Art trail puts Yarram on the map

The bow of an old boat marks the entrance to Heesco Town // Photo: Tom Parry

On the South Gippsland Highway, about one kilometre from the centre of Yarram, a large bus filled with tourists comes to a stop on the wrong side of the road.

Its driver directs the passengers to a mural on a nearby wall – a stunning aerosol painting of sailing ships in battle on the high seas.

The admiration of the passengers is briefly drawn, before the bus leaves just as quickly as it arrives.

This is not an uncommon occurrence for Paul Frost and Jody Twite, operators of the Ship Inn Motel.

“A lot of them just pull-in and drive off again,” Mr Frost remarks.

The motel’s nautical-themed artwork is one of the 24 installations in Yarram’s Street Art Trail, a series of spray-painted murals that is turning the small town into a must-see destination.

Local publican Wayne Tindall was the catalyst for the trail, who made connections with the street art community whilse residing in Prahran.

As Mr Frost tells it: “He had a studio in Artists Lane, and he had a great big wall down the side and thought, him being an artist, ‘I’ll paint that.'”

Time constraints meant that Mr Tindall couldn’t fulfil this ambition himself, so he called upon the services of other artists to do the work instead.

“They all came down and they all just painted the street, the whole wall, and had a street art party,” Mr Frost said.

Mr Tindall moved to Yarram soon after, founding the Bull Bar & Gallery and inviting one of those street artists – Khosnaran Khurelbaatar, a.k.a Heesco – to paint a mural on his wall.

Paul Frost and Jody Twite stand with Heesco’s Ship Inn mural. // Photo: Tom Parry

 

Impressed with the work, Mr Frost invited Heesco back to Yarram and commissioned the artist to paint two more murals – one on the front of the Ship Inn Motel, the other on a wall at the rear of the establishment.

That second mural is arguably more stunning than the first.

Located behind the reception area and next to the swimming pool, said mural features a set of nefarious characters, an octopus with a monocle, various severed tentacles and a smattering of pop-culture references all surrounding a piratical bar.

Following these efforts, Mr Frost established a committee of himself and two others – Mr Tindall, and farmer Eric Greenaway – to forge the idea of a localised art trail, drawing inspiration from the Silo Art Trail in north-west Victoria.

Their initial proposal sought to have ten murals in Yarram, which proved a harder feat than they imagined.

“Wayne and Eric canvassed lots of people to try and get the 10, and it wasn’t taken on-board straightaway,” Mr Frost explained.

“But then slowly, people sort of thought about it, and thought it would be great idea.”

And the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

The 24 murals are scattered across town, each and every one of them telling a story.

At the Yarram Golf Club, there’s a portrait of South African golfer Gary Player, commemorating his historic visit in 1956.

On the side of the Yarram Bakery, a montage of Vietnamese refugees serves as a “Thank You” from local resident Liem Nguyen, who migrated to Australia following the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, the Mechanics Hall wears the face of Ada Crossley, an operatic vocalist who garnered worldwide fame at the turn of the 20th century.

Yet the most impressive of the works is the Mongolian Light Horseman mural, the last to be completed by Heesco, which can be found on the Sports Stadium in Grant Street.

The Mongolian Light Horseman mural in Grant Street, Yarram. // Photo: Tom Parry

The artwork not only pays tribute to Heesco’s Mongolian heritage, but also that of Chin Langtip, a migrant who moved to Australia in the 1850s and whose descendants still live in the region today.

Not surprisingly, the murals have amassed a great deal of curiosity, which Yarram is already reaping the benefits of – and not just from rubberneckers who pass through.

Ms Twite of the Ship Inn has noticed an increase in overnight stays due to the trail’s interest.

“People actually staying here because that’s one of the things they wanted to do – to check all the murals,” Ms Twite said.

She also remarked that tourists would only see Yarram as a stop on the way to Wilsons Promontory in the past, whereas now, “it’s not just Wilsons Prom as much anymore.”

Mr Frost adds: “To us, that’s what we want to achieve – it’s no longer going to Wilsons Prom, and then coming here to have a look as you’re driving through.”

Additionally, the trail isn’t just encouraging tourists to stay in Yarram, but persuading them to extend their stay.

“Most people would stay one or two nights, now they’re staying two or three,” Mr Frost said.

“When they come here and see the murals… they realise we’ve got Tarra-Bulga just up the road, Ninety Mile Beach just out at Woodside, Port Albert; you’ve got the Long Jetty at Port Welshpool, Agnes Falls…

“So the murals bring them here, but then there’s all the other attractions that keep them here.”

And as further endorsement of its tourist credentials, Yarram recently earned the title of Best Street Art Trail for the second year in a row.

Paul Frost and Jody Twite with their original design for Mural #4, located on the Ship Inn’s back wall. // Photo: Tom Parry

In commenting on the win, the Australian Street Art Awards judges said that they could only but be impressed by the sheer magnitude of the project.

“There are so many commendable features at play, including the high calibre art, the single-artist focus to create consistency, the QR codes on each mural, through to the trademarking to create a profitable legacy and the committed community,” they said.

Everybody involved with the trail feels a great pride in the achievement, none more so than Heesco himself, who said that it was a great feeling to win again.

“Most artists don’t get an opportunity like this, so I’m very grateful for the response,” Heesco told the Gippsland Times.

“It’s proof that any idea you push and work hard enough on can become something.”

There has apparently been talk of more murals in what has been dubbed “Heesco Town”, but the artist’s busy schedule has prevented him from making the journey.

Nonetheless, Heesco is eager to make a return.

“Yarram’s become a home away from home for my family – my kids are excited to see the friends they have there when we come round,” he said.

Whether more murals are added to the town or not, there’s no doubt that Heesco and the entire community of Yarram have created something special in this part of the world.

Here’s hoping the trail gets the greater attention that it well and truly deserves.

For more information on the Yarram Street Art Trail, head to the official website at heescotown.com