Art and nature: a happy encounter


Last updated 3 September 2019, 11.47am. (Details of the park commission corrected.)
Imagine visitors’ delight when they walk up to the edge of this new viewing platform in Watarrka National Park and find birds gathered on the railing.
A living bird can’t be guaranteed but these delightful birds, sculpted by Alice Springs artist Pip McManus, are.
There are finches as if pecking the ground for seed, budgerigars ‘kissing’, a parrot holding a twig of gum nuts in its claw.
In a commission by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Lands (DIPL) and Parks NT, McManus undertook the work in consultation with traditional owners in the area. They wanted life-like sculptures but allowed for the artist’s own expressive approach. The result: these characterful renderings.
The birds soften the infrastructure, provide a point of intimacy and emotional connection when the rest of the view – the landscape – is being held at bay.
DIPL and Parks can be commended for this commission.
Watarrka National Park last year welcomed over 257,000 visitors.
The viewing platform was designed and built in conjunction with Watarrka traditional owners and Alice Springs businesses, the architectural firm Tangentyere Design and M&C Fior Constructions, trading as Bullant Building. (Photos from Watarrka, above and below, supplied.)
Alice locals can see more of McManus’ work in this vein at the Garden Cemetery, in a commission by the Town Council. In the grounds adjacent to the non-denominational chapel, her birds are settled on a low wall above which is a frieze, also by the artist, taking its inspiration from corkwood in bloom. (See photo at bottom.)
In the cemetery context, when many would be feeling sadness and loss, the gentle beauty of the frieze, the charm of the birds are comforting in an unobtrusive way.
McManus’ birds also feature in a sculpture at the Alice Springs airport, just outside the Qantas baggage claim area, a collaboration with the late artist Pamela Lofts. Someone said to me just the other day that they always go to say hello to these birds when they return to Alice,  underlining my point about the emotional connection they make. This is an element that is often missing from interventions in the public  domain in Alice Springs, which could certainly do with a bit of softening.

– Kieran Finnane



  1. Thanks Pip MacManus, for another great contribution to accessible and meaningful public art in our region.
    The little birds will make their mark and be remembered by many visitors to Watarrka.
    Same for the budgies at the airport and the birds and plants at the cemetery.
    At this time when we face unprecedented losses of species of plants, animals and insects, art that supports direct emotional connection with the natural world has a vital part to play in public life, and in keeping us sane.


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