Friday 27 August 2010

Magpie 29 Picture perfect

Wistful, dreamy, picture book homes exist.
Slate roofed, cream brick, vine covered
set in large estates
with huge dogs loping across expansive lawns.
I know.
I've driven past them.
They sit in suburbs on hills with views of the city.
Highgate in London, Ascot in Brisbane, Potts Point in Sydney.
I'm not envious.
I'm just more aligned to other planets.
And other lives.

I drive through the poorer suburbs
and wonder at their lives.
I see small houses on small lots.
Fibro, corrugated iron, champerboard.
The yards are sometimes bare.
They're rentals or housing commission.
Some of them are unkempt
but many are proudly neat and loved.
There's an honesty about these suburbs.
A lack of pretension.
I grow to like that about them.

Aussie Rules

Today I'm visiting a youth centre in one of these areas. I'm in the simple kitchen of this simple youth facility making myself a cup of tea. I'm not familiar with the place so I'm searching for the tea bags and the mugs and the sugar. I open every cupboard and drawer. All the time I'm doing this I notice out of the corner of my eye these three African boys sitting together on the floor. There's no one else here except for the three staff members and myself. It's 11am and all the local kids are at school or hiding at local skate parks or in the bush on their bikes. They don't turn up here if their wagging school. But here are these three looking very comfortable. They look about 16 and maybe school age but Jeff, who's in charge, doesn't make any comment.

After a while I wander over towards them. They're sitting in the far corner of the activity space and they're playing a game on the TV. A Playstation game I guess. They are totally engrossed and calling to the screen as they compete against each other.

There's been a lot of tension in the local suburbs lately. In the past few years increasing numbers of African migrants and refugees have arrived and settled here. The locals don't like the way they hang around the street and gather in groups in parks. They're too different. They've come from refugee camps where home has been a cardboard box or a sheet of iron held up by four posts or, if they're lucky, a tent with sides.

Now here they are in Australia. Their housing commission home is luxury. And here they are playing and feeling safe. I step a bit closer to see what game they're playing. I'm looking for a way in. I want to make contact. They're playing a ball game, but it's not their native game. It's not soccer. I hear one of them call to his player on the screen 'MARK!' It's a term I'm familiar with. I look more closely. My whole body bursts into a smile. An athletic figure wearing the colours of my favourite team, the Brisbane Lions, soars into the air to take a beautiful high catch. A mark. 'Do you like that game?' I ask. 'Yeah, its good' they say and turn back to the game to send their players scrambling for the ball. To take that mark and kick a long low drop punt towards the goals.

They're playing Australian Rules Football. Aussie Rules. The iconic Australian game which obsesses the nation. If only their neighbours knew. Aussie Rules could change the world!

For more writing on this theme visit Magpie tales. Click on the Magpie Stamp

Election Party. Girls to the left - Boys to the right

Australia has finished voting in the election from hell.
The result: stalemate
Neither party has a majority or a clear mandate.
The Independants who will hold the balance of power are behaving with remarkable dignity and good sense.
Julia Gillard is the incumbent so holds a few cards in her hand. And she has red hair - that has to count for something.
Tony Abbott is resorting to schoolboy tantrums, refusing to accept that perhaps he won't get his way.
Stephen Fielding (Family First Party-super conservative) is having a cry in the corner because everyone is ignoring him and he's threatening to shit in the sandpit to spoil everyone's fun.
The Greens, who will control the upper house from July 2011, are sitting back, smiling like the cat what got the cream, and watching everyone else tear themselves to pieces.
Barnarby Joyce (National Party - conservative rural) is threatening to king-hit some of his former colleagues who are now independents (augurs well for a stable coalition of the right when Barnaby is that unstable already).

And us, the nation. we watch in fascination or ignore and yawn.

Only real joy of late has been taking the piss at election parties where every politician was fair game. Ours featured two Julia Gilliards (pick the real one?) and three men of little note from the right. Can you name any of them. Clues? Left to right: The invisible man; the cockeyed country man, the anti abortion/anti gay man.

Prize for the nearest correct entry: A copy of my remaindered book "Challenging the Centre- Two Decades of Political Theatre in Queensland" mailed anywhere in the world.

Friday 20 August 2010

Magpie 28 Dribble

It may look

You may
that my

is fluid.
I just

a year

For more writing in response to this Magpie prompt click on the Magpie stamp

Poll Day - Australia

Australia goes to the polls tomorrow.
Politics seems to have lost its way
Public opinion polls dictate policy decisions on difficult issues
Elected prime ministers are toppled by their own party
Tony Abbott (Liberal/Conservative) speaks empty rehearsed lines
Julia Gillard (Centre left Labor) seeks to reinvent herself mid campaign
and invokes mysterious notions of democracy to excuse a lack of leadership and courage.
Bob Brown (Greens) sells an idealised vision of the future
Joe Hockey (Shadow Treasurer) can barely cope with the most rudimentary notions of economics
The media ask inane questions and publish opinionated drivel
Debates are glorified press conferences
The old fashioned Town Hall public meeting returns
and is turned into another version of an opinion poll

It's depressing.
Gone the days of my local candidate
standing on the back of a truck with a dodgy PA system
Gone are politicians with ideas and convictions
In their place we have manufactured and cautious campaigns
and slogans slogans slogans
Moving forward; we will we will we will;
Stop the boats; great big new tax;
It's all bullshit written by some computer program
that thinks we're all idiots.
and sadly it works -
many of us are just that
with no grasp of the true issues or the options.

I'll vote tomorrow
I would even if it weren't compulsory.
One pleasure I'll have is voting for Kevin Rudd
even though his party dumped him.
He's my local representative.

The other is seeing my children (in their twenties)
become really engaged with an election for the first time.
(The main chartacters are so absurd they've grabbed their attention -
perhaps for all the wrong reasons)
It's ironic that it's probably one of the worst examples
of democracy I've experienced in a long time.

I'm going to an election party tomorrow night
in character as a politician who no one has heard of.
Another irony there.
This politician is long serving but stands for nothing.
No profile, no position, no name.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Magpie 27 Putrid

I may be past it
but I can still drain
the waste from your sinks
so all that remains
is a scum line of leftovers
a sweet smelling refrain
of casserole chicken
and carrots and grain

I'm feeling neglected
you don't seem to care
you don't even notice
that I'm worse for wear
I'm fed up and putrid
I'm gasping for air
until you repair me
you'll know that I'm there.

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Monday 9 August 2010

Magpie 26 - Panama Palendrome Variations

Can in hand
Panama hat on head
I wander the back yard
looking for lonely plants to save

Plants deprived of love
plants others have rejected
plants that have disappeared
under thickening overgrowth.

I am a compassionate gardener.
All plants should be treated equally.
I have not designated any hierarchy,
any insider outsider class structure.
Gangly locals and thorny foreigners
equally fail to offend me

The majority of my garden
arrived as imports, migrants
carried as precious cargo
by botanists and adventurers
intent on taming this wild land
replacing the angular and irregular
with manicured hedges and
stately symmetrical giants
from far off lands.

Some arrived as stowaways
with less legitimacy than the convicts
with whom they shared a hold,
mere burrs on the backs of sacks
or foreign seeds
masquerading as wheat or rice
barley or oats

If I had a plan I would begin.
Instead I wander another circuit
unable to decide upon
even the most rudimentary action.
To plant or pull,
to trim or train or trample.
I am a man without a plan
a saviour without the will
to wield the secateurs.

A man with a can
with a panama but no plan
is unlikely to save the planet
and is bound
to be compared (unfavourably)
to George Washington Geothals
who tamed a wilderness, no less.
Front and back.
A man
a plan
a canal

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Two Weeks in Niguelas Part VI Valle de Lecrin (cont)

The story continues. Now that I'm back at work it is not progressing as fast as it was in my life of leisure - strange that! I have decided to post two more pieces - the second half of the "Valle de Lecrin" and then the final day - "Lorenzo's Folly". I shall then write the remaining sections at my leisure and maybe post them later or perhaps release the story as a novella for world wide distribution through a major publisher - I wish.

Niguelas VI Valle de Lecrin (cont)

Lecrin turned out to be three villages in one, the outskirts of each having merged. Combined they were still less in size than my local suburb in Brisbane. Before we knew it we had passed through and were headed for Restubal as we descended into the valley. Distances were deceiving. One minute drive later we were at a fork in the road giving us a choice of a high or a low road.

As it happened I had been doing a bit of ‘follow your nose’ research on the internet in preparation for our trip and somehow found myself on a blog written by a woman living in AndalucĂ­a. Her blog contained a story of horse riding in the high country above Niguelas with a local heavy drinking bachelor as her guide. She, like many others in these small villages, was one of the British who had relocated to this calm, isolated and comparatively low cost area of Spain. Sadly many of these expats wished for nothing more than a transplanted version of the old country but those who chose village life, as opposed to Mediterranean enclaves, were much more interested in becoming part of their adopted country and culture. They learnt to speak Spanish for a start. My blog contact had also written a piece extolling the virtues of a local bric a brac shop run by another English speaking woman in the small village of Chite.

Now the lower road was signed Chite, so without consultation with my passengers I veered left, stayed on the right and headed for the ‘Camel Stop’ shop. Despite our experience of Spanish roads and village lanes in Seville and Zephyr and Ronda and Niguelas we ignored the warning signs and proceeded to follow the road into the village and continued to ignore further warning signs as we found ourselves in ever narrower laneways until we reached what looked like an impossible intersection. The laneway required that we fold both side mirrors back to be able to squeeze between the vertical walls; we were then faced with a dog leg T junction of the same width. This required us to not turn left, not right nor straight but navigate a passage that demanded that our car have the qualities of a banana bus. We needed to turn left and right at the same time. The prospect of backing up 400metres of laneway where you couldn’t even get your head out the window was not attractive. So Mick got out to direct me. The girls held their breath and closed their eyes and we navigated this ravine via a series of intricate manouvres, each time bumping the wall in front or behind.

As we emerged the ladies fled the car and Mick and I parked to consider our options. I stepped out of the driver’s seat and noticed a sign on an adjacent doorway. To my amazement I realized that we were parked in a tiny square outside the Camel Stop. We would never have found it but for our blunder. Sadly it was closed both for this visit and again a week later when we returned wisely parking at the entrance to the village second time around.

A walk beyond our temporarily abandoned car took us to a pathway which tracked the edge of the village and the edge of a precipice giving an uninterrupted view over the valley and back towards Lecin. Orchards were spread before us and amongst these pathways wove into the distance. The ladies had disappeared. Mick and I found them a few minutes later following the tooting horn of a car which was revealed as a local fruit and vegetable merchant selling from the back of his tiny Renault panel van. Chite, it turned out had no shops whatsoever and was serviced by a series of mobile services. As we explored villages throughout the area we came upon mobile bakers, hardware merchants, fishmongers and grocery suppliers. The valley was crawling with them.

At this point the girls declined to join us in the car. Mick and I were tasked with figuring out the exit strategy alone and we finally emerged unscathed to collect our passengers along with their bags full of fresh produce.

Notwithstanding our shaken egos we continued with our Valle de Lecrin adventure but the Chite experience taught us a lesson. At the next village there was a chorus from the back seat warning of a mutiny unless we agreed to park at the first parking opportunity within sight of the everpresent church tower. At each subsequent village this led to some unnecessarily long walks along bitumen roads under a burning midday sun invariably revealing a perfect parking spot in the shade in the lee of the said church.

The Lecrin Valley turned out to be quite small. Villages were no more than a few kilometers apart and the next always visible in the near distance as a tight cluster of white buildings teetering on the cliffside of a gorge or nestling beside a stream in a deep and verdant valley.

Our forty year old map turned out to be an up to date guide to the local roads and while we travelled less than 30 kilometres in total we were five hours in travelling them.

Chite cemetery

Monday 2 August 2010


I was reading 'realia' yesterday (crazy wild and steady 30 July). 'realia' is one of my favourite blogs. Jennifer was talking about her recent experience of releasing her creative self. She's been attending a series of classes and surprising herself. She's been dancing singing and drawing as part of post graduate
studies in Expressive Arts.

"realia link"

I left a comment about my experiences back in my twenties when workshops which combined terror and exhileration led to some remarkable changes for me. Particularly life changing was the five day 'clown workshop" I attended run by a psychodrama practitioner, Bridgit Brandon. That was over thirty years ago and I can still remember, not only Bridgit's name but, every moment of those five days. I ran away to join a clown troupe soon after. I encourage you to read Jennifer's blog to get a better idea of her take on these things.

I promised her I'd share another 'wild' creative arts workshop experience with her.

In my twenties I explored every possible creative arts form. I had attended a boy's catholic school which did not offer any arts subjects. It didn't even have a library. I had one teacher in my twelve years of schooling who was outstanding and set us wonderful writing exercises which surpried and inspired me. We studied Hamlet for the best part of six months and though I think Shakespeare is brilliant no production since has exilerated me as much as our reading of Hamlet in class. I didn't realise it at the time but he set me on a path that, as a young bloke, I was not even aware of.

So in my twenties I was a mime artist, a musician, a dancer, a mask performer, a clown and a visual artist- all this as I studied Economics and later taught primary school.

In my visual arts phase I attended a few summer schools run by eminent Australian artists including AlunLeach-Jones and John Peart. The most memorable however was run by an eccentric artist who had a passion for liberating the creative potential of her students. She encouraged us to paint on a large scale, to Jackson Pollack like, enter the painting and use our whole bodies. We filled our brushes to saturation and attacked the large pieces of butcher's paper we were working on. I was a willing student. I loved the wildness of it. It felt great to just go for it. She praised our work, exhorted us to stop thinking and created an atmosphere completely free of judgement. We worked with live models. Beautiful voluptuous young women. It was a young boy's dream. All of this happened on the second floor of the Brisbane City Hall in a large space left abandoned by the then Council. It now houses the office of the Lord Mayor.

"The only drawing I've kept of those years - I was not terrible, but not too promising either"

As the five day program drew to a close she promised us a painting exercise to end all exercises as our finale.

Next day we arrived to be greeted effusively by Maureen. This time Maureen announced she would not be instructing but demonstrating. Maureen was over the top in every respect including her dress. Each day she would turn up in a new outrageous outfit - feathers, vibrant colours, scarves. Her outfits screamed 'ARTIST'.

So here she was again at her most flamboyant. The model waited patiently while Maureen attached a large roll of paper probably three metres square to the wall. We students gathered for the performance not expecting anything beyond an energetic example of Maureen showing off her gestural style and demonstrating where she really wanted us to be heading.

The model dropped her cloak. Maureen dipped her hands, up to her elbows, into a large bucket of white paint. Suddenly the atmosphere was electric. Then, in a controlled but possessed way, she proceeded to paint the model, greasing her breasts and buttocks, back and thighs with thick daubs of paint. And while the paint dripped and oozed she physically manhandled the young woman into, across and up and down the wall. The whole piece took probably two minutes and when Maureen finally stepped away we stood there jaws agape.

Without missing a beat Maureen toweled herself down and resumed her exchange with us about art as if nothing had happened. The model disappeared and we were left to make sense of this bizarre happening. Art never was quite the same again.

It was the seventies!

Post script
I had been politicised by my university experience (the vietnam war, the cultural revolution of the late 60s) and had strong sense of justice and was aware of feminism. At the time I was both exhilerated and appalled. As I write this the ethics of that moment still trouble me. In one respect it was incredibly liberating. At another it seemed the young model had been no more than a piece of meat. Had she collaborated willingly? What were the limits of art? Did Maureen go to far? By today's standards of course that was all very tame.

John Peart

Alun Leach-Jones

Sunday 1 August 2010

Magpie 25 Heart

Only the locksmith
knows the intricate workings
of the hidden heart

To read more writerly pieces based on this prompt click here or on the image.