Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne’

the Queensland Gum – or river red gum

February 23, 2012

Here she is again – beautifully described by John Vallins in the Guardian’s ‘Country Diary’ column.

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Saturday 26th February and Wednesday 28th April

July 30, 2010

Ruth and Heather, abounding in generosity and hospitality and high-riding in a 4×4 beast, drop me off at Federation Square in the middle of Melbourne: ‘it’s on our way to the coast’.  Suddenly I feel safe – art galleries, coffee shops and Flinders Street station to take me ‘home’ to Clifton Hill.  I fall serendipitously out of the car into a moment of delight.  Wonderfully, there are second-hand book stalls opening up for business under the atrium – expensive, as books always are in Australia  – but such books!  Intelligent, wide-ranging titles.  Familiar old writers and utterly modern ones; completeness; collections of books in subjects I would never consider reading.  Stalls full of books in Russian, Chinese; copious travel writing, sciences, poetry, philosophy.  Books of photographs and art works – both old and bang up-to-date experimental.  But books weigh heavy on a plane, and I’m watching the cash: I keep myself to Les Murray and a Jeanette Turner Hospital novel – two books I might not see back in the UK.   Two ways of holding on to the day.

The NGV – stands for National Gallery of Victoria – I can’t remember three-letter acronyms any more, and this worries me.  It exposes me as not-native: if you can talk the language you might be more acceptable, blend into the lanscape, seem like a local.  There was a time when I fitted in to new places effortlessly – now it’s hard work, if it works at all.  It’s all about re-assuring myself: first, then, coffee on the first floor. Intrusive piped music and only one size of coffee. I’ve been here before and the cafe was vaguely unsatisfactory then, too.  Last time it was sunny – but I recall the same narrow view between city buildings to a heart-stopping glimpse of river and gum trees, fragmented by the punctured-metal heat-shields.  I assume they are heat-shields, to make a glass-walled building liveable in hot sunshine.  Illuminated glass panels in a black wall – rich sunset colours speak of the desert heartland in metamorphoses of red/orange/yellow.  It’s gorgeous and evocative, a wonderful effect at first, but also self-consciously crossover, as decor that screams:  ‘I am a coffee shop in an art gallery’.   I am fizzing, fizzing with ideas – everything feeds the teaching – ideas about bricolage and lesson plans pelt in: what has done this?  the coffee? intellectual excitement? reading our Les? – a heady brew.

The temporary exhibition is Ricky Swallow’s carvings, sculptures and watercolours – somehow they fail to move me.  I thought they would (wood) but the technical excellence has a self-regarding coldness.  I go round again and look more carefully.  Still nothing. Next door is Contemporary Australian Art.  The falling sheep in ‘Hard Slide’ –   by Les Kossatz (another Les) – could make you weep.  They have a poignant helplessness, as hope becomes resistance, becomes an out-of-control fall, becomes a vanishing into the earth.  And yet it is overtly art: the metal hooves and horns so precisely rendered, so beautiful.  It discovers to us a universality of the human (the lived) condition. Ahhh, mammals! 


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