Darren's charmed snakes strike out

Most of us dread collecting the mail, knowing we’re likely to find yet another pile of bills.

But when Eden artist Darren Mongta went to collect the mail from his old house after recently moving, he found quite the opposite.

The sculptor said he was “over the moon” to find out that he had won the $500 South East Arts Encouragement Award for a local sculptor at Bermagui’s Sculpture on the Edge, even though his change of address meant he missed the event.

“I didn’t actually know I’d won,” Darren said with a laugh.

“I moved house and when I went over to the old place to collect some mail, I had all these invitations to be there, but I didn’t get them until a few days later.

“I thought ‘oh no!’, so I rang them up and let them know I was sorry I couldn’t be there, but I’m over the moon.”

Sculpting started out as a hobby for Darren around 20 years ago, and these days keeps him occupied after a neck injury took away his ability to participate in many of his favourite pastimes.

After years of watching family members apply their craft, it was a trip into the bush that prompted Darren to take up the art himself.

“I used to just watch my uncles do them (sculptures),” Darren said.

“I’d ask them to show me, but they just said ‘if you’ve got it you’ve got it, if you haven’t you haven’t’.

“Both sides of the family did them, but they never actually taught me or showed me how to do them; I just watched them.

“It was probably 10 or 15 years later, as I’d go fishing and diving, I’d start seeing sticks and thinking ‘that looked like a snake’.

“I remembered when the old fellas used to do them, so I just started having a go and practicing.

“I just got better and better each go, so now this sort of stuff, winning prizes and that, it’s blowing me away a little bit.”

While the awards still come as a shock for Darren, the former National Parks and Wildlife Service field officer is making quite a name for himself.

Darren’s work has now been exhibited at the Delegate Bundian Way Gallery, Bega and Bungendore art galleries, and the ever-growing Bermagui event.

But for him, it all started years ago with a piece he made as a gift for a friend.

“Somebody told me I should enter this competition up here, so I asked him if I could borrow it back to whack it up in this woodwork show, and I won second prize,” he said.

“I was pretty happy because I won $500 there, and that was the first time I’d entered any (competitions) or anything.”

Next on Darren’s agenda is a giant rainbow serpent, which he says will take almost a year to complete.

While slow and steady, he said it is important to get it right.

“I don’t like using power tools because the vibration affects my neck, so I mainly just use a rasp and sandpaper,” he said.

“I feel it’s slower, but I can get the shape I like.

“I’ve got five ordered for Bungendore Woodworks Gallery; they want them up there, to go to New York.”

And as for the significance of his prize-winning snakes?

“On my father’s side, they were a totem, and a protector,” he said.

‘Gurri’, we call them in my language.

“He seems to be everywhere I go in the bush, but he never bites me.

“I’ve stepped over him many times, and I’ve literally stood on him and never been bitten, so I feel like I’ve got a bit of an affinity with them.”

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