Tag Archives: Bathurst

Two shops in William Street

Elie's Cafe, July 26, 2015
Elie’s Cafe, July 26, 2015

Yesterday afternoon it was cold and wet and squally in Bathurst. A grey sky; raindrops on the car windows. We park in William Street and I get out to take photographs of two shops: Elie’s Cafe and two doors down, Bathurst Real Estate. It is Sunday afternoon, wet and quiet, but there are a few people on the footpath stopping, like me, to look at the heaped flowers and read the messages. Bathurst is a town that has had a piece blasted out of it; a bit of its ordinary daily life shot to pieces. There’s a function on at the town hall. You think you’ll just pop in to Elie’s beforehand and grab a – no you won’t. Not that cafe.

There’s still the sign on the front door. It’s the sign that went up on the day of the news of the murder-suicide, or probable murder-suicide. Officially, we don’t know exactly what happened. Officially, we won’t know until the coroner’s report. “Due to unforeseen circumstances…” says the handwritten sign, delicately.

Unofficially, it’s pretty clear what went on. Not just a senseless explosion of random forces that left a cafe proprietor and a real estate agent dead on a living room floor in Kelso, but the murder of a woman who wanted to leave by a man who did not want her to leave.In Australia this year we’re already up to more than 50 women dead at the hands of their partners.

Tribute to Nadia Cameron
Tribute to Nadia Cameron in the window of Bathurst Real Estate, July 26, 2015.

The police are apparently exploring a “separation theory” in this case. Like “unforeseen circumstance”, “separation theory” doesn’t sound particularly scary. It doesn’t convey the terror, the horror, of murderous rage. Nor, for that matter, do the words “family violence”. There’s something slippery about these words. There’s a sense of an all-in ruckus, as if all the members of a family were overturning tables and throwing punches. When what we’re usually talking about is one man – with a gun, or a knife, or a blunt instrument – and his terrified hostages.

I can’t help brooding over this. I’ve just read, almost in one sitting, Helen Garner’s book about the man who drove his three children into a dam on Father’s Day. All he wanted to do, as his children drowned behind him, was go to his ex-wife’s house to tell her what he’d done. To make her suffer.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. With more than fifty women dead already, with the year only halfway through, this is laughable. It’s clearly the other way around.

The snow job and the murder-suicide

Snowy back yard.
Bertie in the snow-covered back yard, Bathurst, July 17, 2015.

Last Friday was strange. We were up at about one or two in the morning, standing in the pool of light just outside the back door, looking at the white dots gently, steadily, coming down out of a black sky. The black dog was being speckled with white stuff. We had white stuff on our shoulders. Snow. Snow, for most Australians, is an unusual thing. It’s something to get excited about. It’s transient. And then it was daylight. I’d hardly slept because I don’t sleep well these days and being awake for the snow had made it worse, so I was snuggled far down under the doona, but Steve was making me get up to have a look. Out of the bedroom window, everything was white. In the back yard, the little tree we’d planted over my dead cat ten years ago was half its height, branches touching the ground, weighed down by snow. Steve made snowballs in his bare hands and threw them at Bertie, who caught them in his teeth. Unlike a tennis ball, they had no resistance. His teeth snapped down over them as though they were made of nothing. He wagged his tail furiously.

Snowmen appeared all over town.

When Steve got home after work, he asked if I’d heard the news. This seemed odd – I’d been living the news of the day along with everyone else. It was Snow Day. What more news could there be? So you haven’t heard about Elie’s Cafe? No. What about it?

Elie’s Cafe is one of the town’s most popular cafes. It’s diagonally opposite the Council chambers, not far from the Western Advocate, in the main street, near the war memorial. It’s housed in the old Royal Hotel where town leaders once addressed the citizens from the balcony. That Cafe. Well, Elie Issa, the owner, was found dead in his living room today. Everyone knows Elie. He’s the jovial man in the corner opposite the counter, laughing with friends who join him at the table, poring over the day’s papers. To go into Elie’s Cafe is to also see and hear Elie, a permanent fixture. Oh. He is dead. Not only that, but his girlfriend is dead, too, and they were found in the living room with a gun nearby, and there are no other suspects, and they’re saying it was a murder-suicide.

And you go into cognitive dissonance. You hold the two ideas in your brain – this jovial, laughing man greeting his customers and friends, and the bloody aftermath of violence – and they don’t match up. This is what it is to be shocked: the world is not quite what you thought it was.

And then, in the hours and days afterwards, a narrative framework  begin to emerge that might hold these ideas together. The next day, in the Sydney Morning Herald, there’s a story based on interviews with friends and family of Nadia Cameron, the beautiful woman found dead with Elie in the living room of the ordinary house on Rosemont Avenue, Kelso. They say she’d broken up with him, and he was trying to win her back. They say he’d been jealous and controlling and she wanted nothing more to do with him, but she felt sorry for him. And now the story begins to settle around a national conversation about domestic violence and women dying at the hands of men who would control them. A new Elie Issa emerges, a Jekyll and Hyde: jolly at work, murderously jealous at home. Laughter as snow job; as a thin veneer over the darkness.

There’s a story, and then a shock. But we can’t stay in shock, in the fact of our not-knowing. As quickly as possible, we want to build a new story so that we are not left hanging in that strange space between ideas that seem to have no connection.

The next day, the sun was shining. Snow Day had vanished. There were just tell-tale patches of white in the shade, and odd white piles that had been snowmen. And the day after that, just damp ground.

On saving things

Silos, Bathurst NSW Australia
Pic by Steve Woodhall.

It is in the nature of things to come and go. This is the theme in my friend Karen’s pom pom installation that will cover a plot of land in Kandos just after Easter. Her installation will be a part of Cementa, a week of arts and culture in the post-industrial landscape of a little town that was once fed by a giant cement factory. The factory is still mighty in the landscape, visible for miles around. The cement it produced is part of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Now all that work, all that movement, all that creation, has been stilled. But the mighty architecture is still there; a reminder of the very recent past. Karen started making pom poms as her partner Steve Kirby was dying of cancer. Making pom poms was something – something light and colourful – to do in the midst of grief and sadness. It provided a way for friends to sit in companionship before, during and after Steve’s death. These pom poms, made of see-through nylon and clear plastic on slightly bendy sticks, are small and light, their ephemeral nature a delicious counterpoint to the massive industrial machinery nearby. Even if people don’t realise it, a memory, a trace, of Steve Kirby will be kept alive in those pom poms. And then they’ll be pulled up out of the ground and they’ll go, just as all of us have to go. We arrive, we bloom like pom poms or sunflowers and then we go. An aura of memory stays in the air that we have left but eventually we are forgotten. That’s in the nature of things.

The Kandos cement factory is just one of the many reminders of our industrial past studded through the landscape in these parts. These are monuments not to individual lives but to collective memory, collective effort, whether endured or enjoyed. They tell us something of how we got here, how things used to be not so very long ago. They’re woven into the memories of thousands of people, each remembering – or misremembering – their own bits of story, whether that’s a couple of generations of family working there, or something seen out of a car window and an idle thought: “What’s that?” They are collective reference-points in a world that changes all the time.

What should we try to save? Not everything, clearly. Time moves on. Hoarding, as we’ve seen on the TV shows, is not healthy.

But some things are worth saving so that they continue to be part of the fabric of a changing community; part of its collective memory. The town I grew up in, Carnarvon, is slowly losing its iconic one-mile jetty to the waves. Busselton has saved its long jetty; the Carnarvon jetty – unbelievably for those who know and love that place –  is rotting slowly into the glittering Indian Ocean. Here in Bathurst we have buildings galore of striking grandeur. Unlike Carnarvon, which has clung less certainly to a bit of windswept earth, we have a great big gaol complete with lion with key in its mouth; a great big courthouse for putting people there; an old railway station and nearby, tall cement wheat silos that make visitors do a double-take as they come down Havannah Street. Over the past two centuries these things have become part of what defines this town, this place (as well as ancient natural features like Wahluu/Mt Panorama and the Wambool/Macquarie River).

This week, before I really knew what I was doing, I got involved in an impassioned plea to save the mighty wheat silos and old flour mill buildings opposite the railway station.

My friend Helen and I went straight from the Hub cafe where we were talking about it to talk to Chris Frisby at Bedwell’s Feed Barn (one of the occupiers of the old site). I whipped out my trusty iPhone and started filming.

Depending on who you talk to, the silos and flour mill are under immediate threat or we’re worrying about nothing. The information we’ve heard is that there is developer interest, and the D word (demolition) has been mentioned. It’s early days, and there may be nothing to worry about. But we think it’s worth saving and we feel it can’t hurt to get in early. Some developers prefer demolition and starting from scratch; others like to work with the fabric of the past to create something new. That’s the sort of development we need.

A winning formula

Mount Panorama, Bathurst.
Bathurst’s Mount Panorama on a non-racing day. Could this be the site of an enviro-friendly electric car race?

When I was a small child, Dad told me about the Bluebird, the fastest car in the world. In 1964, driver Donald Campbell broke the land speed record when his sleek bright blue car zipped across Lake Eyre at 403.10 miles per hour (or 648.73 kilometres per hour). Donald Campbell died in a spectacular crash in 1967, but his extended family, based in Surrey in the UK, has not dropped its love of speed.

The Bluebird has now gone electric, and will compete in the Formula E (as in, Formula Electric) races that will begin in ten major cities around the world in 2014.

For many people, the idea of an electric car race is associated with the creeping speeds of the solar-powered cars cobbled together by university departments. But Formula E is a game-changer: it’s about serious speed in serious battery-powered cars. The Formula E championship will be held under the rules of the official Formula 1 governing body, the FIA. Sponsors include Michelin and Renault.

Meanwhile, a new land speed record for electric cars has just been set by the UK’s Lord Drayson, CEO of Drayson Racing Technologies and a former Labour government minister. He was behind the wheel of his Lola B12 69/EV, when he achieved a top speed of 204.2 miles per hour (328.603 kilometres per hour) on a racetrack at RAF Elvington in Yorkshire, on June 25. Drayson’s car is a modified Le Mans vehicle weighing less than 1000kg to conform to FIA standards.

Electric cars are getting faster and more popular. The technology is evolving fast, making this an exciting time for this particular motorsport. So what are we waiting for? Bathurst is on the international map as a car racing destination. We could have a flagship race that symbolises both tradition and the future. It goes without saying that it could be a major international tourist attraction and welcome boost to the regional economy.

The field is moving fast, with locations being scouted and sponsors being wooed. It may be that Formula E is not suitable for Bathurst – some other category could be more suitable, or, like the early days at Mt Panorama, an all-in race could be fun – but there must be something we can be doing in this space. If we don’t, we could be left behind in this particular race into the future.

Tracy Sorensen is the Treasurer of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. This is the text of a column piece submitted to the Western Advocate, Bathurst’s daily newspaper.

Towards a classification system for Mt Panorama ring pulls

This is my entry for the 2013 Waste to Art exhibition here in Bathurst. It’s silly and the artwork itself is ugly. Anyway, it’s good to participate!

Ring pull artwork

Title: Left, right, straight and folded: towards a classification system for Mt Panorama ring pulls, 2013.

Artist: Tracy Sorensen

Media: Hobbytex and found ring pulls on old stained bed sheet, stapled to Peter Andren Independent foam core election poster in a damaged op-shop frame.

Measurements: 50cm x 40cm

Place of execution: Bathurst, NSW, Australia

My black Labrador, Bertie, loves to go for walks at McPhillamy Park on the top of Mount Panorama. I always keep my eye out for ring pulls to add to my collection. Like specks of gold in an alluvial landscape, Mt Panorama’s ring pulls shift and show themselves after a good rain. It’s always good pickings, then.

Detachable ring pulls for drink cans were a phenomenon of the 1960s and 70s; by the 1980s, they had been discontinued because of concerns about litter and the way their sharp edges could hurt bare feet. Now, partly hidden in the dirt, they are nostalgic, suggestive objects. Their individual shapes are determined by the hands that originally tore them from the can. The unconscious movements of people – men, mostly – on top of a mountain, watching cars, getting drunk, are all captured in these objects.

My grid pattern emphasizes how each ring pull “hangs”: the pivot-point sits at the apex of an orange and purple mountain; the tab swings to the left (purple) or to the right (orange) or follows the meeting-point of the two colours (straight). The retrieval and display of the ring pulls suggests the struggle to gather and contain past moments and give them meaning. The domestic impulse to tame and stitch down wild masculine moments is represented by the stained bed sheet. This domestic impulse has failed; the sheet is filthy and may need to be thrown out or used as a rag.

The vivid Hobbytex colours celebrate the overwhelming, exuberant designs popular in the 1960s and 70s; the domestic art of painting with Hobbytex was itself a fad of those times. The bright colours, hand-painted, are also a reminder of a time when the car race itself was more colourful, heterogeneous, hand made, less blandly unified by corporate interests. Hobbytex, like the internal combustion engine, gives off powerful fumes. There is nothing non-toxic about Hobbytex paint.

We no longer have dangerous detachable ring-pulls. Fume-ridden Hobbytex painting would never pass muster as a children’s hobby today. But the fossil-fuel burning internal combustion engine – a danger to the entire planet – is still celebrated every year at Mt Panorama.