Coalcliff House

Coalcliff House
Ken Bolton & Sal Brereton standing beside house. Photo by Kurt Brereton (1980)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Outline of Project

The aim of this exhibition is to showcase the significant contribution to both the Illawarra and Australian art scenes made by an artists and poets "colony" located at Coalcliff from 1979 - 1992. The Coalcliff was established by Ken Bolton and Sal Brereton and was based in a miner's cottage perched on the cliff overlooking the ocean. This local council sanctioned "squat" served as the site of a number of seminal “post-modern” poetry, film and art projects. Sal Brereton left in 1981 and Ken Bolton shortly afterwards. Alan Jefferies then ran the house until 1992 when the council reclaimed the land and bulldozed the house.  Today there is no evidence of The Coalcliff having existed other than a vacant block of overgrown scrub.

Between 1979 - 1992 many artists, poets, musicians and film-makers were drawn to The Coalcliff house including:

Ken Bolton, Sal Brereton, Pam Brown, Micky Allan, Kurt Brereton, Rae Desmond Jones, Alan Jefferies, Denis Gallagher, Anna Couani, Adam Aitken, Erica Callan, John Forbes, Leigh Stokes, Robert Kenny, Tom Thomson, IIO, Steve Kelen, Phil Roberts, Les Wicks, Barbara Brooks, Kate Richards, John Tranter, John Jenkins and Laurie Duggan.  

NOTE: this is not a complete list of people who were there – others will be included as we go along.

A wide range of projects and publications were produced at Coalcliff including the influential new poetry magazine Magic Sam; as well as anthologies (No Regrets) locally screen-printed and produced poetry books including Sal Brereton’s Ideal Conditions, Ken Bolton’s Blazing Shoes, Due Sestinae and Notes for Poems and Pam Brown’s Small Blue View.  Artist books such as Kurt Brereton’s Hang-Gliding, The Birthday Book and Tyre-Pinch: A Cyclist's Nightmare; Ken Bolton’s An Italian Drink, and the collective Xmas Corpses. A number of poetry readings were held in Wollongong, and films including The Coalcliff  by Kurt Brereton & Kate Richards (1981) and various super 8 home movies by Pam Brown and Kurt Brereton.

Ideas, purpose or concept

The exhibition would feature artworks, publications, films, posters and poetry readings, workshops­­ and artist talks. New works (paintings, poems, posters, films) by key contributors would be commissioned for the exhibition that specifically spoke of The Coalcliff days.

The objective is to illustrate the historical events and productions of The Coalcliff from the perspective of those people directly involved and also placed in the context of the cultural history of the Illawarra. A second crucial objective is to continue the ethos of those artist-led initiatives by producing a book/catalog featuring artwork, poems, films, historical essays and biographical material on the protagonists and events that took place over more than a decade.

This exhibition and catalog/book publication will include both historical and new commissioned work making it a relevant contribution to both the local and wider Australian arts and literary communities.

Local Illawarra historian, Joseph Davis (author of D.H. Lawrence at Thirroul (Collins, Sydney 1989) and The Illawarra Society of Artists: 1951-2001 (Wollongong City Gallery 2001), will write an introductory essay on the Coalcliff “colony” and its historical and cultural context.

The show will bring together a significant number of well-known artists, historians and poets to the Illawarra to conduct readings, talks, workshops and interviews.

Shape of the Exhibition

The exhibition is conceived as a large installation including wall mounted paintings, posters, drawings, poems, sound installations and films.

A re-creation of the Coalcliff living room would be setup so that posters, magazines could be wall mounted and films/photographs rear-projected onto the large feature 'window' overlooking the sea. Viewers could sit in the room and read, talk and watch the films and slideshows. Music from Ken Bolton’s collection + from bands who played at the house parties could be heard on headphones and a through a low volume speaker.

Paintings, films and photographs by Micky Allan, Kurt Brereton, Pam Brown and Kate Richards amongst others.


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  2. 'Ideal Conditions' and 'Small Blue View' were produced in Adelaide at the Experimental Art Foundation when, while I was working there as assistant to the Director in 1981/82, I secured a residency for Ken Bolton who produced four poetry & prose chapbooks (offset and silk screen printed) during his residency in early 1982.