WHEN Newcastle East artist Catherine Croll arrived in China for the first time she could hardly speak a word of the language, but that didn’t stop her from spending three invigorating months exploring the country of 1.4 billion.
A decade later and Ms Croll estimated she has been to the south east Asian nation about 30 times and travelled thousands of kilometres beyond Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong to its most remote corners.
Ms Croll’s decade-long involvement with the country reached a new milestone this week, when a visiting crew from state television broadcaster China Central Television spent a day interviewing her in Newcastle.
“I’m really flattered and so excited,” Ms Croll said before filming began.
“I’ve invested 10 years of my life developing a relationship with China and I think they can see it’s a sincere investment.”
Ms Croll said the crew was interviewing her about the upcoming 80th anniversary of the Long March, a military retreat undertaken between October 1934 and 1935 by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China.
Ms Croll had earlier been selected as the only Australian and only female photographer to participate in a 2012 project organised to celebrate the 75th anniversary. The more than 10,000 kilometre route was divided into 12 sections, where photographers spent about three weeks documenting the changes that had occurred since the march.
Their images were published in a book called China: The New Long March, which was launched at London Book Fair.
Ms Croll was assigned the Guizhou province and travelled with Australian-Chinese artist Guo Jian as her interpreter, from the provincial capital of Guiyang northward to Zunyi and northwest into the mountains.
They were in the remote town of Maotai, which hadn’t seen a Westerner for five years, when they noticed secret police mingling with peasants in the market.
The officers followed them for the next fortnight.
CCTV contacted Ms Croll seeking an interview about six weeks ago, when she was in the tropical Xishuangbanna Autonomous Region bordering Myanmar.
“I think they were intrigued by the story and oddness of this resilient woman who was so interested in their country,” she said.
Ms Croll lived in Beijing for a year from 2007 running the international artist residency program at Red Gate Gallery and established her business Cultural Partnerships Australia to foster closer ties between the countries.
She also regularly organises exhibitions in both countries of Australian-Chinese artists work, as well as tours for Australian artists of different ethnic backgrounds to China.