AUTHOR GUEST POST: Wendy Scarfe on revisiting the past

Wendy Scarfe, A Mouthful of Petals and revisiting the past

In this special guest post, Wendy Scarfe talks about her experiences writing A Mouthful of Petals with her late husband, Allan Scarfe.

A Mouthful of Petals is a nonfiction account of three years working in an Indian village in the early 1960s. Previously published, it became a minor classic, and has since been re-released by Wakefield Press. This new edition includes an account of Wendy Scarfe’s return trip to Sokhodeora during a famine in the late 1960s, and how those who live in Bihar state fare in the early twenty-first century.

‘It describes with warmth, sympathy and occasional near-despair, the life of an Indian village from the inside’ – Nancy Cato

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GUEST POST: John Read on the lessons lockdown has to offer

John Read on living remotely during a pandemicJohn Read is used to working remotely, and often in accidental isolation. An ecologist and author, John lives on South Australia’s largest privately managed nature reserve with his wife, children and endangered malleefowl and marsupials.

We asked John to write about his experiences living and working in the most remote parts of Australia, and how things have changed (if at all) as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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How to Work from Home: Poppy Nwosu’s tips

How to Work From Home: Ali Whitelock

Welcome to the week, and to a new blog series here at Wakefield Press! Introducing How to Work From Home: Authors talk about how they stay productive.

Like many others, we’ve recently begun the transition from office work to working from home. It’s a strange transition to make, and we need some help. We’ve interviewed a collection of our favourite authors to get their best tips, tricks and truths about working from home.

Poppy NwosuNext in the series is Poppy Nwosu, an Australian YA author. Her debut novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, was shortlisted for the 2018 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award, and for the 2019 Readings Young Adult Book Prize. It will be published by Walker US in 2020. Poppy’s latest novel, Taking Down Evelyn Tait, is a story about family, friends and embracing who you are. Even if that person is kind of weird.

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Book Launch: The First Wave

Gillian Dooley is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Flinders University, South Australia. Gillian is also a journal editor and the author of books and articles on literary subjects from Jane Austen to J.M. Coetzee. In this guest post she writes about the launch of The First Wave: Exploring early coastal contact history in Australia, and the book’s importance in our understanding of Australian history.

On 20 June, The First Wave: Exploring Early Coastal Contact History in Australia, edited by The First Wave coverDanielle Clode and myself, was launched in London. This was the result of a happy convergence of circumstances: I was in the UK on an extended visit, presenting at several conferences and giving the odd lecture and seminar, and Flinders University was looking for an excuse to hold an alumni event in London. The Alumni Office at Flinders organised a splendid event in the sumptuous Downer Room at Australia House, with help from the South Australian Agent-General’s office. The Vice-chancellor, Professor Colin Stirling, flew in for the occasion, and nearly 100 people, including Flinders Alumni and many UK-based friends and colleagues, were present to see The First Wave launched into the world – a few weeks before it was even published in Australia – by the incomparable Elleke Boehmer, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Professor of World Literature at Oxford, novelist, prominent and prodigious scholar of the South and of colonial and post-colonial encounters.

The First Wave draws together 26 essays, stories, and poems from a range of authors, some of Aboriginal heritage – poets, novelists, historians, literary scholars, art historians, anthropologists, musicologists, linguists, ecologists. We wanted to include multiple perspectives on multiple encounters, in a variety of genres – concentrating on meetings with explorers – temporary visitors, rather than the settlers or invaders who came later, though it’s not so easy to draw these kinds of boundaries.

Elleke spoke at the launch with even more than her customary grace and acuity. She read some passages, including an extract from Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance and a poem by Ali Cobby Eckermann. Referring to the genesis of the book in my exploration of the encounters described in Matthew Flinders’ accounts of his voyage, she noted

the complex fractal pattern of perspectives, observations and silent sight-lines both Indigenous and European that the co-editors Dooley and Clode had delicately constructed around Flinders’ 1801-3 journey of Australian circumnavigation. Many of these observations crystallised out from the crucial meeting on the beach, that classic zone of colonial encounter, yet at a fragile time before that encounter became violent and destructive. The First Wave also beautifully demonstrates how those observations were then recorded not only in the explorers’ journals and logbooks but also in Indigenous song and dance, so making a very different yet equally telling historical record. Dooley and Clode had achieved this fine balance by drawing together an extensive generic range of writings including some resonant contemporary poetry and were to be especially congratulated about this.

Elleke’s speech made me see the work we had done in a new light, not as merely a heterogenous collection of a variety of perspectives – which it undoubtedly is, and which was our intention – but as something which appeared, in a way, complete – which had an integrity of its own, perhaps beyond the sum of its parts. I found her words extraordinarily moving and extremely gratifying.

Alastair Niven, LVO, OBE, formerly Director of Literature at the both the British Arts Council and the British Council, now of Harris Manchester College, Oxford, kindly agreed to make some closing remarks:

‘It is a genuine privilege to take part in the launch of The First Wave. That’s the sort of politely conventional thing one says on this sort of occasion, but tonight it is really true. This is a monumental book, and I don’t just mean in terms of weight. It is an essential work of true scholarship. This book matters, re-visiting old episodes and in the process re-visioning them.’

There is a crucial if brief sentence in Gillian Dooley’s and Danielle Clode’s excellent introduction. ‘What were the Europeans NOT seeing?’ These essays examine the not seen, which includes how they were themselves viewed by the indigenous peoples they found on arrival in Australia. I don’t usually spatter my talks with Biblical references, but it’s hard not to be reminded of words we have all grown up with and know as evidence of what we define as our civilisation: ‘Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.’ This book helps us clarify our opaque vision.

‘Throughout The First Wave words are given new shades of meaning as a consequence of their post-colonial interrogation.  Take as an example Valerie Munt’s essay ‘Sense or Sensibility? Encountering a “Savage” Land in a Romantic Era’, where every word of her title is ironic or nuanced: ‘sense’, ‘sensibility’, ‘encountering’, ‘”savage”‘ (placed in inverted commas), ‘land’, ‘Romantic’, ‘era’, even ‘or’.   This is a book full of such upendings. Encounters and exchanges, footprints and landing parties are all seen afresh. Books like Robinson Crusoe, Coral Island and Lord of the Flies will never seem the same again.’

Once again, I was touched, flattered and surprised by Alastair’s kind words. I have learned a huge amount during this project. When I first conceived of this book project, I knew I’d need a co-editor and the multi-talented Danielle Clode was my first choice, given her expertise on the French voyages to Australia and her wide and varied experience in writing and publishing. Luckily she agreed despite her overflowing schedule and she has been a wonderful partner in this enterprise, in addition to contributing her own beautifully crafted and carefully researched story about whaling on Australia’s east coast. I am grateful to every single one of the contributors for their unique accounts of a myriad of meetings, sightings and exchanges. Only one of them, Patrick Kaye, was able to be present at the London launch, but we look forward to celebrating its publication with many of the others in Adelaide soon – watch this space.

The First Wave, at over 450 pages, has turned out to be a big book, but I hope you will agree with me that its size is justified by the richness of the insights it provides.

Many thanks to Flinders University, Australia House, Elleke Boehmer, and Peter Livingstone, photographer, for their involvement in this wonderful evening.

To purchase a copy of the book, give us a call on (08) 8352 4455, visit us at our Mile End Bookshop, or find it in our online web store.

Congratulations to Carol Lefevre!

Wakefield Press is thrilled to announce that Carol Lefevre’s Quiet City: Walking through West Terrace Cemetery has been shortlisted in the Non-Fiction category of the 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for literature. Winners in each category will be announced on Saturday 3 March in 2018 during Writers’ Week. Visit the Arts SA website to see the other shortlisted titles, and for more information on SA Writers’ Week.


About Quiet City:

I do not think that I believe in ghosts, but just for this morning, just for the time it will take to ramble through this quiet city under clouds the colour of tin, or of pigeons’ wings, I am going to believe in them.

Ordinary lives are revealed as extraordinary, as Carol Lefevre traces the stories of West Terrace Cemetery’s little-known inhabitants: there is the tale of the man who fatally turned his back on a tiger, and the man who avoided one shipwreck only to perish in another; there is the story of the young woman who came home from a dance and drank belladonna, and those who died at the hands of one of South Australia’s most notorious abortionists.

Said to be the most poetic place in Adelaide, in this heritage-listed burial ground the beginnings of the colony of South Australia are still within reach. Amid a sea of weather-bleached monuments, the excavated remains of Australia’s oldest crematorium can be seen, and its quietest corner shelters the country’s first dedicated military cemetery.

From archives, and headstones, the author recovers histories that time and weather threaten to obliterate. Quiet City is a book for everyone who has ever wandered through an old graveyard and wished its stones could speak.

Praise for Quiet City:

‘Lefevre’s touching, terrifying, courageous characters return to haunt us in this rich and companionable book – a treasure trove of social history and a fine writer’s personal reflection on death and living.’ – Nicholas Jose

‘[Lefevre] has done thorough research in the cemetery archives and state records, and then enlivened and enriched this information with a true story-teller’s gifts – an eye for vivid detail and a lyrical turn of phrase.’ – Jennifer Osborn,Transnational Literature

Quiet City is available online and at our Mile End bookshop.


Liz Williams: Body Language

by Marrgot Osborne with Grant Hancock

Cover of the book

In late September Wakefield Press had the honour of launching Liz Williams: Body Language, a beautifully photographed book dedicated to the works of the late South Australian ceramicist.

Below is an excerpt from author Margot Osborne’s speech at the launch.

I was driven to do this book on Liz Williams to honour her lifetime of artistic achievement and to ensure that there is a record of her unique contribution to Australian ceramics. It struck me when I heard about her illness that despite her receiving numerous grants and residencies, I was among the many in the Adelaide art scene who had more or less taken her presence for granted, as someone who would always be there to bump into on the Parade and engage in long enjoyable conversations. Meanwhile over the years she worked away quietly maintaining a low profile presence in her Norwood studio, making her wonderful coil-built sculptures and travelling overseas to investigate how the art of other cultures might influence her own work. At her death she had never received the in-depth attention of a long-form essay, or a career survey exhibition and catalogue. Nor was she represented in the Art Gallery of South Australia by any work more recent than a sculpture from her Receudos exhibition in 1993.

This book is a first step in addressing that situation.

In addition to my own essay on the evolution by Liz Williams of a figurative sculpture language in clay, the book includes three earlier re-published essays by Catherine Speck, Damon Moon and Wendy Walker.

Another dimension to the book are the tributes from Liz’s artist colleagues and friends – Jeff Mincham, Anna Platten, Jane Sawyer, Karen Genoff, Milton Moon, Donald Richardson and Margo Hill-Smith. These writers were all

Brain Parkes, Jam Factory CEO, and Margot Osborne, author

personally selected by Liz shortly before her death.

At the creative heart of the book are the glorious images of Liz Williams ceramics by Grant Hancock, photographer to the artists of Adelaide. Grant worked with Liz photographing her work from 2006 to 2016. There are some 70 full page images of Liz’s ceramic taken by Grant, as well as his photographs of her beautiful home and studio taken earlier this year.

And now finally, I come to Anna Platten. Anna was there at the start of this project and was entrusted by Liz to have oversight and ensure the book turned out as she would have wanted. In the weeks after Liz’s death Anna decided she would make the drawing that we have on display tonight. Normally she works from life but as that was not possible, she recreated Liz in her studio from a blend of photographs. It is a moving image of Liz, full of light and life, even though she was already gravely ill. Titled ‘Inside the Head of the Quiet Woman’, it conveys the contrast between the appearance of the gentle ageing woman and the art that grew out of her intensely imaginative inner life.

Thank you everyone. It’s been a wonderful project. Now all we need is for you to buy the book.

To purchase the book and to find out more, visit our website here

Invisible Mending launch

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.

Rachael Mead and Mike Ladd
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.

Guests at the launch

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.

Book Launch Guests
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!

Rachael Mead

The Inconsequential Tourist by Stephen Orr

A guest blog from our adventuring novelist Stephen Orr, who’s currently conquering Europe.

You can check out Stephen’s award-winning novels here.

Sitting on a train from Berlin to Munich, it seems a good time to ruminate (lack of cows in fields, although plenty of wind turbines) on the nature of lit-tourism. Just past Dessau, villages, birch and the fiery glare from the white-blue eyes of an old man (what? what am I doing wrong?) across the train.

We can search for writers, we can go to the places they lived (for short times anyway) – but can we ever really find them? Evidence, everywhere, but most of it makes them seem too ordinary. Then again, what was I expecting?

It started in Dublin. The James Joyce House in North Great George’s Street. Joyce never lived here, but parts of several stories from Dubliners are set close by. Belvedere College at the end of the street, where Joyce was first taught by the fearful Jesuits. Eccles Street, Molly and Leopold wandering. A walking tour took me to Hardwicke Street, where Joyce once lived (opposite ‘The Boarding House’), although Joyce’s home has been consumed by council flats. It didn’t seem very, well, Joycean. A couple of kids on a motorised scooter kept circling the tour, and we had to move.

The James Joyce Centre

The James Joyce Centre, Dublin (next to ‘Orrwear’!)


Leipzig. Cast iron train station. Fifteen platforms with no one in sight.

So what was I expecting? To actually see Joyce? Work out why (and how) he wrote what he wrote? Nope. None of that. Just Dublin’s ever-present seagulls, rain, Liffey-chilled breezes, tourist buses. As I reminded myself this was the place he (like Samuel Beckett) escaped from. Maybe he wrote not because of Dublin, but despite it? Maybe that’s what writers do.

Swift would save the day. Bus to St Patrick’s Church (where he was dean, giving sermons about people falling asleep in church, meanwhile writing Gulliver’s Travels and pamphlets such as ‘A Modest Proposal’, about the necessity of eating your children to save the country money – the first and best satirist). I saw where he preached, lived, worked, was buried, but I didn’t see Jonathon Swift. I saw pictures, furniture, but not so much as a ghost.

London would save the day. A quick walk to Bloomsbury. 48 Doughty Street, where Charles Dickens lived during the first flushes of his success. Now, here was a writer’s house. All preserved from when the great man wrote several early novels. Sitting room (where wife Catherine was exiled with the kids), dining room (long boozy nights with Forster), then upstairs to the great man’s study. The actual desk where he penned Oliver Twist. But, it just seemed to be a desk. Shouldn’t it have been greater, grander, deskier? Bedroom, where he sired his generous brood, and up to the nursery. All so ordinary. The kitchen, laundry, cellar. Mm… I left feeling I knew Dickens no better. A sort of anti-climatic walk back to Trafalgar Square through theatreland. A stop at Russell Square, to gaze in the window where T.S. Eliot worked at Faber and Faber.

Charles Dickens's house, London

Charles Dickens’s house, London


More green fields, still no cows. The old man reads Die Welt, as die Welt passes us by (maybe he’s seen it too often). The conductor checks our tickets with the brutal efficiency that seems to characterise most things German.

As I ponder. The pattern repeats in Edinburgh (the cafe where Rowling scribbled The Philosopher’s Stone, the medical school where Conan Doyle learned all about deduction from his teacher, Joseph Bell, Stevenson’s old haunts, Scott’s house etc.) Then to Berlin. The Brecht House. The rooms where he wrote his plays and poems, the bed the threepenny playwright died in.

J.K. Rowling café, Edinburgh

The café in Edinburgh where J.K. Rowling wrote The Philosopher’s Stone


But Brecht wasn’t home. None of them were. Maybe the writers were in my head. One thing was interesting though. The important role these writers still play in their native countries. T-shirts, mugs, walking tours, the lot. In Ireland, most bookshops save the most prominent display at the front of the shop for Irish writers.

More turbines. Green, green grass. A few distant factories. Not really what I thought the German countryside would look like. But what did I expect?

Stephen Orr with Marx and Engels, Berlin

Stephen Orr with a couple of well-known writers, Berlin


Giles Bettison on the state of the arts

This year, Giles Bettison was the SA Living Artists Festival’s featured artist and the subject of our beautiful monograph.

Giles made a speech that brought the house down on opening night, and he’s kindly allowed us to share a bit of it with you here …

Good evening everyone. Tonight I would like to acknowledge the Kaurna people, whose land our ancestors occupied and on whose land we are standing now.

It is an amazing honour to be the featured artist for the 2015 SALA monograph. I never imagined that there would be a book about my work: it’s amazing and a bit overwhelming. Part of the price I have to pay for that honour is that I get to give this address tonight.

I never thought anyone would let me loose on a crowd like this. […]

Being recognised in South Australia and Adelaide like this is a very humbling experience. I hope that Margot Osborne and my contribution to this great series of documents will be both a useful addition to our South Australian cultural history as well as to artists and crafters alike all over the world. The opportunity to chronicle my work in the monograph is of inestimable value to me and I hope to the rest of the art and glass appreciating public.

I want to share with you ways that I think about the glass things I make and how I think about art. The things that keep me going and what I see as important things about art and what it does.

One of the things that I think art is for is to engage people. Art is a tool to help us to see ourselves and our world. More than ever, in these busy times people look without seeing, which is sad and dangerous. There is so much to see and know around us; we need to recognise it for our health and the health of others, our souls if you like.

Art helps us to know our world and engage with it. It gives us a different perspective than our own. It is people making representations of things and telling stories, something we have done for millennia. It shows we are seeing and thinking, that we are engaged.

We notice art because it is a different point of view than our own, it can take us outside ourselves and be a point of contact with others. We can see the difference between what we see and the perception of other people. It is also a perception of time. When you really see art you become part of a discussion about different ways of seeing things. When we are engaged and connected like this we are better able to care and to take care. With art the conversation begins and the dialogue goes on – if you let it …

In our high-tech and hyper-connected world people are more disconnected and disengaged than ever. Increasingly people are overloaded by the speed and intensity of the barrage of information being slung at us, most of it arbitrary and irrelevant at best. The so-called social media is actually anti-social media. People are interacting with screens more and more and interacting with actual people and things and their environment less and less. I have been to parks, restaurants and art galleries where most of the people there are on their devices, not interacting with each other. It’s tragic. It’s like they’re blind.

The more disconnected and disengaged we are, the easier it becomes to make decisions that don’t take the care of other people into consideration. We become isolated. It becomes easier to make decisions that are informed by fear and misunderstanding that do not have broad positive outcomes. I’ve experienced how destructive people working this way can be. I think we have all seen it and are aware of it.

It seems to me that there is a trend for people to isolate themselves from other people and from their environment. We need to engage and to commit to each other and to turn this trend around.

There are a whole bunch of things that happen when you are engaged by art. When you listen to a piece of music that moves you, you get tingles down your spine and your hair stands up. Your brain and body are being activated and it is usually a very good experience. I experience this when I attend great music concerts. At the beginning of the show we are just people trying to get to our seats or to a good position close to the band, but at the end of the show when we have all shared this expanding musical experience together and as we are all leaving, I feel a kind of connection to everyone. I imagine that my fellow concert goer feels this also. We have all shared the same experience and had similar uplifting feelings and everything feels right. We’re connected.

I have similar experiences with visual art. It can happen in nature, in crowds, in many ways in many different situations, but art specifically is the gift of people trying to elicit this connection and engagement a discussion with other people – one of our survival tools I believe.

When we are moved by art it is exercising our engagement muscle. The more we have these experiences and recognise them the better we are able to attain and maintain this condition. When we are in this state we are empathetic, we are more likely to make smart and caring choices. Art is good for the environment.

One of the important things about art and artists, this art gallery and all other galleries, is that they are places where discussions and engagement can happen. There is all the potential to engage and to be present and to give back. We need to engage and we need to make careful and compassionate choices.

SALA was and is visionary. It gives a huge cross section of artists across South Australia a valuable opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the broader public, a very important thing. I hope there are all kinds of discussions started and carried on as a result. We are all here to celebrate this kind of positive dialogue.

So, on that note please look and please think, please care and please speak.
Enjoy this event and as many other SALA events as you can.

This part of tonight’s entertainment is over. Thank you.


To read more about Giles and purchase his monograph, head over here.

Adrian Mitchell on writing our early stories

Adrian Mitchell has released two books this year, The Profilist on S.T. Gill (or someone very like him) and From Corner to Corner on Henry Colless.

Adrian’s written a wonderful meditation on these two characters, and he’s given us kind permission to share this insightful essay with you all —


Our past is full of old stories, the kind that go wandering about and are very often just out of sight, or memory. There’s a delight in retrieving these, whenever we come across them; and another in determining how to re-present them.

Samuel Thomas Gill and Henry Colless then: two figures who couldn’t be more disparate if they tried. They both inhabited an all too recognisable Australia, the colonial Australia that gave rise to our culture, our ideas and stories about ourselves. Gill observed the colonial world closely, and drew his conclusions. Henry Colless lived right inside the culture of the outback, the Australia of Russel Ward’s Australian legend. In part, he helped to make it.

Sturt's overland expedition by S.T. Gill

Sturt’s overland expedition leaving Adelaide, 10th August 1844 by S.T. Gill

Gill was an onlooker, Colless was a doer. They both took a lively interest in their country, and neither was disheartened by adversity or downturns of luck. Indeed, that was part and parcel of the colonial experience. That is why in The Profilist I give prominence to the theme of the adventitious, not just in Ethan Dibble’s/S.T. Gill’s fortunes, but also in the lives of governors, explorers, entrepreneurs of all cuts of cloth. Henry Colless took a gamble and made his fortune; then the hard times of the Federation drought withered it away. But what a heady ride he had along the way.

One of the things I like about Gill is that he is remarkably verbal in his sketches. Which is not quite the same thing as narrative art, though he does that too. The details of his scenes are explained when we translate them for ourselves, the reason for the arrangement becomes clear. The tensions between the different parts declare themselves conceptually just as much as visually.

And there are all those punning titles to encourage us down that tricky path too.

The Profilist

The Profilist by Adrian Mitchell

Gill saw his world in precise and colourful detail. He took it all in, and delighted in it. That is where he is so out of the ordinary. He was not interested in doing those grand heavily varnished quarter-acre sketches in our major galleries, and before which we are meant to genuflect – the ones that gave rise to Marcus Clarke’s view that weird melancholy is the keynote of the Australian landscape. Gill is all about light and life and energy. He had his own view of what to draw – people, all sorts of people, people on goldfields or in burgeoning towns, or people in landscapes. What we see through his eyes is what he thought about it all. He had a very intriguing sense of wry amusement.

Henry Colless on the other hand was as large as life and twice as busy. He was one of the Cornstalk boys from along the Hawkesbury who evolved the type of colonial independence that gave grief to officers and officials – not just from being curmudgeonly (undoubtedly a touch of that though) but from refusing to be bossed about. At quite a young age he was moving large herds of cattle about, trying to dodge the worst extremes of drought. Eventually he took a large mob across the Corner country to establish Innamincka station, and build the first stone building anywhere in that country. And the cattle he raised and fattened there were amongst the best on the market.

From Corner to Corner

From Corner to Corner by Adrian Mitchell

In Bourke, where he had been mine host at the Tattersall’s Hotel, he busied himself in the town’s affairs, a leading figure at the times of the various floods, a councillor, a pastoralist and a respected appointee to the Pastures Board. And a long serving member of the local Jockey Club. He loved his horses, even when they kicked him, bit off his finger, rolled on top of him. He was a complete pioneer, and was buried with his swag and stockwhip.

Both were worn out by life.  Gill died on the steps of the GPO, Melbourne, and the deposition at the coronial enquiry makes for sorry reading. Henry Colless outlasted all his many siblings but died equally impoverished, of what used to be called senile decay.  There wasn’t enough money in the family to put up a headstone; which makes his ending comparable with Gill’s pauper’s grave.  Death the great leveller indeed.

The Profilist is available here and From Corner to Corner is available here.