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Tor of Hartley: a magnet for artists

Metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick is inspired by the Tor of Hartley.

Metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick is inspired by the Tor of Hartley.

By Ellen Hill                                              Photos: David Hill

Hulking moodily over a remnant of the nation’s colonial past, a pile of rocks flung against the side of a hill just west of the Blue Mountains has been a magnet for artists for two centuries, creatively and literally.

Known as Kew-Y-Ahn, Bells Rock or just The Tor, the granite rocks are embedded in the hill rising above Hartley Historic Site, between Lithgow and the Blue Mountains.

Kew-Y-Ahn has inspired artists for more than 150 years.

Kew-Y-Ahn has inspired artists for more than 150 years.

In 1865, one of the colony’s most important landscape painters, Eugene von Guérard (1811-1901) featured them in his painting Sunset in New South Wales.

Today, across the hill a bit and down, metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick unleashes his creativity in Talisman Gallery under The Tor’s gaze, its protection, its morose acceptance.

Clang. Pause. Clang. Pause. Tap. Tap. Tap tap.

Ron beats his metal into submission, coaxing the ore into the shape he has dreamed up.

In the murky light of winter when the fog pervades every open space; under oppressive summer heat; in the milky romance of moonlight, The Tor stares out across the valley indifferently.

From the doorway of his workshop, a converted woolshed, Ron gazes back.

The Tor of Hartley is beautiful at any time.

The Tor of Hartley is beautiful at any time.

“I don’t know what it is about them – maybe it’s because they are granite and literally a bit magnetic, but I definitely draw inspiration from them,’’ Ron says.

“They represent strength and reliability like metal and they have metallic qualities. But really, they’re just really beautiful at any time of the day or year.’’

Whether it’s the configuration of how they were arranged after eons of wear from rushing water from the Cox’s River and its tributary the River Lett, how their sheer size radiates an imposing presence or how the sun’s rays tickle their faces at dawn, the wardens of the hill have long-held a magnetism for artists.

Visible from miles around, Kew-Y-Ahn appears in the von Guérard work, Sunset in New South Wales, after he assimilated on the left of the work the cabbage tree palms of American Creek in Wollongong, which he captured in an 1859 pencil sketch, with the granite rocks of Hartley on the right.

Interestingly, von Guérard did not actually entitle the work, which was assigned a title when it was shown in the 1870 Intercolonial Exhibition in Sydney, where it was on sale for 60 guineas.

The Sydney Morning Herald of the day commented “The sunset scene… is a beautiful painting but rather highly coloured’’.

The son of court painter to Emperor Franz Joseph 1 of Austria, Bernard Von Guérard, Eugene von Guérard immigrated to Australia in 1852.

Colonial landscape artist Eugene von Guerard

Colonial landscape artist Eugene von Guerard

A respected romantic landscape painter, his work celebrates the untamed, wild beauty of the Australian landscape and awe-inspiring presence, qualities most definitely displayed by the granite tor at Hartley.

He was on a quest for landscapes of a particular quality to sketch and develop into large oil paintings.

The Blue Mountains landscape, with its vast vistas, plunging gorges and towering sandstone escarpments and rock formations, was ideal.

Von Guérard discovered the rock outcrop during two visits to the Blue Mountains and Hartley in 1859, capturing the scene in sketches that June and December.

By then he was an established oil painter with works exhibited in Australia and internationally, including at the London International Exhibition, and lithographs of his sketches produced to illustrate Journals and Newspapers.

Those sketches are held by the Mitchell Library.

Although the landscape of the Vale of Hartley had been sketched since its discovery, von Guérard’s work marks the transition from drawings recording the scene like a camera does today, to works of art.

“Like me today, von Guérard lived in a very cosmopolitan era when it was acceptable and even encouraged to experiment with art and culture,’’ Talisman Gallery metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick says.

“That gave people like him freedom to create art in their own style, just like me and my art today.’’

Detail of one of Ron Fitzpatrick's metal works at Talisman Gallery.

Detail of one of Ron Fitzpatrick’s metal works at Talisman Gallery.

Ron’s own artistic journey began in the early 1980s, creating handmade knives and Tai Chi dancing swords in a small shop in Melbourne.

Since moving to Sydney in the late 1980s, Ron’s art and business has evolved from a need to provide for his family by making his own furniture from scrap metal to trendy inner west wrought iron work to finally settling in the Blue Mountains and Hartley.

These days his gallery collection includes large high-end pieces along with his signature metal art mirrors, small affordable sculptures and candleholders and an extensive collection of imported jewellery and new crystal pieces.

One of the showrooms at Talisman Gallery.

One of the showrooms at Talisman Gallery.

Taking inspiration from ancient symbols and ideas he sees in meditation, Ron believes that “being creative is a state of mind and I just don’t think people have learnt to let themselves access that part of themselves’’.

“Designs and ideas are all around us, like these rocks here. You just have to become aware of them.’’

The rocks featured in von Guérard’s work can be explored today along the Kew-Y-Ahn Bell Rock Heritage Trail walking track at Hartley Historic Site.

Visitors to the site can also wander around the historic buildings, have refreshments at the café, watch Ron at work and buy a unique piece at Talisman Gallery and even brave neck-bristling terror on an evening ghost tour.

Talisman Gallery at Hartley Historic Site, Great Western Hwy (400m before turn off to Jenolan Caves heading west) is open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday. Details: Ron 0407 723 722 or

* Talisman Gallery is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

Metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick at work at Talisman Gallery.

Metal artist Ron Fitzpatrick at work at Talisman Gallery.

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Norman Lindsay Gallery, Faulconbridge.

Mountain biking on the Oaks track between Glenbrook and Woodford.

The old Lucasville Station platform and stairs on the Lapstone Zig Zag track.

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