Breath Pattern


Breath Pattern is a five element vertical sculpture with sound installation, located in the Hyder Garden, Mildura Riverfront Redevelopment Precinct, Mildura.


Breath Pattern is inspired by the life and writing of the bush labourer poet John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942). His most famous work, the forty-line poem called ‘The Orange Tree,’ was written after picking oranges at Merbein, near Mildura. Like many of his lyrics, it imagines the trees whispering. ‘There is a light, a call, a step,’ says the young girl in the poem, which can only be felt by ‘listening like the Orange Tree.’

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Referring to his poetic style, Neilson once called himself a ‘good Celt.’ In recognition of this, the five stelae of Breath Pattern write phrases of his best-known poem in Ogham, sometimes known as the Irish ‘tree alphabet.’ The forty faces of the stelae translate the emotional magic of the poem’s lines into colours. Walking around the sculpture different colour combinations align to produce a constantly changing spectrum. This evokes the way Neilson’s poems skilfully modulate between different feelings, of wonder, of hope, of courage and sometimes of nostalgia.

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Breath Pattern is also an interactive sound installation developed with sound artist Christopher Williams: students from three Mildura schools read and respond creatively to Neilson’s poems and to the poet’s life: ‘For his delight, the trees have learned to talk/ And all the flowers have little laughs with him.’ The Hyder garden was originally established for the visually impaired. Explaining Breath Pattern’s location Paul writes, ‘The poems of John Shaw Neilson evoke the sounds, scents and rhythms of the bush. The genius of Neilson (who was chronically short sighted) when brought to the gardens will create a new relationship between the scents of the garden and the sounds associated with it. This is an extension of the garden’s ambition to engage the visually impaired emotionally, imaginatively and sensually.’