Tag Archive | Australia

The Importance of an Artist Date

It’s twenty years since I first read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – a book that I believe led directly to my becoming a writer. My process wasn’t a fast one, but the book awakened an unspoken ambition that had lived within me since childhood: the creation of worlds in the imagination, and making up stories for other people to read.

There are two key points about doing The Artist’s Way. (Yes, it’s not just a book that you read; it is a 12-week course in which you uncover the artist within you, layer by layer, chapter by chapter, week by week, and start to bloom into the artist you were meant to be.)

The first of these key points is a thing called Morning Pages – a stream of consciousness writing of three handwritten A4 pages every single morning when you wake up, before the world intrudes.

The second is a weekly Artist Date – a treat that you give the artist child hiding within your jaded adult self. This usually takes the form of going somewhere special on your own, to soak up or explore something wondrous and adventurous. It needs to be something that lifts your spirits, fills the creative well inside you, and inspires you to continue your art with renewed passion.

I’ve been doing morning pages for twenty years now, and they are still as valuable as ever, even though I made the switch to doing them on my laptop five years ago. But the Artist Dates? I’m not sure when I realised they had dropped off my radar. Sometimes, when I am on leave, I spend a day doing something different, all by myself, and I remember again how much fun it is to take myself on an Artist Date. But I only ever seem to do that once every three months or so.

Yesterday, however, I went on an exceptional Artist Date.

Three days ago I googled the Museum of Modern Art because a Facebook friend in America had written about it. I was surprised when Google showed me another Museum of Modern Art – one in my hometown in Australia, and a place about which I had never even heard. If not for the similarity of the name with the American one, I might never have found it, and that would have been such a pity.

The Heide Museum of Modern Art is in north-eastern Melbourne, almost an hour’s drive from where I live. It is set in 16 acres of beautiful parkland which used to be a dairy farm a hundred years ago, in an area called Heidelberg. In the 1930s it was bought by John and Sunday Reed, who borrowed and shortened the suburb’s name to call their home Heide.

They had two cows which John milked every morning. Sunday planted a kitchen garden in which she grew everything they needed to eat, and they threw open their modest farmhouse (see below) to many, many artist friends.

Before long, it became an artist colony: the Heide Circle. Those who stayed there helped with either the milking or the gardening, in exchange for a space in which to grow their art.

In time, the farmhouse became too small for all the art, so the Reeds commissioned another building on the same property – one in which they would be able to live, and which could later be turned into a second gallery. They moved into it in the 1960s, and called it Heide II – see the picture on the left. Their old cottage was now affectionately known as Heide I.

Twenty years later, by the time John’s health began to fail, they turned Heide II into the gallery it was meant to be, and moved themselves back into Heide I.

Heide II officially opened as a gallery in November 1981. John died a few weeks later, and Sunday followed ten days after him, unable to bear life without John.

The legacy they left is enormous.

There is now a third, larger and more modern, gallery called – what else? – Heide III. See photo at right.

The whole complex is known as the Heide Museum of Modern Art, and all three buildings are in constant use as gallery space. In addition to the three galleries, there is a café, a gift shop, and the entire garden is a sculpture park.

 

The park is used for other things too, and it was one of these activities that drew me to it. On Thursday mornings they have Tai Chi in the park, under the trees. When I googled it on Tuesday, and saw that I could join the class, I decided to make a day of it.

What a wonderful day it was too!

Our Tai Chi class was held beneath the huge tree on the left of the picture alongside, watched over by several sculpted cows, reflecting the property’s original purpose as a dairy farm.

After the class, I wandered about the grounds, looking at other sculptures, as well as the two kitchen gardens planted by Sunday, which today provide everything that is required to equip the café with its excellent lunch menu.

As the heat of the day set in, I found myself closest to Heide II, so I started my indoor exploration there. To be honest, I was far more fascinated by the actual building than the exhibition in it. I walked through, imagining the Reeds living in this cool white space – their bedroom, study, cosy conversation pit, and a sunken lounge downstairs with enormous glass walls revealing more sculpture courtyards shaded by ancient trees.

Next I visited Heide III, and lost myself in the Albert & Barbara Tucker gallery, where I saw many paintings and photographs from Tucker’s life when he toured Europe in a home-made caravan in the 1950s. His letters back to John and Sunday were also on display, documenting his progress as a painter, along with his gradual, somewhat reluctant, return to his Australian roots after many years on the road.

On my way to Heide I, I passed John Reed’s old milking shed – see the photo on the right – which is next on the list for restoration.

Finally, I reached Heide I. Somehow I had sensed that this would be the place I would enjoy the most. This little house, now beautifully restored, encapsulated the history of the people who lived there and did so much for Australian art and artists.

It is a gallery, but it is also a museum, preserving something of the lives of its former inhabitants. It contains many poignant remnants of its colourful past.

For example, the small library – the window on the right of the photo below – is exactly as it used to be in the days when displaced Russian painter Danila Vassilieff used it as his painting space, and he later died in that room while on a visit.

Artist Sidney Nolan began his series of now-famous Ned Kelly paintings on the Reeds’ dining table. Artist Mary Perceval hand-painted 22 small tiles with different pictures of cats, and presented them to Sunday Reed to decorate her kitchen, because she knew how much Sunday loved cats. The tiles are still there above the fireplace in the kitchen.

Walking through the spaces where Sunday used to hold informal afternoon tea parties, looking at the photographs all over the walls, and admiring the beautiful cat tiles in the kitchen, I felt an affinity with this place that nurtured artists and provided them with both the space and the inspiration to do their best work. I do believe that some hint of their combined artistic presence still lingers there amongst the framed paintings, photographs, letters and sculptures.

It wasn’t until I sat in the café at 2:00 pm that I realised I was actually on a full-length Artist Date. And I never wanted it to end. I don’t paint and I don’t do sculpture, but I became completely wrapped up in the story of the Reeds and their artist companions, the photography and stories on display, the wonderful history of the place, including the actual buildings. So much so, that I now feel inspired to return to my own chosen art – that of writing. I have neglected this of late, but I vowed yesterday that I will make time to continue my passion for writing, and I will definitely finish that novel…

Watch this space!

Of Koalas and Kangaroos

Bushfires have been raging in Australia, and the natural habitat of koalas in Queensland and New South Wales has been decimated. Here in Victoria, we have wept over heart-breaking pictures and stories of badly-burned koalas and other wildlife.

But we have also cheered the heroic stories of those firefighters and rescuers who have done their utmost to rescue and bring injured animals to shelters and hospitals.

The internet reverberated with the video of one brave woman – Toni Doherty – who ran into a fiery area in Long Flat, NSW, to bring out a badly-burned and disoriented koala. She cradled him carefully in her blouse, got him to the side of the road and poured her water bottle’s contents on his smouldering fur and singed paws and nose, before covering him with a blanket and driving him to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. Thanks to her, this one was saved and has been named Ellenborough Lewis.

Many other animals have not been this lucky.

The above-mentioned koala hospital in Port Macquarie has been working around the clock for several weeks now, nursing injured and homeless koalas. They started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for water stations in the fire-damaged areas. While they have exceeded their expected goal, it falls way short of what is really needed to help the koalas and other wildlife to be nursed and rehabilitated back into the wild. The real problem is that there is no “wild” for the animals to return to because of the fire devastation. Even healthy koalas cannot be released for at least another year, to allow for the vegetation to re-grow and establish itself.

The Koala Hospital intends to use the extra funds raised to build a new habitat for a wild koala breeding programme. If anyone is able to, it will be this remarkable organisation.

In March 2016, my friend Jackie and I visited this koala hospital and witnessed some of the amazing work done there, mainly by volunteers. At the time, I wrote a blog-post about Port Macquarie in general, mentioning the koala hospital and its good work. You can read it here.

Unconnected with these bush fires, and way further south in a much less dramatic incident, I met a lost kangaroo two weeks ago.

In my garden.

I always claim that I live out in the country, but in fact it is fairly close to schools, shops and other amenities. My landlady has only seen a kangaroo on this property once in the thirty-five or so years that they have lived here, so although the kangaroos have a natural habitat at Lysterfield Lake Park (which is only half a kilometre from where I live), seeing them in the tarred-road suburbs is not as common as people outside of Australia might think.

Although my acquaintance with this particular kangaroo was brief, I named him Skippy. What else do you name a kangaroo? Especially if you saw episodes of that 1968 TV series as a child…

Here’s how it happened. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I was washing dishes when something attracted the edge of my gaze through the kitchen window. I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw. There at the bottom of the garden, under one of the trees, was a kangaroo.

I threw off the dishwashing gloves and raced for my phone to snap a blurry picture through the net curtain. Not a second too soon, because a noise from people walking their dog on the road below startled Skippy, and he took off before I could lift the net curtain for a better view. A hopping grey-brown streak across the garden, and he was out of sight. I swallowed my disappointment, then suddenly realised that he had headed in the direction of the busier part of our suburb, towards a main road with traffic.

Mindful of the fact that adult kangaroos can pack enough punch (or kick) to knock out a grown man, and this one was at least my height, I carefully left my cottage through the front door, taking only my phone (on silent) in case another photo opportunity presented itself.

I walked up the road, ears alert for any sounds of screeching brakes in case Skippy decided to cross the road, but all was silent. On my way back to my cottage I took the long route, between my cottage and my landlord’s bigger house, towards my veranda. As I came around the corner of my house, I heard a disturbance in the bushes at the bottom of the garden, and Skippy hopped out from under the oak tree, towards the neighbour’s fence, not far from where I had first seen him. I froze, not wanting to startle him. In my excitement, I completely forgot to take another photo until he reached the fence and tried to climb through it.

To my horror, his long legs kept getting tangled in the wire and he couldn’t escape the property. After a few attempts he hopped behind another tree, and just as I thought it might be safe for me to move, he stuck his head out and looked at me. A Lucy/Mr Tumnus moment, straight out of the Narnia saga!

We eyed each other for a few seconds before he hopped away to the top corner of the property to hide in the bushes around the lemon tree.

Thus freed from my statue position, I raced indoors and called Wildlife Victoria. They responded immediately, asked for my photos and address, and a short while later a van pulled up and two fabulous rescuers arrived to return Skippy to his habitat.

Skippy led them a merry dance before the afternoon was over, showing his remarkable jumping skills as he leaped back and forth over fences. At one point, he hopped very close to me – no more than three metres away, and the thundering of his strong back legs as he thumped along the ground was nothing short of awesome.

Eventually the tireless rescuers were able to head him off in the general direction of the more rural area, towards his cousins who live around Lysterfield Lake Park. We haven’t seen him since, but now that I know where they hang out, I will definitely take a wander along the trail paths on the far side of the lake, hoping to take a peek at Skippy and his mob in their natural habitat.

 

Embracing Australia on Screen

Now that I’ve settled into a more permanent routine here, I’m starting to relax and develop my yearning for various Australian things I couldn’t afford before. Despite my promise to myself that I would no longer hoard stuff, I’m managing to gather quite a lot of things in my little cottage. I’ve always been a buyer of books and DVDs, and while I have eased off on the books to a certain extent, I’m being quite extravagant in my collecting of movies and TV series.

I’ve always enjoyed quirky, off-beat films, be they art films, foreign films or just those more generally found at film festivals. Going back in time to when I was a drama student, my greatest escape each week was to buy a student-price ticket to an afternoon movie and sit in an almost empty movie house, enjoying what was on the screen.

A film society on campus had once-a-week screenings of classics old and new. In fact, the first time I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock was in the old science lecture hall. The film was a grainy 16mm version and the sound was so bad that none of us knew what was going on, but we loved it all the more for the deeper mystery it presented.

This genuine love of Australian films began long before I ever knew I would one day live here. Over time, film festivals in the various theatres in which I worked in South Africa afforded me the chance to see wonderful Australian offerings, such as the harrowing Belinda (known in the US as Midnight Dancer), Toni Collette’s heart-wrenching performance in Japanese Story, the very first screening in South Africa of Moulin Rouge, and a poignant but uplifting film called Look Both Ways. This last was directed by the late Sarah Watt and starred her husband, William McInnes, a well-known Australian actor who still lives locally in Melbourne and writes books, alongside his successful acting career.

Apart from the Aussie movies that made it to the big time in the wider world, like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Castle, Muriel’s Wedding and Australia, I was able – thanks to Amazon – to discover some lesser known gems from this part of the world. I splashed out and ordered Cosi, Gettin’ Square, You Can’t Stop the Murders and even the chilling The Boys. Well worth the prohibitive cost of postage to South Africa!

Director Peter Weir – in addition to the aforementioned Picnic at Hanging Rock – also wowed me with such classics as Gallipoli, Mosquito Coast and Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, while Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet had me shrieking with delight at his brilliance long before I ever saw Strictly Ballroom, and before he presented the ground-breaking Moulin Rouge to a larger world audience.

Since I arrived in Australia to live, I’ve watched and loved even richer Australian screen magic. Both the quirky The Dressmaker and Russell Crowe’s directorial debut The Water Diviner moved me to tears, while Ladies in Black sent me on a nostalgia trip back to the 1950s.

I’ve also been lucky enough to pick up other Australian classics such as Lantana, Jindabyne, Storm Boy and Paperback Hero, which I call a classic because it features a very young and not-yet-famous Hugh Jackman.

Another young and not-yet-famous favourite actor, Russell Crowe, features in The Sum of Us. Not all movies set in Australia are made exclusively here, but many Australian actors, such as Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush, can be found in a number of movies, including the story of Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly.

I’ve re-visited the phenomenally successful 1978 television series Against the Wind, based on the true stories of convict labourers from the early 1800s. More recently, Every Cloud Productions took Kerry Greenwood’s successful Phryne Fisher novels and produced three excellent seasons called Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. A full-length feature film has been made and will be released early in 2020. I can’t wait to see it (and buy it).

Inevitably, now that I’ve been here for more than four years, my viewing has extended beyond fiction, into the wonderful world of documentaries about Australia. I recently found a three-part series called Outback, about life in the vast and beautiful Kimberley area.

Just a few weeks ago, I discovered all three seasons of the BBC’s Coast Australia. I’m not ashamed to admit that I binge-watched all of them, and I’m looking forward to re-watching them as I learn more about this vast country of contrasts and magnificent scenery.

I think it might be time to take another road trip, too…

Flowers for ANZAC Day

One hundred and four years ago, at dawn on the 25th of April in 1915, the combined forces of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. There followed one of the bloodiest conflicts of the First World War. The following year, it was decided that the anniversary of that landing date would forever be remembered in both countries.

This day has become known as ANZAC Day. Every year on this day, services are held in both countries, usually at dawn, or slightly later in the morning, and all businesses remain closed until the afternoon, out of respect.

A few months ago I wrote about how, last Remembrance Sunday, I had placed a lone poppy at the cenotaph which serves as a war memorial in my neighbourhood. Last week, on ANZAC Day, several floral tributes were laid at the base of this cenotaph. Beautiful wreaths from the local Fire Brigade and the Girl Guides, a posy of poppies in the name of two soldiers – probably placed there by family members – and one anonymous bunch of red roses, tied with a pink ribbon.

I was also pleased to see that someone had taken the time and trouble to straighten my single poppy into a more upright position. I wonder if it was the same person who rescued it after the January storm? Either way, my poppy is no longer alone…

Three Hearts & an Angel

The frenzied activity of the last few months has finally slowed down to a more manageable pace. I’ve settled well into my cottage and now that the weather is warming up I have more energy because I don’t feel so cold all the time. I think my cottage is going to be lovely in summertime.

I’ve started a potted herb garden and bought some outdoor furniture for my veranda. The birds are chirping and making nests in the newly greening trees. If my cat gets too close the larger magpies swoop down to warn him away…

Above my bed I have hung some trinkets on the arms of the light fitting. All of these – in the true Marie Kondo sense – spark joy in me when I see them moving gently in the breeze.

A double heart made by my friends Mark and Tarryn, which they gave to all their wedding guests in South Africa back in 2012. It used to hang from the rafters in my Durban cottage. Mark and Tarryn moved to Australia long before I did, and they received their Australian citizenship this month. Their double heart is not only a reminder of the two of them, but a beacon of hope for that far off day when I too, will become a citizen.

The second heart was made by another friend, Shelley, for everyone in the cast and crew of the KickstArt theatre production of the musical Annie in 2014. This small ceramic heart brings to my heart a reminder of the fortitude of my friend Tina. She designed the most beautiful lighting for this show, after surviving a violent encounter which could easily have ended her life. She was determined to let nothing prevent her from creating beauty in the world, every single day, against all odds.

The third heart is one I purchased here in Australia at one of my favourite shops – Ishka. It is hand carved and comes from Indonesia. For me, it’s a reminder of the many hand-carved wooden objects I had to leave behind in Africa due to Australia’s stringent rules and regulations, and it is also a symbol of hope and love as I move forward with my new life here.

The last object – delicately packed for its journey from South Africa by my friend Penny – is a small glass angel given to me by one of my parents’ oldest friends; the same lady who came to break the news to me of my father’s death back in 1985. She gave me this angel about twelve years ago when she visited my mother and stepfather just before Christmas one year.

I’ve never hung it on a Christmas tree because it’s far too delicate. Instead, and because angels are not just for Christmas, it used to hang all year inside a glass-fronted dresser which I no longer have. Now, it will hang permanently above my bed, moving gently in the light breeze which passes through my bedroom. A reminder that sometimes we need to spread our wings in order to fly more freely than we once did.

The Finishing Touches

In my early working days during the 80s and 90s, every time I moved house, it usually took me four or five months to get around to hanging up my pictures. Because I always rented, my choices were limited to where existing picture hooks had already been hammered in by previous tenants.

Only once, when I bought my own flat in Johannesburg in 1997, did I finally splash out on buying a drill and hanging my pictures exactly where I wanted them. Along with shower rails, curtain rods, pot plant holders and anything else that took my fancy.

When I moved to Durban in 2000, it was to rented accommodation again, but the landlords I was lucky enough to rent from in the next fifteen years were quite happy to let me put up whatever I wanted.

Even so, it always took me a while to decide on the correct look and atmosphere of each room before hanging the pictures. I had to be sure that everything else was in the correct place before executing those finishing touches.

In South Africa, you drill holes into brick walls, shove in plastic plugs and screw in screws strong enough to take the weight. Not so in Australia, where the process is a little more tricky. Here the houses are not built of brick, but of timber framing, covered inside with plasterboard, and outside with any kind of veneer you can imagine. This means the walls are hollow, with wiring and piping running through the gap between inner and outer cladding.

Believe it or not, I’ve now been in my new cottage for four months. Lately, I’ve been planning the placement of my pictures. Of course, I didn’t bring all of them with me; only the most significant and precious. Such as a set of five black and white photos of District Six, taken by Jansje Wissema back in the 1960s. After carrying these in a folder through two moves, I finally framed them myself in Johannesburg, before drilling holes in my own wall with my (then) new drill. Where I go, they go.

Likewise two of my niece’s paintings which I am hoping to frame; a beautiful water colour painted by a writing friend; a framed pencil sketch that I’ve had for twenty-seven years of a cat drawn by my friend Jackie; and a cute cat-shaped blackboard made by my friend Mandy before she left for Ireland in 1997. Other favourites include my four huge framed movie posters.

One of these bears the legend: “If adventure has a name… it must be Indiana Jones” which became symbolic of my own adventure when I was packing up three years ago. Where I go, Indy goes too…

Last week I retrieved all these and more from the roof of my sister’s garage where they have been stored for the past three years. Some calculations and planning had already been done because I had most of the measurements among my immigration paperwork, but the real fun only began when I was able to unwrap them from their protective bubble wrap shrouds and let them live again.

Yesterday I spent the day putting up the larger ones. My cottage here has quite a lot of hooks in the walls, which was lucky for me because it meant I didn’t have to excavate new territory and risk hitting water pipes and live electric wiring. I also have a neat little device called a Stud Sensor, which detects both timber and metal frames, and has a red flashing light and a loud beep whenever it senses electricity.

Unfortunately, that little beep sounded a lot yesterday as I discovered that several walls which I had earmarked for pictures were more “live” than most power stations. Consequently I have had to keep some of my artworks in bubble wrap until I maybe one day move to a bigger place, or until I work out a way of attaching them to just the wall paint and plasterboard. Or doors, or ceilings. Or whatever.

Either way, for the most part I am pleased with the results. My cottage is starting to look more and more like the home I have visualised for so long.

Easing Back into the Stream

It’s been ten weeks since I moved into my cottage, and I’m finally slowing down and getting back into a normal routine. I’ve had fun unpacking all my treasures from the past, buying some new ones, and making others to suit my new environment. In the meantime, work has carried on like a steady underflow beneath it all, satisfying my need to earn and more importantly, underlining my need to belong and carve my own path.

Winter has set in with a vengeance and my cottage is cold, to say the least. Fortunately I have two heaters and an electric blanket. I look forward to the warmer months, when I intend to expand onto the veranda which is the perfect space for writing. There are brackets on which I can hang pots of flowering plants, and my view across the garden will be enhanced by a light breeze coming up the hill instead of the winter frost, mist, and ice on my car windows each morning.

In the meantime I have hung two sets of wind chimes out there on my veranda, and the sound – as always – comforts me and reminds me of places far away and friends left behind.

Five years ago I stood at the top of a hill in KwaZulu-Natal, listening to wind chimes at the Culamoya Chimes factory and shop on the Midlands Meander with my friends Tina and Jackie. I decided on a beautiful, melodic, deep-toned one. When I packed up three years ago, it came too.

On another occasion, at The Ugly Duckling in Rosetta, in another part of the Midlands Meander, I stood on a rise with my friend Tina while Jackie was riding in a cycle race. Together we listened to the various bamboo chimes before I made my decision. Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to bring bamboo into Australia, so I gave that one to Tina before I left.

Last week I found a set of bamboo wind chimes here in Australia, at Ishka, and bought it. It doesn’t have the same melodic tone, but it’s rustic and cheerful and the clackety-clack sound it makes is pleasing to my ears because it reminds me of my friends.

Life goes on, and we move with the currents and tides. Part of me thinks about the final line of The Great Gatsby, but the rest of me knows that I’m not beating against the current; I’m easing out into the stream to claim my place in the flow, and taking bits of my past with me.