Civil by name and nature: Tom Civil, Melbourne artist

“Community consultation has influenced me as an artist – it has been an unexpected consequence”.  Tom Civil

Melbourne public art is a major tourist draw-card with visitors spending hours in the inner-city suburbs photographing artworks that could rival Archibald Prize entries.  Suburbs further from the centre don’t miss out.  Mural artists like Tom Civil are experiencing a popularity they couldn’t have dreamed of ten years ago.  But what happens when the artist gets drawn to a different ‘canvas’?

I caught up with Tom as he was prepping a private commission, the façade of Farouk’s Olive on High Street, Thornbury.  He appeared quietly confident yet humble in his flannelette shirt, with an ease that hinted at long periods spent in the country. This is the mundane, non-creative part of his job and he often gets confused for a commercial painter. But hang around more than a few hours, and you’ll see, his skills would be wasted on pelmets and architraves.

He eventually added stylised olive branches and his signature stick folk to the wall surrounds of the bar windows.  He likened them to those other famous bush-inspired characters, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie but his version of sprites seem more nimble.  “I started out doing stick figures because I wasn’t confident with drawing” he said. They are two-dimensional characters with stick legs and arms, walking, running, squatting and lazing. Some wear hats, some ride bicycles and others play drums or trumpets. But they are almost ant-like in their dotting around the wall canvases, busy with their activities and tiny by comparison to the natural surrounds they inhabit.

On this day, Tom was working just metres away from the Darebin Council commissioned mural, The Wanderers.  Familiar monarch butterflies flit around gum branches and leaves on the side wall of the Crisalida Child, Adolescent, Adult and Family Therapy service.  Look closer though, and you are enchanted to see little stick figures, his “stick folk” also hanging around in the branches.  The chrysalises and butterflies are a gentle reference to the work of transformation going on behind the wall.  His work has been sought after by a number of local kindergartens and other places of learning at all ends of the spectrum.

Deakin University also commissioned a mural in 2014 that sits opposite the Student Centre covering a “boring concrete wall” as described by Deakin University on Twitter.  The University of Life is hidden from the main promenade, but large groups of stick folk meet in circles to make their presence felt in the student services precinct. There are no pens, no technology, no books, but due to their context, they must all be students.

The University Of Life Mural Tom Civil Artist  2014 Burwood Mutant Way

The University of Life photo courtesy of Tom Civil

Just as authors sometimes manage to trick their friends into thinking they’ve portrayed them in books, the skill of a mural artist is in capturing the sense of a place or community so that anyone wandering past finds a representation of themselves in the work.

Tom sees his creations as fun fairies, characters from a spirit world, yet even in their whimsical environments, they seem to speak of some serious issues: environment, community, inclusion and identity. It is precisely for this reason that he is called on to undertake these murals around Melbourne, and crossing town I visited his latest commission.

Jacob Stammers has been running the Pocket Café, a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop on Melrose Street for four and a half years. He asked a street artist friend where he might find someone to paint a mural opposite his little shop.  When the City of Melbourne also got involved they suggested the same person, Tom Civil.

Early in 2016 the community held a Really Good Day.  Residents gathered and talked about their ideas for lightening up the drab tunnel between shops that leads into the housing estate. Jacob said that the rainbow that was drawn in chalk a year earlier, was painted over by Tom in the weeks during the Marriage Equality Survey.

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Melrose Street Mural, North Melbourne, photo courtesy of Tom Civil

Yet the rainbow is a universal symbol. “Kids love rainbows,” says Tom.  Kites, banners, dogs and bicycles all join the rainbow in a hillside scene that melds into the driveway onto the estate, “every element that was suggested by the community became incorporated in the final product”, said Jacob.  He said many people stop to look at the mural, and it has lifted a previously neglected space.

Community commissions can be complex and involve consultations with council, residents and local traders extending over many months, if not years. While Tom enjoys the feedback he gets while out in public doing a mural, the organisation and consultation required can be tiring when balancing the creative aspects of painting.  He was happy to put this on hold to work on his Life Together: New ‘Stick Folk’ Stories exhibition at No Vacancy Gallery, QV Building, Melbourne during April.

For this exhibition Tom has exchanged paintbrushes, rollers and spray cans around the city for drawing with pencils and paper, etching tools and lino in his Collingwood studio. It necessitates travelling an inward, more solitary path, developing his ideas and building a body of work using the same stick-folk and natural themes in limited edition prints. These are more intimate versions of his pubic murals, and he’s relishing the new possibilities, “I personally think that my prints are much better than my murals.  But that might be because it is rare to do murals purely for yourself, and you’re always needing to please people”. He has achieved listing with Port Jackson Press, so he seems to have a realistic view of the value of his work.

There are many aspects he enjoys about creating smaller pieces of art, “Print-making is an accessible art form – it is multiples, one of twenty, not a stand-alone expensive artwork. I love that thought of my work going out there, getting out there”.  He produces work in many price-ranges, “people like small things, finding special spaces in their homes”. In the studio he also enjoys pushing past the edges of his creative practice.

Tom found a stack of old mirrors in a second hand shop and it prompted work with a new medium.  The drawback is getting glass dust everywhere, but the process of etching on mirror has opened up new horizons, “As soon as I finished that mirror, I wanted to do another one because I hadn’t mastered the craft.”  He has also begun working with another new technique, oil-stick painting, and he seemed to still be deciding whether he was happy to have these go on show. Perhaps it is his humble, self-taught artistic beginnings that keep him experimenting, yet also leave him uncertain about their merit.

Tom Civil was born in Waverley, Sydney but at the time his family were living on a farm out of Willow Tree, near Tamworth until he was about two years old. Until he was five, his family “did the farming thing” near Walcha, then spent 5 years in Uralla in an old run-down hospital/nursing home with a derelict pool and tennis court.  The cheap $40K price tag was said to be because it was haunted.

When he was 10 years old, his parents split and he moved with his mum and brother, Ned, to live in Bronte, the beachside suburb of Sydney. He is unashamedly a “city kid with a country heart”.  Some of his best memories were the trips he made with his brother back to visit his dad in Uralla each school holidays. And maybe the freedom, space and ability to run off by himself have prepared him well for the life of an artist.  He has taken inspiration from his dad, who, having worked in the disability sector, also writes and is an artist who makes sculptures with “beautiful junk” sourced from the tip and elsewhere.

He credits his school days with being the type of person who can talk with anyone, starting at Rocky River Public School in Uralla then Bronte Public School, then with financial support from his grandparents, the private boys school, Cranbook School.  His mother, a psychologist and filmmaker, supported his move in year 11 to the Australian Independent International School that was established in the 1970s, but has now disappeared under a freeway near Macquarie University. This was the beginning of social activism for Tom.  Students were on first-name basis with teachers and all could contribute to assemblies.

After school, he moved to Newcastle where he completed a degree in Environmental Science in 1999. He was living in share houses and immersed in environmental activism and independent media by this time, and had also just met his partner, Lou.

It was Lou’s connections to Melbourne as well as visiting for the World Economic Forum Protest, S11 with a bunch of friends in a van, which prompted the couple to move.  It wasn’t a long-term plan, but they have lived in Melbourne ever since.  Tom got involved in the local activist, street and stencil-artist scene. He designed posters, flyers and worked on graphic design and the art section of the independent publication, The Paper.  He published political poster series’, zine anthologies learning this trade working with other artists.

About 10 years ago, he began to be approached to work on larger community commissions. He loved the idea that his art might take up more space and be seen by more people. His first large-scale commission was 3CR’s Collingwood studios. It was a challenging brief, artistically representing the diverse membership of the radio station community with their different stories. Still finding his style, he settled on the stick figures, “I like that the stick folk people they are so simple and have their own language so that lots of different people can connect with them.”

It is the ephemeral nature of the street art form that interests Tom.  Whether it exists for months or just a day, it isn’t meant to last, like a sand mandala that the monks spend huge amounts of time making, that’s just part of it. “You get used to people telling you they hate it or it’s rubbish. You need a thick skin because people paint over it”. But it is this transience of life that Tom knows personally as well.

Tom’s brother Ned was a fellow street artist who shared many of his passions.  They were very close. You get the impression they ‘got up to all sorts of mischief’ together. They worked together as The Evil Brothers, but also apart – Ned in Sydney and Tom in Melbourne. Ned also spent several years at the remote Aboriginal community, Warmun, two hours from Kununurra, working in the art and youth centres.  Tom visited Ned over the years and later did mural projects in the community, “I couldn’t have done that without Ned”.

Ned had found out when he was 21 that he had cystic fibrosis, an unusually late diagnosis.  “He thought a lot more about his art.  He was a bit like an old man, he always thought he was going to die at 30”.  In the month before he died in 2010, the brothers drove to Alice Springs to mount an exhibition of giant cardboard cutouts, playing with light and shadow puppets, like an installation they’d done at Redfern in Carriageworks.  Ned was sick the whole time, and found out he had bowel cancer.

The end of Ned’s life was full of frustrations for Tom, “I wanted to pick him up and carry himhome out of hospital … It was like seeing myself die because he was so similar to me – like being at my own funeral”.  For six months Tom couldn’t look at a spray can or pencil.  The loss of his best mate and accomplice was devastating but when he finally started drawing again, he couldn’t stop.  “I started to look at death in my art in a beautiful way, the ancestors are always with you”.

Tom says his loss gave him more direction in his own art and gave him confidence to do the work he wanted to do. He drew more. Whereas before he made more collages and modified images, now he’d found the confidence to create from scratch in his mind and made a lot better art.  It is a bittersweet realisation though, “But I’d really rather make really s**t art and have Ned alive”.

Tom’s work holds many symbols of his childhood and family, the New England landscape, the childhood homes in Sydney, and memorial objects but he has found an acceptance of this now, “I’m not embarrassed to celebrate the things I enjoyed in childhood.”

You can follow Tom on his site – Tom Civil and his work is available Civil Prints and for up-to-the-minute Tom activities, follow him on Instagram @thomascivilian

Incubating a writer

Yesterday, I had this small chink of a realisation. The life of sitting in my garret, feeling like I’m not doing anything, getting anywhere or achieving anything is THE WRITER’s LIFE.

The writer’s life is lonely, unforgiving, tedious, boring, sporadic, moody, uncertain, disconnected, unfocussed and I could go on. All of these become so much stronger when I think it shouldn’t be this way. The writer’s life is also reflective, contemplative, connecting, solitary, breathtaking, simple, beautiful, mindful, deep and free.  And these become amplified when I accept the reality, in full.

My battle to not accept what I perceive as the down-sides has been relentless. I have been fighting very hard and it too often ends in tears. I have always thought describing the feelings writers suffer as ‘self-loathing’ was a little melodramatic, but I now understand it perfectly and would say this pretty well sums it up.

Instead, yesterday I realised what I have been battling and how hard I have fought with the reality that is writing and I decided (and fully expect to have to keep deciding), that I don’t want this fight with myself any longer. I want to get on with the work, not complain about the reality of it.

I chose to be compassionate with myself, and realised that my problem is that all of the invisible work of writing requires great patience and resilience and is completely different yet enveloped in the joy of an outcome. Much of it isn’t actually writing, but simply living – being, observing, absorbing and becoming. It requires sitting in the uncertainty, even doubt sometimes, and just accepting this is all there is and yet this is what it takes. The growing, developing, changing, opening, allowing and surrendering require trust and faith that the outcome will come. And rather than resistance, what will help is constant self-encouragement.

So today, just now, I re-read some post-it notes I’d shoved in Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird including her noting of Geneen Roth’s sage observation,

“Awareness is learning to keep yourself company. And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage.” p. 31

 
Lamott says it herself,

“The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings.” p. 178

I read Bird by Bird back in January and wrote this post-it only two months ago, and yet it has taken this amount of time for my sub-conscious to bring it to the attention of my consciousness.  How could writing be any different.  This is the time it takes.

How then can I not treat myself with great compassion in this time when it feels like nothing is going on, but when actually the writer in me is incubating and needs my warmth, love and appreciation.

Maybe this small realisation, this chink, is how the light gets in.

Somewhere in between, Kate Bush

Tara the Liberator

I’ve always avoided White Night.  It seems like the perfect storm to me. Bright lights, hundreds of thousands of people, packed public transport.  It’s all too much for this sensitive soul. However this year was different.

I was meeting a friend visiting Melbourne from East Gippsland to go see a movie in the afternoon, and decided to do my occasional Degraves brunch to read the papers. I hadn’t realised that this day, Lunar New Year, was one of those when I avoid being out in public, but I spied a small story in The Age about a White Night experience with a difference, an audience with Tara the Liberator.

After our movie, Phantom Thread , Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed last film and a slightly disturbing period piece with LOTS of amazing dresses, I suggested to my friend that I’d like to see Tara. I was pretty sure it was on at Hamer Hall, from memory, but I confirmed by stealing the article from Tiamo, aided by a couple of customers sitting in the window, “take the whole paper,” they said.  I just took the article and we set out to meet some other friends and drag them along too.

My Christian up-bringing focussed on ‘only one God’, but my comparative religious education also included spending 18 months of my childhood in Bangladesh where I danced for Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge and Wisdom) pujas and witnessed the ornately decorated clay and bamboo Durga (Mother Goddess) being dropped in the river, a portent to the quality of crops for the year.  So why have one God, when you can have many to cover all the challenges of life? And why not have some female ones? Given the year that 2017 was, it seemed an auspicious opportunity to spend some time with a female one.  I found my goddess of choice on White Night, sheltered in the cave that is Hamer Hall.

Descending the three flights of escalators, we entered at the stalls level of the recently updated hall and there she was in her glorious green, radiant translucence.  Tara is joined by 21 others depicted on this 15 metre high by 9.5 metre wide canvas painting made in three sections.  She sits cross-legged in a dance posture, right leg slightly extended – ready to jump into action.  Her left leg is close to her body, indicating her full control over subtle inner energies. My question is what to do about the not-so-subtle inner energies!

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Tara the Liberator is the representation of “profound wisdom that is the mother all the Buddhas with constant and unconditional BIG LOVE for all beings, without exception”.  Don’t we all wish for that.

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Photo: Azriel Ferro

She reminded me of the character from Norse mythology, Erda, who I first me in Wagner’s Adelaide Ring Cycle in 2004. In the rendering of that spectacular version, Elke Neidhardt (who sadly passed away in 2013), had the earth mother contralto, sing the role with a costume that appeared to leave one breast exposed. What a powerful portrayal of feminine power and energy.  Maybe she was fashioned on Tara.

We sat for some time in the subdued lighting usually reserved these days for The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cluny Museum or Van Gogh’s Haystacks visiting exhibit at the NSW Art Gallery.  We bathed in the eastern sounds of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s mantras with gentle music. Some closed their eyes, some read the laminated card descriptions and I wept. Over 3,000 people visited during the night, moved by the scale of this artwork and the deep peace and calm that the experience brought. We left to have dinner, at the cheap and cheerful, Om Vegetarian but part-way through the meal, I felt a strong urge to return. My companions were similarly drawn back so we returned for more contemplation and meditation before retreating from White Night relatively early.

There were several other activities that one could busy oneself with in the foyer including making origami lotus flowers, signing petitions and learning about other up-coming events (March 17th, 7pm – 2am at White Night, Ballarat) and the final resting place (Buddhist Tara Institute, East Brighton) of this beautiful art work.

The artist, master thangka painter, Swiss man, Peter Iseli and his Tibetan wife, Jangchub worked on this piece for over four years at a Buddhist centre in Toulouse.

If you live in Melbourne, I’d throughly recommend a visit to see Tara the Liberator/21 Taras Thangka in Ballarat this weekend or at East Brighton (although I’m not sure of whether it will be displayed or just housed and brought out for special occasions).

It was certainly liberating.

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Yarra River with Melbourne Skyline: White Night

Planning my passions and the year of firsts

… or why choosing a diary is the most important decision I make each year.

People don’t usually get gushy about their diary, however mine has always been very important to me, and selecting my partner in crime each year is a case for careful consideration. I hold my potential suitor in my hands, imagining my year panning out and vacillate about what colour to get.  Last year I found out for the first time what choosing the wrong one feels like, and it strengthened my resolve to not let that happen again!

The other diary

I went out on a limb in 2017, leaving aside my usual Moleskine to buy a small, but chunky peppermint-green leather-bound diary from Kikki-K, because I thought it looked cute. My new crush. Well, the branch broke. Not only did the weeks not ‘run’ the way my usual Moleskins had (resulting in me messing up ticket bookings for Saul at the Adelaide Festival), but I also couldn’t see to write in it without my glasses.  This partner was cute but it sent me confusing messages.

The weekly quotes would’ve been great, but I didn’t even realise they were there until half-way through the year because they were so tiny I couldn’t read them. This little book completely discombobulated me! I could even go so far as to say, it stuffed up 2017 good and proper (well, it’s a good excuse).  What amazed me was that I stuck with it, being the loyal diarist I am, and limped on with a substandard item for the whole year, not even considering separation, divorce or even an affair with a more inspiring squeeze.

My soulmate

So when a discussion on a Facebook group began in earnest amongst business-minded misfits centring around people’s choice of non-digital planning tools, I pricked up my eyes. One little gem that was mentioned and seconded by many on the thread was a Passion Planner. Users sounded delighted with their significant other. I googled, watched YouTubes, downloaded the templates, tested them out, and purchased one that day!

Organising time is one of those things that is crucial for someone like me with days of unstructured time stretching before me like a magic carpet.  It is easy to get carried off to some crevice of the internet and get stuck down there for hours, so any tool that assists one to keep on track is really important.  A central place to keep all of one’s intentions, personal and business, is key. Like a friend who constantly asks you about your latest pet project, I am finding that a Passion Planner is really keeping me honest.  I haven’t been able to stop raving about this little bible since I received it in the new year, and two friends have already gone ahead and bought one after they’d seen mine.

When I’ve told people about my new flame, they’ve told me it seems a little like a bullet journal – the first time I’d heard of one of those was at a Melbourne Writers Week Moleskin Coffee and Create session in 2017. Madeleine Dore of Extraordinary Routines hosted Sam van Zweden and Karen Andrews to discuss their creative routines. Even after that conversation I was none the wiser about a bullet journal, and besides, I think I’ve found my perfect match, so I’m not too sure I’d even want to contemplate another.  I’m sure though that their conversation left me ripe for a change of heart from my little peppermint brick to my light blue dreamweaver!

How do you use a Passion Planner?

Well, the premise is: writing down one’s goals is the first step to achieving them. You begin by setting out your Passion Roadmap – your wish-list for today, 3 months, one year, 3 years and lifetime goals. Then you create from this a passion plan and then insert these steps into your monthly and weekly openings.

Each month, there is an opening for the month-long planner. There are boxes allocated  to define the month’s focus, the people you want to see, the places to go and the most important thing for me so far – the ‘Not to do list’. Also there are personal and work project spaces in addition to the month-long planner. Finally there is a space for a mind-map of this month’s game-changer. I’m using this space to use some cute little ship stickers I bought in France. They symbolise 2018 – full steam ahead!

Monthly Planning

Passion Planner Monthly Opening

Heading into the weekly openings, once again you can choose a focus, fill in Personal and Work ‘to do’ lists,  let your creative drawing run wild in the Space of Infinite Possibility and progressively list the good things that happen. An extra bonus is the inspirational quote for the week plus a little activity to do based on the quote.  Mine last week was Maya Angelou’s, just when I needed to hear it!!

“When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time”.

If this isn’t amazing enough, each day’s column is headed by a box for the day’s focus, and then proceeds in half hour increments from 6am – 10.30pm. And this goes every day. For freelancers like myself, this is vital.  A diary that only considers you work on weekdays is like a boyfriend who gets grumpy when you catch up with your girlfriends – problematic and it cramps your style! And while on the topic of girlfriends, I have noticed a new and helpful capacity for tracking my monthly catch-ups and social outings. I have been grateful for the way this diary is showing me what wonderful women I know and what a rich social life I have – all through the process of listing good things and taking stock of each week. A Passion Planner is much nicer company than a grumpy boyfriend.

Weekly Planner

Passion Planner Weekly Opening

There is lots of space to give your Passion Planner your own special creative touch. A friend looked on Etsy for stickers she could use, but instead of buying the stickers, she copied the little icons, and it looks just the same, giving her pages an arty/graphic designer kind of feel. You can get lots of wonderful ideas on YouTube from expert and passionate planners who go to town with Japanese washi tape, fluoro markers, stamps, stickers etc. There are so many ideas for tracking new habits, lists, holiday planning etc. And one of the things that tells me I’ve got my mojo back, is that I’ve re-discovered my penchant for decorating my planner with cute or pertinent cut-outs from magazines – something I began doing in the 1990s!  So here are some of my pages to give you an idea.

Once you’ve had your month, there is an opening devoted to your Monthly Reflection. You look back and note the most memorable aspects, biggest lessons, how you are different this month to last and what you’re grateful for. You take stock of your priorities, and note the things you want to improve and the concrete steps you’ll take to get there during the coming month.

Monthly Reflection

Passion Planner Monthly Reflection

Then once you get past the diary itself, you’re into 20 blank pages followed by 23 pages of graph paper.  There are no maps, no holiday calendars, no world holidays, no international dialling lists, no international paper sizes, no conversion tables, no weights and measures table, no Staff Leave charts (who has staff???), within cooee of this little gem of a book.  Nothing exists in this diary/journal that you don’t either need, or design yourself.

I have been using blank pages to write lists – 2018 Books I’ve read, 2018 Books I want to read, Things to Remember about 2017 etc.  The whole reason for writing this post though, was to celebrate one of my pages – Year of Firsts. There have only been six weeks so far, but I have delivered a Webinar, began aqua-aerobics and presented at an outside broadcast on radio for 3MBS Bach Marathon at the Melbourne Recital Centre.  What a great way to celebrate my passionate firsts.

Other benefits

Another useful tip the planner suggests is to share your passions. Find that in-real-life friend who will keep you honest about your goals and tasks for the week.  This has been a great source of inspiration, motivation and solidarity. We talk by phone once a week for much longer than our allocated 20 minutes, but that’s the nature of good, supportive friendships, isn’t it!

Drawbacks

Just to keep it real, there is one drawback for me. Just as your steady, sweetie pie or darling might have a few things you’d like to improve, the Passion Planner is no exception. Although, unlike the real version, this little dreamboat has only one. I’d love it to have the beautiful cream-coloured pages of my ex, the Moleskin. But I’m willing to compromise, as is important in any ongoing relationship.

What version of diary is your beloved for 2018?

PS: I haven’t been given anything by Passion Planner for spruiking how great they are … YET! If anyone wants to purchase one, if you mention you heard about it from me, I might get a free one next year. Just saying.

Woman with Altitude or, I am woman hear me draw

For years and years, I have kept a box of cards and letters that I have received from my friend Helen.  The cards began before the letters: birthdays, Christmas and just ‘cos exchanges, that morphed into longer letters when Helen got her first job in the country, 400kms from Adelaide.

They tell of a time where we were both testing our ideas, becoming adults with opinions, sharing jokes and quotes, extending and showing off our vocabularies, and of course revealing the inevitable love stories.  Here I’d found a friend that ‘got me’ and while I missed her not being in Adelaide, our friendship via correspondence was always a source of great joy and continues, albeit less frequently, until today.

One of the cards we exchanged (I can’t remember whether I gave it to her, or she to me or whether I’m making it up completely) was by Judy Horacek, Woman with Altitude.  Judy’s work was always appealing – it charted our conversations, the personal and the political.  It acknowledged the inequalities women faced, with sometimes a not-so-gentle, cheeky, raised middle finger to patriarchy.

In the intervening years Judy has also been skilfully creating art for children’s books and worked with Mem Fox (coincidentally Helen’s university lecturer, and mother of Chloë, whom I sat next to in Year 9) on her books Where is the Green Sheep, This and That and Ducks Away.

This history all came together one chilly day in 2017 when I decided to visit Judy Horacek’s exhibit in the Melbourne Rare Book Week.

One of the welcome additions to the week-long rare-book fest is the celebration of art in books. Mini exhibitions have been hosted by the Melbourne Athenaeum Library (worth a visit if you’ve never been there).

So it was a serendipitous moment when I pushed through the wooden framed, glass doors of the old reading room, and walked up to a spritely woman who greeted me enthusiastically,

“Hello, I’m Judy”

“THE Judy”

“Yes!”

So we had a writerly exchange and she did as all authorpreneurial authors should – encouraged me to buy her book, Random Life.  How could I resist with all that history, an autograph and a very poignant foreword by John Clarke? Actually I couldn’t and I bought a couple.

The exhibit was small, consisting of a few limited edition prints and two displays in glass cabinets, of books and ephemera, but I was on top of the world, so size didn’t matter.

Look out for the 2018 instalment of the free Melbourne Rare Book Week – one never knows who one will meet!

 

New releases on plane journeys

Don’t new releases on airplane journeys make you feel like you’re getting something for free?  I think so.

It was a while ago now, but on my last long-haul flights, I made the most of the in-flight entertainment, even though I’d promised myself I wouldn’t. It does help to pass a good 6-8 hours easily.  Maybe I feel encouraged to write these, as I’m on the threshold of booking some more.

Woman in Gold (2015) Simon Curtis

A steeled Jewish refugee takes on the Austrian government to seek the return of Gustav Klimt’s painting, Woman in Gold, a portrait of her aunt.  I noted the words, “Reservoirs of affection”.  I was struck by the way all evidence of the ‘gifting’ of the painting was manufactured to cover up that it was stolen. In a way this made the people disappear, with the art.  Do the good things of life fall into people’s laps?  Or do they make them happen, “If the good things don’t come on their own I must make them, and that’s what I intend to do”.

Randol Schoenberg: It’s hard to believe Hitler once applied to be an art student here. Maria Altmann: I wish they’d have accepted him.

While we’re young (2015) Noah Baumbach

What a clever man Noah Baumbach is. Bookended by David Bowie’s, Golden Years, which subliminally beckons ‘angel’, this film is about a couple in the midst of an angsty ‘do we want children’ phase, premised on some dialogue from Ibsen’s play, The Master Builder.

What happens when someone is knocking on the door to our life, and we’re not letting them in alla the Wings song, Let ’em in?  What does living without children mean?  Where do the lines get drawn in with the advent of  ‘reality’ everything. Noah weaves music, theatre, pop-culture and generation gaps together into a rich brocade.

Ben Stiller is not my favourite actor, but in this movie he’s great as the slightly washed-up film-maker, and although the story centres around two sets of couples, the female characters, Cornelia (Naomi Watts) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) seem to take a back-seat.  The script made fun of the generation gap, containing some great one liners “he saw me on EBay”, “my dad like to say, the more, the more”, and “he’s not evil, he’s just young”.

“I tell you the younger generation will one day come and thunder at my door! They will break in upon me!” says the Master Builder. To which he receives the reply, “Then… open the door.”

Cinderella (2015) Kenneth Branagh

With a fairy-tale trip to Europe, why not watch Cinderella.  Maybe it was just the state of mind I was in, but I saw more in this story than I had before, a child who loses from the result of a new blended family, only wishing to be truly seen, and ending up being ‘found’ by a handsome and wealthy prince. I suppose this is the continuing purpose of story, to reinforce some kind of fairy-tale ending.

But it felt different to that for me.  It had some more depth, “I hope they treat you well – as well as they are able,” being an acknowledgement that some people just don’t have it in them to treat others well. “Don’t lose heart”, and “not look outside our borders – look within to find courage and kindness”.  Aided by shape-shifting animals, Cinderella doesn’t lose heart and gains wisdom. To me it was saying the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we truly are. Cinderella’s mother seemed to be on the money,
“I have to tell you a secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer. Have courage and be kind.”

Wonderful actors, Cate Blanchett, Derek Jacobi, Rob Brydon and Helena Bonham Carter.

2nd Best Marigold Hotel (2015) John Madden

I’m really far too young to be enjoying films about septuagenarians retiring to India, especially sequels, but maybe it is my enduring connection to the east established as a child.  Or maybe it is just that the attitude of the characters Judi Dench and Maggie Smith play is so useful.  Women of this age are over all the rubbish, comfortable in their own skin and are happy just telling it like it is. When does one really get comfortable with that? “I don’t do advice, I do opinions.”

Maybe it is also the wisdom contained in films like these,  “You have no idea now what you will become, don’t try and control it. Let go. That’s when the fun starts. Because as I once heard someone say “There’s no present like the time”” and “Sometimes it seems to me that the difference between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash.” and “Coincidence is just a word for when we cannot see the bigger picture.”

Add in Billy Nighy and Celia Imrie and really it is such a fun film, “That’s a great accent, are you from Australia?”

“There is no such thing as an ending, just a place where you leave the story.”

Rubbishing Belair National Park

There are several reasons I am grateful for growing up in South Australia.  Not least, because I grew up with Keep South Australia Beautiful or KESAB, Tidy Towns and 10c container deposits. Having lived in the eastern states metropolises of Sydney then Melbourne I was always rather proud of my litter-averse upbringing while observing the cesspits that are the waterways and drains of these cities. However my recent walks through the Belair National Park have reminded me that keeping South Australia Beautiful requires constant vigilance, if the natural environment is not to descend into rubbish-saturated neglect.

On my 2016 Christmas visit, I wrote of my enchantment with the beautiful park of my youth and re-discovering it along the Lorikeet Loop Walk and Valley Loop Hike.  This season, I’ve again indulged in my morning ritual, traversing the rises and gullies of this wonderful public park.  However this time, the walks were reminding me more of the homes I left back east, where it is normal to walk for 5 minutes and find several depositable containers, cigarette butts and miscellaneous discarded wrappers making the streets more closely resemble Smokey Mountain of Manila than the famed Tidy Towns.  Don’t get me started on the Merri Creek or the Cooks River!

After a couple of days of my usual route, I had spied several items including deposit containers, and noted an intention to bring a bag to collect them. The next day, I discovered the ‘gift’ of a carefully-folded bread bag within my first 10 minutes of walking.  Armed with my receptacle, I had even more reason for collecting the rubbish on the way.

First it was mostly tissues and wipes, then later I even found coffee cups and gelato spoons. I even perched on the side of a hill, holding onto a tree to pluck coffee cups and slushi spoons with Inspector Gadget arms (ie. a stick).  Despite the dangling 20c prize, I had to leave the long-neck beer bottle and the soft-drink can – retrieving them might have seen me slip arse over tit and end up at the bottom of the hill. By the time I finished my hour something walk, I’d filled the bread bag, and when I returned home, I assembled the booty to take stock of what people discard along paths in National Parks.

So the song I had going in my head this year, did not feature partridges, nor kangaroos, but rubbish.

On my walk in Belair Park, some kind folks left for me:

7 plastic containers

6 bits of paper

5 baby wipes

4 calling cards

3 tissues

2 dog poo bags

and a neatly folded bread bag

I think the park needs to put up a sign to remind people that tissues and baby wipes have plastic in them and take a long time to break down and to take care to take these products with them when they leave the park.  Do baby wipes EVER break down? And anyway, what’s wrong with a flannel!

A note from the Kleenex site – “Kleenex® Tissue is made with biodegradable cellulose fibers. Because the tissue is made with an additive to make it strong, it will not break down as rapidly as bathroom tissue. Therefore, we suggest you discard Kleenex® Tissue in the trash”.  ie. this ‘additive’ is probably plastic!

From the Huggies baby wipes site “Coform is made by combining microscopic and continuous plastic fibres with wood pulp (cellulose) fibres”. Just what we need, more microscopic plastic fibres in the environment!!

I agree with the park’s refusal to provide bins, because they attract more rubbish than they clean up, and really it is our personal responsibility to take our rubbish with us.

Come on SA, lift your game!  Constant vigilance, remember!  Keep South Australia Beautiful. Sure, it takes a little extra effort to take rubbish with you, but having lived in places where people just don’t care, I know that our stunning and precious SA environment is worth looking after.

Just for interest, here is the full list of items:

plastic spoon/fork handle

spent balloon

slushie straw

plastic tree tag

Safcol tuna tin

pink plastic tree tie

plastic coffee lid

icecream cup

2 intact plastic dog poo bags

1 disintegrating plastic dog poo bag

ticket

plastic silver

coffee cup

plastic cup

part of a cup

plastic yoghurt container

plastic bubble-tea lid

miscellaneous plastic

plastic gelato spoon

cloth handkerchief

part plastic cup

plastic sandwich wrap

6 bits of paper

cigarette butt

elastic

Snickers wrapper

Hubba Bubba bubblegum wrapper

child’s sock

misc ticket

blue plastic

3 tissues

5 baby wipes

Coles white bread bag

Chronology of story-telling: Fencer, Arrival, Rosalie and La La Land

Christmas 2016

It must be the holiday season. I’ve seen four films in the last couple of weeks. It seems the themes are the extensive use of flashbacks/chronology as a technique and the contrast of masculine and feminine energy and intent.

Rosalie Blum, Julien Rappeneau (2015)

I think I see French films because I keep needing things to remind me of or pull me towards France.  I love finding the familiar in French films. In Midnight in Paris, I smiled realising I’d eaten in the Polidor restaurant and in the Scarlet Pimpernel the vision of Mont Saint Michel sent a tentacle in the 1980s that only pulled me to visit 30 years later.

In Rosalie Blum, the setting seemed familiar and was confirmed by the tiny red and white balisage on the tree outside Rosalie’s house. I was dragged back to the landscape of my first Camino outing on the Vezelay Route. The bridges of Charite-sur-Loire and Nevers brought back those familiar French tourist feelings. Familiar also was the Nakshi Katha tapestry in the young woman’s bedroom – but this took me back to Bangladesh.

This film deals with family issues – mothers and absent fathers. They’re complicated, and they are a problem that doesn’t get solved.  I’m not going to say a thing about the plot, because it unfolds perfectly and if you know anything about it, the effect will be spoilt. What I can say is that like many films I’ve seen from this part of the world, there is a delightful interplay between generations and a cheeky, tricky little mystery that slowly gets explained. The wonderful charm of a French film, unravelling and revealling itself slowly, leaves ends that are not neatly tied.  This is life isn’t it! And the French get it.

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve (2016)

This clever film in the ilk of the Alien series, deals with the shock and terror of visitors from outer space and the global response to them.  Playing extensively with chronology in plot and setting, this film brought to focus the differing energies that can be brought to bear on common problems.  The ‘macho shoot-em up’ leading to crisis, while the patient and curious feminine communicating/reasoning towards understanding.  Ultimately it lays bare the only way forward for the human race: together.  Too much more explanation would give the film away. Great performances from Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. This one’s well worth seeing.

The Fencer, Klaus Härö (2015)

Fencing has always held some mystique for me.  This was expertly developed in Arturo Perez Reverte’s, The Fencing Master, and it has been beautifully showcased in The Fencer. In line with the chronology theme of these movies, the history of the main character unfolds in this film and along with it touches on the uneasiness of hiding and the need to find purpose in the limbo of hiding out. The realities are brutal in this small community where a teacher, finding everything being stacked against him, one item of sporting equipment at a time, uses his one enduring skill to engage with the young girls and boys of the school.  The dull but total threat of a totalitarian regime on a small communities that want the best for their children becomes clearer as the fencer gallantly provides the ultimate opportunity for his young but devoted pupils.  It is a beautiful, yet sparse film which despite the frosty setting, is imbued with great warmth and depth of character of the fencer, his students and their parents. Not lost on me was the juxtaposition of the nimble-footed chivalry of fencing with the lead-weighted power play of post WWII Europe.

La La Land, Damien Chazelle (2016)

A romantic, modern day equivalent of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie – casting Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to tell the age-old story of falling in love and following your passion.  Surprisingly, it was a musical, something I hadn’t realised before the first song, and as it often does with surprise musicals, I was a little taken aback. I should’ve known with the opening credits taking place with a massed highway (carpark) scene with hundreds of dancers.

With allusions to a Hollywood film of yester-year, with modest dress and good manners, it kept with the storyline of an actress struggling with resilience in the face of rejection and a traditionalist-jazz musician not wanting to let jazz die. Not surprisingly, it didn’t reach the Astaire/Rogers heights.

With a tinge of Sliding Doors, and once again messing with chronology, this musical film proved a spectacle which defies categorising. After John Legend appeared, I wondered if he’d written the score, but no.

It is a feel-good film (ie. take it or leave it) about the importance of never giving up on your dream, but also the reassuring support that your champions give you while you’re still aspiring.  It reminded me of the quote “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and will sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” C.S. Lewis