RED Hill artist Michael Leeworthy is drawing on his talent and promotional skills to make Hastings the “cultural capital” of the Mornington Peninsula.
He uses words to illustrate the affection he feels for Hastings and says he is indebted to its businesspeople for giving him “an opportunity to be self-employed back in the 1970s”.
Describing himself as a secondary school dropout, lacking in self-confidence and starting work at 16, Leeworthy says he came “very close to getting into trouble”.
“I was a window dresser to a major clothing chain and at night I would do letter drops under any shop that I thought could do with a makeover,” he says.
“Good old Hastings responded and by the late 1970s I was dressing up to 14 shop windows in Hight Street. Everything from the chandlers to the shoe store, the jewellers, the baby shop and the frock shops. The mower and sporting goods store was really challenging because I had only ever worked with clothing.
“Somehow I got away with it.
“I have come a long way from being shy.”
Leeworthy’s vision for Hastings is to create a “mural walk” through both the Fred Smith Reserve (which already has a 3.5 kilometre walking trail) and other foreshore areas near Western Port Marina and Hastings pier.
The murals, including sculptures, would be created by the “many incredibly talented artists on the peninsula”.
“Future plans are to film these artists in their studios, to draw attention to them and hopefully get that up on the Mornington Peninsula website”.
Leeworthy says he has “presented” his vision to some Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors “aware that it might be shelved, and they were just being polite to the eccentric artist”.
However, he is optimistic and hopes the “seed” he has planted could see outdoor art bringing to popularity and prosperity to Hastings as has for towns along Victoria’s silo trails and, particularly, Sheffield in Tasmania.
“Sheffield was a drive-through country town with many closed shops on the way to Cradle Mountain,” Leeworthy says.
“These days, everyone stops because it has become a mural town. Visitors can wander around discovering more than 100 murals which have injected life into a once struggling town and created work for artists.
“Although every town has suffered because of COVID, the fact that Hastings has empty shops for rent is not a good sign. All shops in Sheffield are leased.”
Leeworthy sees the murals at Hastings depicting the town’s history and people “but, of course, acknowledging the Bunurong people”.
“The murals could be financed by local business and service groups like The Lions Club and Rotary. Schools and community groups could be represented.”
The Fred Smith Reserve could be made “RV welcome”.
“Recreational vehicles are self-supporting with their own toilet and shower facilities, so they would just need an area to park for a couple of nights. This would bring income to the town as well as many day tourists,” Leeworthy says.
No stranger to coming up with ideas, Leeworthy happily recounts successes alongside some that have disappeared without trace.
“I was artistic director of Art Red Hill for 20 years from the early 1980s. I tried to start a writing group, but that ran out of steam very quickly.
“I started the Red Hill Lions walking club, but COVID interrupted that. We hope to get going again soon.
“The Red Hill Book Club has been going for 14 years. Yay.
“I still have not given up hope on The Great Mornington Peninsula Trail. I did hear a rumour that a councillor was talking about ‘glam camping’. My idea was about camp sites for back packers.”
Although the mural walk has yet to receive any official recognition, let alone backing, Leeworthy is already proposing a competition “among young designers” for a new museum building at Hastings.
“I see that financed by one if the major employers in Western Port. If anyone has been to the maritime museum in Hobart they could see what could be achieved.
“A couple of years ago I worked at The Hub in Hastings for six months teaching work-for-the-dole clients. They produced a mural inside the building depicting the history of the area.
“I think I learned more about the clients than they did about me. I don’t think they knew what I meant at first when I said they needed to feel proud about what they had achieved and that one day they could bring their children along and say, ‘I did that’.
“Although I have been self-employed most of my life, I could see me in them.”
Michael Leeworthy has written and illustrated several books about walks on the Mornington Peninsula, visit: michaelleeworthy.com.au