Mt. Solitary

No trip to Australia would be complete without a serious dose of “the bush”.

To enliven my last few weeks, my old pal Kerry and her beau Graham invited me for a three day walk to Mt. Solitary in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

I have always wanted to do this walk. Especially when I lived in the Mountains nearly 30 years ago! But it always seemed a bit out of reach. Mt Solitary dominates the skyline from all of the classic escarpment lookouts of the Blue Mountains (Katoomba, Leura, Wentworth Falls). Across a deep and wide valley of seemingly impenetrable bush.

Mt. Solitary from the Golden Stairs near Katoomba.

Mt. Solitary from the Golden Stairs near Katoomba.

But with two trusty local guides, backpacks full of fabulous food, and some rather reluctant ageing knees, we set off. It was early Spring and it had been one of the warmest winters on record so the wildflowers were going off!

The local Warratahs are spectacular.

The local Warratahs are spectacular.

Isopogon.

Isopogon sp.

Hakea sp.

Hakea sp.

King orchid.

King orchid.

Wall hugging Epacris sp.

Wall hugging Epacris sp.

The first days hiking was gorgeous, inspiring and debilitating. We only walked about 6 miles but  we came down off a ridge into the deep valley of the Kedumba Rver and then inexorably climbed all the rest off the day all the way up to the peak of Mt. Solitary along a narrow rocky ridge line – big altitude change, rough ground. I was looking forward to the fresh shrimp pasta we were having for dinner but not relishing the pound of thawing prawns in my back pack. To top it all off, just as we got to the edge of the Mt. Solitary escarpment we were deluged by a hail storm! Very refreshing.

Post storm delights

Post storm delights

Mountain sunsets!

Mountain sunsets!

The camp that night was under a canopy of gum trees next to a tiny but delicious spring fed stream.

Kerry frying bacon at campsite 1!

Kerry frying bacon at campsite 1!

Right next to our campsite was a spectacular view back towards Katoomba across the Jamieson Valley. Good spot for breakfast!

I wonder why they call them the Blue Mountains?

I wonder why they call them the Blue Mountains?

The second day was easier walking – just as well as my calves and thighs were complaining. We walked for a couple of hours along the ridge line to Chinaman’s camp where we knew we had more spring water available and where there are some amazing cliff overhangs that are perfect for camping under.

Cave camping Blue Mountains style

Cave camping Blue Mountains style

Here’s a short time-lapse of the closing of the day under the cave overhang.

There is nothing like staring into a fire under the stars!

There is nothing like staring into a fire under the stars, waiting for a billy to boil!

As it turned out the spring that we were counting on was almost dry. Fetching water required a hike down to the very end of the dry creek bed until just before it plunged over the cliff. The last little puddle held about a kitchen sink full of brown and murky water full of mosquito larva! Now that’s what I call camping!

But this is the sunrise 10ft away from the water source!

The next day dawned clear and bright and threatened to get hot. This was just a week or so prior to the first bad bush fires of the season up in this part of the country.

Our path ahead was clear. Follow the edge of Mt. Solitary along until it drops into the valley, follow the ridge line to the “Ruined Castle” and then through the rain forest under the escarpment until we get to the “Golden Stairs”. Then up, up, up, the Golden Stairs until we get to a hot bath somewhere. Graham told me that we weren’t the first to see the Golden Stairs as the path to salvation. Early in the white history of the Blue Mountains the valley’s edge was mined for coal and shale kerosene. At the end of a hard week of toil the miners would head out of the valley for some well deserved R&R in the bars and fleshpots of Katoomba. Waiting at the stairs were a crowd of well-intentioned christian ladies who would sing hymns to discourage the wanton behavior of the weary miners. One of their favorite ditties referred to the Golden Stairs on the path to Heaven – but the miners saw the path in front of them climbing to a more earthly paradise!

The path ahead

The path ahead. Follow the ridge line, then turn right along the bottom of the escarpment until you get to the head of the valley, then up!

We had other companions on our walk. The furry critters in the Australian bush mostly come out at night when its cool, but insects and lizards are around during the day.

Giant bush roach

Giant bush roach

Our most constant companions were the amazing Australian Cicadas. Cicadas are widespread around the temperate regions of the world, and the US is proud of its cyclical cicada emergence which is happening this year. But trust me, there ain’t nothing to compare to Australian cicadas!

This year promises to be a boom year for the Ozzie cicada too. Everywhere I looked their perfect carapaces were lined up all along trees and fence lines. The trees and air were full of their fat little bodies (my cousin Malcolm says they were created as Christmas dinner for the birds), and the air was thrumming with their ear piercing song. Part of me wished I had my excellent sound equipment with me (duh) but a bigger part of me was glad not to have had the weight! How would the iPhone hear this?

"Green Grocer"

“Green Grocer”

Moved out.

Moved out.

As we came under the shade and moisture of the escarpment we went from the dry Eucalyptus and Casuarina dominated forest into the green moist Coachwood and tree fern dominated rainforest and the cicadas gave way to the raspy mimicking repertoire of Lyrebirds

Kerry botanizing in the Coachwood forest

Kerry botanizing in the Coachwood forest

At the foot of the Golden Stairs we had  a breather, and sucked down the last of our brown spring water from Chinaman’s camp before climbing out of the valley, enjoying the views back across the valley to Mt. Solitary.

Kerry and Graham having a breather.

Kerry and Graham having a breather.

A level view of the iconic "3 Sisters"

A level view of the iconic “3 Sisters”

Oh and a final 180 degree panorama of the view South into the Burragarang valley and  Sydney’s water supply.

Burragarang Valley from Mt. Solitary.

Burragarang Valley from Mt. Solitary.

Artifact and Translation

The climax of my stay at ANU was the exhibition “Artifact and Translation” that ran from October 1-5, 2013.

Here is the flier!

A3_poster.indd

It was a great opportunity to show the digital images I developed as a consequence of our field trip to the Kioloa Field Research Station, along with the whittlings and translations that we have all been working on.

Here’s the view when you entered the Foyer Gallery from the main entrance of the ANU School of Art.

Entering the gallery

Entering the gallery

With four large prints on the left,  my whittle translation in the center and everyone else’s whittles and translations along the far wall.

The four large ‘Old Blotchy’ prints. Developed from images taken of the gnarled and wrinkled skin of that grand old survivor.

Maculaata (Old Blotchy) #1-#4

Maculata (Old Blotchy) #1-#4

And a close up to see how it looks in real life.The photorealism breaks down.  The patterning which is an artifact of the Live trace software has been tuned to closely resemble the patterning that is natural to the Spotted Gum tree bark which flakes off periodically leaving pastel colored scars with the occasional bright orange scar from humans sgraffito. Natural artifact mapped into software artifact.

Maculata (Old Blotchy) #1 detail

Maculata (Old Blotchy) #1 detail

And my whittle translation. This is the first time I’ve used digitally manipulated images of whittles in my work – another digital translation of the hand made.

Teatree topology

Teatree topology

Each whittle was from a successive slice from a branch of Teatree harvested at Kioloa. It was interesting treating each successive, subtly different, slice as if I had never worked that material or form before. Exploring what moves with the knife worked and what the existing convoluted branch forms suggested.

Chunk of teatree.

Chunk of teatree.

First teatree whittle.

First teatree whittle.

Teatree topology translation

Teatree topology translation

Teatree topology detail

Teatree topology detail

Along the opposite wall was the series of 6 smaller prints.

Maculata #1-6

Maculata #1 – #6

I think this one is my favorite.

Maculata #4

Maculata #4

And close up.

Maculata #4 detail

Maculata #4 detail

The final portion of the show was the whittlings and inspired translations by all of the folk who joined in the field trip to Kioloa.

We arranged the whittlings along the wall on a narrow shelf (thanks for the timber donation Tim!), each accompanied by its translation into another medium or process, and a swing tag giving some clue as to its identity.

An array of whittles and translations.

An array of whittles and translations.

Some details.

Whittle, translations and tag by Pia Nemec

Whittle, translations and tag by Pia Nemec

Translation by Andrew Carvolth

Translation by Andrew Carvolth

Andrew created a tool, and used it on a piece of wood to create marks. The essence of whittling, translated into a whole new entity! Nice work.

Ashley, Brian and Shep trying to solve the puzzle.

Ashley and Brian trying to solve the puzzles.

Shep just savoring the full sensory experience.

Shep just savoring the full sensory experience.

Huge thanks to everyone who made this exhibition possible. Especially to Ashley Eriksmoen who invited me to ANU and who was such a generous, supportive and inspiring host. To Jason O’Brien who did such wonderful work with my prints and who was forever cheerful despite my constant hounding. To Jason Kochel for all his help with the gallery. And finally to all the staff and students of the Furniture Workshop at the ANU School of Art, who welcomed me, worked late at night with me, and who dedicated themselves to the art, whimsy and mystery of whittling.

Kioloa – Australia

I’m just getting going on a one month residency at the Australian National University School of Art – my alma mater. As soon as I arrived and settled in, the entire Furniture program loaded up and headed down to the south coast of New South Wales to the ANU’s coastal campus and  field research station at Kioloa. Set in a rich forest of spotted gums and blackbutts and right on the edge of a beautiful string of golden beaches its was a great place to meet the students and check out some of the local woods.

Heading to the beach

Heading to the beach

Students completing local habitat analysis.

Students exploring the local habitat.

Prof. Fortescue's technial demonstration.

Prof. Fortescue’s technical demonstration.

I wasn't the only galah on the beach.

I wasn’t the only galah on the beach.

Off into the forest with a trailer load of testosterone.

Off into the forest with a trailer load of testosterone.

The spotted gum forest is so engaging. There were magpies and rosellas soaring through the trees and yabbering away to each other and a discrete lyrebird working on his repertoire down amongst the tea trees.

The spotted gum forest

The spotted gum forest

Spotted gum bark

Spotted gum bark.

I’m interested in using images of the spotted gum bark for a series of prints while I’m here. The markings are remarkably similar to the artifacts of ‘livetrace’ that I have been exploring recently.

I wonder how they will turn out?

Felling an Acacia to take back to the station for whittling.

Clare Solomon felling a mighty Acacia to take back to the station for whittling.

Night whittling

Night whittling

Whittles in Native cherry, Acacia and Teatree.

Whittles in Native cherry, Acacia and Teatree.

Ian Guthridge took me out to see ‘Old Blotchy’ a huge and ancient spotted gum that has been around since before the whitefella landed on these shores.

Ian Guthridge gives scale to Old Blotchy.

Ian Guthridge gives scale to Old Blotchy.

What a magnficent vegetable!

What a magnficent vegetable!

... with gnarled and wrinkled skin.

… with gnarled and wrinkled skin.

A local enjoying the sunset.

A local enjoying the sunset.

More soon as I get going on some new work here in Canberra.

Sydney’s Three Winds

Sydney’s Three Winds

I’ve been savoring, thinking about and writing on the unique seasons we experience here in Bayarea.

It reminded me of the classic essay  (which I will reproduce here in full, as I can’t find it anywhere else online) by J.D. Pringle. Pringle was a long time editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and this piece on the distinctive winds of Sydney was reproduced in ‘Austrian Accent’ (Chatto and Windus, London, 1958).

SYDNEY’S THREE WINDS by J.D. Pringle

SYDNEY is ruled by three winds, which command the City in turn like the chiefs of an invading army.

The first is the north-easter, the prevailing wind of summer. It is a fair-weather wind, a lazy, languorous wind, which comes in from the long reaches of the South Pacific heavy with moisture and sticky with salt. This is the wind which drives the great Pacific rollers on to the open beaches before leaping over the narrow barrier of land, making the pines of Manly sing as it passes and ruffling the calmer waters of the Harbour on the other side. On Sundays the crews of the 18-foot yachts catch it as they round the buoy for the long run home and push out their bellying spinnakers which lift the small hulls out of the water until they seem to be flying.

The north-easter is a sea-breeze and is out of its element on dry land. As soon as it reaches the brick-and-concrete towers of the City it begins to flag, though it still has the strength to rustle the skirts of the palm trees on Macquarie Street and to fan the foreheads of the drinkers squatting on their haunches outside the pubs in Balmain and Woolloomooloo. A few miles inland the north-easter fades away altogether, daunted by the size of the continent before it. To the western suburbs it brings no relief from the heat but to the more favoured eastern suburbs it is a source of pride and joy; and the wealthy citizens of Bellevue Hill and Point Piper set their houses to catch it like the yachts on the Harbour set their sails. But the north-easter is not an unmixed blessing. If it brings coolness, it also brings the humidity which is the curse of Sydney’s summer.

The north-easter has a rhythm of its own. It starts gently in the morning, the merest sea-breeze, and grows stronger all day until by six o’clock in the evening it is blowing half a gale and sending the more timorous yachtsmen in for shelter. Then it dies away as the sun goes down. Sometimes, too, it seems to grow stronger each day, while the temperature climbs steadily and Sydney swelters in sticky heat. Then suddenly it drops and there is a great calm. In the City the heat seems unbearable.

Women sit outside their terraced houses in the inner suburbs and lean over their cast-iron balconies, unwilling to go indoors. Pale-faced children play languidly in the streets. But the men look to where great clouds are building up in the south or turn on the wireless to listen for the weather forecast. They know that the time has come for the north-easter to give way to the second of the three winds – the southerly.

The southerly comes with a rush of cold air and a splatter of rain. The Sydneysiders call it the “southerly buster,” because it arrives with a banging of doors and windows like a train coming into the station. It can be fierce for a few hours, bowling over the yachts in the Harbour like ninepins and dexterously removing loose tiles from the house-roofs; but it is a much-loved wind in summer, bringing down the temperature with a bump, cooling the sultry streets and sending fretful babies to sleep. Generally it blows itself out in the night and Sydney wakes up in the morning to blue skies and brilliant sun as the north-easter resumes its sway over the City. In winter, however, it may blow for days, bringing cold Melbourne weather and a hint of snow to Sydney.

The third wind is the westerly, a gusty, dusty wind blowing from the heart of the continent. It- is an unpredictable wind, following no rhythm and obeying no laws, but in summer dry and hot as the blast from an oven door, it pounces on the City and worries it. It is an uncomfortable, penetrating wind, which gets through clothes and windows, forcing dust into the eyes and nose. Like the sirocco of the Mediterranean, its extreme dryness seems to irritate people, making the easy-going Sydneysiders bad-tempered.

In winter the southerly may blow for weeks on end, but in summer, fortunately, it rarely lasts more than a day or two – fortunately because it is only when the westerly is blowing that Sydney gets truly hot. The temperature climbs into the hundreds; the tar melts on the roads; and those who go down to the beaches for relief find that they cannot run bare-foot across the burning sand to the water. Worse still, it is the bush-fire wind. If you look up at the sky during a hot westerly, you will see a curious reddish- orange haze on the horizon. This is the smoke of bush-fires burning beyond the City boundaries. On a bad day, when the City is ringed with fires, the sky is half obscured with smoke and the sun glares down on the City like a blood-shot eye.

Bread and craft

Yesterday’s post on Tartine’s bread wizard Chad Robinson, reminded me of one of the core stories I enjoy and often tell when I give presentations on my work. The story came from the inspiring Tasmanian woodworker and sculptor Gay Hawkes who was renown, when I was getting started, for her reinterpretation of the bush vernacular furniture of the (perhaps mythical) colonial chair bodger Jimmy Possum.

On Mt. Wellington, Gay Hawkes

Gay used to say that the ultimate craft was bread baking.

The baker starts in the wee hours of the morning when everyone is asleep and the world is dark and foggy.

She starts up the ovens, gets the chill off her bones and unwraps the basic tools of her trade.

The ingredients are simple and primal – flour, eggs, water, yeast, salt, oil.

When they are mixed, there is an alchemy which transforms and synthesizes the simple ingredients in extraordinary ways.

The work requires strength, care, patience and risk.

The results are delicious, varied, and lie at the very core of human culture.

By sun-up the work is done, the shelves are laden.

When the bakery doors open there is a flood of hungry customers who demolish the baker’s work with gusto and joy.

The baker cleans the tools of her trade, closes shop and goes home to rest.

There is very little waste.

Early in the morning the baker wakes and goes through the whole process once more!

With perhaps a subtle shift in recipe or process to test a new idea or improve an already proven formula.

Isn’t this the essence of CRAFT?

Peter Walker’s surfboards

Like all Aussies, I have a huge passion for the ocean, especially the liminal space where the ocean and the land interact/collaborate/dispute. Even though I was raised on a gorgeous beach south of Sydney, I foolishly missed my chance to learn to surf.

Stanwell Park, Australia - where I 'grew up'.

I have since tried to make amends by learning to surf here in Bayarea. I have certain disadvantages; I’m over 50, my ears don’t like getting flushed out with icy cold water containing various not so friendly biota, I mostly surf within the poetically named Red Triangle where Great White Sharks come in the Fall (the best surfing season) to fatten up on the rich aquatic sealife found here, the ocean water here is perennially icy cold and the coast is most often shrouded in fog.

To make up for these negatives; the coast here is magnificently picturesque, the fog is often an almost animate entity adding a visual richness to any view, the cold water keeps many people out of the surf and so the waves are less crowded than further south, I have a deep understanding of ocean ecology from living on both sides of the Pacific and having studied and worked in the ecological sciences in my early professional days, my sculptural work has focussed increasingly on the oceans and my skills and interest as a maker have given me a keen appreciation of the craft of making (and learning to ride) surfboards and other watercraft.

So you can understand my joy at seeing the recent work of my long standing friend, colleague, compatriot and fellow designer-craftsman Peter Walker.

Peter in action

Peter’s website portfolio.

For the last few years, Peter has been designing and constructing a series of hollow wooden surfboards with all the care, precision and nuanced understanding of a highly trained and experienced furniture craftsman and sculptor. These are beautifully crafted ‘craft’ drawing on the traditions and aesthetics of solid wooden board construction, incorporating the evolution of board shaping over the last 40 years or so and embracing the latest hollow core construction techniques. On top of this (literally) Peter has used traditional wood inlay techniques, burning and other techniques derived from the history of furniture and has also worked with a range of contemporary Australian artists to decorate the boards. Here are some samples of his work.

This is ‘Making Waves’, an older piece not from his recent exhibition. It is decorated by the well-known Australian ceramist Stephen Bowers, who rifs on historic decorative motifs with a liberal dose of Aussie humor and irreverence. Th deep blue pigment references both ‘Willow plate’ and tattooing – two decorative traditions that are  poles apart culturally but remarkably similar visually – I wonder what Adolf Loos would think?

'Making Waves' front

'Making Waves' back

'Making Waves' detail

In a similar vein, his new work ‘Paisley’ brings decorative motifs from textiles which are scorched into the board’s surface. The paisley pattern itself has a rich history of cross-cultural appropriation and conjures the innocent youth of surfing culture in the 60’s.

'Paisley'

'Paisley' detail

Referencing furniture processes and decorative details –

"Finless Double Ender"

"Finless Double Ender" detail

The following piece “Paulownia Planing Hull” was decorated by Gerry Wedd. It references the cell structure of the wood from which the board was made, as if the water droplets on the surface of the board provide a super powered Leeuwennhoek-ian lens. It also calls to mind other oceanic patterns such as the suckers of octopi or the bleached exoskeletons of sea urchins.

"Paulownia Planing Hull"

Perhaps my favorite piece is “Firestick”. As a kid growing up on the South Coast of New South Wales, it seemed like every summer was a mix of surf and bushfire. It was either salt or smoke in the air. “Firestick” was scorched using hot stones; a process that threatened to destroy the board if left uncontrolled. The resulting image seems to conjure landscape. The title and the work itself call to mind the indigenous peoples of Australia, and their primary tool for managing the landscape  – the firestick. The surfboard is now one of our tools for engaging with and becoming part of the liminal landscape of the oceans edge.

"Firestick"

Those of you wanting to probe deeper i can highly recommend the exhibition catalog essay by  Mark Thompson which speaks to the nuances of Peter’s work. I have posted it here. The well known designer, ceramist and surfer Gerry Wedd’s opening night speech at the Jam Factory in Adelaide was excellent and is posted here.

Oz – Hobart – 42° 50′ S.

The last leg of our trip takes us to our southern-most destination Hobart; the capital of Australia’s tiny southern island state Tasmania. I have been here a few times over the years and my visits always mark significant milestones in my life. I’m sure this visit will turn out to be similarly significant to me.

We’ve been hosted by the School of Art of the University of Tasmania at Hobart which has an amazing location in old industrial buildings (the old IXL jam factory) on the bustling downtown waterfront docks of Hobart.

I ran a design workshop for a week with a dozen motivated and inspiring students. We explored a range of methods for developing complex sculptural forms and created a whole lot of interesting prototypes derived, in part, from seed pods and flowers that we collected in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. My thanks to Richard Skinner, the furniture design program director, for all of his enthusiasm and planning to make this workshop a success.

The nature table for form inspirations

Discussing the forms we constructed

The highlight of our last fee days in Hobart was our visit with Peter Michael Adams at his extroardinary piece of paradise – Windgrove. I recommend that you spend hours reading his rich, engaging and provocative blog.

Peter had the insight to acquire some 100 acres of beachfront property about 2 hrs drive from Hobart and has spent the last 18 years re-foresting the land and creating an artist’s retreat and living sculpture garden. Peter’s own writing gives a clear perspective on his spiritual and ecologically inspired approach to land management and art practice. I will simply share some images and captions from our brief stay with him.

Roaring Beach

One of Peter's many outdoor sculptures within the sculpted landscape

The fire pit where Peter maintained a continuous fire for 6 years to promote world peace. While digging the fire pit Peter found blackened fire stones that were used sometime in the last 20,000 years by the Aboriginal people of the area.

Peter in his outdoor studio

One of many sculptural benches Peter has created for Windgrove

The huge circle clearing that Peter has created by his plantings and nurturing, as viewed from Roaring Beach

The circle from nearby

The bowed bench that crowns the circle and affords panoramic views of Roaring Beach and the Derwent River estuary

The 'drop stone' bench, inspired by the volcanic stones weathered from the sedimentary cliffs nearby

Detail of the 'drop stone' bench

Double spiral sculpture in Peter's house

New works on display in Peter's house

A new work inspired by the plight of the recent 'boat people' trying to land in Australia, which of course, is a country inhabited entirely by 'boat people' and their descendants

Watching the sunset with Peter and Jerry Michalski

'Alpha Romeo' highlit on the Derwent as she heads for line honors in the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

A perfect way to end our 4 months of inspiring travels!!

But hopefully not my active blogging.

Oz – Sydney – 33° 52′ S.

Opera house tiles

After Heron Island, we flew back to Sydney to start our residency at the College of Fine Arts (COFA) at the University of NSW (my science degree alma mata). COFA gave us a wonderful apartment just off Oxford St. in Paddington, close to galleries and an easy bus ride into downtown Sydney where I wanted to be for most of my planned research.

Sydney is my hometown and its always great to be there. Old friends, beloved relatives, Scotch finger biscuits, Madura tea, Boy Charlton Pool, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Bondi Beach, the list goes on.

My main purpose in Sydney, however, was to continue my research into Australian colonial furniture and artifacts connected with natural history collections and the transmission of knowledge about the colony back to England. I have already talked about Bauer’s writing desk that I saw at Kew Gardens in London in an earlier blog. In Sydney I struck the jackpot! My dear cousin Anna Blunt is a librarian at the Historic Houses Trust which has a rich and varied library. Anna spent a day with Sandra and me helping us research our various interests and getting wonderfully side-tracked along the way.

Exhausted from too much input

Anna showed me a beautiful new monograph of the early colonial painter Joseph Lycett (a convict deported to Sydney in 1814 for forgery). In the monograph was images of the Macquarie Chest, an extraordinary piece of cabinetwork, which encapsulated all of the ideas which I had been looking for in an early colonial piece. For those of you interested you can find a wonderful image archive of the Macquarie chest here.

I will give you a taste of it here.

Macquarie chest

The cabinet itself is about as big as a cooler (Esky) and sits on four short legs. Its made of timber sourced in the colony. When the chest is opened it reveals its treasures. Under the upper doors is a separate shallow chest with two drawers and an opening top. Below that are two shallow trays. Underneath all that, opening from the front of the chest, is a series of 3 drawers. In each drawer and tray is a unique collection of aesthetically displayed natural history specimens. The piece as a whole is wonderful but it has four extraordinary aspects.

Open sesame!

Firstly, under each lid is an original oil painting by Lycett of a scene from around Newcastle and Port Macquarie (north of Sydney).

One of Lycett's views

View with a roo (or two).

Another view

Secondly, the natural history collections are intact and largely undisturbed from when they were assembled almost 200 years ago. The dried bird specimens in particular are brilliantly coloured and perfectly preserved – it looks as though they all fell off the perch yesterday.

The birds!

The bugs!

The corallines!

Thirdly, there is a great story about the piece which conservationists, curators and historians have pieced together over the years since the chest was discovered. It seems that the chest was most likely a gift from Lieutenant Wallis, the Commandant of the new penal colony of Newcastle, to the 5th Governor of the colony of New South Wales – Lachlan Macquarie. Macquarie in all likelihood, took the chest with him on his return to England in 1822 and passed it on to his son – also named Lachlan – in his estate two years later (dead at 62). Lachlan was a wild boy with passions for gambling and drinking (a good son of Australia), he ran up debts to William Drummond the son and heir of his father’s old friend Andrew Drummond, the 6th Viscount of Strathallen. It appears that shortly before his untimely demise from a drunken fall down the stairs of Craignish Castle (in 1845 at 41 years old), Lachlan Jr. changed is will to leave most of his dwindling estate to Drummond in payment for his debts. Fast forward to 1986 when the NSW State Library was informed of the existence of the chest still in place in Strathallen Castle where it had rested for 140 years undisturbed – passing from owner to owner over the generations. Resting undisturbed in a cold, dry dark stone castle was perhaps the best treatment it could possibly have received.

The fourth extraordinary aspect is that it has a twin – the Dixson chest. Which is almost as superb as you can see in the album of images here.

My task now is to develop a piece based on and drawing inspiration from this incredible piece of craftsmanship so imbedded in Australian history and the relationship of the young colony to England. Its quite a challenge. I wish I could just claim authorship of the work as an objet trouvé. It would be a wonderful addition to my Genius Loci series. But this isn’t a possibility. I’ve been enjoying thinking through my interpretation of this piece. How much will it be a reproduction? What will it contain? Where is my act in the work? What part of history will it encapsulate? Which Scottish castle will take care of it for 140 years for it to reach maturity?

Anna Blunt and Louise Anamaat

My immense thanks to Anna Blunt, at the Historic Houses Trust, who revealed the existence of this piece to me and to Louise Anemaat, curator at the State Library who kindly made it possible for me to spend an unforgettable afternoon closely examining, measuring and being awed by the Macquarie chest.

Oz – Heron Island – 23° 26′ S.

Board decal at airport

After a few days in Oakland to repack our bags (dump the books and fancy clothes, swap in the camping gear and insect repellent), bond with our furry boy Nico and squeeze in a quick surf at Bolinas, we boarded our 13 hour flight to Sydney. Then we turned right around again to fly to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

I was first on Heron Island over 20 years ago as a zoology student at the Heron Island research station. The research station and the neighbouring resort have changed totally since then, but the island itself seems largely unchanged. At this time of year the island is home to (almost infested by) tens of thousands of nesting seabirds.

During the day, every tree has scores of nesting White-capped Noddy Terns. They were getting ready for the nesting season by building their nests which they are incredibly bad at. Its hard to imagine why they are so ineffective. I watched a nesting pair for two days as the male flew dexterously around collecting suitable looking Pisonia leaves which he then ferried to his nest building mate. She would juggle the leaf to find a good spot for it and then look on impotently as it fell off the nest. After two days she was still sitting on just a single leaf.

Noddy nesting

Mr. and Mrs. Noddy

As the sun sets thousands of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters fly in from the west to meet up with their burrow mates and work on their sandy burrows. The pairs sit close to each other and moan to each other or squabble with their neighbours causing an extraordinarily creepy cacophony all through the night – like hundreds of deep throated babies wailing. The resort has a supply of earplugs in each room.

When you walk around by day or night you have to be careful not to tread on a bird or get run over by one as they come in to land. They are completely fearless. Bird poop becomes an integral part of your casual attire on Heron Island and pervades the otherwise pristine atmosphere.

The seas are full of life as you would expect on a coral atoll. And from the beach you can see rays and sharks and turtles right off shore in just a foot or so of water. The Green sea turtles were just beginning to come up on the beach in the evening to lay their eggs. You can wander out carefully at night and spot their tractor-like tracks heading up the beach and then get fairly close to them by listening for their digging. They spend hours laying hundreds of almost golf ball sized eggs in a deep pit which they then cover before heading back to sea. Here’s one heading back to zero gravity after a hard night’s work.