Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Peace 9 - Bruny Island

Richo – Martin Flanagan

Tonight it’s ‘Dreamtime at the ‘G’ – a game of football – a game of Aussie Rules footy to be exact – that is as almost as significant as a game can possibly be in our country. Only the ultimate contest of the year and the Anzac Day match can rival it. Within my mind, at least, the other two occasions struggle to do so. For the Dreamtime match celebrates the culture of the First Australians, and specifically their immense contribution to the game. This includes, with marngrook, the fact they more than likely invented it. This significant event on the AFL calendar is always played between the Essendon Bombers and Richmond Tigers. It is epic in proportion as it is epic in meaning.

Aboriginal footballers bring flair to a game that, these days, is often accused of blandness – but not when these fellows are on the ground. Their individual feats, their magic, bring the punters to the games in droves. Where would the mighty Hawks be without Franklin, Rioli or Burgoyne; Essendon without Ryder; Carlton without its mosquito fleet of Betts, Yarran and Garlett? North has Wells and Thompson, the Eagles ‘Nic Nat’ and on and on we go – the aforementioned players being only the tip of the iceberg. Then there are the black heroes of the past – Polly Farmer, Syd Jackson, Michael Long and, again, on and on we go.

This week has also been particularly memorable as it is the twentieth anniversary of an amazing photograph – the sporting equivalent in the story of reconciliation in this country to the iconic snap of a Prime Minister pouring red Wave Hill sand into the hands of Vincent Lingiari. Of course this is image of St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar, pulling up his jersey, pointing to his skin in response to the rabidly racist brayings of Collingwood supporters after his team defeated them at Victoria Park. It symbolised the distance between our nation’s two cultures – the imported one contrasted with that that has been here as long as the stars of the Southern Cross. It also stands for the first steps taken to close that divide. A president of the same team that opposed Winmar’s on that day reflected soon after, that he had no problem with indigenous players, as long as they behaved in the same way as whites. So it is all credit to the Magpies how the racial slur inflicted on Swans champion Adam Goodes was handled. To see television coverage of Eddie MacGuire charge into Sydney’s rooms immediately after the game to apologise to the Sydney captain demonstrates how far we have come in our collective thinking after two decades. Then, as we all know, Eddie undid all this with some imbecilic attempt at humour at Goodes’ expense on his radio show. To the Swans’ credit is the fact that he named – or at least pointed – and shamed. The photo of him doing so may, in time, become as significant the Wayne Ludbey image of two decades ago.

Front and centre celebrating ‘Dreamtime at the ‘G’ and the Essendon great’s Long Walk, this weekend just past, were the sporting columnists at ‘The Age’ newspaper. Carolyn Wilson, their doyen, wrote of the quiet work that is going on behind the scenes at Richmond and Port to eradicate the continuing blight of prejudice, based on colour, from the game. Gary Lyon told tales on his former Melbourne teammate ‘Wizard’ Farmer; with Martin Flanagan scribing of the importance that a ‘war dance’ has become to the culture of indigenous teams before taking on the opposition.

Throughout this journey, in recent times, our First Australian players have moved from fringe curiosity in the game to mainstream stars. The last listed journalist, Flanagan, has charted the course, in very readable layman’s terms, through these years. He is still able to do so in language that graces and glows. He’s been to their homelands and he has introduced us to their practices - often strange to whitebread Aussies. By the time a particular column is devoured, as a result of his insight, the strange becomes positively logical. One just has to come at it in a new way. He has enlightened on the magic, unpredictability, passion and humility of the Aboriginal footballer. But each of those adjectives could equally fit a gangly, left field individual that came from the fecundedly green pastures of Tasmania’s North West to grace his old man’s team, the Tiges.

It was only fitting that the writer chosen to chart the course of this loved, impetuous player’s rise to champion of the game status should be the same Martin Flanagan. It is a non-linear account, not a hagiography – more of a lament that we may never see his likes again. This being stated, it seems his successor at the Tiger den, fellow islander ‘Jumping’ Jack Rievolt, is heading some ways towards ‘Richo’ status. Matthew Richardson, on field and off, wore/wears his heart on his sleeve, often receiving copious brickbats as a result. A couple of his supposed tantrums have been falsely lifted to folkloric proportions.

For this particular reader a secondary joy of the book were the chapters on the local football of my neck of the woods - of that fertile north western coastline of my island to the south of AFL city. This is where ‘Richo’ had his start. It was also Flanagan’s old stomping ground - thus seeing him weaving tales of some of its legends – ‘The Doc’, (Darrel Baldock); ‘Gypsy’ Lee and our hero’s own father, Alan ‘Bull’ Richardson. Back in the day thousands would flock to see Burnie take on Cooee, or Devonport (‘Richo’s’ team) play their cross river rivals East. Although my island still produces champions, sadly local football is just a shadow of its former self, being victim to the digital pulling power of AFL.

Martin Flanagan’s writing is, as always, full of nuggets pure joy to peruse. When a former teammate of the champ, Wayne Campbell – an interesting fellow himself – is asked to comment on what it was that made ‘Richo’ so unique, his simple but telling answer was ‘Tasmania’. This leads the author off to riff on that notion. Perhaps the game’s greatest eccentric, Brent ‘Tiger’ Crosswell came from the island, and there are many more from here cast of a different cloth. You can see it in the way Mitch Robinson canons around a ground, the way Jarrad Waite still employs the Glasgow kiss in this oh so politically correct day and age – and they are just the Taswegians in one team! Then there was Johnny Greening, a contemporary of mine at a Burnie high school – what a legend he would have been had he not been cut down in his prime! And, to please this reader, Robert Murphy gets a chapter to himself, even if he is neither Tasmanian nor a Tiger.

As much as crowds loved ‘Richo’, it seems opposing players had a similarly high view of the man. As relayed by Flanagan, they are glowing in their tributes for, as bewildering as he was, only an Eddie Betts goal celebration could come close to his sheer visual enjoyment of the game when on song. That ‘Richo’ now has a successful media career is a fitting postscript – it would be sacrilegious if this man was taken from our view.
One does not have to be an aficionado of the Richmond Football Club to be enchanted by this tome. I wear my brown and gold heart pretty proudly, but the Hawks have never produced anyone remotely resembling this lanky, seemingly uncoordinated, powerhouse of a forward. When he was shifted up the ground in the twilight of his career, at odds with standard practice, we all finally realised just how athletic the big man was. I loved this book. Flanagan doesn’t have to present ‘Richo’ as larger than life. He simply was/is. If you adore the game, please take on this rapturous, riotous read. You will not regret it.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Peace 8 - Bruny Island

The Muju Spirit

The never-ending feud between Muslim and Jew over the rights to the Holy Land continues unabated. The result of this is tragic outcome after tragic outcome, with no winners – and it has been like this since the creation of Israel in 1948. It’s intractable and seemingly insolvable.

Occasionally, just occasionally, we get little glimmers of hope and trust between the sides – small nuggets probably, almost unnoticeable in the big picture – but they are there nonetheless. Suburban Melbourne is eons away from the surrounds of the Wailing Wall, but with the Muju team – get it; Mu = Muslim, Ju = Jewish – taking out the Unity Cup in 2012, harmony between diametrically opposed sides can occur. That competition to win the silverware is in the magnificent sport of Aussie Rules, featuring teams from the Yarra City’s polyglot of ethnic groupings. As is his wont, the Age columnist Martin Flanagan wrote beautifully of the culmination of the event in June last year. This occasion came on the heels of a combined Jewish/Muslim team from the Biblical lands itself, fighting it out for the game’s International Cup, part of the AFL’s intent in spreading our marvellous football code world wide.

Another infusion of the same hope, perhaps equally unexpected, comes with ‘The Other Son’ – a movie again where humanity supersedes intolerance. The basis of the film is not a new ‘what if’ idea - what if newborns are given to the wrong parents. Television series (eg US ABC’s ‘Switch at Birth’) and movies (eg ‘Mistaken Identity’, ‘The Town Went Wild’) have mined the potential mother lode of dramatic or comedic possibility in this situation previously, but I would argue, not with the same degree of sensitivity as this effort by French director Lorraine Levy.

In ‘Le Fils de L’autre’, to give this feature it its French appellation, a hospital evacuation is the reason for the mix up – an evacuation caused by where the film is set – in the cauldron of Israel’s ongoing Jewish/Palestinian conflict. The Arab baby goes to a Jewish home, and visa versa. This engaging film examines acutely what happens when the error is discovered much later, when the babies - two boys - become almost men. In the Israeli family a young Dylan lookalike, Joseph (Jules Sitruk), grows up the son of a serviceman and is about to embark on national service himself, thus the discovery. On the West Bank, the real son Yacine (Medhi Dehbi) has just returned from Paris to the adoring arms of his family, after successfully completing his baccalaureate. Then the bombshell hits.

The initial engagements between the two families are understandably fraught, but eventually there is a developing simpatico in the relationship between the two mothers, with the two lads in question, after their initial distress, becoming pals. The problems that do occur are with the two fathers’ refusal to accept, and the intentions of Yacine’s radicalised brother.

In the film religious tension is constantly palpable with gun toting soldiers present throughout, especially at the persistent check points. This casts an uneasy air over what is essentially a family drama. At any point the audience is given to feel that violence could intervene – and it does, but not from an expected source.

Levy had several possible options open to her as to how the film could pan out in the hotbed of distrust that is the background to her scenario, but she went down the same path the AFL Muju team trod. This is a heartfelt, quite lovely response on her part to the ongoing crisis in this part of the Middle East. It can only be hoped that people of import in this region get to see how two functional families have their worlds turned upside down. Through tolerance and patience, however, they reach a sane conclusion. If the angry men of the Jew/Muslim divide viewed this maybe their hard hearts would defrost a tad. The movie deserves all its garnered plaudits, so if it comes your way, give it a looksee. And, please, let’s trust that with more Muju Spirit in the world, ‘from little things big things may grow!’

Martin Flanagan's article =

New York Times review of 'The Other Son' =

Friday, 24 May 2013

Peace 6 - Bruny Island

Willie at 80

You octogenarian you
The cheering has died
The back slapping abated
And still that timeless voice
Plays to the masses
Who endlessly adore, want more
Even as Willie’s body
Defers to the grandfather time
That cinderfies us all
His songs, that remarkable voice
Defies all

Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, Georgia on My Mind, Always on My Mind

When the time for fingering
And fretting of strings
Has passed
When that venerable, ancient
Takes its final strum
We’ll celebrate a life of
Outlaw nose-thumbing
A life of scribbling ditties
That even now
Are folkloric

City of New Orleans, Stardust, Pancho and Lefty

 Meandering in the ether one day
 I chanced to google Willie and wife
 Like Old Shakey’s Pegi
The Boss’ Patti
In image after image
She, Annie d’, was beside her man

On the Road Again, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Crazy

 I wish old Willie
At the end of his days
Knows the soft words, and
Even softer caresses
That salve my own dotage
So these can allow
The words still to come
And even more
The Red Headed Stranger’s
 To shine eternally

My Heroes Have Always been Cowboys, Good Hearted Woman, Seven Spanish Angels

Peace 5 - Bruny Island

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Jack Wang Goes Through the Door

May 02, 2043
‘Thirty years’, he thought, ‘it had taken him thirty years to put all this in place in the city that had accepted him, supported him and allowed him to, eventually, realise his dream.  He’d done it.’

Sitting up high, on the balcony of his restaurant overlooking it all below, Tassie pinot in hand, he proudly glanced around his bush domain and then down to the city below. He could see across to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art – that peninsula edifice that had been the groundbreaker for all that had come later; for him and others. It had provided the pathway. Now this small southern climes metropolis rivaled the big boys of the cities that shaped the way humankind feel about art, and he was part of this mini-renaissance on the Derwent. On either side of MONA the dykes were going up, as they were in other low-lying places around the city, as they were around the globe. Finally the authorities had woken up that they had to do something about the inexorably rising seas before it was all too late. But he wasn’t going to allow gloomy thoughts to enter. All was good in his world – he was going to savour this anniversary.

He cast his mind back to this same day, thirty years previous, when the nub of the idea was encouraged into his mind. He still, even now, after all this time, has no notion of how much of that day was real, how much of it was some sort of hazy dream. Some of it he knows for sure, some of it is still a riddle to him. He does know that he, Jack Wang, possesses a unique memory – a memory that he will never utter. He presumes he shares it with others, that he is a member of a chosen few – but he can’t be sure. The knowledge will go to the grave with him, for he has promised.

Thursday, May 02, 2013
Jack Wang was happy, in fact, Jack Wang was more than happy. He was ecstatic. He couldn’t wait to get home, to get home and tell the two people he considered his parents the news. Three years ago they bought Jack to this new land, this island – and now he calls it home. So lovely, so much space after the crowded confines of Hong Kong Island. ‘So many white people,’ – that was his first thought when he disembarked the plane at Sydney before transferring to a smaller one for the final leg to this teardrop in the southern oceans. His lovely new abode was on Mount Nelson, up behind his school; a house sparkling with light and glorious views – so different to his former crowded apartment.

He grew accustomed to being in the minority, but even so found the city had a strong, nurturing Chinese community. And his school; his school was wonderful. The teachers and other students were brilliantly caring and tolerant when he was struggling with the language, as well as the cultural differences. He had made some white friends, having good mates from the Asian cohort too. Why, he’d even had an occasional girlfriend. He couldn’t be happier. He was now shining at several subjects, but it was in the world of art he saw his future. His teacher in this curriculum area was endlessly patient. She had nominated him to be a participant in an exhibition of the best art work from Year 11 and 12 students from all around the state. His heads; his papier-mâché sculptured, larger than life tributes to those his admired as great were the hopeful pieces. They would be viewed by those who could maybe see something in him, with that leading to doors opening up for him. He had anxiously awaited the outcome, and today he received the news that his ‘heads’ had been accepted. He, Jack Wang, would feature in ArtRage – his work would be on show for the entire world to notice. This was the news that was accompanying him home, but he did not know it then that another door of an entirely different nature was about to open, changing his life – causing his present day good fortune!

Jack’s ‘parents’ often worked late – which encouraged him to spend time in the city’s galleries.  This Thursday found him in the Glenorchy bus mall – Glenorchy being in the northern working class suburbs, therefore a place where one may encounter a fair sprinkling of bogans and rednecks. He’d been yet again to MONA, contrarily situated in this area of town, and he needed to transfer buses to take him to his more affluent side of Hobs. He sat himself down on a bench as the bus was still ten or so minutes away. There were other teenagers chiaking around him, and he was feeling somewhat self-conscious, with his Asian appearance in his posh school Hutchins uniform, in these parts. But it was not from his more scruffily attired peers that Jack’s problem arose.

Trying to keep a low profile, he was quietly waiting, reflecting on his good fortune and the kudos that waited for him at home. He looked around and noticed an old, decrepit man shuffling towards him. He came closer and closer. Jack tried to put a friendly expression on his face as it was apparent that this denizen of the streets wanted to say something to him. Jack noted his rheumy, bloodshot eyes, ruddy weather beaten face and days’ old stubble. His ancient grey suit was as greasy as his ancient grey hair. Jack assumed it was coinage he was after, so he started ferreting around in his pockets for change. He locked eyes with the old fellow, and quickly realised something more unappealing was afoot. The old man gargled deep in his throat, soon after which a gob of vile green mucus was projected onto Jack’s face, accompanied by the words, ‘Go back to where you came from boyo. We don’t want anymore ching chongs here.’

With that the old guy wheezed a chuckle and shuffled away. When Jack recovered he could hear laughter from the teenagers around him, enjoying the spectacle of the humiliation of the Chinese kid from the other side of town. Soon, though, they resumed their games of bravado and boast, but Jack was mortified; Jack was shattered. He wiped the spit from his face and buried his face in his hands. He stayed like that for several moments, and when he raised his head, there was somebody else standing in front of him – a little girl. To Jack she looked very young, this tiny lass of flaxen hair, olive complexion and incredible blue eyes. He took in what she was wearing - a cream smock with a floral yoke. This started him wondering where her parents could be. There didn’t seem to be anyone of that ilk in the vicinity, so he turned his attention back to the child. She calmly looked up at him, and then held out her hand, palm up, for him to take. He turned to the group nearest him and asked if they knew who she was, who she belonged to.  If they heard they ignored him -continuing on with what they were doing, without missing a beat.

‘Who are you? What do you want? Do you want me to take your hand?’
With that she gave an almost imperceptible nod. Now Jack was not silly. He realised that in this day and age there were certain dangers in doing so, but he felt compelled to find the people she should be with, so he acquiesced to her calm demand. As soon as he did so, he felt her tug – she was obviously going to take him somewhere. Flummoxed, Jack let her do so, and she led him down to Main Road, crossing over at the lights and continuing along several blocks, toward the large, for this little city, Northgate Shopping Centre. Now this was a reasonable distance, causing Jack to be amazed that one so little showed no sign of flagging. Despite his concerns, passers-by did not bat an eyelid. It was if they were not there, as if they were invisible – just as with the kids back at the bus mall. They walked on, around to the back of the complex, to its western entrance.

This entry way took the form of a bridge across a storm water drain – or was it a cluttered natural water course? She took him to the railings where they both peered down, taking in its weeds, copious plastic bags – even a couple of rusty feral shopping trolleys. Then the girl drew his attention to herself as she opened her mouth, poised to speak. One word came out – ‘Blink.’

And he did so.

He opened his eyes, realising as he did so something had changed. He was no longer above – he was below, under the bridge – not on it. He realised that his little guide was no longer there with him. Finally he realised that there was a door in front of him – a door that was slowly opening.  He felt compelled to step through – some force was pulling him in. He stepped across the threshold into darkness. Then there was the same voice again, the little girl’s voice; with again, the same word – ‘Blink.’

When Jack Wang reopened his eyes, he was in a different world. There was light, diffused light. There was a creek beside him – the same creek as the bridge crossed? He had no idea. Apart from the patch of clearing he was standing on, he was surrounded by pristine bush – man ferns and tall gums. Then again came the word, and yet again Jack Wang felt compelled to do so.

This time there was another standing in front of him in those forest surrounds – a girl like no other he had seen in all his years. She was much older than the tiny lass who left him at Northgate. She was around his own age, but with the same golden hair and clear tanned complexion as the little mite of a few minutes ago. And there were those blue eyes again. As for her attire; well he’d seen some weird sights around Hobart in the few years he’d been resident, but nothing compared to this seemingly surreal presence before him. Around her waist she wore an animal skin, of a brown hue, with pronounced black vertical stripes. Above she wore a cloak of green material, festooned with eucalypt leaves, and across her chest was a quiver of arrows. Over her left shoulder she carried a long bow of sapling wood. To him she appeared as a modern day Maid Marion, emerged from Sherwood Forest. She was standing there quietly – just waiting.

She wasn’t alone. Flanking her were a pair of panting creatures he initially took to be dogs. Then he spotted that their backs were striped – striped in the same manner as her skirt of hide. They were, but they couldn’t be, could they? They were thylacine. He was agog.

As discombobulated as he was, he still managed to blurt out, - ‘…but they’re extinct!’
Unlike her small predecessor, she spoke – ‘They are, on your side Jack Wang, but not on mine.’
She spoke with an accent he couldn’t quite discern. The words were perfectly formed, but they were soft, semi-whispered – akin to a summer breeze, he thought. ‘Sometimes, sometimes they do find a way to pass across but no, Jack Wang, no – they are not extinct.
‘You know my name! Who are you? What do you want from me?
‘Most would call me dryad, Jack Wang. Others call me Poppea. Whatever you call me Jack Wang, I am your friend. I am here to guide you on this side, to guide you to what you must do.’
‘And the little girl, the little girl who brought me to you? Who…will she be all right?’
‘She is my sister on the other side, Jack Wang, and she is Tyger. Brave she is. Brave as can be; so stout of heart. She knows no fear. You do not need to worry. And now, we must go.’
‘Go where?’
Poppea raised he arm and pointed – ‘Up there, Jack Wang. Up there’

He followed the line of her arm and raised his head. She was pointing to a flat topped hill under the massif that watches over his city, Mount Wellington. He could see its impressive bulwark through the tree tops, could make out the Organ Pipes. But strangely, he could not discern the television towers that were there, day in, day out, crowning the pinnacle.
‘I am not sure I have the time to make it up there.’
‘Here time is of no consequence. But now, Jack Wang……..’
‘Yes, I know……..blink.’ And he did

What he saw this time made him take several paces back – for in front of them was a giant eagle – a giant saddled eagle – ‘Who…? What…?’
‘Old White Belly. My totem. My friend. He will take us safely to our destination.’

And he did.

Jack had never felt so exhilarated. He was on the back of Old Whitebelly, working the up draughts over the city , up draughts taking them higher and higher – to way above the crown of Mt Wellington. He swore as he looked to the southern seas beyond he could actually see icebergs. He had his arms around the waist of Poppea in front, hanging on for dear life. He felt he was the star of a sequel to ‘Avatar’, with the mysterious forest green-cloaked maiden his Neytiri. The icing was when the mighty sea eagle soared down to land on the plateau of the indicated hill below Wellington’s ramparts. That descent – wow, what a rush! On dismounting, they were in another clearing; this one minus a creek, with trees more openly spread.
‘Blink please,’ Poppea instructed.
‘Nice to have that please,’ retorted Jack – as he did so.

The impressive avian transportation was gone, but two thylacines sauntered in from the scrubby surrounds to again stand beside Poppea. Same thylacines as below? He had no idea, but he went on to ask, ‘Now, will you tell me why I am here?’
‘Why Jack Wang, this is where you must do it – do your life’s work. It is here your purpose for being on the other side lies. This is what you have been chosen for.’
‘Chosen for?’
‘You have been chosen by those of the forest to do this thing Jack Wang.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘It is not necessary for you to understand Jack Wang. In due time it will all become clear to you, like a crystal.’
‘And why in this place?’
‘It is here that it occurred Jack Wang – the battle to end all battles. The battle between good and evil on this side, Jack Wang. A battle that must be remembered by all – a battle that must be commemorated for the future people on both our sides.’
‘You mean the battle between the environmentalists and the forest workers?’ Jack knew in the last few weeks the island’s leaders had finally signed documents to ease the tensions over the protection of wilderness areas on his beautiful island.
‘Yes, like that Jack Wang – but bigger, longer, older; with real weapons!’
‘I have not heard of this. I have not read of it in the newspapers, Poppea.’
‘It is recorded Jack Wang, if you know where to look. You will search it out.’
‘So, please tell me Poppea. What exactly is it you want me to do here?
‘Jack Wang, I have already said that it will become obvious. We on this side have faith in you that you will reach the right conclusions – but you must promise me something Jack Wang. You must never speak of what has happened here when you return to the other side. Jack Wang – you must give me your oath. Will you do that – will you place your hand on your heart and give me your solemn promise?’

And Jack did that as well.

‘And now it is time……..’
‘……..for another ride on Old Whitebelly?’
‘No, no Jack Wang. You must depart this side and go back to your own. You must blink one last time. Farewell Jack Wang.’

Jack felt someone shake his shoulders. As he emerged from darkness he could smell beer, tobacco and see green-tinged teeth smiling at him. It was the old man again.
‘Wake up boyo. You were sounda. I think you need to catch this bus that has just arrived, judging by your uniform. There won’t be another for a while.’ Jack mumbled his thanks as he headed off to the bus, tuning to look quizzically at the old man once more. All the way back to Mount Nelson he wondered what it was he had just experienced.

His ‘parents’, as predicted, were joyous at his news. But what they couldn’t understand, though, was why Jack was so subdued, so seemingly preoccupied – normally when good stuff happened to him he’d be yo-yoing around the room like an excitable puppy. Was he in love again?

May 02, 2043
‘Well I was back then, sort of,’ thought Jack as he continued his ruminations three decades on. So much has happened since then. He’d had some affairs of the heart since Poppea, before settling on the one to share his adventure. But he could never forget his forest sprite, flanked by her thylacines, and that wondrous ride on Old Whitebelly.

It was almost time to close up. He went back inside to his to his restaurant where his hospitality staff were cleaning up, casting a glance as he did so over to the two display cases on the wall. Behind glass were mounted his two ‘heads’ from all those years ago at ArtRage - the commencement of his journey. One was of Obama, the now revered first negro President. Old now, he is still the conscience of his nation. The other taught the world what could be achieved through peaceful ‘people power’ – Gandhi. Many other of his ‘heads’ were down below, spread around the park, mounted on larger than life fantastical bodies – the work of many other sculptors. That was how his now vast project started – his ‘heads’, their ‘bodies’. Then he expanded, bringing in other sculptors to work in wood, stone and metal – mainly from Australia, but increasingly from overseas these days. The word spread – anyone of note just had to have a piece erected within his domain on the flat-topped hill flanking Kunanyi, as Mt Wellington was now called.

He wandered out back to the studios to ensure they were clear of any tardy visitors. These were available for artists and school parties and were increasingly well patronized. He looked out into the late afternoon gilded light that was so peculiar to Hobart in late autumn. He saw the remaining visitors hurrying to catch the last cable car for the day down to suburbia below. He knew others, the hardier ones, would be taking the so called ‘alpine walk’ to the mountain terminus and hotel complex at the Springs. Now satisfied all was under control, he prepared to make is own walk down to his residence, his ‘eyrie’ below the park, where Mei awaited. As always, she would provide him with food, drink and succour. He’d quietly celebrate, for even she did not know.

She’d come on board at the beginning as his personal assistant, but was now so much more. She had a way with words just as he had a way with ideas. She shaped his nebulous notions into submissions that won over first the Chinese community and the city burghers, followed, importantly, by Mr David Walsh, the ‘godfather’ of MONA. What they couldn’t provide in funds came from a belatedly enthusiastic state government. They were hoping for a repeat of MONA – they got it. Mei in many ways reminded him of Poppea, but an oriental version thereof. Slim and still lithe due to her fitness regime, she still lights up his world all these years down the track. She remains his muse; she, Tyger and Poppea.
He searched the world for edgy installations to supplement ‘his heads, their bodies’, and what started as a trickle over the years was now a clamour, forming the perfect adjunct to the city’s other attractions; a network linked by the light rail as well as a cable car up to the attractions on Kunanyi’s summit, with its restaurants and theme park.

One day, around fifteen years ago, he was trying to think of ways to ‘value add’ to the tourist jewel he built on the side of the mountain. His mind took him back to that other girl of dreams – the tiny Tyger. Then in a flash of inspiration it came to him

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night.

His domain was surrounded by forest – tyger – burning bright – burning – Burning Man!!!!!!

That annual festival of weirdness was still going in the Nevada Desert all these years on, culminating on the eve of the summer solstice. Why not replicate it – but for the southern hemisphere? And Jack did – but instead of ‘man’ read tiger, or thylacine to be exact, remembering Poppea’s marsupial companions from the event that changed his life.

And like his sculpture park it has taken off, caught the public’s imagination. It is ‘the’ event on Hobart’s attractions calendar. Thousands come from all over Oz, and further, to witness the giant wicker Tasmanian tiger explode in flames to the beat of the country’s top music acts. The antics of the revelers became an attraction in itself, rivaling the American template in outlandishness of garb, or lack of. After years of that other artistic Disneyland for adults on its Derwent peninsula, the local general citizenry was no longer shocked by displays of bare flesh.

He wonders if indeed somewhere Poppea and Tyger watched over all this as it evolved - indeed are still watching over him. He hoped they are approving of his achievements at Tyger Park. He imagines them still surfing the air currents on Old Whitebelly, somewhere up above him, protecting their dominion on the other side. And yes, he did discover where it was all recorded.

On some nights he leaves his bed and Mei to walk around the park in the wee small hours, when all is still – when the trees sleep. Occasionally, very occasionally, he catches glimpses of them – shadowy stripes in a moonlit blur of motion. And he knows they have, for a time, passed through the door.

They are out there; they are out there.

Jack Wang is a student at Hutchins whose two ‘heads’ featured in ArtRage 2013 at the Plimsoll Gallery, Hobart.
I saw them on May 02, 2013 – and read how the racial abuse hurled at him by an elderly citizen inspired the pieces.
Driving towards the mountain up Derwent Park Road it is possible to see the flat-topped hill below the peak.
The rest is from my imagination for a beautiful little one year old girl.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Peace 4 - Bruny Island

A Blue Room Book Review - Red Ink – Julie Mayhew

‘Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns. Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.’

And here commences E Annie Proulx’s ‘The Shipping News’. It is my favourite book. It is perfect. I’ll never read it again, nor any of Proulx’s other tomes. I do not to wish to diminish its perfection in my mind; or hers, as a writer. With that opening passage it had me hooked from the get go, and it did not let go. I found myself in Quoyle, both on page and in the resulting movie. The latter was derided as not living up to the lofty standards of Proulx’s masterpiece – but I aver that here most critics had it wrong.

There is a fundamental importance in having an opening that will make the reading punter immediately assess whether he/she will/will not enjoy what follows. Dickens recognised this with the immortal, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,…’ Most are not Dickens, but a similar simple starting sentence, forming at the same time a powerful opening gambit is the Holy Grail to authors.

Maybe one day Mayhew will approach the class of Dickens or Proulx, and on the strength of her initial passages to ‘Red Ink’, she is well on the way. They were sublime. They immediately set her credentials as a fine, sensitive and nuanced author. It is quite amazing that this is her first book, although she has a prominent pedigree in other aspects of her art. I would perhaps be crucified, most particularly by my writerly daughter (in a loving way), for saying that it deserves a wider audience than her YA targets, but it is so good, it really does. I was immensely impressed.

It would be fair to say that the rest of the book was a slight disappointment after such a confident start, but even so, there is much to recommend it with it still standing head and shoulders above much of its ilk. By any measure Mayhew has talent in spades for connecting with her youthful readers, and hopefully her other commitments will allow time for her to continue this particular journey.

As readers, YAers demand much of their writers, and whereas once said writers may have been derided for choosing that age range to appeal to as a ‘soft cop’ because they couldn’t mix it with the ‘big boys’, this is certainly no longer the case. Quality YA fiction equals its ‘big brothers’. I should know, I have been reading both for forty or so years. With the aforementioned talented daughter keeping on handing over the pick of the crop, I hope I can do so for many years longer.

Mayhew’s narrative for ‘Red Ink’ is not far removed from the run of the mill YA fare for its female readers – feisty young woman fights all that life throws at her and emerges stronger for the adversity, in this case the untimely death of her mother. This leaves her in the care of her mother’s relatively newly minted partner – a fine fix to be in. Melon – and there’s a name to conjure and cope with – is white, of Cretan extraction; her carer is black.

Even with all this there is nothing terribly innovative, but it is raised from the dross by the fluidity of the writing as she jumbles her time frames in Part One, seemingly at random, following her superb ‘prologue’. That she does this, and still makes the unraveling of where Melon is at seamless, is pure class. Intermixed, as if Mayhew was intent on making life as difficult for herself as possible, is ‘The Story’ – the family myth, if you like, which has to compete with another version introduced later. This mishmashing of the events could have been disastrous, and it is to the story maker’s credit that it is decidedly the opposite – it is one of the book’s triumphs. Again I was impressed.

The second part, set in Crete, is much more straightforward and ‘by the numbers’. On the island to scatter her mother’s ashes, she loses her virginity. Mayhew’s handling of this is frank, somewhat pushing the envelope in this regard, but she manages to ‘tell it as it is’ without compromising her responsibilities to her ‘charges’. Yet again, that so impressed me.

With this example we know Mayhew can intricately weave a complex yarn, albeit the complexity being of her own making; and it was thoroughly enjoyed. So thank you Katie for coming up trumps once again for what you hand over to your old man for his perusal.

Julie Mayhew's website =

Monday, 6 May 2013

Peace 3 - Bruny Island

Handsome and Beautiful

Consider this. It’s the sixties and Alfie’s out there in swinging London, chasing the birds. The hunt, of course, is what rocks his socks, as he’s very quick to dispose of the ‘it’ after the quest has been won. The movie was so novel, so new, so daring way back then, rightly nominated for umpteen Oscars, and launching a likely lad’s movie career. We loved it for being so up-to-date in a world where women’s lib had only barely started to kick in, but where the pill well and truly had. Special times! And Alfie himself? Well he broke the mould, with his hooded lizard eyes and cockney charm, and paved the way for the ugly-handsome leading men of the future. In 2004 they tried to remake this eponymous movie, but despite Jude Law’s best efforts, it was a limp reflection – they had to be politically correct, and what once was shocking, driving the British film industry to new heights on the coattails of the Beatles et al, is now so ho-hum. Around the time of the ‘British Invasion’, the UK produced a marvellous array of movies, and new stars were born. I remember it all so fondly.

It was all occurring when I first became interested in the cinema as an art form, rather than as a place to while away some time in the provincial town of my formative years. There were precious few options for alternative entertainment. Often it would take months, even years, for new releases to reach us – and of course these days pre-dated even VHS recorders, let alone DVD and digital. As for the art house and world movies available to us today – forget-it! Our fodder was the same Hollywood dross we are subjected to today, only in more primitive form. Of course there were the rare classics – jewels in a sea of turgid shoot-em-ups and Jerry Lewis. There was no local product, although occasionally Chips Raffety surfaced to make us all very proud and patriotic. But then, as the sixties wore on, something wonderful happened – the British arrived. Sure we had had the Carry-ons and Hammer horror beforehand – but these were hardly innovative. The other came in to the beat of the Mersey and Carnaby Street, making this then youthful ticket buying punter sit up and take notice. The films were different – fresh, oh so fresh; reflecting the times. These were lovely, lovely movies. There was not only the aforementioned ‘Alfie’, but others including ‘Tom Jones’, ‘Darling’, ‘The Go Between’, ‘Petulia’, ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, ‘Women in Love’, ‘Ryan’s Daughter’, ‘Billy Liar’, ‘Georgy Girl’ and ‘To Sir With Love’.

And of course there came a bevy of new male actors to fill the leading roles in those heady days – Albert Finney, Tom Courtney, Anthony Hopkins, Alan Bates, Oliver Reed and Anthony Newley, as well as the irrepressible Caine. There were a bouquet of the opposite gender, and yes – we could not take our eyes from these women as out went the Hayes Code and in came ‘anything goes’. Off came the clothes! Of course it was all so tame compared to the raunch of today, but these girls were brave and pioneering – Samantha Eggar, Judy Geeson, Helen Mirren, Susan Hampshire, Sarah Miles, Glenda Jackson and the glorious, glorious Julie Christie. Her nude scene in ‘Darling’set pulses racing, and who could forget a now Dame emerging from the sea in ‘Age of Consent’?


We are a long way on from those trippy days of the flowering of cockney cheek and the deflowering of English roses, but many of these flower children of the 60s are now the grand old men and women of British cinema. They still grace our screens, and are still as handsome and beautiful as they ever were way back when they took our breath away – and don’t we love them? Here think: ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, ‘Quartet’, ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’, and ‘Calendar Girls’, for starters, as examples.
If you have seen all, or some of these, please add ‘Song for Marion’ to your list. Essentially a vehicle for Terence Stamp - remember ‘The Collector’, ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, ‘Poor Cow’ – and Vanessa Redgrave –‘Blow Up’, ‘Isadora’ and who of my generation will forget her Guinevere to Richard Harris’ Arthur in ‘Camelot’. In this contemporary portrayal of ageing and dying, these two shining stars convey more emotion in a twitch of the lips or the raising of an eyebrow than most of the younger generation could in a scriptful of words. They are magnificent.

Back in the sixties he was sublimely handsome and she was sublimely beautiful. For the second decade of our new century, that has been replaced by faces full of lines and character – but still sublimely handsome and beautiful for that. There is still that light in their eyes – just view the scene early in the piece where these grand old thespians kiss –  a purer expression of love and admiration it would be difficult to uncover.
She dies mid-film, but not before she has sung ‘True Colours’ to melt his curmudgeonly heart. Stamp in return sings to her, and I can’t imagine that in a lifetime of making movies he has produced a more moving scene. Talk about bring out the tissues – although I unashamedly wept on several other occasions during the course of this movie. The portrayal of her dying was a soft one – if that is not an oxymoron in itself – particularly when contrasted to the harshness of the death in last year’s unforgettable ‘Amour’ - a movie of similar theme, minus the singing.

If Stamp and Redgrave weren’t special enough, a couple of, in comparison, ‘newbies’ graced the movie as well, with considered, understated performances. Christopher Ecclestone made a nuanced fist of a son struggling to relate to his grouchy, uncompromising old man. And then there was Gemma. She is one of the best of the current crop of English roses. Ms Arterton, as the ever encouraging choir mistress, lights up the screen, as she does in every role of hers I have pleasurably viewed.

There were bits of the movie that bordered on twee; bits of it that bordered on the implausible – but it was done with such a big heart you could forgive the odd blip. As we gain furrows and become more hesitant of step, movies such as this remind us of our journey. And when I take the hand of my timelessly beautiful, radiant lady, I feel as Arthur felt for his Marion. I was blessed to see ‘Song for Marion’ with my lovely Leigh. I am so happy that my journey continues on with her.

Young Vanessa R

Young Terence S

Vanessa Singing for Terence =

Friday, 3 May 2013

Peace 2 - Bruny Island

Brothers, Passings and Whiskey

Arch Flanagan passed away during this last week. He was 98, an innings any Aussie cricketer would love to attain these days. I never met him, but I knew him quite intimately. His son, Martin, had been eulogizing him for several decades in his Age columns. I met Martin for the first time a few weeks ago when he was down for the local writers’ festival. Looking back, I wonder if that was the last time Martin would have talked to his dad before he crossed over.

Like my own father, Arch was of the war generation – a breed quickly, too quickly, diminishing. Arch’s death, and it being the week of Anzac Day and all, caused me to ruminate on my Dad. He had a kinder war than Arch, if that isn’t an oxymoron. Unlike many, my father, Fred, spoke of his war often during my formative years – but he spun so many tales it was hard to know how much of a nub of truth there was in them. He suffered no war crime as Arch had to tenuously endure, but he carried enemy shrapnel in his body till his dying day, over three decades ago now. As with Martin, a brother made the call to me to let me know his time was almost up. Unlike Martin, I was in the last weeks of an extended European sojourn, so I had plenty of time to reflect on that Q-bird coming home. I made it in time to be by his side for his final breaths. He hung on for that. Martin’s childhood memories of his dad were of a sick man, a legacy of the indignities inflicted on him in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Yet he almost reached his century. Of my Dad, I recall a robust, hale, larger than life personage – but he was a man who worked his body hard over most of his sixty odd years.

Before the final vigil, my brother took me to a Hobart pub – I have no idea which now. There he introduced me to one of the loves of my life. We were drinking ale as we, I guess, reminisced. It would not have been ‘tears in your beer’ stuff, but it probably became profounder the more amber nectar we tossed down. At some stage Kim suggested we follow each lager with a chaser – of the whisky kind.

Now Fred was also a beer drinker. I cannot remember him partaking of scotch, but it seems there was always a bottle of Johnny Walker Red floating around the house. At some stage during my teenage years I must have sampled the stuff – and I thought it was revolting. So harsh, burning and vicious. ‘How could anyone drink this hooch?’ I probably inwardly exclaimed – or words to that effect. And I never did till that sorrowful prelude. At least not raw, or ‘on the rocks’, as I imbibe it now. Maybe I may have had it adulterated by some cola – a travesty now. So it is surprising that I consented to the brotherly invitation. But probably jet-lagged, emotional with the knowing that my father was not long for this world, my defences were down and I acquiesced.

What my brother passed to me on the rocks was totally different to my bitter recollection. I’ve no ideal of its branding after so many decades; but now it tasted, to my probably more mature palate, of a heavenly mix of the waterlogged peaty bog and misty air of its Scottish or Irish provenance – and I was hooked. Every time I nightcap with a Glenffiddich, I give thanks to a brother on that day way back when.

Do I miss my Dad? That is a given, but his genetic legacy is all around. I see it mostly in that same brother. I remember my father’s hands, and Kim has those same hands. It is not the physical similarity I’m writing about, but he too possesses hands that can craft. He can make what is conjured in his brain come to life through his hands. As I have taken to trying to make comely words flow seamlessly together in my retirement; my brother, in his, has taken to constructing ukuleles. As objects of beauty from this island’s unique native timbers, they’re as exquisite as they are, no doubt, tuneful. The gene for these inherent skills passed me by, but I think in part my ability to teach came from father Fred. He could take that nub of truth, spin it in liberal concoction and weave it into plausibility. Martin Flanagan has that gift, and it is much akin to what I attempted to do in the classroom, particularly in the teaching of my nation’s history. Take a random nub of historical fact and make it into something that would engage minds resistant to the un-now, dry boredom of century old events. Who wants a military defeat on the shores of a country so foreign rattled on about year after year. The average student couldn’t give a toss, as in the end, I couldn’t give a toss if I never covered Gallipoli or Federation in any ‘curriculum’. To me the important thing was to reel them in on history – just as my Dad hooked me in so long ago with tales of wartime daring-do.

Old Arch could look to the literary success of his two sons, and, just as Kim and I are chalk and cheese in many aspects of life, so are, it seems to me, Martin and Richard, even if they get confused in the minds of many. If Winton is a benchmark of sorts, then Richard would come in higher, and Martin somewhat below – and that in no way denigrates the latter, as I will explain. Richard has his wordsmithery polished to a warm, rich glow. He is a revered literary demi-god – a Patrick White for these times. ‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’ and ‘Wanting’ are, in my view, sparkling diamonds of the writer’s craft. His shorter pieces have the power of logic that brook as indefensible any opposing view – particularly when on the subject of the environmental rape of this island he holds dear. Martin’s writings are, in contrast, akin to Ned Kelly’s rusted on armour. He is blue collar. He deals with the renegades, the footnotes of history, as well as, his brothers and sisters, the First Australians. And, gloriously, he explores and ponders on Aussie Rules. He is the Henry Lawson for these times. I would suspect that Richard would not take kindly to fools, whereas Martin would embrace them as from many a fool great nubs of tales have been forthcoming. It could be conjected that Martin’s great hero, Tom Wills, was one of the greatest fools of our history, at least at the end – but from that fool, as wrought by Martin’s prose, what marvellous yarns have been had.

Unlike Martin’s, my father did not live deep into old age. He wasn’t around long enough to see the happiness brought to me by a wonderful woman. How akin he would have felt to my book producing daughter, who proudly follows with passion the same footy team as her Dad. How approvingly he would have cast his eye over a fine set of CD shelves made for me by my son, with the same acute transference from mind-image to material via the hands, just as his grandfather and uncle were/are capable of. He would have delighted in the knowledge that grandsons played for local footy teams as he did down the Huon, and that some of both genders can power through the water in a manner he helped many attain through his self-taught coaching in his lifetime. He’d be proud that one, like him, was prepared to fight for his country. He’d adore all his grandchildren, as their gran still does – but I suspect, as with her, it would be Ben that’d be the special one. There is just something about Ben, the eldest of my youngest brother. My father loved electrical gadgetry and had wizardry with stuff that is switched on and off at power points, as does Ben; he had a passion for cars, as does Ben; and, like Ben, was just so generous in the sharing of his skills with kith and kin. And Ben has a certain twinkle in his eye as well as a laconic way with words that engages and disarms. He would have delighted Fred, so, yes, methinks there would have been a tight bond between Ben and my old man.

Martin will grieve in his own way for his dad and has already put pen to paper on the subject for his newspaper. And I grieved long for my father in my own way, as we all do for the lost ones we have loved. But in my brother, in my son and in Ben – in those ones in particular – his legacy lives on, as will Arch in the talented Flanagans. No doubt Martin will raise a glass or two of Irish froth or spirit to his dad - and now I feel like a wee dram myself.

Martin's article on his dad's death =