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Tuesday, 23 April 2019 08:04 am

Artists drawn from the cities to the Wairarapa life


THE Wairarapa has become a creative haven for a couple of ex-city artists.

Painter Megan Campbell and musician Barry Saunders, of alt-country band The Warratahs, have both left behind city life to continue their craft in the countryside.

Saunders, who lives in Greytown, has been playing music since he was 15 years old and growing up in Canterbury.

After dedicating his life to his music in a variety of locations, notably England, Sydney and Wellington, the singer guitarist feels glad to come home to Greytown.

“You can only take so much of the road. I’ve just been away for five days with a band called The Eastern.  It was a great tour, but it was so good to get home,” he says.

While visiting the district about 10 years ago, looking for a place to record his latest album, Saunders ended up making a lasting connection to the country area.

“I met a woman in the main street of Greytown and said ‘You don’t know of a hall out here, do

you to record in?’ and it turned out she ran the repertory.

“It had a piano in it, and I recorded an album called Magnetic South in there, not knowing that three years later I’d be living two doors down.”

Saunders sees similarities between the place he grew up in and where he lives now.

“I’d been living in Wellington for years, touring a lot, and my sister lived out here. I visited her and it reminded me of where we grew up at Lincoln, Canterbury, a lot, so I sort of felt a connection with it.”

When asked what differences between city living and the country, he says “the trees”.

The surrounding nature is a huge plus for Saunders, who says he could “lose a few days out here, no problem”.

He still keeps a house in Wellington, but spends most of his time at his Greytown home.

“It‘s a good place to be, where you’re still in touch with nature and the land, but you’re not out of touch with a good city.”

Featherson painter Megan Campbell feels the same about the distance between the city and the country.

Campbell says most of her main links,particularly friends, are in Wellington but she loves being able to retreat in the small towns.

“I really like not having that constant city stimulus, but still being able to access it,” she says.

“What I think is great about Featherston is I like places that are undiscovered. I always have. I like the fact that you can go to Wellington within 55 minutes. My major links are Wellington – my friends and things.”

A peaceful place to pursue her art is what drew Campbell to the Wairarapa.

After owning and running a café in Wellington and having had a career in mental health nursing, she and her partner at the time were both very interested in the arts when they came to the district.

“We found a cottage in Greytown, and then we really dedicated our life to art,” she said.

Campbell went to boarding school in the Wairarapa, but she said it didn’t play a large role in the city-to-country move.

“I went to a boarding school here, but I wouldn’t say that was a big connection. It meant that I knew about the Wairarapa, about the lovely summers and great memories of swimming in the river and gardens. The good walks in winter.”

Much like Saunders, nature is important in Campbell’s artistic lifestyle.

“Nature is of major importance to me. Yes, you can access nature in the city in lovely ways, but here, all I need to do is walk out there and I’m in the country, in the paddocks,”

Campbell says the move she and Saunders have made may be becoming a lot more popular with other artists and young families.

“I know of three young couples who have recently moved over here from Wellington, and the more that happens, it will be good,” she says.

Mena Antonio, of local arts trust Toi Wairarapa, says the closeness of Wellington to the Wairarapa helps people settling in to the area.

“The proximity to Wellington makes for a natural segue to Wairarapa living,” she says.

Mrs Antonio says last month’s Kokomai Festival showcased the range of talented artists living in the region.

“The latest Pecha Kucha event I curated, during the Kokomai Festival, testifies to the interesting, diverse and talented people residing here. One audience member commented that we’d done our dash with local speakers as the best 14 appeared that night,” she said.

She said artistic types are not only coming from Wellington, like Saunders and Campbell, but from other parts of the world.

“Musicians, filmmakers, photographers and a heck of a lot of designers come from Wellington, but also from abroad.”

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is a Whitireia Journalism student.
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