Tasmanian sculptor Greg Duncan is carving a monumental frieze out of Huon Pine that will eventually be 100 metres long.

Story By Tim Dub

“I love this spot up here and I love the history. It’s wonderful that I can carve what I want to carve and have people come and pay to look at it.” Greg Duncan is musing upon what may be Australia’s most ambitious art project – a frieze carved in huon pine of naturalistic scenes depicting rural life and history, each panel some three metres in height and called, with dramatic simplicity, The Wall. It is an awesome work of art. Greg started the 10-year project in 2005 and when completed will be 100m long. To live where you want to live and to make a living doing what you want to do, are surely the hallmarks of a prosperity that wealth alone cannot assure, but Greg hasn’t always been so fortunate.
He was born in Victoria but grew up in South Australia’s Riverland area where his discomfort with city living took root. “I’ve always been a country boy,” is his explanation, but this alone does not account for his dissatisfaction as a young married man. In the first of several courageous and decisive moves that have characterised his adult life, he explained to his wife, Margaret, that he felt unable to continue his work as an electrician and wanted to be a sculptor. As Greg puts it, “I used to go to work and wish it was the weekend. I was wishing my life away.” He was 25, had a family with two children and he had never picked up a chisel in his life. Understandably, Margaret was not overwhelmed with the idea.
Many years of self-teaching followed and, fortunately, his sculptures in wood, metal, stone or clay always found a buyer. He tried painting too and became so proficient that the groups he taught would regularly clean up all the awards at the country shows where they exhibited around SA. But the Duncans’ destiny was to unfold in a very different place.
At an elevation of about 1000m, near the picturesque Lake St Clair that marks the southern end of Tasmania’s world famous Overland Track, is the township of Derwent Bridge. With little competition the hotel that dominates the few houses that comprise the settlement, though a filling station, cafe and guest accommodation are there for the tourists en route between Hobart to the east, and the fishing village of Strahan to the west. When Greg first visited Derwent Bridge he felt an immediate and strong connection with the place. This was where he wanted to live, if only he could get Margaret and the kids to agree.
For many subsequent years, Greg spent periods in Derwent Bridge, staying at the hotel and immersing himself in his carving. By the 1990s, when an Australia-wide recession made the going tougher, the groundwork was in place for him to move to Derwent Bridge for six months, and test the demand for his sculptures in Tasmania. The results exceeded expectation. In the winter especially, the throughput of French, German and American tourists enabled him to sell works within hours that previously might have taken weeks in South Australia. As he puts it “it was as if people were starved of wood sculpture”.

This story excerpt is from Issue #54

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2007