Posts Tagged ‘Adelaide’

tea party with dog

May 22, 2013


Adelaide Art Gallery – really the ‘Art Gallery of South Australia’.  Tired, ratty and querulous, I prowl its incomprehensible galleries, searching for a way out.  No Exit.  Signage is non-existent and the floor-plan misleading.  Bouncing off the dead-ends, recoiling from the Turner exhibition, returning again and again to the truly upsetting flayed horse, I crave outside air, natural light, a loo.    The ‘sculpture courtyard’ has two sculptures – three if you count a low pocked concrete wall about a metre high, that forms a rough triangle around dry grass.  Drier and more beaten than the watered lawn outside it,  it looks neglected.  I’m starting to turn against sculpture courtyards.  But in the end there really is a cafe – and a gift shop: refreshment.

Amongst the slightly tedious assemblage of early Australian art, breathing darkly of a more decorous age, huge Hans Heysens glow with commanding reality.  They are wonderful – the reproductions in books give only the faintest sense of their effect.  I hear Heysen’s name in my mother’s voice: she is a big fan.  How is it that the greats are always astonishing in their greatness, no matter how much we would like to discover that others are just as good?

There are some lovely discoveries, though.  I haven’t heard of Clarice Beckett before: a Melbourne artist of soft light, tenderly captured.  Her works feel remarkably modern – they reach out and illuminate the heavy walls.  This one is called ‘Morning Shadows’.

Morning Shadows

Morning Shadows


The most intriguing moment comes when I see E. Phillips Fox’s ‘Alfresco’ – at first I mistake it for another Beckett – but it is older, and comes out of that altogether more narrative approach of the late nineteenth century.  It is concerned with light, yes, but also (and entertainingly) with composition.

"Tea Party with Dog"

“Tea Party with Dog”

Within a drift of light pastel shades, the central lady in the red dress attracts our attention, so that she and the dark-clad man seem to be the focus of the picture.  His dark suit ebbs away into the dark-and-white dress of the servant, whose back is turned.  At the same time, the intense black splash of colour that is the little spaniel is the more sharply focussed part of the picture.  Invisible to the chatting couple, two people on the edges of the group are engaged in feeding the little dog illicit tit-bits.  This action draws our gaze away from the centre, towards the periphery; away from the male-and-female couple’s interaction towards the animal – from speech to the senses.  One could take this further and think about a contrast between formality and subversion, but perhaps it makes most sense to go along with the witty insertion of distraction as a topic, and to note that the lady in the important hat may not be as important to this picture as she thinks.  Fox even offers us the servant’s detachment as a hint that we too can detach ourselves from the centre and indulge ourselves in a secret little game with the dog .

Kindness in Adelaide

May 17, 2013

The number 170 bus route runs along North Terrace from the centre of town – somewhere near the Art Gallery. We’d had our day out – breakfast with a friend at MacLaren Vale (minor kindnesses at the motel and in the coffee shop); driving the hire car back to Adelaide; wonderful coffee up near the University (pretty, patient waitress; witty random bar staff); a visit to Colonel Light overlooking the cranes and the tall buildings;

Cranes over Adelaide

Cranes over Adelaide

a ride on the O-bahn;

Adelaide's O-Bahn runs on concrete tracks - very fast!

Adelaide’s O-Bahn runs on concrete tracks – very fast!


lunch in one of those Food Malls you find everywhere. Then we went our separate ways and I chose the reliable joys of the Art Gallery. (Along North Terrace, past the intensely engaging statue of Roma Mitchell, among other things our first woman State Supreme Court Judge.)

Rhona Mitchell

Roma Mitchell

The sculptor shows us a wonderfully serious-but-charming face.


She has just gone to first place on my fantasy dinner party list – and perhaps I should invite the sculptor as well.

I met with Annabel and her friend in the Art Gallery coffee shop for – of course – afternoon tea. Perhaps this post should really be called ‘Eating my way around Adelaide’. Then – a rush to find and meet Val and get to the airport in time for our flight. Dusk was starting to fall. Time was starting to matter.

Marvellously organised as always, Annabel had a bus route map, and knew all about the buses. (We had been to the thoughtfully-located Metro info shop earlier, where a good-natured lad who looked about twelve had been informative and patient with us.)  As I said – the number 170 bus route runs along North Terrace and then through the centre of town. Traffic lights, busy roads, interesting buildings, parks, (where to get off? where to get off?) There would be a sharp left bend then a right. Watch for it! Count the stops! Yes – this is it, and there’s Val in the distance, waiting already. Whew – made it. We jumped off near Hill Street, Parkside. Two paces later, and something is missing. A blast of knowledge strikes – something missing! Damn! left my raincoat on the bus – the bus – just pulled away. Or in the cafe? asks Annabel. That first urge is to run after the bus shouting and waving: I would have done it once, but now the stronger reaction is to shrug and let it go.  Anyway, maybe it’s in the cafe.  How humiliating! I feel like a child – and rather a stupid child at that. I’m not even that sure where I left it.

(I am writing this in Auckland, where it is raining hard.  Truly: I’m not just making that up for effect.)

Annabel, however, is not one to let go, and back in Canberra is where the real kindness of Adelaide shows itself.  Nudged by Annabel, I am to phone the Art Gallery and the bus station. The Bus Station number is easy to find – it’s on the bus route map that Annabel has saved.  (I threw my copy away – needless to say.)  A kindly woman at the other end is completely non-judgmental, and takes details of my raincoat as carefully as if it had been a work of art.  (It’s black;  crumpled tissues and a water bottle in the pockets; has a word on it – Berg-something – I tell her feebly).  She will check with the depot and get back to me.  Art Gallery Information are sweet – I have to phone their Security people (she puts me through), who haven’t seen it, but explain that when something is left in the cafe it can take a while, and perhaps I could ask them (he puts me through).  The cafe staff are lovely – someone takes the time to go and check, finding that it’s not there.  I feel happy as a sandboy – maybe I can fix things so that I spend the rest of my life phoning the lovely people who hold down busy jobs in Adelaide.  Only a few minutes later and the phone rings.  It’s the Bus Station lady – warm and personable – they have found my raincoat.  I can feel her smiling over the phone, almost as pleased as I am that the raincoat is found.  The word on it is ‘Berghaus’, she tells me kindly, as if she has known me for years.  But alas they don’t post things to people – it will have to be collected from the depot – and she gives me the coat’s ID number, the address.  I thank her and write it down, as I quietly give up again.  I know no-one in Adelaide.  No one at all.

In the night I wake and think up plans to try to find someone online – maybe gumtree? Next day I email a few mates, to see if anyone else has a friend there – but no.  (Val’s friend is elderly, so I don’t suggest her.) Annabel comes back from work, puzzling over the same thing, but she turns out to be willing to ask her friend  (the one we met for afternoon tea – keep up!) for this favour.  First though we check the map to find Newton (? – from memory) – where the Bus Depot is – and get some sense of the dimensions of the favour she will be asking.  It’s a fair step out of town, but we ask anyway.  Needless to say, this perfect stranger, her Adelaide friend, is willing to do it.  Collect, parcel up, and post back to me care of my brother in Brisbane.  What does she get in exchange, I wonder?  A stranger’s gratitude, re-imbursement (but how can I value her kindness and trouble), a sense of being part of the community of those who do good deeds.

Any suggestions for the present I will be sending her? (Once I’ve obtained her address from Annabel, of course.)

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