Friday, April 27, 2012

Tapping into my inner (linocut) artist

Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.  ~Pablo Picasso

When I was a child I would happily spend hours churning out endless drawings and paintings. I dreamt of being an artist when I grew up. Later, as I grew older I became somewhat discouraged by the fact that the only artists making any decent money for their work appeared to be dead ones. By the time I was twenty, I had all but given up on art as a career or even as a hobby.

Then last year I found myself wandering around an art gallery and saw some beautiful linocut prints by Australian linocut artist Leslie van der Sluys (1939-2010). Being naturally curious, I made a note of his name and later did some research into Van Der Sluys and linocuts in general. Soon I was rediscovering our very own Australian artistic treasure, Margaret Preston (1875-1963); a linocut queen from last century.

Before long my Googling internet research had led me to the College of Adult Education in Melbourne and their two-day introductory course in linocut art. It was one of those “seemed like a brilliant idea at the time” moments, so I enrolled.

Linocut is a printmaking technique that became popular at the beginning of the 1900s as an easier alternative to woodcut. Many children are introduced to the world of printmaking with linocut in their primary school years. Last year at Barham Primary School, Henry produced a fantastic ferocious looking bunyip linocut print.

For the past two Saturdays I have been attempting to reconnect with my inner child artist while attending the linocut course in Melbourne. By 2pm on the first Saturday I had remembered why I hadn’t spent any time doing any form of art for the last two decades… I had the picture in my mind of my completed artwork (it was magnificent, something similar to Van Der Sluys’s work at the peak of his career), but try as I might I couldn’t recreate that image onto the linoleum in front of me. In fact I couldn’t seem to recreate anything.

All around me my fellow students were busy sketching and then cutting out their designs on blocks of linoleum. While all I seemed to be able to do was stare at my untouched lino and wonder how on earth I was going to produce a masterpiece.

My fear and insecurity of making a mistake or producing an image that was less than perfect was stopping me from doing anything. Is there anything as frustrating as looking back on a day and feeling like you’ve achieved nothing? Clearly my goal of achieving perfection without the practice was not going to work (damn it all).

Later a friend kindly pointed out that I needed to stop worrying so much about the end result and just get started. So I did. I found images that I liked and I copied them and then set about carving out the lino. They weren’t perfect but I liked them anyway.

Last Saturday was the second day of my two-day course. I found it far more enjoyable than the first day for the simple reason that I actually worked industriously for the entire day. By the end of the course I had a small portfolio of printed linocut art I could frame… or at the very least, sticky tape to the door of our fridge. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

ANZAC Day 1994 at Gallipoli

Back in 1994 I had set out on an excellent adventure with Duncan to the other side of the world. By April we were traveling through Turkey and timed our trip to arrive in the city of Canakkale on the 24th April. The place was swarming with Australian and Kiwi backpackers and every second shop seemed to be screening Peter Weir’s 1981 epic Australian film Gallipoli that starred Mel Gibson and Mark Lee.
Like us the other travelers had come to commemorate Anzac Day at the place where it had all begun 79 years before. We checked into the Yellow Rose Pension not far from the centre of town and booked ourselves onto a tour for the following morning.
In the very early hours of April 25th 1994 we boarded a ferry and crossed the Dardanelles (a narrow stretch of water connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara), to attend the Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Ari Burnu War Cemetery near Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsular. The crowd that day was estimated to be around six hundred people, which seemed heaps back then but in more recent years crowds attending the Gallipoli Anzac Day ceremony have been in excess of fifteen thousand people.
It was a moving experience to stand looking out over the Aegean Sea in the half-light of dawn and listen to the lone bugler play the Last Post.
Nearby was the Kabatepe Ari Burnu Beach Memorial. Inscribed in English on the stone are the famous words that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk delivered in 1934 to the first Australians, New Zealanders and British to visit the Gallipoli battlefields:
"Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well."
(Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a Turkish military officer during the Gallipoli Campaign and went on to become the first president of the Republic of Turkey in 1923).
The remainder of our Anzac Day in 1994 was spent attending wreath-laying services at the numerous war cemeteries around the Gallipoli Peninsular. The following day we returned and spent a full day hiking over the former battlefields, through the infamous Shrapnel Gully, along Monash Valley (named after Barham Bridge engineer Sir John Monash), falling into overgrown trenches, discovering old bully beef tins and many other reminders of the ill-fated military campaign.
At Shell Green I found the grave of Roy Facey, aged twenty three. Roy was the brother of Albert Facey who later wrote about his Gallipoli experience in his famous autobiography “A Fortunate Life” … on arriving back I was told that Roy had been killed. He and his mate had been killed by the same shell. This was a terrible blow to me. I had lost a lot of my mates and seen a lot of men die, but Roy was my brother … I helped to bury Roy and fifteen of our mates who had been killed on the twenty-eighth. We put them in a grave side by side on the edge of a clearing we called Shell Green. Roy was in pieces when they found him. We put him together as best we could – I can remember carrying a leg – it was terrible.
There is a beautiful calm stillness that surrounds you at the war graves at Gallipoli, in direct contrast to its violent history. In Australia I felt that same sense of tranquility at the Adelaide River War Cemetery near Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Next Wednesday is Anzac Day and we will be commemorating the 97th anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. A time for all of us, regardless of our origins to reflect on war and remember the men and women who have fought for our country.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Floods at Hay and dealing with SES bureaucrats

At 7.00pm on the 15th March 2012 an SES Incident Controller authorised an evacuation order for the town of Hay. The Murrumbidgee River that runs through the town was in flood and waters were predicted to peak at around nine metres (similar to the 1974 floods that went through Hay). This order was to remain in place for the next ten days.

A lot can happen in nearly forty years and one thing that was obvious to all was that the much talked about town levee bank was in urgent need of a top-up if it was to hold back the predicted flood.
In true Australian pioneering spirit in the face of the impending flood, the Hay Shire Council, local SES volunteers and local residents rallied together and worked furiously to secure the town. Council, Roads and Maritime Services and earth-moving contractors worked around the clock and by the time the floodwaters arrived the upgraded levee looked magnificent and stood at a height equivalent to 9.5 metres on the town river gauge. More than high enough to withstand the predicted flood height of nine metres.
To put this into perspective; a quick lesson in how river heights are measured: The zero level of a river gauge ("gauge zero") is typically set at the low level of the river, i.e. the riverbed. River heights are measured in metres above the gauge zero. For example, a river height reading of nine metres means that the water level has risen nine metres above its lowest level. It does not mean that there is a nine-metre wall of water bearing down on the town in tsunami-like fashion.
Unfortunately for the residents of Hay the SES bureaucracy (note: Not the SES volunteers), were unable to recognize the new and improved levee, as no engineer was willing to take the responsibility for signing off on the earthworks. In fairness to the SES they were stuck between a rock and a hard place as they were required to abide by Emergency Regulations that are Acts of Parliament.
Once again common sense and local knowledge went out the window and the Nanny State reared its ugly head. The SES maintained the levee height was only guaranteed to a height of 8.1 metres at Hay and as such the town residents must be evacuated. The upper echelons of the SES hierarchy completely disregarded the fact that the levee had easily withheld a flood of nearly 8.5 metres in December 2010 because there wasn’t an official piece of paper stating this.
For ten days all Governments Departments, banks, the post office and schools in Hay were forced to close and local businesses were hit hard by the downturn in trade. One might have hoped the influx of SES and extra police may have at least contributed to the town’s economy by way of food purchases… but no, they flew their own caterers and food in from outside the region at great expense using public money.
Unsurprisingly to most Hay locals the levee banks held and the town remained dry as the flood passed through as it had done many times before in the town’s one hundred and fifty odd year history.
The SES with its army of volunteers does an incredible job under very difficult circumstances in times of major disasters. A simple fact we can all be very grateful for. However in the case of the 2012 Hay Flood its leaders exercised a dictatorship style control, tried their utmost to remove freedom of choice from the people of Hay through a campaign of fear via excessively frightening text and telephone messages to the town residents as well as being responsible for an obscene misuse of public money.
Had the town levee bank failed the town may have experienced a shallow and very slow moving body of water through the lower lying areas. A messy and perhaps costly inconvenience but certainly not a life threatening and disastrous event such as the unexpected flash flood that hit Toowoomba’s central business district and also devastated the Lockyer Valley communities in Queensland during January 2011.
Hopefully lessons will be learnt from the recent Hay floods and the SES will work with, rather than against communities in the future and with a far more efficient use of public funds.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fishing and playing God

The last couple of months has been “Fishing Competition Season” in our local area with Barham/Koondrook, Moulamein, Murrabit and Wakool all conducting their popular annual competitions. Luring local anglers and visitors alike for a few days of camping, camaraderie, fishing and feasting.
Recreational fishing is a popular local pastime for many adults and children in the Wakool and Gannawarra Shires. Locally caught Murray Cod, pan-fried in butter and lemon juice over a camp-fire is a gastronomic delicacy that is hard to beat. The recent Regional World’s Longest Lunch in Koondrook featured a delicious ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice) of Yellowbelly, Barham Avocado, tomato, lime and cucumber as one of the appetizers on the menu.
Given the amount of fish habitat that is now choking our river systems thanks to the flooding of the past two years, one could be led to believe the resurgence of Murray Cod and Yellowbelly is assured. However a significant threat to native fish in the Murray Darling Basin is the introduced fish species Cyprinus carpio or common carp. The introduction of the “Boolarra” strain of common carp into the Murray Darling river system in the 1960s has been a major cause of native fish extinctions. The carp contribute to poor water quality and simply eat the native fish out of house and home as they devour the zooplankton young Murray Cod and Yellowbelly feed on.
The floods of the past two years have seen a massive increase in carp numbers as they bred up in the flooded forests and other shallow reedy areas before returning to the rivers. It is this fact that concerns me when I think about the native fish and the impact of the planned artificial flooding of our local forests via the Koondrook Perricoota Flood Enhancement Project.
When the forests are artificially flooded will this mean the carp are given an artificially perfect breeding environment? If the water used to artificially flood the forests is then returned to the Murray River, will billions of new carp hatchlings be released as well? If this is the case, how is this a good thing for the Murray River?
On a personal level I am still far from convinced of the merits of “playing God” with our environment via the Koondrook Perricoota Flood Enhancement Project. It may well be years before the benefits or negative impacts are seen. In this instance I hope I my current beliefs are proven wrong.