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Currumbin Beach is one of my favourite spots on the Gold Coast. It’s a bit further away from the craziness that is Surfer’s Paradise and it’s got an awesome, laid-back vibe to it. Plus, Elephant Rock at the beach’s northern end provides endless photographic opportunities no matter what time of day, so it’s a spot I’m always happy to go back to.
There’s no better time to go to Currumbin than during September. Not only is the weather almost perfect, with sunny warm days and refreshingly cool water, but it’s also the time of year that the beach plays host to the SWELL Sculpture Festival. For three weeks, this festival transforms the waterfront from Elephant Rock all the way to the Currumbin SLSC into one giant gallery full of unique and fun pieces of artwork — very few of which are actually made of sand (which you might expect, given its beach location).
I feel ashamed to say that I have lived in Brisbane for six years and this year was the first time I ever visited the festival. It’s been on my radar for years, but I’ve never seemed to make it there before all the sculptures are packed up and sent on to their next homes.
This year, I made visiting the festival a priority, and I’m so glad I did. What I expected to be an hour turned into more than two hours of wandering in amongst the sculptures. I was completely wowed by what I saw, and I spent quite a bit more time contemplating the artists’ meaning and motives than I thought I would!
Below, I will take you on a walk along Currumbin Beach so you, too, can see some of the sculptures featured in the 2014 incarnation of this festival. But first, a note: I attended this festival at what I considered to be the ideal time: just after sunrise. The sunlight was golden, the clouds were perfect, and the children on school holidays had yet to start arriving. Later in the day, it gets much more crowded and it would be much more difficult to capture the sculptures with quite such empty surroundings. For more information on the logistics of the festival, please see the bottom of this post.
When I arrived at sunrise, this sculpture was one of the first I noticed. As I wandered out to Elephant Rock across the sand, this massive gun was perched on a hill and seemed to appear out of nowhere. It was sitting at a very coincidental angle as well, pointed at the high-rises of Surfers Paradise as it was. And seriously, how awesome of a name does it have — Keeping up with the Kalashnikovs!
I liked this cloud sculpture (Air Filled Celluoid Cloud by Clayton Blake). It was simple, yet slightly different from the usual hearts that you see framing things.
This dark horse was one of the most popular at the festival if I could judge by all the photos I saw of the event. He looked so hearty, as though he really could be prancing down the beach with the wind in his tail. The work on him was so fine and ornate, which contrasted with just how huge he was (he towered over me).
I had to laugh when I saw this. I’ve certainly never thought about rugging up a pandanus tree for winter, especially because they have so many roots dangling down! I loved the splash of colour the knitting added to the tree.
This wolf was incredibly eye-catching, even from quite a long distance away. Sitting on a pedestal next to the sidewalk on Pacific Parade, he stood at eye-level with adults, which was absolutely perfect. That way, you could be truly stared down by his severe eyes that left you wondering what you’d done wrong.
The fact that the chicken wire was moulded to look just like fur, complete with waves and layers, was amazing. I don’t know how I managed to capture a shot of him without a horde of people around because that seemed to be a permanent state.
I know this little robot creation has a bird face, but all I could think of when I saw it was “Waaaaallll-eee!” Turns out it’s a turbo chook racer. I didn’t even know such a thing existed.
This guy was probably my favourite of the whole festival — or at least, he left the biggest impression on me. At first, I just thought he was a sad troll (perhaps he’d become sad just as the sun came out and turned him into stone?) but then I realised what he was dragging behind him as his ball and chain…an iPhone. Who hasn’t felt like that with their own smartphone? I know I sometimes need to chop that ball and chain and get away for a while. And how’s this for a title: Device Tethering. Good one, David McGuinness.
Might be a bit too large a sign to hold up while you’re in the surf. It turns out this is referring to ‘saving our Surfers (Paradise)’ anyway.
A seagull this large, and this realistic, is enough to give anyone nightmares. Can you just imagine all of them standing around going, “Moine? Moine?”
I’m not sure how I managed to get a shot of Intervention without the mobs of children all around it. Even though you’re not allowed to climb on or otherwise touch the sculptures, this one still seemed to be quite the favourite with the kids.
There were so many unique sculptures made out of completely different materials. The dainty Vertumnus was made of clay and tiles while Rosie Harvest made The Girl on the Beach entirely of ‘wasted’ materials, giving her an almost skeletal effect.
Awww. It’s a koala dressed up like an Aussie digger from WWI.
I found this one really interesting. At first look, it looked like a man hanging from a tree, which I thought would be an interesting statement. On closer look, though, I could see two sets of arms and legs emerging from one body and then intertwining themselves. It really was a unique and intriguing piece of art.
Apparently, as the sun comes up, a beam of light is supposed to be funnelled through this guy’s head onto the ground below. I would have liked to have seen that — but I wouldn’t have liked to have been an ant on the ground in front of him! In any case, when I saw this guy, all I could think was “Awww, poor little dude.” He looks so hunched over and saddened by the world. I just wanted to give him a hug!
These guys, on the other hand…well, I definitely didn’t want to give them hugs. When I first glimpsed this creepy circle, I thought they were a group of dementors that had had an accident with a bucket of white paint. On second look, I realised they were supposed to be ghosts. I think I was more scared of them when they were dementors.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list of all the sculptures that were at the festival. In fact, in reviewing the program to name all the artworks pictured in this post, I came across a number that I would have loved to have seen — like a throne inspired by Game of Thrones and a clutch of baby turtles crawling out to sea. I think next year I’ll be setting aside a whole morning for the festival…and I might come back to see them lit up at night as well!
The Swell Sculpture Festival runs every September (this year’s dates were the 12th-21st of September) at Currumbin Beach on the Gold Coast. Entry to the event is free, but I recommend buying a program while you’re there so you can look over all the sculptures and make sure you don’t miss any.
The last weekend usually falls at the beginning of Queensland school holidays so be aware that it will be very crowded. By 8am, there was almost no parking left at the beach itself; $8 will buy you an all-day parking spot at the nearby Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, from which it is a 400m walk.
There are plenty of events that happen throughout the festival, from activities for the kids to masterclasses for the adults. The What’s On Guide will let you know when and where these are happening. Also, if you find a sculpture you just can’t part with, they are nearly all on sale — just be ready to part with more than $10,000!