Eight Days A Week

Note: Adam Aitken invited me to join an eight day long poetry marathon, organized (I think) by Laura Hinton #PeetMeNotLeave. Since I don’t write poems I decided, instead, to take a photograph each day and then write a caption for each of them.

#1 Gymea Lily

A Gymea lily flowering inside the branches of a frangi pani tree, which has the tiny buds of its new leaves visible on the tips of those strange, otherwise bald stems. This is beside the entrance to a small park on Illawarra Road, one which hardly anyone visits; though I did see a glum man with two large glum dogs, one black, one white, sitting there the other day. The park has been built over some waste land next to one of the many canals that run through Marrickville, which used to be a swamp called Gumbramorra. I was surprised to see a Gymea lily here; they usually grow in light bush, at the margins or under a sparse canopy of eucalypts or paper barks. When we were visiting Big Sue up at One Mile a few weeks ago we saw hundreds of them flowering in the bush around the caravan park where she and we were staying. You can eat them, the stems and the roots. I wonder if in fact they did grow here in Gumbramorra when it was still a swamp. If so, I think they would probably have been found on slightly higher ground, along one of the low ridges―like the one we live on―that run between the gullies where now the concrete drains go. Whoever made the park planted it with natives―there’s a banksia tree behind and on the other side of the entrance, a carpet of pig face with its pulpy leaves and purple, daisy like flowers. Pig face is often thought of as a weed and usually grows in the dunes behind beaches. You can eat it too.


#2 Cursed be he . . .

When I walked around to the Bourke Street Bakery early this morning to buy a loaf of their seedy sourdough I was thinking about Shakespeare’s epitaph―’cursed be he who moves my bones’―because I’d just finished reading a biography of John Milton in which it is related how, a hundred years after he died, when the church in Cripplegate in whose graveyard he was buried was being renovated (by a brewer), his corpse was dug up and the parts exhibited by drunken Christians for coin and even (perhaps) his teeth were sold―as his daughters are reputed to have sold his books to the Dunghill women. Who knows. Anyway, as I was leaving the bakery I saw a triple line of glass bricks, low down, set into the side wall of the building opposite and went over to photograph them. Just as I finished the woman who had been ahead of me in the bakery crossed the road and went up the front steps to the building with her cup of takeaway coffee. She was about forty, slender, dressed all in black and wore a slightly mocking smile, a la Emma Peel, on her lips. RIP Diana Rigg. I hadn’t paid much attention to that building before. It belongs to an outfit called Patient Handling™ and they supply devices for lifting, mobility and daily living aids, among other things. The Bourke Street Bakery started in 2004 in the street of that name in Surry Hills but can now be found at eleven locations across Sydney, including this one, which is actually in Mitchell Street. As I walked back home with my loaf of fresh bread, I was thinking about the way street names proliferate across the city and indeed across the land. How many Bourke Streets are there, and how many Mitchells? Hundreds, certainly. Richard Bourke was Anglo-Irish, a cousin of Edmund Burke, in whose home he spent his vacations while young. He became an officer in the Grenadier Guards and took part in the siege and storming of Montevideo in 1807 as well as in the Peninsular War. He had his jaw nearly blown off in Holland. As a colonial official he was in Malta and in South Africa before becoming Governor of New South Wales in 1831. A Whig and an emancipist, he attempted to reform the system of government, the judiciary, the education department; which didn’t prevent him, in 1835, issuing through the Colonial Office a proclamation implementing the doctrine of terra nullius, under which no Indigenous Australian could sell or assign land, nor any individual acquire it, other than through distribution by the Crown. As for Thomas Mitchell, he was an irascible Scotsman, another army officer who, like Bourke, served in the Peninsular War. Mitchell was Surveyor General of NSW from 1828 until his death in 1855. He made four expeditions inland, ‘opening up the country for settlement’. Like Bourke, too, he was liberal in his orientation; but a hard man nevertheless. There were massacres. He was the last person in Australia, in 1851, to challenge anyone to a duel, after a man called Donaldson criticised excessive spending in his department. Both men shot wide. The only Les Murray poem I can reliably quote from is his sonnet ‘The Mitchells’ which somehow tries to claim for the clan an ubiquity which might well be attested by the prevalence of streets named after them. It concludes: ‘Nearly everything / they say is ritual. Sometimes the scene is an avenue.’ None of this has anything to do with the milky depths and dark reflections in the glass bricks at Patient Handling™; or does it?



#3 Two Blue Doors

Up at the end of our street there’s a sports field where they play rugby league and AFL, and in summer (I hope), cricket. A lot of people walk their dogs there too, because the gates stay open almost all of the time. I say gates: there are three, one from Sydenham Road, one from Centennial Road, and the one at the end of our street. The ground itself is a deep bowl in the earth and the first time we saw it, at night, last year, both of us gasped: not just at the grandeur of the basin, the grandeur of the sky above, which seemed both to echo and to amplify. In fact the park used to a brick pit, out of which clay was scooped, taken down to the works at St. Peters (now Sydney Park) and baked; then used to make houses much like this one in which we live. After the clay was exhausted this pit, and others like it, were just left as holes in the ground; which filled up with water and were used as swimming pools by local kids. But there were too many drownings, for instance when someone who could not swim or could not swim very well, fell in, and was unable to climb back up the slope of the slippery sides. After nine boys died Council was persuaded to buy and re-purpose this one. It was made into a park using the labour of unemployed men during the Depression and opened in September 1933 with a cricket match in which Don Bradman, representing North Sydney, played against a local Marrickville Eleven. Guess who won? The park was the velodrome where cycling events were held during the 1938 Empire Games and it was said that on one occasion during those Games, perhaps at the Opening or the Closing Ceremony, perhaps during a bike race, 40,000 people were in attendance. Since the velodrome was disestablished, it’s been the home of the legendary Blue Bags aka the Newtown Jets and it still is. The two other gates have names but our one does not. What it does have, however, is a pub at the other end of the street. The photograph of these two blue doors is taken from inside of the ground, looking out. There are eight of these doors, four on either side of the arch, all painted that startling blue colour. If you were to open them up you would find within a rusting turnstile, because this is the way in which in the old days paying customers came into the ground to watch a game. I’ve not seen them open yet and suspect they aren’t used anymore. I’ve photographed them several times before, but never with a nest of yellow daisies like that one growing at the foot of the door on the right.


#4 At Eternity’s Gate

These tiled steps lead up to the front door of a house in Victoria Road near Marrickville Metro. There’s usually a line of taxis parked opposite, as there were today, with the mostly Arabic speaking drivers talking and laughing with each other while they wait for someone to come out with their shopping and hire a ride home. No-one took any notice of me as I crossed over and lined up the shot but I felt conspicuous anyway, as I always do, because who am I to be taking photographs of other people’s houses? Isn’t that a bit dubious? No-one’s ever challenged me and yet I continue to feel like an interloper or perhaps even a voyeur. It’s the same when photographing people’s windows, which I also sometimes do. In fact that seems worse because while tiles only reflect back the light, when you’re photographing windows, you might actually also capture something of the inside of the house. Which is never my intention, but still. Yesterday when I was walking up Holmesdale Street I crossed the road intending to re-photograph a set of very beautiful stained glass windows for perhaps the third or fourth time. For some reason I haven’t been able to get a shot of them that I like enough to post, perhaps because the house faces east and I’ve only ever gone there in the afternoon, when the sun is setting, and the windows are effectively in shadow. Anyway, these particular windows have lace curtains behind them, making the image even more complex and therefore more desirable. It must be someone’s sitting room and I did once see the old couple who live there, memorably, not long after the lockdown began, sitting in the deep veranda of their house, with a woman I took to be their daughter in between. It was a desolate scene. An old woman, looking completely bewildered, on the right; an old man, head in hands, desperate, on the left; between them, a blonde woman in her fifties. What made it so startling was that the man’s pose mimicked that of the sitter in Van Gogh’s 1890 painting ‘Worn Out: At Eternity’s Gate’. Anyway, yesterday, as I crossed Holmesdale hoping to get the photograph, the two women I’ve described above came out the front door and down the path to the gate, looking not in the least bit desolate, cheerful rather. Of course I didn’t take the photo. Today, however, on Victoria Road, I did, remembering as I waiting for the shutter to click (I have the camera set on a five second delay) that the house next door to this one has the same tiles but only two steps; as does the next one down, with only one step. It’s difficult to find out much about the history of these tiles, which are ubiquitous in this part of town, giving these modest brick houses an air of luxury, as if even the most ordinary of dwellings may still repose in quiet, jewelled splendour.


#5 Puddles

About midday, when the rain stopped, I went for a walk. The puddle at the gate into Henson Park was so large it extended across the entire entrance; behind it was a sign standing on the grass; and next to that a thin bloke in shades and a blue shirt sitting on a plastic chair. He said I had to scan myself in using the camera on my phone to register with the QR code on the sign; but my phone wouldn’t do it. He didn’t seem too concerned. Not all of them work, he said. I’m only going for a walk, I said. There was a game of AFL on. Way down at the bottom of the bowl, the figures of the men playing looked tiny, like ten year old boys; while the sounds they made, amplified by the remarkable acoustics of the ground, seemed enormous. All the way from grunts and groans to shouts and oaths to high-pitched hysterical pleas or exhortations. I wondered, not for the first time, what the noise on a battlefield during hand to hand combat was like. The crowd too was vociferous even though there didn’t seem to be that many people there. When one of the teams scored, those watching from inside their cars honked their horns. I think they were university teams. There was a pavilion near the grandstand with the logo of the University of New South Wales upon it. Anyway the game finished while I was making my circumambulation and I saw the men of the two teams close up: big hairy guys, even though they were wearing tight little boy shorts and shirts. Some teenage girls came out of the grandstand, one of them doing spontaneous dance steps, which her friends admired. I’d already taken some photos of the sun and the mobile phone tower reflected in the puddle near the utilities block and felt relieved because I was pretty sure one or other of them would be okay to post. After all this is a challenge. Most of them were focused upon the reflection of the tower but one was focused upon the sun; and that’s the one I’ve chosen. Taking pictures of pools on the ground always reminds me of the painter William Robinson, whose ‘Creation Landscape’ series from the 1990s came about (at least partly) because of his habit of walking out at night after rain with a lantern and peering into puddles. This was, I think, when he was living on a farm near the Queensland border with New South Wales. Not so long ago someone said to me, with an unnecessary degree of belligerence, that my photos aren’t works of art, they’re just snaps. I didn’t reply, partly because I didn’t want to get into an argument but mainly because I agree with him. On the other hand someone else, a while longer ago, spent some time telling me I should get a decent camera because then my photos would look a lot better than they do. I resisted that suggestion too. I said this is a casual pleasure, something I enjoy doing, and I wouldn’t want to ruin it by starting to take myself too seriously. Ditto ditto to the art accusation.


#6 Peace Lane

Peace Lane runs from Broadleys Lane, just behind Marrickville Road, two blocks north to Sydenham Road. They are big blocks and the lane runs downhill for about two thirds of its length, until it reaches a drain, then flattens out to meet Sydenham Road (formerly called Swamp Road). The two adjoining streets are Illawarra Road, to the east, and Despointes Street, to the west. They are both residential streets and the sections the houses are built upon are long and narrow. Peace Lane is lined, on both sides, by the doors of garages; or by fences made of wood or brick or corrugated iron, enclosing back gardens; or by the entrances to home workshops. There was a young fellow the other day meticulously shaping a plank of wood using a saw at a bench and I stood and waited until he paused and saw me and took off his ear muffs and came over to see what I wanted. Do you make bookcases? I asked. He was polite and friendly. Yes, he said, I do. But I’m not taking orders at the moment. I’ve got two year’s work booked. Wow, I thought, two years, that’s a lot of bookings. I often walk down Peace Lane when I’m returning from the shops because it’s a rich source of images, whether of shadows sharply etched on black or blue or grey walls, the curious textures of home-concreted or home-bricked walls, the junk people reliably leave out there, day after day, the shapes of trees against the azure Sydney sky. There’s a family, or perhaps several families, of spotted doves which live there. Someone leaves a scatter of bread crumbs out on the pavement for them and there will sometimes be a dozen or so of them, including juveniles, pecking away. They are very shy and will whirr away into the air at the slightest provocation. There’s also a resident red wattle bird which, at this time of year, plunders the flowering bottle brush trees for their nectar. I often wonder why it’s called Peace Lane? Perhaps it has something to do with the end of some war or other, perhaps the Boer War, perhaps the First World War, which might have coincided with the laying out of these streets. Or something else entirely. Illawarra Road is called that because it was the highway south to the district where Wollongong is, in the old days usually just called The Illawarra. Despointes might have come from the Catholics, who built a Passionist church there, opposite the Police Station, in 1887. Or it could be named after the French admiral, the commander of the Oceanic Fleet, who annexed New Caledonia for France in 1853 and died on his ship during the siege of Petropavlovsk in the Crimean War. Of course I have my favourite walls along Peace Lane, like this one, which I’ve photographed again and again. But, really, how many times can you photograph a wall?

#7 The Ikea Song List

Every time I ask someone to build me some bookshelves, or if they know someone who could build me some bookshelves, they say: why don’t you go to Ikea? So today I went to Ikea. Much good it did me.

This was the playlist of my visit this morning, after which I came home and ordered what I wanted online:

In the underground carpark, crossing the road towards the underground entrance:

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2 (1987).

When they took down the barriers and let the zombie horde surge through into the strange labyrinth of virtual rooms:

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club (1982).

In the Home Office area:

Borderline (Feel like I’m going to lose my mind) – Madonna (1983).

In the Workplace section:

(Everybody’s got a) Hungry Heart – Bruce Springsteen (1980).

At the Check Out:

She Has To Be Loved – Jenny Morris (1989).

There was also this cute mock-up of a tiled fireplace in a simulacrum of a waiting room, I think it was, with a real person waiting.

#8 Self Portrait in a Cool Room Wall

This is the back wall of the cool room behind the bottle shop in the Henson Park Hotel, just over the road from here. I’d gone in to buy a can of Elsie The Milk Stout and noticed how the light of the setting sun struck the wall and made the tiles, too, light up. The floor in there is tiled as well. I sometimes wonder if this was always the bottle shop or if it’s been re-purposed in some way; probably the latter. They sell a variety of craft beers and an interesting selection of expensive wines; ones you don’t see in many other places. The hotel is owned by the Reilly Group, who bought what was described as ‘a rundown beer barn’ in 2013 and fixed it up. They also own the White Cockatoo Hotel in Railway Street, Petersham and the Sydney Park Hotel in King Street, Newtown: three pubs, said by a Reilly Group person, to be ‘our golden triangle’. That didn’t stop thirty-one of their employees taking the group to court for under-payment of wages a couple of years ago. The judgement, in February 2019, awarded the employees or, in most cases, former employees, over a hundred grand in lost or withheld payments. When I first moved in here someone said that, in the 1970s, you could buy any drug you liked over there. Someone else, in the same conversation, said, yeah, that’s true, but it was also true of any pub in Marrickville in those days. This one was built in 1935 by Tooth & Co. over the site of the old Town Hall Hotel, which was demolished to make way for it. The Town Hall, originally the Marrick, had stood on the corner of Chapel Street and Illawarra Road since the early 1860s. The original Marrickville Town Hall, now also demolished, was itself in built in Illawarra Road (I’m not sure where) in 1878, and that was why the name was changed from the Marrick. The intersection of Chapel Street and Illawarra Road was at the heart of the Marrickville Estate, subdivided 1855. A market garden grew over the road from the original building but I’m not sure exactly where that was either. Possibly right where this house and its neighbours stand. There’s quite a few old buildings extant around here, for instance the delicatessen opposite the pub on Chapel Street, now someone’s dwelling, the café opposite us, which used to be a fruit and vegetable shop, the old Orange Hall down the road a bit, now a car mechanic’s garage, the Greek Community Centre opposite that. In fact this was the business district until the tramways and then the railway were built and Marrickville Road became the new CBD. The Henson Park Hotel (‘an interesting blend of Inter war Functionalist and Inter war Art Deco styles’) is contemporary with the sports ground at the other end of our street and has for many years been the place where people go before and after a game on the weekend. They still do. Elsie The Milk Stout is made locally, by the Batch Brewing Co. in Sydenham Road and I thought it was pretty good. It’s nearly time for a drink again but today I’ll be having a Cooper’s Best Extra Stout, which in my opinion is superior to all of the other stouts I’ve tried this winter, with the possible exception of Philter’s Caribbean Stout, also made locally, but I seem to have drunk the Henson dry of that; though I think they may still have it on tap.



This is me after completing the eight day poetry marathon without writing or posting any poetry and without tagging anyone else either. I’m retiring now from the business of writing captions and perhaps also from the compulsion to post photographs . . . for a while, anyway.

16 – 24 September 2020

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Endless Yet Never

Colin McCahon

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The other day I found a leech in the garden. It was in the saucer under the pot in which the rosemary died after a fungus ate its roots during last summer’s dry. I’d put the pot out under the edge of the shelter over the washing line where the run off soaked into the dirt, causing a green slime to grow over the outside and a black grit to gather in the saucer. It was in this grit that I found the leech. It looked healthy enough but seemed sluggish; it didn’t have the brilliant gold ornaments along its sides like the ones I sometimes picked up at Pearl Beach. And it showed no inclination to suck my blood. I let it go inside another water logged pot down by the compost bin. Later I found a second one, dead, beneath the ex-rosemary pot’s saucer, is if the wet had drowned then dissolved it into amorphous tissue. I didn’t know leeches could drown.

There’s a small blueberry bush, covered in pink and cream flowers, growing next to where this pot stood. Last summer we did get one or two small sweet fruit from it but I imagine the birds ate the rest. Serendipitously, I associate blueberries with leeches because, one time when we were visiting the blueberry farm near Wamberal, where we used to go to pick our own, I took one of the boys down into a gully to go to the toilet; and while there we were attacked by leeches. Jesse screamed and ran (he was only four or five) and I had to run after him and catch him and pick the bloodsuckers off his legs. They have a toothed Y or V shaped mouth that suckers onto your flesh, then they inject an anaesthetic and a thinner into your blood; it takes some force to remove them. Later on that day, when we were in the car and driving away, I found one engorged, swollen like a tumour, between my toes.

Out on the path that runs down the side of the house, after rain, small slugs gather around the pale purple lilly pillies fallen from the myrtle hedge onto the concrete. Their mucous trails look like silvery webs. Or labyrinths at the heart of which lies a disintegrating fruit. It takes them days or even weeks to eat a single berry. First they gnaw away the skin, then they start upon the pulp and, after that, the seeds. Small creatures, they don’t need much. After the last spell of rain I found one dead, perhaps stranded when the path dried out. It was black and shriveled into a cigar-shaped crinkle of tissue. They are nocturnal and I haven’t seen one alive or feeding yet.

Today at my desk, after our swim, I felt something crawling on the back of my neck and brushed it away. Some kind of bug. Later, in the sitting room, reading Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, a re-telling of Homer’s Iliad from the point of view of Briseis and the Trojan women, I felt it again. That involuntary shudder you experience upon discovering the presence of an unknown creature upon your skin. I flicked it away and it fell onto the rug. It was a ladybird. Very beautiful, burnished gold and black, one gossamer membrane protruding from beneath the carapace over its wings. It was still alive, maybe even undamaged. I let it go in the spinach in the pot on the deck outside. Whether it was the same one that was in my study, or another, I do not know.

Back in February, after I came back from Japan, there was a deluge that lasted several days. It was the heaviest rain on record―since the last time. I did look it up but cannot now remember when that was. A hundred years ago maybe. Suffice to say this is an event which happens periodically and will, I hope, continue to do so. During this storm I realised that our house, which we’d bought only a couple of months previously, in the midst of Black Summer, with the smoke of hundreds of bushfires turning the air orange-yellow, is built upon the northern slope of a slight rise; so that it, and the back lawn too, tends downhill. As did the rain, roaring on the roof, pouring through the gutters, flooding into the drains. The roof did leak, but not much; and the repairs we have made since then seem to have worked.

When the rain had stopped, and I was on my way down the side of the house to put the rubbish and the recycling into the bins, I encountered an animal. A rodent of some kind. Or a marsupial. Quite large. Brownish skin, golden along the ridge of the spine. A short, stumpy tail. A hunch in the back. It was foraging among the clippings left to rot on the ground the last time I cut the myrtle hedge. It hopped, unhurriedly, across the path and into an open grill that leads under the house. Just before it disappeared it paused and looked up at me with a bright incurious eye: as if to say, you live here too, do you?

Subsequently I went online to try to work out what this creature was. There are a few possibilities. One is that it’s a brown rat, aka the Norwegian rat, the wharf rat, the ship rat, the sewer rat. Another is that it’s a native, also a rodent, sometimes called the bush rat. They are nocturnal, however, and uncommon in urban areas; whereas this one was quite comfortable out in the broad daylight. The third possibility is that it’s some kind of marsupial. An antechinus is the best candidate. There are fifteen varieties of these, a dasyurid like quolls and Tasmanian Devils; the largest, the dusky antechinus, feeds mostly on insects and small reptiles but will eat fruits, seeds and so forth. It is diurnal and may come forth at any hour of the day.

I didn’t see one of them again for a while and when I did I still wasn’t sure what it was. One balmy autumn evening we were sitting outside and saw a couple of them scurrying along the top of the fence that divides this house from the one next door. They were smaller than the one upon the path, about half the size; with the same hunch in the back, the same stubby tail, the same hopping gait. Subsequently we saw more of them, even smaller, about the size of a mouse. I watched one through the window of the bedroom at the front of the house for quite a long time as it snuffled in the leaf litter under a gardenia bush. Again it was daylight and again it seemed entirely unafraid.



The people who sold us this house had two growing children and one or other of them kept pets in a wooden hutch out by the compost bin. Guinea pigs maybe; or rabbits. I don’t know. They took the hutch with them when they went, exposing an oblong patch of bare ground at the edge of the lawn. Over time, crumbs and seeds and other detritus had fallen through the cracks in the wood and birds came to feed upon it: noisy minas, Indian minas, spotted doves. There might have been a bit of competition between these three species; or it might have been that the minas, of both kinds, weren’t very interested in the food we started putting out. After a while, the patch was only visited, several times a day, by a pair of spotted doves; as it still is. 

We bought a seed mix from the supermarket and soon noticed that the doves, although they devoured everything else, did not eat a long wheat-like grain that was included in the selection. The rat, however, or the antechinus, or whatever it is, did. Over a number of days in early winter we watched it come out from under the house near the washing line, hop across the lawn and then spend some time among the seeds, stuffing its cheeks with the grain. After that it would go back under the house, presumably to store its harvest, before returning for more. Sometimes there were brief confrontations with the spotted doves, who seemed, surprisingly, always to prevail.

Once when I saw this animal out there, it hid behind the compost bin. There is what looks like the entrance to a burrow back there in the soft earth next to the fence, and I wondered if that was where it had gone. I waited and watched and after a while it came around the side of the bin, saw me standing there, and disappeared again. A while later it came around the other side of the bin. Again it saw me and again retreated. I walked away. After that we stopped seeing it. Perhaps it had stored enough grain for the winter; or eaten enough to make hibernation possible; if it hibernates. I say ‘it’ but there’s clearly a family of them living under the house, the little mouse-like ones, the middle-sized ones we saw hopping along the fence, the big one I first saw out on the path.



The spotted dove, ubiquitous in Sydney, is not a native. They are an Asian bird, introduced to Melbourne in the 1860s, and flourishing along the east coast ever since. They are beautiful and shy, with a pale whitish-purple head, a pink breast, light brown back and wings, and a checkerboard pattern, white and black, on either side of the neck; which gives them their name. They call constantly from the trees, a distinctive coo-cor-cor which some people find irritating. Males and females look alike and when our pair started visiting, we spent some time learning to distinguish one from the other. The male, who always flew down first, had the whiter head; the smaller female, a purpler crown.

And then there was one. Without a point of comparison, it took us a while to work out it was the male who was still coming: partly because of the whiter head, partly because of a small pointy tuft at its throat, mostly because of the way he flirted with Mayu. When she was out there he would fly down, walk importantly across the lawn, hop onto the deck and start arching his back, spreading his tail and extending his wings in the way that male pigeons do when they are courting. Sometimes he showed her his cloaca. She responded by giving him more food and perhaps that was the point of the display. She’d talk to him too, and he grew accustomed to her voice. He likes it when she speaks Japanese. He sat on the fence for about ten minutes the other day, listening to her talking to a friend on the phone.

Of course we wondered what had happened to the female. Spotted doves are monogamous and they mate for life. There are cats around―next door has one and there’s another, a bold tabby, who visited a few times after we moved in. Was she dead? Did they ‘break up’? Or was she sitting on a nest somewhere? And then, just a week ago, she came back. Or another just like her. Smaller than he is, with a purpler head. Her reappearance coincided with a period during which the male called incessantly from inside the myrtle hedge, though I could never work out exactly where he was. Now they are gathering stalks of grass from the lawn, building a nest. Where this is I’m not sure either but it could be in the myrtle; or in the Geisha girl which is part of the same hedge.

Apparently their nests are so frail, so flimsily built, you can sometimes see the two white eggs they contain from underneath. Nevertheless, they must be robust enough, because their numbers keep on increasing. Halfway down Peace Lane, where I walk most days looking for photographs to take, there’s a cohort of a dozen or so; including several juveniles. Spotted doves breed all year round but do so most commonly between September and December. It’s the first day of spring next week. Perhaps by Christmas we’ll have a family of doves visiting the seed patch in our back yard.



When you buy property, you also buy an ecosystem. Or a fragment of an ecosystem. We are living over a portion of what was once a swamp, a piece of low-lying land with a creek running through it on its way to join the Cooks River, which then debouches into Botany Bay. Both swamp and creek were called Gumbramorra, a word whose meaning is obscure. The Dictionary of Sydney records: Gumbramorra Swamp consisted of marshland at the foot of the declining sandstone and shoal ridges, in a relatively narrow area surrounded by low hills. At the mouth of the Gumbramorra Creek were mudflats, which were also evident in the swamp itself. Behind these mudflats and mangroves was a salt marsh. These conditions supported abundant wildlife.

Local historian Sue Castrique wrote: Aunty Fran Bodkin is a Dharawal elder who grew up on her mother’s traditional land. She is a botanist, environmental scientist and educator who has an intense interest in plants and climate and works to bring together Dharawal knowledge and Western science. The swamp, she says, was a special place for the Bidigal clan. ‘We were the bitterwater peoples, the oyster eaters because we ate shellfish from the swamps. We were the swamp walkers. We drank the water from the rivers and swamps, not quite fresh water, and not quite salt water. One thing we knew was that where the reeds grow you can drink the water, at the base of the reeds.

Aunty Fran grew up when there were still remnants of the swamp in what is now Marrickville, mostly near the river. There was so much edible stuff. Black shelled mussels, other shellfish, eels and the reeds with their sweet tubers. When Acacia binervia, the myall wattle, flowered, it meant the mullet were running in the river. We used the mud flats on the banks as skating rinks. It was the most beautiful mud, it was so slippery. We would run and jump on the mud and slide for metres after metres. We would come home and Mum would be at the gate with the hose. European settlers, however, avoided Gumbramorra. It was useful only for watering cattle or for digging up clay in order to make bricks.

All that changed during a drought in the early 1880s, when the swamp dried out, leaving bare flat clay beds behind. One Thomas Saywell drew up a plan for a new suburb, to be called Tramvale, and then sold the land to three Sydney businessmen, Mathias Bohrsmann, Henry French and William Shirlow, a tailor, a draper and a bootmaker, respectively. They increased the number of blocks to 160, added laneways to the rear of the rows of houses and put the estate on the market. The blocks were small, prices were low, terms were easy and a frenzy ensued. The buyers were labourers, cab drivers, railway workers and a large number of widows. Locals who lived nearby knew it flooded―they had seen it under water―but in 1882 it had been dry for three years.

Castrique continues: In 1889, after four days of torrential rain, Tramvale became a lake. The rain coincided with an exceptional tide, the highest for twenty years, and water rose rapidly. Women and shivering children were rescued by boat. Worse, once the houses dried off, they were coated in a greasy slick of sewage and tannery waste. In 1867, a huge tannery had been built on the headwaters of Gumbramorra Creek. It drew water for the tanning pits from the creek and then dumped its waste back into it. Rushes grew profusely in the nutrient-rich waters, trapping a soupy mix of animal scraps and leather particles that choked the watercourse. At the same time, sewage from newly-built houses in Stanmore and Newtown flowed into the valley, creating a black stinking mud whose smell was described as indescribable.

Subsequently, the Reverend Thomas Roseby, a Congregational minister, suggested the basin should be turned into a lake. There were precedents. Roseby had lived in Ballarat and knew Lake Wendouree, a natural wetland dammed during the gold rushes. Another example was Centennial Park, created from the Lachlan Swamp in 1887. How easily, wrote Roseby, the whole place might be turned into paradise. It was not to be. Instead, house building continued, incrementally, and the floods continued too. The first pumping station began to be built in 1898 and gradually, piecemeal, over many years, some degree of control over the flooding has been attained. The most vulnerable areas were rezoned and are given over to light industry.

Meanwhile the brick pits, emptied of their clay, filled up with water. They were used by local kids as swimming holes but had their own dangers: if a little one fell in, s/he might not be able to clamber back up the slippery slope. There were quite a few drownings; and so, in time, the pits were filled in and re-purposed. The one at the end of our street was made over into a velodrome that was used during the 1938 Empire Games. The opening ceremony was held there, with a crowd of about 40,000 attending. Henson Park is now a sports ground where rugby league, AFL and cricket are played; and, where, in all seasons, people walk themselves and their children and their dogs.



When I put a post up on Facebook about the rodent or marsupial or whatever it was I saw down the side of the house, my friend Ray, who lived here for many years but is now in Murwillumbah, wrote to say that the rats of Marrickville are legendary and have built networks of tunnels which go all the way back up to Circular Quay. He said their lineage is as impressive: if they are ship’s rats, they will have been here since the First Fleet arrived in 1789. Or, if one or two hopped off Cook’s ships in Botany Bay in 1770, even longer. And that’s to say nothing about earlier incursions by Dutch and Portuguese ships, all of which would also have had rats aboard.

When most people think of rats, they think of exterminators; but we are reluctant to poison whatever creatures we have living here; especially if they turn out to be natives. Even if they aren’t, it still doesn’t seem a good idea to leave toxic substances around in order to kill them. Hasn’t there been enough killing? What else might die? Anyway, if this whole suburb is rat-infested, with entrenched populations, after we poisoned ours, wouldn’t others move into the space they formerly occupied? Mayu’s friend Big Sue, when she was staying here, put it best: so long as they don’t come inside, they’re not really a problem.

We did have an exterminator come around after we moved in. Matt is big, steady, calm guy with a ponytail. He drives a Hilux with the number plate PRED8OR and lives out west, along the Hawkesbury River. After he laid baits outside of the house for cockroaches, and checked for signs of white ants, he stood chatting with us in the kitchen. It was December, 2019, at the height of the Black Summer bushfires. He told us his wife, a Darug woman, was having a children’s book, which she wrote and illustrated, published through Broome-based Magabala Books; and was contributing to mural designs for the new airport being built at Badgerys Creek.

He said his wife said that other indigenous people out west, from a different mob, reckoned the fires we were having recur in a 250 year cycle, meaning the last big burn had taken place around the time James Cook was sailing up the coast of eastern Australia in 1770. I remembered reading in his Journals about the smoaks of many fires seen burning upon the land. I’d always assumed he meant cooking fires but maybe they were bushfires. Who can say? I felt an obscure sense of reassurance in hearing about this long cycle of burning; along with residual guilt that I might thereby become one of those who denies the effects of global warming consequent upon human behaviour.

I was thinking about Matt because last night I saw a cockroach just above the sink on the kitchen wall. Blattodea. Oone of those big ones with a white stripe along the outside of their wings. I’ve always thought, on no good authority, that they are native. Garden cockroaches, we used to say. This one was immobile and stayed still while I trapped it under a glass, slid a postcard between the mouth of the glass and the wall, upended the glass then took it outside, where I let it go in the plants edging the lawn.

How did it get inside? Under the door perhaps. Nor do I know how the ants, which cluster in the kitchen, enter the house. Today I saw dozens of them gather around the twin power points on the wall next to the stove, for what purpose I am unsure. Most of them will end up dead, from a surefeit of electrons perhaps, a scatter of black upon the white bench below. The same fate awaits those which like to assemble around the hinges of the doors that close the pantry cupboard: what do they want? Glue? If so, why does it kill them?

A house, however solid it may seem, is actually a membrane made up of other membranes, all of them permeable. Especially one that’s more than a hundred years old, as this one is, and built over a swamp. Walls are one of their membranes and they too let things in. We are having the front bedroom resealed against rising damp: water overflowing from leaking gutters infiltrates the old, porous bricks, rises up and, having nowhere else to go, begins to ooze through the walls. Some mornings I found water pooled along the tops of the skirting boards; or lying puddled upon the wooden floor. Moisture seeps in the windows too. Sometimes when we woke up, the insides of the glass were dripping with condensation. It couldn’t have just been from our breath, there was too much of it.

Our own skin, which we also like to think of as impermeable, exudes water every time we sweat. What does it allow in? Now, in a time of plague, we are sensitized to the permeability of our bodies, the way tiny rogue fragments of DNA, called viruses, can make their way into our mouths or noses, past the skin of our throats, our trachea, our oesophagus, our lungs and into our blood, there to reproduce in our cells and then go on to invade other cells, and then, after they explode in an orgy of generation, the cells of others. Our bodies, too, are ecosystems.

I find the continuity between self and other reassuring rather than disturbing. I like the feeling of extension, and the implied interdependence of all things; as much as I like the continuity between built structures, like this house, and the living things with which it is surrounded and interpenetrated. I’m reassured in the same way by the discovery that some of the uneaten seeds we’ve been leaving out for the birds have germinated and are now covering the ground where the hutch once stood with green seedlings. I do not know what they are but that does not bother me. We will find out in time; or else we will not.

What pleases me just as much is that what I thought was a vertical branch of the lilly pilly growing over that corner of the garden is actually a camellia, now covered with pink and white flowers; which, as if blushing at the thought of their own beauty, bend their heads down over the ground. From this tree, now and again, a moon-coloured flower falls, to lie resplendent and rotting amongst the seedlings of whatever grass or grain is growing there. The doves too, pink and grey, look very elegant when they come down to feed on the seeds we leave out for them. As for the family of dusky antechinus, of that’s what they are, who knows? They are younger than us, and have been here for very much longer.

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Conrad & Rimbaud


Before leaving Marseilles, there is the Rimbaud speculation to address. It’s been alleged that Joseph Conrad and Arthur Rimbaud met there in June, 1875, when Rimbaud—who had already completed the entirety of the literary writing for which he is known—sick, destitute, was repatriated from Italy to France. He had gone there to learn the language, was afflicted with sunstroke while walking between Siena and Leghorn—with a foot of dust in the road—was rescued by the French consul at Livorno, put up for two days at the Stella Hotel, given three francs and twenty centimes and found a berth on steamer heading for France. At Marseilles he disembarked and collapsed again.

After recuperating at the hospital he enlisted as a mercenary in the Carlist army, then trying to install the Duke of Madrid, Bourbon pretender Don Carlos María de los Dolores Juan Isidro José Francisco Quirico Antonio Miguel Gabriel Rafael, on the Spanish throne. Rimbaud signed up at the recruiting office in Marseilles, received a small amount of money and was given instructions as to how to join his regiment in Spain. The Carlists were about to suffer a series of bloody defeats. Instead of crossing the Pyrenees, Rimbaud went to the railway station and used the money to buy a ticket to Paris; which was probably always his intention. He had been in Marseilles a week.

Conrad, meanwhile, three years younger, not yet eighteen, had just returned from the first of his two voyages in the Mont-Blanc. He had embarked as a passenger, paying his way to Martinique, working the return passage as a member of the crew. When the Mont-Blanc again sailed for the Caribbean a few weeks later, he went in her as an apprentice seaman. There was just a week in June, between the 18th and the 25th, 1875, during which Rimbaud and Conrad were both in Marseilles and therefore might have met; however unlikely that may seem.

Some of the time Rimbaud was in hospital; signing up for the Carlist cause must have taken up at least another day. L’homme aux semelles de vent—the man with heels of wind—once he had money in his pocket might not have lingered long enough to satisfy hopeful literary speculations; which imagine some enchanted evening shared by the two voyants—one aspiring, the other defunct—in some Bohemian café in Le Vieux Port. As it happens, such a café existed and, while there is no evidence that either Conrad or Rimbaud went there, singly or together, it is possible that, for different reasons, both of them did.

Café Bodoul was in the Rue Saint-Ferréol, a few blocks back from the port. It was a meeting place for Carlists, which gives Rimbaud a reason to have gone there. Conrad was also a Carlist of a kind; but the Boudol had another attraction which might have drawn him there: the Cracow table. Cracow was the city from which he had to come to Marseilles. La table de Cracovie, based upon a Parisian institution, the Tree of Cracow (l’arbre de Cracovie), was a place where rumours gathered. There is a pun here: craque, a fib or a tall story, and Cracovie, the French name for the Polish city. At the Café Bodoul cracovistes gathered to improvise their confabulations, their improbable anecdotes, their erotic exaggerations. Duels sometimes eventuated from boasts made around the Cracow table.

Conrad’s friends in Marseilles included a sculptor, Frétigny; the journalist and future politician, Clovis Hughes; Pascalis, later of the Figaro; and Jules Guesde, another journalist, a socialist and a confrère of Karl Marx. How closely he knew any of these men is impossible to say. There was also his American friend, a southerner, John Blunt, and his mother, Ellen. Blunt was one of the four men who formed the syndicate which operated the Tremolino. Another syndicate member was Roger P de S_______: the most Scandinavian-looking of Provençal squires, fair, and six feet high, as became a descendant of sea-roving Northmen, authoritative, incisive, wittily scornful, with a comedy in three acts in his pocket, and in his breast a heart blighted by a hopeless passion for his beautiful cousin.

Conrad was closest to the fourth member of the syndicate, Englishman Henry Grand, from whom he took language lessons and whom he also described: narrow-chested, tall and short-sighted, he strode along the streets and the lanes, his long feet projecting far in advance of his body, and his white nose and gingery moustache buried in an open book: for he had the habit of reading as he walked. Grand’s taste was for the classical poets, Homer and Virgil; he wrote sonnets to the daughter of the woman who ran one of the cafes they frequented. Of this syndicate of disparate types, Conrad remarks: And we were all ardent Royalists of the snow-white Legitimist complexion—Heaven only knows why!

Rimbaud’s Carlist enlistment resonates with Conrad’s claim that his syndicate ran guns to the Spanish rebels in the Tremolino. However, Conrad places this activity in 1877, by which time the Carlist cause was irretrievably lost. The adventure told in The Mirror of the Sea might then have been a conflation of two separate enterprises, the one to run guns to Catholic insurgents in the Americas, the other to sell contraband—Cuban cigars, French liqueurs—into Spain. Or it might have been the work of a cracoviste, based on tales Conrad heard around the table at the Bodoul. Like Rimbaud, Conrad was a fantasist who always attested to the truth of his inventions. This is a not uncommon trait in writers.

Rimbaud’s next sortie, in 1876, while Conrad was in the Saint-Antoine, was a journey into the east as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army. He enlisted in Brussels and, with 300 florins in his pocket, went by ship from Rotterdam via Southampton, Naples, Suez, Aden and across the Indian Ocean to Batavia on the island of Java. And thence to Samarang, east of Batavia on the Java coast of the South China Sea, a port Conrad the sailor would, a decade later, come to know. And then at Salatiga, in the hill country behind Samarang, where his battalion had gone for further training, Rimbaud deserted.

No-one knows what he did next (some suggest he went as far as Palmerston, now Darwin, in Australia); he claimed he spent a month travelling in Java. He can’t have gone very far; he was almost certainly the Edwin Holmes who enlisted as a crew member on an English ship, The Wandering Chief, which left Samarang at the end of August, only two weeks after his desertion. She was bound for the Irish port of Queenstown. From there, Rimbaud went back to his mother’s place in Charleville for a rest before resuming his travels. His own gun-running exploits were still a decade in the future.

By this time Conrad had joined the Mavis. In June, 1878, when he came ashore at Lowestoft, Rimbaud was about to set out for Egypt. He was still in Africa in 1890, when Conrad made his excursion, partly on land, partly by water, up the Congo to Stanleyville in the service of the Société Anonyme Belge pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo; the basis for Heart of Darkness. So that, while they may not have met in person, their trajectories, although opposite, are congruent. Rimbaud imagined a desperate life which he then went on to lead. Conrad lived a desperate life which he then had to re-imagine. They are like mirrors; or strange attractors.

And they certainly met on the page. Or, at least, Conrad met Rimbaud there. On August 27, 1898, writing to his friend, the socialist Scottish aristocrat and writer R B Cunninghame Graham, he remarked, surely ironically, in a postscript: Can’t understand Rimbaud at all. You overrate my intelligence. Je suis bon qu’a lire Cyrano and such like cogioneries. (I’m only good for reading Cyrano and other idiocies.) Later, in 1899, he wrote I happen to know Rimbaud’s verses. He had just been praising an article, by literary journalist and Francophile Charles Whibley, the friend of Whistler, which appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine in February of that year. It was called A Vagabond Poet.

Whether it was Cunninghame Graham who led Conrad to Rimbaud’s work, or someone else, isn’t clear. Nor is it clear what the work(s) in question might have been. The history of the publication of Rimbaud’s writing is convoluted. He had Une Saison en Enfer printed (with the promise of his mother’s money) in 1873 but the entire edition, apart from ten author’s copies, remained, unpaid for, with the printer in Brussels. They were worth a franc each then; priceless now. Later, in 1886, the work was re-published over three issues of the Paris magazine La Vogue.

Paul Verlaine published Le Bateau ivre in Les Poètes maudit (1884). In 1886 La Vogue also printed Illuminations, first in the magazine, then as a book. In 1895, Verlaine edited Poésies Complète, published by Léon Vanier, also in Paris. Oeuvres de Jean-Arthur Rimbaud, edited by Paterne Berrichon, Rimbaud’s sister Isabelle’s husband, and Ernest Delahaye, a school friend, later a school teacher, came out from the Société du Mercure de France in 1898. It was a futile attempt at sanctification. Conrad might have known any or all of these. The date of his letter to Cunninghame may suggest the last; and explain his disavowal. He could also have known Rimbaud’s Rapport sur l’Ogadine, despatches from Abyssinia, published by the Société de Géographie in Paris in 1884.

Conrad was well read in French literature. Molière, Anatole France, Zola, as well as Flaubert and Maupassant, were (he said) among his favourite authors. The poet Saint-John Perse was a personal friend; he corresponded with André Gide, knew Paul Valéry and Maurice Ravel after the war. He had read Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu in French in the early 1920s and proclaimed him a master, extolling his veiled greatness. Subsequently he told Proust’s English translator, C K Scott Moncrieff, I was more interested and fascinated by your rendering than by Proust’s creation.

Conrad’s ‘aunt’, the novelist Marguerite Poradowska—actually his cousin by marriage—was in the 1890s living in Brussels and in Paris. Some of her works were translations, or adaptations, from the Polish. They met when he went to Brussels to see about the African job. Conrad’s cousin, Marguerite’s husband, Aleksander Poradowski, with whom she had spent a decade living in the Polish Ukraine, was seriously ill and died two days after Conrad arrived in the Belgian city. He formed an attachment to his widowed ‘aunt’, and she with him, and they corresponded ardently during the first half of the 1890s. Their closeness worried Uncle Tad, who feared his nephew becoming romantically involved with a woman nine years older than he was.

Marguerite was French. Her maiden name was Gachet and her father was the brother of Doctor Paul Gachet, friend of Courbet and Manet and Victor Hugo, of Cezanne and Monet and van Gogh. It was Dr Gachet who treated van Gogh, ineffectually, during the weeks leading up to his death. There are famous portraits of him; also suggestions that he later forged—or perhaps imitated—van Gogh’s works, notably the sunflower paintings. Vincent said that he was sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much. Conrad, at Marguerite’s Paris apartment, saw works from Dr Gachet’s collection, including some van Goghs. He did not like them. He thought them violent and disturbed. Nevertheless, Marguerite is another connection which might have led him to Rimbaud.

Conrad was reading Rimbaud when he wrote Youth, the story which introduces Charles Marlow—(at least I think that is how he spelt his name)—as narrator. Marlow is Conrad’s other, allowing him to speak freely in a different voice without implicating himself in experiences that might otherwise be read autobiographically. Verlaine published Rimbaud’s Lettre du Voyant, with its provocation Je est un autre, in his 1895 edition of the poems and this Conrad might have known. Some of the prose in Youth, that first excursion into Marlow’s memories, has the accent of Rimbaud’s Le Bateau ivre.

This was the East of the ancient navigators, so old, so mysterious, resplendent and sombre, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise. And these were the men. I sat up suddenly. A wave of movement passed through the crowd from end to end, passed along the heads, swayed the bodies, ran along the jetty like a ripple on the water, like a breath of wind on a field—and all was still again. I see it now—the wide sweep of the bay, the glittering sands, the wealth of green infinite and varied, the sea blue like the sea of a dream, the crowd of attentive faces, the blaze of vivid colour—the water reflecting it all, the curve of the shore, the jetty, the high-sterned outlandish craft floating still, and the three boats with tired men from the West sleeping unconscious of the land and the people and of the violence of sunshine.

image: Le Vieux Port, Marseille, matinee d’hiver; Joseph Garibaldi; nd; oil on panel; 27 x 35 cm


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Near Tayan Pic


The kids instantly re-inhabit the Palaeolithic. Television is 50,000 years in the future. They can bridge the gap in a thought but I am slower. I am in Dilmun, with the copper trader Ea-Nasir, from Ur, a contemporary perhaps of Abraham. Ea-Nasir is often late and sometimes delivers poor quality ingots; he does not always pay his bills on time either but that is not my concern. After all I am a free agent. The copper comes from Makan, with the diorite, the u-stone, the shuman-stone; and to Dilmun there comes also gold from Tukrish, lapis lazuli from Harali, carnelian and fine sea wood from Meluhha, crystal from Marhashi, ebony from Sealand, the wool of Elam and of Zalangar; and from Dilmun come fish eyes, that are pearls―for grain, sesame oil, noble garments, fine garments, sailors of Ur. The cities on the mainland are Qatif, Uqair, Thaj, Hafuf, but the mainland is sinking, the salt is rising, the gardens are being eaten by the Bitter Sea . . . the stridulation of the cicadas is incessant, cacophonous while the sun is shining, like all the insects here they are afflicted with giantism, they are black and orange, they have a W on their backs which, looked at another way, resembles the Batman mask. They steal a frequency from the air, we cannot hear our esses when we speak. There are big orange hornets too and green-gold scarabs that crawl from the reeds—reeds which have forgotten, if they ever knew, the miraculous child left floating in a basket to be found by another and raised up so his name would be remembered always. The Cudgegong was dammed in the 1920s, the water pumped down to the cement works where it was heated over coal fires and passed through a steam turbine to run the machinery. All that is finished now but the five kilometre long snake, the lake of deep black water, the drowned valley, remains. That’s where the kids jump off the grey outcrops, again and again, screaming their delight. They name the rocks, the jumps, for the first time, and then again, again. Golden perch, catfish, blackfish live in these waters. We drove here through Sofala, Ilford, Kandos, Rylstone. We drove over lava flows. The mountains are called Nullo, Midderula, Coorongooba, Monundilla, Tayan Pic, they are ancient cones of extinct volcanoes, one notched at the peak, there are micro climates within their craters, relict plants of earlier ages thrive there. I will come back in winter when frost cracks the Triassic sandstone, I will sit by the water and meditate; on Pagoda Hill I will remember Tu Fu. Today on the way to Platypus Point we saw a goanna, grey-black and yellow striped, climbing a tree. Laying the soft underside of its leathery neck like a lover along the rough trunk. After an hour in the bush things come into focus, I begin to see the dead in the shadows behind every tree. The three-petalled fringed iris goes from blurred to sharp the way the extruded and piled pagodas are etched against the sky, rising like pyramids out of the green when I surface after that first dive into the cold black water of the Cudgegong. The kids explore the rock formations in the morning, in the afternoon they find a W pecked into an overhang: they have not left the written word behind, not yet; or else they are advancing rapidly to meet it, perhaps to re-invent it in this fragrant wilderness which begins to take on a medicinal quality as the sun shrinks open the pores on the eucalypt leaves. When archaeologists excavate here they will find bottle caps with stags or Xs on them; but the faded red ochre handprints in the cave, so low down and small they must have been made by children, will have gone forever, along with the name of the ______ people who made them. The Wiradjuri. The Darkinjung. The Gamilaraay. The Dharug. 12,000 years. I can hear the voices of children calling from among the stones as I write. The grasshoppers are more delicate, they are Egyptian grey, orange under wing when they leap or fly. The persistent, grey and black striped stinging March flies, tabanids, will hover for minutes looking for a place on your skin in which to insert their flanged proboscis and thereby suck your blood. Only the females bite, they need blood to grow their young; the males live on nectar. I wait and then I slap them away. One I miss leaves a ruby bead on my elbow that the little moisture flies, musca, cannot ignore. Down among the reeds there are blue dragonflies, Eurasian coots with white beaks and pukekos, called purple swamphens here. They flick their tails when they walk on their long red legs, inspecting the muddy shallows. There are purple daisies too, and some other smaller purple flowers: purple seems to be the colour of the flowers the way orange is that of the insects. The cicadas fall constantly from the trees, you find them with their gossamer wings torn and shredded, bumbling among the detritus of bark, the incandescent leaf litter. Often the spray of liquid—water? urine? something else?—that they expel before and during flight falls in a fine mist across your face or in your hair. It does not seem to be toxic. In the screeching heat, a kind of benison. Up on the tops, among the eucalypts, there are the darker green pencil pines, a native cypress, tall and elegant, as Chinese seeming as the pagodas that are some kind of volcanic remnant, with their surrounds tessellated, crenulated. When we paddled up the lake in our pale blue canoe we found the bulrushes gave way to papyrus but the papyrus did not remember the child Moses either, nor that distant Akkadian or Sumerian king once also given sanctuary among reeds. Papyrus is perhaps a caconym. I am still in Dilmun, which the Seleucid Greeks called Tylos, where some say Gilgamesh went in search of immortality. It may be that the Green Man, Al-Khidr, worshipped yet by the Shi’a on Failaka, is Uta-napishti, Ziusudra, Noah, survivor of the deluge, who would or could not give the gift that Gilgamesh asked. He sent him diving instead, telling him to tie stones to his feet and go down into the abyssal waters for pearls. That were his eyes, his fish eyes. Abyss may be our sole Sumerian loan word. At Qala’at al-Bahrain they dug up from the floors of a palace pots in which there were the bones of snakes and, sometimes, a pearl the snake had swallowed: the herb that makes old men young again, stolen from Gilgamesh while he bathed. Here I am both young and old. Oannes, the fishman, is who I am or could be, first among the seven Abgallu, the antediluvian sages from Mohenjo-daro in Meluhha. At evening, when the cicadas at last fall silent, we are given back our esses. As the blue cloud begins to fade along the green ridges and the still waters of the lake reflect the new moon, the faint stars, you can hear the reeds whisper these old tales and many more I have no time for now. The kids are back, they want to eat. Later the stars will blaze, mysteriously, commonly, unseen through a million future winters, past summers. At night sugar gliders drift between the trees. It is so quiet you can hear the owls.


image (and speculation as to the origin of the name):



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Notes on Photograph #238


Daiei Film Studio

Daiei Kyoto Studio

The precursor to Daiei Film Studio, Dai-Ichi Eiga, was formed in Kyoto in 1934 as a subsidiary of Shochiku Studio; in response to rival and competitor Nikkatsu Studio’s purchase of Tamagawa, a failed independent in Tokyo. Masaichi Nagata was appointed by Nikkatsu to run Tamagawa but within a month, after a dispute with management, he left and founded Dai-Ichi Eiga instead. Nagata, born 1906, had joined Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest film studio, in 1924, working first as a guide, then a location manager, and subsequently rising through the ranks to become Head of Production.

When he resigned from Tamagawa he took with him many Nikkatsu stars. There were allegations he had been bribed by Shochiku to sabotage Tamagawa; it was said that the money used to set up Dai-Ichi Eiga came from an exclusive English school for children of the Kyoto elite run by Nagata’s wife. Be that as it may, in its short life, Dai-Ichi Eiga produced two indisputable masterpieces: Kenji Mizoguchi’s Osaka Elegy and its companion film, Sisters of the Gion  (both 1936). When, that same year, the studio failed, Nagata became head of Shochiku-owned Kyoto film production facility Shinko Kinema.

In 1941 the Japanese government announced ten independent film companies were to be merged into two. These mergers were designed to give the government control over film-making; effectively, to turn film production houses into propaganda arms of the military. There was no possibility of resistance: raw film stock was classified as a war material and its availability to the studios would henceforth depend upon their making the kind of pictures the state wanted. Nagata was in a difficult position: under the two-company plan, Shinko Kinema studios would close, leaving him unemployed.

Nagata went public, claiming the plan, designed by Shiro Kido, head of Shochiku, was an attempt to consolidate Kido’s own power and that of his organisation. This endeared Nagata to others in the filmmaking community, many of them artists and writers, who also opposed the government plans, and they elected him to head a committee to canvas counter-proposals. As a Kyoto man, Nagata could take a more proactive stance than Tokyo people, who were in daily contact with the Office of Public Information. He suggested setting up a third company. The OPI realised that a third company, unencumbered by established management structures and old allegiances, could become its own public relations arm. Nagata’s plan was ratified.

Two Nikkatsu studios, Shinko and Daito, were combined to form Daiei (Dai-Nihon Eiga, or The Greater Japan Motion Picture Company) under Nagata’s management. His power increased when the board could not decide upon who to appoint as president and Nagata offered to take on those duties as well. He officially became President in 1947 and, apart from a brief period in 1948, when he was purged then rehabilitated by the Occupation authorities, remained in that position until 1971. Throughout this period he produced about a film a year, sometimes more; as well as a great deal of television.

After the war was over and Daiei’s propaganda activities, perforce, ceased, the studio faced a number of practical problems: no theatre chain and therefore no reliable distribution; a dearth of signed up star actors; lack of a back catalogue acceptable to the Occupation authorities, who had already restricted jidai-geki or period films because they were thought to encourage patriotic feelings of the kind which had fuelled the war. Kyoto, the old Imperial capital, was the centre of jidai-geki film making while Tokyo was where most gendai-geki, contemporary (post Meiji Restoration) films were made.

Nevertheless, production at Daiei continued at the frenetic rate attained during the war; one estimate, made by Teruyo Nogami, was that in the early 1950s they were turning out fifty films a year, that is, four a month or one every week. Nagata as a producer was commercially astute, with an eye to what would prove popular; but he had a genuine respect for artists and writers as well and would work to create the conditions in which they could realise their ambitions. He also loved baseball: the studio had its own baseball team, the Daiei Stars.

Without the luxury of big names on its payroll, Daiei started making exploitation movies instead, featuring themes like adultery and auto-eroticism. One Night’s Kiss (1946), by Yasuki Chibu, was the first to break the taboo against showing people kissing on screen. Daiei also produced, in 1949, the first Japanese science fiction film, The Invisible Man Appears. It was based upon the H G Wells novel and its special effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya, went on to work on the breakthrough sci-fi film, Godzilla (1954). In 1950 Nagata was invited (by the Italians) to send Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon to the Venice Film Festival where, in 1951, it won the Golden Lion.

In 1953 Daiei made Gate of Hell (Jigokumon), directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa; the first Japanese-made colour film released internationally. Filmed in Eastmancolor, it won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1954 and took out Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. American film makers were transfixed by the way it cast a sheen of colour across subject matter that accorded with their own explorations of noir themes. Gate of Hell became a template for Daiei: a blend of the exoticism the West hungered after and the kind of picture which Japanese audiences would go to see.

Other innovations at Daiei in the 1950s included a Japanese Tarzan, Buruuba, in a picture shot in Hollywood; the making of erotic films for young people; and, mid-decade, some Taiyozoku (‘Sun Tribe’) pictures about disaffected youth, which included the smash hit The Punishment Room (1956) by Kon Ichikawa. It featured a drug-assisted date rape and played morning to night with standing room only, primarily because of its appeal to high school students and especially to young women.





Most of those who worked for Daiei in the immediate post-war years were young. Too young, perhaps, to have served in the war; but not so young that they hadn’t felt its effects. Teruyo Nogami was one. As a school girl of 17, at the Tokyo Club in 1941, she saw Mansaku Itami’s Akanishi Kakita (1936) and was so impressed by its satirical intelligence that she wrote a fan letter to the director. He replied immediately, sending her an inscribed copy of his Notes on Film and, although the two never met, they continued to correspond until Itami died from tuberculosis in 1946. She remained in touch with his widow, whom she did meet, in 1949; and it was contacts within the Itaman Club, formed after Itami’s untimely death, which led to her finding a job at Daiei.

Another member of the Itaman Club was Shinobu Hashimoto, a handsome young man who was prone to illness and endured many years of poor health. He was drafted during World War Two but found to be tubercular and sent to a sanatorium where he spent four years. Here a fellow patient one day lent him a film magazine; it had a scenario printed in the back and after he read it Hashimoto thought he could do as well or better than that writer had. He sent his first effort to Itami, who was both critical and encouraging. Hashimoto continued to write; through a complex series of exchanges, his adaptation of a Ryūnosuke Akutagawa story, ‘In the Grove’, found its way to director Akira Kurosawa, who added framing elements from another Akutagawa story, ‘Rashomon’, to form the basis of his 1950 film of the same name.

When Kurosawa, on a one year contract, came to Daiei to make Rashomon, Teruyo Nogami was assigned to his crew as script girl―responsible for continuity. She worked with Kurosawa for the rest of his career, becoming one of his closest colleagues, his production manager, and afterwards publishing an illuminating account of her experiences in the film industry. As for Shinobu Hashimoto, he went on to write more than eighty screenplays; Kurosawa directed eight of his scripts, including The Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood and The Hidden Fortress, which had a direct influence on George Lucas’s Star Wars movies. It’s said that Lucas derived the name Jedi, as in the Jedi Knights, from ‘jidai-geki’, the Japanese term for period films.

Teruyo Nogami remembered hanging out the window with other excited employees of Daiei the day Kurosawa and his entourage arrived. He liked to eat with cast and crew every night after filming; his favourite meal was sanzoku-yaki, beef sautéed in garlic. Afterwards they would smoke and drink and talk. These were social occasions but also opportunities to plan for the next day’s shoot. The work hard / play hard ethos was already in place; it probably hadn’t changed much since the war. Many people used the drug philopon, a Japanese invention, a soluble amphetamine whose name means ‘love of work’. Nogami writes: the production crew would walk around with trays of capsules and syringes, inviting us to help ourselves or offering to administer the injection if we preferred.

The pressure of time and work encouraged innovation. Film stock was in short supply so few directors indulged in multiple takes of a scene. Sometimes music was written before the scene it belonged to was shot; these phantom compositions, called ‘ghosts’, were structured around the dramatic shape of the interaction in the screenplay. Often crews worked all night and then breakfasted in the canteen in the morning. Nogami in these years was also looking after Itami’s teenage son Yoshihiro (later film director, actor and writer Juko Itami). She was so poor she sometimes had to pawn her clothes. Sometimes she didn’t have the money for the bus or train fare to work; but she never regretted her choice of vocation.

Kurosawa was himself an innovator. He refused to allow the crew to address him as Sensei, teacher, as was de rigueur then. He was happy smoking Japanese cigarettes, not the Lucky Strikes everyone else craved. Rashomon was filmed using a single camera and just three locations, one of which was the massive, ruined cedar gate which he had constructed, and which continued to stand for years afterwards at the Daiei Studios. When filming in the forest, he would use large mirrors to catch and then re-direct the sunlight; he also shot directly into the sun, unheard of until then. When he filmed the chase through the forest, rather than use tracks and a dolly, he had the actors run in a circle while using a 360 degree pan to capture their movement. He was so sure of his framing that he allowed Machiko Kyo, playing the Samurai’s wife, to wear running shoes below her kimono: he knew her feet would be out of shot.

Kurosawa preferred to record sound in situ, using a crystal motor to sync sound and image. He also post-recorded dialogue, where appropriate, outside. Mirrors would be set up in the back lot and, at night, when the trains from the nearby railway line stopped running, the actors would call to each other in the moonlight while the film played back in reflection around them. Another innovation was his insistence upon editing the work print. The custom in those days was for the editors to cut the negative according to their understanding of the script and only send through the relevant portions to be reviewed each night after filming had finished. This enraged Kurosawa; he wanted to see everything that had been shot during the day and edit from that. This method, like his habit of recording sound live, was adopted internationally.

Sometimes, after the day’s filming had wrapped, and everyone had eaten, actors and crew, including the director, would run up Wakakusa Mountain, overlooking the forest where they were filming and, when they reached the top, dance in the moonlight to the Tankobushi, the Coal Miner’s Song; which ended with everyone in a circle miming the action of a miner digging in the earth. Kurosawa said: I was still young and the cast members were even younger and bursting with energy. We carried out our work with enthusiasm. Rashomon took forty-two days to make and, despite a fire in the studio towards the end of the shoot, and then a second, smaller fire in a projection booth, was completed on time and made its way subsequently, to enduring acclaim, into the world.



Photograph #238

238The photograph shows a group of ten people. Nine of them are walking towards the camera, on a sunken path between a roughcast stone wall above which conifers grow, and another supporting a grassy slope where there are spindly, deciduous trees; the tenth has his back turned. It is a sunny afternoon, as can be seen by the way their shadows, and the shadows of the trees, are etched into the path upon which they are walking. From their clothes, you might assume it is cool not hot, early spring or late autumn; the spindly trees are bare of leaves. Maybe they are formally dressed because they are going to be photographed? Or are they on their way back, to the office or the studio, after the shoot?

This possibility is augmented by the fact that the one who has stopped and turned around is in the act of photographing the other nine. Which means that he is himself being photographed while taking a photograph. Those whom he is photographing are aware of what he is doing. They are pleased, amused, happy; perhaps someone has just cracked a joke. The photographer wears a dark suit. He is upright, poised, almost in a dancer’s pose as he holds the camera to his eye, while a finger on his right hand, we assume, is about to click the shutter; or has already clicked it.

Who are the other nine? The man nearest the photographer is tall and thin, wearing a rumpled suit and smiling in a crooked, self-effacing manner. He is accompanied by two women, whose hands he is holding. The woman on his right is obscured; the one on his left, wearing a white pullover and dark skirt, a scarf knotted loosely round her neck, and calling out to the photographer, is the centre of both photographers’ compositions. Perhaps she is the one cracking the joke; or making some derisive comment. If so, it is good-humoured, without malice or aggression; she is joshing.

The two women to the right of the picture, in step with one another, are smiling―at the photographer or at the joke, if there was a joke. They wear dark jackets over skirts that fall to mid-calf, good leather shoes. They too are holding hands. Behind are two more figures, one of whom is obscured by the woman with the scarf. The other is a suave, handsome man in a dark suit smiling in an enigmatic manner at the photographer. The other two people in the photo are so far away it is difficult to make out much about them, beyond noting that they are both women dressed, as most of the others are, in suit jackets and skirts and leather shoes.

Who is the photographer? Who took the photograph of him photographing? And who are these people? What are they doing? Two other photographs (#237; #239) give us some clues. In the first, thirteen people gather around the edge of a stone pool full of dark water. There are trees behind, and fragments of what look like fences. It seems we are in a park of some kind. The group is arranged around the corner of the pool, with those to the left with their feet on its very edge and those on the right standing on bare ground. The ambience is relaxed, informal, companionable. Most of them are smiling.

Amongst this group we can identify individuals from the previous shot. The woman with the scarf, for instance; the suave, handsome man, with his arm around a woman’s shoulder; the thin man, again with a woman on either side; the two suited women who were holding hands. Other identifications are less certain. The photographer in the dark suit, for instance, does not appear in this picture, suggesting perhaps that he is the one who took it. But if we go to the next photograph, a more formal shot, this time of sixteen people grouped together, before trees, on a forest path, there he is, in the front row, extreme right, with his glasses on and his camera held before him in his two hands.

Most of those who are recognisable in the two previous shots are in this one as well; though the woman is no longer wearing her scarf; and the thin man in the rumpled suite is absent: is he then a third photographer? If so, is there a doubling and re-doubling of perspectives in that first picture: a photographer taking a photograph of a photographer taking a photograph of another photographer? There are several women who do not seem to figure in either of the two preceding pictures. Only one of the women is smiling―she is one of those walking in step; the others look abstracted, even melancholy. The beautiful woman in the centre of the composition is looking out of the frame, as if she has just seen something disturbing there.

The men, too, are solemn; perhaps the photographer asked them to adopt a formal air. They are all wearing suits and ties, as the women wear jackets and skirts. All sixteen are bare-headed. The photographer has asked seven of the men to squat down on their haunches in the front, while eight women stand in a row behind them; behind them, incongruously, is the eighth man, handsome, with a large square head, who appears in the previous picture, the one by the pool, with an easy stance and his hands in his pockets; whereas here he looks like someone who does not quite belong.

When you look a bit closer at that line of women, the one fourth from the left seems ambiguous. S/he could be male or female; although s/he is wearing a suit jacket and a tie, the figure looks feminine and you wonder if s/he is, improbably, cross-dressing. Is she also one of those obscured in the first photo? In the centre of the row of squatting men is a small man with spectacles who also appears in the photo by the pool. He is older than the others; an executive; or a scholar. The rest of them are younger, in their twenties or early thirties.

They are clearly work colleagues who have, for whatever reason, decided to have photographs taken. The time is the early 1950s; chances are, they all worked at Daiei Film Studio; but in what capacity? Maybe they were in accounts; or transport; or in script development; maybe the women are from the typing pool and the men from the camera department. Or maybe they are a loose group of friends who work in a variety of different positions in the studio. Their casual familiarity with each other suggests they are colleagues who know each other well from working together and enjoy getting together after hours to have fun.



Anonymity & Glamour


Some accounts say the girl who became actress Machiko Kyo was born Motoko Yano in Osaka in 1924. Others allege she was born in Mexico, where her father worked as an engineer. Her parents separated, in one version, while she was still young; in another, her father died when she was five and she was raised by her grandmother and her mother, a geisha, in the entertainment district of Osaka. An uncle took her to music hall shows and she began dancing―perhaps in the streets―when she was six or seven years old. By the time she was in her early teens, she’d changed her name to Machiko Kyo and joined a burlesque troupe. She made her film debut in Tengu Daoshi (The Tengu Did It), a hate-the-enemy film directed by Inoue Kintaro in 1944.

Five years she later was signed by Daiei, where Masaichi Nagata, with whom she may have become romantically involved, began promoting her as a sex symbol in the mould of Betty Grable or Hedy Lamar, hoping to arouse the interest of western audiences. Rashomon, in which Kyo starred, was a breakthrough for everyone involved. Even though Nagata, its producer, called it incomprehensible, it won an honorary Oscar for best foreign film, set box-office records for a subtitled picture and pioneered the so-called Rashomon effect, in which the same event is remembered in different ways. Pauline Kael called it the classic film statement of the relativism, the unknowability of truth.

Kyo also starred in Gate of Hell, the colour feature Nagata produced for Daiei in 1953. It is set in 1159, during the Heiji Rebellion, and tells the story of a samurai, Morito, who falls in love with a woman, Kesa, whom he has rescued. Kesa, played by Kyo, is a lady in waiting at the court and already married to another man, Wataru. Morito persuades her to conspire with him to kill her husband while he is sleeping; she gives him precise and detailed instructions as to how to do that. However, when Morito does commit the fatal act, he finds he has stabbed Kesa, not her husband. She has sacrificed herself to save Wataru and to preserve her own honour.

Gate of Hell had as profound an effect on American film-making as Rashomon, albeit for different reasons. Bosley Crowther, in the New York Times, wrote: The secret, perhaps, of its rare excitement is the subtlety with which it blends a subterranean flood of hot emotions with the most magnificent flow of surface serenity. The tensions and agonies of violent passions are made to seethe behind a splendid silken screen of stern formality, dignity, self-discipline and sublime aesthetic harmonies. The very essence of ancient Japanese culture is rendered a tangible stimulant in this film. In other words, American audiences were beguiled by the film’s use of colour as a splendid silken screen concealing, as it revealed, what was essentially a noir plot.

Kyo also starred in Mizoguchi’s 1955 film Princess Yang Kwei-Fei, playing a maid who becomes a princess; and a year later headlined the director’s last feature, Street of Shame, as a westernised woman prostitute who chews gum, overeats, and is a heavy smoker. Around the same time, Kyo went to Hollywood and made her sole American film, The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), a satire upon the military occupation of Okinawa in which she appeared, opposite Glenn Ford, as a geisha named Lotus Blossom; her other co-star was Marlon Brando, in yellowface, cast, improbably, as Ford’s Okinawan interpreter. Kyo remained with Daiei until the studio filed for bankruptcy in 1971; and worked only intermittently, mostly in television, thereafter. She died, aged 95, in 2019.

This sketch of a biography suggests something of the ambiance of Daiei Studio in the 1950s, when those young people in the photograph were employed there. Working behind the camera, in whatever capacity, is not the same as being in front of it; but, as anyone who has worked upon a film shoot knows, the glamour of the cast belongs also to the crew; the same is true in the studio. At Daiei there were probably about a hundred and fifty staff in the various departments; they shared in the excitement of the artistic breakthroughs, of the breaking of sexual taboos, of the international successes which saw Japanese culture going out into the world. They lived a life full of possibilities, so apparent in the demeanour of those in this photograph.

Anonymity is the other side of the star system; the reverse of glamour if you like. Most people involved in the making of a film, which is inherently collaborative, only ever see their name in small print in the credits that roll at the end; and sometimes not even then. Contemporary practise is to list everyone who worked on a picture; even so, extras in crowd scenes or those who work in accounts, for example, do not usually make the credits. In the 1950s, only principals were acknowledged; everyone else had to be content that they and theirs knew what their contribution was. Not that there’s anything wrong with anonymity; after all, it is the fate of the majority of humankind.

Yet there is a poignant subtext to this photograph: perhaps some of those in it, whether they fulfilled their potential or not, were hoping for fame or fortune. Perhaps they wanted to achieve their ambitions in other terms, for instance by living a full and happy life. They might have done so; or they might have gone on to failures and disappointments, even to tragedy: the joy seen in this photograph is ephemeral and cannot be taken to mean anything other than what it was at the time. This is why anonymity in photographs is so suggestive: we want to know of the fate of these people and yet we doubt we ever can.

The German romantic poet Novalis said novels arise out of the shortcomings of history; meaning that whatever about the past we intuit but don’t actually know, we are tempted to invent. This photograph is so rich in detail it is easy to imagine a future for every person in it; and a past for each of them as well. This might or might not be a satisfying exercise; it would be better to know the actual life stories of those we see before us; but that is so unlikely as to be almost impossible. And yet: you never know. Something might still come up. Some wise old voice might speak and say: Oh yes, well, she . . . and as for him, he . . .


Note: photograph #238 is one of more than three hundred photos artist Mayu Kanamori found in a flea market in Daylesford, Victoria, about five years ago. The stall owner who sold them to her said they came from a deceased estate in Geelong but had no further information. They were all taken in Japan between about 1900 and 1960 and among them is photograph #213 which shows some of the same people in #238 standing in front of the Daiei Motion Picture Co. Ltd Kyoto Studio where, it seems, they worked. Mayu is making an online work about these photographs and has asked for speculative contributions, like the above, to it. When the work goes live, I will include a link to it here.


Credits : Daiei Film Studio in Kyoto; Rashomon Gate; photograph #238; Machiko Kyo in Gate of Hell

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Future Histories


The three books I was/am/are having/had/have published/publishing/coming out this year are/were/will be Timelights, Endless Yet Never and Bus Stops on the Moon. Something about each of them:


Timelights cover

A book of photographs with extended captions; or else a book of essays which each concerns itself with a single photograph; except for the middle section, which is a reminiscence of travelling in the mountains of Japan a year ago now; with photographs. I have four copies: two of the premium edition, two of the standard. One is gloss and the other matt and we have decided to go with matt. It’s published by 99% Press, an imprint of Lasavia Publishing on Waiheke Island, designed in Berlin, printed (on demand) in Melbourne. You can find it on Amazon but, at the moment, it is prohibitively expensive so I’m waiting for the price to come down before publicised the book properly – whatever that means these days.



A short (12,000 word) biography of Colin McCahon omitted, by the publishers, from Dark Night: walking with McCahon (AUP, 2011). They said ‘people in New Zealand already know who he is’ and wouldn’t listen when I replied: ‘Australian readers might not.’ Now McCahon House is putting it out, in an elegant printing, as a stand-alone work. I haven’t seen a copy yet; they are coming from Italy to NZ and there is one on the way across the Tasman apparently; but the mails are slow these days. There was to be a launch at an art collector’s house during the Auckland Art Fair in April but that didn’t happen. We might re-schedule for the end of the year. I don’t know where or how it is to be distributed; nor what the unit cost might be.


Edmond front cover

Bus Stops on the Moon is a memoir of the seven years I spent working with theatre group Red Mole. It’s written, edited, laid-out, with 80 b&w photographs and 24 in colour and going to print at the end of this month; to be released, all going well, in September 2020. The cover photo, by Joe Bleakley, shows the seven of us at Coney Island in October 1979, standing on a boardwalk before the grey Atlantic. I like it because it actually looks like a bus stop. On the moon. Otago University Press are publishing this, production values are high, editing has been scrupulous and the generosity with which we operated, or tried to operate, in those years, has been realised in the way the book has been put together. From left, Neil Hannan, Deborah Hunt, Alan Brunton, Sally Rodwell, John Davies, Jan Preston, Martin Edmond.



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Simpson’s McCahon


Review of the second volume of Peter Simpson’s McCahon

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May 28, 2020 · 12:02 pm

Law of Torques

Frolic and detour. A detour occurs when an agent makes a minor departure from his employer’s charge and a frolic is a major departure. The employer will be relieved of vicarious liability only if the employee has been deemed to have engaged in a frolic.

Tort: mid-13c injury, wrong, from Old French, crime, 11c, from Medieval Latin, tortum, injustice, twisted, from Latin torquere, turn, turn awry, twist, wring, distort. Legal sense, breach of a duty, whereby someone acquires right of action for damages, first recorded 1580s.

Torture: from Late Latin tortūra ‘a twisting, writhing, of bodily pain, a griping colic;’ in Middle Latin ‘pain inflicted by judicial or ecclesiastical authority as a means of persuasion, torture’, from Latin tortus, past participle of torquere (‘to twist’).

Torque: rotating force, fr. Latin torquere, to twist, turn, twist awry, distort, torture, fr. PIE *torkw-eyo-, causative of root *terkw- ‘to twist.’ Used as a term for necklaces worn anciently by Gauls, Britons, Germans, etc., fr. Latin torques, collar of twisted metal.

Twerk, spelled ‘twirk’, noun, first used 1820 for a twisting or jerking motion. The verb ‘to twirk’ recorded 1848; ‘twerk’ in use by 1901. May be a blend of ‘twist’ and ‘jerk’; in the modern sense, probably influenced by ‘work’.


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Numbered Days in Paradise, rehearsal, Croton on Hudson, October, 1979


Photos by Joe Bleakley





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