Leafing Through the Pages of Time

My love of magazines began in childhood. My mother bought stacks of them every month and passed them on to me after she had read them cover to cover. Titles like Woman, Woman’s Own, Woman and Home were the ones I saw most, with an occassional Photoplay thrown in, but I was also quite happy to get my father’s Mechanics Illustrated when he had done with it and filed his favourite projects. No one remarked on the clear definition of interests – things were very traditional then. At street markets we bought American magazines like Life and Seventeen (my personal favourite – how I longed for a pair of saddle shoes!) My mother loved Life magazine – a confirmed royalist, she cherished her copy with this portrait of the then Princess Elizabeth on the cover.

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So my main interest in vintage mgazines is mainly womens’ magazines from the 1940-60s. The physical changes are immediately apparent when you look at the covers – older magazines are thinner, smaller but more densely packed with text.
As you come up through the decades, the paper becomes smoother and glossier, the pictures get larger, color is introduced and, of course, the advertising becomes more lavish. So if you remove the larger illustrations and the pages of advertising, womens’ magazine have actually not increased much in text content.
But how that content has changed! Our mothers and grandmothers really enjoyed their magazines, and looked forward to every issue. Just skimming through a magazine of the 50s shows plenty of varied reading matter, from short stories and serials to feature articles.
The idea that women’s magazines once only contained recipes and knitting patterns is quite wrong. The target reader for these publications come across as outgoing, curious and eager to learn about the world she lived in.
In contrast to the self-absorbed reader of today, there is a noticeable lack of self improvement and self analysis. Problem solving was strictly practical – the advice columnists were no nonsense types who upheld strong social values and had little time for women who could not control erring husbands and wayward emotions.
There were the pages of recipes, but in the older magazines, these didn’t have today’s mouthwatering illustrations. The favored cooking style was cheap and plain. Foreign food was largely unheard of, and even Chinese cooking got little attention. The curry was a popular dish because it could be left stewing all day while housewives got on with the business of housekeeping without modern aids.
Crafts were simple, mostly confined to knitting patterns, crochet and embroidery – some of these are so pretty, I am tempted to learn to knit!
Toward the end of the fifties, the magazines started to include movie news and reviews and star stories, but nowhere near the salacious content we see today. The stars are never seen at less than their best and little reference is made to their private lives. In fact, one article strongly defended Hollywood marriages, saying the divorce rate in the star community was smaller than the populace at large!
Some obsessions seem to be perennial. There are long articles discussing the latest trends in child rearing, and the problems associated with motherhood. Did you think that diets were the prerogative of our generation? Wrong, women of the early 20th century were just as concerned with the state of their figures. But the ideal wasn’t a six pack set of abs, it was a tiny waistline. There are lots of ads for miracle slimming pills and other products that “magically melt away that ugly fat.”
No political correctness or consumer protection guarded gullible readers against these ads, but they were no sillier than the claims for miracle herbal “fat blasters” today.
The aim of slimming was just the same – to look as good as the willowy models in the fashion pages. But the bodies were very different – full hips, nipped in waists, and womanly bosoms – the ideal was the `hourglass figure’.
No wonder women of the sixties fell on the `sack’, a shapeless, waistless, baggy number that skimmed all manner of figure faults. But even then, one catty fashion editor remarked that it looked much better with a belt.
The magazines of the 40s, 50s and 60s were aimed at the homebody, to be enjoyed with a cuppa and your feet up after a hard day’s housework. If you want that kind of cosy reading today, you have to go to the `lifestyle’ magazines.
Today’s women’s magazines, with their lip licking celebrity gossip and pages of advertising, are clearly designed for the woman with nothing better to do than read them.

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.

 

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: The Trees

The Trees

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The trees are driving me crazy. Can’t anyone else see what they are up to? They are colluding, whispering together. Getting closer, I could walk between these two a week ago. Now they block my path, like threatening sentinels.

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Even in the city they creep up, they invade, they terrorise humans going about their business. What do you think these two are up to?

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At night I fear them most of all. They gather around my house, rustling and muttering, shaking their branches and leaves in the moonlight. What do they want? Why are they becoming so bold and intrusive?

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At night the ghost gums come haunting, creeping through the darkness toward the house, drawing close to each other in conspiratorial silence, yet I can hear them whispering to each other, rustling and creaking, and watching us.

I think they are angry. I think they want us to know that they have had enough of us. I think they want to cut us down as we have been cutting them down, to uproot our houses and our lives and reclaim the land from us. I think they hate us because of this…

Note: The idea of this is to use the photos I’ve taken of random objects that have ‘faces’ embedded or have a spooky or weirdly human quality, as prompts for Halloween prose and poetry. Feel free to copy the images and use them as prompts for your own stories. Leave me a link so I can see the results 🙂

Halloween Countdown: How did I get here?

Another Halloween story suggested by a photo in my collection.I spotted this sad eyed stag at a twilight market, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

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How did I get here?

Stop. Stop! Don’t just walk past. It’s me! Look closer! You can see it’s me.

Stop sniggering at your new husband. His joke was lame, and you know it. “Oh dear, oh dear. I think he lost his head.” Pathetic. You actually laughed. Do you think it’s funny that I, Antonio, the love of your life, is nailed to a piece of wood? Look at me! Don’t you recognise my moustache?

Oh Laura, what happened to me? Yours was the last face I saw on that night, with the full moon shining in the window, before everything went black, and I woke up on the wall in my father’s house. That huge ornate mirror he bought in Florence was on the opposite wall, and I could see what had become of me. I didn’t realise at first – only after days of staring at that damned mirror did I understand that my head looks like this now. And it isn’t attached to my body.

I have been thinking that my papa mistook me for one of the deer on his estate. These are a fine pair of antlers, I must say. So big. He must have spotted me and shot me, not knowing it was I, Antonio, his only beloved son. For years I hung there, unable to communicate, watching you visit Papa’s estate and take care of him in his old age. Every time you came he asked you the same question. “Have they found my son?”

I watched you weep at his funeral, and laugh when they read the will and he left everything to you. Then the men came, the buyers and the dealers, and everything was sold and bundled out. Including me.

Oh look, the little one is speaking again.

“So, Laura, did you tell him, at the last, of your powers? Or was he still too dazzled by your beauty to know you are a witch?”

“Not a full time witch, Paulo. Only when there is a full moon at Halloween. Then I can do anything I want. Poor, poor Antonio.” She reached over and stroked the dark mark beneath my nose, the exact replica of my moustache. “Come, Paulo, now you have come into your uncle’s fortune, you can afford to buy me a peach gelato, no?”

Yes,” he said adoringly. “Gelato, and diamonds, rubies, anything you want.”

Her laughter tinkled as they walked away. Poor, poor Paulo, too besotted to realise that tonight was Halloween, and the moon was full.

Live Music and Cultural Values

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AC/DC Lane (Photo credit: zoonabar)

 

It is really not surprising that Gypsies performed live entertainment as they travelled – making live shows in one place gave you the coin to move on to another place. I was born into that life. My father and his family were travellers. In his time, he was a musician, a magician, a carnie sideshow operator, an actor – whatever it took to make the coin to keep moving.

 

I grew up listening to him playing the and the banjo. I heard Chuck Berry and Sonny Terry and Barnie McGee on the radio when he tuned into the American Forces Network to learn new songs. Later my own children were similarly brainwashed with blues and rock and roll. We regard busking as an honorable profession (because my dad was a busker in Dublin before and after the war). My daughter Lucia is the lead singer with A Girl’s A Gun. One of the highlights of my writing career was being entertainment reporter for a Western Sydney newspaper, and meeting people like Adam Rawson of Normal Day and The Australian Music Industry Forum, who is passionate about creating more live venues for Western Sydney bands. Yeah, music means a lot to us.

 

More than that, more than what it means to my family, live music and entertainment are an essential part of the cultural life of a place. I get angry when developers and newcomers move into a city area and demand that the life and zest of the place be changed to suit them, as happened at AC/DC Lane in Melbourne. I detest it when people claim live music is dead. Sit at Brisbane’s South Bank with me and tell me that. There is plenty of live music in Brisbane, and plenty of people who want to listen. Only culturally lazy people say,”Yawn, no one wants live music anymore, we have the Internet…” Rubbish. Couch potatoes and Internet Heads are excluded from this conversation. While you are glued to your screens, people are out having a good time and looking for more places to go.

 

So when PM Kevin Rudd says he is going to fight the good fight for the Australian live music industry, I am waving my cultural flag in support. Some may think it pales in comparison to saving other industries but Australian music has been very profitable for this country and deserves the same respect and support as every other. It provides employment, not just on the stage, but in many other areas of Australian working life. It is something Australia can be proud of – we know Australia’s got talent. Just give it somewhere to be heard, and keep party politics out of it. I don’t care who does it, as long as it gets done.

 

 

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_