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

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ON AIR: 40 years of 3RRR

Last year I took the unprecedented step of subscribing to not one, but two local community radio stations, RRR 102.7FM and PBS 106.7FM.  I kind of got sucked into their subscribe-a-thons because they do such a great job with them, but I also figured I do listen to them when I’m driving around in a GoGet car, and certainly get my money’s worth. What is  great about listening is the absence of whiny and insistent ads for things you neither think about nor want to buy.

Public and independent radio has for a long time been my much-loved medium for information, thoughtful comment and music (my other favourites are of course ABC Classic FM and ABC Radio National). I sometimes engage deeply when I am listening to broadcasts, and I blogged about one such experience in Skirting the Doldrums. Listening to radio sends me on philosophical tangents, takes me delving into filing cabinets worth of memories and often makes me laugh or cry. In the form of independent radio, it can bring a diversity of sounds and opinions that is so sadly lacking from mainstream media.

As part of Melbourne Rare Book week in 2016, I was lucky enough to take a guided tour of the hallowed conservator’s room in the State Library of Victoria where we were shown some large posters that were being prepared for the upcoming RRR exhibit to mark their 40 year anniversary,  ON AIR: 40 years of 3RRR. Being newish to Melbourne, it was not until I wandered into the State Library of Victoria just before Christmas that I saw the manifestation of the strong and vibrant grassroots movement I’d joined. The space set aside in the Keith Murdoch gallery of the State Library of Victoria forms a fitting tribute to the hours of audio, hundreds of volunteers, social and musical history of Melbourne community radio.

It is an interesting challenge to showcase the history of audio and musical culture in a building housing a collection devoted to books but it is successful in its multi-media approach. Ranging from letters to the station, posters and other ephemera to a collection of audio devices found in the station and prepared video interviews with station stalwarts, this display was a walk down memory lane for a child of the 1970s whose musical experience spans exactly the same era. I’m sure for music lovers who have resided in Melbourne during the last 40 years, this exhibition would re-kindle many memories. The display also speaks to the symbiotic relationship between the station and the local/national alternative music culture and industry.

The value of RRR is in the alternative voice it brings to Melbourne’s cultural mix. The fact that it has lived and grown to a community of over 12,000 people in the 40 years is a testament to the need for it and it has now taken on a life of its own, “It’s there as an alternative to the mainstream. It’s a bit like a footy team – committee men (sic) come and go, players come and go, but the fans and the colours stay the same” Leaping Larry L, 2004.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit. It is a free exhibition and its showing has been extended until 26th February, 2017 at the State Library of Victoria.

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Colourful architecture, French clocks and cricket balls.

Postcard from Christmas 2013

Until today, for me, portobello was a type of mushroom. Now I’ve had a Notting Hill experience (who was it that suggested it to me? Thanks btw), it will henceforth also mean colourful architecture, French clocks and cricket balls.

I started with a late breakfast at Jamie’s Recipease (a complete surprise I happened across after alighting from the #28 red double decker bus but not the same without my friend Jo W, [and after Googling, I realise closed just recently]). I got to write my journal upstairs at the East-facing, full length, sunny window bench whilst six keen adherents whisked furiously behind me at Jamie’s cooking class sans my friends Joanne R and Janelle (who would’ve loved it). 

Despite the sign for the Robert Redford film showing across the road at the Gate Cinemaall was not lost when I finally decided to venture back outside into the cool air wondering where all the crowds were heading. I followed, and found Portobello Road.

I’m glad to be here in winter – it would be even more of a human traffic jam if the road was fully packed with stalls, as I’m sure it is in summer.  I passed the showy counterfeit watches at the road stalls and shimmied into the second-hand shops in 6th-hand buildings, only to find real French clocks, silver-topped walking canes and cricket balls. I could even have purchased Banksy reproduction, if I’d been inclined.

I had a rustic Italian ‘dinner’ at 3.30pm consisting of artichoke risotto accompanied by prosecco then biscotti with espresso chaser at Osteria Basilico. This delightful corner ristorante was still decked out with its red Christmas decorations and snow covered fir tree branches in the window. It looked so inviting, how could I resist? Such a lovely accompaniment to the crisp weather.

No photos – you’ll just have to imagine.

Featured image by John Eckman, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons license Portobello Road, W11, London

Lorikeet Loop Walk, Belair National Park

There is nothing like a walk in the Australian bush at Christmas time to bring to mind the fanciful nature of the rituals we cling to.  Mention of Rudolf, sleigh bells and decorated fir trees conjures images from literally half a world away from the reality that is any one of our many Australian landscapes.  Australians have the uncanny ability to celebrate one thing, when observing in nature the complete opposite.

I have lived the European Christmas once. This week presented a sad reminder of it. I was at once enchanted and flabbergasted by the stark truth of celebrating the season depicted on our cards, carols and gift wraps, while rugged up to visit two German Christmas markets. Drinking mulled wine from little purpose-made cups, wandering between countless stalls full of handmade Christmas decorations and foods, the wafting smells of hot pretzels and sugar were perfect for the chilly weather of the northern hemisphere. It was not incongruous with our Christmas culture, just our Christmas place.

I returned to my home town of Adelaide this week to be with family and friends, and took the opportunity to walk each morning in the Belair National Park, literally down the hill from where I was born, in the dene where I grew up.  Sunday School picnics, primary school excursions and Corroborees (probably well-meaning yet insensitively-named back in the 1970s, with no mention of the traditional Kaurna owners) and later friend’s weddings at Old Government House have etched this landscape into long-term memory and imprinted familiar sensations.  My grandfather’s patient volunteering eradicating bone seed make this place the closest I have to a place of my ancestors, for a South-Australian of European extraction.

This magnetic park draws me each time I return home and I’ve become very familiar with the lovely 40 minute Lorikeet Loop Walk (and sometimes Valley Loop Hike extension to get the walk to over an hour).  In this week, there has been a gradual build up to the hottest Christmas day for 70-odd years for Adelaide, but despite the already warm mornings, the walks were shaded and not yet uncomfortably hot.

It is a testament to the hard work of the rangers (Harry Butler-types you sometimes see passing in their utes) that the wildlife is flourishing in the park.  The Belair Recreation Park of my childhood in 1970s was a very different place. Tall, abundantly leafy, introduced trees casting their cool, solid shade widely between well-tended ovals skirted by painted corrugated-iron huts evoking the deep green of Europe. Today, due to diligent work of volunteers also, this park contains many stands of the subtle coloured eucalypt grasslands now rare in the rest of the Adelaide Hills and plains, but the perfect and necessary environment for kangaroos, emus, koalas, bright pink and grey galahs, yellows of sulphur-crested cockatoos, bright blue of the Superior blue wrens, wood-ducks, magpies, kookaburras and crows – all of whom made their presence felt as I walked my daily circuit.

It felt like an Australian rendition of a partridge in a pear tree some mornings or rather a koala in a gum tree as I walked these beautiful tracks, collecting the list of wildlife that joined me.  But true to the experience, the perfect song accompaniment for this bush Christmas is not Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer or the Twelve Days of Christmas, but William Garnet James and John Wheeler’s more apt, Carol of the Birds:

Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Down where the tree ferns grow by the river
There where the waters sparkle and quiver
Deep in the gullies bell-birds are chiming
Softly and sweetly their lyric notes rhyming
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Friar birds sip the nectar of flowers
Currawongs chant in the wattle tree bowers
In the blue ranges lorikeets calling
Carols of bushbirds rising and falling
Orana!  Orana!  Orana to Christmas Day

Greetings of the season to you!

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