It's a sight that would likely have had our ACT rangers in stitches - or slightly terrified - had they accidentally happened upon it.
Two Canberra artists, deep in Namadgi National Park scrub, dressed in replica 1950s space suits, breathing heavily, walking as though weightless, and collecting items very slowly from the earth for study.
It was April 2019, about 10 months before Namadgi would succumb to the roaring flames of the early 2020 bushfires, and the people inside the astronaut suits were Queanbeyan-based jeweller Sabine Pagan and her husband Rohan Nicol, a metalsmith.
The artists were two of five selected for Craft ACT's Artist-in-Residence program in 2019, an annual collaboration with ACT Parks, with research support from our national institutions. The residency was born from the ashes of the 2003 Canberra fires, when Craft ACT approached ACT Parks and asked "how can we help?".
The residency places artists deep in the heart of Namadgi at the Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage, a 1920s prefabricated or "ready cut" cottage located not far from the southern bank of the Gudgenby River.
The artists stay in the cottage for up to 14 days on their own, distilling ideas, making and reflecting off the back of an intensive period of research on a specific theme. Last year's theme was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. This year, artists-in-residence will undertake research on the National Historical Collection (housed at the National Museum of Australia), with a focus on the cultural and emotional aspects of the Anthropocene.
While most artists venture outside the cottage during the sunshine hours of their stay, Sabine says she and Rohan made their time at the ready-cut cottage "more performative".
The cottage became a vessel; their version of the Apollo, and they stayed indoors for eight days, three hours and 18 minutes - the exact length of time the first men on the moon were in the spacecraft during their 1969 mission. They collaborated with textile artists, a woodworker and ANU students to bring their space experience to life.
"In our story, as artists, we tell the tale that Rohan and I were unqualified to fly.
"So we nominated the 'Gudgenauts' Jack and Jill to go on the mission on our behalf."
The couple's eight-day Gudgenby experience was the stimulus for months of creative work. New work, including video, images, artefacts, jewellery and the couple's NASA suits and dog tags, is now part of Craft ACT's Terra Celestial exhibition.
The Craft ACT gallery is closed to the public during the COVID-19 measures but the exhibition is now showing online. Plans are already under way for a second venue to host the Terra Celestial exhibition in early 2021.
"Self isolation" was not a common term when textile artist Sharon Peoples was announced as a 2020 artist-in-residence in November, along with glass artist Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello. But since then it's become both common vernacular and behaviour as the world desperately tries to halt the coronavirus in its tracks.
Sharon - whose skills include both machine and hand embroidery - was looking forward to two weeks of "absolute quiet time" at the ready-cut cottage, and still is.
"I'm looking forward to the cold, being refreshed, and being immersed in the Gudgenby area," she says.
"It's a chance to distill my thinking, away from domestic life, and things going on in Canberra and the entire world."
The residency will go ahead, but later than planned now that social distancing measures are in place. After a period of research at the National Museum of Australia, Sharon is most looking forward to going deep within the NMA's National Historical Collection to study Australian native birds and the romantic beauty of specimens in jars.
But she also expects she'll do an "about-face" on the ideas she's already harbouring for the residency.
"The last two residencies I did, I went with ideas of what I thought I was doing, and the work that came out of it was absolutely totally different," she says.
Terra Celestial may well have been the final residency at Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage had the fires of early 2020 had their way.
The cottage came under direct threat of the bushfires that swept through Namadgi National Park in January, but park manager Brett McNamara told fire crews there was "no way we were losing it".
"I stood there with the crew and said boys, this house has been standing since 1920 and there is no way I am going to let it go in 2020," Brett says.
He's a huge fan of the Craft ACT and ACT Parks artist residencies.
"It's a remarkable little relationship and it really came out of the ashes of 2003, all those years ago," Brett says.
"We were in post-fire recovery as we are now - there's a sense of deja vu - and we were approached by Craft ACT. They were keen to try to help in terms of the recovery process. The artist-in-residence program was born."
While Brett himself has the special task of introducing new artists to the cottage each year, it's also great for his rangers to see how others interpret the nature around them.
"Within parks, rangers do ranger-guided activities and they interpret; they explain the natural environment to park visitors," he says.
"What Craft ACT offers is an alternative way of actually interpreting and explaining natural processes.
"The big advantage for us is that it brings a whole new audience to the park."
- Terra Celestial is now showing online at craftact.org.au. It features an online catalogue, photos, artist reflections and video. Many of the works created for the residency are available to purchase.
- The Craft ACT residency has taken place annually since 2006 in partnership with ACT Parks and Conservation. This article was commissioned by Craft ACT.