By CAITLIN CROWLEY
TOWERING over the dusty south west Queensland landscape, Thallon’s GrainCorp silo art and its striking sunset colour palette is truly a sight to behold.
“The Watering Hole” tells the story of Thallon’s resilient region, from the tranquil banks of the Moonie River to its rich agricultural history and stunning natural beauty.
Five years since the paint dried on the magnificent mural, this tiny town 550kms south west of Brisbane is a very different place thanks to the community’s determination to create a tourism destination in what was the middle of nowhere.
It was 2015 when Thallon Progress Association first started searching for ideas to reinvigorate the town.
“This was a town that was in decline, but the community didn’t sit back and wait for someone else to bail them out,” Balonne Shire Mayor Samantha O’Toole said.
“They hit upon the idea of painting the silos and became the first in Queensland to do that.
“It’s all the more notable because the Thallon wheat silos are still operational and GrainCorp have shown wonderful community spirit in being part of this initiative.”
It took the Progress Association two years to plan and fundraise for the epic project, which was officially completed on July 20, 2017.
Stretching 40m wide and 30m high, it took 500 cans of spray paint to bring “The Watering Hole” to life.
WATCH: How “The Watering Hole” was painted
“The foresight and determination shown by a small group of people back in 2015 has been responsible for raising the profile of both the town and the region, by creating an iconic tourism attraction that has boosted our economy,” O’Toole said.
Association project coordinator Leanne Brosnan said when the idea was first hatched to paint the silos, no one could have imagined the transformative effect the project would have.
“We couldn’t have imagined some of the ways it was going to reinvigorate the community,” she said.
“It’s just spawned more people in the community to step up and do things and give them confidence to do things.”
She believes the tourism dollars generated by the silos saved the town’s last remaining local business, the Francis Hotel and its Post Office and store, when drought ravaged the region from 2017 to 2020.
“I don’t think Thallon wold have survived the drought – we definitely would have lost the pub,” Brosnan said.
Instead, she said momentum driven by the murals attracted a new business venture to town in 2020 with the old General Store, which had been closed for years, being reimagined and reopened.
It’s now serving up coffee and food for locals and visitors alike and producing a range of local merchandise designed by the Progress Association to help fund more community projects.
The success of the silo murals inspired the Association to create a range of other new tourist attractions in Thallon, including William the giant hairy-nosed wombat statue, sculptures explaining local history and the newly opened Thallon Information Station.
The silos were also the perfect backdrop for biennial dining event, “Grazing at the Watering Hole” (pictured below) which will return to the region in March next year.
GrainCorp’s Kyle Docherty said the mural had brought a huge sense of identity and pride to the community and GrainCorp was proud to have played a role in reinvigorating the region.
“The true heroes are the Thallon Progress Association,” he said.
“They’ve been instrumental in keeping the momentum of the mural going and are always looking at how it can attract more people to their beloved town.”
Annette Green from the Australian Silo Art Trail also congratulated the association for how it had continued to drive interest around the artwork.
“Upon completion, many other silo art committees and associations dissolve and when ended so does the enthusiasm and reasons for painting the silos in the first place,” Green said.
“Thallon however, has continued to grow and prosper – when I’m sure at one stage many thought the town was lost.
“They have worked hard and still do in promoting their town. They have encouraged a new business to open and ensured the continued survival of the Francis Hotel and Post Office which is also a great achievement.
“Tourist attraction through art is sweeping the country and Thallon has embraced the concept fully. I look forward to seeing this town continue to grow and prosper in the future.”
The artists behind the iconic bush scene, Travis Vinson (Drapl) and Joel Fergie (The Zookeeper) always wanted to create more than just a stunning artwork.
In their original design brief they said, “our aim is for the work to reflect the identities of those in the town and also the environment around it.”
“Our objective is to make the work beautiful, in order to draw travellers to the town. But also to tell a story, and encourage its viewers to become more familiar with the town of Thallon.
“We want the community to look up to the silos as the sun sets each day and be reminded of why they love the land they live in.”
As the community prepares to mark 5 years since “The Watering Hole’s” completion with a special “Silobration” morning tea on July 20, it’s clear that goal has been achieved.
“We could never have envisaged how “The Watering Hole” mural could have transformed Thallon over the last 5 years,” Leanne Brosnan said.
“Now that we know what is possible we will continue to dream big.”