Oakey swells with pride as street artist Fintan Magee uses library as his latest canvas

Fintan Magee has settled into a rhythm on the streets of Oakey.

The world-renowned street artist has spent the past week painting his latest work on the town library wall, devoting a good deal of that time to chat with residents and passersby as the work has progressed.

“I feel like smaller towns are a little bit more hands-on in their involvement with works like this,” he said.

Magee has painted large-scale murals in cities all over the world but has noticed a difference when he paints in regional Australia.

A painter puts colour onto a mural of a sunflower
The large-scale work took four days to complete.(ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)

“There seems to be a greater sense of ownership [from the locals]and I guess you could say pride in the work,” he said.

“There aren’t art galleries in a lot of smaller towns, so these people don’t have access to art all the time. And I just like the idea of art being a part of people’s everyday lives.

“I like the work becoming part of the landscape.”

While other “big things” around Australia have divided opinionsthe modern regional street art phenomenon has been universally praised.

a painting of a large blue elephant on an external wall
Fintan Magee’s elephant mural has become a must-see work in Toowoomba. (ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)

Art transforms community

Large-scale artworks have not only brightened small communities but have brought art-loving visitors to towns that have needed a boost.

Almost 400 kilometres west of Oakey, Thallon is gearing up to celebrate five years of its painted silos.

Project coordinator Leanne Brosnan said the mural revitalised the small town.

“During the drought the former lessee of the hotel estimated that the silos added $200,000 a year to his bottom line,” she said.

“But you can’t put a value on the pride and the confidence that it’s given many members of the community.

Two artists on a lift paint a 30m silo wall
Artists Drapl and The Zookeeper spent three weeks painting the silo in Thallon in 2017.(ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)

“It’s transformed the town in ways that we could never have imagined.”

Ms Brosnan said painting the town’s silos was a “statement of something positive” for a town that had been doing it tough in the middle of the drought.

“They’d seen the railway station close; they’d seen businesses close down. It was a constant state of decline,” she said.

“So that beautiful mural was meant to sort of draw a line in the sand and say, ‘no more decline, it’s all up from here’.”

And it has been.

a large stamp poster featuring the thallon silo mural
The Thallon mural has been depicted on a stamp.(Supplied: Thallon Progress Association)

“Nobody really knew what was going to eventuate,” Ms Brosnan said.

“But it has reinvigorated the town and given people pride in their community.”

Images of the Thallon mural have graced tea towels, stubby coolers, magnets, jigsaw puzzles, and even a postage stamp.

It was the first mural of its kind in Queensland and has now become a must-see part of the Australian Silo Art Trail.

“People in Thallon know their community is famous for this beautiful mural, and it’s sort of become a focal point for young and old, which is something pretty special,” Ms Brosnan said.

Boost in economy and confidence

Thallon has a population of 257, and many of those people have become unofficial tour guides when visitors come to town to see the mural.

Caravans parked in front of mural
The mural has turned the once quiet town into a must-stop destination.(ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)

“We might have had two caravans a night before the mural was painted,” Ms Brosnan said.

“Now during tourist season there’s 25 caravans a night.

“Some of them go to the pub for dinner, some of them come to the information centre and buy a tea towel, and some of them go to the new little coffee shop.

“It gives a chance for the locals to see all that through visitor’s eyes and appreciate their town even more.”

a close up image of an empty paint bucket with an artist and mural in the background
Oakey library’s exterior has been transformed.(ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders)

Back in Oakey, it’s these sentiments that Adam Wenitong, founder of Young Bruthas Mentorship project, hopes to see — once the paint has dried on Australia’s newest street artwork.

“I’ve seen a lot of people from out of town come and take photos of the street art in [nearby] Toowoomba,” he said.

“When I did some youth programs in Oakey the young people said, ‘Why can’t we have something like that street art here?'”

“And now we do.”

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