The songlines connecting the shire to Paris

Sound and story: Guitar maker Stuart Monk (centre) is representing Australia in a hand-crated guitar exhibition in Paris in March. Aboriginal artist Graham Toomey (right) has painted the guitar telling his people's story. They are shown with James Lomman and Jeff Cosatto. Picture Chris Lane

Sound and story: Guitar maker Stuart Monk (centre) is representing Australia in a hand-crated guitar exhibition in Paris in March. Aboriginal artist Graham Toomey (right) has painted the guitar telling his people's story. They are shown with James Lomman and Jeff Cosatto. Picture Chris Lane

Shire guitar-maker Stuart Monk and Aboriginal artist Graham Toomey have combined new technology and the art of the world’s oldest living culture to tell a uniquely Australian story.

When Stuart built his new style of guitar at his Heathcote business,Fican Guitars, he was so proud of the result he decided to unveil it to the world at the international hand-crafted guitar makers festival, the Salon de la Belle Guitare in Paris next month.

Because he is the first Australian to exhibit at the exhibition, he wanted to use the opportunity to take the message of Australian indigenous culture to the world.

Stuart asked well-known Aboriginal artist Graham Toomey to paint the guitar telling the story of his people.

For Graham it proved not only an artistic commission but a connection with his father, Bobby who had recently passed away.

“When Stuart approached me about creating an artwork on the guitar it also allowed a connection to my father who passed away only the week before,” he said.

“My father was also known as Scrubby Lamb and he was a musician, a guitar player who loved music, so there is really powerful connection when I painted the guitar. It is named Scrubby after him.

“It’s not just a physical thing. It is very spiritual. I felt his presence and heard his music while I was painting the guitar.”

Graham, whose people and land is the Wiradjuri and Wongaibon people of Central Western NSW said the artwork on the guitar captures and symbolises the places and the waterholes and the tracks that connect his people to those places and waterholes.

“The artwork also captures the sacred places that those ancient people have been journeying to for thousands of years,” he said.

“The orange and red background colour symbolises the earth. The brown and blue circles symbolise the places and the sacred places. The little blue circle symbolises the waterholes and billabongs.”

Manufacturing the guitar was also a journey of a different kind for Stuart.

“I’m a performer, a solo acoustic artist and I damaged my finger and had to learn how to play guitar again.”

Stuart was cutting a boiler out of a boat when the angle grinder cut through his finger cutting the tendons.

“I decided to build a guitar with a bigger neck to accommodate my injury. I did something extremely different. I had the shape of a treble clef on the headstock.

“It’s an usual desng. The top part is in the shape of an acoustic guitar and bottom half electric guitar.

“But it can convert from sound of acoustic to electric using a pizeo and can blend the two so it is a very different sound.

“After a few different models and reviews by Guitar magazine I did a few exhibitions at guitar shows around the country.

“I got a few orders and started a business, opening my shop, Fican Guitars one year ago.

“The name originates from the combination of two names, Fijian mahogany, which was used for the body of the guitar, and Canadian maple for the neck.

“I sold about 18 guitars last year and now I’ve got Paris coming up in late March at the Guitar Makers Festival.

“They have never had an exhibitor coming over from Australia before, so I started thinking of of our culture.

“Someone put me in contact with Graham who showed me some of his artwork which is now on the guitar.

“The works talks about the tracks of his people’s journey. It also talks about the journey of Fican Guitars.

“We’ve all had a helping hand in making this guitar. It takes up to three months to make a guitar.

“This guitar was finished last week and played the first time by an Aboriginal artist in the city.

“It’s not just a guitar. It’s about culture. It has brought people together.”

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