Take a road trip with a difference – travel along the Silo Art Trail in Victoria, Australia. See how disused grain silos have been transformed into unusual, towering art canvases. Each canvas is unique, with murals reflecting the people, landscape and culture of the community in which they appear.
Empty grain silos are scattered around rural Australia. Silo art projects (with the first being undertaken in 2015) have become a national phenomenon; appearing in Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australian, South Australia, and Queensland. The silos provide a canvas for creations that are reinvigorating some of Australia’s smallest and most remote regional towns. They have become a lifesaver for rural communities; bringing tourism to towns that have been seriously struggling due to economic decline. These towns now have a future.
Perhaps the best-known silo art project is the painted silos in Western Victoria; in the Wimmera Mallee region. Here, there are 6 painted silos stretching for a distance of 200 kilometres from Rupanyup in the south (if coming from Ballarat, as we did) to Patchewollock in the north. This is the Silo Art Trail.
My sister and I took a 12-day road trip around parts of Victoria at the end of April – from Albury to Bendigo, to Ballarat, to Hopetoun, to Sea Lake, to Rochester, and back to Albury. The road trip deliberately incorporated the Silo Art Trail in the Wimmera Mallee region as I had read so much about it and had a strong desire to see the murals for myself. This desire was heightened after visiting the silo art in North-East Victoria.
Silo Art Trail
The Silo Art Trail is Australia’s largest outdoor gallery. The trail stretches over 200 kilometres in Victoria’s Wimmera Mallee region; linking the towns of Rupanyup, Sheep Hills, Brim, Rosebery, Lascelles, and Patchewollock.
Providing an insight into the true spirit of the Wimmera Mallee, the trail recognises and celebrates the region’s people through a series of large-scale mural portraits painted onto grain silos, many of which date back to the 1930s.
The national and international artists whose murals appear on the silos spent time visiting the region and meeting the locals before transforming each grain silo into an epic work of art; with each mural telling a unique story about the host town.
The level of detail the artists have achieved in their murals is impressive. Something I find astonishing given the scale of the artworks. How do you create such fine detail with an aerosol can?
The Silo Art Trail was conceived in 2016 after the success of the first artwork in Brim. What started as a small community project by the Brim Active Community Group to save their town from extinction, resulted in widespread international media attention and an influx of visitors to the region and the idea for the trail was born.
The Silo Art Trail was created as a partnership between Yarriambiack Shire Council, international street art agency Juddy Roller, the Victorian Government, and the Australian Government; with the silos donated by GrainCorp as canvases for the artists’ works.
Whether in a car, motorhome or towing a caravan, parking is not a problem at any of the silos.
Why you should visit the Silo Art Trail
- This is street art at its best.
- The murals are painted on unusual canvases.
- The silo artworks are in public spaces; in outdoor galleries that are open 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. And they are free to visit.
- It is artwork on a massive scale. How many paintings do you know that require an extended cherry picker to complete?
- The murals painted on the silos depict local community members; giving an insight into the area.
- Grain silos have been ‘painted’ on Australia’s landscape since the 1920s.
- The Silo Art Trail is Australia’s ultimate road trip.
While the trip can be done in any direction, I am going to take you from Rupanyup in the south to Patchewollock in the north – the direction we took on our road trip.
From Melbourne to Bendigo is 151 kilometres (94 miles; approximately a 2-hour drive). From Bendigo to Rupanyup is 169 kilometres (105 miles; approximately a 2-hour drive)
From Melbourne to Ballarat is 112 kilometres (69 miles; a 1-hour and 39-minute drive). From Ballarat to Rupanyup is 177 kilometres (110 miles; a 2-hour drive).
As you can see, it is really neither here nor there as to whether you arrive in Rupanyup from Melbourne via Bendigo or via Ballarat. My preference would be to travel via Bendigo, an historic gold mining town with some of the best food we had on the whole road trip. Historic Bendigo Pottery is worth a visit. Don’t miss Bendigo Pottery’s museum.
Other helpful distances:
> From Bendigo to Patchewollock is 284 kilometres (176 miles). Allowing 30 minutes at each mural, the trip would take approximately 6 hours, 11 minutes.
> From Ballarat to Patchewollock is 332 kilometres (206 miles) allowing 30 minutes at each mural, the trip would take approximately 6 hours, 42 minutes.
> From Patchewollock to Sea Lake (possible accommodation option) is 73 kilometres (45 miles) – a 50-minute drive.
> From Patchewollock to Mildura (possible accommodation option) is 141 kilometres (88 miles) – a drive time of approximately 1 hour, 38 minutes.
> From Patchewollock to Swan Hill (possible accommodation option) is 145 kilometres (90 miles) – a drive time of approximately 1 hour, 36 minutes.
You don’t have to have to have a car to see the silo art. While we rarely saw anyone else at the silos, a quick internet search reveals there are bus tours from Melbourne (Victoria) and Albury (New South Wales) that travel the Silo Art Trail. However, it would appear they don’t visit all the silos.
Rupanyup silo art
Completed early 2017, the faces featured on the silos are those of Rupanyup residents and local sporting team members, Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidemann. Dressed in their sports uniforms (netball and Australian Rules football, respectively), the mural captures the spirit of community while honouring the integral role that sport and community play in rural Australia.
Rupanyup’s silo art is the work of Russian mural artist, Julia Volchkova. The monochromatic work is typical of Volchkova’s realist portraiture style. And avid traveller, her frequent travels have resulted in numerous large-scale murals of local people in Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere around the world.
Sheep Hills silo art
Melbourne-based artist, Adnate is known for using his artwork to tell stories of Indigenous people and their native lands; particularly those of Aboriginal Australians. He painted the mural on the silos at Sheep Hills in 2016 after spending 4 weeks with the community. He found his inspiration for the mural after developing a friendship with the Barengi Gadin Land Council in North-East Victoria.
Through his portraits of Wergaia Elder, Uncle Ron Marks, and Wotjobaluk Elder, Aunty Regina Hood, alongside two young children, Savannah Marks and Curtly McDonald, Adnate celebrates the richness of the area’s Indigenous culture.
The night sky in the mural represents elements of local dreaming and the overall image signifies the important exchange of wisdom, knowledge and customs from Elders to the next generation.
Featuring a bold use of block colours via acrylic and spray paint, Adnate’s portraits are known for introducing a strong energetic presence to their surroundings. Described as “life-like” and “emotive”, his large-scale murals can be found in various settings throughout Australia and around the world; including the mural he painted inside Goorambat’s Uniting Church in North-East Victoria.
Brim silo art
Although the third silo artwork along the Silo Art Trail (travelling from Melbourne), the mural painted on the disused GrainCorp silos at Brim was the first to be painted in Victoria and was the inspiration for the Silo Art Trail.
Painted by world renown Australian street artist, Guido van Helten, his mural of four, anonymous, multi-generational farmers (3 men and 1 woman) was completed in January 2016. Van Helten’s subjects bear expressions that exemplify the strength and resilience of the local farming community as they face immense economic pressure and the tangible consequences of climate change. His work captures the spirit of the local area and connects the characters to their chosen place; infusing the landscape with a comforting, familiar presence.
Celebrating everyday characters in forgotten places, van Helten’s monochromatic, photorealistic style offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of others. His large-scale portraiture murals, found in Ukraine, Norway, Italy, Denmark and Iceland, tell stories of culture, history and identity in an effort to capture the soul of people and place.
Rosebery silo art
The silo on the left captures the grit, tenacity and character of the region’s young female farmers, who regularly face drought, fires and other hardships living and working in the Wimmera Mallee. In her work shirt, jeans and turned-down cowboy boots, the strong young female sheep farmer symbolises the future.
The silo on the right portrays the familiar connection between man and horse. The contemporary horseman appears in Akubra hat, Bogs boots and oilskin vest – common attire for Wimmera Mallee farmers. Both man and horse are relaxed and facing downward, indicating their mutual trust, love and genuine connection.
Completed in late 2017 by the successful, internationally renowned street artist, Kaff-eine, her Rosebery mural depicts themes that she says embody the region’s past, present and future.
Combining creativity with a strong social conscience, Kaff-eine makes art and film projects in marginalised communities around the world, with her work inviting audiences to engage with social and political issues. Kaff-eine describes her practice from photorealistic to darkly sensual stylised characters as “loaded with symbolism and narrative”.
Lascelles silo art
The murals here of the local farming couple, Geoff and Merrilyn Horman can never be photographed together because they are on opposite sides of two grain silos. The Horman’s are part of a family who have lived and farmed in the area for four generations.
Painted by Rone in mid-2017, he wanted the mural to portray his subjects as wise and knowing; nurturing the town’s future with their vast farming experience and longstanding connection to the area.
Rone worked for two weeks to transform the two 1939-built GrainCorp silos. He went to great lengths to paint in the silo’s existing raw concrete tones to produce a work that would integrate sensitivity into its environment. Utilising this muted monochrome palette, he added water to his paint as a blending tool to produce a ghostly, transparent effect – a signature of his distinctive painting style.
An influential figure in Australia’s early street art scene, Rone is perhaps best known for his large-scale “Jane Doe” portraits, featuring beautiful young women painted onto old, decaying backgrounds. This interplay between beauty and decay is a key theme throughout his work; emphasising the fleeting nature of beauty and encouraging audiences to appreciate it while it lasts.
Patchewollock silo art
To prepare his Patchewollock mural, Brisbane artist, Fintan Magee booked a room at the local pub to immerse himself in the local community and to get to know its people. When he met local sheep and grain farmer, Nick “Noodle” Hulland, Magee knew he had found his subject.
Why Hulland? According to Magee, the rugged, lanky local exemplified the no-nonsense, hardworking spirit of the region. Perhaps more importantly though, Noodle had just the right height and leanness to neatly fit onto the narrow, 35-metre-high canvas of the twin 1939-built GrainCorp silos.
Completed in late 2016, the Magee’s depiction of the famously reserved Hulland portrays an image of the archetypical Aussie farmer – faded blue “flanny” (flannelette shirt) and all. Hulland’s solemn expression, sun-bleached hair and squinting gaze speak to the harshness of the environment and the challenges of life in the Wimmera Mallee.
Combining surreal and figurative imagery with a trained artist’s discipline and technical skill, Magee’s work explores global themes and climate change, displacement and migration, as well as environmental issues such as his family’s experience in the devasting 2011 Brisbane floods. Understanding that not everyone has access to art galleries, Magee aims to make art more accessible to isolated communities and general public.
The addition of Sea Lake silo art
In October 2019 (after our visit), Sea Lake, just a 50-minute drive from Patchewollock, completed a mural on its town silos, donated by GrainCorp. Thus, joining Victoria’s Silo Art Trail.
The mural, painted by Drapl and The Zookeeper, depicts a young indigenous girl swinging from a Mallee Eucalyptus tree as she gazes over Lake Tyrrell. A powerful Wedge Tail Eagle soars above the girl and emus run off into the night.
Lake Tyrrell is a large inland saltwater lake; an 8-minute drive from Sea Lake. The water in the lake is never more than ankle deep; creating fabulous reflections, especially at sunset. This was the reason we stayed at Sea Lake. But more about that in another post.
When to go
Autumn, in my opinion, March to May, is the best time in Australia. The sting of intense heat wanes, the bush comes alive, the landscape changes colour, the desert sprouts, and the people wake from their summer stupor.
Where to eat
Sub-standard food (with a few exceptions), poor food choices due to limited options, or non-existent food outlets, was a common theme throughout the whole road trip. At one point, my sister noted in her journal that the food situation was making her unhappy as she was not eating well (and not from choice).
I make two suggestions here:
- Eat up big in Bendigo or Ballarat because it’s the last decent meal you will have until after you leave the Silo Art Trail; and
- Buy snacks in Bendigo or Ballarat before heading up the Silo Art Trail. If you find you haven’t bought enough or are sick of what you did buy, you can stock up at the supermarket in Warracknabeal. We made the mistake of eating lunch at the local Chinese restaurant in Warracknabeal because that was what we felt like. Big mistake! However, the chocolate biscuits I bought at the local supermarket were yum and eaten before my sister could blink. Did she want some?
We had a number of good meals in Bendigo. Our first breakfast was at The Boardwalk on Lake Weeroona (28 Nolan street). The service was faultless and the food here was so good we ate breakfast at The Boardwalk each morning of our stay in Bendigo. I couldn’t resist the Gourmet Fruit Loaf with Bacon.
Have lunch at The Rifle Bridge Hotel, 137 View Street, Bendigo. Talk about a yummy salad – Chicken and Macadamia Nut Salad with Beetroot, Pear and Figs.
For dinner, Masons of Bendigo, at 25 Queen Street, is a must. Plating is modern Australian, with all dishes (starters, mains and deserts) designed to be shared. We received excellent service from friendly, informative staff. Awarded “One Chef Hat” in Australia’s Good Food Guide in 2016 and 2017, reservations are essential.
On our first night in Ballarat, we ate at The Forge Pizzeria (14 Armstrong Street) as it was recommended in the Ballarat tourist information booklet. The restaurant was packed, which is always a good sign. My sister enjoyed her pizza, but it was a poor food choice for me as I am not all that keen on pizza.
The next day we had lunch at L’Espresso café (417 Sturt Street). A very popular café (people waiting to be seated) with efficient service and, we both commented, excellent food. That night, we ate at The Gallery Restaurant in the Craig’s Royal Hotel where we were staying (10 Lydiard Street). We had mixed feelings regarding our meals here. I thoroughly enjoyed my main course and desert. But my sister was not impressed with her meal.
In Rosebery, after viewing the silo art, we passed an old church 228 metres down the road with a sign out the front advertising scones and cream. This couldn’t be real! We were in the middle of nowhere! Turning around, we discovered the old church was now a café, Mallee Sunsets Gallery Café, and did indeed, have scones with jam and cream on its menu. This we couldn’t resist. Together with the best ice coffee I probably have ever had (I watched her put 6 scoops of ice cream in my ice coffee), I was in heaven.
The story of this once Presbyterian Church really brought home how much these small, remote farming communities are struggling. It stopped being a church in 1990 because there were only 5 people left in the congregation. The church’s closure divided the community as those 5 people then had to attend services in Warracknabeal or Hopetoun. Three went one way and two went the other.
Our final silo art on the Silo Art Trail was at Patchewollock. Looking to eat after viewing the mural of ‘Noodle”, we had two options: the café that only sold sausage rolls they could heat in a microwave or the Pub. We settle for toasted sandwiches at the “Patche Pub”.
From Patchewollock, we headed to Sea Lake for two nights. At the time, the only meals available for dinner were dispensed from a vending machine at the motel and were disgusting. There were two cafes open for breakfast but one closed at 5.30pm (too early for dinner) and the other advertised they close at 8.30pm. But not this night! They had two tourist coaches in town and had shut the café to all other people. At the time of our stay in Sea Lake, the hotel was being renovated and is now open for accommodation and meals. Bonus!
So, being very, very hungry by this stage in our travels, on our second day in Sea Lake, we drove 45 minutes to Spoons Riverside Café and Restaurant in Swan Hill for lunch. Spoons Riverside is in a beautiful location, overlooking the Murray River. I ate far too much, but the food was so yummy.
You would be forgiven for thinking that our focus was on food and not the massive artworks we had come to see. But when you experience such awful food and wonder where your next decent meal is going to come from, it’s hard to shift your focus. Having said that, I believe everyone should experience and contemplate the connectedness between people and landscape that the Silo Art Trail depicts. Just be prepared.
Where to stay
Being influenced by tourist information advising that Hopetoun is a great base for exploring the gigantic artworks that comprise the Silo Art Trail, we broke our journey for the night in Hopetoun. Both my sister and I strongly recommend you don’t do this. The only accommodation in town was very basic (that I can live with), but my room was filthy. On top of this, our food choices were extremely limited and tasteless.
The Quality Hotel Lakeside in Bendigo (our ‘home’ for 3 night), at 286 Napier Street, is located opposite Lake Weeroona and a stone’s throw from ‘The Boardwalk’ where we had breakfast each morning. A modern hotel, our balconied rooms were very large, with king-sized bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk and tea/coffee making facilities. The hotel also had a guest laundry.
In Ballarat, we stayed at Craig’s Royal Hotel – 10 Lydiard Street, South Ballarat. Located in the historical part of Ballarat across the road from Her Majesty Theatre, this luxury boutique hotel was comfort plus with an old-world charm. Craig’s Royal Hotel has been a Ballarat icon since 1853.
The drive from Ballarat to Sea Lake, at 405 kilometres, or from Bendigo to Sea Lake, at 357 kilometres, can be done in one day. This is not excessive and easily accomplished with plenty of time to view each of the silo artworks. Don’t make the mistake we made stopping for the night along the Silo Art Trail.
In Sea Lake we stayed at the Sea Lake Motel on the Calder Highway (93 Railway Avenue, Sea Lake). Our room (the only time we shared a room on this road trip) was small and basic, but clean. The now renovated Hotel (pub) on the main street in town may be a better accommodation option.
What did surprise me was the lack of infrastructure to support tourism along the Silo Art Trail. I’m not referring to the roads. They were in good condition that my little car had no trouble traversing. If the Silo Art Trail has any hope of encouraging financial sustainability of the towns in questions through tourism and saving them from extinction, then appropriate places to eat and sleep are crucial. We would have seen a maximum of 3 other couples visiting these murals. I can understand that people are loathe to open cafes and accommodation when the tourists aren’t there to generate a viable business enterprise. It’s a bit like which comes first, the chicken or the egg. What are your thoughts on this?
I would like to leave you with a comment from my sister as she summed up her experience of the Silo Art Trail.
“At first I was not overwhelmed by the silo art. But on reflection, the use of these giant canvases to reflect community has been interesting and something to remember. Some of them, and their place in the landscape, have affected me. It would be good to go back and look at them quietly and reflect on the landscape.”
For my sister, the people in the murals were of the landscape. Her desire to return is based on a need to further examine the connection between landscape and the art themselves.
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Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. Unless specifically stated, all photos are my own and remain a copyright of Joanna Rath.
For more on Australia’s silo art, read: