200th Birthday of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

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This year the grand old dame of Sydney, the Royal Botanic Gardens, celebrates her 200th birthday. Spent the day there recently with Jack and Lucia and had a fabulous time. The gardens always manage to look good, and there were some cool new things to see.

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One thing that never changes is the view – just glorious, in spite of the loud house music emnating from one of the boats. Couldn’t they have picked something decent?

 

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The Wollemi Pine has grown into a mgnificent specimen, straight out of Jurassic Park. Discovered in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales in 1994, the wollemi dates back 116 million years – a living fossil. It’s quite awe inspiring to gaze on something that existed with dinosaurs. Now I know how Dr Alan Grant felt!

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The Cactus Garden is quite specyacular but the most terrifying exhibits (possibly not even intended) were these guys, dripping off almost every plant.

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Something new, and stunning, is Wurrungwuri, a pair of sculptures by Chris Booth, This one is made from 16,000 white pebbles that look like eggs stacked together. The sculptures are intended to encouraged habitation by wild flora and fauna. This one has habitation for bats.

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Happy birthday! Who knows what will be discovered and created in another 100 years.

A Place in the Country

While staying in Sydney with Jack Perry and my daughter Chi, of the rock band A Girl’s a Gun, I accompanied them to a gig at Laguna in the Hunter Valley – well, just outide it, as this small hamlet is known as the Gateway to the Hunter Valley. Our destination was the Great Northern Trading Post, an eclectic assemblage of amazing old buildings and antiques where good food, good wine and good music are the order of the day. But the first thing you notice is the view…

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And after that, the Mad Max wildlife…

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When they are not rocking the Sydney music scene with their band, Jack and Chi play gigs like this as a duo where their repertoire of blues, soul, jazz and rock suits the ambience.

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While they played and sang, I wandered about and found some things just begging to be photographed – like this overgrown whatsit that reminded me of the krynoid from Doctor Who. In fact it concealed a far more mundane secret. It’s the public toilet.

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The room where Jack and Chi played had wonderful views from this airy little balcony, where I caught them relaxing between sets.

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It was the most atmospheric, peaceful room, full of glorious little vignettes like this desk…

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…and this window….

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These ‘Kraken’ bottles seem to be quite a feature of the GNTP. They remind me of Captain Jack Sparrow, but that’s water, not rum.

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I loved this antique (vintage?) pram sitting in state on its pedestal, just one of the quirky little vignettes dotted about the place – honestly, it’s just like a box of story prompts.

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Mismatched windows and panes of glass like boiled lollies – everything offered itself as a work of art. In every way, a most enchanting day.

Learm more about the Great Northern Trading Post here.

 

The Connectedness of All Things

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When I listened to A Girl’s A Gun (my daught Lucia and her partner Jack) perform Me and Bobby Mcgee recently, it was bittersweet – a song I’ve always loved, done so well, in a beautiful setting, but one that always reminds of the people I lost along the way. It’s a Traveller’s song, from the busted flat and looking for a ride, to the giving of all your tomorrows for just one yesterday in some place with someone long gone.

But then, as is sometimes the way with these things, a whole lot of other things started coming together – I watched Man on Wire with Jack and Lucia, the film of Phillipe Petit’s walk on a wire strung between the Twin Towers in 1974, and I heard the melody La Strada playing in my head. Petit reminded me of the romantic young aerialists  I met as a young girl travelling with the circus – especially one of the Renz troupe who joined us briefly in Spain. His reputation as a daredevil had proceeded him, and we gathered to watch the fabled opening of his act, when he walked up one of the long guy wires that anchored his high wire to the ground. It was superb, something we had never seen before, and the music of La Strada swelled all around us. My friend told me the music was from a Fellini film of the same name – “You must see it,” she said. “It’s about us, circus people, travelling people – it made me cry.” So did I, when I saw it.

The strongman, played by Anthony Quinn, cries too at the end, when he realises he has let slip away the greatest treasure of his life, like the singer of Me and Bobby Mcgee. In the coincidental way of things, I then came across an interview with Kris Kristopherson, explaining how he came to write the song. He wrote the song about a woman called Bobby who sang the blues, and he said that he thought of La Strada when he was writing it, and how the strongman ends up “howling at the stars on the beach’ girl he let slip away. Later, of course, Janis Joplin recorded it and any connection with La Strada faded away. But it became a classic song that meant so much to Travellers like me.

All of these little threads came together in a six degrees kind of way, weaving everything into the fabric of my life, and telling me the story of how none of the people we have loved are really lost, they remain in our hearts and in the music of our memories forever. Everything is connected.

My Poetry Rules: Reality Shows for Artlovers

studioWhy are reality shows always about cooking and building? Why not a reality show for writers? Challenge the contestants to come up with a poem or first chapter and have it critiqued by the other contestants and two professionals. Not a Frenchman in a badly fitting suit or a paleo addict who’s been painted a shimmery shade of bronze, but a publisher and a working full time writer who will try not to look bored/horrified while listening to the contestant’s musings.

Instead of a menu of inedible food, have a menu of indigestible poetry – a limerick or a haiku for the entrée, a ballad or saga for mains and a sonnet or villanelle for dessert. And why stop at poets and novelists? Let artists create a menu of pastels, oil portraits and watercolours; musicians can present a light ballad, a rousing anthem and a sweet love song; crafters can fashion pot holders, quilts and soft cushions – it could go on and on.

instead of instant restaurants the contestants could create instant galleries in their own homes and stress over a broken conte crayon or a squished tube of paint. Poets could sob over their iambic pentameters and novelists could have meltdowns because they can’t spell pneumatic (is that right?) You could have the usual suspects for contestants – the snotty Melbournites looking down on the other plebs; the eager to please puppies hoping for a pat on the head and a Schmackos; the wild outbackers piling up installations made of hay bales and rusty old tractors; the ‘villains’ rating everyone else’s art as passé so they can climb further up the leaderboard – oh, come on, it would be so much more fun

 

Halloween Countdown: Nevermore

In the lead up tp Halloween this year, I am going to be posting photos of ‘found’ faces – you know how you look at some random object and there seems to be a face peering out at you. I have been making a collection of such objects, and some of them are inspiring me to write as well. So, without further ado, here is my first offering. This isn’t a gravestone, although it looks like one – it is a monument at one of our local parks and the closer I got, the more I felt I was being watched – b y Edgar Allen Poe, maybe…Honestly, I haven’t touched it.

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I am haunted by Edgar Allen Poe. Everywhere I go I see his face, peeking out at me from bushes, clouds, gravestones…as I drift off to sleep, I hear his voice – nevermore, nevermore.

I toss and turn, I throw off the blankets because I am too hot, I shiver because I am too cold…nevermore, nevermore.

As a sickly grey dawn seeps through the curtains, my eyes spring open, unable to close. I stare up at the ceiling, where the growing light coils and snakes across the darkness, filling my soul with dread, my mouth with the taste of graveyard dirt.

I am no stranger to fear, but I have never known anything like this. This is no mere sickness of the body, no mere derangement of the mind – this is a malady so bone deep, so soul centred, that I weary of life.

Nevermore, he whispers. Nevermore.

It cannot be true. I drag myself from my bed, across to my writing desk and press the switch above the keyboard. The grey screen echoes the grey morning outside and my mood. The last photo I took, Poe peering at me from a headstone at the cemetery, his eyes following me as I walked among the graves.

Nevermore. Nevermore.

I crash my fists on the keyboard. He continues to mock me as I struggle with the words that won’t come. Of course he mocks. He must have known this terrifying abyss, this pendulous pit of dried up inspiration, this ghastly wasteland of a head empty of any ideas at all.

The well is utterly dry, the grave barren and the screen remains blank. Of  all the horrors in the human mind – nothing compares to writer’s block.

He laughs and whispers – never more. Nevermore.

Living your life as a work of art

TheWheelHouse1-640x402Image from Where Cool Things Happen

I have always admired people who make art of living, but Jeni Bernard and Barney White have created a living work of art that literally rolls around the world. They do not travel in a house on wheels, their house is a wheel, a single wheel set in motion by their own acrobatic movements inside.

Acrojou has created and performed six different shows in nine countries, and it is an incredible spectacle, as this extraordinary circus rolls into town and people gather to watch the acrobats. It is an incredible physical feat as well, propelling the wheel house around Europe.

Here are some more links to stories about Acrojou and the wheel house:

Acrojou Circus Theatre in Sideshow circus magazine

The Wheel House at JunkCulture

Living is Queasy in a Circle Wheel House (Quite the pun, ABC News)

 

Face to Face

Thanks to NetGalley, I get the opportunity to review some gorgeous art books. The latest is a photographic essay, Face to Face, by Alison Wright. Ms Wright is a superlative photographer, and you can see her work at her website.

Face to Face is simply a gorgeous book.  A timeless facebook, is how it is described in the introduction – and yes, faces are timeless but this book goes far beyond mere social media. These faces are unforgettable, from the very young to the very old. Wright has spent a lifetime trying to capture the elusive human spirit in her portraits, in many parts of the world. She seeks the unguarded moment, and often touches something deeper, like the seemingly casual portrait of the Dalai Lama reaching out to touch the hand of one of his guards – a hand that is holding a gun. The loving expression of compassion makes even the weapon seem inconsequential. What power does it have over an uncorrupted human spirit? Yet it is there because of the corrupt human spirits who seek to harm others.

The other images are no less arresting – a young Cambodian monk in his saffron robe is a vivid contrast to the ancient stones of the Bayon Temple; the expressive eyes of a Tibetan monk; a beautiful Tibetan child gazes anxiously as the camera gazes at her; a Nepalese girl carried her sister on her back. All of these portraits, right at the beginning of the book, set the mood. The colours are deep and rich, the light has a Rembrandt quality, and the subjects encompass humility and humanity. These are not camera wise fashion models, they are people reaching through the lens to connect with the viewer.

From the Himalayas to South America to the African Continent, these are the faces of our brothers and sisters on this world. Their faces tell their stories if we could only read the expressions in their eyes, the curve of their mouths, the body language they unconsciously express. It isn’t really about where they come from, if they are rich or poor, if they live in places that look like paradise to us, or a city, or a geisha house – they are us, they are hopeful, wise, apprehensive, calm, direct, joyous and restless. Wright focuses on the eyes, in almost every portrait, and reminds us that eyes truly are the windows of the soul.

Through the lens, they come into our consciousness and we enter their world for a moment. This book is about the power of the lens to bring us all face to face, unable to avoid the fact of our common humanity. Notion of, and preconceptions about, beauty fade from the mind – confronted with character, and beauty that is utterly natural like the portrait of Goite, the first in the book, we study each face for the clues it gives to the soul behind it. This is truly a life’s work to be proud of, and a book to treasure.

Face to Face is available from Amazon.51HDi4aODfL._SY300_

A Moment of Clarity

Writers experience many Aha! moments. Aha! That’s how this story ends. Aha! She’s in love with him, that’s why she hates him. Aha! A paying market!!!! (Lots of exclamation marks for that one, it’s so rare.)

But my most recent Aha! moment had nothing to do with the story I was working on last night. It started that way – Aha! I know what’s wrong with this story. So in  spite of the fact I had my granddaughter Lyta chattering in my ear, relating for me the entire script of her favourite My Little Pony movie, I got stuck into it on my laptop, and gave the story what it lacked – emotion.

Lyta paused in her narration, looked at the words appearing on the screen, and said, “are you an author?”

My fingers hovered in the air. All my working life I had described myself as a writer, a simple humble wordsmith chipping away. I had even worked as a journalist and was happy to claim that title, but even then it was just a job. Mostly my writing had been regarded as a little hobby of mine.  J.K. Rowling was an author. Miss Read was an author. Fame and the ability to live off your writing (in Rowling’s case, with bells on) seemed to be a necessary component.

I looked at the dreamy eyed girl who was so much like me a very long time ago, making up stories, drawing and colouring, happily lost in her own world. One day, I thought, it’s going to mean a lot to her that she knew a real author, and that it was her grandma.

“Yes, I am,” I said. She nodded happily and went back to her narration.

I’ve mentioned before that I am in the third year of a five year plan, without even knowing exactly what it is I want to have achieved at the end of it. Maybe nothing at all – maybe just a better understanding of who I am and what I want to do with the third age of my life. Naturally after decades of writing, being a sometime journalist, and frequently getting disheartened and wondering if there just might be something else I can do, the idea of giving it all up has frequently surfaced. What have I ever really gained from writing? What have I ever given the world as a writer? Just a bunch more words, a lot more wasted trees and occasionally a memorable phrase or two that has been lost and forgotten in the sheer avalanche of words that pours out every year.

But – I’m an author.  My son’s an author, my daughter Lucia is a poet and a singer.  Lyta said, when I asked her, that she wants to be an author some day. It’s a family calling, it’s genetic, it’s in the DNA. and who knows where it will pop up and what it will reveal.