By Mark Eggleton
Award-winning artist Indiana James cuts a sliver from a large chunk of cheddar and gently hand-feeds a magpie that has skipped up onto his farmhouse cottage porch.
It’s mid-afternoon on Kangaroo Island and the sun has finally cranked-up enough heat to burn off the last wispy clouds of grey.
For James, this is paradise.
We’re standing outside his home admiring his wife Linda’s horticultural skills and sharing stories about his passion for art, wildlife and conservation.
As we gaze out over the garden and the couple of windswept green acres down to the main road he talks excitedly about it being the first time the magpie has eaten from his hand.
He even shares the magpie’s backstory involving her abusive partner who was involved in an act of culpable filicide last year.
He suspects the female magpie may have been a baby they cared for that followed he and wife Linda from the coastal hamlet of Penneshaw when they moved to their current more bucolic digs.
James may have a name similar to a certain fictional archeologist but his immediate appearance and demeanor conjure up an image of a certain “Doc” from the Back to the Future films.
And like Doc, James has a fascination with the potential of the world and the objects that surround him. Unlike Doc or the whip-cracking Indiana Jones, James is the real thing.
An Indiana native, James’s first career was as an oil geologist in the United States and Australia before he became bored with drilling for oil and decided to become a travelling carpenter and joiner.
He also dabbled in sculpture and according to James it was around his 12th kitchen that one of his sculptures won a local art prize. It was quite the turning point, the building work slowly petered out and James became a full-time artist.
With his wife and fellow artist Linda Jenkins, they have created a homely retreat and working space on a few acres at Pelican Lagoon on Kangaroo Island.
For James, who has spent much of his life travelling the world, Kangaroo Island is finally home.
Indiana’s Island love affair
It’s the only place he wants to be and with Jenkins being a local born and raised he says he can lay claim to being a Kangaroo Islander.
“I was born and raised a Yank but Linda is my ticket to this place so besides my accent I consider myself fully Australian.”
Wandering through his art supplies consisting of old farm machinery, sheets of rusting corrugated iron, twisted metal and chunks of driftwood behind his and Linda’s workshop and studio, he speaks of his deep-seated love of the island and its remoteness.
“I would have preferred to live in my father’s generation, or even my grandfather’s. While I’m familiar with all the tech stuff, I end up hiding in places like this beautiful island.
“Secondly, most people aren’t aware that our south coast was the last temperate coastline mapped on the planet.
“When you stand on our south coast and stare out to the ocean, the next stop is Antarctica and it’s the same distance as if you were in LA and you were looking towards the Arctic Circle.
“That’s the biggest ocean on earth right there, and most people don’t even have it on the list of the oceans of the world. I am entranced by that level of remoteness.
“My mother once said to me ‘Jim, you could not have moved further away from home if you had gone to the moon’. “
Considering the distance from Indiana to Kangaroo Island, James says his mother is about right.
A passionate environmentalist, James’s affinity with the Island is reflected in his work featuring recycled materials and primarily of Island wildlife. He’s not interested in sculptures of people or farm animals but of Australian native wildlife.
“With the wild animals of Australia, we have no idea how privileged we are. Moreover, most of them are here on the island. We have this diversity, especially in the birdlife that is completely amazing compared to any other continent.
“I have an endless supply of inspiration in the critters that run around here and there, I’m also fascinated by human history, so I can use what I call the wreckages of human endeavour to create the animals I am interested in, it’s perfect.”
All of James’s art is created from found materials, as was Boomerbank – the two-storey studio and gallery on the James’s property. Downstairs is James’s studio-cum-workshop and gallery while upstairs is Jenkins textile and hat-making studio.
After a number of decades as an oilman, James says what he does now for a living is about as close to doing no harm as anybody could do.
As for his work, James’s intricate sculptures reflect the beauty and wonder of the animals they represent.
Small birds made from driftwood are whittled down to size and augmented with other found materials.
One of his larger works “Sunshine” stands proudly in the foyer of the luxurious Southern Ocean Lodge.
Sunshine is 150 per cent the size of the Island’s biggest male kangaroo and is entirely made from hard farm machinery and tools.
Gaze inside the giant kangaroo and it has an old Sunshine Harvester gear embossed with the word “Sunshine” for a stomach. James says every piece tells a story and every part of Sunshine has a traceable human history.
He’s passionate about all of the Island’s wildlife but the kangaroos hold a special place in his heart.
“I refer to the local kangaroos as the indigenes, they’re incredibly powerful creatures, we still don’t fully understand their skill set because they behave in general like they’re blind and dumb as a bag of hammers yet nothing could be more incorrect.
“They have evolved in this environment, they have been separated from our mainland by 7000 years and have evolved differently. They don’t have a dingo to run from so they’re not fast. The muscles are huge and the density and size of the bones are larger because he’s only here to beat up on the other guys.
“So we have as magnificent a creature here in that kangaroo as a lion on the Serengeti – it’s an amazing creature.”
James says his favourite island haunts are so remote that you’ll spend a whole day on the beach and not see another soul.
He says a drive along the north coast is exceptionally beautiful.
“It’s not just the ocean but the paddocks and the hills.”
He speaks of the great tour visitors can take to explore the lighthouse between Windmill Bay and Cape Willoughby.
“There is a great café there and you can walk down into the granite boulders on the beach and some of the waves that roll in are just unbelievable in their size and shape. It’s an exquisitely beautiful place to take a walk on a very unusual beach because there is no sand there.
“You forget there is this massive ocean, one of the biggest in the world, just bashing the coast constantly.”
One other place James suggests is the original settlement at Reeves Point. It was the first settlement on the island and it ultimately failed because it was too close to the sea.
“The bay there is exquisite, they have shoals and you can feel the attraction that the very first people who came here had for that spot. It makes perfect sense that it was the place they thought would be a good town. They were just wrong.”
The original settlers ended up moving to higher ground and Kingscote became the first official settlement.
Beyond nature and past history, James recommends Kangaroo Island Spirits and the Frog and Roses nursery and pizza café as beautifully run pure Island experiences.
“There’s the Island Pure Sheep Dairy and out at Antechamber Bay, the Gilfillan family are arguably producing the best lamb in all of Australia.”
For great Island seafood, James recommends internationally-renowned chef Sue Pearson’s shop called Fish.
A former kitchen denizen of London’s The Ivy restaurant, Pearson lives summer year round by cooking in Europe and the US during their warmer months before returning to the island for the summer season.
He says a visit to the shop with some wine and an appetite for good seafood is an experience not to be missed.
“The fish is extraordinary and the shop is decorated with my rusty fish. It’s a place I love during the summer season. Sue provides the fish and I provide the props,” he says.