Mullumbimby Dreaming: Mullumbimby Paintings and Poems
By Edwin Wilson — ‘The Mullumbimby Kid’
Woodbine Press, 2014

Reviewed by Janine Kitson

This art catalogue of Mullumbimby-inspired paintings and poems has been produced for the opening of Edwin Wilson’s forthcoming exhibition at Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre, Murwillumbah, from August 8 to October 12.

Edwin Wilson’s poems are illustrated by beautiful black and white pencil drawings by the late Elizabeth McAlpine, who lived at Broulee on the south coast.

Poet and artist Edwin Wilson began his career as a science teacher at Forest High School, lectured at Armidale Teachers College and spent the rest of his working life in Sydney as an education officer for the Australian Museum and Royal Botanical Gardens. Born in 1942, he is a prolific author and is renowned for his botanical knowledge of orchids.

This is a wonderful resource for students studying contemporary Australian poetry and art. Art and English teachers, both secondary and primary, will love this beautifully presented catalogue. History teachers will find it an insightful resource to describe life growing up in an isolated, parochial rural community post World War 2, gripped by bitter sectarian divide and pressures to conform.

Wilson’s poetry includes the memories of frontier violence and the dispossession of the Bundjalung people, the clearing of the great cedar forests by the timber getters with their bullocks, and a time when boats travelled up the Northern rivers. His poem “Australian Gothic” describes how the far North Coast was transformed into hippy communities in the early 1970s and then later subsequent overdevelopment of the 1980s.

Importantly, Wilson describes how public responses to deforestation, ranging from “regret” to “carnage”, have gradually been replaced by a belief in the value of replanting (poem, “Heritage Park”). He comments, “It was only after attending a lecture by the poet Judith Wright (c.1968 at the University of New England) that I saw the light, that rainforest was not so typical across our wide brown land, and a finite, precious resource of great biodiversity had be conserved”.

The book includes three art themes: Early Projections (this includes art Edwin Wilson painted as a child, and his early talent is shown with this primary school painting of a squadron of double-wingers flying over his family’s farm), Antithesis (includes Sydney Harbour paintings) and Mullumbimby Paintings.

The book is a testimony to public education as it was his teachers who provided the opportunities for artistic and intellectual development and the encouragement to apply for a scholarship to go to Armidale Teachers College where he trained as a science teacher. This allowed him to escape his rural poverty.

The book is dedicated to many people. The first ones acknowledged are Edwin Wilson’s principal and teacher from Mullumbimby High School and Mullumbimby Public School. Not only that, the painting “The Stilt Walker” includes the badge of Mullumbimby’s High School. The poem “Elegy to John Pearce” is dedicated to John Pearce (1908-1989) who was the foundation principal of Mullumbimby High School when Edwin Wilson was in 1A.

The art celebrates Edwin Wilson’s connection to growing up in Mullumbimby where, barefooted and poor, he lived a rich childhood life of bike-riding, fishing, orchid-hunting and climbing trees and mountains, in a home surrounded by tall, sub-tropical rainforests. The poems respect the mystical relationship between forest and the inorganic world of rocks and soils.

As well, the poetry deals with his family tragedies — his father’s suicide before he was born; the tragic accidental death of one of his children and being reunited with an unknown half-brother late in life, only to then lose him to cancer.

The poems and artwork are supported by excellent notes.

The book is a testimony to a young man making a lifetime commitment to fulfilling his artistic and poetic talent.

It is available for borrowing from the Federation library. The library also has a copy of Edwin Wilson’s New Collected Poems 1952–2012.

Janine Kitson is on long service leave.

All books are available to borrow from the Federation library.