Wonthaggi Sculpture: Celebrating History & Climate Action

A new public art installation, that honours Wonthaggi's coal mining heritage while embracing climate action and renewable energy sources, will be erected in the town as part of Bass Coast Shire Council's Public Art Program.

Australian artist Joel Adler, who specialises in environmentally inspired artworks, has created a 4-metre sculpture from a range of materials, including Corten steel, stainless steel, concrete and toughened glass mirror. The sculpture pays tribute to Wonthaggi's past to capture the town's character and transition over the years.

The $40,000 artwork, Emergence, features a dramatic steel structure emerging through a mirror surface on a Corten steel plinth. Coal tunnels ascend from the work and converge at two points, transformed through the mirror with a loop of endless energy.

It will be installed at the corner of Heron Drive and Graham Street on March 20 and 21.

The site holds relevance as a meeting point for walkers, runners and cyclists using the Nyora Wonthaggi Rail Trail. But it was once a freight link used to transport coal from the Wonthaggi mines to Melbourne and beyond, as well as the site of the original Wonthaggi 'tent town'. Today there is also a vantage of the Wonthaggi Wind Farm by Baxter's Beach.

Adler, an award-winning artist and industrial designer who was mentored by renowned artist-architect Chris Fox, has taken out multiple top awards at Sydney's iconic Sculpture by the Sea events. An exciting national talent, Adler plans to sprinkle coal from the Wonthaggi mine in the plinth of the sculpture as a symbolic gesture.

"I care a lot about sustainability and the environment, so it's important for me to make the work site-specific as well as community-specific to start conversations," he said.

"For me, I was focused on the transition from coal power to renewable energy, particularly in Wonthaggi and in those windy southern areas of Victoria.

"As you move around the work, in my mind, it's like a visual story. You go from these large tunnels emerging from the ground, then you pass the 'present plane' which is the mirror surface. Finally, 'looking into the future' is this reflective loop representing this endless energy, a sustainable source of energy that cannot run out.

"The work symbolises that transition, so actually including coal from the coal mine there is really important. I find it really drives home that idea of the historic and the old story - the importance of still telling those stories - while looking to the future in terms of what we can do for the planet and the climate."

Since 2014 Bass Coast Shire Council has commissioned one artist a year to create a themed, site-specific artwork that represents the local area. Previous winners include Love and Precious Things by Joe Donohue in Cape Paterson, and Alpha by Geoffrey Bartlett in Newhaven.

Bass Coast Shire Mayor, Cr Michael Whelan, said public art was an important tool that not only enriched towns aesthetically, but provided cultural value, community identity and a conduit to bring people together.

"This artwork is a tribute to the hard work and coal mining heritage that shaped Wonthaggi. But it also looks to the town it has become," Cr Whelan said.

"Not only will Joel Adler's Emergenceprompt important community conversations about the meaning behind the artwork itself, but we hope it will fuel discussion about our environment and climate action, which has great synergy with Council's ongoing commitment to the environment."

"Public art is something everyone can enjoy. It brings vibrancy to our towns and draws in tourists. We are proud to support a variety of Australian artists through our public art program."

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