• Lifestyle
  • Toowoomba

Learning the art of living life to the full

Take a closer look and you will see the beautiful water lily images hanging at Toowoomba’s Seachange Lifestyle Resort are not Monet prints but original paintings by local artist and resident Joan Hurtado. After a lifetime teaching art and featuring in solo and group exhibitions, Joan, is entering a new creative phase. She is currently studying for a degree in visual art at the University of Southern Queensland Toowoomba campus.


“I reached 85 and thought about what I was going to do with my life. I enrolled at uni to learn things about art I didn’t know. It is important to question your journey and where you are going and to find ways to stay busy. “Friends say I am crazy and study certainly isn’t for everyone – only if you have a fire and want to do it for yourself. “My life has been very unusual. I’ve had a lot of change, a lot of travel and I’ve learned to cope with change, whereas someone who hasn’t had that movement might find it almost impossible. “The technology can be a bit daunting but I persevered and I am getting there. The university and younger students are always happy to help.”


Some of Joan’s best artworks hang in the garage of her stylish new home – a combination of pieces from a recent exhibition in Roma plus a sampling of new works. Her next works are likely to feature the rugged red outback of Western Australia as Joan is currently packing her rucksack in preparation for a 13-day camping and walking tour of the Kimberleys in July. “I am really excited about camping in the Bungle Bungles. I will be taking lots of photos and sketching to bring back inspiration to do more paintings.”



Joan has been fascinated with art since she was a tiny child living with her grandmother in England during the harrowing days of World War II. “I remember at the age of five, when I saw my grandmother writing on a bit of paper, I thought it was magic so I commandeered the pencil,” she said. “It was England in wartime and I was an only child so art is how I used to amuse myself.”


Joan’s mother drove ambulances and trucks and her father was a Prisoner of War, so young Joan didn’t know her parents when the family migrated to Australia to set up a new life. She carried her love of art into her first job working in a library while studying dressmaking and fashion design at night. Her high school education and fashion certificate led to a job teaching dressmaking to high school students and later as an art and craft teacher, before Joan upgraded her qualifications to become a year three teacher at Hobartville, Richmond, in New South Wales.


At the same time, she was entering art competitions and exhibiting her own paintings, which were quite traditional, unlike the large contemporary landscapes she produces today. As well as painting Joan has tried her hand at all kinds of craft, including pottery weaving, stained glass and leatherwork. “I don’t really have a  favourite medium. They are all creative things that use your hands which is what I like to do and that’s why I still do it.” The vibrant light and expansive Australian landscape have been a constant inspiration for Joan who farmed with her husband for more than 20 years on the NSW mid-north coast, while teaching at Macksville High School.  “Things changed when my son died just before his 30th birthday and we moved to Queensland. We lived in the outback at Mitchell for 10 years because that is where my husband wanted to be. I had an art studio there and ran workshops and volunteered in the local community gallery.


“My husband and I met at 15 and we were best friends until he died five years ago. Then I got a dog instead. We had lots of adventures together and travelled widely in Australia and overseas.” At 70 when retired and living in Brisbane, Joan took on a full-time teaching position at Canberra Boys Grammar for six months, filling in for a friend who was undertaking a degree in Thailand. It was later, while checking out summer school workshops in Toowoomba, that she discovered her new home at Seachange.



“My daughter wanted me to be closer to her in Brisbane but this is my time. I’ve got a beautiful home and a beautiful community that enables me to be independent. I’m close to the university and I am looking forward to enjoying the rest of my life.”