding so is self-funded, relying on donations and ticket sales. This year they have the valued support of Virgin Australia in flying authors in from other parts of the country.


If there is a theme to the festival it’s the theme of stories.

We have true stories – from the memoir, biography section and history sections; Jane Caro, Tim Elliott, Fiona Wright, and Richard Glover whom I sure you all know, and Robert Macklin who belongs on the history shelves will talk about a Hawkesbury area native son, Hamilton Hume


Fictional stories– from emerging as well as well-known novelists (David Dyer’s The Midnight watch (or the Titanic book as I can it) has been really well received , The Teachers Secret is Suzanne Leal’s second book and Emily Maguire has just published her 6th book. Rod Jones will also be there. ,We also include writers of women’s popular fiction (Judy Nunn and Lisa Heidke) and rural romance (Karly Lane) rarely present at writers’ festivals.


Of course crime and thrillers are amongst the most popular types of fictional stories) and they are represented of course, by Sulari Gentill, Candice Fox, Bruce Venables and John M Green.


  Attendees 2015


Australians are huge travellers and Tim Cope was very popular so we have three very different travel tales this year– two on foot,  in Spain carrying sins – that’s Ailsa Piper– and one rediscovery of an ancient indigenous path, Bundian way and the last one is an account of travelling Across Africa on a motorbike.


Another new area is food. Australians are the biggest buyers of cookbooks in the world –There is a cookbook session with Sydney restaurateur Simmone Logue and she is the caterer for this year (how often can you hear about a cookbook while eating the food it describes?). Food has to be grown before it can be cooked so there is also have a session on growing food, and food fashions not just today but in the past of our country both the indigenous past (The oldest foods on earth) and the early days of European life  here with Jacqui Newling’s wonderfully titled Eat your history. The historic Settlers Arms Inn will be cooking a menu from these books on the Saturday night.


As we do not live on bread alone, the festival will be talking economics with Richard Dennis (or should that be Econobabble – interviewed by our local and Macquarie University professor  Geoffrey Hawker). Sarah Ferguson and Aaron Patrick will talk about about the best way to change prime ministers.  Matt Condon will be reminding audiences about a grim time in Queensland politics, and Jennifer Rayner will talk about what awaits young people. Hugh Mackay will give a broader social perspective as always, this time speaking about religion.


   2015 Presenter


Gardening is another local passion, and Wendy Whiteley will be telling the Festival about her now not-so-secret garden and there will a brand-new biography of Brett Whiteley in a session on artists biographies. Let’s not forget poetry. Health permitting,  Les Murray will be  reading his poems around the campfire -


This year the festival starts on Friday with a session on memoir given by editor, novelist and memoir writer, Madeline Oliver who spoke at the festival last.


This area’s history continues to inform the Festival.  After Kate Grenville, Stephen Luby, the producer of the TV series spoke about filming the series in 2015 and this year Trevor Jamieson, the actor who plays the indigenous elder in both the play and the TV series will be in conversation with Stan Grant. The Welcome to Country here is more than formulaic words, taking place on the sandy bed of the Macdonald River with the music of the didgeridoo and a smoking ceremony.


 A  scene from St Albans village


This year St Albans will attract around 500 visitors. As one of the big attractions of the Festival is its intimacy, numbers need to be monitored carefully. Even not-for-profit organisations need to balance their books so the Festival organisers must juggle atmosphere and numbers to keep it viable. As Nikki Gemmell a returning visitor from 2015 wrote ‘we love a festival like St Albans. Because of its intimacy. Warmth. Celebration of the book as opposed to the celebrity.’ 

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