30 December 2012

Return to the Island - Artist's Statement

 Return to the Island is an exhibition of paintings about King Island at the King Island Cultural Centre in January 2013. I wrote this in hope of helping visitors who found it all a bit hard to understand.


Sometimes people ask whether I have been influenced by the work of Salvador Dali or other early twentieth-century surrealist painters. The answer is no; if there is any similarity in our work, it is simply that we have all studied paintings by the same earlier artists. Look at old masters from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and you will find magnificent works of imagination - for example Hieronymus Bosch or Matthias Grünewald, only two of many to depict The Temptation of St Anthony. At first they appear outlandish flights of fancy, but a second look shows that everything in these paintings is based on careful observation of the real world filtered through the artist's imagination.
Sometimes people bring me a striking photograph (usually of a brilliant sunset) saying it is just the thing they would like to paint. Bad idea. Some images are better presented as photographs.
Here is one of my favourite pictures from the top of the Cape Wickham lighthouse. I think it's an interesting photo but I won't make a painting of it, for a jolly good reason.
Because we assume a photograph is an accurate representation of what was „really“ there, we happily accept strange colours and unfamiliar points of view. We like novelty, whether unusually coloured skies, people in unexpected places or bizarre, mis-shapen vegetables. If the image is a little ambiguous we try to work it out and relish the satisfying “aha” moment when we finally realise what the subject of the photograph is.
Paintings are another thing altogether. If we can't immediately recognise the subject of a painting, or the colours are a bit odd, we assume the artist was not creating a straightforward depiction of nature. We either join in the fun, seeing it as a work of imagination, or else we decide the artist didn't know what they were doing and walk off in disgust.
Sometimes it is difficult for newcomers to visual art to decide which is the appropriate response to a particular picture, especially when the artist is exploring more arcane aspects of picture making or deliberately being provocative. A brilliant red sky might have a serious expressive purpose (for example in this painting by Breughel) or it might merely be a failed attempt to paint a sunset.
This is why I don't recommend painting unusual views of unfamiliar objects or this morning's exceptionally magnificent sunrise. Paint ordinary things in an extraordinary manner. Or look for the extraordinary in nature and present it as something imaginary.
My paintings are works of imagination. They are interesting patterns of shape and colour. They are also amusing visual puns, re-arranged sketches of things around me, intended to stimulate the imagination and suggest what might have been – but probably wasn't.Feel free to decide you don't like them and walk off in disgust.
Otherwise, think in terms of generalities rather than a literal interpretation of what you see. Respond to the emotional rather than the intellectual content of the pictures and, above all, don't try to take them too seriously. Enjoy.


Return to the Island

Exhibition at the King Island Cultural Centre, January 2013

oil on canvas 76cm x 50cm
Notable things on King Island include the tallest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere, herds of dairy and beef cattle and the prevailing winds. The view from the lighthouse really was stunning, but this was more fun.

Some cows, and the real view from the lighthouse

Here are some more seemingly innocuous photographs - and the resulting painting:
beach at Cataraqui

treasures from the sea

40cm x 30cm oil on canvas
Things wash up on beaches during storms, especially when there is so much ocean beating on the shores.
It's always worth checking in case there is some wondrous treasure, but there probably isn't. You are most likely to find vast quantities of brightly coloured plastic, which does marine life no good at all.
But it was such a pleasant afternoon strolling along the beach near Cataraqui Point, gathering odd bits and pieces, many of which will be incorporated into odd works of art.

50cm x 40cm oil on canvas
Another Shipwreck painting. There will probably be some more; disasters are a splendid source of imagery.

The tale of the Battle Of King Island has to be one of the strangest and silliest bits of Australian history.
50cm x 46cm oil on canvas
In December 1802 Nicolas Baudin dropped anchor off King Island. He had sailed from Sydney Harbour where he had spent several months refurbishing his ships and now he was back at work, ferrying a party of scientists (whom he found intensely annoying) around the coast of Australia.
To his surprise, Lt Robbins turned up from Sydney a week later to deliver him a letter from Governor Hunter who claimed to be concerned about a rumour that the French intended establishing a settlement in Van Diemen's Land.
Robbins had obviously been packed off in a hurry to keep an eye on Baudin’s expedition, and had not had time to take on extra stores. Baudin found himself having to supply the English officer with canvas, sail-making tools, gunpowder and other necessities, while Robbins went ashore with some soldiers and had a Union Jack hoisted above the French scientists' camp. Baudin thought this pretty poor behaviour and never invited Robbins to dinner again.
There are various accounts of this incident in different books; some are very serious, others treat it as a huge joke and some of the details seem to get a bit exaggerated. I took my version from Facsimile edition no. 222 Reproduction of Text from p 1 – p 609 of the journal of Post Captain Nicolas Baudin, translated from the French by Christine Cornell. Original publication: 1974. Libraries Board of South Australia. You can find it in the State Library.
This is the mouth of the Fraser River, not far from the place
where the French expedition set up camp.
There is a plaque on the foreshore to commemorate the event.

56cm x 71cm oil on canvas
I like abandoned landscapes haunted by former human activity and decaying man-made structures of forgotten purpose. I'm not sure whether the Mechanics or the Machine are being threatened here, or whether they're all just going to sit down together for a nice cuppa.

This was somewhere on the island. The background landscape was somewhere else. I made up the figures.

76cm x 50cm oil on canvas
The road from Currie to Grassy was bounded by an exuberant growth of forget-me-nots, wonderfully blue. This painting probably isn't about flowers at all, but I wanted the rich forget-me-not-blue background and while I was there I put in a few just for decoration.

56cm x 71cm oil on canvas

A broken chimney and a few cement footings are all that remain of the schoolhouse in Attrills Park at Pearshape. It is a strangely spooky place, surrounded by dark conifers with a mouldering picnic table in the middle. Elsewhere I found a vast expanse of feral Arum Lilies, which are also unsettling en masse. They seemed to go together.

09 November 2012

Wotsa Tikkawoppa?

 If you look at a map of the West Coast of Tasmania you will find, on a bend of the Pieman River a little south west of Mt Donaldson, the Tikkawoppa Plateau. According to some notes I made in 1990:
The name was originally given “by Forestry Dept workers in 1930”. The Nomenclature Board records also state it was because of the unusually large number of cut staves they used when they surveyed it, which resembled the poles Scouts use . . .
That's all very well, but where does the word come from? And what is the connection between boy scouts and forestry surveys?

Boy Scouts

The first definite use of the word that I can find is in 1927 when Boy Scouts from all over Australia held a Corroboree at the scouts' camp-site at Dog’s Head, Lake Sorell. 
scouts at Dog's Head 1927

At the end of the camp one troop was given custody of the Tikkawoppa and an hour’s start before the rest of the boys were set loose. The troop with the Tikkawoppa in their possession when they reached Hobart was deemed the winner. They hiked out to Tunbridge where they caught the train to Hobart, but history does not relate who won or what they received as prize, if anything. This activity was repeated in different places on other occasions.
scout camp - Dog's Head, 1927

Nobody seems to know precisely what the Tikkawoppa was, but I think it safe to say it was whatever the scoutmaster chose to improvise. Here are some more photographs taken at the 1927 camp at Dog’s Head. 

Preparing for departure - scout Corroboree 1927
Unfortunately, they show nothing indisputably identifiable as the Tikkawoppa.

Scouts have adult leaders . . .

The Forestry Department

Appointed in 1920, Tasmania's first Conservator of Forests Mr Llewellyn Irby had a staff of four: Working Plans Officer, draftsman, a clerk and a typist. They oversaw the work of a very small army of forestry workers, and the Working Plans Officer and Conservator spent much of their time in the field.

Forestry Camp, 1929
In the early twentieth century the first extensive forest surveys were undertaken, and workers camped out for weeks at a time in remote forests. Although the Department boasted its own motor car, called Walzing Matilda, roads were few, tracks were rough, and often the only transport was by packhorse. The surveyors set up substantial camps with big, heavy canvas tents supported on a large number of poles which were cut in the forest around the camp site and they drove in wooden staves all over the forest as survey markers. The denser the forest, the more markers were required.

Colonel Lane

Denis Lane at Dog's Head camp, 1927
Apart from tents, the other thing the Boy Scouts and the Forestry Department had in common was Lt Col Denis Lane, who joined the public service on his return from the Great War and was the Forestry Department's first Working Plans Officer. He continued to serve part-time in the Army and was also very active as District Commissioner of Scouts. All together, these activities ensured he could spend the greater part of his life camping out in the bush somewhere drawing maps, his favourite occupation. In January/February 1930 he and a team of bushmen spent two weeks surveying the west coast of Tasmania for the Forestry Department.

But What About the Tikkawoppa?

Denis Lane was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, seventh of twelve children. The Lane family moved to Australia at the end of the nineteenth century and eventually settled in Hobart when he was about seven years old. They were educated, literate people with a keen sense of humour and a love of language and word games. Like many families, they had a collection of nicknames and private words and tikkawoppa was just one of them. They might have made it up; they might have mis-heard or deliberately corrupted an existing word, perhaps of Maori origin. It is impossible to say.
We can be quite certain, however, that it was Denis Lane who introduced tikkawoppa to both the scouts and the Forestry Department as a general term for an otherwise undistinguished object, and it was probably in general use for a while. At least among impressionable young lads and bored bushmen working alongside the Colonel.

An uncle told me the tale of the scouts and the Tikkawoppa when I was asking him about my grandfather, Colonel Lane. It was some time after this that I discovered the Tikkawoppa Plateau on a map of the west coast of Tasmania and contacted the Lands Department to check whether Grandfather had anything to do with it. He had.
Denis named many features on the west coast and in other parts of Tasmania, and some years later the Nomenclature Board named Lanes Peak, near Mt Field, after him in recognition of the work he had done for them.

The picture at the top of this entry is called Tikkawoppa, and I painted it after my uncle told me of the Boy Scouts and the Tikkawoppa. But I still don't really know the origin of the word.

If you're a New Zealander and happen to have come across a similar word somewhere, I'd really like to know!

30 October 2012

And the Band Plays On

Another weekend, another music festival. Today was the tenth annual Music Festival at St Michael and All Angels Anglican Church at Bothwell.

The Festival was inaugurated by Gwen and John Hardstaff who, with the help of willing volunteers from the community, have organised it every year for the past decade.

John’s membership of the Hobart Veterans’ Brass Band ensured their prominent position on the bill, and this year they were joined by the Bagdad Singers (that’s Bagdad, Tasmania, not the other one), St George’s Church Choir from Battery Point, violinist Doris Kouw and organist Diane Hallett.

The Bagdad Singers at Bothwell
violin soloist Doris Kouw accompanied by
Roslyn Langlois on keyboard
Bernard Gillon, former school teacher at Waddamana, read Seed Bed, a poem by James Patterson, Uniting Church minister Meg Evans read Psalm 98, the Rector, Rev John Langlois, led opening and closing prayers, MC Wayne Doran kept everything moving along, and after the concert everyone repaired to the Town Hall for afternoon tea.

euphonium solo by Eric Morgan 
If, however, you’re imagining one of those church fund-raising concerts we all know and dread – don’t. Nobody here is thinking about money. Today is wholly and solely about music.

Musicians invited to perform at Bothwell are far from being enthusiastic amateurs only included because they're the mayor's husband's niece. Many have played in brass bands in major competitions; some have played with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and others served as bandsmen in the military. A few have never worked professionally, but all take their music very seriously indeed.

Whether or not they still appear regularly in concerts around the state, the one thing they all have in common is their love of music and performance.  They may have retired from the pressure of travel and constant rehearsals,  but  the music goes on.

So we come along every year because this is music the way it was meant to be – played for pleasure to an appreciative audience of friends who just want to enjoy a pleasant afternoon’s entertainment in comfortable and familiar surroundings.  We are never disappointed.

Musical director Myles Luck conducts the Hobart Veterans' Brass Band

23 October 2012

Queenstown and Lake Margaret

The Towns in the Valley

Tasmania's West Coast used to be a very busy place. Zeehan, in its heyday, was the third largest town in Tasmania, and at the turn of the 19th century Queenstown had a population of about 5,000. Over the hill in the Linda Valley Linda, Gormanston and Mt Lyell together had a population of over 2,000. 
This is a view of the Linda Valley today, with Gormanston (centre) at the foot of Mt Owen. Linda consists of three or four houses and the ruins of the old Royal Hotel on the corner of the road in the left corner of the photograph.

The rock face in the foreground is one wall of the old Iron Blow open cut mine.

down the other side of the hill - approaching Queenstown.
It isn't quite raining.

Queenstown - dominated by the landscape


This is what Queenstown looked like late in the nineteenth century.
And here are some photographs of what it looks like today.

view from my window. It's raining
The West Coast of Tasmania is one of the wettest places in Australia. There is an urban myth that once it didn't rain in Queenstown for ten days. Nobody knows when that was, but it must have been a terrible drought.
There is plenty to look at in Queenstown – the Galley Museum (in the background of this photo) has a splendid collection of – well – everything.
Miner's Siding monument
what it's all about - copper
There are mine tours and monuments and, of course, the resurrected Wilderness Railway.

An unexpected find is the nicely restored Paragon Theatre. Its new owners Francisco and Fabiola Navidad intend screening films regularly again. You can get a nice cup of coffee and home-made cake in the cafe while you wait.

Art deco elegance, and gorgeously comfortable
 leather lounges
movie-going in real style!

Late afternoon on Hunter Street – and the sun is shining!
Mt Owen is still hidden by clouds, however.

Once Queenstown was infamous for its barren hills and lack of vegetation, but today everything is growing back. And it is encroaching on the town itself.

You mustn't think Queenstown is all run-down and overgrown, however. I just like that sort of photograph.
Here's the post office and store in Orr Street, all nicely spic and span.

Lake Margaret

If you head about ten km north from Queenstown you pass the turnoff to the Lake Margaret power station. And yes, I am going to show you some more photographs of penstocks and turbines. Lake Margaret gets the highest rainfall in Australia after Tully in Queensland. It is a glacial lake and the source of the Yolande River. In 1914 a concrete dam raised the water level, and a 2.2 km long wooden penstock delivered water to the power station below. Originally of Oregon, it was replaced in 1938 using King Billy Pine and again in 2009 with Alaskan yellow cedar.

The power station, constructed in 1914, is the oldest working hydroelectric power station in Australia, and is on the Tasmanian Heritage Register. The seven original turbines are still there, still working. Four were installed in 1914, and the last one in 1929.

Nobody lives in the village at Lake Margaret today, but there are plans to develop it for tourism.

Corrugated iron was used for much building construction; it is durable, easy to transport and quick to put up.

You can see more photographs of Queenstown and Lake Margaret on my Facebook page - Tasmanian Gothic