I'm a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia, who enjoys writing about the things I love: travel, nature-based activities, the arts, spirituality and creative, fun activities for children.
Published June 7th 2014
Connect With Your Inner Artist at These Idyllic Isles
Since time began, islands have exerted an almost mystical attraction for human beings. Despite the old saying that 'no man is an island', over the centuries artists, writers, philosophers and other creative sorts have been beguiled by these lonely land-masses, isolated from the rest of the world by an often-treacherous ocean. Turning their backs on the materialism and disharmony of mainstream society, artists such as the nineteenth century French painter Paul Gauguin discovered beauty and creative inspiration in the natural rhythm and simplicity of island life: an idyll which continues to lure many even today.
Idyllic Lord Howe Island: Image courtesy of Fanny Schertzer / Wikimedia Commons
These days, in the midst of our rapidly-changing world, island holidays are popular with pleasure-seekers around the world while many modern artists choose to establish studios on them, gaining inspiration from nature as others before them have done for centuries. Here in Australia we're blessed with many beautiful islands where a wide variety of gifted artisans live and work.
Whether you enjoy artistic pursuits or simply appreciate the work produced by others, many Australian islands are hot-beds of creativity with thriving community arts centres, and a variety of classes and workshops to attend. For a holiday with a difference, discover these magical places for yourself, meet the artists who interpret nature's beauty through their own creative work or perhaps spend a few quiet days, drawing, painting or engaging in some other creative activity of your own. The following pages list some of Australia's top islands for art-lovers.
Phillip Island Although lovely Phillip Island is just over 123 kilometres from downtown Melbourne, when you're there you feel as though you're a universe away from the noise and pollution of Australia's second-largest city. However, its close proximity to civilisation means that it's much easier to get to for a day trip or short weekend break, if you're unable to escape for a longer period of time. For art-loving visitors, there are several galleries on the island or nearby, including the Goldsmith's Gallery, Mingara Gallery, ArtFusion Gallery and Mosaics by the Bay. Various art classes and workshops are also available locally.
Throughout the year various markets are also held: great spots to pick up beautiful hand-made creations by local artisans. On the second Saturday of each month the Cowes Island Craft Market is held at St Phillip's Parish Hall on Thompson Avenue, while on the fourth Saturday of the month from 9am until 1pm, Market on Chapel is held in the grounds of the Uniting Church at the corner of Chapel Street and Warley Avenue. Take a look at the Phillip Island website to learn more. The website also has a comprehensive listing of the accommodation options that are available on the island.
King Island Situated approximately 80 kilometres off the north-west tip of Tasmania in the turbulent waters of Bass Strait, King Island is famous for its spectacular coastline and delicious dairy products. As many local artists and crafters have discovered, it's also a wonderful place to retreat from the world and immerse yourself in nature and creativity.
King Island's short distance from Melbourne is a big plus for visitors who can only slip away from home for a day or two and flights are available from Melbourne, Launceston and Burnie. The island also provides many different styles of guest accommodation, suitable for every budget and ranging from simple cottages to luxurious villas.
The best place to check out the work of King Island's talented artisans is the King Island Cultural Centre, on Wharf Road in Currie. As well as exhibiting the work of local arts and visiting artists-in-residence, workshops are also periodically held in various creative media. Check out their website to learn more or phone them on 03 6462 1924.
Other places which art-lover may enjoy include the King Island show and local markets, as well as various privately-owned studios and galleries. To find out more, take a look at the King Island website.
Flinders Island The largest of the Furneaux group, Flinders Island is also situated in Bass Strait, just 20 kilometres from Cape Portland, the north-eastern tip of Tasmania. A magical unspoilt realm of rugged peaks, abundant wildlife, magnificent beaches and clear turquoise ocean, it's the perfect place to head for if you love nature in her most isolated and pristine form. Attracted by its wild beauty, a sizable arts community exists on the island along with a good range of facilities for visitors.
Image courtesy of the Flinders Island Tourist Association website
Whitemark and Lady Barron are the two main settlements on Flinders Island, and while they're both very small, with just a couple of hundred permanent residents each, they provide all the necessities that the average visitor will need, including several good accommodation options.
Situated on Whitemark's main street and manned by volunteers from the Flinders Island Regional Art Centre, the Strait Work Gallery represents a wide variety of local artists and crafters working in media ranging from painting and ceramics, to textiles, sculpture and much more. From time to time the Arts Centre also runs workshops in various kinds of art and dance so be sure to check out their website if you're planning a visit.
Other good places to visit for local handicrafts include E M Bowman & Co, a traditional general store that is one of the island's original retail outlets, and Maggie's Gallery where you can find beautiful paintings, photographs and much more. Both of these establishments are in Whitemark.
If simply looking at other people's art isn't enough for you, and you're hankering for a relaxing and creative retreat, free from the cares of worldly life, a magical destination which may inspire you is the Mountain Seas Retreat. Mountain Seas offers elegant accommodation as well as an Arts Centre where guests can express themselves creatively in response to the natural beauty around them. This very special haven provides several attractive accommodation and retreat options for visitors. To learn more about these be sure to take a look at the Mountain Seas website.
If you're wanting to escape the excessively hot weather of the mainland summer, there's definitely no better place to head to than Bruny Island, a narrow, picturesque slither of land situated off the south-east coast of Tasmania. Best known for its beautiful natural landscape, pristine beaches and prolific wildlife (including a group of penguins that visit The Neck, the isthmus that separates North and South Bruny Islands, each night), it also boasts a sizable community of artists and crafters.
Image courtesy of JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons
One place that art-lovers will definitely want to visit is Art at the Point, a lovely contemporary brick and glass structure situated at Dennes Point, the most northerly tip of the island. The gallery mainly exhibits creations by Bruny Island artists who work in a variety of media including painting, printmaking, ceramics, jewellery, textiles, sculpture and locally-produced art cards. Much of this work is strongly inspired by the beautiful island landscape, its history, and the native animals and plants that can be found here. If you love trawling through art galleries and would like to stay close by, there's plenty of accommodation at Dennes Point. For more information, take a look at Art at the Point's website.
Located 112 kilometres south of Adelaide, about 13.5 kilometres off the Fleurieu Peninsula, Kangaroo Island is a large pristine land-mass where you'll feel as though you're at the end of the world. Although agricultural ventures have been the island's traditional source of income, these days tourism is also a big money-spinner, and tens of thousands of visitors make the journey annually to experience its unique charm. Kangaroo Island is easy to reach, and is served by regular passenger flights as well as vehicle ferries, if you want to take your car. There are also plenty of accommodation options, suitable for every budget.
Like many islands off Australia's coastline, Kangaroo Island has also attracted a sizable creative community and this is reflected in the various studios and galleries that are dotted here and there. Held over ten days each October, the Kangaroo Island Art Feast attracts thousands of visitors, and includes an exciting, jam-packed program of events at more than thirty venues around the island.
Outside of the Art Feast, there are also plenty of studios and galleries you can visit including Kangaroo Island Gallery (this website also provides links to other local galleries and artists) and Fine Art Kangaroo Island at Kingscote, as well as Rustic Blue on South Coast Road at Cape Kersaint, via Vivonne Bay. Shep's Studio, just eight kilometres from Kingscote, is another not-to-missed place to visit. To discover where the other local studios and galleries are situated, drop in to the Kangaroo Island Visitors Centre at 10 Troubridge Road in Kingscote.
Reclusive artists and art lovers yearning to totally escape the rat-race of contemporary life would be hard-pressed to find anywhere more remote than beautiful, laid-back Norfolk Island. A small island located 1412 kilometres east of the mainland, it's categorised as one of Australia's external territories. Colonised at the same time as mainland Australia, it served as a brutal penal colony until 1855 although, apart from historic ruins dating back to the era, you'd never know it these days.
Image courtesy of thinboyfatter / Wikimedia Commons
A top spot for art-lovers to head for is the Gallery Guava, on Queen Elizabeth Avenue. Situated in a traditional island-style cottage, it's a good place to admire and purchase gorgeous locally-made works of art including paintings, prints, ceramics, glassware, photography and much more. Also popular are Norfolk Cottage Pottery and Art Gallery, and Aatuti Arts, a gallery and gift store purveying the beautiful work of artist Sue Pearson. In addition to these, there are various other places as well, just waiting for you to discover.
Finally, another popular spot to pick up beautiful locally-made arts and crafts is the Norfolk Island Markets, held every Sunday morning from 8.30am, at the Bicentennial Complex on Taylor's Road.
Lord Howe Island
Another Shang-re-la in the Pacific Ocean that's perfect for reclusive arty types is lovely Lord Howe Island, sometimes reputed to be Australia's most beautiful island. Situated in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, 600 kilometres off the east coast, the island is a small but exquisitely beautiful paradise consisting of rugged forested hills and beautiful beaches, surrounded by coral reefs. Naturally, such an isolated and idyllic place has acted as a magnet for both artists and art-lovers.
Image coutesy of Fanny Schertzer / Wikimedia Commons
The Sea Spray Gallery is a working studio gallery where visitors may visit artist Noelle Hoffman and watch her at work. Noelle's paintings are exhibited throughout Australia, and it's possible to purchase her work during a visit. Other studios include Ginny's Shed, Little Urchins, Vicky Busteed Designs, Shadow Shaper Photography and Izac Photography.
For one week each December the Lord Howe Island Art Trail gives visitors the opportunity to visit several studios on the island, chat with local artists and perhaps acquire some of their work. The Lord Howe Island Community Markets, held on the second Sunday of every month at Lord Howe Island Central School is also a great spot to pick up beautiful local art and craft, as well as some fresh produce and home-baked goodies.
Cocos Keeling Islands
Closer to the Indonesian archipelago than they are to the Australia, the Cocos Keeling Islands are idyllically remote tropical islands surrounded by the vast Indian Ocean. Attracted by the pristine natural beauty, laid-back lifestyle and isolation, several artists work on the island, in a variety of creative media. The Big Barge Art Centre is Cocos Island's creative hub and throughout the year several exhibitions are held there, featuring the work of local artists as well as those from further afield.
The Big Barge also houses a wonderful art loft studio where art courses and creative workshops are held throughout the year. Run over one or two days, the workshops are particularly suitable for visitors to the islands as they can easily fit them in during their time on the islands. Take a look at the Big Barge website to learn more about what's happening at this vibrant art centre.
Approximately 900 kilometres north-east of Cocos Island (and 1565 kilometres from the Australian mainland), Christmas Island is another of Australia's spectacularly beautiful island paradises. Sometimes called the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, it's famous for its pristine and deserted beaches, coral reefs, rainforested national parks and annual red crab migration: the perfect travel destination for those who truly want to 'get away from it all' and get creative.
If you'd like to explore the arts scene on Christmas Island be sure to contact Arts and Culture Christmas Island, which is situated at the Old Tech School, Murray Road, Poon Saan. Throughout the year they hold a wide variety of cultural events, including art exhibitions and workshops, where you can learn from some of the talented local artists. To find out more, phone them on 9164 8836, email them at email@example.com or go to the Arts and Culture Christmas Island website.
If you're an art-loving visitor to the Top End who loves the rich artistic traditions of Indigenous Australia, I strongly recommend a visit to the Tiwi Islands, 80 kilometres north of Darwin, where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea. The Tiwi Islands consist of Melville Island, Bathurst Island and nine smaller islands, and are the ancestral home of the Tiwi people.
Isolated from mainland Australia, the cultural traditions of the Tiwi people are truly unique and their artwork can be found throughout the world in many major galleries and private collections. Although the most iconic of all Tiwi artforms are the ornately carved and painted Pukumani posts that are used during traditional funeral ceremonies, these days local artists work in a variety of different media, both traditional and contemporary.
There are three major arts centres on the Tiwi Islands. Tiwi Design Aboriginal Art Corporation is located on the shores of Apsley Strait on Bathurst Island and is the creative base for over a hundred artists who work in a variety of media including painting, screen printing, wood carving and ceramics. Jillamara Arts and Crafts Association is on Melville Island at Milikapiti (Snake Bay), and houses both artists' studios and the Mulluwurri Museum, where a collection of Tiwi artefacts, carvings, prints and early photographs are exhibited. Inspired by the ancient Tiwi practice of woodcarving and traditional ceremonial design, contemporary artists work in a palette of natural ochres to produce paintings on bark, paper, linen and canvas. Finally, Munupi Arts and Crafts Association is also on Melville Island, at Pirlangimpi on the north-west coastline.
If you'd like to learn about some of the cultural practices of the Tiwi people, it's also possible to spend some time with the 'morning tea ladies', a group of Tiwi women elders and learn how to weave pandanus, as the local people have done for thousands of years. Read more here.
If you'd like to learn more about the art and culture of the Tiwi Islands, how about taking an art tour? Alternatively, if you'd like to stay longer on the islands, why not consider staying at the Melville Island Lodge, on the fringe of Milikapati, not too far away from the Jilamara Arts and Craft Centre.
To learn more about the Tiwi Islands, check out this website, while information about permits for the Tiwi Islands can be found here.
The largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Groote Eylandt has been the ancestral home of the Anindilyakwa people for thousands of years. While the island is well known for its ancient rock art sites, these days the local Anindilyakwa people also practice various traditional art forms at the impressive Anindilyakwa Arts and Cultural Centre. Visitors to the centre can observe the artists at work, and also admire the exquisite finished products which include paintings on both bark and canvas, traditional wood carvings and tools, didgeridoos, wooden sculptures, products woven from pandanus fibres, and unique jewellery items created from endemic seeds and shells. From time to time local musicians and dancers also hold performances at the centre for visitors to the island.
A truly unique island destination, tourism at Groote Eylandt is still in its early stages. However, adjacent to the Anindilyakwa Arts and Cultural Centre is the Dugong Beach Resort, a great place to relax, get creative and learn about the Anindilyakwa people's culture and lifestyle. Click here to learn more about the Dugong Beach Resort. For information regarding visitor permits to Groote Eyelant, go to this webpage.
Image courtesy of Internet2014 / Wikimedia Commons
With its world-famous Great Barrier Reef, long golden beaches and beautiful warm weather, Queensland is probably the Australian state most synonymous with island tourism. While the innumerable beautiful islands along the Great Barrier Reef are especially well-known, many others also exist such as Fraser Island , Bribie Island and the remote but intriguing Torres Strait Islands, north of Cape York. Like islands everywhere, these magical places are the home of many artisans and a visit to them provides the perfect opportunity to visit their studios, watch them at work and perhaps purchase something special for your own art collection.
As Queensland boasts so many island paradises for art-lovers, I've written a separate article describing these places in more detail. Click here to find out more.