In any ordinary week, the Australian War Memorial has six Australian flags flying out the front, three on each side of the steps. So, as I drove up Anzac Avenue this morning I was surprised to see this trio of French flags flying on one side, a week after the attacks on Paris. I stopped to snap a few photos. (Try not to pay attention to Mephisto, the rarest tank in the world.)
Walter Burley had two wives and seven children. His wives had short lives, and four of his children died in infancy. The three who survived to manhood, Alfred, James and Frederick, went to France to fight in World War One, even Alfred who had his own wife and six children. Fortunately for them he returned. Pity about Alfred’s two brothers who enlisted in the army together, numbers 5046 and 5047, for both their lives ended in France in 1917. With all his siblings dead, Alfred came home to Australia in 1919 to find his wifeless father, Walter, was also dead and gone. All of Alfred’s original family were in the ground.
I learned this little story of big losses through the Australian War Memorial’s prompting. It’s reminding us nightly, from sunset to sunrise, that 62,000 Australians died in the fight that was World War One. Walter’s sons, Frederick and James, are on the Honour Roll currently being projected onto the Memorial’s facade. They are two of my grandparents’ cousins who did not return from France, so I’ve been zipping over to the Memorial to catch the names as they appear. This month it’s Frederick’s turn.
I’ve read the army records, including a few letters and the immediate family history, of Frederick and his brothers. I’m struck by the number of deaths that left Alfred the only standing family member.
The abundance of our ancestors’ details now available means we’re discovering their long-forgotten joys and losses. But look closely; there are even a few of their untruths. Frederick’s details on the Roll reveal that, when he was young, he wished he was younger; the Memorial records his age at death as 24, but he was born in 1887, which in 1917 made him 30… Frederick died and was buried in April 1917 at Vaulx-Vraucourt, Pas de Calais, forever youngish. He lied to the Australian Army, but he can’t lie to me because his birth details are these days online for all the world to see.
These Burley men were my first cousins three times removed. I snapped this photo of Frederick’s name at 8:05pm one evening a couple of weeks ago, when it shone for 30 seconds. In June 2016 his brother’s name, J.E. Burley, will be projected. I’ve marked it in my diary.
The names of three other men, my grandfather’s cousins George, Frank and D’Arcey, were projected onto the Memorial during this year’s cold, starry winter evenings. The significance of all this for me? My grandfather also went to France, but he was a cousin who returned. His name, like Alfred Burley’s, is not one of the 62,000 being projected, 30 times over 4 years, beneath the dome of the Memorial.
Tonight at 7.52 when it was 6 degrees Celsius and blowing an icy gale, I took this photo of D’arcey Richard Nottingham Shaw’s name projected onto the Australian War Memorial. It was hard to hold my camera still in the wind, but the photo is not too bad. D’arcey was killed in action on The Somme in France in 1917, yet he has no grave; his remains were never found. On his Roll of Honour card, digitally available on the A.W.M. website, it is noted that D’arcey Shaw’s wounds were the result of being buried twice from bombs bursting near him in Pozières. How ironic that they should write that, when in the end he was buried nowhere.
Because he died defending Australia, his name was written in light for 30 seconds tonight, perhaps for my benefit alone. As far as I know, none of his other family members live in Canberra. Since I’m just ten minutes away, it’s easy to whip down to the Memorial and see the names when they come up between sunset and sunrise.
D’arcey was my grandfather’s cousin. I want to remember him and his two brothers who also died in France, in the war to end all wars, because my grandfather was there too, but he didn’t die.
Nineteen-year-old D’arcey was the second son in his family to be killed in France. The first one was George, and there would be a third, Frank Percy Shaw, whose name was projected onto the War Memorial on 21st June, a night that was cool but not freezing like tonight. I wrote about him here.
As I was leaving around the back of the Memorial I saw four kangaroos standing guard in the dark. They’re delightful at a distance and are happy to be photographed from a car window, but if I’d got out and approached them they would have either hopped away or hopped towards me and treated me as an enemy.
The next date that I will have a relative’s name up for viewing is in early spring. I’m happy knowing it won’t be another chilling evening.
Yesterday, a French friend asked me to define the word ‘yoke’. She looked in her bilingual dictionary and came up with ‘constraint’. But it’s more than that, I think, and I tried to explain that it can be a mark of servitude. Or slavery. Or it can be a metaphor for a burden, anything that keeps you coupled to a problem.
Today I passed this yoke, and took the photo to show her.
A yoke is a binding thing. A piece of wood fastened to the necks of two animals, then attached to a plough, forces them to work obediently and stops them escaping. When the yoke is removed, and especially once it’s nailed to the top of a post, the animals are free to roam and go where they please. Independence.
Today there’s a prompt to show and tell: show the last photo I’ve taken, and tell the story behind that moment in time.
Yesterday I was passing the Civic library where I’ve worked casually as a tutor for a couple of years. There’s something in there that I’ve often wanted to photograph, but when I’m working I’m too busy for such an indulgence, though I sit gazing up at it while my student is busy with his writing exercises. Yesterday it wasn’t a work day, I had my camera, and I had time.
Here it is, my last photo. It’s of an artwork suspended from the library ceiling, a stripped down Vietnamese boat. The oars are long golden arms and hands pushing through the air, while a pair of eyes on the prow watches where the boat is going. The artist, Nerine Martini of Sydney, created the work during an artist residency in Vietnam in 2006 and has exhibited it in Vietnam on a lake (on a stand in the water) and at outdoor sculpture exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne. The design of the Civic library is ideal for hanging a long object in the high-ceilinged space above the ground floor, up there at the mezzanine level where we can lean over the railing and look into the boat. The golden hands, each with a different gesture, reach out to the viewer; it was tempting to reach my own hand out to touch one. I didn’t.
It was an odd moment finally seeing the boat up close, as pleasurable as I expected it to be. But up on the mezzanine level where I took an earlier photo (see my header), as I leaned over the rail I was aware of a tutor at a table behind me teaching four students. I knew her. She was enjoying the interaction with her group, so I studied the boat for some moments and then I turned to her and quietly said “Hi, Jenny”. Although I have known her for five years, she looked at me blankly. I most uncomfortably interrupted her class to explain our connection as tutors. “Your face looks vaguely familiar,” she said.
I left the library feeling fulfilled but forgettable. Not so the rugged beauty of the Lifeboat.
Some months, rather than leave town, I go tripping around my local area and have just as good a time as if I’d taken a trip to the sea. This weekend, just by walking and riding my bike around the suburbs and by the lake, I’ve seen a few odd things that make me appreciate this beautiful unboring city. Yesterday, for example, I knocked on this door. Clearly the resident is not afraid of anyone:
Then I went to the lake to watch the weekend sailors. Let me give you a bit of the history of this central ornament of the nation’s capital, in honour of its 50th anniversary this week. Lake Burley Griffin is an artificial lake formed by damming the Molonglo River. The capital’s designer, the American architect Walter Burley Griffin, is immortalised in the name of the lake. He had included it in his original design in 1912, but the lake project didn’t begin until 1963, and finally the formal opening came in 1964. Residents and visitors have flocked to its shores ever since.
For me, it’s a body of water which is neat, if unnatural; it invites us to sit beside it but not to enter it. The water quality is frequently reported as unsuitable for swimming, and therein lies the disappointment. But I must remember that the Molonglo River is narrow and unspectacular, hardly a suitable river for a nation’s capital, unlike the Brisbane River in Brisbane or Sydney Harbour in Sydney. Here’s a photo taken earlier this year as I was walking beside the part of the Molonglo which still exists where the lake ends (begins?); you can see it opening up into the lake on the right:
Thanks to Walter Burley Griffin, instead of a stream that even I could swim across, we have a nice big lake. Yesterday I went to watch sailboats sail on it, an excellent antidote to the busyness of life. The weather was heavenly, an ideal spring day; blue sky, warm air, light breeze. If you were fishing, which I wasn’t, there was no need to hold on tight to the rod. No need to hold it at all, in fact:
Many of the national institutions are situated lakeside, including the Australian National University. One of the university’s sculptures by the water caught my eye with its aluminium birds roosting on the dead branches of this old gum tree. From a distance they give the impression of a flapping flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos, a familiar sight around here. But a closer look reveals the metal birds also resemble hands reaching up to the sky. The commissioned sculpture, called Witness, is by Indonesian artist, Dadang Christanto.
After seeing unreal birds in a dead tree, I turned round and saw real plants in a dead car. Another piece of ANU ‘art’.
Back in my suburb, I was riding my bike past a neighbouring house where a sheep is both pet and mower. She was very happy for me to take her photo but didn’t understand the concept of standing back from the lens.
And then she smelt my leather bag and began to nibble it…
Check out the reflection of me in her eye! Now that’s odd.
All in all, a good spring weekend tripping around my town.
Marianne sends out the challenge to take one trip EVERY month. If you’re reading this, Marianne, I say a big THANKS for the inspiration!
I haven’t left town this month, but I have visited the National Museum which gave me plenty of opportunities to snap photos. Ours is a museum of social history. Neither the content nor the architecture is traditional, which is obvious even before arriving at the car park: the introduction to the building is this giant 30m high loop, part of what is called the Uluru line: In the foyer there are great glass windows looking onto the lake, and an artsy window dressing which produces the best shadows. As I moved up into the galleries, Eternity caught my eye. Arthur Stace famously wrote this single word in beautiful copperplate writing on the footpaths of Sydney between 1932 and 1967. Stace described an experience in church which prompted him to write Eternity half a million times over 35 years:
John Ridley was a powerful preacher and he shouted, ‘I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.’ He repeated himself and kept shouting, ‘Eternity, Eternity’, and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write ‘Eternity’. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket, and I bent down right there and wrote it. I’ve been writing it at least 50 times a day ever since, and that’s 30 years ago … I think Eternity gets the message across, makes people stop and think. (courtesy National Museum of Australia website)
From reflecting on eternity I was taken back in time to the largest of all marsupials, the extinct Diprotodon. After all, it wouldn’t be a museum without a skeleton. Here’s the Diprotodon in and out of its skin:
An unmissable object in the Museum is an old windmill, its sails turning slowly and windlessly, old technology driven by new. It’s a Simplex windmill from Kenya station, north-east of Longreach in central Queensland. The windmill provided water for stock from a shallow bore, from the 1920s until 1989, when a deeper artesian bore came into service. It was one of two windmills on 25,000 acres! As the windmill owner, John Seccombe, who donated it to the museum says, Australia couldn’t have survived without windmills. One of the saddest sights in the museum was this gate, a reminder of times when some children were raised by institutions: There were other objects like leg irons and old pistols that remind us of our darker colonial past: and a convict bi-colour ‘magpie’ uniform, designed to deter convicts from escaping. But imagine the situation if, in 1788 and later, the roles had been reversed, and it wasn’t the English arriving to claim this land for the crown, but the Aboriginals arriving to take the land from the whites. Gordon Syron, an indigenous artist painted that ‘what if’ scene in The Black Bastards are Coming, 2006: Out on the museum terrace, one of the best spots to get a quiet waterside coffee, I was contemplating eternity when a man and dog came past on a surfboard (lakeboard?).
Before I go, if you’re wondering about the header image, it’s part of Martumili Ngurra, 2009, hanging in the museum foyer, painted in acrylic on linen by six Martu women from central Western Australia. Ngalangka Taylor, one of the artists, says:
“When you look at this painting, don’t read it like a whitefella map. It’s a Martu map: this is how we see the country.”
The painting shows tracks and roadways and geographical sites related to mining and pastoral activities introduced in the 19th century in their part of Australia.
More next month. Until then, see some other monthly trips on Marianne’s East of Málaga. She challenges us to take one trip EVERY month.
I haven’t travelled far this month. But I have travelled. Just yesterday, for instance, I drove to the library, couldn’t find a place to stop, drove on to the lake, parked. From there I took the long way round to the library, first to the art gallery – ten minutes – in air uncommonly warm for the end of May. I wound my way through the sculpture garden and photographed dark forms.
I did some work at a table in the café overlooking the sculpture garden.
Then I walked to the National Archives – ten minutes – and read a file about a soldier who stowed away on a ship heading to World War One. At lunch time I walked to Old Parliament House – five minutes – and had lunch with a view across the lake and up Anzac Avenue to the War Memorial and Mt Ainslie.
From there I walked to the library whence I began – ten minutes – and read some police gazettes. I’d achieved much. But I had to walk back to my car – twenty minutes – under threatening skies with no umbrella. Back past the dark clouds over Old Parliament House,
back past the dark sculpture of a burgher of Calais by Rodin,
back past dark swans swimming.
At the art gallery I learnt that dark sculptures are my favourite; at the Archives, that my grandfather spent more time in France than I have (4 months in 1916, between Marseilles and Pozières on the Somme where he was gassed and sent home); at Old Parliament House, that the café with the fantastic view is closing soon and reopening in the viewless courtyard out the back; and at the library, that it was a crime in the 19th century to desert an illegitimate child. Hence my searching of police gazettes.
An altogether successful trip. I can’t say I never go anywhere.
Be sure to check out some of Marianne’s Spanish trips at East of Màlaga. Thanks, Marianne, for your idea that we take one trip EVERY month, and what a good one it is!
Today my husband and I went to Old Parliament House in Canberra for lunch. We then played at being politicians in the old House of Representatives and acted as journalists recording an interview with an ex-Prime Minister (one of the activities for visitors). As we left the building I took this photo of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the opposite side of the street, an unofficial and often-in-the-news embassy that has existed since 1972 on the lawns in front of Old Parliament House which, in 1972, was the only Parliament House. A new, much much larger one has since been built on the hill behind it. The tents are out of view to the left and right but in the centre is the sacred fire which burns continually. The two people to the left of the sovereignty letters are on segways which can be hired to ride around the lake, a popular weekend pastime.