Christine V. Courtney’s Venetian Voices takes you on a stroll over bridges and under cloisters, following Venetian locals and visitors as they pass through centuries.
On Saturday 24 June, Wakefield Press is joining with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to launch Venetian Voices with a unique afternoon of music and poetry. Graham Abbott (ABC Classic FM) will be conducting members of the orchestra in a Venetian-inspired program, interspersed with readings from Christine.
The program includes Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, which we recommend listening to while you enjoy a taste of Christine’s poetry.
Late in 1882, an odd-looking couple
on their daily pilgrimage
stroll through St Mark’s Square.
Liszt’s daughter Cosima
and the master Richard Wagner pause;
listening to a haunting refrain
from his masterpiece:
the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.
Music of wondrous beauty drifts aloft,
heard with rapture by the locals
and played in tribute
by humble musicians of the Café Florian.
He dips his head in acknowledgment.
An imperceptible down beat, and pause
from the sick master quavering,
crotchety on his final walk.
A lifetime subject of notoriety,
and gossip, he senses
an unknown conductor
hovering in the wings, waiting
to conduct his Liebestod.
In the Palazzo early in 1883,
the stranger calls in the dying day
to dim the rays, to snuff his light.
Wagner’s lifetime of creativity
paid the ferryman in full.
As Charon led the funeral cortege,
the gondoliers raised oars in a ‘Piscopian’ salute,
when the procession
passed Palazzo Vendramin Calergi,
where the masterpiece was completed.
It moved slowly, respectfully
pianissimo along the Grand Canal,
towards his final resting place,
the Pantheon of Bayreuth.
This weekend is the Robe Chinese Festival, and launching at the festival is a new book by Liz Harful, author of Almost an Island. Guichen Bay and the Chinese Landings incorporates material from Almost an Island with new research. Both books will be available from the foreshore pavilion on Saturday 6 May, and Liz will be signing books from 10.30 am to 12.30 pm.
After Victoria introduced a tax on Chinese passengers during the gold rush, some 15,000 migrants landed at the small, isolated community of Robe during a calendar year, from there walking over 400 kilometres to the Victorian goldfields. As this excerpt from Almost an Island shows, the local community made the most of this influx!
Wall mural, Robe Institute.
Many local businesses and residents seized the opportunity to make money. Robe had a reasonably new jetty but the water was too shallow for ships to dock there so passengers and cargo had to be ferried ashore in lighters or row boats. [Guichen Bay harbour master Henry] Melville records that boatmen charged exorbitant prices to land the passengers and their belongings, leading to a few minor skirmishes with the Chinese who knew they were being exploited. Thomas Drury Smeaton, who did not arrive in Robe until 1864 but is often mistaken as an eyewitness, claims in a colourful account that the intention was to ‘make them pay as much as they could, and even (it is said) take the money by force’. According to Melville, the amount ranged from five to ten shillings – a price so extreme the government resident sought new regulations to prevent such extortion.
Chinese miner in traditional garb relaxing with a long-stemmed pipe by Richard Daintree. (Courtesy John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland: Neg. 51355)
Once ashore, the Chinese had to pay guides and carriers to take them overland to the goldfields. These fees varied but were generally £50 per party, depending on the number and the terms. If the newcomers were able to secure the services of a carrier, heavier items might be placed in the carrier’s wagon. But most possessions were ported in the traditional Chinese manner, across the shoulders in bundles fixed either end of a stout bamboo pole. Once they realised how far they had to travel and the limited transport available, most objects too heavy or awkward to carry were left behind. Some of these ended up in Robe households and others were abandoned along the way.
Painting titled ‘Flemington Melbourne’ showing a long line of Chinese wearing coolie hats on their way to the goldfields, c. 1856, by Samuel Charles Brees. (Courtesy State Library of Victoria: H17071)
The Chinese ‘must have put in circulation at Robe not much less than twenty thousand pounds sterling in gold and silver’, wrote Melville 30 years later in his not-always-reliable memoirs. A flotilla of fine new boats emerged in the bay to cater for the new landing trade and local businesses thrived, with new stores opening up along Smillie Street. One newspaper report in May 1857 even claimed real estate had increased in value by 200 per cent within the past 12 months.
Chinese encampment by Charles Lyall, c. 1854. (Courtesy State Library of Victoria: H87.63/2/6B)
Find out more about Almost an Island here.
Launching this week is Never a True Word, the debut political thriller from Michael McGuire. The book follows Jack, a journalist who thinks he’s met every shade of nutter, narcissist and bully, until he enters the bizarre world of politics as a spin doctor. Perhaps Jack might have benefitted from reading John Hill’s how-to, On Being a Minister – here John discusses his experiences with Adelaide’s ‘best informed, most intelligent and, at times, most offensive interviewers’, Matt and Dave.
My first Matt and Dave interview, as a minister, happened on my second day in the job. They asked me why I hadn’t fixed some problem or other in the environment area. I think my response was along the lines of ‘Give us a break; I haven’t been in the job 24 hours yet!’ I don’t think either they or their listeners ever care what the minister’s reason is – there’s a problem and it’s your job to fix it, no excuses! Fair enough.
In almost 11 years as a minister rarely a week went by that I wasn’t cross-examined, poked, accused, joked with or challenged on their morning program. Many weeks I was the minister du jour two or three times – depending on the issue. The environment and health portfolios always had something of interest happening. That means that I did in the order of 500 or so live interviews with two of the best informed, most intelligent and, at times, most offensive interviewers in the business.
Matt’s and Dave’s specialty is what I call the ‘twist and turn’. They like to take something you say and then use it against you (the twist) or jump from one issue to another (the turn). The fact there are two of them against one of you makes these interviews a challenging experience. I can’t say I ever looked forward to these interviews, but I usually felt OK once they were over. To be honest, I generally enjoyed the contest – a seasoned gladiator in the arena with two growling middle-aged lions.
Some would argue that there is often little point going on these kinds of shows – relatively few people listen and the audience is generally older with established political points of view. Why go on and potentially make the issue worse? There is obviously merit in this argument; from a strict media management point of view it makes sense. And maybe my point of view is old-fashioned, but I think that if you can’t stand up to tough media interviews you really shouldn’t be in the job. It’s like wanting to be a top cricketer without facing fast bowling. Ministers should front for a variety of reasons: it’s part of their job, it toughens them (or destroys them) and helps build their reputation for openness (the public hates politicians who hide behind media management).
One of the biggest pleasures of the SALA festival is hearing the keynote address from the featured artist.
Last year it was Giles Bettison on the importance of art. This year, Catherine Truman spoke to a packed house about the joys of ‘tadpoling’, and how important a sense of adventure and a strong work ethic are as an artist – or, indeed, a scientist.
Catherine’s very kindly shared her speech with us here. We agree with her – viva SALA! And, may we add, viva Catherine Truman!
Tadpoling at the Bench
Firstly, I to would like to acknowledge that we meet on Kaurna land and pay respect to their spiritual relationship with this country past, present and future.
Thanks everyone for being here tonight, especially my dear friends, family and colleagues who’ve travelled from far away places to share in the celebrations.
It is such an honour to address you tonight as the featured SALA artist for 2016 but this wonderful achievement has only been possible through the support, love and inspiration from a lot of other people and so firstly a few personal thank yous.
And then I’d like to tell you a little story – a story about tadpoling. In fact I’ve titled my address to you tonight Tadpoling at the Bench.
Thanks to the SALA committee and to Penny and Kate for their incredible commitment to this ever-growing phenomenon that is SALA and a nod to Paul Greenaway, the instigator, for his vision. To Arts South Australia and Wakefield Press for their support of the SALA publication especially Michael Bollen, Margot Lloyd and Clinton Ellicott. To Melinda Rackham for her intelligent, insightful, writing and to both Melinda and André Lawrence, our mentee on the project, for their commitment to getting it thoroughly right. And to Rachel Harris, our designer, for the magic she wove to bring together Melinda’s fine words and the many, many luscious images by Grant Hancock into such a magnificent book. We are all really proud of it. I hope you all enjoy it.
I never dreamed that having a book written about you would be quite so intense, quite so wonderful. We had to proof it a few weeks ago, and I must admit I felt very emotional holding the pages in my hands for the first time. I became so absorbed, I forgot I was meant to be proofing and by the end I was so excited I really wanted to rush back to the studio and make some more work. So that’s a good sign eh?
A special thanks to my Gray Street family, Jess Dare and the gang for keeping me afloat through thick and thin and to my lifelong partner Sue Lorraine for her patience, sage advice and rock solid love.
And to the people at the coalface of Arts South Australia and the Australia Council, for your professional support and for believing in my practice.
The Art Gallery of South Australia has held such an important place in my growth as an artist. I do feel that it is embedded in my DNA. It is deeply satisfying to present such a large body of work in this gallery. It’s a great honour. Thanks Nick Mitzevich and Lisa Slade for their chutzpah and commitment to showing live and kicking practising South Australian Artists and Rebecca Evans the curator of European and Australian decorative arts. My exhibition was her first major project in her new position at the Art Gallery of South Australia and she hit the ground running with grace and elegance and it has been a pleasure to work with her. Thanks to all of the install and registry staff too, especially Jess and the crew who had to document well over 300 objects for the show!
So you can see I haven’t sustained my long career without the support of many others and I thank them from my heart.
Now to my tadpoling story and I promise it’s short and sweet.
I want to tell you about an image that’s in the book being launched tonight.
When I was seven my dad took a picture of me tadpoling in National Park. In this picture – a 35 mm Kodak slide, the kind with the cardboard mount – I seem completely unaware of either the camera or my dad for that matter. There I am standing in the creek, brown Bermuda shorts, scrawny little legs covered in mud with a blue plastic strainer in my hand, bent over, absolutely focussed on the water, poised, ready to pounce on some poor unsuspecting taddy. Mum’s shade-house was forever croaking as I was growing up. Every time I look at that photo I relive those moments of complete bliss, of absorption, and curiosity, the thrill of discovery and the deep pleasure of pursuit. And I’m really pleased that forty-three years later this picture appears in the beginning pages of the book because it still resonates on many levels.
When I create work I touch base with tadpoling. Hunting and gathering is integral with my daily practice of making art. It’s full of challenging and difficult and delicious experiences of absolute absorption, deep focus and pursuit. Connecting with the wider world – observing, listening, learning, staying open, interacting, engaging and exchanging – is critical to being an artist. It provides context and meaning. I actively seek out contact with others, mostly scientists because they like to go tadpoling too, and I like to think the world is a better place because of the creative exchanges we have. I’ve been artist in residence in the School of Medicine and the biomedical laboratories of Flinders University for several years now and learnt firsthand that there are rich parallels between art and science. Full-time practise in either field is mostly a day-to-day slog and some days, there is nothing tangible to show for it. But we both agree, it’s the slog that’s compelling and fruitful and wonderful. Now I can better understand and embrace the chaos and rhythms embedded in my day-to-day creative processes. This time next year the JamFactory will be presenting a solo exhibition of my art/science project works.
The wonderful South Australian painter Deidre But-Husaim put up a post on Facebook recently, a quote by Chuck Close. He said:
The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.
I couldn’t have said it any better. And I learnt that through tadpoling at the bench and working with scientists.
This is wise advice, but it seems that the nitty gritty part of creative practise is not always understood by the consumers of art or the powers that be – those powers that have just been narrowly re-elected for example. Enough said. It is usually romanticised and separated from real life. So it is vital we put voice to the day-to-day creative processes of full-time practice and take advantage of SALA to give us that important voice
In rounding this up, when I think about my dad sneaking up on me to take that photo of me blissfully tadpoling in that muddy creek in National park, I feel incredibly moved that he recognised the substance of the moment and that he cared enough to record it for posterity.
I hope you all get to do a little tadpoling yourselves this SALA.
Please visit my show upstairs and Melinda and I are now going to be happily signing books in the foyer, please come up and say hello!
Thank you and viva SALA!
On April 17 we were excited to host the launch of Mike Ladd’s new collection Invisible Mending right here at Wakefield Press.
Rachael Mead had the honour of launching Mike’s book. We recently hosted an exhibition of Rachael’s photography alongside the launch of Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s Here Where We Live, and it was a pleasure to have her back.
If you weren’t able to make it to the launch, don’t worry we’ve got you covered. You can read Rachael’s speech below!
Hello and thank you all so much for coming. It is my great pleasure and honour today to be launching the latest book by one Australia’s most loved and lauded writers – Mike Ladd.
I’ve just used the label “writer” and while we are here to celebrate the launch of Mike’s ninth book, to call Mike a writer is to try to squeeze him into a box that doesn’t properly contain him. Don’t get me wrong, Mike is one of Australia’s most esteemed poets and you can find his work in just about every anthology of Australian poetry in existence. Mike started his career as a poet at seventeen and by 25 he published his first collection The Crack in the Crib.
Just as he was launching his literary career, he started work for the ABC in Adelaide as a sound engineer and by 1997 he’d worked his way up to creating and producing his own Radio National program, Poetica which ran for 18 years until 2015, when it was taken off the air much to the outrage of Australia’s literary community. Mike’s current role with Radio National is in the features and documentary unit but once again the box of documentarian doesn’t contain him either.
In the 80s Mike was a musician in the new wave band The Lounge and he frequently collaborates with musicians and artists, writing poetry for the screen and live performance with groups such as The Drum Poets, newaural net, and Max Mo. He writes, films and edits video poetry and I would recommend finding Zoo After Dark, and The Eye of the Day on YouTube.
Most recently he and his partner the wonderful visual and installation artist Cathy Brooks have been running projects that put poems on street signs as public art and you can see their work in the Adelaide Bus Station and Tram Stop 6 on the line to Glenelg.
Now the reason I’ve gone on about Mike’s rich and varied creative career is that the book we are here for today, Invisible Mending, draws the many threads of his past work together. Invisible Mending is more than a poetry collection; it contains essays, creative non-fiction, personal vignettes and photographs. While on the surface this seems incredibly diverse it is a remarkably coherent mediation on themes of human impact on the natural world and how to mend the rents that grief, loss and change tear in our lives.
The book weaves together poetry and prose pieces, picking up and elaborating on themes that Mike has explored in past work; displacement and marginalization from Picture’s Edge, family and suburbia from Close to Home, and politics and social injustice in Rooms and Sequences. However, the themes of his most recent works clearly still preoccupy him. Transit explored the compounding effect of momentous life events in the construction of identity and healing after loss is a thread that weaves its way through Invisible Mending. Mike also continues to draw on his deep cultural and ecological understanding of Adelaide that was so beautifully expressed in Karrawirra Parri. Environmental devastation, particularly human impact on our natural world is another of Mike’s ongoing preoccupations. With these themes in mind we can see his choice of title is perfect. It is taken from a line in the final piece, “A Country Wedding”, where Mike notices the landscape healing itself after the devastation wrought by flood. This book is an intensely personal account healing after wreckage – both ecological and emotional.
To me, one of the most significant aspects of this book is that all these pieces are non-fiction. Mike is a documentarian and this book showcases his skill at observing subjects from different angles and digging at the surface until what lies beneath is revealed. The piece that best illustrates this is “Traffik” – a story set in Malaysia and Japan that resembles short fiction but is in fact drawn from real events. Mike produced this work of creative non-fiction from television and newspaper reports while he and Cath were in Malaysia and faced with the unavoidable evidence of deforestation and species loss as a result of the palm oil industry. But even so, the documentarian sees that not everything is black and white. At the heart of this piece is the understanding that emotional bonds can exist between species, and that as humans we do things, often inexcusable things for love and connection. While the ends don’t justify the means, those ends can be understandable, even beautiful. It is not easy, being human. Mike as documentarian observes and reports but does so with empathy and it is his ability to interweave reportage with compassion that makes this book both compelling and insightful.
I’d like to read you one of my favourite poems from the book now – “Travelling the Golden Highway, thinking of global warming”.
I read this to you not only an example of Mike’s brilliance as a poet, showing his mastery of minimalist style and his potent combination of natural and industrial imagery to powerful political effect. But to me this poem demonstrates how Mike, with so few words can embed us in an experience with him. We are there, both crammed into the backseat and crammed inside his head in that moment, thinking about the landscape and climate change. Again, Mike the documentarian is working with Mike the poet to translate his sensory experience of the world into such effective imagery that the reader is given an almost visceral understanding of being Mike Ladd at that point in time. It is this ability to transport us that also makes him a brilliant radio documentarian – in a world where sight is the prime sense he delivers stories that engage the mind by stimulating the minor senses, giving us access to experiences and situations that inspire and fascinate us, allow us to perceive the world differently, peel back layers and feel our way to understanding what lies behind the things we see.
There is so much to say and this book is so diverse yet so coherent I’m really struggling to make this concise so I’m just going to pick out one more thread from this book – a thread that runs through the whole collection – that of grief over the rents and losses that accrue throughout life and the ongoing work of mending to make oneself whole again. While the book moves geographically from Adelaide across Australian highways to the east coast then on to Malaysia, Sydney, South America, Spain and back to Australia the themes of family and loss travel with us – reinforcing that the things make us and break us in life are inescapable – love and grief.
Mike introduces us to his father and the heartbreaking progress of his dementia in the book’s first section, which is grounded in Adelaide and family. We are in Malaysia with Mike as he is researching the Malaysian roots of the pantun form when he hears of the death of his father. Like the Malaysian journey, the essay on the pantun veers into the personal as grief overwhelms all else. “The Book of Hours at Rimbun Dahan” is one of the most moving pieces on grief I have read. Please read it. Then look up the award-winning video poem Eye of the Day on YouTube. It is a gorgeous combination of a selection of tunggal pantun, sound and film and an immersive illustration of the experience grief, regret and distance.
I’m going to read for you now Winter Light.
This book illuminates a writer’s commitment to the mending of grief, the work to close distances that gradually widen in families, the reclamation of lost histories, and the healing of land after centuries of abuse. We look at Mike and see the laid-back, generous, thoughtful man we think we know. But like all of us, this is just the coherent skin we show the world. Turn us inside out and you see all the darning, all the messy stitching holding us all together. And, to me, that’s what this book represents – these poems and stories, insights and observations – these words are all the stitches that hold Mike together. Turn him right side out and it’s Invisible Mending.
Congratulations Mike. It is truly brilliant work and I am honoured to declare Invisible Mending officially launched!
And what a weekend it was.
People everywhere, delicious sausages (have I mentioned how much I like sausage sizzles?), bargains galore, author signings and readings – but the best part was all the people who came out to celebrate with us.
We feel like we’ve met a little more of the neighbourhood now – and like we’ve been welcomed with open arms. Thanks so much, guys. It’s so lovely getting to know you all. And for all our old friends who made the trek across town: thanks so much for coming, because it was bloody lovely to see you all too!
And for those of you who were with us when the heavens opened on Saturday afternoon – wasn’t it spectacular?! We made a mad dash to get all books, people and sausages inside. I am very relieved to say that not a single sausage was ruined by rain. The books and people seemed to come out of it okay, too.
Thanks so much for coming out, y’all! Here’s to Book Market 2015!
The SALA Festival is almost upon us, and we’re celebrating art writers over at Wakefield!
At the top of the particularly excellent list is the SALA Writing Art Literary Dinner, and you’re all invited, just by the way —
Good food, good company, interesting conversation – can you go wrong?
Oh, and about that food – let me show you a peek of the menu so you know what I’m talking about:
Rise and shine kiddies, let this new (and short!) week begin …
To be perfectly honest, we’re struggling to keep up with our authors over here —
Then there’s Kate Strohm, who’s again heading to Italy to present on sibling issues discussed in her book, Siblings: Brothers and Sisters of Children with Disability. She presented at workshops in Italy in 2006 and 2013, and this year she’s preparing to present in Assisi and Glasgow. Kate says the experiences have been especially memorable – though working with a translator all day can be exhausting! – and reinforce the idea that families are the same the world over.
Then Philip Butterss, who has been running all over town presenting for the brilliant C.J. Dennis biography, An Unsentimental Bloke, has a launch coming up at Laura on the 22 June. Laura‘s a pretty rad place – C.J. Dennis wrote the poem ‘Laura Days’ about his time there:
When the evening sun slants through the gums,
By my forest-rimmed abode
Once more the old clear picture comes,
And my mind drifts down the road;
Back to the town by Beetaloo,
Where the rocky river strays;
Back to the old kind friends I knew
In the dear dead Laura days.
Couldn’t have put it better myself, Clarry. Except I would have added a line about how it’s the homeplace of Golden North ice cream, obvs.
And that’s only three accounted for! To keep up with everyone else, keep an eye on our events calendar.