Tag Archives: Karen Golland

Cockatoos, mushrooms and feral children

Crafty mushrooms in a quiet moment, Kandos Community Hall.

Crafty mushrooms in a quiet moment, Kandos Community Hall.

Yesterday I spent three hours companionably in the company of crocheted, knitted and otherwise crafted mushrooms. They were poked into a mesh bed, and under the mesh, it was a tangle of white string that made me think of neurons in trouble – the sort of image used to show to illustrate the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The mushrooms were made during a community craft workshop led by Liz Day, and they were part of the Cementa 15 contemporary art festival in Kandos.

The tangled network below the mesh represented what really goes on in in nature. Plants talk to each other via the fungus internet.

I was scheduled to mind these mushrooms for three hours from 1pm to 4pm yesterday afternoon. Before I headed off to the community hall for my shift I picked up a Cementa 15 counted cross-stitch kit. I imagined sitting quietly beside the mushrooms, stitching contemplatively, nodding or chatting to the visitors coming through.

But when I got there it was all as noisy as a PCYC hall in full swing, with children shouting, people shouting at the shouting children and lots of other colour and movement. This was art outside the “white cube” of the art gallery. This was art in amongst it. Would it hold up to the thrashing? My job was to keep the kids off and out of the mushrooms. Two feral children (where the hell were the parents?) spent the afternoon going near, near, near, over, over, around, around but not quite touching. Apparently they’d been there all morning, too. They’d taken up residence near the mushrooms. This was their spot for the day. In a faintly aggressive manner they offered visitors wrapped Starburst lollies. (Lucky they were wrapped, because the fingers were grubby.) Some accepted the gift, others frowned. Eventually the kids spilled half a bottle of no-name Cola over the wooden floor and were sent out.

Merciful quietness.

One of them came back, hovering in the doorway. “Out!” I said, having had more than enough. But he had in his hand a fragrant double delight rose, obviously pinched from a nearby garden, which he handed to me. So I took the rose and let him walk quietly across the floor to the back door.

The room at the back of the hall also contained Christine McMillan‘s great big pile firewood. It looked like an ordinary woodpile except that each piece was nice and smooth on one side, showing off the grain. Men in particular liked this one. Women gravitated towards the mushrooms. For whatever reason – nature or nurture or an interesting combo – that’s what I observed.

There was a robot down the far end of the room that wasn’t working. “Robot’s off,” I’d say as people entered. This box, made out of pallets, the shape of a tardis or phone box, stood silently, unmoving. Some people, having read that it was supposed to follow you around, spent time with it, doing hopeful antics around it. But it stood there, blankly, offering nothing.

Before that, my friend Jacqui and I sat on a pew in the little stone church on the other corner to experience Jason Wing‘s sound installation. The sound was of cockatoos and other birds recorded in Blacktown and Kandos. The piece related to how stolen Aboriginal children and their parents would try to communicate with each other using bird sounds, because the missionaries forbade them to use their own languages. The screeching got louder and louder until we were all completely absorbed in this sound and then, as it tailed off, you heard the monotonous raspy cries of baby birds calling for food, and the beautiful carolling of magpies. Cockatoos speak directly to my soul.  “My true church”, I scribbled in pencil as I listened. I looked at the empty wooden holder for HYMNS and listened to the hymns of this country.

And then, after the cockatoos and the mushrooms and feral children, I went back to Karen‘s pom poms planted in the vacant block with the majestic escarpment behind them. Leanne, who lives in the house opposite, had composed a poem about them. She read it out so I could record it on my phone. As she finished reading, a small flock of parrots flew across the sky.


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.

The new world in the morning

A_box_of_hairOMFG. I survived the year 2014. It’s over. I’m about to pack it all in a box. All those cancer hats – in the box. A big blue folder called Resilience, from Ovarian Cancer Australia – in the box. You’ve been very helpful but I don’t want to catch sight of you at the moment. Cardboard box with bananas stamped on the side, full of wigs – it’s going back round the corner to Steph Luke.

The year 2014 can go the f@#k to sleep.

It’s time to get the box I labelled “Hair” out of the cupboard. It contains things like shampoo, conditioner, combs, depilatory cream. Things one uses when one has hair, wanted or unwanted. These things can now be restored to their spots in the bathroom.

Unfortunately I can’t pack up Buckminster and all his accoutrements. Buckminster is the name I’ve given to my stoma and colostomy bag. Last night I was discussing it with my friend Karen Golland, and I called it “this guy”. As in, “This guy has a lot to say, tonight.” She said, “Oh, is it male?” I stopped and thought about this. Yes. He is a male. Full of shit. Not that I think males in general are full of shit by any means. Some of my all-time favourite people were or are male. But for some reason I’ve been thinking of it as a “guy” or a “dude”. So, yes, male. And being full of shit is in no way a criticism: it’s just its function. So, Fullashit. Which suggests a first name: Buckminster.

In 1927, Buckminster Fuller, the architect and futurist, had an epiphany. He was contemplating suicide when he suddenly found himself floating a couple of feet off the pavement in a sphere of bright light. According to Wikipedia, a  voice came to him and said:

From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought. You think the truth. You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe. Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.

After that, he went on to invent the geodesic dome and have bucky balls named after him. And my colostomy apparatus.

I can’t pack Buckminster away; he’s a constant reminder of the truth, which is that everything you’ve got is slipping away from you, including your own body parts, but with a little help you can temporarily stave off the dragons of dissolution. (I reassure myself that temporary can be a very long time.)

Yes. I’d like to put 2014 in a box and put it away but Buckminster keeps reminding me of it. As he should.

And even though there’s no such thing as Forever here on earth, it might exist somewhere else. Last night, at Fiona Green’s beautiful New Year’s Eve party, Karen told us about the Forever Now project which will send messages into the universe. They might be found one day … by others or perhaps by some version of ourselves, the ones living in another space-time dimension. You can see the video clip here. It is so beautiful. Karen worked on collages (a different project) with one of the artists, Deborah Kelly, at Bundanon just before Christmas. You can vote for this animation to board the forever rocketship by leaving a comment below the animation.

Anyway, here on Earth, it’s a new morning!

I should have done this in my last post for 2014, but I’ll do it now: Thank you, all my readers, for riding with me all year. I managed to post most Thursdays for most of the year; I’m aiming to do the same again this year.

Happy New Year!