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Published February 12th 2017
Sheffield in Tasmania is known for its murals, but now there's a new kid on the block and its an easy day trip from Brisbane. I had heard via an artist friend that there were some amazing street art murals scattered around the Toowoomba CBD, but wasn't prepared for the sheer quantity and quality of them on offer. If you appreciate art in any form, then a trip to the Garden City is definitely worth the trip.
The mural subjects range from indigenous art, political statements, outer-space themes, photo-realistic portraits, native animals, fantasy themes, jungle scenes, and much more. There will definitely be something that everyone can appreciate.
The concept 'First Coat' was the brainchild of Kontraband Studios in conjunction with the Toowoomba Regional Council, and was initially presented as a three-day festival in 2014 making arts and culture accessible to the community through contemporary street art transforming public spaces in and around the CBD. The inaugural event resulted in 19 large-scale outdoor murals brightening otherwise bland building facades for all to enjoy.
The following years have resulted in over 50 large-scale murals and smaller street art paintings dotted in and around the city heart. Previous years' events incorporated live side events such as live music performances, hands-on workshops, night-time projections, boutique bars and pop-up retailers, and of course being able to watch the murals being painted.
Being situated in public spaces, all of the murals are able to be viewed anytime. Some are a little tricky to locate, but the First Coat team have that covered with an app available for free on both Apple and Android devices. The interactive maps are a must in order to locate all of the murals. I doubt that I would have found half of them without the assistance of the First Coat App. There are a few murals/street art paintings that didn't seem to be shown on the map, which added to the wonder of discovering them.
In order to view all of the murals in the Toowoomba CBD, I would recommend allowing at least half a day, which allows plenty of viewing time at each mural. Taking in the details of each piece of street art is something that just like in an art gallery takes time. The larger format, full building length murals draw your eye into ever more intricate detail, and you continually see details that casual observation doesn't allow.
Conceivably, you could see everything in the space of a couple of hours, but I wouldn't really recommend that – there is too much to see which can only be appreciated with time. There are laneway cafes and coffee shops scattered all throughout the city centre, so you can break your tour with a coffee or lunch break with ease.
My recommendation is to start at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery at 531 Ruthven Street, and work your way northwards in and around the CBD. This is where the map in the app is going to be well worth having on hand – you could walk right past a small alleyway and not realise that just around the corner and out of view is a beautiful mural! A couple of what I would describe as the 'best' murals are located a little out of the CBD two streets west of the railway station, although still within walking distance at 1.4Km from the starting point at City Hall.
This walking tour of the Toowoomba CBD is also a wonderful way to discover new things. I spent my youth in Toowoomba and thought that I had a pretty good idea of all the streets in the CBD, and what they contained. How wrong I was. There are some hidden gems scattered around that I was completely unaware of until doing this tour.
The photo below is just one of these hidden gems – a residence located in the CBD, covered in ivy like something out of an old English storybook! Its views like this that you simply do not know exist until you peel away from the main streets and explore the alleyways.
Being in public spaces, some of the murals may be partially covered by parked cars or other obstructions. This simply makes the art come alive somehow, as it is not being seen in the confines of a gallery, but in plain view. If you are looking to get good photographs of some of these partially obscured murals, early morning or late afternoon might be best. In my day of touring the city, I only found one mural on a wall in the carpark of a public bar that was always partially obscured. I don't mind this, as it means that I now have an excuse to do the tour all over again!
The variety of subjects means that you are never looking at the same kind of art twice. And the fact that so many of them are hidden away down little side streets adds to the adventure of discovery. The map shows you the location of the mural, but then you have to actually find it, as some are not visible from the main street. You walk into the alley with anticipation at what you will find, and then it suddenly appears before your eyes. Every new discovery made me smile.
On a final note - Mark Lane is not marked on the map. This little laneway is off Margaret street just west of the Ruthven street intersection. Yes, as a back alley servicing the shops, it's a little dirty and smelly, but you will most definitely want to have a wander around in here. The street art contained within Mark Lane is not what you would really call 'murals,' but the sheer quantity and variety is amazing.