Sunday, February 22, 2015

James Turrell a retrospective

As part of the 101 human brochure programme I’d been lucky enough to attend ‘Skyspace’ at the National Gallery of Australia and now thanks to a friend (and fellow human) of mine I went along to James Turrell a retrospective currently showing at the National Gallery.

The exhibition forms part of a larger exposition of Turrell’s work. At the end of the Skyspace experience I’d been a bit unsure about how I felt about the artist and his works, but this exhibition put things much more in context – tracing the artists early ideas through to ‘installations’ and ‘projections’. The other three ladies I was with were all enthused about Turrell and the more we saw of his work it became impossible not to be impressed with his thinking and talent. It certainly isn’t an exhibition for everyone but many of the works were really fascinating and going as a group of four of us allowed us to remark on different aspects of what we were looking at, rather than making judgements from a solitary perspective.

There are two rooms with projections in them – I started doing shadow puppets on one of the walls and was rebuked by a guide who told me “This is a masterpiece, not a puppet show!” thereby putting me in my place like a naughty schoolboy.

The final room is bathed in multiple colours which alternate and change during the six or so minutes you’re in there. It was almost hallucinogenic in quality – without the drugs obviously. When we first stepped into the room it felt like walking into an Apple advert!

Coming out I realised that I’d changed my view on Turrell. I had my doubts at first – ‘painting with light’ could be perceived as a load of old hogwash, but actually experiencing a number of works first hand gave you a different take on things. I liked it.

Here's my visit to Skyspace

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Trip to Uluru with Graham, Kerry, Dan and Anja

My brother Graham arrived from Trinidad at the weekend and together with his wife, son (Dan) and Dan's girlfriend Anja we all jetted off to Uluru. It was nice to have a family holiday together with the kids.

Uluru (Ayres Rock) is an iconic symbol of Australia. It's ironic (as well as iconic?) as hardly any Australians have actually been there and the vast majority of visitors there seem to be Chinese, Japanese, Americans or Brits.

It was a long journey from Canberra (three hours by bus, followed by a further three by plane) - the kids coped remarkably well with the monotony.

Emu Walk Apartments were our home while we were there - we were lucky as they'd been recently renovated when we arrived and the furnishings were modern and fresh. Audrey and Eli loved the fact that they had a television in their room - in their eyes it was a major plus point of the entire holiday.

Although the flies which inevitably greet you in Uluru are bothersome in the resort, it's only really when you take a drive out to the rock itself that you actually experience them at their worst. The flies are 'sticky' in that they land on your face and don't really fly away unless you make a concerted effort to get them off.

Graham and the others walked around the base of the rock (10k in full sun) while me and the kids retreated to buy fly-masks. Once we were kitted out in our fly masks the day became more bearable for everyone.

We took a nice walk through the Walpa Gorge at Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and the kids enjoyed scampering back at the end of the day to the relative coolness of the swimming pool.

We also enjoyed the free 'Mala' walk - lead by an aboriginal guide who showed us some of the key areas at the front of Uluru.

There still remains a procession of tourists who climb the rock. It makes me sad as the rock clearly means a lot to the aboriginal community - the traditional owners, and despite being (very politely) asked not to climb up Uluru coachloads of people still continue to. Our guide on the Mala walk informed us that there are plans to remove the chain walkway in 2020 - thereby making Uluru virtually un-climbable - personally I don't think that can come soon enough.

Tim Tams at 36,000 feet

Part of Uluru

Mala Guide

Kata Tjuta (the Olgas)

Eli looking through a telescope at our Astro Tour (the kids both loved it)

Fly masks at the ready!

At the base of Uluru

Sunset over Kata Tjuta (the Olgas)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Swimming Carnival

The kid’s school have an annual swimming carnival and there’s quite a lot of razzamatazz around it, with the classes divided into teams and pitted against each other.

Australians take their swimming pretty seriously – borne out of the fact that they used to dominate the first week of the Olympics where activities take place in the pool. They have a proud tradition and Dawn Fraser, Ian Thorpe and Libby Trickett are absolute household names in Australia. Last May we'd gone along to watch Australia's Olympic hopefuls in a really fabulous (free) afternoon.

Audrey competed in her first swimming carnival this year and as a VPD (very proud Dad) I went along to watch and cheer her on. The seven year olds were expected to race in the 50m breast stroke (a long way for many adults) but Audrey did fabulously coming in 4th place out of 6.

I actually had to bite my tongue a bit as the first three girls quite clearly launched themselves into the water on “Take your marks!” thereby giving themselves a good 5m start and I’m sure Audrey would have collected a Gold Medal by default if it had been an Olympic final. She swam hard to catch them, but couldn't quite make it.

Despite my VPD ways I decided against launching myself into the water and declaring that they call the errant girls back. Well done Audrey – we’ll work on those race dives for next year.
Audrey's breast stroke (wish I'd done a video to give it justice)

School swimming carnival
Eli and his mates

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Amy's Birthday

Friday 6th Feb would have been Amy’s 45th birthday. It would have been a nice occasion had Amy been here. I don’t know what we’d have done. Maybe a meal out or a theatre trip (if we could have found someone to babysit), perhaps a family meal with party hats and crackers? I don’t know.

Death doesn’t really care for such things.

For a few weeks the kids and I had discussed how to celebrate their Mum’s birthday. I thought about a bit of quiet contemplation down by the lake or the three of us sitting on top of Dairy Farmers Hill where Amy and I liked to look out over town. The kids had other plans.

In the end they helped me organise a lovely party at home. I can’t tell you how many people were there as invites all got a bit haphazard, but there were a whole lot of families. I hired a jumpy castle and borrowed another (the kids thought it would be good to have two!) and we also had a fabulous puppet show. It quickly became clear that it was the kids driving the agenda!

People wandered from front of the house to back, some kids bounced on castles, while other children screamed with joy as they hung from the tyre swing. There was a hum of chatting and catching up and the whole scene played out to the background soundtrack of Duran Duran and Hunters and Collectors. It wasn't a sombre affair.

I think the greatest compliment was from someone who said that the party was like being at a festival!

There were school Mums (and Dads!), playgroup Mums (and Dads!) and a good collection of DFAT people too, it was wonderful to see how well everyone got along.

I think what was pleasing too was that Audrey and Eli, in fact I think all the kids, suffered no confusion as to what the party was about and who it was for. One of the Mums told me afterwards that Elijah told her (in no uncertain terms) that it was his “Mum’s birthday”.

At the end of the party we did a balloon release (the balloons disappeared into the sunset with messages of love for Amy written on them) and blew out candles on a big chocolate cake. It all went well and people cheered and shed tears in equal measure.

At the end of the night (a few Mums kindly tidied up the house to a level that I suspect was tidier than when the party began!) I asked Eli whether he had enjoyed himself. He said, he had had a great time but that he wished his Mum had been there. That was pretty much how I felt.

Thank you so much for those who came along (and especially to those who wielded bin-bags at the end!)

Blowing out the candles on the cake
The girls in the pool!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Audrey and Eli's First Day of Term

Eli at his desk 

New shoes

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Back to school on Monday

Dear Amy,

The kids started school today. We managed to negotiate the six weeks holiday, but I admit it was pretty tricky at times. Your Dad came to help for a couple of weeks which was great (they really love their Poppy) and the kids had an assortment of play-dates and days out. They played tennis for the last week – you know, at the courts you used to take them to.

And so we sat on the front step where we sit every year, but this time you weren’t there. Eli realised the significance of it all and started crying. I joined in. When we’d composed ourselves a bit we balanced the camera on the wheely-bin to do a family ‘selfie’ like we’ve done for the last few years. There was an Amy-sized gap in the picture where you should have been.

School was odd. The kids got themselves dressed really nicely. Eli was so smart in his new shoes and Audrey’s dress fortunately (although admittedly shorter than when she wore it last in December) still fitted her. She seems to have shot up recently – she’s such a big girl.

Audrey disappeared with her mates as soon as we arrived at school. She loves her friends – I hope she settles in with her new teacher. Eli was a bit more tentative – as he’s a new child to the Kindy, I was allowed to stay with him for a while. He loved sitting at his new desk – he’s got a couple of good mates in his class too, it’s really nice. His teacher is very keen, he’s a young guy, but looks and sounds very capable.

Afterwards the principle ushered us away from the class for a cup of tea outside the hall. It was odd having tea and biscuits with other Mums and Dads. Strange being on my own.

I took a peek through Eli’s class window before I left. He was chatting to his mates and looking through a book. He’s such a lovely boy.

I cried most of the way to work. I wish you’d been here today, I know how much you wanted to be.

Love always xxxx

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Australia Day at the National Museum

Australia Day is a kind of strange kind of day - a day that celebrates the raising of the British Flag in Port Jackson, NSW.

It's a contentious day not least as the Australia of 1788 was declared Terra Nullius (literally "land belonging to no one") whereas actually there was possibly as many as 1.25 million Aboriginal Australians living in Australia when settlers arrived. The Aborigines were far from the nomadic savages that the Europeans saw them as, but in fact a people with a rich culture developed over 70,000 years of living in Australia before white people showed up.

History now shows that European settlement whether free or forced brought only bad news for indigenous people. Whether it was through the chicken pox, influenza and small pox that they were introduced to by their new neighbours or the genocidal policy wrought on Tasmanian Aboriginies the future for the people became distinctly bleak. We have a lot to learn from Aboriginies, alas we never will.

To celebrate this day now seems a bit anachronistic especially as the day is sometimes tagged "Invasion Day" and talks of a republic conveniently manage not to tie together the fact that the national day is actually a celebration of British arrival, but more worryingly (in my eyes) it gives people an excuse to be nationalistic (rather than patriotic). It is what it is though I guess (and we get a day off work which is good).

Putting aside the complexities of the day we got involved in a couple of great activities. Sunday night saw Paul Kelly (a legend of Australian music) play a free concert in Canberra during the Australian of the Year Awards. It was one of those sad moments. Amy loved Paul Kelly's music (which she introduced me to) Amy had gone over to Adelaide a couple of years ago to watch him play and I cried when I first heard on the radio that he was playing Canberra as sadly he came four months too late for her to watch him on our doorstep. His concert was fabulous.

On Monday we headed out to the National Museum which had a range of horse-related exhibitions. We saw equestrian vaulting (basically gymnastics on the back of a HUGE carthorse), went to the horse exhibition they have on at the moment and watched a great show "Baz and Snags (and Banjo)" in the main hall.

Ben Roberts Smith (VC) an absolute giant of a man, Jackie French and some unpopular chap who nobody clapped when he came on stage 
Paul Kelly plays "Thank you for Loving Me"

Shepphard play as the sun goes down

crowds pack Parliament House lawn

Fly past


The kids loving the puppet show

horses outside the museum

Audrey with Banjo and Baz
Baz and Snags

Iran v Iraq

Canberra played host to a Quarter Final of the Asian Cup, which ended up being a match between arch rivals Iran and Iraq. Someone kindly gave me tickets, so I dragged the kids along (they enjoyed the game in parts).

It turned out to be a thrilling game - finishing 1-1 at full time and then 3-3 after extra time. Iraq were the eventual winners (7-6 on penalties - a surprising scoreline given that both teams had spooned their first penalties wide of the goal).

The Iraq fans partied into the night with drums and trumpets - it was a really exciting event for Canberra to host and great to be at a sporting occasion with such an exciting atmosphere.

Audrey doesn't look like she 'hates football' as much as she says she does

A packed Canberra Stadium