Nervous

We arrived at the ruins of the burnt-out observatory at Mount Stromlo before the sun set yesterday, excited about the performance we were about to see: “Nervous” by the Australian Dance Party, an hour of contemporary dance, music and lighting.

At eight o’clock, inside the structure in the light of the early evening, four dancers began their interpretation of the inner turmoil of nervousness, while the audience waited outside in anticipation, peeking in through the doorway. At last we were invited into the space to find a chair or floor cushion to settle into for the performance as the dancers slowly and aimlessly walked about the circular centre of the floor, confronting each other and almost colliding, wondering about the thing that was making them nervous.

And then they seemed to come together in harmony and moved as one.

Once the audience was comfortably seated, the dancers picked up speed, and the idea moved from wondering to worrying. The nerves were back in control, and we soon learnt why, through the dialogue of the blonde dancer: “Hey, there’s something I really need to talk to you about.” We heard it over and over in different phrasings, as she talked to herself or moved up to the audience and addressed them directly. Hello, there’s something…. No. Hey, how are you? There’s something I… No. Ahhhh, there’s something I really… No. Ughhh, just act natural… Why is this so hard?…

And as she practised her speech, the other three were her conscience, the angels and devils telling her she was doing it right and doing it wrong and she was hopeless at this but had to do it anyway. The four became one conscience and approached the audience, and again the blonde spoke, Hey, there’s something I really…, while a second dancer held her breath, another writhed and the fourth groaned painfully. All of that stuff that goes on inside us while we’re trying to appear calm and in control.

Eventually the nervousness conquered its victims and they could do no more than lie on the cold concrete floor in the purple light of defeat…

Over all of this movement was the intense electronic music composed by Ben Worth (my son), pulsating and vibrating and making us physically vibrate with it. It was loud and soft and occasionally absent but it always returned. And there was Robbie, the lighting guy up there on the platform with Ben, playing his lights over the dancers as darkness descended. Robbie’s light show became one of the players playing with the dancers’ nerves.

Ben, left, Robbie, right (behind scaffold)

By nine o’clock, the sky above the roofless structure was black and starry with a crescent moon and nearby Venus growing brighter by the minute. Some cords from the floor became a prop that lit up and tangled about them, winding around and wrapping them up. The music stopped, the darkness was almost complete. Someone began clapping, and we realised this was the end.

***

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Flâneuse

A flâneur? In a 19th-century dictionary he’s a loiterer, a lounger, an indolent man spending his time idly. In contemporary dictionaries he’s a loafer, an idler, a stroller, a dawdler, an ambler, a laggard.

So many options to describe a man who has no timetable, no destination. Doing nothing, going nowhere. Apparently.

Yes, a flâneur in French is a man. But a woman, too, can loiter and lag. She’s the flâneuse.

Strolling the streets of my city, observant, detached, armed with a small camera, watching for someone who’s not like the others, I occasionally play the part of the flâneuse, capturing a few colourful characters in this city. But their colours can distract. Here I’ve removed them.

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I love hair. My trigger finger itched when I saw this man who hasn’t seen a barber for some time. I stopped and loitered as flâneuses do. It was lunchtime and his eye was on a small charity barbecue stand while my eye was on his hair. I bet he’s an interesting bloke.

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Within minutes I came across another one who avoids the barber. With his long white hair and beard and his black scarf and coat, he loses nothing in a conversion to black and white. He’d been to the sausage-sizzle stand and was sitting down for a lunch break.

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Not far away I spotted another long male ponytail, plaited. Whatever he was saying, it amused his companions, the woman handing out The Big Issue free magazine and the bloke with a can of Mother and an attitude.

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On my way home my ears were tickled by a busking guitarist who plays here frequently and brilliantly. A busker with a ponytail. His head was bent low over his guitar, eyes fixed on the strings, but when a passer-by threw a few coins into the guitar case and stopped to watch, the guitarist looked up and sort of smiled, as tickled by his one-man audience as I was by his music. I dropped some money into the guitar case. He had earned it.

The Daily Post challenged us this week to become flâneurs. As I ambled and wandered – not aimlessly nor idly – observing people in front of me, across the street, under a tree, against a wall, I concluded that not all of us are forgettable.

***

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Weekly photo challenge: Look up

Friday was grim, grey, an on and off drizzly day. My latest translation had been rejected. My weekly gathering of friends had been cancelled and no one told me. I was more than half-way through The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and had to escape from that dark story.

So, grabbing my umbrella, the one made by Pep’s in Paris when I was a brief neighbour of the small business, I walked out into the great outdoors. I’ve rarely used my Parisian umbrella in this city of more sun than rain. But this winter, it’s wet.

I looked up and saw this spidery mesh of branches.

Wet wintry walk, CanberraIt didn’t make me feel better. But I kept walking, my gloom burning off with each step. As I turned down a bush track, I looked up again and saw this Sulphur-crested cockatoo flying up to the branch above my head. I felt a little love for the world. Even gratefulness for the rain.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo in gum treeBack home, I had to prepare a lesson for a student for the next morning. It was to be poetry, something not too deep, not too obscure, something which might have meaning for her. I selected The World by William Brighty Rands, a poem I’d never read, by a poet I’d never heard of. After Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde had earlier dragged me down, I was pleasantly relieved to read about The World according to Rands. His poem lifted me, and things began to look up.

Great, wide, beautiful, wonderful World,
With the wonderful water round you curled,
And the wonderful grass upon your breast –
World, you are beautifully drest.

The wonderful air is over me,
And the wonderful wind is shaking the tree,
It walks on the water, and whirls the mills,
And talks to itself on the tops of the hills.

You friendly Earth, how far do you go,
With the wheatfields that nod and the rivers that flow,
With cities and gardens, and cliffs, and isles,
And people upon you for thousands of miles?

Ah, you are so great, and I am so small,
I tremble to think of you, World, at all;
And yet, when I said my prayers today,
A whisper inside me seemed to say,
“You are more than the Earth, though you are such a dot:
You can love and think, and the Earth cannot.”

*****

Thanks WordPress for the Look up photo prompt.

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George (and Mephisto)

Since last year the Australian War Memorial has been projecting names of Australians who died in WWI onto the front of the building. I’ve been to the Memorial on cold dark nights to see the names of two brothers, D’Arcey and Frank. Recently, it was their brother George’s turn.

George Ronald Shaw, my grandfather’s cousin, was killed in France, near Sailly-sur-la-Lys, on 20th April 1916, a hundred years ago this week. He was 24, the first of the three brothers to be killed in action, all of them in France. (My grandfather was wounded on the Somme a few months later but returned home alive.)

George Ronald Shaw, name projection, Australian War Memorial, 1st March 2016
George Ronald Shaw, name projection, Australian War Memorial, 1st March 2016

George had disembarked in Marseille on 3rd April and made it all the way to the Somme in northern France, where he was killed 17 days later when his billet, a farmhouse, was shelled. His record says he was KIA, killed in action, but he actually didn’t get to fight against anyone.

An aside: the last couple of times I’ve been to the War Memorial to photograph my relatives’ names, I’ve read the banners advertising the presence of Mephisto, the Rarest Tank in the World (they were still there when I took the photo above, but in preparation for Anzac Day on Monday, they’ve been removed). Today I decided to see Mephisto for myself. It’s a Sturmpanzerwagen A7V invented by the Germans, and Mephisto is the only one of its kind left in the world. It has a painted red Faustian demon on the right side, carrying a British rhomboid-shaped tank under its arm. Hence the name Mephisto, short for the Faustian character, Mephistopheles. It was a great lumbering vehicle, hot, cramped and noisy inside, but it was one of the first of many tanks that would change land warfare for ever.

The War Memorial was quite crowded this morning, and Canberra generally seems to have more people moving around this weekend than usual. Perhaps they’re here for the Anzac Day long weekend. I’m considering going to the dawn service on Monday. I’ve never done it. Yet.

*****

Frank

Last night I went to the Australian War Memorial for an 8:58 pm appointment.  At this moment, Frank’s name would be projected onto the exterior wall of the Hall of Memory, an honourable way of remembering the soldiers who died for Australia in World War One.  Every 30 seconds a new name appears.  There are 62,000 names on the Roll of Honour which will all be displayed several times between 2014 and 2018, from sunset to sunrise.

F.A.P. Shaw, name from the Honour Roll projected onto Australian War Memorial, 21st June 2015
F.A.P. Shaw, projected onto Australian War Memorial, 21st June 2015

Frank was my first cousin twice removed.  Or, if you like, my grandfather’s cousin.  He was the third son in his family to be killed in action in France; the first one died in 1916, the second in 1917, and Frank in 1918.  He was 23, had been promoted to Lance Corporal, was twice recommended for decorations and was congratulated for conspicuous gallantry and daring in reconnoitring enemy positions in February 1918.  Five weeks later he was killed by the enemy on 5th April, 1918 in France.

After receiving news of the death of a third son to die on the Somme, Frank’s father asked the Defence Department to send home his personal effects.  And so, in July 1918, the effects of Frank Albert Percy Shaw were sent with the SS Barunga.  In case no. 1153 were a two-Franc note (damaged), a wallet, a note case, photos, two prayer books, a letter and a YMCA wallet cover.  On 15th July, the Barunga was torpedoed by the enemy and was lost with all cargo.  But, at last some good news, she was carrying invalided troops back to Australia, and all on board were saved.

The Barunga, with the personal effects of a number of soldiers who had died, is still sitting on the ocean floor off the Isles of Scilly, south-west of Lands End, England.

Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 21st June 2015
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 21st June 2015

 *****

On the way

Last week, for the first time in a long time, my son and I met for morning tea in a café, and on our way back to the car I caught sight of some writing engraved into the concrete as we stepped up on a kerb. I stooped to take a photo, and at that moment a bus turned the corner.  My son thought I was crazy, crouching down on the road, focused on photographing a bit of concrete graffiti while a passing bus was leaning into the corner.  But he was missing the magic of the moment.

Here’s what captured my attention:  a grey concrete kerb, utilitarian and ugly, made ‘beautiful’ with a few words and autumn leaves collected in the hollow of the gutter.

You are beautiful 2

Thanks WordPress for the challenge to photograph something on the way to somewhere.

Anzac Day 2015

On 25th April it will be 100 years since Australian and New Zealand soldiers charged the beaches in Gallipoli, Turkey, in an attempt to beat the Turks and give the Allies a chance to take Constantinople.  They were mown down, slaughtered.  The battles continued for months until December 1915 when they withdrew, defeated.  Out of a population of less than 5 million, Australia lost 8,000 young males at Gallipoli.

The following year, 1916, my grandfather, Ernest Bruce, joined the army after stowing away on a ship of volunteers headed for Egypt.  In July at Pozières, France, on the Western Front, he was trapped under concrete in an explosion, and then gassed.  But he survived.  He was one of the 40,000 Australians killed or wounded in 1916 on the Western Front (see AWM).  That’s a huge part of a population of 5 million.

When he returned to Australia, he was too ill to work for more than a few days a week, yet it took the government years to offer him a pension.

His oldest son was my father, Ronald Bruce, who hadn’t learnt a thing about the futility of volunteering to fight in a war.  In 1941 he joined the army, was sent to Egypt, and months later was sent home with shell shock.  He couldn’t hold down a job, and at 25 was offered a pension.

This Anzac Day, I honour my father and grandfather for volunteering to participate in Australia’s defence.

Ernest and Florence Bruce
Ron Bruce, before leaving for the Middle East, 1941
Ron Bruce, Heliopolis War Cemetery, Cairo, 1941

At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra there is a wall called the Roll of Honour.  It’s covered in the names of Australians who have died in war.  My grandfather and father are not on the wall because they returned alive;  but my grandfather’s three cousins, the Shaw brothers, and my grandmother’s two cousins, the Burley brothers, did not.  They are all buried on the Somme in France, and their names are here on the wall.  I put poppies beside their names.

Since I learnt that they were all killed while my grandfather returned, I haven’t looked at life the same way.

George Ronald Shaw, Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial
D’arcy R. N. Shaw and Frank A. P. Shaw, Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial

 *****

Weekly photo challenge: Refraction

Walking beside Lake Burley Griffin this afternoon, around the back of the National Museum, I found these panels of mirrors reflecting, in a warped kind of way, rows of slim young gum trees growing near the water.  I was under the trees with a project of photographing details, but what caught my eye was this long image of the very trees I was under:

External mirrors NMA 1

What a simple way to adorn an otherwise ugly set of slopey walls:

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The panels create the effect of fun-house mirrors, bending and twisting the straight tree trunks:

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Fun to look at and fun to photograph:

External mirrors NMA 4

Sometimes the weekly photo challenge topic serendipitously coincides with my weekend outing.  I love it when that happens.

Weekly photo challenge: Texture

Judy Watson, an indigenous artist, created this sculpture, Fire and Water.  It’s textural…

Fire and Water, Judy Watson, Reconciliation Place, Canberra
Fire and Water, Judy Watson, Reconciliation Place, Canberra

You’ll find it in Reconciliation Place, Canberra, where there are a number of sculptures by Aboriginal artists.  Since this particular artwork is called Fire and Water, I’d always thought the grey object amid the fiery reeds represented a seal or dugong.  But on closer inspection today, I saw it’s not an animal, but a stone.  A gathering stone.  Muted sounds are constantly playing through small holes all over it, representing bogong moths flying in on their annual migration and people gathering to feast on them.  Michael Hewes designed the sound.

Looking between the two stands of rusty reeds, we see the National Library, one of my favourite haunts.  In this wintry season, the reeds echo the hibernating poplars in the library forecourt.  At the moment I took this photo, two jets in the fountain were working.  That was just luck;  the fountain is not always turned on.  The elements in the photo are a great example of symmetry in this city of many symmetries.

National Library of Australia and "Fire and Water" sculpture by Judy Watson
National Library of Australia and “Fire and Water” sculpture by Judy Watson

Bogong moths pass through Canberra every year in about September.  Last year they were in plague proportions, congregating on many of the national institutions in the parliamentary triangle, and particularly in Parliament House.  At night they’re attracted to the powerfully lit flagpole on top of the House.  We all had moths flying and dying in our homes, which was annoying for those of us who don’t eat them.

Since we’re thinking of texture for this week’s photo challenge, take a look at this image from another Canberra photographer, Donald Hobern, of a bogong with its fluffy head and carpet-like wings.  When they land on tree bark they’re well camouflaged.  But I can tell you, while one individual moth might look beautiful in a close-up, a crowd of brown, fluttering moths resting up in a corner of your room is not attractive.  But thanks to Judy Watson’s sculpture, I learnt that they’re edible, and even delicious, and I was reminded once again that nothing is completely ugly or useless.

Photo of  bogong moth courtesy of Donald Hobern, Canberra, Creative Commons
Photo of bogong moth (Agrotis infusa) courtesy of Donald Hobern, Canberra, Wikimedia

Take a look at more textures on the WordPress photo challenge page for this week.

One trip EVERY month: February

This month I took a trip without leaving town:  my husband and I hopped on our bikes and rode to the National Botanic Gardens.

I posted about the Gardens not long ago, here.  But what I didn’t tell you is that it’s a great place to de-stress.  Just take a look at the Eastern Water Dragon up in the header.  Is he stressed?  Nup.  He strolled up onto the café deck from the forest floor to sun himself, not at all afraid of the visitors.  The dragons are a thrill for café customers taking morning tea.  But of course you can’t go there for coffee and cake and leave without exploring the unique gardens and forests and the comprehensive collection of native Australian plants.

Up in the dry gardens, there are tall eucalyptus trees that are a living support system for other life forms like staghorns and climbing hardenbergia and fungus.  How beautiful are the burnt black and rust tones of the flaky bark on that tree I spotted near the bike racks!  It’s simply nature imitating art.  Down in the rainforest, accessible by timber steps and boardwalks, it’s darker and the atmosphere is noticeably cooler and more humid.  I read the sign telling me to ‘breathe’, and instinctively did.  The air was fresh and cool and clean.  Here, tree ferns and Stream lilies, ‘Helmholtzia glaberrima’, one of the few flowers in these Botanic Gardens, grow in lush gardens beside the stream that flows below the wooden path you’re walking on.  Writing about it makes me want to go there right now.

I wonder where March will take me!

Marianne at East of Málaga came up with this idea of taking a trip every month.  Check out her February trip post to the Rock of Gibraltar.