Liddell Shutdown Powers Creative Process

Image by Anna Rankmore

The Upper Hunter’s retired coal-fired Liddell Power Station has mutated to an en plein air artwork as part of an ambitious creative program seeking to honour the legacy of the iconic energy plant.

Liddell helped to keep the lights on across NSW and sustained businesses for more than half a century until closure in April last year. The LiddellWORKS project – an innovative partnership between Arts Upper Hunter (AUH) and AGL – invited artists to mark the occasion.

A highly competitive process selected 16 artists from across the Hunter and beyond for a residency that allowed them to respond creatively to the process of closure and decommissioning of Liddell.

The invite extended to the before-and-after of the site’s closure, and the artists created works across a range of artforms including sound installation, pottery, 3D video recording, portraiture, large-scale photography, sculpture, blacksmithing, and wearable art.

Drawing inspiration from the vast industrial space and Liddell’s people, it didn’t take long for camera clicks to replace workplace clang and clank. Fossil fuels fired up a forge instead of a turbine, “industrial” and “technical” music replaced the melody of generating megawatts, and brush strokes on canvas were painting a different picture of the imposing legacy of the industrial revolution.

Will Maguire – an incredibly talented blacksmith from Lochinvar – ran workshops with Liddell employees and they created artworks using metal scraps from the site. Muswellbrook Council together with AUH has also commissioned him to create an illuminated bench seat sculpture for the town.

Rachel Milne – an oil painter based in the Newcastle suburb of Cardiff – loves abandoned industrial spaces. Pokolbin’s Rebecca Rath, an en plein air artist, works predominantly with landscapes and she produced a still life series for LiddellWORKS. Milne and Rath completed their works on site.

Sydney-based Todd Fuller has a special connection, his father having worked at Liddell for decades. As you would expect, he was engaged with the workforce and produced a series of 30 portraits while interviewing his subjects as they told him their stories.

Penny Dunstan – an agronomist from Brandy Hill – created a series of bowls out of the fly ash, a by-product of coal combustion power. Dunstan also wrote a piece of “speculative fiction” and submitted a series of photographs.

The program also incorporated an Indigenous component that local Aboriginal artists and culture workers designed. This included Gomeroi man Jakeob Watson’s bold and vivid mural and Wonnarua artist Michelle Earl’s weaving work. Both involved collaboration and engagement with local students.

AUH is the peak body for arts advocacy, promotion, and engagement across the local government areas of Muswellbrook, Singleton, Dungog, and Upper Hunter. For the past 20 years it has provided support, advice, and connection to the region’s creative communities.

LiddellWORKS culminates in a major exhibition of the completed and curated works running at Muswellbrook Regional Art Centre from Saturday 8 June and at Singleton Arts & Cultural Centre from Friday 14 June.

AGL Macquarie General Manager Len McLachlan said the company has a proud history of supporting community organisations and he was pleased to welcome the Upper Hunter artistic community to Liddell to mark the retirement of the power station.

“Liddell Power Station was a social, cultural, and economic fixture in our community for more than 50 years and we’re looking forward to seeing how the artists interpreted the stories of our people and responded to the site,” Mr McLachlan said. 

AUH executive director John O’Brien said there were many ways for artists to respond to Liddell’s evocative industrial landscape and to the decarbonisation journey AGL is undertaking.

“Liddell is a place of history and a place of transformation,” Mr O’Brien said. “And for artists, that’s a deeply appealing combo.

“We’re also hoping some of the artworks will reflect the great sense of pride that exists among the past and present workforce for the role they’ve played. The artists have struck a careful balance between the realities of climate change and greenhouse gas production and the essential work of providing electricity for 50 years.”  

Decommissioning of Liddell has been underway since its shutdown in April 2023 and the process has recycled or re-purposed more than 250,000 tonnes of potential waste. Demolition of the station is expected in early 2024, setting the site up for future use as a low-carbon industrial energy hub. The project will include agriculture, clean energy and firming technologies, composting, coal ash recycling, green metals, and advanced manufacturing.

The artists’ response has been incredible and AGL and AUH are justifiably proud of the results that mark the complex legacy of the industrial edifice and help capture its metamorphosis from power station to renewables hub.

LidddellWORKS project officer Marina Lee-Warner said the enterprise was all about connection, legacy, and transformation and much effort went into involving the Liddell workforce and community wherever possible.

“There is a palpable sense of pride and camaraderie among past and present employees,” Ms Lee-Warner said. “They remain very connected to Liddell. It is essential we honour that.”

In typical artistic style, LiddellWORKS places the debate about the region’s future in the foreground. The closure of the fossil fuel-powered generator was significant, and the project is part of the pathway forward for Upper Hunter communities.

LiddellWORKS residency artists:

Tim Black, VR artist

Mark Brown, installation creator

Suellyn Connolly, visual artist

Penny Dunstan, sculptor & geographer

Andrew French-Northam, music producer

Todd Fuller, visual artist

Huw Jones, musician

Fiona Lee, sculptor

Will Maguire, artist blacksmith

Rachel Milne, visual artist

Anna Rankmore, composer, photographer

Rebecca Rath, visual artist

Kirry Toose, wearable arts

Fran Wachtel, metal sculptor

Lisa Wiseman, crochet artist

Kara Wood, sculptor

For further information please contact:

Marina Lee-Warner, AHU project officer

M: 0498 742 731

LiddellWORKS is a joint project between Arts Upper Hunter, AGL Macquarie, Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre, and Singleton Arts & Cultural Centre. The Department of Regional NSW and the Stronger Country Communities Fund also provided support.