Category Archives: Diary

A fortnight in verse 4

The first stanza is a true travel story. The second just went where it wanted to go.

A fortnight away (part four)
We found it still warm from its owner’s bum
in Monkey Forest Road, a wallet–phone
with cards ID and cash. Good luck! His name
was not John Smith. We tracked him down
on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram,
mailed his office, messaged, left no stone
unturned. He tweeted back. The lost was found.
We met – old friends, it felt – he bought a round.

What do tourists really want? Why would you
leave your land, your home, your friends, your kin?
For taksi, transport, massage, drink or food? You
must want more. The waft against your skin
of other gods? Ganesha’s charm has wooed you?
Some ads say ‘paradise’; some hint at sin.
Could you be here for Violet DNA,
the cure for everything? Or eat, love, pray?

A fortnight in verse 3

It’s raining, so I get to add to my holiday verses. Part of the second stanza paraphrases a quote recalled from Michelle De Kretser’s The Hamilton Case:

The coloniser returns as a tourist, you see. And he is mad for difference. That is the luxury commodity we now supply, as we once kept him in cinnamon and sapphires.

The first stanza is the only example I witnessed of a tourist behaving really badly. Here goes:

A fortnight away (part three)
‘I’m not paying,’ he said, ‘for my beef
rendang. It came lukewarm. I took it out
and asked the cook to heat it up. Good grief!
“Cook it yourself,” he said. I didn’t shout,
but I was firm: “No, you. I’m not the chef!”
I think he might have pissed in it, the lout.
I didn’t eat it. He was rude to me.
So I won’t pay.’ Three-fifty AUD.

As colonisers first we came for spice
and now we’re back as tourists keen to see
your difference commodified. So nice
the offerings, incense, ‘selamat pagi‘,
the off-leash dogs, the terraced fields of rice
(your photogenic toil), your artistry
in wood and stone and ink and cloth and food.
We bring our cash. Forgive us when we’re rude.

A fortnight in verse 2

Still in Bali, nowhere near meeting the goal of a stanza a day, but here’s a second instalment.

A fortnight away (part two)
On Saturday to Gunung Sari Legong:
a temple dance, dances of courtship, war,
a gender-fluid Kebyar Terompong,
the gamelan that carries us like straw
on water; last, spectacular Barong
and whirling Rangda red in tooth and claw.
Speaking fingers, doll-like lips and eyes,
all human, but in otherworldly guise.

In Ubud, signs say ‘Uber dilarang’,
‘Monkey Crossing Take Care of Your Stuff’
‘Italian Resto – Pizza, Nasi Goreng’
‘Coffee! Beer! Too much is not enough!’
‘Tourists’ top choice farma’. Yin to yang:
sweet trampled offerings. But the culture’s tough.
Small boys with kite on Monkey Forest Road.
Ganesha’s tusk is snapped. He’s still a god.

A fortnight in verse 1

We’re in Bali for a couple of weeks. Rather than write home about it in prose, I’m taking the opportunity to practice rhyming. Here’s a first instalment.

A fortnight away
We booked our trip online (oh please, no blame –
I know the globe is warming, but our gnarly
joints have given gip since winter came
so we bought pain relief: two weeks in Bali).
We hit a snag. When I’d typed in my name
it wasn’t what my passport said. Bizarrely,
it cost two hundred dollars to set right.
But phew! We got it changed, and made the flight.

A pair who honeymooned there thirty years
ago, said, ‘Stay away from tourists. That’s
what spoils it now.’ A woman close to tears
saves wildlife: monkeys, an iguana, cats
and dogs. The water’s free, they charge for beers
and food (it’s Virgin). Nearby inflight  chats
are few – devices rule. In Denpasar
an hour in imigrasi, two by car

to Puri Suksma, Ubud. Every Wayan,
every Made, Nyoman, Ketut is
on the road, and this greenhorn Austrayan
has knuckles turning white as endless scooters
brush past on every side. I’m only sayin’
it looks and sounds like chaos, but a toot is
just to say, ‘I’m here.’ No rage, no lanes
keep order, just calm interactive brains.

To be continued

I’ve just come back from visiting Tokkōtai, an exhibition of work by contemporary Australian and Japanese artists to mark the 75th anniversary of the so-called Battle of Sydney Harbour. If you’re in Sydney, I recommend you try to get to see it before it closes on 12 June. It’s in the T5 Camouflage Fuel Tank in Georges Heights, Mosman.

On the night of 31 May 1942, three Japanese midget submarines made a surprise attack on Sydney Harbour. Twenty-one Australian naval personnel and six Japanese submariners were killed. Though the exhibition program says the episode ‘left an indelible mark on Australian identity and the course of our history’, really it has been swallowed up by the Great Australian Amnesia except for an occasional newspaper mention, its meaning unarticulated and its impact unresolved. In this exhibition there’s a sense of that night being dragged back into awareness, and not so much as a key event in Australian history as a point of departure for cross-cultural understanding.

Ken Done’s series of paintings, Attack – Japanese Midget Submarines in Sydney Harbour, is the big surprise. It’s as far from the Sydney Harbour prints that he’s famous for as you could imagine. In fifteen paintings he tells the story of the Japanese men on the subs, from their inculcation into the ethos of self-sacrifice to their burial with full military honours in Sydney in 1942.

There are two pieces of video art. Jennie Feyen’s Sakura and Steel features dancer Kei Ikeda. Miku Sato’s Not the Yellow Submarines is accompanied by a tiny model of a submarine floating in the air, bathed in yellowish light that creates an underwater feel.

For me, Michelle Belgiorno’s A Thousand Stitches of Hope and Sue Pedley’s Orange-Net-Work are the real guts of the show. Each of these involved the participation of hundreds of people, and gained a huge emotional impact from that.

Belgiorno’s work consists of 75 senninbari belts – belts that were traditionally good luck tokens given to soldiers before they went to war. The beautiful belts in the exhibition were made in a series of sewing workshops where Japanese and Australian women ‘of all ages’ sewed together ‘while discussing reconciliation and Australian–Japanese history.

The centrepiece of Pedley’s work is a huge orange net that was made for another artwork some years ago by volunteers in a small fishing village in the Japanese Inland Sea. Repurposed here, and hung around the four great pillars of the Fuel Tank, enclosing chunks of rock, it creates a shrine-like space that has one thinking of traditional Japanese life, zen gardens, and the underwater net that was lethal to two of the six submariners. A wall of ghostlike rubbings from clothing from the fishing village and a military museum completes this very powerful work.

Unfortunately, the remaining work, Gary Warner’s Orange-Net-Work-Soundings, a soundscape that accompanied Sue Pedley’s work, was inaudible when I was there, drowned out by the soundtrack of the videos.

It’s a terrific exhibition. Photos don’t do any part of it justice, but here’s what I could come up with.

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All the tired horses in the sun …

… how’m I gonna get any reading done?

I’ve been neglecting the blog a little bit lately, because other things (I think they’re collectively called ‘life’) have intervened. No tired horses involved, I just like that song.

One of the distractions has been my role as offsider to the Emerging Artist. On the weekend a small mob of us went up to Fingal Bay north of Newcastle to shoot a short video. I took this little mother and son snap. (Mother is Emerging Artist, son has short film Red Ink showing at the Sydney Film Festival as part of the Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship Gala Screening).

P&A

A minute

I’d set my phone to remind me this morning at a quarter past nine – 8.15 am Japanese Standard Time – to mark the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima by the USA.

I sat for a minute in silence. Life went on around me without a perceptible ripple. I thought I should spend another couple of minutes making my minute into a social event. (I believe that the opening ceremony in Rio fell silent for a minute – but I wasn’t watching the telly.)

So much fuss is rightly made here of the number of Australians who died in a single day on the Somme in 1915. But that appalling tragedy involved men who were combatants – they had been sent by their government to kill and, as it happened, be killed. The people who died at Hiroshima, instantly or in the long agony of radiation disease, were largely civilians – babies at the breast, old women on their deathbeds, cooks, poets and potters –  going about their ordinary lives in the city of two rivers, as much as life could be ordinary in that country at that time. And the Hiroshima anniversary creates hardly a blip on the Australian public radar these days.

The horror of the atom bomb took a while to be generally known, and was overshadowed by the relief of the war ending. What struck me this morning was that my generation is the first to be born into a world where nuclear weapons had already been used to kill people, the first to be born after what scientists now call Year Zero (because radiation dating has to be calculated differently after 1945), the first to live with the knowledge that human beings have the power to wipe ourselves out, and so – for many of us – the first to spend a lot of energy keeping that knowledge away from the front of our minds. The temptation to think small, to look after number one, to cultivate one’s garden, to turn away from the suffering of other people, to live in a bubble, became significantly stronger 71 years ago today.

A minute of silence goes a small way to opening the mind to the possibility of shrinking that sphere of numbness, of embracing the whole world and all that it has to offer, the joys and challenges as well as the horrors.

Since this is mainly a book blog, I should mention some books. Paul Ham’s Hiroshima Nagasaki is an excellent narrative historyof the planning for the bomb and the dropping as it happened. Robyn Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine and subsequent articles (here, and here) are excellent on Australian responses, as is Michael Bogles’ piece in Overland 218 (my blog mention here).

Goodbye art student …

… Hello Emerging Artist.

National Art School degrees were conferred today. The Emerging Artist whipped her cap and gown off before I could take a photo, but consented to be snapped before leaving the school.

She says that when the head of the institution handed her the testamur, he said, ‘You look terrific.’ And she does.

Dimity Figner

Dimity Figner, feminist, artist and generally lovely person died on Thursday in a nursing home in Nowra. She had been sick for some time, and some of her many friends were with her at the end.

There was a retrospective exhibition of Dimity’s art in Nowra earlier this year, and she was active in the Older Women’s Network until recently (at that link is a photo of Dimity and 13 other rambunctious older women celebrating the publication of a history of Nowra OWN). In the 1970s she designed a beautiful Women’s Liberation symbol that has been widely used on badges and publications in Australia. She briefly illustrated for The School Magazine in the early 1980s. Back when I used to run into her regularly I could count on her to say she liked my hair just about a day before my official grooming consultant told me it was time to visit the barber.

One of our most cherished art acquisitions is this wonderful little bust, her creation:


Many people will miss Dimity. I’m one of them.

Added on 6 May: I don’t think many people will be aware of Dimity’s work with The School Magazine. Here’s a scan we managed to get of a 1981 cover by her (difficult if not impossible to get a perfect scan, as the bound volumes don’t flatten out without damage):

Xanthorrhoea rising

Here’s a little Easter story.

When we moved to our current house six years ago, we transplanted our beautiful xanthorrhoea (grass tree) from the pot in which it had thrived just outside the kitchen window in our old house into the ground in our new back yard. After about two years, it was ailing. On the advice of a local nursery owner we cut it back severely, and for a time it revived, even putting out a spike for the first time ever. I blogged about it here.

But the revival was short lived. The spike fell off and then it turned very sick and brown. I followed the folk advice and set fire to a cardboard carton on its head, but to no avail. It really really died and has stood as a memorial to itself for at least two years.

And now this:
xanthorrhoea.jpg

Haec dies quam fecit dominus. Exultemus et laetemur in ea!