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Barrel of Dreams gets overhaul


John Murray lovingly restoring his handiwork. Photo TWH

In the heart of NSW, where the earth whispers of hidden gems, there’s a landmark that’s more than a mere signpost—it’s a canvas of dreams, painted by the community and envisaged by renowned local artist, John Murray.

This is the story of the Barrel of Dreams, a vibrant sentinel at the turn-off to Lightning Ridge, the land of the elusive black opal.

Eighteen years prior, the roads to Lightning Ridge were mere whispers on the map, often ignored by travellers who, unknowingly, passed by a world rich with colour beneath its surface.

It was then that John Murray, an artist whose soul was as deeply etched with the Outback’s hues as his paintings, saw a canvas in the void.

He served as the heartbeat of the local tourist association, a group determined to cast a spotlight on their town – a hidden gem in the Outback.

Their plan was to repurpose an old agitator, a relic from the opal mining fields, into a landmark.

Set at the crossroads of Bill O’Brien Way and the Castlereagh Highway, it was to be a beacon to those seeking the way less travelled.

The task was as daunting as the landscape was vast, with council and landholder approvals to navigate.

John’s reputation as an artist brought weight to their cause, turning the cogs of bureaucracy with a touch more grace.

After three months, they received approvals, and the work began.

Volunteers, coordinated by John’s guiding hand, assembled around the agitator. Bricks were laid, concrete was poured, and the very soul of Lightning Ridge began to take form.

Welding sparks flew like stars in a bush sky as the structure began to form in John’s vision, and a steady hand gave life to the signage with the finesse of a maestro in the art of signwriting.

John approached the barrel as he would a blank canvas.

His brush was charged with the palette of the opal fields—the fiery reds, the electric greens, the deep blues, all the colours of the rainbow. […]

Read more in the printed edition of The Western Herald.

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