Wanaka reporter Marjorie Cook finds that Grahame Sydney's
latest masterpiece is neither painted nor finished
Artist Grahame Sydney might as well have Central Otago
branded across his forehead.
He didn't ask to represent the province but because of his
paintings he has had to shoulder the responsibility, he tells
me over a cup of tea.
"That would be cowardly to avoid and I won't have that on my
conscience," he says.
I can only imagine conversations Sydney might have around the
dinner table with his friends writers Brian Turner and Owen
Marshall, sportsman and thinker Anton Oliver and actor Sam
They too could probably be said to be Central Otago
representatives, by default if not design.
The vision of a such a supper puts me in mind of the
weathered, "Good things take time", cheese advert characters,
who embody the type of four-seasons friendships that seem to
endure in these interior parts of the world.
The suggestion makes Sydney laugh.
A resident of tiny Cambrian, near St Bathans, Sydney has
famously painted this land of strange rock-scapes for many
Now, after two and a-half years of immersing himself in Otago
Goldrush diggers' stories, he is making his first documentary
There is also a book called The Promised Land, which
should be published later this year.
The film has been a family affair.
Sydney's composer daughter Melissa (29), has written the
music, which is being recorded in her home town of Melbourne,
while his graphic artist son Nick (27), of Queenstown, has
been working on special treatments of archival footage.
Sydney (60) says he has not had the luxury of telling a story
"I have friends who make films and for decades I wished they
would ask me to be involved, but they never did.
"I realised the phone was never going to ring," he says,
Words, on the other hand, have been his friends for years.
He loves writing and has an University of Otago degree in
English and geography.
Recently, he's been condemned for using words to defend his
But more of those opinions later.
For now, we talk about crossing over to a new genre. It has
been a time of intensive learning, but his recent photography
projects in Antarctica helped, he says.
"The nature of my whole professional life has been observing,
so the camera has enabled me to do the same looking as I've
"But movie-making has to be a story. Paintings don't tell
stories . . .
"Painters will use a single frame to allow people to bring
their own stance, to wonder for themselves.
"It is not up to me [as a painter] to dictate the story. But
for film, there has to be an implicit story."
Then, in the loud, echoing café in which we sit, air blue
from burned garlic, there emerges a startling and frank
Sydney will not have finished his film in time for the April
28 launch of the Festival of Colour in Wanaka.