Heide Museum of Modern Art

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Once upon a time John and Sunday Reed, champions and patrons of Australian contemporary art in the mid-20th century, established an artists’ community on their 15-acre property at Heide. Many of Australia’s most prominent artists spent time there: Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Sydney Nolan, and John Perceval to name a few. I like to think that when I put my hand on the worn timber of the newel post at the farm house I am connecting with these people and the lively artistic and intellectual world they lived in.

The main exhibition, Charles Blackman’s “Schoolgirls”, is very apt: Rosemary and I have been friends since the early days of primary school. The paintings are striking, almost geometrical, and the colours strong even when the palette is limited. I’m immediately drawn to the painting of a girl on a pushbike in which I recognise my self, or at least my view of young self, tentative, slightly timid, but venturing nevertheless. It ignites emotion in a way that rarely happens for me in front of a painting.

Many of the other paintings remind me of the twins: the intentness, the physicality, the games. Most delight, but some present the schoolgirls as frighteningly vulnerable. There are stories critics use to explain the mood of some of these paintings: his first wife’s blindness; his own unhappy, isolated childhood; two murders of young women, one a schoolgirl. The backgrounds are often semi-industrial Melbourne, and a slew of later ones use a collage of advertisements. (Presenting them like this needs apology I think, but it allows me to share a lot more of the images, even if some of them are cropped.)








The Blackman exhibition is not the only pleasure of Heide. A smaller exhibition presents paintings of a landscape familiar to both of us – and to Germaine Greer: the Springbrook area in south-eastern Queensland, with its waterfalls and rainforest. The artists are Albert Tucker, a member of the Heide household, who painted the first collection, and his friend Fred Williams, whose exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia I visited three times.

Panel paintings are typical of Williams, his way of showing many layers of a complex scene.



A longish train journey, and two exhibitions. It must be time to pause for lunch, and a contemplation of a few of the outdoor sculptures, all within sight of the cafe.

After lunch, we visit the house where everyone lived, Heide 1: here we see the vegetable garden with thriving kale (another form of modernism); more paintings; the library; cats; household goods; and the interior of the house itself.



But the day’s not over yet. We head down the hill to Heide 2, more gallery than home, and quite uninviting with its limestone walls and dead ends, except for a vast fireplace. There are however intriguing paintings by Denise Green, again cropped a bit for economy.


By 3 o’clock our stamina is waning. There’s no time to visit the corrugated iron cows and other sculptures scattered through the grounds. We pass a ginkgo in glorious golden leaf and head back to the bus and the 2-hour trip home, where we relish arancini bought at the Queen Victoria markets.

The Dandenongs by steam

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I enjoy myself doing most things, but the day we go on Puffing Billy I have fun. Having been issued with our commemorative cardboard tickets – Rosemary remembers the sound of them being clipped – we prowl up and down the platform experiencing a journey back to our childhood as we recognise letterboxes and weighing machines, watch the conductor ring his bell, listen to the organ grinder (a gesture to tourists: I don’t remember his original on Eastwood station), scrutinise pistons, worry a bit about burning coal, admire the gleam and gravitas of the engine, and grin at the noise of steam and whistle. The engine driver notes our glee and takes our photo.





As we chug through ferntree gulleys, over trestle bridges, and past cleared farm land, breathing in the toxic fumes of steam, we stick our feet out the windows and break two rules from long ago: the admonition of signs on trains that read “Keep wholly within the car”; and the strict rules for behaviour in public advocated by Miss Cahill head mistress of Hornsby Girls’ High School.




At Gembrook we have two hours to prowl around. The station offers reminders from the past and spectacular bark and a short walk takes us to the perfect place for lunch amongst tall trees.





The afternoon turns chilly as we head back to Belgrave on the final stage of our journey to Gembrook and the past.


St Paul’s Cathedral

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The most distinctive thing about St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral is its sign welcoming refugees, an unusual sight in an unwelcoming Australia. This does something to minimise my discomfort with church riches.


This discomfort doesn’t stop me enjoying beauty, any more than pollution and coal stopped me enjoying Puffing Billy. I enter the church through a spectacular stained glass doorway. Inside, a friendly volunteer explains the images: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and their animal symbols, and a sunburst representing the conversion of St Paul.


But that’s not the only stained glass.

A storyteller lurks beneath one window, and retells the story of the widow’s son brought back to life by Jesus. Her retelling sends shivers up my spine, not so much because of the miracle as because of the reminder of Sunday School days in my youth.

Another reminder of my youth, this time of primary school social studies lesson, is a bas-relief of Edith Cavell, a nursing heroine and martyr in World War 1, the reason why we dropped into the cathedral in the first place. She helped both German and Allied soldiers, motivated by strong Anglican beliefs. The Church of England commemorates her in their Calendar of Saints on 12 October, which goes part-way to explain her presence here.

There is poetry in the list of materials used in this Gothic Transitional (whatever that is) building: a lot of them from Victoria. Sandstone from Barrabool for the outside. Pyrmont sandstone for the spires. Inside, cream Waurn Ponds limestone banded with Malmsbury bluestone, both from Victoria. The floor materials are imported: marble, granite, alabaster, and patterned tiles. The ceiling is New Zealand kauri.


Then there are mosaics, light catching on the gold tiles.


Details are a bit more manageable than all this grandeur: the painted pattern on the organ pipes; the decorations on a stone arch; the carved timber; the rich design of the tiles; the golden eagle overlooking a vase of flowers; and a lovingly cross-stitched kneeling cushion.

There is an Aboriginal presence, a painting by Gloria Petyarre from the Anmatyerre community near Alice Springs and winner of the 1999 Wynne prize. It’s called “Bush medicine leaves” and shows fallen leaves from each season, offering different healing properties.

RegularRandom: 5 minutes with a kookaburra

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My life, even my photographic life, seems to be turning to birds. There’s my front deck brown pigeon, who although camera shy made himself available for one reluctant photo (posted in Hotchpotch 2). There’s the back deck currawong and mates, featured in a previous RegularRandom, a bit edgy but photographically available. And now there’s a kookaburra, who isn’t shy at all. He perches on a horizontal branch of my callistemon – kookaburras love horizontals as much as I do – and waits for me to fetch the camera. He sits there within arm’s reach while I lean on the deck rail and click away. When I say “Look straight at me”, he does. I’ve never seen a kookaburra so close, or amongst the rich bird life of my garden. He’s a youngster, I think, from the slight fluffiness of his belly feathers, and hasn’t yet learnt wariness. But then my son tells me he saw a Mafia family of seven at Blackies where he surfs, raiding cake from his mate’s hand, so maybe kookaburras aren’t wary birds whatever their age.





This post is linked to Desley’s RegularRandom challenge, where you’ll find how much photographers can do in five meagre minutes.

Following in the steps of Basho – sort of

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Before Basho, Japanese haiku master, set out on his pilgrimage north, he “patched his trousers, put new cords on his hat, had moxa treatment on his legs to make them stronger” and packed “a paper coat to protect me in the evening, a kimono, rainwear, ink and brushes.” 

This seems like simple preparation to me, as I leave for a pilgrimage of sorts, on the cusp of season change, and not sure about what to take. I don’t have to patch, but I may need to buy, and stronger legs would certainly be a bonus. Melbourne has a reputation for rain and chill so I’ll need more than a paper coat. I won’t be taking ink and brushes but I will be taking iPad and camera, iPhone and Kindle, and a multitude of chargers.

He has a crumpled, kindly face, rather gaunt, a little greying stubble around his chin and tired eyes that gaze into the far distance. He dresses like a priest in black robes and flat cap, and carries a bamboo staff and wide-brimmed sedge hat.

I too have a crumpled face. My eyes have gazed too much into cyberspace and are bleary from beach sun. I dress – God ! How am I going to dress for the journey? Smart or comfortable? Sporty or dressy? Boots or joggers? I’d like to carry my spotted gum staff, but I couldn’t bear to lose it. I’ll pack my beret and wear it when I need reassurance.

Wherever he went his disciples and admirers welcomed him, offered him hospitality, showed him their poems for correction and organised gatherings where they all sat down together. 

No disciples, admirers or poems for me, but there’ll be plenty of sitting down together. With my friend since third class who has shaped this jaunt to Melbourne beautifully – in our Airbnb courtyard home; in cafes; at dinner on the Melbourne tram to celebrate her birthday; on the steam train into the Dandenongs. With my blogging friend DesleyJane over a hipster breakfast. With who knows who in the box of archives waiting for me at the State Library. High above “Carmen” as she stamps her feet and tosses her hair. With van Gogh and the wardrobe department of the Australian Ballet (although in the case of these two treats it will probably be standing together).

Then he turned inland, into steep and rugged mountain country where often ‘the forests were so thick that we couldn’t hear one bird cry, and under the trees it was so dark that it was like walking at midnight’. 

One thing I can be sure of. It will never be midnight dark, not even midnight dark at full moon. It will be Warsaw bright. There will be birds, but my adventure will be a bit light on forests, unless I count afforestation by city buildings.

All this is by way of saying I’ll be an erratic presence in cyberspace for the next two weeks. I have no idea whether I’ll post or comment. So, all’s well, in case you’re likely to be concerned. I’m off adventuring.

                                                              



Acknowledgement

I’ve appropriated, irreverently, an account of Basho’s journey, as channelled by Lesley Downes in “On the narrow road to the deep north”.

Postcards from the past: Desert dunes, Siwa

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January, 1998

What a day this is! While my daughter and her friends set off to explore on bikes, I book a jeep tour into the Libyan desert. We have to surrender our passports. Not as easy as it sounds. First we have to find the official to surrender them to. We drive round and round the village, passing a huge cabbage many times until it becomes my marker of the circuits. Finally we track him down and set off. Five minutes after we turn off towards the dunes we stop in a clump of eucalypts to collect firewood and bond: two people in Cairo learning Arabic; an American lawyer teaching at a university in the Ukraine; an Australian economist and human rights worker who speaks Hebrew and Hungarian and is wearing pink hippy pants; a Swedish biologist; and me, an English teacher from Broken Hill.

We set off again, placing bets about the next stop – roadworks in fact: trucks and vociferous men and a cement strip to negotiate. After that we finally enter the dunes. The driver takes mischievous delight in watching our reactions to vertical drops, and leaps out to take photos with the motor still running and the jeep held at 45° by a dodgy set of brakes.

We stop at hot springs for lunch, where I sit mesmerised by the bubbling water and its shapes, and absorb the biblical scene: dry stony hills and a well in the desert wilderness. I don’t eat: I’m nursing a rather disturbed tummy. Then a bit more dune plunging, where I take the way of the coward and slide down under my own steam. At prayer time we reach a cold lake and the guides spread out their mats on the sand.

The sun is beginning to drop and the dunes acquire angles as the shadows deepen. We climb towards a place of fossils, intricate smooth polished hieroglyphs. One is circular with a stylised flower-shape picked out in dots. I photograph madly, forlorn about my chances of capturing desert immensity. We stop again on the roof of the dunes for the sunset shots. The hills turn pink and the outline of the dunes sharpen: some of the more distant ones have the pinched top of a Cornish pasty.

Now the real fun begins. We get stuck in heavy sand and the truck is mechanically recalcitrant. When the driver opens the glove box looking for a solution, he reveals a tumble of tangled wires, greasy tools and unspooling cassettes. As he puzzles over the truck problem, something rounded and pink and blurry appears on the horizon. Slowly it breaks free of clinging sand and becomes a full moon. We watch in delight until the truck starts again, and we head back to the springs, where the guides eat their Ramadan breakfast and we sit around their campfire.

The adventure isn’t over yet. We have to take at least three run ups to crest a dune, even though we’re on the track. And then the man with the passports is “not here”, “asleep”, “come back later”. We end up in the same eating place as my daughter and her friends who are playing poker at the next table. We refuse to pay the guides until we are in possession of our passports and they join us for dinner. The captain eventually wakes up, returns our passports, and the adventures end.



A few more Siwa shots

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Eurobodalla Beaches: Billy’s Beach

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To visit most beaches, I just hop out of the car and step pretty well straight down onto the sand. This time I walk through a vast bush camping area shaded by spotted gums and graceful red-barked mahogany, and brightened by the jewelled fruit on pittosporums. Some of the campsites are on the edge of the cliff, and I can feel a camping urge coming on me. The air is warm-crisp. I’m delighted to be walking through bush and predisposed for love.

Enticing tracks take me right to the edge, looking out over unexpectedly rugged rocks to the blue ocean, rock islands and strips of distant sand.

I walk somewhat gingerly along the rocks and find myself looking down into a most unexpected gorge, steeper and deeper than the photo shows. The auguries for love are looking good: surprise is an aphrodisiac.

I reach the end of the camping area and find myself entering Eurobodalla National Park, the same park that surrounds me at Potato Point – a long, reclaimed, “non-contiguous” strip stretching down the coast from Moruya Heads to Tilba Tilba Lake. I encounter two families with small children, reminding me that Billy’s is billed as child friendly. And then there it is …

… a small serene beach with a view out to Mother Gulaga’s son, Baranguba. I don’t hesitate. I head for the sunny end, wondering what it will offer me. Underfoot is the scrunch of large grey pebbles and shells. My first impression is of rather undistinguished grey rock, creating uninteresting rock pools. The possibility of love retreats.

And then my eyes are opened, suddenly, as they often are in love affairs. They’re drawn to large rock faces, rather than close up patches. Everything is on a grand scale.



Already smitten, I stroll 200 metres along the beach to the other end, anticipating further delights and I am not disappointed. Other people have been here before me, delineating the meandering lines in the rock with white pebbles. The cliffs tilt and present a range of colours and patterns. The rockpools are vivid.





I realise I’m more than smitten. I’m deeply in love. I look back along the beach and out beyond a rocky outcrop to the sea. I’d stay here in solitude, soaking up the sun, but I’m meeting a gang of friends from my children’s childhood. Love has to give way to friendship, even fresh love. I walk past a huge dune of gravel, back to the wooden stairs, where I sit briefly, revelling in a new amour.


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I’m prepared to share my new love with special people, bits of it at least, this time specifically Gilly who has shown an interest in plants and their foothold in rock. For you, my friend.