action-story | 10th May, 2005

Libby McKinnon

“I fell in love with the Maribyrnong valley.” Libby McKinnon glances around excitedly at the river. “I went for a drive along it one day and I thought, This is fantastic, I could really do things here”.

ActionStory_Libby McKinnon heroLibby is proud of her involvement with the area. Strolling along the river’s bank, she recollects her earlier memories. “The Maribyrnong valley interested me, partly because my family is from the desert and when I was a child I had a series of books illustrating a complete river and ecosystem; the animals, the people fishing….”

Her fascination with the river and its story intensified. Since moving from Adelaide in 1985, she has dedicated her life to the river, the environment and the community. She is now a respected local artist based at Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West.

Embedded in the path, or in the walls or the gardens at Pipemakers Park, Maribyrnong, you will find images constructed from hundreds of pieces of tiles, arranged in such a way that it resembles a painting. This is the meticulous art of mosaic tiling.

Through numerous projects, often involving the local community, Libby has created a series of mosaics along the Maribyrnong River that depict a by-gone era. Each mosaic displays such with immaculate attention to detail, it is surprising to learn that Libby hasn’t always been a mosaicist. She studied sculpture at the South Australia School of Arts before discovering her preferred medium.

Libby decided she wanted to work in a public way where she could involve the community. She feels creating mosaics that ‘speak to you’, is the perfect way to combine these desires.

Libby takes pride in interviewing people of the community to help her gain a greater understanding for each mosaic. “It’s good to hear people’s stories. As an artist, I can make use of this research material to add colour and content to my work. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to older people…some who are 80 years-old talk  about swimming in the Maribyrnong in their younger days.

You wonder what they were swimming with — arsenic, mercury?” Libby laughs and points upstream to where the tannery and other industrial companies used to back onto the river, using it as a drain for their waste. These days, she is happy to report, life is slowly returning to the river.

From the sheer number of stories Libby has collected, she will be making mosaics in their honour for years to come. However, Libby’s love for the river goes far beyond her artistic expression. For the past twelve years, she has been assisting the ongoing indigenous revegetation of Pipemakers Park. Numerous small grants have allowed a variety of projects to take place in the wetlands, with the assistance of the Friends of Pipemakers Park and a variety of training programs. The project has been a great success. She is also working on a grant through Parks Victoria to install stormwater drains to feed water back in to the wetlands within the park. This will benefit the wildlife and the plant life, adding to the aesthetics of the park at the same time.

“The things that underline our history – our culture,” says Libby, “are what we do every day. Each day, we have to be mindful that we are creating history.”

Pipemakers Park and Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West are on the banks of the Maribyrnong River: Van Ness Avenue, Maribyrnong. Melways map 28 B10.
Phone 9318 3544

Story by Joanne Burns 2005