Viki and John Murray’s new art gallery is about to officially open in Lightning Ridge, a year after the previous one burnt down.

Story + Photos Elize Strydom

Photographer Viki Murray was showing some friends the opal mines around Lightning Ridge in May last year with her artist husband John when she received a terrible phone call. 

“It was about 10.30 in the morning,” she says. “We got a call to say that the newsagency was on fire and it was spreading into our gallery next door. We bolted in and by the time we got there half the town was inside just ripping originals off the walls. John ran upstairs because he knew there were a lot of triptychs [sets of three panels] up there and I was just directing people to grab this or that. At this point the fire began spreading through the roof, but John and I just kept going the extra mile to save what we could.”

Viki was in awe of the way it brought the town’s residents together and amazed by the support they received. “People went above and beyond,” she says. “I just don’t think we realised what a big deal the gallery was to the town. You couldn’t have been in a better community for something like that to happen.”

Almost all of the couple’s print stock was lost or damaged by fire or the water used to extinguish the blaze. “Once it had happened and it was burning, all we could do was stand there and watch,” Viki says. “We watched the mural that John had just painted start crumbling down. But all of our originals were saved and we got enough floor stock to be able to trade. 

“The fire happened on a Friday and the next morning we turned our attention to what we would build in its place. We started formulating a plan and drew it up straight away. That’s what got us through. Instead of crying in our beers about what we lost, we just thought, ‘Right, what can we do?’”

Construction started on the new gallery in November last year. It opened for business in March, with the grand opening set for May 19, exactly one year after the fire. The gallery is much bigger than the previous one and Viki has a whole room to display her work, as well as the t-shirts, stationery and books she designs. “For all of the disaster, we’ve got the dream gallery that we didn’t realise we always wanted,” she says. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #118

Outback Magazine: April/May 2018