Consider three worlds, which meet around an island:

the first world is the Underwater realm where everything is liquid and tidal, where place is defined by being shallow or deep;

the second world is the Earth, where inhabitants breath air, fly and feel the sun and wind;

and the third world is the Imaginary world of dreams, knowledge, memory, language and meaning.

Jo Darbyshire

Crossing the Bar, Jo Darbyshire, 2012, oil on canvas

I first came across Jo Darbyshire’s paintings when I was researching Ukiyo-e, the Japanese ‘floating world’ woodcuts and paintings from the Edo period. Pictures from Darbyshire’s 2010 exhibition, the floating world, popped up amongst the traditional Ukiyo-e images. They were series of paintings that were a contemporary Ukiyo-e interpretation, exploring themes of pleasure, immersion, the body and female sensuality. Darbyshire works in oils, using a combination of glazes and solid colours to build up layers which generate a sense of depth in her paintings and contribute to layers of meaning. The works move between the abstract and figurative combining intangible shapes and more recognisable forms such as coral or seaweed. The forms seem to float at different levels on the canvas provoking an emotional response in the viewer. There is the sense that you could float into the image, merging with it and the water.

Darbyshire is a West Australian artist whose exhibition Islands and Rocks is currently showing at the Catherine Asquith Gallery. In this show, Darbyshire continues her exploration of watery bodies that has threaded through much of her career. Darbyshire is an uncommon combination of artist and curator. She has long had an active interest in social history, particularly relating to the West. Her work as a curator has included the social history exhibitions such as The Coolbaroo Club which was about the club established by Perth aborigines in response to the virtual apartheid that prevented aborigines from entering the city until the mid-fifties, and The Gay Museum, which was an exploration of the often-hidden history of gays and lesbians in Perth.

Islands and Rocks was inspired by the physical landscape around Penguin Island in Shoalwater Bay, Western Australia. Judging by the paintings, it is an area with which she is intimately acquainted. Darbyshire says of these works, “As in past exhibitions my work references the social and environmental history of water bodies, but my paintings also aim to suggest their sensory and poetic nature.”

Shoalwater, Jo Darbyshire, 2012, oil on canvas

These are not paintings that reflect the sun and frivolity of your stereotyped Aussie beach scene. Although some paintings are colourful, such as the large-scale, Underwater Gold Rock, with its limes and blues and bright coral, it situates the viewer in the silence under the water. Where there is a horizon line in her works, it is usually high, suggesting the experience of being in a subterranean world. In Shoalwater, there is little separation between sky and sea, and dark clouds hang portentously. A current cuts across the painting flowing over submerged snake-like lines, maybe silt. An isolated protrusion of volcanic rock sits in the foreground, reflected in the glassy water. The texture of the rocks in these images contrasts with the lustrous surface of the water. Darbyshire uses a surrealist technique of Decalcomania to produce an intriguing surface for the rocks and more subtly, it is used as a texture in the water, giving an impression of something intangible that’s just beyond your grasp. Another recurring motif are the delicate patterns that resemble stencilled lacework, creating a vivid red counterpoint  to the shadowy depths.

Night Island #1 (Moon) Jo Darbyshire, 2012, oil on canvas

Memory and other states of consciousness continue to fascinate and inspire Darbyshire’s work. In Night Island #1 (Moon) and Night Island #2 (Red Coral), Darbyshire has created an atmosphere of mystery and slight unease. The dark sky seems to bear down and the water comes up to meet it. It is as if you are looking out to sea from a coastal cave, perhaps from a great depth underwater. There is somehow a possibility you will never emerge from the deep.

The paintings are not gloomy however, the soothing aquamarine tones also inspire a meditative state- the feeling you get when you are floating in the water on a calm day and you lose track of where your body ends and the water begins. There is a strong sense of place created in these works, to the point that I have now put Penguin Island and Shoalwater Bay on my wish list of places to visit.

Jo Darbyshire Islands & Rocks

10th to 28th April 2012

Catherine Asquith Gallery,

48 Oxford Street, Collingwood

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Boy. Oh boy.

Boy is the 2010 film by writer/director Taika Waititi. Set in 1984, in rural New Zealand, it centres around the fantasy life of Boy, (James Rolleston), an eleven year old who lives with his six year old brother and various cousins, who are all looked after by their nan. Many critics have described the film as heart-warming, hilarious and feel-good. I thought it was funny but couldn’t overlook the heartbreak at its core. It reminded me of Australia’s Samson and Delilah in its stories of fractured indigenous families, poverty and deprivation.

Boy’s mother died in childbirth when his brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu) was born  and their father, Alamein, (Taika Waititi) was in prison. Presumably the young cousins they share a run-down cottage with have similar, sad family stories. In statistics reminiscent of Australian Aboriginal families, Maori families have a much greater proportion of parents who are unemployed than non-Maori families and 40.9 percent of Maori children live in single parent families. Maori children are also twice as likely to be victims of abuse or neglect than non-Maori children and the Maori population are over-represented in prisons.

During the seven-year absence of his father, Boy has concocted various fantasies about him- the most important one being that he can dance like Michael Jackson. Waititi has said that Michael Jackson had a “huge influence on Maori culture, especially in the 80s.” For Boy, Jackson’s music and dancing provides both an imaginary father and an escape from his disadvantaged life. When his father turns up out of the blue, Boy is understandably thrilled and it takes him quite a while to work out that his real father doesn’t quite measure up to his fantasy father.

James Rolleston as Boy

The performances in Boy are outstanding and bring much of the wit to the film. James Rolleston, who was eleven when he was cast in the lead after turning up for a part as an extra, is a real find. Waititi, as Alamein, is in turn hilarious and repulsive, as a drugged out ex-con trying to find an easy way out of his current circumstances.

For all the harshness of the children’s lives, there is a kind of nostalgia for a more simple life on this isolated, but beautiful part of the east coast of New Zealand. The landscape is a character in the film, with it’s rugged coastline, cornfields and mountains of driftwood. Waititi used his grandmother’s house for the film, having it repainted to look exactly as it did in the1980s, and he has an obvious fondness for the area he grew up in, drawing on it for inspiration for his films.

Perhaps in an echo of the history of the Maori population, the characters in the film pass through difficult times to a more positive place. The film ends with a glorious mash-up of Thriller with Poi E by the Patea Maori Club, which was a big hit in New Zealand in 1984.

Poi E by Patea Maori Club video from Youtube

Waititi’s most recently directed TV series is Super City, which premiered on New Zealand television in 2011.

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Adventure Island

In a Loop

Our flights to return to the mainland have been cancelled again and it’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day: We get up at 6.30 am and race our bikes to Ned’s Beach, for one last look at the sunrise over the ocean, feed the fish the last of our bread, before returning our bikes to Wilson’s bike hire, getting picked up and taken to the airport.


Sunshower at Ned's Beach

Wild weather is keeping us from leaving and there’s no sign of when we’re going to be able to leave. There could be worse places to be stranded. World-heritage-listed, Lord Howe Island is an idyllic, sub-tropical paradise in the South Pacific Ocean, population, 350. If you don’t think you’ll enjoy bike-riding, hiking, snorkelling, kayaking, then this place may not be for you, particularly in winter, where idling on the beach in the sun is not such a good option.

Melbournians are proud of their four-seasons-in-one-day weather, but in July on LHI they have four seasons in one hour. The saying- “If you don’t like the weather in Melbourne, just wait five minutes” really applies here. This amplifies the degree of difficulty when making decisions about going out on your bike, so just bring your bathers, raincoat, warm top, light top, sandals/thongs, pants that role up, towel, water and other supplies and you should be right for most situations.

Adventure Island

Biking around the Island

It has really felt like a Famous Five adventure on this island, peddling madly up and down hills, jungle hikes, staggering views of craggy coves, endless cups of tea (ok, coffee), gossiping about the locals. I hadn’t been on a bike for about 17 years, so I was a bit wobbly at first. The only time I fell off was when I was almost stationary, so no great harm done. Bikes are cheap to hire and unless you are really sure they are not the thing for you, are the best means of transport on the Island. There are bike racks conveniently placed almost everywhere you go- even at the airport and because crime is rare, you can just park and leave your bike and helmet and pick it up later. You can ride your bike to some of the hiking trails or if feeling a bit puffed, leave it at the bottom of a hill and collect it when you come down.

My snorkelling CV is very short, but it was easy to pick up. The reef at Ned’s Beach is in shallow water and you can hire a wetsuit and snorkel from Ned’s Shed- it’s based on an honesty system, write the details in a book and drop your money in the slot. You can also hire wetsuits and snorkels from a few other places, if you want ones in better condition. In the warmer months, wetsuits aren’t needed, in winter it’s a bit chilly. Luckily I threw in my bathers at the last minute, despite being advised that it would be too cold for swimming. The fish that you see at close quarters are spectacular- Bluefish, Angel fish, Butterfly fish, Kingfish, and Parrot fish are just some of the fish you will see when snorkelling. We also went out in a glass-bottomed boat to reefs a bit further out and I snorkelled with my first shark! The Galapagos reef sharks are apparently quite common in the LHI reefs and the ones I saw were only about a metre long, but scary nonetheless- especially the one that was about two metres away when we were handfeeding fish at Ned’s Beach- it skittered through the water at speed, chomped up a few silver drummers and fortunately seemed satisfied with that. Aside from the odd shark, unlike the mainland, there are no dangerous insects, animals or plants on the Island.

Bluefish, parrot fish & sand mullet

Planning our futures

By day seven of our five day adventure, my packing had become increasingly slap-dash. My clean clothes for the return trip had now been worn three times and helmet-hair had become the norm. The last morning, I didn’t bother with one last bike ride to Ned’s Beach, just shoved everything in my case, rode the bike down to the bike hire and waited for the minibus to collect us. We mapped out the day’s activities in the event that the plane didn’t take off- a morning hike up Mount Malabar, for what we heard too late, were the best views of the Island, morning tea at Humpty Mick’s (our daily ritual), followed by an afternoon pampering session at Arjilla, in their yurt under the banyan tree.

Under the banyan tree

Alas, it was not to be, and after a slight delay, our plane arrived, to whoops and cheers from those anxious to get to the mainland. Although plane cancellations are not common, it is worth getting travel insurance. It is also worth bearing in mind that it may not be a good idea to schedule your island adventure the day before an important event and I felt for the poor people who lost two days of their holiday, stuck at Sydney airport, so don’t make it a short trip. It’s also worth booking any connecting flights with Qantas, as, if your flight is cancelled, they will automatically rebook your connecting flight. We spent anxious times wondering if we were going to be able to get back from Sydney, as our connecting flights were with Jetstar. In the end, Qantas came to the rescue and rebooked us with them at no extra cost- thank you Qantas!

Do we really have to leave?

I think everyone falls in love with LHI and we had already started planning our new careers, in case we never left! I was going to start a micro-herbs business, to augment my art practice, others were going to open a library/book exchange, a micro-university….  The thing we will miss most is the sense of community. Everyone on the Island has several jobs- the waitress who served our meals at the Bowling Club, also ran guests home in the minivan between courses, the fellow at the airport checking the luggage, ran out onto the airstrip to guide the plane in and another person who dropped us home after dinner at Humpty Mick’s was at the airport unloading cargo. With no mobile phone access or locked doors, it was like stepping back in time. There are landlines and public phones but most people rely on the grapevine- we were having morning tea at a local café when the waiter came over to deliver a message about connecting flights. I guess it’s easy to romanticise living on an island. You get the idea of how remote this place is when you realise that the locals refer to LHI as the mainland- to distinguish it from the smaller outlying islands. You would have to learn to get by without a lot of things we take for granted on the mainland, but I think there are many more things you gain. There is very much a feeling of manyana about the things you can’t change . On the Island nothing is very far away…and the traffic is a dream.  And I haven’t even mentioned the fresh fish and the sourdough bread and… but it’s better if you discover the rest for yourselves.

LHI Airport

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I am love (well, not me personally)

Edoardo Gabbriellini (Antonio) & Tilda Swinton (Emma)

Entertaining Tilda Swinton

This film is a slow tango that slowly builds to its dramatic conclusion. It centres on the machinations of a wealthy Milanese family who own a textile business. On the surface they are a loving and close-knit family but as the film progresses the cracks begin to show. At the centre of the family is wife and mother, Emma (Tilda Swinton) who is the epitome of elegance and refinement. When she becomes involved with Antonio, the chef friend of her adult son, it seems at first like a scandalous action that defies explanation. What would compel a rich, sophisticated, adored, middle-aged woman to have an affair with a younger man, not a toy boy, but an average-looking man, a cook. It is  initially puzzling why Emma is prepared to risk so much. Her husband, Tancredi, appears to be a caring partner, but small signs begin to appear which convey Emma’s status as an outsider. It is this outsider status which explains her sudden obsession with Antonio. Despite it’s operatic nature, this is also a film of great subtlety. It shows how a woman’s identity can gradually be subsumed without her even really noticing, until something – a catalyst- puts things into stark relief. Small changes, like losing her name and bigger ones like losing her language begin to accumulate until she is just an stylish husk of her former self. This is also a film about class and one of the most moving scenes is where Emma has to say goodbye to her housekeeper, an ally in invisibility. Tilda Swinton is incandescent in this film. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, it’s one of my favourites of 2010.

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Panama Dreaming

My first visit to the Panama Dining Room about two years ago left me with the impression of great atmosphere and uneven food. Everyone else loved their meals, but my vegetarian papardelle was dry and salty. I could have sent it back, but it was a friend’s birthday celebration and I didn’t want to seem churlish.

The reason I went back was because of the fabulous setting with it’s huge arched windows and great atmosphere- and the fact that everyone else had enjoyed their meals. I’m so glad I gave it another go. This time there were more vegetarian options and because the entrees sounded so enticing, we decided to go for a combination of these. Our waitress was lovely and very helpful, although she did go awol after we were seated and before we got our menus- you’d think that menus straight up would be too obvious to mention, but it happens much more often than it should.

Given I’m a vegacquarian, I am permitted to eat fish so we had the salt cod and potato croquettes with saffron aioli, which were delicious ($10 for three), asparagus with chopped boiled egg and caper berries – the asparagus was tender and sweet and caper-egg mixture a nice accompaniment ($14). The most delicious was the  baby beet tart with French sheep’s cheese, ($14) the pastry was crispy and the base had a kind of caramelised base on which the baby beets sat and all were topped with baby endive. The side dish of warm baby potato salad with creme fraiche and chive dressing ($8) was nice without being overly interesting- I think it’s better to leave the skin on potatoes as it provides more flavour. We also ordered a side of broccoli with chilli, garlic and capers, as the special of stuffed zucchini flowers had some sort of kitchen malfunction and wasn’t available. These five dishes were almost filling enough for two, but we had enough room for dessert- pistachio cake, lemon curd ice cream and a mandarin tuile ($14.50). We were going to share, but the helpful waitress let us know that the size of the pistachio cake was about the size of a friand, so we had one each- which was advisable so there was no fighting. The lemon curd ice cream was a knockout & worked well with the pistachio. The only negative was a mandarin coulis, which was a little bitter.

Price for two, with two drinks: $110, so probably not for everyday dining.

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Zombie Thrills

What possesses someone- a fully grown adult person, of the middle years, to dress up as a zombie and join with 127 other zombies and dance to Thriller in a darkened park at 10 on a Saturday night in Melbourne? No, I’m asking you- I haven’t got a clue. I don’t know why I did it. But it was a fabulous night and the feeling I got from it was a great sense of doing something that is bigger than yourself- not that I want to put a noble spin on it, there’s just something about joining in with a group, of mostly strangers, for a synchronised activity, that felt amazing. My brain synapses are slowly connecting. As a non-sports person, I’m guessing that this is what people get out of playing team sports or watching their team compete. (Can you hear the clunking in my brain as something hitherto impermeable suddenly makes sense?)

There is also something really special about dancing. At the go-go classes I attend, the youngest participant is a tiny girl who’s about 18 months old at most. The minute the music comes on she starts moving in time with it- something you’ve probably noticed any small child doing, without any prompting. We all have rhythm and can all dance – until we become conscious of the fact- which generally coincides with the onset of adolescence-  and then most of us make do with the side to side shuffle, or require copious amounts of alcohol etc. to embolden us to get up and dance around the handbags.

If you think you can’t dance, but would like to, there are classes, most of which take into account that you may be completely unco:

Anna’s Go-go Academy– do the swim, the monkey & the mashed potato

Glamour Puss Studios– specialises in tap for adults

Dance Cats– for same sex ballroom and Latin

Belly dance– you know you want to!

Swing– rock & roll, Lindy Hop & Jitterbug

Bollywood– squeeze a lemon and change a light globe- you’re doing it!

Nightclub dancing, including hip hop

Zumba– Latin dance inspired fitness classes

my life as a zombie

Thrill the World is an annual event which raises money for charities. The Melbourne event raised money for Lifeline.

P.S. Stephaniii’s Blog covered the event here. Youtube video filmed by Matt:

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Vacuuming Sucks

There’s nothing like vacuuming to make me angry, so I tend to put it off until the dust bunnies are rolling around like tumbleweeds and it becomes embarrassing to have people over. In fact, normally the only time I vacuum is when I’m expecting guests- and, I’m ashamed to admit, I often go two months or so (and we will not investigate how long “or so” might imply) between dinner guests.

And by the way, why the hell does vacuum have a double U in it? According to our friend, Wikipedia, it’s one of the few words in English to have two consecutive Us (yous, yews?). There’s actually quite a list of them, but apart from continuum, they are rather obscure- however, I’m sure that there’s a need for ignus fatuus to come into everyday usage- meaning something that misleads, deludes, an illusion- clearly a word with many uses. In fact, it’s an illusion that designers of the vacuum cleaner are suffering under if they think their products are easy to use.

Do the guys (& I’m making an assumption here that they are mainly designed by men) who make vacuum cleaners actually try them out on anything other than a perfect square of carpet in a lab?

Last financial year I decided to lash out and spend my tax refund on a new iPhone, mattress, camera, hot pair of boots, vacuum cleaner. I reasoned that I vacuumed infrequently because the last four vacuum cleaners I owned were crap and that once I had a fancy one I would be a perfect haus frau and vacuum every week(ish).

I did my research & bought a 2nd to the top of the range Dyson and put it to the test:


Although it’s the best vacuum cleaner I’ve owned so far, I still find it is like trying to vacuum with a recalcitrant octopus. I can’t go more than two metres before the thing gets stuck & I have to yank the hose – which doesn’t dislodge it, so then I have walk back & pick the damned thing up & carry it with me. The suction head on it works well, but is so big that it won’t go into small spaces or under things, so you have to swap to the nozzle thing & then back to the suction head & then back to the nozzle.

Somehow, going around furniture, corners etc., I seem to get tangled up in either the hose, the cord or both and end up wrestling with it. It’s at this point that my blood starts to boil and I start to wonder why someone hasn’t invented a ride-on vacuum cleaner with a hand-held hose with a head that can morph from nozzle to suction head as required. How hard can it be?

So to all budding industrial designers and inventors out there, please, please, PLEASE take the opportunity to make yourself a fortune and design a vacuum cleaner that’s easy to use- preferably a slimline ride-on version. Available in a range of decorator colours.

Etymology of vacuum, in the off chance you’re interested:

Vacuum: 1540s, “emptiness of space,” from L. vacuum “an empty space, void,” noun use of neuter of vacuus “empty,” related to vacare “be empty” (see vain). Properly a loan-translation of Gk. xenon, lit. “that which is empty.”

Vain: c.1300, “devoid of real value, idle, unprofitable,” from O.Fr. vein “worthless,” from L. vanus “idle, empty,” from PIE *wa-no-, from base *eue- “to leave, abandon, give out” (cf. O.E. wanian “to lessen,” wan “deficient;” O.N. vanta “to lack;” L. vacare “to be empty,” vastus “empty, waste;”

From the Online Etymology Dictionary.

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