Sunday, 23 December 2012

Santa's workshop - Blokes in sheds making stuff.

Turkeys hung out to dry
You may remember my fascination with creating a weather vane using the much loathed Brush Turkey as my inspiration. Well, I've gone from fascinated to obsessed. This is partly due to the positive response I've had from friends and mates. I've even had a few orders (one willing to pay). So I decided that these would make good presents. I'm up to number 7. All of which happily spin and follow the breeze beautifully. Some of which only a mother (or inventor-bloke) could love.

Now it occurs to me that there are blokes (and possible blokettes) out there doing some amazing things with scraps of timber and lengths of left over pipe and, in my case, wooden spoons and spatulas, held together by string and wire, staples and a spot of glue. Blokes (and b'ettes) in their backyards inventing every manner of useful and useless thing, sometimes to solve a problem, sometimes just for the hell of it. Why, people build whole beach shacks using this technique.

A stampede of feather brained weather vanes
In my case it's clearly not just a whim, but practical. I now have a pretty good indication of the direction of the wind at any time of day simply by looking out my back door (at night I have to revert to using my own senses or turning on the floodlights which is pretty annoying for the neighbours - I'm working on a glow in the dark version! Kidding).

Doesn't everyone need to know where the wind is coming from? My cat certainly has an instinct for shade and breeze and cool spots. It's the same for me. I feel cooler when I can see there's a breeze.

Mother and child
I am interested in any one else who dabbles in the dark arts of creativity in the secrecy of their shed, or under the house, because I reckon it would make a great blog site or, better still, an exhibition at some prestigious social history museum like the one we have here in Brisbane (MOB - Museum of Brisbane).

Send me some photos and I'll post them. I'll also be pitching this idea to the director of MOB. I'll let you know the response.

PS For Christmas my son has offered to get the 'Turkey Brained Weather Vane' registered. I'm not sure what that means and I'm not sure that was the spirit in which the project was initiated but its another bit of fun. And a kind of interesting present. Life is.....

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Summer backyard

 Ginger Ginger Ginger Tomato Poinciana.

The heat drips off me like a waterfall.
My keyboard sweats.
The house behaves like a sauna,
It captures the sun
Converting it to a steam bath.

Memories of Vanuatu.
It's ginger lined streets
It's verdant backyards
It's cool sea breezes
tease me.
                   I swelter in the presence of
                    ginger ginger ginger

                    Summer is a two timing season
                    It promises clear skies
                    Beach scenes.
                    Productive gardens
                    Never ending days of light.

                    Delivers a human hell
                    Burns us up
                    Ignoring our protestations of innocence
                    Causes us to wish away
                    Our precious days.

                   Love and hate
                   Beauty and beastliness
                                                                                   Ginger tomatoes poinciana.
                                                                                   Hot colours
                                                                                   Cool nights

Found object man-made

Where flotsam and jetsam meets the eye of the artist. Where intervention makes meaning of rubbish. This assemblage is stuff Tony Rice, kitemaker and artist, has collected from the beaches of North Stradbroke Island. His work is about the damage we do to the environment by our carelessness.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Found Object

Can a found object be a piece of art? I found this tangle of wire on a friend's farm recently. It looked like ready made art to me, so I attached it to a post (plinth?) and let it work its magic on me. At about 3:30pm each day the sun from the west changes it from a dull knot of rusty wire into a lustrous light catcher. It gives me pleasure and it has some of the qualities of an art piece except it was not made consciously. Da Da!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

My new camera

Andrea at the Melbourne Craft Festival
 Bought myself a new camera. I wanted something small enough to carry in my pocket but something whcin gives me the option of full manual control. I'm happy with my Canon G12. Unfortunately it hasn't turned me into an instant Cartier Bressan or Eliot Ewitt. I've got a lot to learn. Still it does things my former Panasonic could never do. I can set a wide aperture for narrow depth of field and take shots in low light.
Garden of Eden

It rained this weekend after an extended dry spell here. It was a wonderful to hear the sound of rain on a tin roof after such a long time. The photo of andrea was taken in Melbourne two weeks ago. The green shots were taken at my brother's weekender at Boreen Point on Lake Catharaba north of Brisbane.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

BrushTurkey put to good use

turkey weather vane
 It's summer. The brush turkeys are on the prowl. Breeding profusely and tearing gardens to shreds to make their huge nests.

This is the only good use I have found for these terrorists, though my Uncle Paddy says if you get them young they cook up quite well. Others say that to cook them, boil in water with a rock and they're ready to eat when the rock is tender. Unfortunately they're a protected species.

design inspiration

I've always wanted a wind vane, a weather cock. I love their simplicity and in a strange way I always feel connected with the elements when I watch them.

I've hinted to the family about my secret desire over the years but my requests for a birthday or christmas surprise have always been deemed to be a tad eccentric and fallen on deaf ears.

keeping watch
I've taken matters into my own hands and decided to make one of my own. Google helped, but of even more assistance was the natural qualities of the brush turkey. What a great tail. If only their heads were anywhere near as attractive! They're pin heads of very little brain and spend many hours with their heads stuck in the mound of nest material taking the temperature. Hence functional but ugly.

So I googled and then had a sudden inspiration. After ten years I have designed and made a prototype over the past couple of days. And it works. It behaves just like a turkey - spinning and checking and changing direction in response to the breeze.More rational than the real bird.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Name Dropping - Lily Brett and Lola Bensky

I've just read Lily Brett's Lola Bensky. It was a mixed read for me. It was my first foray into Lily Brett and only triggered by my membership of my Australian Bookclub.

The novel centres around a young Australian music journalist who travels to London and New York in the 60s to interview the rock stars for her Australian magazine. She's very young, quite innocent and ends up backstage with the most amazing array of iconic characters. It verges on unbelievable.

The conversations she has are often about herself and her family and their holocaust experience. At times it felt a bit twee to find her with yet another star innocently musing on her weight (another theme) and her life. I felt engaged with the Jewishness of the Bensky character but her drive-by relationship with the musicians of the 60s didn't quite work for me. I guess Lola's (Jewish) tendency to constantly ask questions and become absorbed in her own life , triggered by her conversations was the intent but it became a bit predictable and indulgent for me. Jimi Hendrix is portrayed as a sweetie, Jagger as intelligent and insightful and Jim Morrison as an arsehole. Mind you, I did find myself singing many of the tunes of the 60s which she dropped into the text along the way. Am I just nostalgic, or was that an era of exceptional pop music? Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Mamas and Pappas, Sonny and Cher, Canned Heat, the Doors etc etc to name just a few that appear on the pages.

As it happened I was finishing reading "Pig City" by Andrew Stafford at the same time (a factual account of the politics and music of Brisbane in the 70s, 80s and 90s). Stafford is not Brisbane born and was a kid when all this happened so, I suspect. he's not setting out to create some new mythology. His account explains the phenomena of creativity thriving under adversity. The era was characterised by political oppression and an attempt to smash the counter culture and suppress dissent. The pig in the title is a slang reference to the police and the 'police state' of the time.I was excited by the dash and daring of the Brisbane bands of the era even though I seemed to have missed many of them (Saints, Gangajang, Tex Perkins, and my favourite band name - Pineapples from the Dawn of Time). I was a late convert to the Go Betweens even though I was at Uni with their drummer Lindy Morrison. My turn to drop names. Stafford finishes with Powderfinger in full flight.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Visible Ink - young people doing good 10th Anniversary

I was involved as Manager of a fabulous Youth Team serving young people throughout the first decade of this century. This was at the local government level.

The surviving youth resource centre from that era is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week. I can't be there but I wrote down a few snippets from that time. Memories that have stayed with me (among many others)

1. Tee-Pee. I recall the installation of a large Tee-Pee in the centre of King George Square (outside City Hall) as part of an early Visible Ink Festival. It was a hit. It had young people wandering in and out for a chat and musicians turning up unexpectedly for a jam including some backpackers. At night the street kids would gather and tentatively enter the space and settle in for a quiet "blissful" hour or so. Big old lounge chairs, a square of carpet, coffee - it was definitely alternative. Deanna Borland-Sentinella and Liz Capelin were among those who put it together and managed it, often late into the night.

2. Bombshell. A drama filled afternoon when the "Youth Team" gathered in the large meeting room to receive the news that the team had been left off the organizational chart by the then manager. The Team was to be split across the city and mixed in with other community development teams. We'd all worked so hard to build a strong team with an innovative approach to our work that we couldn't understand why the organisation would want to dismantle something that was obviously working so well. Three weeks later we received a reprieve when the Branch Manager returned from leave and said "Why would we do that?"

3. Grafitti panic. The LM had issued an edict that grafitti was not flavour of the month and while we had a policy of encouraging young people to work within the law we were unsure of where the line was drawn. I had had a meeting with the LM Policy Advisor and his interpretation of Grafitti was 'anything done with a spray can'. This was a bit odd as Council had commissioned a well known public artist to create some attractive water themed murals for their public pools. Unfortunately one of the photos of these murals in progress showed this artist with a spray can adding the final touches to the entrance mural. This was regarded as grafitti. There was a panic. The LM had been invited to officially open the new temporary Berwick Street space and a major interior wall had been used as an artists canvas for young people using spray cans. The ban on grafitti was aimed clearly at external 'public' walls and spaces so this was not breaking any rules. However we'weren't taking any chances of spoiling this great opportunity to meet the LM and show off what young people could do. The wall was quickly repainted with large squares of Grafitti Art left exposed as if intentionally framed. 

4. Discovery.The Vis Ink coordinator who began work at Constance Street and worked through the move to Berwick Street and is now back to Constance Street again. His job, at the time, was to look at sites that the Council had identified for a temporary home while the Constance Street site was being redeveloped. We were offered two options: A site in fairly good condition a few blocks east of Berwick Street about the same size as Constance Street; and a much larger site much closer to the centre of the Valley and in worse condition. The second one was twice the size of the first place but about the same rent. Decisions are never easy. Was it best to go with small and comfortable or large and scummy? Close to the action or further away? Was Berwick Street too close to the wild heart of the Valley? He and I considered this carefully for a day or two and then said lets be brave and take the risk. "Imagine what might emerge from this awesome (and scummy) warehouse space?" we said to each other. And the rest is history.

5. Comparisons. It's hard to remember the original Constance Street site except in its physical form.The programs and activities and initiatives which began there and exploded at Berwick Street and which have informed the new Green Square space were not even possible to imagine 10 years ago. 

Moral of the story: It's only in taking a risk that new things happen. Visible Ink 10th anniversary

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Mandala - via Warwick Queensland

At Mandala
by the back door of the former school house
chooks hide in a tiny pen
safe from predator and wild dog
safe in the knowing that Gabrielle
and foxy Millie are a match for any real fox
who might nightly visit and sniff a meal
well fed on scraps and grain

In daylight they safely roam
as chooks in yards are wont
and in company of humans
who also wander beyond
                    fencelines, past vege gardens
                    along creeks which fill and flow
                    and die and slowly empty of
                    ducks and native fish and murmurings
                    until November rains flush another dry season away.

Across the way
A red backed wallaby
colour picked from the palette of rust in the nearby shed
sits and sits as I stand and stare
my camera waiting patiently at maximum aperture
at a shooting speed set for the setting sun
and refuses to look at me
declines to turn
defiantly pretends not to notice me
while all his brothers and sisters flee
bouncing through fields of pale grass
          towards once-were barbed wire fences

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Lucky Diamond Rich

In my early work in community arts as part of Street Arts Community Theatre Company we ran some workshops at the East Brisbane State School (1983) as a part of a Community Circus Festival Project. There we encountered a young fella, Greg, who was a gifted but troubled boy. He was able to ride a unicycle within 10 minutes of getting his hands on that notoriously difficult monster and could juggle 3 balls proficiently in the same short time. I was amazed. Sadly his background indicated that he was headed for a troubled future.
Thirty years later Greg is still alive and earns his living performing his circus tricks throughout the world. He has two special talents - 1. He can swallow a metre long sword on command (no tricks) and 2. He has become obsessed with tattoos, officially becoming the 'most tattooed man on the planet'. He's gone from a young white boy to a green tinged … well see for yourself    
He has chosen a weird path but occasionally I have contact with him and he attributes his survival and career path to those circus workshops he did with us as a 12 year old.
He has even entered the mainstream. A portrait of him was one of the finalists in this years Archibald Portraiture prize.

Ironically Greg has become so completely tattooed that he has now begun to re-tattoo himself with white ink - gradually reappearing from the murky dark and reclaiming that young white boy I knew in the 1980s.

I was reminded of Greg today when I received an invitation to the 10 year anniversary celebration of Brisbane's Visible Ink Youth Space in the Valley; a place which thousands of young people have visited over the years to explore their creativity and seek a direction in life and in some cases been changed forever. I wondered if there was a Greg among them?

Archibald Prize entry by Leslie Rice

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Winter Beach - Caloundra

These are the last photos from my old Panasonic LZ3 digital camera. I have a new Canon G12 which gives me a lot more control over shutter speed and aperture etc. Will my investment make any difference to my photos?  Is it the camera or is it the photographer?

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Brisbane Writers Festival

Met Jon Doust at the Brisbane Writers Festival today. What a character. He effectively sold Albany as the centre of the writing world of the planet. He was on a panel talking about the place of "old cultures" in new writing. Sue Woolfe and Brett Caldwell made up the panel. They were a great mix - about as different a three as you could find. At one end Jon's dysfunctional youth and off beat sense of humour at the other the 15 year military background of the surprisingly insightful and sensitive Brett Caldwell and Sue Woolfe in the middle - the white girl living in a remote aboriginal community in NT for  a year with her daughter and all her assumptions being smashed. That plus Drusella Majeska in conversation with Robert Dessai (wonderful) and then lots of writers from Oceania speaking French.

My theme for the three days was the Pacific and writing about cultures other than your own. Drusella Majeska talked about her novel 'The Mountain' set in Papua Nui Guinea where she lived for many years. PNG is the closest country to Australia but we fly over it, sail by it and largely ignore it. She spoke about how challenging it is to enter cultures so different from our own. She described her writng as getting behind the eyes of her PNG characters but always aware that they were still her eyes.

I also attended three sessions featuring Tahiitian and New Caledonian writers writing in French. The most interesting question posed was "Did they see themselves as French writers or writers writing in French?" They were all adamant that they were Pacific Islanders (both white and indigenous writers) and French just happened to be the lingua franca of their region. "Do people who write in English see themselves as English writiers?" was the question they posed in return. The question of writers writing in the language of the colonisers was one that was approached but one which continues to be unresolved in terms of influence and the irony or contradiction of that situation. There are some very good writers from that vast region.

A good couple of days.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Fishing for flatties

Went fishing on Thursday in Moreton Bay down by the mangroves at Jacobs Well. It's only 30 minutes out of town. It's part of the Brisbane area by-passed by all but fishermen. Tens of thousands of  families and surfers, boards strapped to their roof or boots bursting with beach towels and beach umbrellas and body boards fly by at high speed on their way to the famed Gold Coast. The M1 makes it less than an hour away.

But take the turn-off to Jacob's Well and it's another country. The road is a series of straight bitumen strips which take you through car-high sugar cane fields first east, then south, then east again. In the distance, between breaks in the walls of cane, a plume of cloud-white smokes reaches for the Queensland sky from the single smoke stack of the sugar mill. It's an anachronism, like having a abattoir in your suburb. The next nearest sugar mills are two hours south and five hours north in rich alluvial soil country much more suitable for cropping. Even the local farmers agree. They petition the government every five years for permission to sell up and subdivide but the land is deemed arable and the government has held firm until now.

We picked up some bait and got on the water by 9:30. The fish were biting but they were all small buggers and didn't need a measure. We kissed them goodbye and set them free. Every time we decided to pack up and head home the bites came again. More small ones, mainly bream, a whiting, a sole. Then almost at the death of the day Denis landed a bigun. A flathead. We thought about measuring it on the marked up rule on the side of the tinny but the bugger was thrashing about threatening to jump out of the boat and we weren't going anywhere near those painful spikes. He was likely to do a runner if we got him anywhere near the water.

We reckoned he was just under the 70cm length. Unfortunately we couldn't remember the actual maximum legal size so we phoned Denis' wife and getting no answer left a message - 'Could she do a flathead google  and get back to us?'

Poor fat, father flathead, cos that's what he turned out to be (flathead over a certain length are all female and can't be taken), was having trouble holding his breath while waiting for the return call. Our one-size-too-small esky was a tad cramped and rigor mortis soon set in. We gave him our blessings and our thanks and, since we had enough to feed two couples, we headed for home.

As we hauled the dripping boat from the water attached to our Nissan XTrail, the phone rang.  Turned out the max was 70cm and we were comfortably inside the measure. Luckily the hour delay hadn't resulted in us becoming conscience stricken. We were able to partake of that dusky beauty free of guilt.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Skinny dip

We're walking along a path on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour. We pass only three or four people in the first twenty minutes. I'm amazed that Sydney, the largest city in Australia, has extensive walking tracks through bushland set aside as public space within sight of the Opera House.

The harbour looks beautiful. The water is polished to a gleaming sheen, sailing boats glide across the horizon, white sails gently puffed smooth by the breeze. We, all-four, are dressed in long pants, jumpers, jackets and scarves. Nick has brought a picnic which bulges from his backpack. It's a beautiful blue winter Sydney day. Did you bring your togs? I ask Nick jokingly. Yep. I love cold water, he says and goes on to talk about exotic places he's swum and laments the fact that his girlfriend is not as keen on iceberg swimming as he is. There might be other important elements to a long term relationship, I comment. I've had this conversation with Nick many times in our thirty year friendship. He's the perennial hippy; the surviving member of a share house in Annandale for which he has held the lease for over twenty years.

As we round a bend in the track past a string of dingies stacked on the overgrown bank of an inlet, we spy a length of sandy beach below us. Looks like a good place for a picnic. We all agree and find ourselves alone on this point which pushes out into the harbour. It's hard to believe that around the corner we would see the Opera House and to our left we can see South Head dropping off into the Pacific. From here we watch a   Manly ferry push through between us and Watson's Bay across the water.

The beach is sandy but the water hides flat sandstone rocks. There are a couple of thin pathways beween them. Suddenly it looks cold. There's a breeze off the water and Andrea and Lindy find a sheltered spot to sit and enjoy the scene.

You up for it Steve? Oh yeah. I bravely reply. I reckon its a skinny-dip don't you says Nick. I'm game if you are, I say. Nick drops his daks and pulls his layers of warmth over his head. I follow suit. I, too, love cold water and unusual swimming locations. My cold swim stories are of the Atlantic off Brittany in France, the 'mens only bathing pond' in Hamstead Heath in suburban London and deep, still swimming holes in the bush hinterland of Brisbane in winter.

Slippery rocks make entry to cold water excruciating. There's no option but to get colder inch by inch. . I find a hole. The harbour beckons and threatens. I plunge and thrash about trying to survive the first seconds. It's a high risk cardiac moment. My eyeballs threaten to turn to metal, my head and ears scream GET OUT. And then I start to warm up. Nick reckons it's just the body in shut-down mode. I love this - warming up and shutting down. It makes me feel alive rather than close to death. I could stay in the water now for half an hour but Nick is out within minutes and so I stumble across the slimy flat rocks and join him, triumphant, on the beach, in the sun. Warm again. No police boats have arrived to arrest us.

We savor the moment as if we are the first explorers of this place. Brothers in the nude together. Captured on camera forever.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Two Day Week

I've gone back to paid work two days a week. Monday is Monday and Tuesday is Friday. I highly recommend a five day weekend. My job? I've gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. My last job was managing the Brisbane City Council Youth Program and now I'm overseeing the Council's Seniors' Strategy. From the juniors to the seniors in one step! Any recommendations to make life better in our cities as we get older would be welcome.