Tag Archives: Brisbane

500 people: Week Seventeen

See this post for a brief description of my 500 People challenge.

I’ve been travelling this week, visiting family in Brisbane. Surprisingly, I’ve had fewer opportunities for new connections while away from home – so much time spent in the travel bubble with the EA, working out timetables and routes. Conversations with AirBnB hosts, though invariably pleasant, don’t count. But the following hit-and-run encounters do.

  1. Monday 7 June, having arrived in Brisbane, and found what we thought was a safe parking spot (it wasn’t, we copped a $100 fine) we passed Red Hill Cinemas, a building that was once a skating rink, on our way back to our flat, and decided to go to a movie. We asked the young man who sold us our tickets if there was somewhere we could eat. He directed us to the Colle Rosso (get it?) pizza place, but it and another that we found through Apple Maps were both closed. We went back to the cinema and asked the front-of-house man if we could get a refund on our tickets as we needed to eat and wouldn’t make it back in time. He went and asked his manager then, having failed to get through, told us that the cinema provided food. Gratefully we ordered toasties, and twenty minutes later, just as the movie was about to start, he brought our meals to Row F.
  2. Monday, on our search for Colle Rosso, we asked for directions at a bottle shop, which was the only sign of mercantile life nearby. The chap there was kind, pointed us in the right direction, and said he’d be surprised if it was open on a Monday night. Mildly distressed at the prospect of us going hungry, he said, ‘I’d make you a pizza myself, but I haven’t got an oven here.’
  3. Tuesday, at the Queensland Art Gallery’s wonderful William Yang retrospective, Seeing and Being Seen, there’s a series of photographs related to a North Queensland murder case in the early 1920s. The Emerging Artist asked if the magistrate who made an egregious verdict in that case was my grandfather. I had a close look at the photos and text, and said to a woman who happened to be looking at the same work, ‘That magistrate was my grandfather!’ She was suitably impressed, or perhaps horrified. (For the record, I was wrong – the case was heard four years before my grandfather got the job.)
  4. Wednesday, I was visiting an old friend who is living in a kind of home for aged Marist Brothers. He introduced me to a number of men in their 80s and in various states of frailty and apparent aphasia. The one I want to single out here was someone I had known reasonably well 55 years ago. He is the man who introduced me to the writing of John Henry Newman, Raissa Maritain and, you won’t be expecting this name, William Burroughs Jnr. When I introduced myself and offered some memory prompts, the only response I got was a blank watery gaze, and a limp handshake.
  5. Thursday morning, in the QUT campus at Gardens Point we were looking for the swimming pool. We approached a young man in a tracksuit that seemed to be made from African material with bold geometric design in dazzling orange and green. He knew where the pool was, and he was heading that way. A few seconds later he pointed to the pool, but said he had no idea how to get to it. The EA complimented him on his gorgeous outfit at the same moment as I, going for something less obvious, was saying how I liked his lavender hair. ‘Thank you,’ he said to both of us, in a tone that could have meant, ‘Why are these old people commenting on my appearance?’ (I don’t usually mention race in these encounters, but it’s significant that this man is white.)
  6. Friday morning, we called on the William Robinson Museum near the pool. The woman on security told us we could visit a website that gave a guided tour of the exhibition, relating it to Nick Earls’s book William Robinson: A New Perspective. ‘But it takes a lot longer if you do that,’ she said. I said we needed to be quick because we’d just been for a pre-breakfast swim and were hungry. ‘You went for a swim in this weather?’ she asked in Queenslandish horror (we’re having a bit of an Antarctic moment). We reassured her that we’d been to the heated pool. When we left 20 minutes later, she wished us a good breakfast.
  7. Friday, a knock on the door turned out not to be the Emerging Artist returning from the laundromat, but a woman who introduced herself nervously as working with our AirBnB hosts. ‘I’m wondering,’ she began, ‘if you’ve seen—’ I interrupted her and to say that yes, I had seen the bunch of access cards she was looking for. I apologised for not having been in touch as soon as I saw them, as I knew they weren’t meant to be there. Her relief was so enormous, it clearly didn’t occur to her to blame me.
  8. Saturday morning, as we headed out for breakfast and the European Masterpieces from the MET exhibition at QAGOMA, we shared the lift with two brightly clad young people. They barely acknowledged us when they entered the lift, not rudeness so much as mutual absorption. When the woman said something about coffee, I said something about the importance of the first coffee of the day. (I don’t actually drink the stuff, but I’ve learned that it’s richly symbolic of the good life for some people.) That broke the ice, and for the rest of our descent we chatted about the terrible noise from construction work in Roma Street that had kept up all night.
  9. Saturday afternoon, we were barefoot in bathers on our way to the sauna in our hotel/AirB’n’B. Outside the lift on our floor, an elderly gentleman said hello (elderly, but probably younger than me!). I said something about us making ourselves at home and he ignored me completely. A little later, he asked if our TV worked. I said it had last night. He again didn’t respond. At that moment the lift arrived and two much younger people came out. ‘Ah, there you are,’ he said. ‘I need your help. My television doesn’t work.’ I realised later that he must have been very deaf, and had been looking away when I spoke.
  10. Saturday evening, when we’d finished dinner, a group of young people arrived at the door we were coming out of. The woman who seemed to be their leader said they were in the wrong place and should turn around. Knowing that the eatery has three entrances, I said its name and asked if that’s what they were looking for. She said No and set off. The last of the group, a man with a blond beard and a northern European accent, said, ‘We are just confused.’ I said, ‘And I was just helping to increase the confusion.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, smiling. ‘Thank you.’

Running total is now 161.

The Australia Pacific Triennial and other Brisbane things

It can’t be! Two full weeks since I blogged! I must have been busy.

On the weekend Penny and I went to Brisbane for my brother’s seventieth birthday party, and had a fabulous time renewing contact with my family: brother and sisters and their spouses, nieces and nephews, grand nephews and nieces, cousins, sundry dogs, as well as a number of my brother’s old friends I hadn’t seen since I was 13, who have grown astonishingly old. The highlight of the party was a video created by two of my brother’s children, featuring many interviews and greetings from Innisfail, and a performance of ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ (a song that featured in one of my brother’s colourful adolescent brushes with the law escapades) in which an extraordinary range of people each sang a single phrase.

On Saturday we went to the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art (Qag and Goma) to have a look at the Australia Pacific Triennial. Unlike the National Art Gallery current blockbuster, this fabulous exhibition was easy to get into and there was no admission charge. I say it was a fabulous exhibition, but in fact I only saw a tiny fraction of it. I spent most of my time in the galleries sitting with pen and pad sweating over a writing task with a tight deadline. This was an astonishingly pleasant experience. The galleries are high-ceilinged and full of natural light, and quiet exuberance of the punters made for a buoyant environment.

Really I only saw three pieces. The first was ‘In Flight‘ by Alfredo and Isabel Aqulizan. The artists are immigrants to Australia from the Philippines, this information may have influenced my response to their work: it’s a huge pile of recycling material, that is to say junk, reminiscent of those vast garbage heaps near Manila, but rising from it are not toxic fumes or scavenging birds but a host of model aeroplanes made by young people in a series of workshops before the exhibition. The planes – zappy little plastic creations, shaggy monsters, a couple of balloons, flappable egg-cartons, brightly coloured paddlepop sticks bound into shapes that might be aerodynamic in another universe – adorn the wall near the garbage pile, hang from the ceiling  above it, and then lead the viewer down the nearby corridor to the exit that leads to the main exhibition in the Goma building. Around the base of the pile the creativity continues, as my phone bears witness:

I also spent time in front of Reuben Paterson’s eight-metre-sqare ‘Whakapapa: Get Down on Your Knees‘. The image at the link give you no idea of the effect of the work, especially its effect on little girls. The whole vast surface of the painting is done with glitter, which clearly hit a significant nerve. One little girl in particular – I’d guess she was five or six years old – tried to take a photo. She laughed with delight for a full minute as she tried to get far enough away to fit the whole image into her viewfinder (unsuccessfully, thanks to a facing wall).

And then there was ‘Lightning for Neda‘  by Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Again, the link gives only a faint indication of the work itself. It’s an intricate mosaic – or rather six of them, each three metres tall by two metres wide – made of slivers of mirrored glass, not a piece of art that conceals the amount of work that has gone into its making. As I sat pen in hand, I felt I was beginning to know the work by seeing it interact with scores of people, remarkably free of the solemnity that often prevails in galleries, but there was an awful lot of awe just the same. Only one child couldn’t resist touching, and I wished I was her (at least, I wished I was her until her father moved in on her).

It’s a great way to see art: to sit with it while the world goes by, see it reflected in a dozen faces, watch how people respond with their hands and bodies, hear the words it draws from them. Interestingly each of these works, as well as others I saw more cursorily, was accessible to young people. Children seemed to feel at home in these galleries, or on a fun outing, and that’s surely to everyone’s benefit.

Added later:

Here are a couple more photos, these ones taken by Penny (yes the Qag and the Goma allow photos, though not flashes):

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