Tuesday 26 February 2008

slings and arrows

photograph: Tony Lewis

we thought we’d made magic on opening night but it appears that Alan Brissenden who writes for The Australian may have had a bad prawn (or perhaps consumed a plastic beaker of the Princess Bar’s oxymoronically flat ‘bubbles’); for his review of ‘seven’ was, to say the very least, bitter. Apparently he thought my costumes ‘grubby’, was cantankerous and nasty about the choreography, didn't have his hearing aid in properly so missed the dialogue and completely misinterpreted Dan’s lovely stage design.

other reviewers have been rather kinder. (each highlight there links to a different review).

there are lessons here; not least that one should not be unduly troubled by what others think.

and that we all see the whirled through very different eyes.

Sunday 24 February 2008

little bear's porridge

today was a little bear's porridge day..not too hot, not too cold, but just right. even a little scotch mist to help green the few leaves remaining in the garden.

needing a little grounding after the headiness of opening night & associated pre-performance butterflies, lukewarm pseudochampagne and requisite schmoozing (don't get me wrong, it's fun at the time) i wander out to the paddock and call up my four-legged sister, Kelpie. there's nothing like conversation with a horse, they are mind-readers and like a full focus. our horses need no catching...they enjoy company and if not already waiting at the gate will canter up as soon as they spot us.
i saddle up. i used to ride bareback all the time but the bounce (both for getting up and for sudden dismounts) isn't what it once was. at least the bridle is bitless, soft and seemingly comfy. she puts her nose into it quite happily.

one of my 'three' rides with me, bareback on the palouse pony Sparky, her red hair aflame in the afternoon sun. the elderly welsh pony trots along beside us, joyfully kicking up her heels from time to time and stopping for a snack when she feels like it. her retirement plan seems to be working nicely for her! sheep glance up at us as we ride on by, knowing by the dog's relaxed bumbling they won't be mustered today.

it's good to be out on a paddock, even if the dry of summer does make it look a bit like the badlands. a slight shift in the light and the scene is straight out of the pages of Tolkien, a grassy steppe with lichen-covered boulders that does nicely for Rohan. unfortunately the time spent in the studio in recent months, constructing costumes and works for next week's exhibition has meant that certain spontaneous plants, including the dreaded scotch thistle, have also been enjoying the scenery. Onopordum acanthium (scotch thistle) was introduced to this continent by the early settlers...specifically those with a fondness for heather and haggis.

Georgiana Molloy, an extraordinary woman who (with her husband) was one of the early settlers of the state in the far west, wrote home to her sister "please send me some more thistle seed, quite new" as her first crop apparently failed. unlike poor Georgiana, who shuffled off this mortal coil after having too many babies in too few years (including giving birth to her first child in a tent in a storm on an ocean beach) the thistles thrived. in practical terms, this means my next studio-free day will be spent grubbing thistles, with my horse-sister curiously watching me, rather than carrying me, literally and metaphorically, away from toil...

Saturday 23 February 2008

in the lap of the dogs

while i've been to the odd ghastly production over the years the magic of theatre rarely has trouble ensnaring me, despite that my own thespian dreams were firmly dampened by school drama teachers who liked to keep that odd brown-skinned pupil safely tucked in the back somewhere, guised as a witch, gypsy or (when all else failed) wearing a top-to-toe rat costume.
and (in a previous 'life') working at the Adelaide Festival Centre Gallery in the early eighties when the now-famous Geoffrey Rush was still treading the boards for State Theatre (and the latter still rehearsed in the Playhouse) was a dream in itself (as was GR's performance in The Dream...) and the subterranean route between departments, as it took one backstage with only a little sideways wandering... but i digress.

last night at the dress rehearsal for Seven that magic showed no sign of having diminished. even though i'd seen many of the rehearsals and watched sequences endlessly on dvd while plotting/making/dyeing the costumes, when we reached the end of the run i was still rivetted and wanting more. Dan Potra's sets are fantastical, Leigh's choreography at its (usual) brilliant standard, the dancers' interpretations moving/funny/frightening/sweet. it is a delight to be part of...

and now for opening night. we've done our best...so, as our director so succinctly put it...it's now in the lap of the dogs.

without wishing to give too much away, here's a moment...some captured light and movement, without the intrusion of a flash

Friday 22 February 2008

to sleep, perchance to dream

last weekend, on a filthily hot day, we marked the 25th anniversary of the devastating fires that claimed the family home and three of our four cats. it didn't claim me or Franz Josef (true and faithful shepherd), L'Empereur des Autres Chiens, as opposed to Kaiser Franz Josef (who was given that name some 150 years previously)...L'Empereur des Autrichiens. or something like that.

something else it didn't claim (miracles do happen, from time to time) had it's beginnings rather earlier.

nearly forty-five years ago, on another stinking hot Saturday my little Grandmother (having worked all week in a factory sewing military uniforms) made her way by tram and foot to the slaughterhouse, where she acquired an enormous bag of slightly bloodied chicken feathers. these she then brought home, sewed into a sturdy cloth bag and then thoroughly washed and aired.

some days later when they were clean, sweet smelling and fluffy, Grandmother tied up her hair in a duster, closed the doors and windows and filled four big pillows -one for each grandchild- in ticking cases she'd sewed herself, on a hand cranked portable sewing machine she lugged from Latvia (but that's another story). in those days my family lived in her house, having just returned from a period in Canada. i well remember sinking my head happily into my new pillow, untroubled (i was five) by the ghosts of those who had given up their lives for my comfort.

i can't remember why my pillow survived the bushfire, but i'm ever so grateful that it was in the car along with the dog on that awful day. i've put my head on it every night (except for those spent sleeping away in helltells) since it was given me and the magic it contains, put there by Grandmother, makes for good dreams. the sturdy ticking has kept all the feathers inside and the daily pillow thumping to refluff it has doubtless been very good therapy (for me, if not the pillow)

it's more than twenty years since Grandmother closed her eyes for the last time, but every time i close mine i still bless her, and not just for my pillow.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

the meaning of things

in recent days i have been learning new things. such as what a warranty really means, and what value other people place on one's time. unrelated subjects, but let me waffle for a moment and i will elucidate.
in january i travelled across the ditch in order to tell stories and make colours for a week. i packed my needs for the journey in a newly acquired Samsonite super-suitcase, basically an elephant-shaped object with four wheels that i had been seduced into acquiring because it could roll alongside me like a happy puppy and because it had a three-year warranty.
what's wrong with a backpack? you mutter. and rightly so. backpacks give one a freedom in travel and for many wandering years a smallish example of such objects had an almost parasitic attachment to my shoulders.
sadly age hath wearied me (and the years condemned) and various amusing occupations such as sheep-crutching and an unexpected dismount from my horse (not her fault, but mine) have reduced me to using what resembles a caravan for pygmies when i travel. the need for the transport of teaching materials has something to do with that, as well.
to trim a story of potentially epic proportions, i arrived at my destination to find that my new friend had been damaged (on its virgin excursion) to the extent that it could no longer be closed except by the application of bountiful amounts of binder twine (the contemporary equivalent of no.8 wire). as a farmer, i always carry binder twine somewhere in my chattels.
never mind, i thought (ever the optimist), it has a 3 year warranty and they'll fix it.

pas c'est soir, Josephine...the gentleman representing Samsonite in my nearest metropolitan centre (2hours from my home) informed me yesterday that this damage was not the fault of the makers and that placing luggage in this object and giving it into the care of an airline was somehow not a reasonable use of a suitcase (in the terms of the warranty). i am a little confused by this, but waiting developments.

and the bit about time and value? i have been informed by a teaching institution on the east coast of the big island to the west of Aotearoa that my fee (set by me, for workshops) is far too high and that unless i accept the level of reimbursement offered by them they must decline the opportunity to use my services.
that's fine by me. my fee simply reflects the fact that i must spend at least day to travel (to anywhere else on this continent) and that what i have to offer students is a knowledge of my field gleaned over a life that spans nearly half a century (and a quarter of a century's research). there's no way i'm going to drive 2hours to the airport, buy a plane ticket to the east coast and teach for 4 hours (at $30 an hour) even if they will let me stay in their flat overnight. i'd still be substantially out of pocket. meanwhile their lecturers enjoy tenure, superannuation, use of offices & libraries and other benefits on generous paypackets that (in terms of actual costs to their home institution) work out at about $1500 per day, per person (not including their international excursions!).

if they don't think that i'm worth what i ask (which is rather less than that estimated cost i've noted above) then frankly i'd rather stay home on the farm.

and if Samsonite don't fix my suitcase, i may have to!

postscript : they fixed my suitcase! so now Dumbo (the suitcase does look like a small elephant) can fly again...

Monday 18 February 2008

wandering in the forest

i see that the shapeshifter Viggo Mortensen has an upcoming exhibition 'skovbo' at the Reykjavik Museum of Photography opening 31st May 2008 (until 31 August). i find him rather intriguing in that he manages to be an actor, horse-charmer, artist, poet and photographer; as well as owning an independent publishing company - heck, he's probably a good cook as well.
the word 'skovbo' is, one is given to understand, a Danish descriptor for a 'home in the forest'.

this set me wondering...i didn't think there were many trees, let alone forests, in Iceland, but i was wrong, and here they are.

wandering to Iceland is something i have been dreaming of...plotting botanical alchemy with windfalls, cloth and nature's thermal bounty, i suspect it won't be happening just yet. fortunately the private publishing arm mentioned above is to produce a comprehensive catalogue to accompany the show.

Sunday 17 February 2008


i was sent this by a friend a few days ago...and am still chuckling

Saturday 16 February 2008

things granny could have told us

while beavering away with a sewing machine today i was hearing most intriguing snippets from the wireless...such as that in Chigaco they've discovered that planting trees and grass in the 'negative spaces' (their words, not mine) between apartment blocks has led to a demonstrable drop in the local crime rate of some 7%. well, that's a surprise. it ain't exactly rocket science to determine that people will probably be feeling happier about themselves if their environment is nicer and therefore less likely to throw rocks at windows or fling old Mrs Brinkworth's zimmerframe under the wheels of a passing truck.

and then there were stories about how parents of children with attention deficit disorders were finding that these children showed 'improved learning attitudes' if taken outside into the fresh air and encouraged to run about a bit.

these are strange times indeed, when we have to wait for some authority figure to tell us to take our children outdoors! of course little Johnny is going to be less likely to staple the cat's tail to the sofa if he's encouraged to kick a ball around outside in the greenery. and speaking of which (greenery, i mean) i rather suspect that greenery, or lack of, in the diet may have something to do with all this as well.

the earth's soils are becoming ever more depleted and increasingly acidic in many places, making it difficult for plants to take up magnesium (as just one example). zinc and magnesium levels in the human body both have an effect on people's dispositions...get too low in either and you run the risk of clinical depression. boost intake of both and you'll feel happier & more inclined to enjoy the world around you...and far less likely to be slouching on the sofa coaxing the cat towards the stapler.

Wednesday 13 February 2008

where eagles (are) rare...

yesterday on the way to an urgent engagement with the teapot after feeding the cows we spot three wedgetail eagles playing on the wind above the farmhouse.

a lifetime ago i lived in the desert near the Andamooka Opal Fields and while there lost my feline best friend to a marauding raptor.
and once while walking amongst the opal dumps my dog suddenly stopped and looked intently upwards. moments later there was a whistling sound and a rabbit's head came hurtling from the sky, missing me by a couple of paces. far above, two eagles had been disputing ownership of breakfast. their loss was the dog's gain. eagles nesting nearby will keep us on our toes and will certainly be welcome assistants in rabbit eradication.

more recently another recently animate object arrived from the sky, this one rather more unnerving in aspect... a passing heron had lost its grip on a reptile. fortunately i was 3 metres from the point of grounding - i imagine suddenly finding oneself wearing a small brownsnake (whether breathing or not) could be rather unsettling and considerably hasten one's own appointment with the Reaper, if only from overwhelming surprise.

Saturday 9 February 2008


as a wool grower and one who works with wool (both on and off the sheep) on a daily basis AWI (Australian Wool Innovation) is providing me with a constant source of amusement. the sort of amusement generated by situations/experiences so bizarre that it's a case of you either cry, or laugh. so i opt for the latter. in the last edition of 'Beyond the Bale' there was a story about someone developing a brilliant new technique for digitally printing (look for pp 22 in the Dec-Jan 08 issue) on to wool for the American 'camouflage' market.

who needs a digital technique? i asked. I've been contact printing camouflage patterns from leaves to fabric for years and it doesn't need a machine or adjunct chemicals. it's a technique i've called the ecoprint which can use those by-products from tree-harvesting called leaves... but when I wrote to AWI about it they were supremely uninterested.

never mind, who wants to help Americans (or anyone else for that matter) go into the forests and shoot defenceless deer and wolves anyway.

and then in the current edition of BTB they showed a picture of a sheep that was described as being 'the answer to mulesing' the bare bits inside the hips aren't anything new....but the jolly thing has been tailstripped!!!!! this is a practice that is just as nasty as mulesing and i'm willing to bet that sheep wasn't born with a brazilian. someone is telling little fibbies here, aren't they? here's the picture, if you don't believe me.

and here's a detail

and here, for good measure, is the caption

but perhaps the most entertainment this month came in the form of a DVD ostensibly to help farmers deal with flystrike. helpfully labelled 'fighting flystrike'. as a tool for someone who is new to sheepwork, sure, it would probably be quite helpful. but to send this out to all of the shareholders in AWI is a joke. for the most part these are farmers who have been working with sheep all their lives. we don't need to have a special section with photographs on a DVD telling us how to identify flystrike for goodness sake. send these things to agricultural high schools, yes, but stop wasting the wool tax on producing nonsense, and start thinking more practically in terms of wool marketing.

after all wool is the natural fibre with all the qualities that the (polyester) synthetics have been trying to copy for years. it grows naturally on sheep and must be harvested annually to keep the sheep comfortable - and PETA can stop complaining about that, too. the reason sheep grow wool is because humans have actively selected them for these characteristics for over 4000 years. we're responsible. if we stop shearing just cos PETA says it's cruel, it will be far worse for the sheep. wool is a brilliant fibre, naturally grown, easily dyed, warm in winter, cool in summer, fire resistant, carbon-storing and a fantastic nitrogen-rich slow release fertilizer when it eventually gets too tatty to wear.

grown responsibly and processed with care wool is (along with with sustainably grown silk) an eco-fibre. we know this. AWI should be telling the world.

Thursday 7 February 2008

hubble bubble

toil and trouble...fire burn and cauldron bubble. today i dealt with a costume challenge by soaking seven cotton hoodies in ashwater, followed by milkwater...then a few repeats and finally immersion in the cauldron in layers of onion skins and found metals. more heating for an hour or so, then the flame extinguished, now they're happily festering away by themselves. they'll be left to their own devices for a few days (likely until Sunday night) for maximum colour uptake.

the furred one is Martha, a very small familiar about the size of a well-nourished grey squirrel...popularly held to resemble a catfishweaselbear. this is a very rare breed, skilled at companion sitting as well as at hurling one's entire earring collection to the floor.

the pot is large enough to cook three babies at once, provided they keep their heads down. pure hypothesis, mind you, as they are quite difficult to fold neatly for shibori-zome purposes.

Wednesday 6 February 2008


at long last awakening at 4 in the morning with water music in my ears...gentle drippings and splashings thanks to a pot strategically positioned under one of the leaks in the gutter, just outside my open window. not a lot of rain but sufficient to harvest a tankful and replenish the fast diminishing house supply.
water is a critical issue here in the driest state on the driest continent. they (those in power) keep plotting desalination plants and sucking the Murray dry (meanwhile poisoning the country with salt) instead of saving the so-called stormwater in underground acquifers. twice as much water falls on the city of Adelaide as it presently consumes. that water is directed out to sea. the funny thing is that quite a lot of punters firmly believe rainwater isn't safe to drink, and happily consume reticulated water that has collected run-off from septic tanks (as well as lots of other disgusting ingredients) on the way to the storage dams; as well as chlorine and copper sulphate. Yuk.
years ago I wrote a poem about the many words for rain. think it probably got eaten in the 1983 bushfire. quite a lot of my scribblings did. probably just as well. mother nature's radical editing at work.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

leaf and twig

i wandered into the garden this morning to find a tiny weaver, hard at work making a (far from tangled) web. in fact the Albertine rose was full of these little chaps, all being most industrious (as well as decorative). so very simple and yet so beautiful...and for the pedantic, no the roses pictured at right are not Albertine, but a tangle of Sutter's Gold and Monsieur Tillier growing together.

later was busily dyeing stuff...the top two images are rose-leaf ecoprints on delicious silk velvet, work in progress for Leigh Warren & Dancers 'seven'.
the lower pic shows eucalyptus ecoprints (gathered on a quick walk around the farm) on a hempsilk mix. this one is for the Hemp Gallery to use at in their display at Designex in April.

Sunday 3 February 2008

magic moments

tonight i relived my misspent youth and went to a concert. Joe Cocker played under the stars in the Barossa Valley...and from the opening chords I was utterly rivetted. the band was musically tight, brilliant to see Nick Milo (on piano) as well as that sexy (female) bass player whose name always escapes me (apologies) and a saxophonist I hadn't seen play before, playing a mean tenor sax and doubling on percussion. Joe, ever the master, fired the crowd up to heights of enthusiasm (despite grumpy security staff pouncing on those who dared to dance) and then (exhibiting top management skills) literally sang them all to sleep with a calming song at the end.

actually being at a concert and feeling the drumbeats in your heart is ever so much better than just watching a recording on dvd...and knowing all the words to all the songs, with each opening bar bringing a smile of recognition to ones face was utter bliss.
at fourteen I went to see a film of Joe's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour...it's taken me thirty-five years to get to one of his concerts. next time I'm planning on the front row, meanwhile if Nick ever loses his compass and needs directions to a piano, there are two in my house...and Joe, when you run out of top shelf sax players, I'll be waiting, tenor in hand.