Artist: Carolyn Wagstaff

Port Macquarie, NSW

Sponsor: Mid North Coast Maritime Museum

Location: Maritime Museum, 6 William Street, Port Macquarie

Artist's Statement

Native to the region, the koala has born witness to European settlement, a tree-top voyeur of our local history. Inspired by traditional Willow Pattern design, Willow Koala includes allegorical imagery of Port Macquarie's heritage & culture. It describes the arrival of the first convicts & settlers aboard The Lady Nelson, Prince Regent, and the Mermaid in 1821; the Birpai fisherman represents the original owners of the land; an early botanical illustration by Annabella (Innes) Boswell (1840s); and, historical and contemporary structures set amongst native flora and fauna. Our heritage and history contribute towards the transformation of the landscape and the uniqueness of the Hastings region.
Historical & Contemporary Structures Featured:
• St Thomas' Church 1824-28
• Historical Museum Clarence Street 1836 - as residence
• Wesley Church 1845
• Courthouse 1869
• Tacking Point Lighthouse 1879
• Maritime Museum Cottage 1890's
• Majestic Cinemas Art Deco style(?1930s)
• War Memorial 1921 & historic canon
• Observatory 1961/62
• Dennis Bridge 1961
• The Glasshouse (2006/7)
• Surf Lifeguard Tower

Design Front:
• The koala form is invisible as two pelicans (replacing the traditional Willow Pattern Doves) fly overhead
• Below a spray of Eucalyptus, the Brig, Cutter & Schooner (Lady Nelson, Prince Regent & The Mermaid) are arriving on the unsuspecting natural environment
• A Birpai fisherman peacefully spear fishing
• Foot prints marking human impact on the environment
Across the legs and body:
• Botanical illustration influenced by Anabella Boswell 1840's representing wildflowers & the arts
• Eucalyptus tree replaces the willow & catkins of the Willow Pattern design, with leaves, gumnuts, and flowers
• Acacia - Wattle - Bottlebrush -Willow Pattern-like stylisation & European grape vine representing wineries and leisure
• A motif of seashells
• Native fauna: Koalas; Pelicans; Magpie; Kangaroos, and Wombats
• The traditional Willow Pattern fence panels divide areas surrounding koalas nestling in their gum tree sanctuary and separate other areas of settlement such as the town from the forest on the lower part of the design.
Representing contemporary Port Macquarie lifestyle along Hastings River, estuary and bayed coastline:
• Boating, fishing and surfing
• Camel rides
• Chinese Junk
• Whale watching
• Children at play
• Artists
• Tourists
Why the artist chose Willow Pattern:
Allegorical style artwork has long been Carolyn's passion. As an art student, she studied historical woven tapestry design, admiring their unique methods of storytelling, use of semi-realistic imagery and pattern. The Willow Pattern design has similarities.
Popular in Europe from late 18th Century it is believed to have been influenced by Chinese cobalt ware imported to Europe amidst a surge in the popularity for Chinoiserie and items from the orient. Engraver, Thomas Minton from Worcester U.K., where he learnt his trade, is believed to have produced one of the first Willow Pattern designs. There was no patent attached to the design and in those days, engravers often shared designs or transferred them when they worked with other potteries. Caughley Pottery also produced the design along with Spode of Staffordshire in 1784. These designs were said to have influenced many other producers to later develop their own versions such as: Adams, Wedgewood, and Davenport. They used the same design but made minor moderations such as changing the buildings and the fretted border and fences in the background of the design.
Willow Pattern dinnerware was initially purchased by the well-to-do but with advancements in manufacturing, particularly the invention of the transfer to replace hand-painting, it saw an increase in popularity with the design ware becoming more affordable and accessible to all households. Willow Pattern tableware was transported to Australia during settlement and remains popular today.
The Chinese love story depicted in these allegorical designs are believed to have been invented after the fact. One popular interpretation of the design follows the story of two lovers, a mandarin’s daughter & male secretary. They eloped together to avoid an arranged marriage that was planned for the coming springtime when the cherry trees blossomed. The man to whom the mandarin's daughter was originally betrothed pursued the couple. They sought refuge on an island until being discovered. The story ended in tragedy with the two lover's perishing. The gods took pity, uniting and immortalizing the couple in a pair of love-birds or doves. The pagodas, dwellings & boat heading to the island are part of the story, the three figures depicted represent the pursuit; the fence represents the couple’s banishment by the mandarin, the blossoms symbolic of the season of the proposed arranged marriage.
It is easy to see how a story can be woven around such imagery. Thus, with addition and alteration of images, the subject matter of my design could tell a different story. In this instance, Willow Koala describes the claiming of the Port Macquarie coastline by the fleet of settler & convict carrying ships that descended upon the original land of the Birpai people and its natural environment (koalas included). Followed by changes and divisions through building & infrastructure development. As time progressed, establishment of a city where people live or visit, to enjoy both the natural and man-made environments, history & culture.
Carolyn says: "The invisible koala as it quietly looks down upon mankind's progress will hopefully always remain a part of the Port Macquarie environment".