A reading stop at the Dead Horse

Travelling from Lismore to Wardell, the road passes through macadamia plantation country in the rural Dalwood district south of Alstonville. On the left, a wooden sign suddenly appears advertising a book exchange, fruit, and an art gallery. After driving past, curiosity takes hold and prompts you to turn around to check it out. After all, it is a Sunday and there is no hurry.

Parking in the driveway, we enter the property which consists of grass interspersed with patches of trees and vegetation. On the left is a shed with an open door that leads into a darkened gallery with bookshelves at the back. Through a door in the back wall is another small room that looks lined with more books.

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Underfoot are dark brown wooden boards, and above are a corrugated metal roof and beams. A high side stained glass window lets through light in yellow, pale purple, and light green shades. Rain drums overhead. We browse despite the low light. Most of the stock is popular fiction, a dollar per book, with fifty cents credit for those that are returned.

After a few minutes, the owner, Lawrence Dinnerville, comes out to greet us. He turns on the light, which is operated by a wall plug switch and extension cord. Despite living on the property since 1979, it is only in the last four years that the exchange and gallery were opened. Visitors come from all over the world, attracted by nothing more than the sign by the front gate. They most frequently stop for tropical fruit, and then tend to look around.

The building is an L-shaped former dairy from Meerschaum Vale, a village a few kilometres further down the road, that was painstakingly dismantled and reassembled on the property. This is home to Lawrence’s paintings, which he describes as ‘surreal landscapes.’ They are certainly unusual. Reminiscent of the work of Arthur Streeton, they depict spare Australian natural scenes, but also contain unusual lines, usually in white but sometimes in black, that look like brief traces of energy moving in arcs or irregular directions. Lawrence explains that these markings are intended to give the paintings a sense of depth by creating the illusion of looking through a discoloured window at the image behind. He states that his art has been influenced by the Impressionists, and particularly Australia’s Heidelberg Art School, of which Streeton was a member.

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Lawrence used to know Norman Lindsay around 1970, and has a separate interest in creating erotic drawings, most of which are not displayed. All of his work is potentially available to purchase.

The book exchange came about because as a prolific reader he used to buy books from the Reader’s Delight secondhand bookstore in Ballina. When it was going out of business, he purchased the remaining stock and moved it here.

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Around the corner is a tiny old-style verandah with one or two historical curiosities under the awning, and a rusted bicycle frame abandoned nearby. Prominently placed is a sign for the Duck Creek Mountain Clothing Co (Duck Creek Mountain being the original name given to Alstonville.) Inside is a collection of antiques and curiosities, most of which originate from Lawrence’s family who are from the Queanbeyan area near Canberra.

Light cobwebs coat the edges of the window, and we are told that nobody has looked around here for a while. We aren’t sure how long ‘a while’ is. There is a 1934 short-wave radio that was capable of receiving stations from overseas before it blew a glass valve. An ancient-looking suitcase has a return address for a house in Victoria Park Road, just around the corner. Nearby sits an old poker machine, of the type that has a lever on the right with a knob at the end. The far end of the room features framed family photographs and a collection of historic bottles.

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For the first time, the sound of flying foxes calling from the nearby Dalwood rainforest remnant becomes audible. Having seen everything, we go outside. Lawrence draws our attention to his Noddy and Big Ears wooden totem pole, a fine example of quirky homemade art that we passed obliviously on the way in. The rain is coming down heavily now, and it’s time to say goodbye.

Dead Horse Gallery and the book exchange are at 278 Dalwood Road, Dalwood, and are open most of the time.

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