Rory Wray-McCann has worked in mines all over Australia. These days he is a prospector and artist living near Queenstown on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
The art of Rory Wray McCann is big — big like the mountainous landscape surrounding the prospector’s home in the bush near Queenstown, Tasmania.
It is deep too, as deep as the many rare rocks and minerals he uses to create abstract works representing the splitting of the atom or Stephen Hawking and black holes.
His backyard, a stone’s throw from Lake Margaret and the Tyndall Range, is also his gallery.
Works are often set in concrete and measured in metres and tonnes.
Wray-McCann calls this work Pick Up Sticks and suggests only work-hardened drillers could play such a game with heavy mining drill rods. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
For one sculpture, heavy, 50-year-old diamond-drilling rods are organised with the appearance of the child’s game Pick up Sticks.
“It’s the game played by west coast diamond drillers, offsiders and real men,” Wray-McCann said.
“They just fling them around mate, and it’s the best way for any young man to get an understanding of what work is all about.”
Wray-McCann has worked at many jobs in the mining industry, including as a drilling contractor, for as many as 60 different mines across Australia.
As he puts it, “all the majors as well as bunch of rat-holes in the desert”.
He has something of a love-hate relationship with the industry: “I don’t ever want to work in an underground mine again, mate, unless its for me. My mine,” he said.
“But I love the people and the good, fun times you have with hard working men from all over the nation.”
Hawking Radiation is made from Tasmanian minerals from the Arthur River area and striking blue, copper-bearing rocks from Mt Isa. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
Big Bang was first large sculpture
One of his works is centred around a hi-vis mining jacket with a target stitched on the back along with the words ‘shoot straight’.
A huge granite marble is the weapon offered the viewer, too heavy to lift and throw.
Wray-McCann actually had the shirt made to wear at a mine where he had become outspoken about operational issues.
Abtosaur is reminiscent of a dinosaur skeleton with the railway rack sections creating a menacing jaw and teeth. (Supplied: Rory Wray-McCann)
He moved to Queenstown in 1986 from Wyong, NSW, to work on the big hydro-electric developments on the King River and the Pieman and has worked at most west coast mines as well as mines right across the country.
His great personal passions are prospecting, the natural sciences and physics — and art.
He made his first large-scale sculpture, Big Bang, more than 20 years ago from his collected rocks.
It is an abstract representation of the Big Bang theory, standing more than three metres tall and featuring rocks and minerals well over 100 million years old.
For a time Wray-McCann did some contract work at the Olympic Dam uranium mine, 550km north of Adelaide and while there, he took to collecting exquisitely rare ore rocks and crystals.
“Nearly went to jail over this one but I was able to fend them off mate,” he said with a cheeky laugh.
He gestures at his six-tonne work Split the Atom and notes: “It’s all uranium ores and rare crystals”.
“I got investigated for thieving the rocks but all I wanted to do was pay tribute to the men who have worked that Olympic Dam mine. They’re a wonderful group of men,” he said.
Tributes to Tasmanian pioneers
If rocks are his first passion, history is next.
He has constructed a four-metre-high wall hanging made entirely from railway relics — nails, rack rail sections, huge steam engine wrenches and more.
“All this paraphernalia you’ll find if you just keep your eyes to the ground around here mate,” Wray-McCann said.
“The place is loaded with relics and heritage. Loaded mate! Down every track.”
The Abtosaur sculpture suggests the collected fossils of a dinosaur; the rack rail sections make a perfect jaw with teeth.
It is also a tribute to Bowes Kelly, founder of the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company, admired by many for his vision and tenacity for investing in the 1890s in what is still one of the wildest parts of Australia.
Wray-McCann is working on a piece where heavy drill rods form a double helix. Stubby holders are attached to the piece called Driller’s DNA (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
Wray-McCann work, Moore’s Dark Energy, is a tribute to another pioneering west coaster, Thomas Bather Moore.
Moore walked overland from New Norfolk to Mt Dundas, not far from Zeehan, in 1878.
Over 30 years, his exploration and prospecting saw him tramp across most of the south-west corner of Tasmania.
The sculpture uses a carefully arrayed collection of hydro power line insulator discs, both glass and ceramic and suggests that it takes a dark energy to do what Moore did in often grim isolation.
The insulators are tied to Moore in that he led a track-cutting team that helped to build the Lake Margaret Power Scheme, part of the huge Mt Lyell mining enterprise.
Moore’s Dark Energy is a tribute to explorer, prospector and hydro track-cutter Thomas Bather-Moore. (ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)
“I thought, he’s the perfect representation of what I want to say about the dark energy that you need to survive out here in this bush,” Wray-McCann said.
Although he has lived a life full of hard work in big industrial locations, Wray-McCann has always harboured an ambition to be a writer.
In recent times he has started to pen his tales of mining towns and desert camps and the people he calls “salt of the earths”.
“The only way to learn to write is get out there and bloody observe and analyse,” he said.
“I have a little collection of stories called Not a Sentimental Bloke and it’s all mining yarns like punch ups, drink-fests, you name it.”
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