The Understory concept has always been a 'grass roots' initiative. Grounded in our local community, it reflects and celebrates the unique qualities of our local community.
The impetus came from local artists, Fiona Sinclair and Peter Hill, when both contributed to a series of ephemeral art trails held across the South West region of Western Australia with the intent of drawing attention to a range of ecosystems under threat.
The experience of creating sculptures in nature for the public to discover and enjoy was illuminating.
Public response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. It was apparent there was a great appetite for contemporary art to be encountered outside a traditional gallery context, for experiences that could reconnect people with their sense of wonder in the natural world and appreciation for human ingenuity.
"I saw how much the general public loved seeing art in nature and as an artist it was so great to have the opportunity to respond directly to the environment. I had the notion that 'someday' in the future I would try to make something more permanent for our community as a way of celebrating these glorious forests and to help support and diversify the local economy through the expansion of tourism."
Fiona Sinclair 
Fiona conveyed the core concept to the Northcliffe Arts Association in 2004. A small team of volunteers then co-designed the project with other community groups and individuals in a lengthy consultation process for the following 18 months. The project evolved from the original idea – the development of a permanent sculpture walk - to a multi-arts experience across a range of art forms, combining gallery and other events.
The arduous task of raising funds to establish the trail and commission the first series of artworks required countless volunteer hours and steep learning curves.
The Project Coordinator (Fiona Sinclair) was guided by mentors of incredible calibre.
Sincere gratitude goes to: Francois Davin (global site-specific ‘art in nature’ guru), Maggie Baxter (Public Art), Jesse Brampton (Trail Development), Barry Strickland (Interpretation), Keith Sinclair and Rob Finlayson (Literature), Robyn Johnson and Lee Buddle (music), Elizabeth Jack (Tourism Marketing), Suzanne Kelly (Indigenous) and Robyn Taylor (Historian).
Local volunteers constructed the trail, wielding shovels, rakes, GPS', tape measures and wheelbarrows. The assistance of the Ministry of Justice (through the Walpole Prison Work Crew) and Work for the Dole scheme was appreciated. Our boardwalks were crafted by local builders, Ross Facius and Paul Owens.
Our first major round of artwork commissions commenced in early 2006 with WA artists, writers and musicians spending time together in Northcliffe to meet community members, explore the bush and local Pioneer Museum. It was important to us that they didn't arrive with pre-conceived notions of what they would create in advance. We wanted their responses to be fresh, intuitive and intimately linked to place.
This initial weekend set the tone for all future commissions – artists visiting the site in person, to develop works that are site-specific.
Understory was officially opened by the Hon. Geoff Prosser (MP) and the Hon. Paul Omodei (MLA) on the 25th November 2006 as part of the inaugural Southern Forest Arts Festival.
The event was attended by approximately a thousand people from across the South West and Perth.
A range of artists, writers and musicians performed and/or spoke about their work.
Finally, the committee and a huge contingent of volunteers were able to celebrate this acheivement of 'shared community vision' and partnership.
Understory has impacted postively upon the Northcliffe community by encouraging increased tourism to the town. Several thousand visitors enjoy the experience each year - with numbers continuing to rise regularly.
Three quarters of Understory visitors indicate that visiting the attraction was the main or only reason for visiting Northcliffe. In a town of 200 people (700 in the district) this is significant.