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I came across this very happy looking Pelican (Pelecanus cinspicillatus) while I was having lunch along the shore at Merimbula on the NSW far south coast a few weeks ago.

I was passing through the area as part of one of my several long trips around the country to talk to Aboriginal people and groups about what they know about birds, culture and people – for a book to be published by CSIRO Publishing in 2010.

This bird is one of a number of similar sculptures dotted every few hundred metres along the shore of a park that winds along the shores of Merimbula Lake around which the town is built.

These Pelicans are just about the best bird sculptures I have seen. Made out of the scattered bits of metal that we discard in tips, along the road or just leave to rust where they die, they become a whole lot more than the sum of their parts.

In this Pelican I can recognise a couple of car drive shafts, a shovel flange, assorted exhaust pipes and parts, concrete-reinforcing bar and at least one – or a part of – shovel blade.

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And here more of the same – mower blades, a toothed gear and parts thereof, car suspension springs…the list goes on.

pelicans1And this pair is my favourite of the group. Here – for me at least – the sculptor has captured the essential Pelican – the interaction between a pair or the group, the shapes they make, there is a lyrical quality that only comes from long and close observation of these birds in the wild and an almost jealous appreciation of their beauty that presents the challenge to transform that beauty into something beyond a Pelican.

And that is one of the great things about this set of birds on heavy poles driven into the sand and water along the park edge – you can admire the shapes and forms of the birds on their poles – static but at once mobile – and then turn and see the living birds right next to them – flying in like a squadron of heavy seaplanes, skidding to a stop and immediately ploughing the water for food with their massive bills.

A great conjunction of art and nature.

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And this White-bellied Sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) and fish keep vigilant watch over Merimbula Beach a bit further along the coast.

I couldn’t find anything along the shoreline or elsewhere that told me anything about who made the birds or who commissioned them. A few days later I was in the Purple Possum cafe (best coffee on the coast, great views, a good gallery, bookshop etc) a few kilometres up the coast at Narooma and saw a smaller version of these scupltures in the window.

I asked Karsten John, the proprietor of the Purple Possum about the sculpture and who made it. He told me that the birds were the work of Richard Moffat, a sculptor based at the small town of Cobargo, 40 kilometres or so south back down the Princes Highway towards Bega. I had to head back down that way to catch up with some people at Bega that I’d missed a couple of days earlier so I called into Cobargo on thw way through. Richard Moffat’s shop was shut when I went through Cobargo later that day – as it was when I passed through again a few days later.

Anyway, now I’m back home at Yuendumu and came across these shots in my camera so I thought I’d try to track down a little more about Richard Moffat and his works. It was more than a pleasant surprise to see that Moffat has a long history as a practitioner and has made some fantastic work over the years.

A you can see from the variety and scale of Richard’s work at his website here, not all of his work is bird-related or on the relatively modest scale of his Pelicans and eagles – but this work ‘Nest‘, installed on Dairy Farmers Hill at the Canberra International Arboretum looks like a wonderful arrangement of work, space and location.

Maybe next time Richard can do an installation 6 metres up in a dead tree? – and have it taken over by real birds.

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"Nest" - photo from Richard Moffat

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