Pilliga Pottery is a family owned business. Maria Rickert the founder (proprietor) of Barkala farm and Pilliga Pottery is managing now the business with her family partners Johannes, Regina and Bernhard. They are assisted by Julie the former in-house governess and most gifted artist as well as several loyal team members who assist in making the pottery, manning the shop and the cafe.
Maria Rickert is the owner , manager and your host. She is the inspirational force that drives the pottery and the farm ‘Barkala’ . Her love for her work and her energy is contagious and this shows: everybody at Pilliga Pottery seems to be gifted with boundless energy. I was born in Germany on a dairy farm. We lived with three generations together in one house. That made life much easier, as we all helped each other – tending the animals, milking the cows, all the chores that go with life on a farm. Best of all was harvesting time. It was so much joy to smell the grass in the paddocks, the fresh hay, and to see all the barns full to the brim for the cold winter ahead. I was the oldest child in my family and my day was dedicated to looking after my younger siblings. As a child I read many books about people in foreign countries, about their cultures, their traditions, their livelihoods and their nature. My parents did not want to listen to me when I told them as a small child, “One day I am going out into the big world.” In my heart I knew I wanted to meet people in their natural environment – even as a child the cities did not call me. The day came when I was 26 and travelled for the first time to Australia. I was amazed to see the red colour of the earth and the blue, blue sky, and so many nice, friendly people. What I really loved was the simple and uncompromised lifestyle that people lived here. When we came to Coonabarabran we stayed at the foot of the Warrumbungle Mountains. I loved the stillness the night held. There was no noise in the air, but inside me was a heartbeat that had found its home. We bought the nearby property ‘ BARKALA ‘, and with that a dream of living in the outback came to life. We brought up our three children Johannes, Bernhard and Eva as well as Telline, our foster child, started our pottery from scratch, and worked and worked. Since the early days many things have happened. We have been through fires, drought and family tragedy; but that heartbeat does not stop, to live a true life in its reality.
Bernhard is Maria’s second son. He is the Jack of all trades on ‘Barkala’. Maintains the buildings, looks after the animals, repairs and renews things and is always in for a good yarn.
He renovated the almost ancient ‘Eagle Valley Cottage’. This was his first project to work on by himself and develop his skills in building. He got the strength and passion from his father Richard which made and makes this place one of the most remote, peaceful and largest guest accommodations in the Pilliga Bush.
In the meantime he got his certificate as carpenter. He renovated another house in Coonabarabran. By now he is an expert in building with natural material. Straw bale, mud brick and timber work are only a few of his building styles.
2014 he took place in a second partnership and bought the historical building The Royal Hotel in Coonabarabran. This is the newest, biggest and most exiting building project to work on so far.
One of his hobby is driving fast motor bikes to visit friends and family.
Julie Squire arrived in the 1990’s on ‘Barkala’ as a gouverness to assist in teaching the children. Over the years Julie became part of the extended ‘Barkala’ family. Besides an inspiring teacher she is also a gifted artist and currently she sets the artistic ‘face’ of Pilliga Pottery. Her very own style in carving the Pottery shows her great talent in illustrating in a simple , yet very artistic and recognizable way. Her designs vary from beautiful bird and flower dispalys to intricate celtic symbols and dragon designs. As if that is not enough she also throws the pottery on the potters wheel.
Julie shares her inspiration: Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with drawing, how to represent beautiful things using lines (tricky), or even how to represent ideas and concepts (trickier).
“Beauty” for me usually comes back to the natural world. I was lucky enough to be raised in a family with a great apprecation for nature – my grandfather and father were keen photographers and as kids our family undertook many bushwalking, camping and canoeing trips. My grandparents lived on the south coast, and whenever we visited we had to sit through what seemed like an eternity of my grandfather’s slide shows, with a large component of close-ups of plants and flowers. I didn’t know whether to be bored out of my brain or completely fascinated so I somehow managed both at once – us kids always ended up struggling to stay awake and then falling asleep halfway through (thinking back, that may have been the parents’ plan). Little did I know what a good grounding in plantlife, observation, and composition I was receiving, staring at those slide projections for hours on end. It encouraged me to look more closely at the real thing – amazing!
The other thing that really captured my artistic imagination as a kid was history. I would pore for hours through old National Geographics and read whatever I could get my hands on about the cultures of the ancient world and their wonderful arts and crafts. It was like they called to me down the ages. I had a particular love for Celtic designs – I was quite enthralled with their incredible combination of intricacy, symmetry and freedom. Later on I realised this was probably in the blood – I have Irish forebears way back, and was indoctrinated by Irish and Scottish music when I was little by my nanna, who was always singing. The designs and symbolism of the ancient world are still a constant inspiration to me. When I take a new path that has been suggested by something done thousands of years ago, I feel like I am treading in the same path as all those artists right through history – the lines I make are like a living reflection of the humanity we all share – the beauty we all see.
Working out how to adapt my designs to clay was a fascinating challenge. Not only was there almost no room for error (it’s very difficult to obliterate what you have carved into damp clay), I was working on a three dimensional canvas so to speak. I had to teach myself how to design in such a way that the pattern enhanced the shape I was working on, as well as being true to itself. Of course not every day produces a grand success, but when I can come up with a pattern that brings out the best in an already beautiful vessel so that both pattern and vase are magnified, it’s satisfying beyond words. And because the shapes are always changing (even a slight change can make a huge difference to the space and curvature) I am constantly faced with fresh creative challenges. How brilliant is that?
Johannes is Maria’s oldest Son. He learned the art of Pottery at a very young age and seeing him throw a Pot or vase make it look like childs play. But not only he is a fine potter he is also a gifted blacksmith. From bare pieces of metal can make the most beautiful wrought iron artworks in the fom of gates etc. Read more about that fine profession and how you can order custom made wrought iron gates here. An if that is not enough Johannes managaes the farming business of ‘ Barkala ‘ , the property on wich you will find Pilliga Pottery.
Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always liked the idea of being a pioneer. Maybe I got this from my parents, who came out to Australia when I was four years old. It was a new world for us, a big change, but that was exactly what they were after.
Living on a farm and going to correspondence school all my life gave me the great opportunity to live very close to nature and to do all manner of things with my hands. We were always self-reliant, and the family as a whole really pulled together – whatever one couldn’t do, another could, or learned to – we had to, because for many years our contact with the outside world was a bit erratic. I remember one time when I was about 13, Mum and Dad were so busy working that we hadn’t gone to town for three or four weeks. I was dying from lack of chocolate, so I got up early one morning, saddled my trusty horse, and rode in myself. Riding there and back took all day, and when I tied the horse up outside the local supermarket I bet it got some funny looks! Because of this self-reliance, I learned many skills to satisfy my inquisitive nature, and also because I was the oldest and had to help Dad around the farm. Skills such as leatherwork, metalwork, mechanical work, working with animals, and surviving in the bush became second nature to me.
School and I never really got along, I was much more interested in working with my hands, so after Year 10, doing a pottery apprenticeship with my father seemed like a great opportunity. I got to stay on the farm, learn an ancient art with a real master, and help support our way of life. After I finished my apprenticeship I felt the need to go traveling for a while and experience new things, which I did for a couple of years, but I always felt pulled home to Barkala.
In all my travels, I never found a better place to be myself, than this valley surrounded by rocky hills and mountains and millions of acres of bush, further than the eye can see. Its not an easy life, building up a sustainable farm and working creatively with every material we use, from clay to timber, but there’s a freedom to it I’ve never found anywhere else. This is a place you can put your heart into. Heaps of great people have come out here over the years and felt the same way, helping in whatever way they can, purely for the love of this place and its people.
I got to live the first 21 years of my life in a very traditional and small village in Bavaria (south Germany). Imagine a place out of a fairy tale, because that’s what it looks like. I grew up at a dairy farm just like Maria but never thought I would do anything else then farming in Germany.
After my studies, I wanted to travel for 3 months in Australia just to see something else before finding my future husband and start a family.
But there I was, when Johannes found his future wife and that was me.
We fell in love with each other just like that. There were some fast heart beats going and some tears when I told my family I wouldn’t come home to soon. But once they got to meet Johannes and they could see I was in good hands they gave their blessings. Everyone (including me) got adjusted to me living in Australia.
I loved Barkala and I could use my skills to improve the farm, which made my decision to live here easier. In December 2014 we had the great joy of welcoming a new family member, our son Johann. This great privilege of seeing him grow up here amongst our beautiful community makes live even more enjoyable.
We’ve come a long way with this farm and our pottery. But we still see so much potential in it, so many things we can still achieve. Our dream is to see this place as an enduring inspiration to others for many generations to come. People have lost something in this modern world and we see our place as a monument to the fact that life doesn’t have to be all about money, or material things, or wearing the right clothes. This place is about caring, working for the love of it, expressing yourself through creativity, and working with nature rather than against it.