Sunday 30 March 2008


today was a teaching day. this meant leaving home shortly after sunrise on this Sunday morning - the farm ute loaded like a tinker's cart with assorted pots and pans. i put my trust in the universe and decided to see what the roadsides would bear in terms of suitable material for dye-making (oh, alright, I did take a bag full of onionskins, just in case)

i was rewarded with Solidago canadensis (golden rod), Acacia baileyiana (Cootamundra Wattle), the mistletoe that grows on that wattle (which I think is Amyema linophylla ssp. orientale), the bark of a dead Acacia melanoxylon, several eucalypt sticks, acorns from Quercus species, Eucalyptus sideroxylon leaves and flowers, Eucalyptus cinerea leaves, Eucalyptus globulus leaves, Amyema miraculosa, Prunus blireiana and Acer rubrum (in all its autumn glory).

not a bad haul at all. it was a good day, made even better by finding a small box labelled 'mumsie's luncheon' placed in the holdall by the Youngest of the Three.

and then to cap it all, it was Jam night at our local Public House and after much fantastic blues work a small group sang Amazing Grace, acapella in full voice. bliss.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me -I once was lost but now am found,Was blind, but now, I see.

T'was Grace that taught -my heart to fear.And Grace, my fears relieved.How precious did that Grace appear -the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares -we have already come.T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far -and Grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me -His word my hope secures.He will my shield and portion be -as long as life endures.

When we've been here ten thousand years -bright shining as the sun.We've no less days to sing God's praise -then when we've first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me -I once was lost but now am found,Was blind, but now, I see.

i don't subscribe to any particular religious code (having cut out the middle-man in my communication with the Great Mother years ago) but this spiritual always slices straight to the heart

Saturday 29 March 2008

kickstarting the memorybike

'watermarks' opened a night or so ago and already a vindictive review has appeared in cyberspace. years ago this would have generated much wallowing in the pit of despair...these days i'm rather more philosphical and tend to be mildly pleased that (a) someone has bothered to go along (b) they got so excited about what they saw, that they felt compelled to fire up their computer and exacerbate their repetitive strain injuries by typing page upon page of text.

'made ya look, ya dirty chook' was a popular saying in grade one (in the sixties)...and flitted through my mind again just now. funny how a crap review can send one on a toddle down memory lane...

a little later the tone of my day was re-elevated by finding my name in a sentence alongside Rei Kawakubo, a designer whose sometimes challenging work i have long appreciated. just what was needed to spur a venture into tidying up the atelier for the next project...

Tuesday 25 March 2008

down home on the farm

ain't nothing like farmwork to keep one firmly grounded between flitting about signing books and installing exhibitions. despite a sprinkle from the sky we're still doing daily feed runs and carting water to the cows.
they are truly delightful animals, with a well-organised social system...usually one of the adults sits in the sunshine, surrounded by babies while the others eat; even the bull takes his turn at minding the young ones when the mothers are off grazing.

today has the added entertainment of extracting a bogged sheep from one of the nearly empty dams. it's up to its neck in fine black mud (perfect for a bit of mud-dyeing!) and we have to crawl to it across a couple of sheets of corrugated iron so as not to be swallowed up by the quicksand-like goop.

where are Frank Hopkins and Hidalgo and a lassoo when you need 'em? Pegasus would have been welcome, too

perseverance wins, helped by much digging in mud with bare hands. scrubbing it off later in the day i discover that my legs have been screenprinted (using jeans as mesh) with black marks. we're reduced to washbowl baths (due to low rainwater) and the water takes on a disgusting smell from the mud. collapsing into my pillow i discover the scent is still firmly embedded.
all night i dream....of mud.

Monday 24 March 2008

lunar tunes

i've always found it somewhat ironical that the patriarchal church that went to such lengths to undermine women and reduce them to doormats still calculates the timing of Easter (the name itself nicked from the fertility festival Oestre) according to the phases of the moon.
not only did the church encourage the burning of women at the stake for such crimes as being able to heal sickness with herbs they also labelled the number 13 as unlucky. why? because it roughly corresponds to the number of moonths (moon months) in a year which in turn roughly corresponds to the number of times women (if unaffected by modern environmental pollutants) might reasonably be expected to bleed in a year.
and because this bleeding was considered rather unnerving, given it could be quite dramatic and yet women didn't usually die of it, the whole process (although quite normal) came under a cloud. must have been embarassing for those big tough guys, to have to accept that we all have to have mothers.

Friday 21 March 2008

teetering on a ladder again

oddly enough one of the skills i have really appreciated throughout my varied existence is the ability to tie knots in fishing line. i learned this as a small girl when my family lived for a time on the shores of Lake Morey in Vermont. my big friend (who is still my friend, some 39 years on) taught me how to do this and though i suspect i have modified them over the years my knots still hold nicely, thank you.

i tied rather a lot of them yesterday, balancing on a ladder, hanging some 34 objects in an exhibition 'watermarks', recently shown on the East coast but now having its local airing at the Artspace of the Adelaide Festival Centre. it's a lovely light-filled building shaped like a sort of trapezoidal mollusc with windows on three sides. a breeze skips in when the door opens, which being automatic it does rather often, every time a passerby strolls the piazza outside.

not exactly a conservatorial dream but a great place to exhibit if you want your work to be seen by a wide audience. after hours the lights stay on so that the gallery space glows jewel-like in the night. suspended objects spin gently of their own accord. i took a few twirls across the floor myself ... resisting with difficulty the temptation to sock-skate.

Thursday 20 March 2008

somewhere over the rainbow

the saxophone i am fortunate to have in my possession and play has had an interesting if somewhat varied history. It’s a Selmer (Paris) Super Action 80 Series II and came to me all the way from Germany where it lived a happy life with two ‘parents’, being occasionally blown but mostly adored for its gleaming good looks.

it was a pleasant and unruffled existence. in summer the sun shone happily and birds sang. at midwinter it snowed and the Christmas candles twinkled merrily at their reflection in the golden bell. Until one day one partner said to the other partner that they rather thought the partnership had been outgrown, had tarnished, perhaps (unlike the saxophone, glowing cheerily on its little stand).

the other partner did not react well. leaping to her stiletto-clad feet she grabbed hold of the nearest object, hurled it to the floor and stamped on it. very firmly. yes, dear reader, you guessed. the object on the receiving end of the rage was the saxophone. one short but furious tempest saw it wrecked on the shoals of the marriage. needless to say there was no hope of reconciliation after such an atrocious act (throw cups by all means, but an innocent saxophone?)

after the dust had settled on this trauma the saxophone was taken to various repairers in the hope of resurrection. the various repairers threw up their hands in horror and in hushed tones quoted figures not dissimilar from those related to buying a new and intact instrument.

about this time i had occasion to talk with the custodial partner, who had decided to visit our island at the end of the whirled. i suggested that Simon Clarke (of Presto music) might just be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat and that in any event he would rise to a challenge such as this. Simon has an extraordinary collection of reed instruments in a kind of mini-museum, including a clarinet such as might have performed the first hearing of Mozart’s utterly divine Clarinet Concerto.

and so the saxophone embarked upon a voyage, sandwiched between a pair of Levis and an Armani suit in a sturdy case. sadly the photograph i took of the flattened instrument sulks irretrievably in some file or other, but a mere two months later it had been pronounced ‘not dead, but sleeping’…like Lazarus. that was some 7 years ago. Today i had yet another happy session with it and my kindly teacher John Kelley who weekly indulges me with melodies such as ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, ‘As Time goes By’ and ‘Misty’.

reflecting on the whole notion of partnerships while driving distances much later in the day i contemplated the qualities I would have liked in a companion (not that i’m on the hunt, being a textbook Sagittarian - don’t fence me in or i won’t even call you from the airport).

he would be gentle, kind, funny and strong. he would play an instrument (the piano would do); like dogs and cats, ride horses with understanding and be happy in the wild. perhaps he would write poetry, certainly he would be literate. he would have a passion for justice and be fluent in several languages. maybe he would draw, make photographs or paint. definitely he cooks and i’d say he can probably build stuff. he can spend time alone. he will be honest and truthful. looks good in jeans. at least my height. likes chocolate, especially the dark sort. i susect he sings from time to time. goes barefoot at home. knows plants by name. can tickle a trout and hone a knife. possibly mechanically inclined. prefers the woods over urban life. and he'd read Winnie the Pooh aloud with all the voices, just as i do.

perfection indeed…and where will I find this paragon, you ask? That’s easy, he’s waiting (Somewhere over the Rainbow) in the notes in the shoebox under my bed, ready (As Time goes by) to step in at about page 293 of the as yet unfinished novel, and of course he’ll save the (Misty) day.

Monday 17 March 2008

time was away and somewhere else

today my nineteen year old boy wandered in and by way of a conversation opener, asked me what my favourite poem was. so i told him, and here it is.

Meeting Point

Time was away and somewhere else,
There were two glasses and two chairs
And two people with the one pulse
(Somebody stopped the moving stairs)
Time was away and somewhere else.

And they were neither up nor down;
The stream's music did not stop
Flowing through heather, limpid brown,
Although they sat in a coffee shop
And they were neither up nor down.

The bell was silent in the air
Holding its inverted poise -
Between the clang and clang a flower,
A brazen calyx of no noise:
The bell was silent in the air.

The camels crossed the miles of sand
That stretched around the cups and plates;
The desert was their own, they planned
To portion out the stars and dates:
The camels crossed the miles of sand.

Time was away and somewhere else.
The waiter did not come, the clock
Forgot them and the radio waltz
Came out like water from a rock:
Time was away and somewhere else.

Her fingers flicked away the ash
That bloomed again in tropic trees:
Not caring if the markets crash
When they had forests such as these,
Her fingers flicked away the ash.

God or whatever means the Good
Be praised that time can stop like this,
That what the heart has understood
Can verify in the body's peace
God or whatever means the Good.

Time was away and she was here
And life no longer what it was,
The bell was silent in the air
And all the room one glow because
Time was away and she was here.

-- Louis MacNeice

Saturday 15 March 2008

the salted tongue

Samela Harris of the Adelaide Advertiser kindly wrote a story about my work and my book...but there's one supposition i do need to set straight (for those few of you who will see it)...and that's the inference that i use salt as a mordant. i do not and would not, Australia has an overwhelming salt problem in the land without me adding to it.

much of this country was once seabed and those ancient salts are being carried up with rising water tables in areas where irrigation has been carried to excess. the Barossa Valley; a wine district to the west of our farm famous for dark and brooding shiraz (among other good things) has about 15 years left, at a rough guess, before the entire place is poisoned by salt. how could this happen? foolishly simple, really. responsible winemakers (including Rockford, Turkey Flat and Henschke) grow their grapes without irrigation, making exquisite wines that thoroughly reflect the seasons (as they should!).

the big corporations, out for a quick buck, and with the power to influence governments, are making the most of the pipeline from the poisoned Murray River (constructed only a few years ago) and pouring water on vineyards to grow maximum tonnages. to add insult to injury, the already slightly salty water is first stored in open dams allowing evaporation at a rate of at very least 1 centimetre a day (thus concentrating the salt) before distribution on the vineyards. as the water trickles down into the earth, the water table (also already salty!) is raised.

there'll come a point at which the extra salty stuff meets the roots of what grows above and things will start to die. rapidly. the state of the big trees will be the first signal, but by the time they are visibly dying it will all be far too late.
and the sad thing is, not only will this all have been preventable, the exploiters will take the responsible people down the gurgler with them.

Friday 14 March 2008

improvisation for piano and paddock

rummaging the trading advertisements the Eldest of the Three found this poignant image of a piano poised on a pallet positioned in a paddock, waiting for a clearing sale (no doubt keeping its little ivory fingers crossed the drought wasn't going to break on it anytime soon). you have to wonder how many songs are stored in the memory of the wood. was it played for weddings, dances, christmas past, funerals. who flirted over that keyboard, who picked out the departed's favourite tune through misted eyes with a lump in their throat. and how many cats have marched up and down the black-and-white path enjoying the audience reaction. here's hoping this piano finds a loving home out of the sun and wind where songs can be sung and just one more dance be played at the end of some enchanted evening.

Thursday 13 March 2008

jonnie lends a paw

i work hard on an overnight commission for the Hemp Gallery. Jonniecat decides to lend a paw. whenever a piece of cloth is laid on a clean piece of floor so i can gaze at the pattern or take a photograph very few seconds elapse before Jonnie is in the picture. he is a bequest cat from the RSPCA. this is a brilliant notion whereby people nervous about their pet's future can make provision for them in their will to have the pet rehomed and cared for in the event of an untimely meeting with Mr Reaper. sometimes the living also find it challenging to cope and Jonnie came to us because his human pet had trouble coping with his bouncy ways (Jonnie is a bit like Tigger) and made a substantial donation to the RSPCA to ensure the ongoing welfare of the marmalade tiger. in his past life Jonnie lived in a small gardenless unit in the suburbs. it is difficult to imagine him there now. he loves the farm garden and has made many nests under rose and lavender bushes. he also loves his little friend Martha the catfishweaselbear. they roll and tumble together rather a lot. fortunately for the Hemp Gallery, Martha misses this particular opportunity.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

mindless chatter

for days now the sun has been beating steadily down and things are becoming ever more desiccated. three out of our five dams are now claypans. every time we walk out the back door whichever cow is on lookout duty under the cloudless sky starts yodelling wildly hoping the tea-trolley is about to be wheeled out.

meanwhile some gormless halfwit talking on the wireless faffs on about how the last record heatwave was in 1934 and if we can just have another couple of hot days we’ll beat it. Que? it’s hot and dry and we’re rationing the last of the rainwater and some mindless git is keeping his chubby little fingers crossed for a record heatwave!...lucky for him the spell-casting cauldron is dry (no spare water), the AK47 is away being serviced, the pet cobra is at the dentist, and it’s too jolly hot to go anywhere. Otherwise he might perhaps want to watch his step.

maybe it’s the concentration of invisible pollutants being pumped out of Australia’s biggest and filthiest agricultural drain (the once-mighty Murray River) into the reticulated water system in Adelaide that have melted his tiny mind…

Sunday 9 March 2008

out and about

here's a snap of the delightful workspace deep inside the Beautiful Silks warehouse last week. i don't usually cope well with windowless spaces, being inherently claustrophobic, but the delicious aromas wafting from the dyepots and the knowledge that the great outdoors was being excessively warmed by dear old Sol conspired to calm the nerves.

assorted bundles in this little iron cauldron containing a simple brew of tap water and onion skins resulted in rather lovely samples shown below. bundling ensures a contract between dyed and undyed areas, nice patterning from string and rubber bands and of course more intense take-up of colour as the area of fibre exposed to the dye is reduced. you can also see that wool (darker coloured bits) takes up dye differently to cotton (the lighter bits!)

the samples below show the take up on two silks of different provenance. more details here

Saturday 8 March 2008

the shop around the corner

for at least twenty years now i've had the pleasure of browsing books (and budget permitting, making the occasional purchase) at the delightful Matilda Bookshop. the location has changed from time to time, but for about twenty-five years Matilda's was run with style, dignity and grace by Nynke. from time to time i would discover an obscure title and decide it was a must have; Nynke would move heaven and earth and with only one exception (an obscure Russian history of feltmaking) find it.

last week i swung by and found the bookstore had changed hands. Nynke had intimated that times might be changing but it was strange feeling to wander in and see a new figure behind the desk. without Nynke's charming collection of ephemera, something one didn't really notice at the time but misses later, it felt strangely folorn.

wandering on i felt a small warm glow as i espied my book Ecocolour in the window alongside the latest offering from that most readable of Scottish writers, Alexander McCall Smith.

Friday 7 March 2008


it's a sad day when humans resort to cheap tricks on their faithful friends to garner publicity. the L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival shot itself firmly in the foot by condoning this one. according to The Age newspaper, a spokesperson insisted the dyes were 'of vegetable origin' and 'harmless'.

unless they steamed that (now) pink dog in a safflower bath (a fairly complicated process that usually only fixes on silk) or wrapped it tightly in spanish onion skins and then boiled it, i'd say the relationship of that colour to nature was tenuous at best. cochineal and madder are different reds, so they're out too.

bright colours like that are petrochemical products, not meant for dogs to soak in.


Monday 3 March 2008


feeling blue on a Monday? take a sidestep to this page and read about
"Front Gardens in Winter"

Sunday 2 March 2008

homeward bliss

there's always something magic about coming home and this evening is no exception. with the sun setting behind me and the roof open (well, at least until i hit the dirt road) and Dire Straits pumping through the sound system it is sometimes difficult to keep the leadfoot restrained. home is like a magnet and is my universal destination no matter what or where the journey.

and when i finally walked in the door and opened the suitcase...Martha the catfishweaselbear made it very clear i was to stay.

Saturday 1 March 2008


once again wandering far from home in an eyrie on the 15th floor the view is very different from peaceful paddocks. In the streets below people howl and scream. Sirens wail. sleepless seagulls swoop and dive from the night. maybe they are planning a Hitchcock re-enactment

from my window I make light drawings with my camera.

the purpose of this foray to the east is to hang an exhibition at Planet, a beautiful establishment on Commonwealth Street in Surry Hills (an inner burb of Sydney). they make the sort of furniture that asks to be stroked and stock ceramics and textiles. there are lightshades made of twigs and sticks, like eagles’ nests; and stools that are simply carved and polished chunks of tree. the floor is burnished concrete and undulates slightly, tempting the child within to slide about in socks, but there is work to be done

and here it is

Ross and Kate (at Planet) make that work easy. i am happy to take their advice about how the space works and where to hang which piece.

night again and I sit on my hotel bed and make 43 metres of silk string so that a series of silk bags (intended for the book, which is to be unleashed at the exhibition as well) can be hung in the manner of prayer flags. Once again I bless my friend-in-the-west Nalda for the gift of string-making.

the 29th dawns. I keep a threaded needle attached to my recently
r(eco)nstructed pinafore. from time to time I retreat to a quiet space and soothe the turmoil of anticipation by making rows of calming blue silk running stitches. in any event my clothes are always works in progress…this one is planned to acquire many fragments and layers together with found buttons and other embellishments.

a flower-gypsy calls by, his van brimming with sweet-smelling bunches. we choose gardenia, and roses in apricot, brick and coffee tones. delicious. stripping the leaves from the stems I long for cloth and a pot to bundle them for dyeing…such a waste to throw such treasure in the bin.

the opening is at 6. after days of torrential rain the sun decides to smile on my ‘watermarks’. my brother and his family are there to lend support. exhibition openings are dull work for children but they bravely consume cheese and bread and manage to survive several hours, thus setting a new world record. (the Three would have swiftly sidled off exploring, had they been in attendance). my friend Toyoko brings exquisite chocolate. another friend has come all the way from Wellington across the ditch. (thank you, Lyn, you have no idea just how much that meant!) her sister adopts one of my favourite pieces. she looks fantastic in it. truly a second skin. lovely to know ‘the children’ are to go to kind homes…

signing books is a novel experience and a battle with dyslexia, so as not to muck up. when not pressed I am capable of quite beautiful writing but in public situations the penmanship rapidly unravels into dissolute and drunken chickentracks. fortunately for me nobody complains: it is already sufficiently challenging to have one’s soul exposed in the pieces adorning the space. exhibiting work is a yinyang thing…one part of me wants to have the work seen, the other part feels as though my skin has been pared away and the flesh is exposed, so wants to run and hide, even though everybody says kind things about the work. for now, this is another opening survived.