Nyree-Jane Taylor of Piawaning  |  100x70cm Giclée Fine Photographic Print by Martine Perret (2024)

"My name is Nyree-Jane. I am from the Wheatbelt. I was born in Merredin and grew up until I was six in Southern Cross. My family were farmers and my father was also a horseman. We grew up with horses and show jumping. My memories are of the vastness, the smell, the wind, and the red dirt. When I was six my parents sold the farm and with my brother and three sisters we moved to the Swan Valley. I went into dancing when we moved. It was at the Patricia Kay School of Dance, which was a shed at the back of someone's property with a little cement floor. We would do tap dance, modern jazz and ballet. That's when I fell in love with dance.

My Dad passed away when I was about 14. I ended up spending a lot of time with my sister Deb and her partner at the time, Ash. They started Rear Studio in West Perth and that's where my exposure to the arts catapulted. They had a space where Ash had his studio and his dark room, and we lived there. I would go back and forth to see Mum. It was an incredible five or six years of dancers, photographers and artists gathering, creating and connecting. I was exceptionally lucky. They were really rich teenage years. The arts were a huge part of it. There was always something interesting going on. I think it just became innate for me. I didn't know anything else but the arts.

I was the personal assistant to photographers. I then got a dance contract and moved to Japan. I travelled until I was about 26 living in India, Japan, Europe, and the United States. When I was in Japan, I was dancing, helping photographers and teaching English – doing anything to keep afloat. One day as I was in Ginza I fell upon a Mondrian exhibition. The curators had set it up like his studio and I had this real epiphany with his work and his studio. I can't explain what it was, it just blew me away. I thought that's what I really want to do. But then after that, I got offered a job in New York.

I fell upon the same exhibition again with the exact same setup. I saw it as a sign. I thought, I'm going to go home and learn to paint and draw. I got accepted into Claremont Art School. It was iconic with all these incredible people who had gone through it. When I was accepted I had a crappy portfolio. The next three years were incredible. It was a beautiful space with unique people. I learned to draw, I learned to be more creative in a structured way, to accept myself as I am and be in a safe space with crazy people. I then studied at Curtin.

I was going back and forth to the United States to see my boyfriend. We split up. I went to a New Year's Eve party and met Nick, and I fell in love. I didn't want to move up here because he was on his parents' farm. They were succession farming, and it was a lot of pressure. I commuted and then worked at New Norcia. I was doing the tours there because I was just totally in love with the art gallery and the library. I then moved into the education part and I started working with schools developing programs. I met my very close friends who are still a big part of my life now. By 2004 we had taken over the farm and I permanently moved. We have two children, Seraphim and Gabriel. One is at boarding school and one still at home.

Art has always been with me, and I was determined that I would always be practising. I had a few solo shows of my own in Perth when the children were small. I would also help Nick with the farm. I really love sheep work, would you believe? I have fond memories of the time, just before kids. I used to love being in the paddocks with Nick and doing that sort of work but also getting to know the farm better.

The connection to being a part of country is something that has always fascinated me. With indigenous Aboriginal culture they are country and they are in it, they are not separate in any shape or form. Being connected to the Wheatbelt, I know that I would never be able to feel it like they do. But I feel so grounded, as soon as I'm in a paddock, the smell of the bush, with the concept of Shinrin Yoku, forest bathing and connecting to nature.

I'd always had the idea of nourishing the community through the arts. I've lived with moments when I have felt lonely. I wanted a space where people felt really loved. The only way I knew how to create that space was through the arts. That's what got me through after my Dad passed away. I came out of that grief relatively unscathed.

Four other women were involved in establishing Gardiner Street Arts Collective in Moora and we all had the core value of always being inclusive. The space is firstly about how it makes people feel, and the art is secondary. Everyone feels safe in the space. I'm the chair and art director, but I'd like it to be handed over to someone in the community down the track.

I feel grateful. I lead a pretty rich life in the sense of where I am at with my own personal growth, my art, my friends, my husband and family. We are grateful to Nick's Dad and Mum because they were wise in how they've kept the woodlands on our property. We live in a house surrounded by bush and still have Carnaby's black cockatoos. My husband has worked exceptionally hard at the sustainability of farming and the environment.

With my arts, I think if I had been living in Perth, I don't think I would have progressed as much as I have as an artist living isolated. Nick knew when we started to see each other that the arts is my identity, just as farming is his identity. Whatever medium I use, whether it's movement, dance, drawing, painting, or photography, I don't see why I cannot do this forever, and not be whole.

I feel with the arts that making mistakes is just as important as the great stuff that you do. It's all a process. Finding a space to be quiet and to be bored, to turn the phone off. With Gardiner Street Arts Collective the arts can heal people, and it can reconcile groups of people as well. Once we sit down and make something together, we weave our stories. What has been incredibly giving to me has been watching people get to know each other through art, growing together, and having Aboriginal people coming into the space.

One day I was having a chat with Madeline Anderson, board member and coordinator for the Yorna Yarning Group. We were both talking about where we are from. Madeline said to me: I go out and sometimes hug a tree and have to be in the bush. I am so different but I do crave the smell of the bush and have an addiction to the last remaining light. It's a constant reminder of death and rebirth, that beautiful moment right at sunset. It reaches that peak with all the beautiful clouds. It's my clarity for the night. That's where I feel I'm really on country and its an absolutely 'awe' moment (especially during that period when we have three months of beautiful sunsets). Light is absolutely everything and it's so beautiful."


Click below to view the full portrait and read each story from the Act Belong Commit exhibition Women of the Hinterlands