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Racism, bandit attacks, bravery: Art celebrates Australia’s Chinese history

The following article was written by Siobhan Hegarty for The Spirit of Things and published on the ABC website: 24 Oct 2017, 11:28am. Photos by Fiona Pepper.

Campfire detail: A detail image of the artwork Campsite, by Hugh Foster.


Fourteen thousand Chinese men trekked nearly 400km from the South Australian coast to Victoria’s goldfields in 1857.With them was a young woman.

Her true name remains a mystery, but official records show that year a lone woman came to Robe in South Australia from the Guangdong Province.

Now, the story of her arrival is the starting point for a new exhibition in Ararat by a group of Australian artists — which aims to honour the Chinese heritage of the Victorian goldfields.

Hope: From Robe to Riches tells the story of a fictional woman named Mei Ling — as imagined by artist Joanne Sullivan and her anthropologist mother Norma, a specialist in China and South-East Asia.

Joanne and Norma Sullivan are the masterminds behind the exhibition.


Inspired by a visit to Ararat — Australia’s only town founded by Chinese immigrants — Dr Sullivan and her mother embarked on a week-long painting trip along the famed gold mining route.During their journey, she says local librarians, researchers and authors told them about an enigmatic arrival in Robe.

“They all explained repeatedly that there was this unknown, unnamed woman who was in the books but disappeared off their records after she left Robe,” Dr Sullivan says.

“That sparked my imagination and I thought I would like the character in our exhibition, our story, to be [about] that person. From that point on, all the research we did verified things that happened along the way, and I’ve written those into the story.”

The story of Mei Ling

Mei Ling with pony. The woman, depicted in this artwork by Gwendoline Krumins, came to Australia in search of her brother.

The Sullivans’ exhibition, captured not only through the artworks, but a series of time-lapse YouTube videos, weaves a story about an extraordinary woman who crosses the ocean and walks hundreds of kilometres.

Facing racism, bandit attacks and worse, Mei Ling comes to Australia in search of her brother — who had left China for the goldfields less than a year earlier, but was feared dead after he stopped replying to letters.

Like many of her countrymen, Mei Ling lands in the South Australian port town of Robe to avoid the 10 pound tax placed upon Chinese arrivals in Victoria.

This policy, put in place in 1855, was part of Victoria’s Chinese Immigration Act and a precursor to the White Australia policy.

In this aspect of the story, there is no fiction.

What the Chinese miners’ would have seen on their arrival at Robe, SA, as imagined by artist Joanne Sullivan.

While Robe-bound ships evaded Victoria’s hefty tax, travellers were still forced to pay a one pound fee for a rowboat to shore.

Those unable or unwilling to pay this unforeseen cost attempted to swim to shore but, under the weight of belongings attached to bamboo poles, many drowned.

In the Sullivans’ story, Mei Ling is chaperoned by extended family members and people from her hometown on her journey by sea. Able to afford the rowboat, she makes it to shore safely, arriving in April 1857.

Sea Scene: This artwork by Gwendoline Krumins depicts the new arrivals’ dangerous transfer to shore at Robe.

Then, with the assistance of townspeople and Chinese elders, she finds a seat on a bullock dray headed for the town of Penola.

But when she crosses the Victorian border her good fortune comes to an end.

Dangers at play

The journey from Robe to the Victorian goldfields proved treacherous — in fact and fiction — for various reasons.

Anti-Chinese sentiments ran high, and by 1857 heightened tensions led to several violent incidents, including the Buckland River clash — in which Chinese miners were trampled, robbed, beaten and expelled from a camp in their thousands.

Searching for shelter, an artwork by Norma Sullivan.

Bandits were another concern for travellers, particularly those walking alone or in small groups. To thwart attacks, Chinese miners would form large packs, often in the hundreds, and walk in single file towards their destination.

An attack by bandits near the border leaves Mei Ling on the verge of death and separated from her clan. She is nursed to health by local settlers and, upon recommencing her journey, is joined by a 14-year-old Chinese boy and the son of a settler.

They continue towards Canton Lead in Ararat, where Chinese miners had uncovered rich goldfields.

News of that discovery heightened the resentment among European and American prospectors towards Chinese miners.

An artwork by Gwendoline Krumins, depicting Chinese men panning for gold.

By May 1857, there had been several violent attacks against the Chinese.

In the Sullivans’ story, among this bedlam, Mei Ling finds her brother — alive but beaten unconscious while trying to protect a significant amount of gold.

After recovering, her brother stays on to dig in the goldfields, before joining his uncle in Melbourne to work at a furniture business. Mei Ling, meanwhile, returns to China with half of the gold her brother found, as per her parents’ wishes.

Plans to honour Chinese miners

Aptly, the Sullivans’ exhibition will be on display at Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre in Ararat from September 24, 2017 for six weeks, tying in with the town’s 160th birthday.

David Chen is one of the artists in taking part in Hope: From Robe to Riches.

Featuring works from six Victorian artists — David Chen, Gwendoline Krumins, Hugh Foster and Clive Sinclair, along with Joanne and Norma — the series visually chronicles Mei Ling’s journey.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many Chinese gold seekers died on their journey to find fortunes in Australia.

As well as shedding light on their relatively unknown stories, Dr Sullivan says the exhibition aims to give back to the local community.

“In the cemetery at Ararat there’s a large new section for the Chinese miners who died along the way, whose bodies have been exhumed and relocated to that cemetery,” she explains.

“They have no tombstones or headstones at this point. We want to raise awareness of that so that funds can come in to pay for those headstones.”

Find out more:

Mei Ling visits the Legislative Assembly

The tour continues. As we worked our way through security with all our paintings, labels, posters and bulldog clips; I wondered what Mei Ling would have thought of arriving in the Queens Hall, in the Victorian Parliament House?

Through to the Green Room where all the action is.

Mei Ling would probably laugh and introduce herself to people. So that is what we did. We met the Premier, cabinet ministers, visitors to our art exhibition and hundreds of school students.

Parliament House is open to the public. I thought that meant people would be shown around and told not to touch anything. But it’s not like that at all. As citizens of this fine democracy, we are expected to take an active interest in what is going on. For example, at one point during the week of our exhition a group of 40 demonstrators had to be dragged out of the foyer and the observation deck in the Lower House while chanting for justice for refugees. (Pretty topical, if you ask me.)

We were here back in May 2017 when Premier Daniel Andrews formally apologized to the Chinese community for the terrible treatment they received in the Gold Rush era.

Premier Daniel Andrews and the Honourable Hong Lim at the formal apology ceremony, Queens Hall.

By then we knew just about everyone in the room.

Our travels had taken us from a simple mother-daughter holiday to Robe (to paint) that quickly turned into a whirlwind of community engagement that swept us along for 18 months to arrive here in Queens Hall.

YouTube, instagram, Facebook, WeChat, invitations to be artists in residence, talk at conferences, a radio interview and an ABC article. One thing just led to another.

Somehow our pictures resonate strongly with this community. I really feel like a citizen of Victoria.

When you sit in Parliament and listen (after you recover from your initial shock at the boisterous behaviours) you realize how connected we all are. These men and women are really trying to represent us. I know we all like to bag our politicians but go along and listen to the issues they are dealing with on our behalf. You’ll see.

There are a lot of stories out there. Some of them bubble up when they involve a lot of people. If you are a painter, or a poet, a film maker, writer — use your talents and skills to tell a story that involves a lot of people and you will have your day in Parliament.

Thank you to the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Asia Engagement Chinese Mr Hong Lim and the Community Council of Australia for inviting Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition to be on display at Queens Hall, Parliment House in July 2018.

Related stories:

What is the value of the Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition?

The following article was first published by The Australian & Decorative Fine Arts Societies, Yarra News, Winter 2018, Vol. 29 No. 2. Based on a speech  made at the launch at The Victorian Artists Society.

This exhibition tells the story of the journey of Mei Ling a 19 year old Chinese woman who traveled from Southern China to the goldfields of Victoria in Australia in 1857. Each painting in the exhibition depicts a scene of significance for Mei Ling and the 14,000 others who walked 440 kilometers across an unforgiving, alien Australian landscape to find a better life.

This is also a story about the founding of Ararat and death on the Goldfields.

We have created this PaintStory to tell this hidden part of Victorian history and to raise awareness of what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land. A PaintStory is a story told in paintings. The artists work to a script. And the script evolves as we interact with people in the field.

A core part of this PaintStory process is the artist being willing to paint en plein air—to go out and paint in the community—and to share their work as it progresses, on social media. This going out and sharing; creates the feedback loop that allows us to find and develop the stories worth telling. People know that artists are good at looking, but in this type of project an artist must also be good at listening and responding to feedback.

What is the value of this collection?

This exhibition is a milestone in a story that began in May 2016. This is not the end of this story. We will add to it over time and send the exhibition on tour around Australia and eventually to China. And in this way it will become everlasting. In all there are seven episodes to this story. We started painting before we knew the ending.

SLIDE1: Map of Chinese Miner Pathways to the Goldfields

Like the miners we went to Robe, Beachport, Claywells, Penola, the border, Edenhope,  Casterton, Sandford, Hamilton, Coleraine, Wando Bridge, Dunkeld, The Grampians, Mt Abrupt, Norval, Cathcart, Ararat, Bendigo and Ballarat.  A PaintStory, we have found, is a valuable way to get people involved in a social enterprise. In this case, the revelation of hidden historic events and restoration of ethical treatment of migrants and visitors.

Each painting in the PaintStory has intrinsic value as a piece of art. But each one is also valuable because it:

  • Raises awareness of contentious issues in a non-political way
  • Builds empathy in people
  • Is therapeutic
  • Helps to connect us to our community
  • Captures family histories

Value: Getting people involved

SIDE 2: Arriving in Robe, by Joanne Sullivan

The above painting was the first image painted and then shared as a timelapse video on YouTube (visit site at:

Publishing this content on social media helped us to show people in the early days how committed we were to the project. I noticed that people’s interest was greatly enhanced when they saw live activity like this.

Value: Raising awareness

SLIDE 3: Easels in Wandin

There is something about setting up an easel and painting en plein air that gets people curious, then fascinated, then involved.

As we painted, we listened. Tale by tale the storyline developed, the scripts written, and each new YouTube episode went up.

Value: Building empathy

SLIDE 4: Struggling to shore, by Gwen Krumins

This image, painted by Gwendoline Krumins really illustrates what it would have been like to have to swim to shore with all your belongings tied to a bamboo pole.

When Gwen showed this drawing to us at our second artist pow wow, we realised we could use our skills to create strong feelings of empathy.

Value: Is therapeutic

Some stories we heard were shocking. Told by people who did not want to go on the actual record. In case it lead to legal actions.

SLIDE 5: Dumping of the barrels, by Dr Norma Sullivan

For example: this image, painted by Norma Sullivan, depicts miners being stuffed into barrels and dumped in the bush, instead of being delivered safely across the border.

This tale was told by a lady in her early nineties. She is the descendent of a bullocky who actually did this terrible thing. She would not tell her name. By telling this story, it seemed like she was airing a generational wound to relieve her soul.

Value: Connecting communities

SLIDE 6: Around the campfire, by Hugh Foster

The first time I saw Hugh Foster’s Around the Campfire, I was transported to a place that nothing but a painting could depict. A camera, you will know, cannot capture the subtle tones in a night time lighting situation. Nor can it in any way convey the warmth of that gathering.

Value: Building empathy

SLIDE 7: Clive Sinclair with portrait of Mei Ling and Panning for Gold.

One day, halfway into the project I interviewed Clive Sinclair. He told me what he thought it would be like to pan for gold. Clive imagined how a boy of 15 might feel after a long arduous day of work. Digging, bending over. Lifting the pan. But mainly being homesick. Thousands of miles from home. How lonely he would be. Can you imagine how worried a parent would be for a child in this situation? You can hear that interview if you visit our Hope From Robe to Riches YouTube site (see:

Value: Dealing with contentious issues in a non-political way

SLIDE 8: David Chen in his studio

David Chen’s paintings show the cultural significance of events on the goldfields. Using colour, tone and symbolism to bring alive the meaning of the experiences to the Chinese community.

These are real stories. That form the fabric of our community. The beginnings of Victoria. And what it means to be Victorian. We may drive around these regions and look at these scenes and cannot know what other eyes have seen. But artists such as David and the rest can help you understand.

For related articles see:

Speech at the Launch of the Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition

Transcript of speech by Dr Joanne Sullivan at the launch of the Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition held at the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre in Ararat, on Sunday 24 September, 2017.

Welcome to the Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition. This exhibition tells the story of the journey of Mei Ling a 19 year old Chinese woman who traveled from Southern China to the goldfields of Victoria in Australia in 1857.

Each painting in the exhibition depicts a scene of significance for Mei Ling and the 14,000 others who walked 440 kilometers across an unforgiving, alien Australian landscape to find a better life.

If you have watched the video series on YouTube you will know that it is also a story about the founding of Ararat and death on the Goldfields.

Sadly, today there are 300 graves of people like Ping and Mei Ling in the Ararat General Cemetery that do not have headstones.

Introducing the first Everlasting PaintStory

We have created this PaintStory to tell this hidden part of Victorian history and to raise awareness of what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land.

My name is Joanne Sullivan and I am the Director or Stellar Ideas,  the creator of Everlasting PaintStories.

A PaintStory is a story told in paintings. The artists work to a script. And the script evolves as we interact with people in the field.

A core part of this PaintStory process is the artist being willing to paint en plein air—to go out and paint in the wild—and to share their work as it progresses, on social media.

Going out and sharing; creates the feedback loop that allows us to find and develop the stories worth telling.

People know that artists are good at looking, but in this type of project an artist must also be good at listening and responding to feedback.

Today you are seeing a milestone in a story that began in May last year. This is not the end of this story. We will add to it over time, send the exhibition around Australia and eventually to China. And in this way it will become everlasting.

Continue reading Speech at the Launch of the Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition

The story of Mei Ling and how it came about

I was sitting in a very tiny cinema in the heart of the Gum San Museum with my young son. A short film was running through for the second time. In black and white, a boy was saying goodbye to his sister on the shore of a lake next to their village in Canton. He was about 17 and had to leave his family to find gold—so that they could be saved from devastating poverty. It was 1857 and the clouds around their hearts were almost visible.

I related to that girl. Being left behind. Watching a beloved person walk away with the strong sense that he may never come back. Although my mind shied away from it, I could not help imagining how I would feel if that was my beautiful little son? It left a very strong impression.

Wind forward 15 years.

My mother was recovering from surgery and needed to get away from Melbourne. I suggested we go for a Paint Out holiday. That is what we call our plein air painting expeditions. We have clocked up many hours chasing the light around southern Victoria. Mum was excited and we spent a few days deliberating on where to go. It was May 2016 and it was cold.

I proposed that we follow the route taken by the Chinese miners in 1857. I wanted to see where that brother walked. We would start in Robe and work our way to the gold fields. There must be lots of beautiful scenery along there and it would take about a week. Mum had lived in China, so she was interested in the story.

We headed off. I was not thinking of Mei Ling at that stage. I just wanted to see the landscapes and feel what it would be like to trek through, carrying all you owned on bamboo poles. Knowing Australia, I thought it would be epic. And it really was.

We saw seascapes that literally blow your skin off. Scrub of the most tangled and vicious kind. Weird grass trees that spring up after a bushfire. Endless miles of natural, undulating meadows. Sharp mountain edges backlit by winter storm clouds. Lots of winter storm clouds. Sunsets of pure, molten gold.

Our canvases got rained on, blown away and fried in the sun. I discovered that oil paint really stings if you get it in your eyes. I think it was the oil paint, anyway.

We made it to Dunkeld, having just left Casterton where a Kelpie Muster was in progress. (Every red dog in Australia, and their owner, was in town. But that’s another story.) We walked around town and found a remnant of a Chinese market garden. Mount Sturgeon was towering over us and a storm was just about to break. I read that some of the walkers never got to the goldfields. Instead they worked in these gardens, cooked and helped to build walls, cellars and buildings in the region for their community and for the local settlers. One of these could be the lone woman.

I’d been hearing about this lone woman all along the route. There are countless references to her in the official records. But no one knows her name or her age. I started to feel that people were fascinated by the mystery of her invisible trek and were starting to weave her into their ‘historic records’.

Then I remembered my feeling at the Gum San cinema and knew why. We can all relate to those that were left behind. But we can REALLY relate to the one that wasn’t.

Clive Sinclair with his portrait interpretation of Mei Ling.

I went on a flight of imagination. What if that boy’s sister actually had to follow him? What circumstances would have led to such a break from tradition?

I was in our cabin painting a scene overlooking Casterton town and I imagined this girl arriving there. Would she venture in? Or would she go straight to the Chinese commune in nearby Sandford? How would she be received. Then I realized why she became invisible—at least officially. She and her family honour had to be protected.

Then I had this really strong sense of a great big conspiracy carrying her across the country. Hiding her from the authorities, making sure she was safe. A bit like Frodo “the ringbearer” heading for Mordor, in the Lord of the Rings.

By the time I finished that painting I knew I wanted to create a story about her. I called her Mei Ling (like Mulan) and she has been keeping me awake at night ever since.

Video of Mei Ling’s arrival at the Chinese Commune in Sandford, Victoria.

The birth of PaintStories

I was having lunch with my friend Sally when I asked her what she thought I should call my timelapse painting movies. Sally said “So, they are like stories in paint. Or paint stories.” Well that seemed immediately perfect. So I asked if she would mind me using that term (PaintStories) to describe my time lapse movies from now on. She said yes. That was Wednesday 7 December 2016. The birth of the idea. Thank you Sally.

What is a PaintStory?

The concept is evolving, but in it’s most basic form a PaintStory is a little video of me filming myself painting and telling a story of significance to the people in my community.

Here are two examples.

Alone or as part of a series—PaintStories are a purposeful way for artists to take part in the new economy. A PaintStory can illuminate issues of communal concern. And the level of engagement they inspire is amazing.

In the Hope: From Robe to Riches PaintStory I have created a number of episodes (including the two above), interviews with artists and videos of the actual paintings in the exhibition. I combine these with posts, instagram imagery and videos of me explaining how things work in the background. All of this content lives in the Hope: From Robe to Riches domain and tells the story of that project.

Painting with a purpose

A perfect storm is forming for artists who have an interest in storytelling. Introducing the PaintStory as a social media content strategy.

PAINTING—TECHNOLOGY—ANTHROPOLOGY are colliding to give brilliant new opportunities.

Traditionally people come to painting as a hobby. It gives them a way to deal with the stress of life and is a great pleasure. Over time their skills improve and the subject matter matures.

The first public exhibition is a milestone in an artist’s career and often signifies their intention to become professional.

To sell a painting affirms the value of the artist’s skill, but also of the ideas they are trying to express in their work.

As a professional, an artist is concerned with what people will buy, but like happiness this cannot be aimed for directly. Instead, an artist will seek to build their reputation (what they stand for or are trying to achieve artistically) rather than what they produce.

The “lucky” ones get discovered. Their name is made and they can set their own price. This is the artist’s holy grale.

In the last 10 years artists are using the web and social media to increase their exposure and enhance their chances of being discovered. But with everyone doing the same thing, the artist’s story has to be pretty special to stand out.

Artists want to be discovered specifically by the art industry (investors, critics, galleries, agents). But this involves a lot more than engaging an agent, holding exhibitions or attending gala industry events. People who invest in and promote art want to know it has long term cultural value. Meaning: this artwork will be valued by society in the future.

Many artists work in isolation, so they can only tell their own personal story. Sometimes solo artists like these may be lucky if—due to their heritage and circumstances—their story is of great interest to many others. But this is rarely the case, so discovery is unlikely and the solo artist feels disheartened and trapped in obscurity. From this perspective, the risk of becoming a professional artist is immense.

Meanwhile, a lot is going on in the world. These are interesting times. By looking out into the world, like an anthropologist, bigger stories than our own are available, that will be of long term interest to the people of the future.

Finding these types of human stories can inspire an artist in their work and give their work cultural relevance. Giving the artist a fast track to reputation building and discovery.

A story expressed in painted pictures is profoundly touching. No other medium has the power to instantly transport the viewer into another world of experience. This is why art is valued above all other cultural artefacts.

Unlike all other media a painting provides the most personal experience. Every time you view a painting it has new meaning, based upon your maturing understanding of life. Hence, the meaning of the painting  changes with the viewer. With every view. And finding meaning in the painting can change the viewer.

There is a fledgling movement of artists taking video cameras with them to film as they paint en plein air. Here we are transported to a place of importance to this artist while they try to capture the meaning in their work. This is anthropology in action.

Thoughts on Painting by Artist Tom Hughes in the UK.

The more sophisticated artists describe their thinking as they work, so that viewers can know what they are trying to capture. The light, the subject, the challenges.

In a world of counterfeits this is an excellent way of claiming ownership and proving authenticity for the artist and for the collector.

But the real value is in the story. Why did the artist go to that place? Why is it significant?

Right now, not many artists are asking this question. They continue to go to places that are spectacular, beautiful, interesting, but they can go so much further.

Beyond the fortunes of the artist this type of artistic production provides real value to the community. Through this medium the community that the artist has entered has a chance to tell it’s story. To raise its issues and record its memories. This is why the artist will be embraced and promoted. But the artist has to be objective and able to hear what is being told.

And then to paint it into history.

Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition

In 2016 a group of Victorian artists did this. They went to places along the route taken by the Chinese miners who walked 440 km from Robe to the goldfields of Victoria in 1857. These artists looked into landscapes that have been painted a thousand times before and found new meaning. Within 6 months an exhibition was created and that collection will travel around the world.

PaintStory: Landing in Robe
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Finally, in terms of financial value: artworks such as these (that communicate such powerful human stories) form part of the cultural world that people will pay to see. Often they will travel to view the work which is enhancing art tourism. And having seen it will want to own it—then the artist may finally reap their reward.

Here is the birth of the PaintStory. A production that incorporates video, showing the painting in progress and telling the associated human story of interest. If released online these offerings may greatly assist the artist of the future to advance their artistic career.

Related articles:

The un-strangers following other people’s stories.

Hope: From Robe to Riches: The beginning of the journey. And a brief introduction to Design Anthropology and content for social media engagement.

I am the child of an anthropologist. I didn’t know it at the time, but I grew up with an anthropological view of the world.

Anthropologists are people who are interested in other people’s stories.

From my childish perspective, my mum (the anthropologist) needed to be out in the world, hearing stories. I remember that whenever we arrived somewhere (and boy did we go to a lot of places) the first thing Mum would do was leave. Literally, throw her bag in the corner of the room and head out. To find people. I’d tag along, even though I really just wanted to be alone, to draw or play my guitar.

The first person we would encounter would begin the story. The story of this outing. Anyone who was open to talking. But not random talking. It might start with “oh, that’s an interesting accent, where are you from?” People seem to love telling their stories. And Mum certainly loved hearing them. I must admit that more often than not, I did too.

Before long Mum would know enough about that person to ask if they knew…so and so… Amazingly, they often did know that person, or someone close to that person. People seem to love working out who they know in common.

Once that link was established Mum would have another friend for life. Their name and details would be filed in her memory for future reference.

Then they would get back to the story. The art of conversation. It was never a diatribe or a monologue. (If it got to be like that, we would slip away politely and find someone else.) Usually it would be about important stuff. People try not to bore you. They try to tell you things you might be interested in. They assume you will be interested in the things they are passionately interested in. And they are usually right—at least if they are talking to an anthropologist.

Being a bit introverted, I was always surprised at how easily people would reveal very personal things.They didn’t see us as strangers. There is a simple dynamic to sharing a story that builds a rapport, very quickly—and you become an un-stranger.

When it comes to stories, anthropologists tend to go with the flow. Each person leads you through their tale and onto the next person. Important stories have followings. The purpose of anthropology is to follow the leads and uncover these stories. And to help to tell them.

In my case, it helps to see the story. I am a visual person. Mum is the same. We are both artists. More than words and names, I tend to remember people’s faces and the places we met. And the bunch of images that flit across my mind (like a movie) during the conversations.

For me a story becomes real and engaging if I can connect it with an image.  For example, one day I visited the Gum San Chinese Heritage Museum in Ararat. We were driving back from a family holiday in the Grampians when I saw this spectacular building on the road leading into Ararat town.

“Wow — let’s go and see what’s in there.” The ladies at the reception were really welcoming. They showed my sons, husband and I through the exhibition. (Mum wasn’t there this time). They told us of the journey of 16,000 Chinese miners who walked from Robe to the Goldfields in 1857 and discovered Ararat along the way.

That was interesting but it wasn’t until I sat down in their little cinema and watched a video of a boy saying goodbye to his sister on the shores of a lake—to make this journey—that it really started to mean something to me.

I began to imagine what it would be like if my sons had to go away like that.

That memory has been with me ever since. 10 years later Mum and I set out to paint this journey. And that is how the Hope: From Robe to Riches story and exhibition eventuated.

There are many parts to this story. These will be told here, post by post. Painting by painting.

For related articles see:

Stellar content offerings

For a mobile audience it is critical to think clearly, fill your offering with value and structure it so that it is easy to find, scan and digest. 


What will people value in my offering?

You are an expert. No doubt you have something of value to offer people online. The trick is to package that offering in a way that helps your audience to resolve everyday predicaments and to significantly optimize their quality of life, while they are on the move. These are the Stellar Ideas.

It helps to imagine that you are lobbing an expert idea into someone’s predicament:—They have got their phone (check); They are having the sort of trouble that your can help with (check); They have your offering (KAPOW problem solved!).

How grateful will they be? How will they feel about further engagement with you?

How do I package my content to be valuable for a mobile audience?

It always helps to start with a post. Whatever form your offering eventually takes (video, podcast, infographic) being able to clearly convey your idea in writing will help you to think clearly about what you have to offer.

8 tips for writing (thinking) clearly

Focus on a single valuable idea in your offering. Unpack what your want to say and leave things out that cannot be expressed in 300-500 words. (These can become separate, related offerings.)

  1. Choose a nice place to write
  2. Pick a time when your brain is fresh
  3. Plan what you are going to write before you start
  4. Think of questions your audience might ask
  5. Work in 20 minute spurts (with rests in between)
  6. Use:
  7. Give your brain a night’s sleep before you publish
  8. Get a buddy to proof read it

How do I structure the offering?

Start with your conclusion!

In journalism this method of starting with your conclusion is called the Inverted Pyramid style.

Here are some principles for structuring your content to really help people when they are using mobile devices:

  • Start with your conclusion
  • Provide a summary (take away) at the top
  • Provide an image to illustrate the key concept
  • Provide a call to action at the end
  • Organize everything in between in order of importance
  • Phrase headings as questions
  • Front load paragraphs
  • Limit to 300-500 words (5 minutes)

How does this help people?

  • Your audience can scan
  • Your audience can stop reading at any point in time and still come away with the main point
  • Starting with your conclusion boosts Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Having built a bond with my audience, what can I offer them next?

If someone reads to the bottom of your offering, they have invested 5 minutes of their time and may be ready to invest more. Examples of a “call to action” are:

  • Link to my related offering
  • Register for my seminar
  • Enrol in my online course

It all comes down to content, comparatively speaking

I have been noticing how much YAMMER and PANIC there is in online communication lately. Everybody is spamming and broadcasting to everybody, trying to find work, trying to make a living, trying to participate. So what is the alternative?


My sister tells the story of the medieval marketplace. Imagine you are there, say Venice. As you approach the market you can hear the great hum of human activity. It gets louder until, as you approach the gate, you can hear hundreds, possibly thousands, of voices crying out. Peddlers with their barrows line the road, the walls, and crowd the entrance. The noise is deafening. Everyone is shouting. At you! Everybody wants to sell you something. It’s utterly overwhelming. But you knew it would be. You came anyway.

You push past the screaming traders at the gates. You came for 3 perfect apples. You can see apples in some of the barrows here at the gates, but you walk on. You feel sure the best apples are somewhere in the interior. You’d like to check, before you buy.

Being completely new to this market you decide to sit down at the cafe in the centre and just get your bearings. You relax, recover from the jostling at the entrance, and just watch the world go by.

You are looking out for people going by with excellent apples in their possession. Or a trustworthy-looking local. Or even the guy running the cafe might help.

A few clues from people like these and you discover the best apple traders. There are only two. You compare their wares, their prices and how much you like either one—and then you buy your 3 apples. And know they really are the best in town.

This is the way markets work. Have always worked. Online markets are just the same. The web is a massive online market. These days everyone is clammering to be at the gate (the top of Google search) and shouting over everyone else (their brilliant 60 second pitch, photo, animation, video, slogan, widespread social media campaign that blasts out 20 times a day).

And they are surprised when they don’t have a queue lining up at their store.

ULTIMATELY, it all comes down to content. And how valuable it is, comparatively speaking.