Contemporary artist for 40 yrs now shifted focus to writing poetry and travel writing.As hair turns greyer I value close friendship and my relationship with my long-term partner ever more. Other passions include gardening,plants & animals, social justice, human rights, refugee issues.And I love the NY Review of Books and London Book review!
Woke up this morning with the above riff in my head…well, I know nothing of Methuselah, the biblical patriarch and a figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, except one is ‘as old as…..’ So, looked him up to learn he lived to reach 969 years of age, not a bad innings as they say. One of the highly intelligent questions in the pop-up menu up was, ‘is he still alive?’ to which, surprise, surprise the reply was ‘Deceased’. I also found many depictions of him but the one I most liked is this beautiful stained glass window. Well, perhaps it’s a slight exaggeration to say I’m feeling a thousand years old but, while the hip replaced some ten weeks ago progresses nicely, its mate is playing vengeful games and I am frustrated at not being able to ‘go for walks’ without feeling very sore very fast, that bone on bone soreness (no problem padding round house, garden, supermarket etc). And still I cant bend to pluck prolific, wet-season weeds nor sit for any length of time writing without getting up as stiff as I presume old Methuselah was. So the challenge is to come to terms with what is, thankful for panadol osteo and my wonderful Jon while investigating interim measures. More importantly, to take the mickey out of myself and have a laugh about the ‘oldies aids’ I now employ in between the whinging. Here are a couple of the ‘oldies aids’ I now employ-a pick up stick, very handy implement to avoid bending to floor, a wedge cushion to assist sitting position (not sure it helps and has the added ‘benefit’ of making a perfectly comfortable chair less comfy to sit in), orthotics to hopefully reduce the newest, sore feet…and cop this, my physio suggested walking poles rather than a single walking stick (dad’s dear old one) which I had recently taken when out walking for a few minutes on the road! So, trying to put my vanity aside, I went online and ordered a pair of walking poles…no way will I be seen walking through town using them but certainly will try on the foreshore or our local road and certainly on ‘walks’ when we go to Tasmania in a few weeks. People tell me they are great and my friend Laine, who had used a single one, when I mentioned how daggy I would look, vanity,vanity, replied, ‘oh no, not at all daggy. If you have two of them, you look professional!’
I am reminded of my old and very elegant mum who resisted all such aids, thus I learned to prepare her psychologically well in advance; first came ‘sensible’ shoes (oh, I haven’t yet mentioned shoes- still to come!!!), then a walking stick. This was followed some years later after she had a couple of falls, by a walking frame, which we nicknamed Schleppi, (from Yiddish shlepn, to drag). By now she was into her nineties (she lived to 101 years) and only in the last year or so did she require a wheelchair. After my father died, aged, 100 years, I moved back to Melbourne to be her primary carer and, with these aids, we were able to go out and about, visit her friends, even still attend concerts into her nineties. She was so funny, constantly berating me, see how my daughter treats me, she would somewhat aggressively proclaim in front of the friend whose house we had just arrived at as I suggested the safest way to negotiate the path or to watch out for a step. I tried to see these remarks as funny though inevitably failed at times, as the constancy sometimes felt hurtful. Hindsight being a great teacher, I now see this behaviour as part of her pride and resistance to the ever-increasing frailty and pain of her very advanced age. Still, to this day I wish I had brought more grace and humour to the situation, which in retrospect was a great lesson. And so, this little blog shifts from me to my darling mum…….
I am lucky. Many friends over the years have passed on items of clothing, some of which have served me well and been much loved for many years. Amongst them an elegant pair of sandals and others I have purchased, some a little dressier, some very casual. As the years have progressed I seek ever more comfortable shoes to accommodate what I term ‘difficult’ feet, no mean feat (wordplaywordplay) when vanity requires them to be attractive. Add to this that I am not one of those women ‘born to shop’. I hate shopping for clothing, especially for shoes, get bored very quickly and see it as a necessity rather than a pleasure. My strategy is to keep an eye open for something I really need and this eye sometimes must remain propped open for prolonged periods, like a year or more until I fall upon the right thing easily, only then it becomes a pleasure. However, as the years progress, what worked then sometimes doesn’t work now and thus the painful process of the ever open eye must recommence. Given that I live in a small town with little choice, this becomes ever more difficult and I am disinclined to drive two hours south or three-and-a half north to avail myself of greater choice. Trips to Melbourne or overseas trips often made this easier and more enjoyable, for a short period! Anyway, knowing my wardrobe contained not one but several pairs of shoes unsuitable for ‘difficult’ feet, Methuselah in combo with Mari Kondo (get rid of that which no longer ‘sparks joy’) finally came to my aid and yesterday I plucked several pairs from my wardrobe which will go to friends and the op shop.
This week the walking poles arrive! OMG!!! and this morning, a day later, I awoke with a new riff in my head…the old grey mare she aint what she used to be, aint what she used to be etc etc, remember?
No commiserations please, just having fun here. Other comments welcome, always nice to hear from you. And a few more pics for good measure because I can’t resist.
Just to let you armchair travellers (arn’t we all for now anyway?) know that I have completed Part 2: The Mashriq (Egypt and Sudan)of AN AFRICAN JOURNEY:1973, located under TRAVEL WRITING. Part 2 continues on the same page as Part 1, The Mahgreb (N. Africa) so just keep scrolling down. There are lots of interesting photographs again and a reminder that you can click on any image to enlarge and also see the title. Here is a quick link to it:
Also just want to say g’day, hope all are OK, especially you folks outside of Australia who are contending with Covid in a way we blessedly don’t have to, and to let you know I am thinking about you all. I am half way through my three-month hip replacement recovery, doing well but champing at the bit to get out and about into proper walks etc. I also want to wish everyone well for the Silly Season and more importantly for a much better 2021
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First in the Time of Covid, I have to say that I trust and hope you are all well…most of my ‘Followers’ (and I really have little notion of how many of you follow this stuff) are people I am in regular contact with so I know YOU are all OK but for any others, Stay Safe. Its a horrible situation; we in Australia are SO fortunate.
So, announcing that the first part of the promised retrospective writings from extraordinary travels through parts of Africa in 1973 is now up under Travel Writing. From when I commenced this writing until now, there has been a break as I have been in hospital getting a brand new hip (3 weeks ago) and only in the last few days have I been up to writing and organizing photos etc.
Part 1 is The Mahgreb, across the top of north Africa. Stay tuned because in a few weeks I will be putting up Part 2, The Mashriq, Egypt & Sudan.
So, who could resist the idea of writing about a great travel adventure undertaken in Africa in the early’70’s? Not I! And so, some while ago I started to work on this project which is proving quite an undertaking. I have only a little written documentation of the six months I spent with my then husband Bruce travelling across the north African Mahgreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and then through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and into East Africa. Bruce has somehow dug out a few black and white photographs he took; also colour transparencies which I have had to sort through using my late father’s old light box, discarding many before arranging to digitize some. The other aspect of this is the challenge of remembering events of fifty years ago. What remains are illuminated fragments which I augment with some research. We will see how it pans out! Meanwhile four photos, hors d’oeuvres, if you like, a tiny taste from Morocco, Sudan and Ethiopia to whet the appetite.
Stay safe in this difficult time, especially my friends and others readers outside of Australia.
I always associated the words spare parts with cars. That is until my charming and endearing old dad many years ago and aged well into his nineties, while resting on his bed chatting to a friend, made a crack about having so many spare parts.He was, of course referring to body parts, in his case, first hearing aids, much later false teeth and a pace-maker and finally, aged ninety, a hip replacement (a fine recovery he made too, assiduously and uncomplainingly doing all the follow-up exercises, a very disciplined gentleman!)
All this brings me to the anticipation of my first ‘spare part’, since in four weeks I too will receive a new hip! Naturally, I anticipate this with a little trepidation, having always enjoyed excellent health and never having been hospitalized for more than a day, and that, only once as an adult plus a tonsillectomy at the age of three. However, it is time and I plan to take a leaf from my father’s book.
The slow deterioration of my hip, first noticing reduced flexibility in my early ’40’s, has been mostly manageable and not really affected my life other than brief moments or periods, but since returning from visiting our ‘family’ Bali in February, I have noticed a marked deterioration. A once agile gardener and walker now finds bending painful, sometimes impossible as bone grinds on bone; likewise manicuring toe nails, reaching into low kitchen cupboards or picking anything up from the floor. For months now I have been dependent on several painkillers daily and sleep disturbance is often present. And much to my consternation, my regular daily walking routine has in recent months reduced to a few rather slower minutes up and down the street. And I have probably managed to walk on our lovely beach only once or twice this year. Favoring the other leg has now impinged on the so-called ‘good’ hip and both knees. So while the mind feels young, the body lags behind and I am definitely not ready to accept this as a permanent state of affairs! So we wont even mention hearing deficit, what did you say, I can’t hear you!
And so to the little girl on the beach who’s comment a few months (see my blog A Certain Age) was somehow prescient, an omen. Well, when asked how I feel, my I now answer is, I’m fine but my hip doesn’t share my feelings! Perhaps aided and abetted by all this, the sense of time passing, the awareness that way more is now behind than before me, I find myself increasingly drawn to thinking about the past, wanting to reconnect with people from long ago to learn of their life’s journey and see how they are doing now. And from this, and not for the first time, through some recent clever detective work, I succeeded to track down my Belgian friend Marie Claire, precious in my life in Rome fifty two years ago. We exchanged a few long emails and then the wonders of Whatsapp took over. I had thought perhaps emotion would overwhelm me and that I might cry when first talking with her, but instead laughed and talked our way through undoubtedly the longest phone conversation of my adult life. By the time we hung up, two hours had slipped by.
The conversation reinforces for me the notion that people’s essence changes little, with exceptions allowing for unforeseen traumatic life events. Though naturally age has changed our appearance, her essence remains just as I remembered, that of the young woman with long dark haired framing a classically fine-featured face, wrapped in a gorgeous crocheted yellow shawl, indoors or perhaps walking in the rain, bringing serenity and sunshine wherever she went. The paths we have taken in those intervening years may have diverged in ways but clearly have correspond in others. Creativity, music, travel with our respective partners, all important to us both and we both need and appreciate a quiet life surrounded by nature, tending our gardens. And, as if speaking with one voice she says she is really fascinated by encounters in our lives, how we meet and how it evolves, what makes you go or not go, yes, fascinating. So, many parallels.
Though my late teen and early adult years were emotionally turbulent, they encompassed some amazing experiences – the 60’s music scene; the outpourings, creative and political as a result of the Vietnam war; avant garde art events in London; discovering my creativity, a life changing experience resulting in leaving behind a decade working as a student counsellor to become an artist; and some remarkable travels, including an overland trip from England back to Australia in the early ’70’s. Quite unconnected to this, my oldest university friend Janet, ‘returned’ to me letters I had written to her in the 60″s and 70’s when living overseas. And now the synchronicity, as the 60’s letters refer to Marie Claire and her poet songster partner (now husband) Tucker, both really significant in my life.
In recent months, I have felt the urge to write another travel journal based on the above-mentioned overland trip, the six months in Africa in particular. I started working on it a few weeks ago and contacted Bruce, my friend (and husband of the time) with whom I shared this journey, as my memory of these travels is extremely fragmented. I had no photographs or diary writings to refer to but thought he may have. And now in possession of some diaries, letters and photographs, with colour transparencies still to come as he discovers hidden treasures in his Covid lock-down Melbourne home, I am, and will be even more able to piece together these ‘spare parts’ of life’s experiences. May be a while but stay tuned! Hope and trust you are all well.
Something curious and heart-warming occurred today but, to be appreciated, requires a backstory. Rewind about fourteen years. I am walking along ‘our’ beach and encounter a boy, perhaps eight or nine years old. I feel a great affinity with children so, as is my wont, I greet him. ‘Are you having fun?’ I tease. Something about him immediately invites me to proceed further, and thus a conversation ensues and continues as we meander up the beach side by side, the turquoise Coral Sea lapping to our left, the established foreshore trees, dense foliage and largely obscured houses to our right.
Our feet fall on warm sand, his eager face constantly turns toward me, we make a lot of eye contact, his voice is lively and he smiles readily as we converse. He is an intelligent little boy who is clearly comfortable with adults and we are having a fat time together. His name is Josh and he tells me he is visiting his grandparents who live a few doors up from us in a large house owned by their son Jamie. Eventually we part ways as he heads back through the trees to his grandparent’s place and I continue with my beach walk, heart full. When I return home, I tell Jon of the encounter with this child who has charmed me. When next I see his grandmother, I tell her of our meeting which has given rise to such a feeling of warmth. Naturally, she glows and from time to time over the ensuing years, I ask after him. I can no longer recall quite what he looked like, nor any detail of what we spoke about, but he was immediately engaging and engaged. He had a certain quality that left me feeling he was quite special, and the encounter filled me with delight. I don’t remember seeing him again, but when I next see his grandmother, I mention my meeting Josh. Some years later, his grandparents move, their son Jamie and wife, Josh’s parents, want to use the place as a holiday home, occasional respite from the mining town out west where they run a tyre business. From time to time I pass Jamie on my morning walk and he too is now privy to my affectionate recollection of Josh.
Today, from my kitchen window overlooking the street, through the many palms growing in our front garden I glimpse two couples strolling by. They are enjoying the late afternoon sun, beer cans and wine glasses in hand, an uncommon sight. I subliminally register that one of the men may be Jamie. They linger in front of our place, pointing to plants in our garden. I am about to step out for a short late walk and as I reach the road, two of them are now pointing at the house diagonally opposite, while the other two have already disappeared through the adjacent vacant block. ‘Hello’, I say in a friendly voice as I approach them. The woman smiles, returning my greeting. ‘Something over there seems to have your attention’, I comment, curious. ‘It’s the rock wall’, she says. ‘Ah yes, he’s a good stone-mason’, I add. She now indicates that she knows we have a similar rock wall which she has obviously spotted on a previous occasion, because it is barely visible from the adjacent block, being obscured behind thick tropical foliage. She is referring to our Balinese style, open-air shower. Would you like to see it?’, I proffer. She jumps at that invitation.
The pebbles on the path running beside the house crunch beneath our feet as the three of us duck under overhanging palm fronds. Much admiring of and discussion about the wall follows- how it is constructed, the pinkish hue of our chosen rocks, the way it has been laid, that yes, it is local stone and so on. ‘That’s the sort of stone wall I would like in front of our place’, she announces. And so, inevitably I inquire as to where they live. ‘I live in Brisbane’ says the man, ‘and I live just up the road’ the woman adds, so now I presume that they are not a couple. ‘So, which is your house?’ I ask, curiosity having got the better of me. As she describes its location, I twig. ‘Oh, then you must be Jamie’s wife!’ which she affirms, ‘And Josh’s mother.’ And now I spin into a spiel about the great little kid I met all those years ago on the beach. Clearly, it’s now time to formally introduce myself. No sooner do I start, than she cuts me off saying, ’I know who you are. I know all about you. Josh still talks about you. When he met you, he came running to the house and told me excitedly about the wonderful lady he had met on the beach.’ I am delighted that he remembers me and gobsmacked that he still talks about me! I ask her what he is doing now, though I have received scraps of information from his dad on our occasional encounters.
I learn that Josh is now in is early 20’s, studying Business, majoring in accounting at QUT in Brisbane. She proudly adds, ‘He has also developed an App about dog-friendly …… Pet ..…’ . I don’t quite take in all the details. Did the App name include the word ‘Paws’ and was it pet friendly camping places? Anyway, it’s cool, he’s a dog-lover too! ‘Oh yes’, she states, and I suddenly have the urge to connect with him again. ‘Hang on a minute, I will grab my card for you to pass on to him, I would love to be in touch with him’. I run upstairs and return to hand her my now somewhat outdated BonneyBombach Artist card with its coloured image of an artwork and my contact details, minus my recent web address. Everyone is smiling as we part ways.
Thus inspired, I begin to write this blog, knowing I will work on it over several days. As I continue, I am frustrated at not remembering the name of the App and suddenly wonder if I could find him online. I move into detective mode- after all, this approach has brought unexpected and pleasurable results in recent years, connecting me with significant people from my past. I type into my search bar ‘dog friendly campsites Qld’ and various things pop up but nothing that suggests Josh. I try again, omitting the word ‘Qld’. Again, many nation-wide doggy campsites jump to the page but still nothing that gels. Maybe I can try with just his name but what is his surname? Patrilineal, must be the same as his grandparents but I can’t remember their surname. Ah, perhaps it is still on our type-written sheet of local phone numbers, and voilà, there it is! So now I type in his full name and am amazed.
The first thing that pops up is ‘Josh Fritz, Director PatchPets’ on LinkedIn. I learn that his studies include Business Strategy, Business Planning, Negotiation and Management Consulting. This entry is followed by ‘21 yo from country Qld makes mad app for pooches’ repeated in several rural newspapers and then Onyapreneur: Josh Fritz, Founder of PatchPets App tells me: ‘Match-making app is going to the dogs. PatchPets, one of top three business start-ups to watch Congrats, QUT student entrepreneur..…with his dog Quincy who inspired Josh to build a social app for pets, to help all pet-lovers find parks, doggy play-date mates, services and more. It’s going global’. There are many images of an open-faced young man with short-cropped dark hair, grinning, arms slung around his dog Quincy, some with his two dogs. I totally lack entrepreneurial skills but am impressed with this young man’s creativity and get up and go. More to the point, I am struck by trajectory from my one-off memory of Josh as a child to where he has come, to see so clearly that the intelligence, confidence, warmth and outgoing spirit exuded as an eight or nine year-old, has led him to where he is today.
Putting aside those boy children with whom I have had longer or ongoing relationships, there have been a couple of other such brief encounters, the memory of which has endured. Step back twenty-six years. Jon and I are visiting his family in Michigan and spend a day with niece Sandy. We are walking along a rural track amidst greenery. Jon walks beside Sandy, a strikingly attractive young woman with thick black hair and coal dark eyes. They are enjoying each other’s company, laughing, and talking intensely. I am walking behind them with her son Nicolas, a beautiful seven-year old with olive complexion, dark hair and dark eyes like his grandfather, Jon’s oldest late brother, Roger. He is sensitive, alert and, it quickly becomes apparent, a nature-lover. We are holding what feels like a very adult conversation, though again, I can’t recall exact details. I think we spoke of nature and wildlife and perhaps things a little philosophical. I am smitten.
This branch of the family are not willing correspondents, so our contact has been intermittent. We hear snippets periodically. I remember that he studied Anthropology which somehow feels consistent with my impression of him as a child. However, now that Nic unexpectedly enters this blog, I need to update a little, so I write to Sandy. She tells me that after our visit in 1995, I sent him a book (I would guess about Australian flora &/or fauna), and that he and I corresponded for a while. I have forgotten all of this. I’m interested to know that he has been with his partner for 14 years and is the Director of a County Economic Alliance in a poor area with fading family farming and antiquated manufacturing. Ah, a guy with social commitment, that tallies. He now has a 10-month-old baby boy, Henry. Sandy tells me that he has always been fascinated by my artwork and writing and used to do both himself, before getting tied up ‘with a lot of other stuff’. As per Josh, I am touched that he remembers me, that there is still some connection. She also sends a few recent family photographs. I need to gain both her Nic’s permission to quote from her letter and to include the photograph. She replies that ‘Nic would be pleased to be included’, and that he asks for my contact details so I flick him a quick email, include my web address and next day see that he has chosen to Follow the site.
And so, to one last brief encounter still further back in time. In 1989 Jon and I set off on a four-month adventure in Mexico and Central America. We are particularly interested in seeing the ancient Mayan sites in both the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and in Guatemala, reclaimed from under dense jungle in relatively recent years. In anticipation of this trip, mulling over what work I might make while travelling, something in my practice changes. The Mayan culture suggests earthy colours to me, and so my colour palette will shift from the rich tertiary colours I have been using, to a reduced colour palette of earth tones. I select a few watercolours, a black and white oil stick, and some pre-cut squares of absorptive, oriental paper to work with.
One of the great sites in Guatemala is Tikal, who’s iconic, thousand-year-old ruins of temples and palaces include the giant ceremonial Lost World (Mundo Perdido) Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. A national park was created around the extensive site, thus, we seek accommodation as close as possible to it. We find a small, low key set-up, surrounded by jungle, a short walk from the park entrance. It is run by a rather beautiful and clearly well- educated English woman and her Guatemalan husband. They have one child, a boy about eight years old with his father’s dark colouring rather than that of his very fair mother. Naturally, he speaks both English and Spanish. He prances up to us soon after we arrive, and brightly asks if we would like him to take us on his ‘magic jungle walk’. He is charming and apparently quite a little entrepreneur. He offers us his ‘tour’ for $5, not an insubstantial amount for a little kid in 1989 but clearly an invitation into his world. His enthusiasm is delightful, the offer irresistible. Sometime later, the three of us set off, following narrow earthen tracks which meander through thick humid rain forest. He is alert, intense in his concentration, quite the little bush boy. ‘Look, jaguar tracks’, he says, pointing to tracks on the ground, ‘and here, baby’, he adds pointing to smaller footprints. He is confident and we have no reason to doubt him, knowing Jaguars prevail in the jungles of this part of Guatemala. ‘Have you ever seen one?’, I innocently ask, ‘Oh yes, quite often, mother and baby’, he replies as casual as anything. And so, we make our way on a small circuit with him pointing out the details of the magnificent environment in which he lives, trusting we won’t be devoured by such an animal.
Regardless of their brevity, the encounters with these three wonderful little boys have left their mark, mutually it seems (at least with Nic and Josh) and perhaps pour contact is not yet over. In any case, given the openness and warmth of all three of these children, I imagine they are or will become great partners in their relationships and, if they have children, will be loving fathers. Well nurtured boys grow into wonderful men. May there be many more of them!
It’s happened! Another defining moment. Think of them as Life Lessons, they start early. The first – I am three years old, sitting up in a hospital bed awaiting a tonsillectomy. My parents are reading to me. I remember their goodbye hug. Next day, I wonder why the ice-cream, served with red jelly, has the texture of sand. Somehow the sensation doesn’t register as a painful sore throat! I don’t remember being afraid. Clearly, they have prepared me well. Still, it is telling that I have such clarity of memory of an event seventy-three years ago, hence classify it as a defining moment- learning to deal with separation.
A lesson (or three) in loss. I am perhaps seven years old when our first cat Tuppence dies, and two years later our cocker spaniel dog, Rusty. I am in the USA with my mother, spending a few months with her brother and his wife. It is the first time she has seen him since they were separated as refugees fleeing Vienna in 1938. It is also the first time I have been away from my father for a protracted time. He must remain at home running his photographic studio. Beloved old Rusty is at home in Melbourne with him and dies of old age while we are away. Not only am I missing my dad very much indeed, but now he must break the news of Rusty’s death.
I am so grateful for the sensitive way he and they handled these events to ease the grief. My Daddy wrote me a beautiful letter, assuring me that Rusty had not suffered and suggesting that I could choose the type of dog we would next have- perhaps the same as the Dalmatian I have befriended next door to my aunt and uncle’s home in LA.? When we return to Melbourne, we indeed procure a Dalmatian puppy, having the thrill of selecting one from a large litter. I duly name him Chuck, or Chucky, after the LA version.
I am now thirteen and spot blood in my nickers at home one morning. I have started menstruating. Oh, the sight of that blood excites me so. Our family ethos was one of openness and I remember proudly announcing it to my mother as I am already well informed about such matters-reproduction, human sexuality, and birth control. However, I have no recollection of what exactly menstruation signified to me-whether it was reaching child-bearing age or more generally about now being ‘a woman’. It was, nonetheless, a defining moment.
There have been others along the way, life-changing events such as committing to a full sexual relationship at a relatively young age with my first serious boyfriend. I am not quite sixteen, yep, not actually of legal age but quite a mature and responsible sixteen-year-old. Denise, my closest friend at high school and I, feel rather superior, believing we are the only two girls in our class to have ‘lovers’ and it feels like being part of a ‘grown-up girls’ club. We share our stories, both of us being in enduring relationships. Hers leads to marriage, mine does not which takes me to the next journey, the travails of love, the painful acceptance when deeply meaningful relationships do not take me where I wish to go between my early ‘20’s to early 30’s. These learnings lead to greater self -knowledge and clarity in finally choosing the right partner in the clever, funny, eccentric, wise Jon, defining experiences.
I was the kid who couldn’t paint or draw, though always an ardent art-lover. As a young woman I live my creative life vicariously, having several friends both in Australia and in Europe where I live for several years, who are artists, writers, and musicians. In Italy I become obsessed with Byzantine and Renaissance art; while living in London, with contemporary art and the great sculptors of the 1960’s.
As a result of encouragement from various people over these years, in my mid ‘20’s and with great trepidation, I enrol in an adult education class in sculpture at the Camden Institute in London. A sequence of life-changing events unfolds. I am driven in a new and thrilling direction, discovering aspects of myself hidden until then. Back in Melbourne, now in my early ‘30’s I find my way into art school as a mature-age student, privileged with some prominent and influential teachers. I soon leave behind a decade of practice in Melbourne and London as a social worker and student counsellor to recreate my life as a practising visual artist, and in more recent years, in writing.
I have lost a few friends to death over the years but when my father dies, aged one hundred, I move back to Melbourne to care for my mother for three years. This is a great lesson in caregiving, especially since I have not had children, which decision was another protracted and complex defining moment. The loss of my mother feels momentous. The depth of grief is unlike anything I have experienced before and am now the only remaining member of our immediate family, and the only one in Australia.
So, to the present and the source of this story, expanding unexpectedly backwards into the past. Some days ago, I set out on a beach walk which, with one recent exception, I haven’t done for some time. Beach walking used to be a daily occurrence, but arthritic hips demand certain conditions these days, the sometimes-firm sand at low tide and a flat surface. It is a long weekend within school holidays so there are several people walking along the usually unpopulated beach.
Late afternoon, mid- winter, a gentle 24C. The sky is cloudless, the sea a shimmering silver in the low tide. I am wearing well-cut beige shorts, a blouse purchased in Hawaii (all dreamy pastel tones, palm fronds and frangipani blooms), the usual many pearl studs in my ears, and the rings-on-my-fingers, bells-on-my-toes gig, hair up in its quasi ‘40’s style and feeling great. As I round the stony point at Blackcurrant island, a group of people, perhaps numbering ten, are approaching- two or three adults, the rest children of various young ages. I step aside, though the lead person, a young woman, has invited me to proceed first. A small, blue-eyed girl with long blond plaits, perhaps five years old, now approaches, looks up at me, turns to her mother and in her little voice says: be careful of the old lady.
Well there you have it! Old lady!!!! I start to giggle, smile at the child and, unable to resist, jokingly say to her: You’re famous now. This is the first time anyone has called meold. Her mother, by way of an unnecessary but kind apology, says: she thinks I am old too. I think the child is a little embarrassed, but she’ll survive.
I find this SO funny, and through her eyes, I must indeed seem quite old. I am immediately taken back to nursery school, aged three, with my beloved teacher ‘Harper’. I thought she was as old as Methuselah, with her grey hair puffing out around her ears like my favourite toy koala. She was probably less than sixty, possibly even in her fifties, far younger than I am now.
Still, I cannot define myself as old, not even elderly – no pink perm and twinsets for me, though perhaps that is a long-outdated image. There are many other adjectives I might use to describe myself but old is not amongst them. It raises the question of what terminology would be appropriate. Perhaps I am simply a well-preserved woman of a certain age.
I was perhaps 11 years old when on my photographer fathers’ bookshelves I found a publication entitled The Family of Man. I was instantly enthralled and many images within it remain embedded in my memory over 60 years later. Two come to mind immediately-the wonder of new life-a visceral, glistening image of a baby being delivered, a symbol of hope and renewal and probably my first exposure to this. The other, a gaunt faced young mother, possibly from the Appalachians, elbow on table, hand to cheek gazes through strained eyes into the unknown, two small, raggedly dressed children bury their heads on her shoulders, a depiction of abject poverty and despair.
I now know The Family of Man was conceived as a photography exhibition, hailed as the most successful ever assembled and opened at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York) in January 1955. It then toured the world for eight years to record-breaking audience numbers. The exhibition was curated by noted photographer and Director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, Edward Steichen and the book is a permanent embodiment of this monumental exhibition. It reproduces all the 503 images by 273 photographic artists and is a celebration of the universality of the human experience, a declaration of global solidarity in the decade following World War II and the Cold War. Poet Carl Sandburg wrote the eloquent prologue and the book’s title is lifted from one of his poems.
Amongst many other things of significance to me, I retained this precious book after my father’s death at the age of 100 years. Its striking cover made its way into my work, an installation piece, exhibited in 2011, Memento Mori: Tree of Life, Artspace Mackay and beyond.
It is interesting to reflect upon one’s life, to recognize how early are laid down the building blocks which come to later define us. I see a photograph of myself aged three, bending down to touch and rejoice in the fragrance of a flower; mountain walking at Mt Buffalo between my mother and a friend who grasp my little hands; digging in the sand at a Melbourne beach; or lovingly embracing my first cat. It appears I am already a nature, plant and animal lover.
In my parents’ home, the radio was always tuned to the ABC, classical music filled the house and I was taken to concerts and art galleries. As refugees who fled Vienna in 1938 escaping Nazi persecution, human rights and social justice were of great import to them. The legacy this bestowed upon me was to be vigilant in the face of intolerance, oppression and persecution and my work as an artist since the ‘90’s has addressed these concerns. To remain silent is to be complicit.
And so, to where this ramble started. I recently joined a zoom event hosted by Grandmothers for Refugees. One refugee and two asylum seekers, both still in detention after seven years, spoke movingly and eloquently. At the close of the event, a poem was read and this is what I would like to share with you. It was written by a Warsan Shire, a prolific young poet and activist born in Kenya of Somalian parents who lives in London.
The poem is titled Home and I hope you will find it as moving as I do, for it is the task of artists and others to keep at bay the destructive forces of bigotry and fear. To quote John Donne:
Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankinde and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well your neighbours running faster than you breath bloody in their throats the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory is holding a gun bigger than his body you only leave home when home won’t let you stay. no one leaves home unless home chases you fire under feet hot blood in your belly it’s not something you ever thought of doing until the blade burnt threats into your neck and even then you carried the anthem under your breath only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet sobbing as each mouthful of paper made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back. you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land no one burns their palms under trains beneath carriages no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled means something more than journey. no one crawls under fences no one wants to be beaten pitied no one chooses refugee camps or strip searches where your body is left aching or prison, because prison is safer than a city of fire and one prison guard in the night is better than a truckload of men who look like your father no one could take it no one could stomach it no one skin would be tough enough the go home blacks refugees dirty immigrants asylum seekers sucking our country dry niggers with their hands out they smell strange savage messed up their country and now they want to mess ours up how do the words the dirty looks roll off your backs maybe because the blow is softer than a limb torn off or the words are more tender than fourteen men between your legs or the insults are easier to swallow than rubble than bone than your child body in pieces. i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore unless home told you to quicken your legs leave your clothes behind crawl through the desert wade through the oceans drown save be hunger beg forget pride your survival is more important no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying- leave, run away from me now I don’t know what I’ve become but I know that anywhere is safer than here
Warsan Shire 2015
Copyright Warsan Shire, 2015
Reference:2019 Christine Cummins, Dignity in a Teacup-True Stories of Courage and Sacrifice from Christmas Island, ARCADIA
Hello again to you all. Since coming back from Bali at the beginning of February I have, as you know, added the Bali Travel journal (in POSTS under the HOME page) plus many photos from that trip (under TRAVEL WRITING- yes, I know, completely illogical placement but for a reason, the details of which I won’t bore you by repeating). The Corona virus was in its early stages when we left Australia for Bali at the end of January and it is astonishing to see and experience what has transpired since! Everyone’s life is altered in various ways and to various degrees and so there have been so many lives tragically lost. While I am very concerned about friends and family in Italy and USA, our Balinese family are forefront in my mind. Like so many in less developed countries, they live a pretty hand-to-mouth existence at the best of times and now there are no tourists and thus no business in the warung (restaurant). And that’s before taking health and medical services into consideration. Ever resourceful, they have experimented with various little enterprises to bring in a few dollars, most recently making takeaway pizzas for the locals who love them. But the path ahead is very uncertain. Thank goodness for WhatsApp so we can at least easily be in frequent communication.
I hope everyone who reads this is safe and well. Those of you in countries other than Australia, of which there are quite a few, have my special thoughts and best wishes because we are most fortunate here with measures taken early, few deaths (so far a total around 90) and the curve flattening nicely, even though lives are restricted and large numbers of people are out of work and all the implications that entails both now and into the future.
I have kept in touch with many people and have been writing something called Covid Times, sending it out more or less weekly via email, though I may not continue with this so regularly. I would LOVE to hear from those who have been reading it but haven’t been in touch with me, just to know you are OK. And if anyone would like to be added to the list to receive, should I continue it, please send me your name and email address.
Meanwhile I have been working on poems, some quite new, some written in recent years waiting patiently for me to re-visit and re-write to completion. So, seventeen new poems for you poetry buffs to discover. The new ones appear beneath the previously existing ones in each section. To SELECTED POEMS, I have added another eight; seven to THE NATURAL WORLD and two to PORTUGAL POEMS. Any thoughts/ comments welcome.
That’s it for now. Take care. Explore your new world.