Inspired by the South Australian copper-mining town, Wallaroo is an atmospheric and mysterious painting. Located on the Spencer Gulf coast, Jeffrey Smart visited Wallaroo in 1951 and made a number of watercolour studies of the town’s buildings, beach, mining sites and breakwater. Returning to his studio, Smart ‘began mixing all the sketches together, trying them this way and that, seeing how they could agree in a large composition–a painting in oils’.1
In Wallaroo two young men carry a boat ashore, one figure stepping out of the water and swinging his arm out to balance himself. The entire composition is an exercise in balance–the stretch of sand meeting the curve of the breakwater, the height of the chimney balancing the weight of the figures. Each element is carefully placed to direct the eye around the painting. There is an eerie stillness to the image, created by the long shadows and abandoned environment. The rusty ochres and greys of the earth and sky contrast with the bright strip of sand and the building. In discussing the painting Smart said:
I tried all sorts of skies, ones with huge clouds, those with strata clouds, a stormy sky and so on. Finally I settled for one which graduated, light at the horizon and becoming darker near the top. But then it looked too dull. It wasn’t interesting enough. So a moon–which you often see at evening, was brought in, just to make a note against the plain surface.2
1 Jeffrey Smart, ‘An edited version from the artist’s explanation of how he painted Wallaroo. ABC Children’s Hour 1956’, published in Edmund Capon, Jeffrey Smart, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1999, p. 78.
2 Capon, p. 79.