Peter Kingston Artist Project:
Saving Hinchinbrook Island
(Sydney Morning Herald “The Sydney Magazine” – 24/11/05) Mark Chipperfield
“Mind the dust,” says Peter Kingston as he ushers me into his Lavender Bay studio. “I’ve been doing a bit of tidying up.” The impact of this spring-cleaning is hard to judge, since the house is crammed with all manner of delightful objects, canvases and drawings— not counting Kingston’s collection of Luna Park memorabilia. The artist himself is a work in progress: his paint-splattered trousers are teamed with a Coney Island T-shirt and some nifty white-rimmed glasses.
A contemporary of Martin Sharp, Brett Whiteley and Garry Shead, Kingston, 62, belongs to that generation of Australian artists who enjoy a bit of public ratbaggery— for a worthy cause, of course.
“You know art and humour are very powerful,” he says, fixing me with an impish smile.
Apart from his ongoing love affair with Luna Park — a place where he once worked and which is visible from his front room — Kingston’s other great passion is trying to protect Hinchinbrook Island in far north Queensland.
The man in Kingston’s sights is developer Keith Williams, who has already built a marina overlooking the island, but now wants to expand his $100 million resort with a 26-hectare artificial lake, motel, golf course and 335-block canal estate.
Conservationists have fought a long campaign to save the mangroves at Hinchinbrook Channel, as well as the offshore seagrass beds that support a precious colony of dugongs. Williams denies the resort would have any impact on local - dugongs and describes Port Hinchinbrook as “the culmination of a decade of intense planning and development” in accordance with strict environmental guidelines.
“We have left no stone unturned to ensure complete harmony between that which we have built and the natural tropical appeal of this magnificent region,” he says.
Earlier this year, Kingston helped to organise an art auction in Cairns featuring the work of Whiteley, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan. The auction raised $89,000 — which has been used to fund a legal challenge against stage two of Port Hinchinbrook.
The anti-Williams action group recently chalked up a victory when the state Environmental Protection Agency rejected an application for two breakwaters at the resort. But Kingston knows it’s too early to celebrate.
“Keith Williams won’t give up. He wants to build more of those canal developments on the island, even though they’ve been discredited around the world,” he says.
Kingston also blames John Howard for not intervening to prevent Port Hinchinbrook going ahead in the first place. The artist has started to dog the Prime Minister’s morning walk along Lavender Bay by drawing dugongs on the footpath. Taking a video of Mr Howard, however, was not such a clever idea — the federal police came knocking at the door. But Kingston believes offending a politician or two is a small price to pay if it means saving more of the Queensland coast from development.
Asked whether he has any regrets about spending so much time and money trying to protect the mangroves, dugongs and beach stone-curlews, Kingston looks bemused. “I don’t really say it’s cost me anything — it’s been a two-way thing. I’ve got so many great ideas for prints, drawing and paintings that it’s always paid me back. It’s been a wonderful experience.
“And it is surprising how much effect an individual can have just by sticking their oar in.”
Correction printed in the SMH on the 25/11/05, page 2
An article in this month’s the (sydney) magazine, “Local heroes”, should have said the Queensland Environment Protection Agency had rejected a stage two application for Port Hinchinbrook, not for the breakwaters that are the subject of a court challenge. No canal development is planned for Hinchinbrook Island.