In it’s early days – before the bridge was built – Bribie was a haven from the rat race of civilization. Its lifestyle was simple and close to Nature, where people could be themselves without undue interference. Personalities flourished and eccentrics were accepted as the norm. Bribie’s best-known eccentric was the reclusive artist, Ian Fairweather. At age 60 he went to Bribie and took up residence in a grass hut in the bush at Bongaree so that he could paint undisturbed.
It paid dividends and his art flourished to the point where he started winning prizes and he gained national attention from the galleries, from the newspapers, and from the general public. His grass hut became a bit of a tourist attraction and he was constantly visited by curious onlookers. Paradoxically, his success destroyed the very reason why he went to Bribie – to find a bit of peace and quiet!
Of course, when they built the bridge, that was the beginning of the end for his Eden. People visited the island in droves and neighbours began to encroach on his hut in the bush. There were complaints about rats and the Caboolture Shire Council was forced to intervene.
Eventually, Fairweather was forced to build a fibro hut on a cement base next door to his grass hut that he had occupied for so long. It was harsh and cold. He missed the sand between his toes, the smell of the thatching and the warmth of his kerosene lanterns. His art production all but stopped.
When he died, the grass hut was demolished amongst much controversy, and the fibro house was moved. Today the cement slab still remains in the pine grove where he once lived and worked. A large stone has been placed on the slab and an inscription reminding us that Ian Fairweather once lived there.
With the fall of the USSR, thousands of Soviet statues were destroyed or dispersed. Some ended up in Moscow’s Fallen Heroes Park. It displays more than 700 sculptures saved and preserved from the Soviet era. Walking through the park is like visiting a cemetery, bronze and stone sculptures loom from every corner. The park has mutilated busts of Stalin, as well as those of Lenin and a statue of Dzerzhinsky, the founder of what became the KGB. There’s a massive Soviet emblem, and clusters of modern art contrasting with the very non-conceptual Communist monuments.
Further to my blog of 09.09.2017 – Centenary of a Revolution, my son Trevor informs me that Melbourne’s Heidelberg Gallery (The Heidi) has a Constructivist Display of artworks mainly from the Russian Revolution. No doubt many of the items on display would have come from Moscow’s Fallen Heroes Park.
I have never felt a great emotional attachment to statues. My first was probably the dog sitting on the tucker box five miles from Gundagai.
For me, it always the highlight of our road trips to Melbourne.
The other statue that has triggered my emotion was seeing Winston Churchill’s statue on a Paris footpath as our tour bus flashed past. It was so unexpected, considering the historic rivalry between the English and the French, but a touching acknowledgement of France’s gratitude for Churchill’s help during WWII.
It’s been 62 years since I visited the quiet backwater of Hobart, but its memories from the mind of an 11 year-old are still vivid: our gabled attic room with its sloping ceiling, the curved floating bridge, the resinous aroma of a linen bandaged Egyptian mummy in the museum, the ruins of Port Arthur (there had been no massacre then), snow in the crevices of Mount Wellington (even though it was Christmas), an old English-style cafe in New Norfolk, the beautiful Huon Valley…
When I visit Hobart again in three weeks, I hope its air of history will still greet me. However I am prepared for change, too. Everyone says I must visit MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art – for it has almost singlehandedly propelled Hobart from a quiet backwater onto the world’s tourist stage. Who said museums are old hat?
LEVITICUS (regarding a person with leprosy):
‘his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering on his upper lip and shall cry unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him shall be defiled: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.’
Luke 16:1: (In the parable of the rich man and the beggar, which begins…)
‘There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury every day. There was also a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man’s door, hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs would come and lick his sores… ‘
C.R.Wiburd (a former Quarantine Officer at Brisbane):
‘Maritime Quarantine, as we know it, commenced in 1348 when the overseers of Public Health at Venice were authorised to spend public moneys for the purpose of isolating infected ships, persons, and goods, at an island of the lagoon. A medical man was stationed with the sick. As a result of these arrangements the first maritime quarantine station of which there is any record was established in 1403 at the island of Santa Maria di Nazareth at Venice.
‘The Venetian Authorities framed in 1348 a code of quarantine regulations which served as a model for all others to a very recent period. All merchants and persons coming from the Levant were compelled to remain in the House of St. Lazarus for a period of forty days before admission into the city. From this is derived the term “lazaret” which has persisted until now.’
The lazaret was established in the north-western corner of Peel Island in 1907.
Tom Welsby (early bay historian):
‘It (Peel) would have made an ideal township, or rather residential quarter, had mercantile buildings been erected at Cleveland and its surroundings. Had the surface of Peel been covered with well built villas and terraces a fifteen minute or less run would have taken the businessmen and others from Cleveland to a home where in summertime the weather is always delightful, and where north‑easters and south‑easters alike cool the day and evening and night with the charm of Southern Seas … but surely so large and conspicuous an island as Peel might have been left from the charge of having its soil so sadly contaminated (by the lazaret).’
June Berthelsen (a former patient at Peel Island lazaret, on her diagnosis with Hansen’s Disease/leprosy):
‘I felt dazed. I had Leprosy ‑ that dreadful disease mentioned in the Bible, where the Lepers were shunned by the people. Lepers ‑ with loathsome sores and disfigured limbs. Would I finish up like that? Would my family and friends disown me as something unclean and horrible? I remembered the fate of lepers in the Bible, how they wandered in the waste places of the desert, treated more like animals than human beings. Cast out forever by their own kind. Would it be like that for me?’
Lloyd Rees (artist, describing his mother’s incarceration on Peel):
‘leprosy was diagnosed. The world being what it was and what it still is, that, of all diseases, threw a stigma. With cancer there was a horror, but with leprosy ‑ a stigma… There was a nasty air of secrecy about it all. From Cleveland, down south of Brisbane…a mysterious launch left to take visitors to the island.’
Reference: Peter Ludlow ‘Exiles of Peel Island – Leprosy’
Last weekend we visited the Heide Museum of Modern Art on the outskirts of Melbourne. As always our family starts such cultural excursions on a full stomach, so our first stop was to its excellent Café Vue, where we breakfasted among a mainly younger and artier clientele.
When Sunday and John Reed purchased Heide in 1934 it was a neglected former dairy farm. After fifty years of vision, dedication and sheer hard work, the Reeds moulded Heide into a personal Eden, connecting art with nature and creating a nourishing environment for the artists they championed – Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Charles Blackman and Mirka Mora among them.
I like to visualise Sidney Nolan painting his Ned Kelly series in the dining room of the original house (now called Heide I) just off the main road – then storing them in the dilapidated former cow shed next door!
Because of its proximity to the increasingly busy main road, and the opening of a fish and chips shop across the road from them, the Reeds decided to build a new residence further down the hill of their property. This has now become Heide II. But it was Heide III that most excited me, for it contained a new exhibition ‘Sitelines’ by Melbourne artist Natasha Johns-Messenger in which, as her notes describe, she attempts to explore knowledge and perception.
The surprise of seeing myself framed by a view of the gardens at the end of the hall will remain with me for a long time. By her skilful placement of mirrors the artist really manages to confuse and confound our senses. But it’s much more that a hall of mirrors at a sideshow. But is it art? If one of the aims of art is to change our perceptions of our surroundings, then Natalie’s exhibition certainly does that – to everyone who enters her exhibition’s amazement and delight.
I left the exhibition wondering just what art, and in particular modern art, is. Perhaps grand daughter Clementine could be holding it in her hand outside, when her paintings of ‘Pokemon Go’ are discovered in years to come?
Last evening I had the pleasure to attend the gala opening of the Bald Archy prize for 2016 at Cleveland’s historic Grand View Hotel.
For those of you who, like me, have never heard of the Bald Archy competition, it is a parody of the Archibald Prize, an important Australian portraiture award. It usually includes cartoons or humorous works making fun of Australian celebrities. It is judged by Maude, a cockatoo. It began in 1994 at the Coolac Festival of Fun, in the tiny town of Coolac near Gundagai, New South Wales but is now a popular event presented in Sydney, Melbourne and other locations.
The Grand View Hotel is the first venue in Queensland to host the event, and last night we were treated to an opening address by the Bald Archy’s founder, Peter Batey OAM.
Peter, now well into his eightys, has a long history of his involvement with the arts in Australia, and is perhaps best known for his contribution with Barry Humphries, to the creation of Edna Everidge, while his collaboration with Reg Livermore of many of his famed characters, starting with Betty Blokk Buster is widely acknowledged.
The Bald Archy showing will continue in the upstairs gallery at the Grand View Hotel for four weeks, and if you have a sense of humour and appreciation of irreverence, satire, larrikinism then this exhibition is for you to enjoy.
The use of light figures prominently in two of the exhibitions currently at the Museum of Brisbane. One, Robyn Stacey’s ‘Cloud Land’, draws us inside her artworks as images of Brisbane from a camera obscura (pinhole camera) are captured on the walls engulfing the viewer. It’s certainly a new way of looking at our city, even if the images are necessarily upside down. As part of the Open House in Brisbane recently, I attended a practical demonstration of the camera obscura in a bedroom in the Hilton Hotel. Lying on the bed made viewing the images more comfortable, but unfortunately the day was cloudy and the images were difficult make out. Well, I suppose the exhibition was called Cloud Land.
The second ‘light’ exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane was a collection of paintings by William Bustard, an Englishman who came to Brisbane in 1921 and, unlike his compatriots of a century earlier who painted the Australian landscape in dark European colours, was profoundly impressed by the distinctive sense of light here. It figures prominently in many of his paintings. However, the biggest surprise I had was to find in a corner of the exhibition, encased in glass, an open book ‘Robinson Crusoe’ showing one of his illustrations.
For me, it was a case of remembering things I didn’t even realise I’d forgotten. I had once owned a copy of this book myself, but all memory of it had been submerged by the intervening 60 years. I wonder what ever happened to it? Perhaps it was my own book I was now privileged to look at once more?
I like the way Tim Winton describes a painting as a window. I found many windows at the NGV’s ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great’ when I visited the Melbourne gallery this week. German born Catherine the Great (Catherine II) came to power in 1762, aged 33, and ruled Russia for the next 34 years, until her death in 1796. She saw herself as a Philosopher Queen, a new kind of ruler in the age of Enlightenment. The paintings on display here represent just a minute fraction of the Hermitage Museum’s 3 million objects in its collection at St Petersburg. Each painting is a window into the life of Europe in the 18th century.
This painting was of particular interest to me. Commissioned in Rome in 1770 by Ivan Shuvalov at the request of Catherine the Great, it commemorates the Russian fleet’s victory over the Turkish squadron in the Bay of Chesme in the Aegean Sea on the night of 7 July 1770 (incidentally, at the same time that Cook was ‘discovering’ Australia for the English). Because the artist Jacob Philipp Hackert was not present at the Bay of Chesme event, he relied on advice from those involved and used specially produced maps of the location; a Russian ship was also exploded for his benefit in the port of Livorno. In 1772 the completed painting was sent to St Petersburg together with Turkish military trophies.
But the greatest window that opened for me at the exhibition was that of the life of Catherine the Great herself and of her place in Russian and world history.