Sue’s a part of our art and soul

Andrew Mathieson
ARTIST Sue Jones’s mum and 94yearold nanna enjoy a bite to eat every Wednesday lunchtime at the same spot on Eastern Beach.
They have taken part in this timehonoured ritual since the 106 baywalk bollards was first designed by Jan Mitchell and later transported to Geelong’s waterfront.
Nanna eyes one particular bollard with greater interest than the others.
Wearing a blue polka dot bikini, it bares a striking resemblance to her granddaughter.
That’s no coincidence.
Sue assisted the acclaimed public artist for two years in costuming, colourmixing and painting the wooden sculptures.
“Jan was doing a blonde one because there was a brunette and a redhead,” Sue explains.
“They had names and she was working on that one then looked at me and said ‘I think I’ll call this one Sue’.
“She was wearing pale blue and that was my colour scheme.”
The bathing beauties’ collection attracts interested onlookers – not just from Sue’s family.
Nanna continues to nibble on a sandwich but stops to avert any unwanted attention.
All of a sudden, she becomes the bollard’s custodian.
“She growls at the little boys who grabs the boobs on them,” Sue laughs.
The 37yearold is now battlehardened to such criticism of the arts.
She remembers discovering that industrial Geelong wasn’t so culturally sophisticated after all.
It was a shock to the daughter of a Highton arts teacher, around whom a pottery wheel was always close by.
“Geelong threw down a few challenges to me as a young person by not making it easier to live and work in the arts,” Sue laments.
“Those challenges made me more robust but at the same time I don’t want to be an advocate of that.”
Despite encountering an idyllic arts existence at Belmont High School, Sue fought with her teachers at Gordon Technical College.
She quit the “strict and structured” arts and design course in 1989 and immediately became a driving force behind Geelong’s first true collaborative arts base, Volatile.
The organisation supported two galleries, 18 studios and 22 exhibitions a year as passionate and diverse artists “took over” a building on the corner of Clare and Corio streets.
“We were unfunded, we were doing this out of our own pockets, we were renovating it with our own money and we raised the money to get gallery lights, floor sanders and the walls built and we worked for free,” Sue recalls.
“It was steep rent for young people to pay for a building covered in pigeon shit.”
The experience forced Sue to make a living as a handpainting artist for Torquay clothing designers Rojo while balancing the studio life.
Others weren’t so lucky.
They survived as starving artists, some only on small allowances.
“The burnout was high – we couldn’t sustain it,” Sue admits.
“After three years, people’s lives had been put on hold.
“Some wanted to get married and some were finding other jobs and opportunities.”
The experience, however, inspired Sue to convince City of Greater Geelong it needed to more closely embrace the arts.
She was appointed the City’s first youth arts officer and later chaired Geelong Arts Alliance during its humble beginnings.
Sue also earned a place on the Regional Arts Victoria board – the youngest member ever at 28.
“I found that to be quite an interesting experience,” she smiles.
“There were quite a lot of men on board who didn’t like young women being there.
“They didn’t like me asking questions.”
Now Sue understands how to work with bureaucracy, not against it.
But it has come at a cost, she sheepishly confesses.
“I haven’t really made a piece of real artwork in a long time.”