Extract

  • Mallee Boys Excerpt

    Mallee Boys front cover

    The cover of the book

    Life as a fifteen-year-old boy is difficult for Sandy Douglas, who’s not only facing the challenges of girls and friendship, but battling the gut-wrenching grief that came from losing his mother.

    With his brother Red, who is constantly filled to the brim with rage and his dad, who, despite his best efforts, struggles with their situation, Sandy endeavours to define himself in the Mallee.

     

    Below is the first chapter of Mallee Boys. To read more, or to purchase the book, follow the link to our website, or visit us at our Mile End bookshop.

     

    Chapter 1: Sandy
    New Year’s Day

    You know, when you walk into a murky river you could step on anything. I’ve never understood how easily some people will just leap on in when they can’t see a thing. I suppose it’s like life; maybe I could do with just stepping in more and looking less.

    We’re staying at Uncle Blakey’s shack. We’ve been coming up here every summer for years. The breeze is baking today but at least the air is moving. It’s too hot to even go for a walk, almost too hot to swim, but the lure of the river is tempting, so I’m thinking about it.

    ‘Sandy, get your arse in here. It’s fine!’ Dad’s yelling from way out in the water.

    He’s bright red. His big bald head bobbing on his big round body. A cheerful, bloody snowman. For a farmer he’s a surprisingly good swimmer. In fact he loves it. When we’re at the shack he gets up early and swims for hours against the flow and then drifts back with the current.

    I decide to go in.

    I wanna be part of the crowd.

    The river is a soft brown colour, a perfect mix of water and mud. There’s absolutely no possibility of seeing anything. The mud squelches between my toes as I inch away from the bank. I’ve deliberately chosen the least reedy stretch but even here I can still feel the slippery stalks stroking my legs. I launch off. I’m not out very deep so the slimy bottom skims my bare chest. Yuck. I kick faster and harder to get away.

    I swim like a dog, my neck stuck out as far from the water as I can manage.

    ‘Put your head in, Sandy!’ I can hear Dad heckling me before he fearlessly ducks down.

    No way. Walking and swimming in this is bad enough without getting my head in.

    I remember when I was learning to swim Dad used to hold me under and I never really got over it. ‘I’m gonna count to three. Here we go. One … two … three.’ His voice was all muffled as he pushed my head down. My body arched hard against his hand, pressing up, praying he wouldn’t mess up the count. So now that I can swim I never put my head in.

    The water is cool and it does feel good. I feel clean, washed free of the summer dust. I roll over onto my back. I’d forgotten, since last summer, how nice it is just to float. To let something else do the work.

    Dad’s shouting for me to swim over to him but I pretend I can’t hear him. I know if I go over he’ll start tossing me around and pulling my legs under. Then my head will be in for sure. I can hear laughing. Uncle Blakey and Big Joe Barrel have jumped in. They’re all splashing and carrying on, three old farmers acting younger than me.

    ‘That boy’s got an old head on young shoulders.’ If I had a dollar every time someone said that about me I’d be pretty cashed up by now. Apparently my mum, Ellie, even said it about me when I was baby. I didn’t have those weird rolling eyes that most babies had. I just looked hard and straight at her with my clear blue ones, which never did turn brown like the rest of them. So, why the bloody hell did they call me Sandy?

    Think of someone called Sandy and I bet they couldn’t look less me. For a start I’m a boy. I was told the name comes from some rellie back in Scotland but secretly I think it comes from Dad’s first dog. So do I have blond or red hair? No. Do I have a big friendly smile? Nah, not really. My eyes are still blue, my hair nearly black and I’m tall but not filled out yet. I do smile but it’s one of those shy, less-teeth-showy smiles. I’ve left that to my older brother Red. His real name is Josh. Imagine him: a big handsome redhead.

    So, un-sandy Sandy I am.

    ‘Get back over here, mate!’ Blakey calls.

    I’m not going over to them. They wanna duck me, for a laugh. I push the back of my head deeper into the water and scull away from them, cocooned in the muffled silence. I don’t really think of sculling as swimming. It’s keeping me up but it’s more like flying, using little flaps of my hands as I look at the sky.

    I’ll be sixteen in July, and Year Ten starts in a few weeks. I can’t believe it. This year is a big one, the last before things really change. Our country school is too small to offer much choice in Year Eleven and Twelve. We either have to leave, do some correspondence study – like that’ll ever happen – or go to boarding school in Adelaide or Melbourne.

    I decided long ago I wasn’t going to Melbourne: too many bad memories. I flap out a little further into the river. What the hell am I gonna do next year?

    I quite like school, not that I’d tell anyone, especially Red. He couldn’t wait to get out of the place and caused a lot of trouble on his way through too. But for me it’s been alright, once they realised I was nothing like my brother. I like looking at things, taking them apart, trying to figure out how everything works. It doesn’t seem hard. In a funny kind of way school makes more sense than a lot of outside stuff.

    ‘Sandy!’

    Dad’s yelling at me. Off they go again. I can hear them all

    through the heavy wet.

    ‘Sandy, shift your arse! Quick! Hurry up!’

    The tone is unusual, not the normal knockabout teasing. There’s a bit more urgency.

    I roll over onto my stomach and then I see it. What the hell?

    ‘Sandy, get out of the way!’ But the warning is too late. The big brown thing is gonna hit me.

    I launch into a pathetic dog paddle trying to get away. My legs kick in a frenzy beneath me and my neck stretches out like a llama. I feel a bash on the back on my head and it pushes me under. All the shouting from the bank softens. My heart is pounding as old memories of being ducked as a kid kick in. I can’t get the thing off me. I can’t see anything. I push up with my hands and they find something soft but really heavy. My head keeps butting up into it, trying to ram a way through. I panic. My brain doesn’t know what to do. My lungs are bursting. I’m desperate for a suck of clean, fresh air but don’t dare open my mouth. The burning is excruciating.

    I can’t believe I’m gonna drown. Not today, surely?

    There’s a jerk on the bottom of my legs. Something is yanking me under. This is too much. I can’t fight it anymore. I surrender with one last kick and then my mouth opens, hungrily gulping in water. My body wants it like air and it pours in.

    Everything pauses.

    There’s a bashing on my back, heavy and urgent, shaking me around. I’m floppy, with no resistance. My body stiffens. Rigid. Then the water comes splaying out of my throat and my chest heaves as it sucks in real air. Too desperate, I cough and splutter. I’ve got no control. My mouth sucking too hard competes against the spasms of my lungs spewing the water out. Eventually the craving and the coughing subsides enough and my heart settles.

    Exhausted, I take a calmer breath. As I open my eyes I see I’m still in the river.

    ‘Ya right? Ya right?’

    It’s Dad. He turns me round to face him, holding me afloat. I see how terrified he is. He hugs me so tight I start coughing again.

    ‘Bloody idiot, I had to bash the crap out of you.’

    But there are tears in his eyes. He just holds me safe and strong till I settle. As his panic and mine begin to subside, he pushes me away slightly. It seems a bit awkward now for a grown lad to be clinging to his wet Dad in the middle of the river. We both get it at the same time and grin.

    ‘You’ve always been a crap swimmer, Sandy. Sometimes you get so lost in your own bloody head you don’t know what’s going on around you.’

    True.

    ‘Was it a log or something?’ I ask. ‘I just didn’t see it coming.’

    ‘No, it was a bloody dead cow! Looks like it died upstream and got washed down.’

    I hear cheers and moos from the bank. Looking down the river I see the dead cow.

    Bloated, floating and limp from trying to kill me.

    Available as both a paperback and ebook, Mallee Boys is the winner of the 2016 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award. It is Charlie Archbold’s first publication inspired by her time living in the Murray Mallee region in Australia.

  • Taking a Punt

    Shavers down: it’s Movember. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men, with 3000 dying of it each year – more than the number of women who die of breast cancer. Turn the focus on men’s health with this excerpt from Peter Endersbee’s memoir, Taking a Punt.

    Anna accompanied me to the urologist for the biopsy results. I was still clinging to the possibility it might be benign in spite of the terrible PSA readings. When he came into the waiting room he was wearing a stiff white coat that belied his humble open-faced demeanour. He was tall and dark and handsome and younger than I’d imagined. Early forties. Certainly not the battle-scarred senior partner I’d associated with his field of specialisation. He seemed far too young to be playing God to a waiting room of old and middle-aged men. We were shown chairs, and sat down.

    I could hardly bear to look at him. He smiled and praised me for having taken myself off to Casualty after I’d experienced the very flu symptoms he’d mentioned as an unlikely side effect of the biopsy. He said I’d done the right thing. His introductory gambit had my hopes up. It would be downhill all the way and I’d soon be walking out scot-free.

    But after referring to more papers he looked me squarely in the eye and said they’d found carcinogenic cells from the biopsy. The PSA result had been bad enough, but hearing that I had prostate cancer was like being mentally winded, a feeling of vertigo. I glanced out the window, the plane trees and clear blue sky suddenly in a different world. I only half heard that my Gleason score was a seven on a scale of one to ten. I was told the Gleason was an indicator of how aggressive the cancer might be based on an aggregate number from the biopsy samples, where anything less than seven indicated a reasonable chance of a good prognosis; anything more than seven did not. The surgeon tried to reassure me that a seven was not so bad, at least it wasn’t an eight or a nine, which he had half expected, given my very high PSA. When I asked him what my chances were without the operation he replied, ‘Five to ten years, taking into account your readings and your age.’

    As the first shock waves began to subside, I became aware of Anna taking notes.

    On the way home we didn’t say much. Even over cups of tea at the kitchen table it hadn’t sunk in.

    ‘You’re taking it remarkably well,’ she said.

    ‘What else can I do?’ I was looking at the picture she’d painted on the teacup from which I was taking controlled sips, wishing I’d never answered the telephone that day. I clutched the soothing ceramic vessel.

    ‘I will support you in whatever you choose to do,’ she said. ‘We’re in this together.’

     

    Find out more about Taking a Punt here.

     

  • Melancholic Meanderings through ‘The Vanished Land’

    Richard Zachariah’s Vanished Land is an ode to what once was within the picturesque Western Districts of Victoria. His rich language frames anecdotes of rose-tinted childhood musings alongside despairing soliloquies on the modern state of the once majestic region. With a balance and pace that immerses the reader within the author’s thoughts and understanding, Zachariah opens up a world that has been lost.

     

    A keen July wind touches us. I’m standing at the entrance to Hexham Park, which my old friend David Armstrong sold at a time of rural recession a decade ago. The paddocks are invisible under a plague of pine trees. A hundred and fifty years of the Armstrongs’ Western District hegemony has faded like a rainbow in the sky. The Camelot of my boyhood dreams is gone. No one at this moment feels safe from talk of grief.

    When he greets us, David is amiable and brave. Artist Robert Whitson is there with me to paint what is left of the beloved place.

    David’s key to the gate doesn’t work. The locks have been changed by the new owners, one of the timber companies whose tax-driven tree ventures have disfigured the Western District. Hexham Park, once a haven of undulating paddocks and river flats, is now a vivid scar of pine trees over sprayed weeds.

    David is apologetic as we climb the locked gate and walk the mile long red gravel drive to his forsaken birthplace.

    When I think of the towns to the northwest, the contrast is stark.

    As a teenager, I knew Streatham, Skipton and Lake Bolac as the heart of a grazing and cropping nirvana, but today those towns are bereft and sinking, while proximity to a big city has handed Birregurra freshly painted cottages, organic cafes, a destination restaurant and a burgeoning future in lifestyle real estate.

    Then I see the miracle of crops. Vast areas of sheep country have gone under the plough, defying traditional claims that the wet, heavy soil would drown any monetary return. Farmers have confounded the rules by raising the beds 15 centimetres and creating depressions between them to drain water. Once drained, the rich volcanic soil pushes up white and red wheat in unprecedented quantities interspersed with ripening canola in swathes of ludicrous hi-vis yellow.

    Steel mammoths with rubber legs rumble through widened gates where utes once bumped along. Workers give way to machines ruled by laptops and satellites, driven by GPS-RTK auto steer, replacing manpower and emptying the towns.

    Visiting outback Australia, the English writer Bruce Chatwin discovered the Aboriginal custom of measuring a journey in songs rather than kilometres. Out of this visit came The Songlines (1987), which lit up an ancient culture by interpreting the dreamtime as a parallel reality that exists alongside our quotidian existence, preceding us and lasting long after our deaths. Chatwin believed that our time-challenged lives would be enhanced if we discarded the angst of measuring kilometres so that a destination became a way of seeing and redefining ourselves.

    The Songlines mythology came to me travelling in a car with Peter Learmonth, a fifth-generation Western District dictionary of ownership, bibliography of people and compendium of history. In the spirit of Chatwin, he measured our trips by properties passed and people remembered. Kilometres were irrelevant, never mentioned.

    Find out more about this bestseller here.

  • Low-angle shot of the Miles Franklin Award

    The Miles Franklin announcement is not far away. This award is arguably the most important on the Australian literary scene. In his Brief Take on the Australian Novel, Jean François-Vernay structures his approach by borrowing from another popular art form: film. Here we have his ‘Low-angle shot of the Miles Franklin Award’.

     

    In line with the wishes of Stella Franklin, who bequeathed almost all of her estate estimated at £8,996 to establish this literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award must give preference to a published work ‘of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases’. Founded in 1957, the award has ever since crowned 58 novels with glory and increased their sales.

    As is the case with any respected prize, the Miles Franklin has had its share of controversies. In 1994, the jurors unleashed a debate by excluding Frank Moorhouse’s novel Grand Days (1993) from the competition, claiming that its Australian content was practically insignificant. The story traces the career of a young Australian woman who, after the Great War, works for the United Nations in Geneva. In 1995, the committee tried to make amends by celebrating The Hand That Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko, but it later transpired that the author was a Ukrainian-impersonating plagiarist. After this scandal, the jury decided to play it safe in 1996 with Highways to a War by Christopher Koch. Pocketing the prize money, Koch started another controversy when he revealed his uncharitable thoughts about academia.

    Today, some people think it is high time the overly restrictive selection criteria of this award should be revised in order to take into account novels whose characters, settings, themes and plots are located outside Australia. The list of recipients of the Miles Franklin is also widely criticised for comprising chiefly middleaged novelists, few of whom are women (approximately one third of all prize-winners), let alone Aboriginal (Kim Scott and Alexis Wright being the exceptions). There is a sneaking suspicion that the judging panel might almost be guilty of ageism, sexism and racism. Despite the criticism, this national and nationalistic prize is still regarded as a reliable benchmark for identifying great Australian novels. The winner in 2010, Peter Temple’s Truth, indicated that popular genres like crime novels are now taken seriously.

    For more close-ups, panoramic views and special features on the Australian novel, see here.

  • Flying our Aboriginal Flag

    For NAIDOC Week, we are sharing this story from Phoebe and Savannah Brice, two of the many inspirational activists in Breaking the Boundaries.

     

    We live in South Australia in a small, close-knit community about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide.

    Phoebe

    Our story started in 2007 when our Mum explained to us what being Aboriginal meant. She told us we were different from other people. When we asked how, she said, ‘It’s simply because our skin colour is different and we have a different flag. When you’re older you will understand better.’

    We went to school the next day and when I noticed that our flag wasn’t flying proudly next to the Australian flag I started asking questions. I asked my classroom teacher why and she decided to follow it up. She spoke with our principal and they both decided I should contact Mr Rowan Ramsey, our federal Member of Parliament, and ask for an Aboriginal flag. I was successful and also received a medal for my achievement and initiative. Sadly, the flag was never flown because we didn’t have a flagpole to fly it on, and later, mysteriously, the flag disappeared.

    After a few years, in 2012, my sister Savannah and I wanted to review this problem. We discussed it with our new principal, Maceij Jankowski, and our new classroom teacher, Katie Deverall,  and decided that we would again write to Mr Ramsey asking for a new Aboriginal flag and an Australian flag too, as the old one had been put through quite a bit. But to prevent the dilemma we were earlier faced with, Savannah wrote to Mr Ramsey also asking for a flagpole.

    About two weeks later we received a letter in the mail each and a parcel containing an Australian and Aboriginal flag. We had successfully gained two new flags for our school. But there was still the problem of the flagpole.

    Savannah

    Phoebe was lucky. Her letter came with a parcel of two flags. My letter was a disappointment. It said that the flagpole fund had ceased but the good news was that my request had been forwarded onto Mr Geoff Brock, our state MP, to see whether he could be of assistance.

    I waited for around two months to get a reply from Geoff, and when I finally got one it said that he was trying and he had sent my letter on to other people.

    Then it was the September school holidays and my family and I went to the Port Pirie Smelters Picnic. As we were walking along Sideshow Alley my mum spotted Geoff Brock and she told Phoebe and me to go over and talk to him. So we did. We shook his hand and told him about the school and the flagpole. He told us that he was planning to visit our school in the last term. When school started again, I told my teacher and the principal and they were very excited.

    It was Monday of the last week of term for the year and Geoff Brock still hadn’t come to visit, so I asked my teacher and principal for permission to send an email telling him how upset I was that he hadn’t come. The next day the principal asked for me  in his office. I thought I was in trouble but it turned out that Geoff Brock was going to be at my school at 10 am that day. When he arrived, the principal, Geoff and I had a short meeting updating me on what was happening.

    Then it was 2013. Phoebe had started at high school. We didn’t hear from Geoff until early in term two, when the principal called me into his office. He said that we had finally got the pole. I was so happy I started crying. A few weeks later the pole arrived and by that time some of the local reporters heard about the story and by the eighth week of term two, I had already been in six newspapers. In the last week of school we had a NAIDOC celebration where one of the other Rocky River schools came to celebrate with us. We had a huge flagpole ceremony. All the parents came, and both Geoff Brock and Rowan Ramsey were there along with news reporters. After Rowan and Geoff read their speeches, the school captain and I raised both the Australian and Aboriginal flags. For the first time in all my life at that school I saw my flag rise.

    I would like to thank all of the people who were involved with getting the flags and pole, and all of my friends for their support, my teacher and my principal and, most importantly, my mum, dad, sisters Phoebe and Samantha, and my older brother Mathew. At primary school it’s a tradition that the Year 7s leave their mark. As I go into my last year here, I feel my mark has already been made.

    Find out more about Breaking the Boundaries here.

  • An introduction to Ashton’s Hotel

    Rhondda Harris came across something fascinating when researching in the State Records of South Australia at Gepps Cross for an archaeological dig at the old Adelaide Gaol: a long-lost journal written by the gaol’s first governor, William Baker Ashton. But we’ll let Rhondda introduce the journal herself through this short preamble from her book, Ashton’s Hotel. This includes an excerpt from the journal itself which, yes, may contain some ‘mistakes’. As Rhondda says in the book, ‘I have turned off the autocorrect and transcribed it just as it is in the original. It is an editor’s nightmare but an authentic read.’

     

    June 11 Wednesday: A Poor Woman Named Wilkinson Supposed to be Insane was found at 71/2 this Morning with 2 Small Children Nearly Dead from wet and Cold at the end of the ditch Near the Gaol the Poor Children were in a Dreadful State their Arms and legs being quite Stiff from the Wet & Cold I had the Woman & Children brot into the TurnKeys lodge by a good fire and Mrs. Ashton and Mr Perry took their Wet Clothes off and put warm Blankets on them and they Soon got better . . .
    – Sheriff Visited the Gaol Saw the Prisoners and Saw the poor woman & children found in the Water this Morning, wished her to Remain in the Gaol and he would Report the Circumstances to the Government her Husband was for some years in the Government Employ at the port but have left the Colony Since and this Poor woman has no home for herself or Children.
    June 12 Thursday: Mrs Wilkinson Still in Gaol and her children Supplied from the Gaol Rations by order of the Sheriff.

     

    This story is from an old journal, written in Adelaide, South Australia. The date was 1845, in the sixth year of this extraordinary journal and in the ninth year of the South Australian colony. This incident, so briefly recorded, is in itself an ordinary story, yet it hints at the far-from-ordinary character of the writer, William Baker Ashton, first governor of the Adelaide Gaol.

    There are many such stories in his journal. They provide entry into the little-known underclass of early Adelaide, a world where many of the poor, the inebriates, the prostitutes, the debtors, as well as many Aboriginal people, mentally ill people, children who stole or absconded from their masters, sailors, runaway convicts, petty criminals and serious criminals, including bushrangers and murderers, were collected in the confines of the first Adelaide gaols. Some of these people escaped and were recaptured. Some were hanged. Many were transported by sea to be punished in the penal colonies of Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, out of Adelaide’s sight. They were all looked after for a time by the governor of the gaol, William Ashton; his wife Charlotte; the guards and turnkeys and sometimes their wives; and by visiting officials – doctors, nurses, the protector for the Aboriginal people, the sheriff, religious ministers, and the colonial governor. It is a fascinating journal, a real treasure, and now that it is known, it is a fabulous addition to the story of early Adelaide.

    The cover of Ashton's Hotel, by Rhondda Harris

    Find out more about Ashton’s Hotel here.

  • Venetian Voices: Richard Wagner

    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.

    Tickets are $50 and include Coriole wine, Venetian antipasti and a copy of the stunning Venetian Voices (RRP $49.95). Secure yours now through the ASO website or by calling 08 8233 6233.

    The program includes Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, which we recommend listening to while you enjoy a taste of Christine’s poetry.

     

    Richard Wagner’s piano being delivered to the Palazzo Vendramin

     

    Richard Wagner

    19th century

     

    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.

     

     

    Remember to book your tickets here otherwise find out more about Venetian Voices here.

  • Discovering Dobell: Helena Rubenstein

    Opening this coming weekend, the Discovering Dobell exhibition at Tarrawarra – and its accompanying book – features the artist’s controversial and recognisable portraits of Joshua Smith, Dame Mary Gilmore and, as we see here, Helena Rubinstein, alongside other vital strands of his output, introducing the creative achievements of this great Australian painter for a new generation of art lovers.

    The cosmetics manufacturer Helena Rubinstein became an obsession for William Dobell. He fretted over her portrait for six years, producing many versions in an effort to portray what he considered an allusive personality. She had led a chequered and colourful career. Having arrived in Australia from Poland in 1902, and speaking almost no English, she went to live with relatives who ran a store in the rural Victorian town of Coleraine. Affected by Australia’s dry heat, Rubinstein tried to make a moisturiser by experimenting with lanolin, which was in plentiful supply in the sheep district. Within twelve months she was selling homemade beauty creams to an expanding clientele; a Collins Street cosmetics salon opened in Melbourne the following year, then she expanded to Sydney. Leaving her sister running Australian operations, Rubinstein moved to London in 1908 and progressively became one of the leading cosmetics manufacturer – and richest women – in the world.

    Helena Rubinstein

    Helena Rubinstein was in her late eighties when William Dobell began work on her portrait. Having made several drawings in her Sydney hotel room, he went home to Wangi and dashed down five very small oil sketches on board, which conveyed her posture and skin pallor. He thought about them for some time, actually several months, then made an initial large portrait. There would be seven more in following years.

    Sketch portrait of Helena Rubinstein 1957

    Study for ‘Helena Rubenstein’ 1960

    What baffled the artist is how Rubinstein had alternate personalities she applied to situations as needed. In personal terms he found her shy and diffident, but in the workplace she was an efficient and resourceful businesswoman: the private and the public Helena Rubinstein were so different. How to convey this psychological complexity via a painting? Added to this paradox was her size, because Rubinstein was a tiny 4 feet 10 inches (147 centimetres), although by pressure of personality she seemed taller, even large-framed. The solution he reached was to contrast her delicate face (carefully made-up, eyes distracted, quite feminine) with her powerful hands (very large, professional looking, strong). Each informs us about the sitter’s temperament. Rubinstein may appear in different gowns, different jewellery, different interiors across the eight finished portraits; and Dobell’s summary brushwork alters as he presents the sitter as either vulnerable or tough, that is, as either a private person or canny executive. But underpinning all is the ‘character’ of face and of hands, and what they reveal about the inner life of Rubenstein and her strength.

    Helena Rubinstein 1957

    Find out more about Discovering Dobell here.

  • On a Clare Day – Beef cheeks in red wine

    On a Clare Day might be one of our favourite pun titles, but it’s also a wonderful book, and is launching today as part of the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend. Jeni and Burt Surmon’s tale of leaving their city life to start a winery includes a number of delicious recipes, a few which of course incorporate some of their Mt Surmon wines! These beef cheeks sound like exactly the thing for an Autumn Sunday lunch.

     

    Beef (calf) cheeks in red wine

    Ingredients for 4 servings

     

    4 beef cheeks

    150 mL olive oil

    1 x 400 g tin of tomatoes

    2 tbs tomato paste

    1 onion, chopped

    1 red capsicum, chopped

    2 sticks celery, chopped

    5 cloves garlic, chopped

    handful of parsley, chopped

    2 springs of sage, chopped

    2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped

    4 sprigs of thyme, chopped

    salt, pepper, grated nutmeg

    250 mL beef stock

    half a bottle of Nebbiolo (Mt Surmon or otherwise!)

    Wash the cheeks well. Put half of the oil into a large saucepan and sauté the cheeks until brown on both sides. Remove the cheeks.

    Add the remaining oil, vegetables, tinned tomatoes and tomato paste to the pot, cook for a few minutes then add the garlic, spices and herbs, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop from sticking, in which case add a little stock.

    Now add the cheeks, stock and red wine. Reduce the heat, put the lid on and cook gently for 5 hours.

    Want to know what it’s like to start a winery? Find our more about On a Clare Day here.

  • Fifty – Australian Dance Theatre

    It’s difficult to know how to begin talking about a book as beautiful as this. Tracing Australian Dance Theatre’s often tumultuous and always interesting fifty-year history, Fifty contains interviews, archival research, and stunning photography.

     

    Did you think I was exaggerating? 

    Read an excerpt below, or find out more about the book here

    The beginnings of Australian Dance Theatre were radical, daring and new. The company was created in Adelaide, South Australia in 1965 with a vision to support Australian dancers, choreographers, composers, and musicians, as well as visual and other associated artists. We planned to pioneer contemporary dance throughout Australia and across the world. Through our dance we wanted to inspire people everywhere with the philosophies of the modern art movement that encouraged an awakening in consciousness and an honouring of our shared humanity.

    By 1970 ADT had become a visible force in the theatrical landscape of Australia and was considered to be the national contemporary dance company. How did we do this? In the beginning ADT accepted every opportunity to perform – in theatres, outdoor venues, fashion parades, social functions, school halls and on television talent shows. I constantly sought performance opportunities locally, nationally and internationally, and during the first 10 years we presented regular seasons in Adelaide, toured regionally throughout South Australia, and made regular tours to Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Brisbane and regional Queensland and Tasmania. Additionally, the company presented dance workshops, lecture demonstrations, forums and some of the first dance-ineducation programs in Australia, quickly building up audiences for modern dance. Company records for 1971–1973, for example, show that the number of performance attendees was over 58,000. Records show that the number of performances varied each year, ranging between 68 and 173 in the years 1965 to 1975.

    It was a struggle all the way, but I believed passionately in the validity of dance as a powerful art form and an essential part of our humanity. I saw the modern art movement as a vehicle for the expression of contemporary ideas and hoped that it would help lift Australia out of its colonial stagnation. I also believed that modern dance was an excellent way for Australian dancers and choreographers to express themselves as artists, particularly as Australian artists. Through all of its work ADT contributed greatly to the exciting revolutionary social changes that were happening during the 1960s and 1970s both in Australia and internationally. The fruits of the seeds sown by the company in those years are still visible today in both professional dance and educational arenas.

    Founder of ADT, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman

    (Photos top to bottom: Creation. 1969. Dancers: Bert Terborgh, Jennifer Barry, Roc Ta-peng Lei. Choreographer: Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: Jan Dalman. This Train, 1966, photo taken 1970. Dancers, left to right: Cheryl Stock, Bert Terborgh, Delwyn Rouse, Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Jennifer Barry, Neville Burns. Choreographer: Elizabeth Cameron Dalman. Photo: Jan Dalman. Be Your Self. Dancer: Troy Honeysett. Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions.)