Afternoon with Julia Margaret Cameron’s Photographs

The other week, I had a respite from the tyranny of work. Some rostered days off that allowed me the opportunity of reflection and wandering around the city enjoying its scenic delights. The weather was fortuitously very sunny and warm as well, so I set off for the NSW Art Gallery without a care in the world.

My main purpose in visiting the NSW Art Gallery was to view the exhibition of the photography of the 19th century Victorian, Julia Margaret Cameron. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK had generously lent a selection of its precious gems to our Gallery. Having read about this exhibition in The Guardian (can’t find the review now unfortunately, but here’s one from the Sydney Morning Herald) and having a passion for going back in time, it was a must for me to go and see.

I am discovering the art of photography myself, finding in its ability to capture a beautiful moment an instant gratification.

Pink daisy flowers

Flowers at Royal Botanic Garden

So much better than fiddling for ages with paint brushes,

Vietnamese dragon-like mythical beast

Mythical beast from Cham Museum, Da Nang, Vietnam.

pencils, charcoal and colours and the eternal frustration of never getting it quite right. And the amazing thing about photography is how much the artist can manipulate the media and choose the focus to get the kind of picture, effect or interpretation they see with their mind’s eye.

Photography is a true picture of a reality outside the self, but that reality is different for everyone.

So I entered the Art Gallery, paid for my ticket and went upstairs to view the exhibition. Apparently Cameron’s career as a photographer started in her late-forties when she was given a camera as a gift.  This was new-fangled media then, but already conventions were in play.  Subjects were stiffly posed and subject to highly focused scrutiny, with every button shining and every detail sharply delineated.

But Cameron departed somewhat radically from these norms, with her portraits of people wreathed in a kind of ethereal mist and her romantic idea that she was portraying people in terms of their personal ‘essence’ rather than the realistic rendition of the subject in the bald light of day.  She went for the Great Moment, rather than the Perfect Picture.  She said that when confronted with a sight of great beauty, she would take the picture immediately rather than start fiddling with the focus like a lot of other photographers did.

Alfred Lord Tennyson in bust profile

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thus a portrait of the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, portrays a dishevelled bearded and long-haired man almost in mid-movement, intent far more on his art than his appearance.  He liked this picture immensely and called it ‘the dirty monk’.

Another photo portrays a young woman of classic, finely-modelled features approaching the camera, her beauty all the more enhanced for its being slightly off-focus.

This spontaneity that graces her portraits must have been an extremely difficult thing to achieve with such an intractable media like the Victorian camera.  The exposures were so long that everybody had to stay absolutely still in their allotted positions and scarcely breathe for quite a while, lest an extraordinary amount of trouble and expense was ruined.

This probably accounts for the distinct lack of gaiety in all the portraits.  None of the people were smiling.  But Cameron seems to have made a virtue of this with people appearing rather serious, pensive and reflective which plays more to the idea of portraying the inner and less temporal person.

Alice Liddell as a young woman

Alice Liddell

A portrait of Alice Liddell (said to be the muse of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’) reveals a girl nearing the edge of adulthood with fine eyes of an inimitably imperious expression, but shot through with a kind of sadness. Why she should be so sad, I did not know. It is one of those mysteries that Cameron is wont to throw up and leave lying in the air.

Another picture was titled ‘Summer days’, with a frieze of young

Group of two women and two children in summer clothes

Summer Days

women and girls arrayed becomingly in their large, floppy summer hats and festive, holiday clothes, but resting against each other with expressions of the most pervasive pensiveness.  These days, the caption would invite depictions of riotous jollity.  But somehow I really liked the serious tone of it, as if it was an evocation that nothing, no matter how good, lasts forever.  That time moves on and these eternally good times, one and all become nothing more than memories.

She was very fond of putting together theatrical scenes from Shakespeare, Tennyson, Antiquity or the Bible, creating many moments of fine dark drama or gentle, aerial mystery and melancholy.

Young woman in profile

Sappho

My favourite of these is of her house-mistress, a dark-haired young woman with the beautiful features and profile of a 15th century Madonna. She is posing as the Ancient Greek poet Sappho, with an embroidered peasant blouse I’d like to steal and a dramatic necklace of hanging teardrops.  The deliberate position of her hand on the lyre forms a gentle and respectful tribute.

Cameron, according to the script, was a very religious person and consequently there were a number of pictures devoted to the subject of piety.  Piety is something I do not understand, being an atheist from another time and place.

Woman in prayer

Pensive Nun

But there was something very moving about one portrait of a woman devoutly pressing her hands to her chest in a heartfelt, prayer-like position that could only be a gesture of some very deep love and reverence.  The caption was from a poem ,’Il Penseroso’, by the 17th century English poet John Milton ‘Come pensive nun devout and pure, sober steadfast and demure’.

Her portrait of the scientist astronomer and her muse, Sir John Herschel,

Portrait of a scientist

Sir John Herschel

is a triumph of the documentation of a another time.  Rough-headed and unkempt, he is gazing indomitably into the future with the questing, wildly surmising look of a person accustomed to acutely observing phenomena and exploring its implications with his massive intellect.  And yet he belongs solidly in the 19th Century, as one of its pioneers and progenitors, one of those who shaped the future.  She captures the darkness science was emerging from at that age.  No scientist today could ever be quite in the same place of so much unknowing.

Young woman in profile

Sadness

But Cameron was also capable of taking photos that seemed as if they were taken yesterday.  A young woman in a becoming short-sleeve white peasant’s blouse rests up against a wall, one hand holding her necklace and the silvery bangles on her arm lending a sharp and precise light. Also interesting about this picture is how Cameron seems to make the pattern on the wall-paper part of the shadow of the woman herself and somehow expressive of her personality.

Two children holding flowers

The Sad White Roses

Much is made of Cameron’s treatment of children in her photos.  Coming from the background of being housewife and mother, she seems to absolutely love putting them into various becoming theatrical positions with adults such as the aforesaid house-mistress in scenes like Madonna and child, or together in various poses that seem to evoke a kind of elegant floating world that the Victorian well-to-do lived in.  While they look like adorable little animals and it must have been a major feat getting them to stay still for so long, I think Cameron does best when there is an accidental quality to the shot.

One of her first pictures was of a child caught as if just

Young girl face and neck

‘Annie, my first success’

coming in to a room from outside.  She is buttoned up in warm clothing and her shy expression and birdlike personality shines unerringly through.  Cameron was understandably delighted with this picture, calling it her first successful photo.

There was much more, but having gazed and stayed for long in this gallery room of mystical melancholy and shades of black and white, it seemed a relief to leave and get out into the afternoon sunlight and colour of the green Sydney Domain with its massive fig trees and long airy stretch of green lawn.

Spreading fig tree in city park

Fig tree in the Sydney Domain

I wonder whether people from the Victorian age really did live their life with a kind of seriousness that today’s society with its relentless hedonism does not seem to value.  Or that the people might look back at all that unremitting sobriety and think ‘that was then. Thank goodness for that’.

Maybe a balance between the two would be progress!

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The Life of the Bead

Dear Diary,

Wonder if all this spiritual angst people go on about is really just a nagging, subterranean feeling of guilt.

According to Christian philosophy, the love of beautiful things like beads and fashionable clothes is just trivial and materialistic. There is a deep, deep-grained antipathy to ‘materialism’ in our Christian-valued society. So much so that I find it hard to shake off.

Life_of_Beads_2015-08-11 16.22.01I found myself feeling happy just because I found and bought the ideal little strand of colourful Murano glass beads, on sale for only $50 AUD. Bright yellow they are, with lively little dots of colour: vivid red, dark blue, light blue and green. Perfect for brightening up a plain white Tee with jeans.  Then I felt I shouldn’t feel happy about such things and immediately felt guilt for being so trivial and materialistic and was unhappy with myself, for not being ‘good’ or ‘high-minded’.

But Homo Sapiens have been making beads for tens of thousands of years.  Archeologists have recently uncovered an extensive and lively trade in beads during Stone Age Europe, concurrent with our earliest art works.

Prehistoric shell bead necklace.

Cro-Magnon necklace, France, 32-22,000 BCE.
(Photo by Didier Descouens, Wikkimedia)

Our long vanished cousins, the Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans even appear to have had a penchant for making personal adornments.

Trade in fashionable items and works of art is a force for good, a peaceful activity that cuts across cultures and cross-pollinates them.  Never underestimate the power of The Bead.

Thus beads have a mystical significance and behind every good piece a woman might own that she likes, there is a story behind it – how she came across them, why she liked them, who might have given them to her.  Memories hang on strings of beads as surely as the beads themselves.

‘But it’s just a bead!’ an invisible voice scolds.  Ah the mystery!  I would love to find my way out of the maze of Christian ‘values’ and work out just why love of material things is so ‘bad’.

It might be that beads breed greed and covetousness.  But there is enough of that around anyway. In fact, if we just relaxed and took pleasure in The Bead, maybe our guilt trip would not go into overdrive and we would not then go and buy a truckload of beads to compensate, but be content with a few.

Image of Coco Chanel (Author Marion Golsteijn, Source Wikkimedia)

Image of Coco Chanel (Author Marion Golsteijn, Source Wikkimedia)

The French seem to have this pleasure in artful adornments in balance with the course and purpose of their lives.  Maybe I should read more of my book ‘How to be a Parisian’ that my sister Cathie gave me.  But I’ve really also got to find a way for myself – out of the soul-deadening tedium and anguish of Christian guilt – learn to enjoy the little things in life in moderation – without guilt.

– Megan

PS: I remember seeing a bracelet in an art exhibition of ancient Egyptian treasures.  I cannot remember much of it but one bead of the bracelet was a large hunk of beautiful, almost transparent and luminous lapis lazuli, with a seal insignia carved on it, that was apparently from the deserts of Persia and already of immense antiquity when it was put in the bracelet, thousands of years ago.

Necklace of colourful Murano glass beadsIt took my breath away to imagine that astonishing length of largely unrecorded time that people went about their daily lives in – trading, working, playing, creating art. Surely no bead that evoked such thoughts and imaginings could ever be completely trivial.

Lismore, NSW Australia of the 1960s

The late summer afternoon was hot, blazing and lazy. It started off as a day off work in a desultory way with a haircut, then a medical appointment, then back home for lunch and then hours lazing on the black leather couch in the lounge room surfing the Internet for news, bits of research, labyrinthine information about starting a small business…  The whole of me is sunk in a kind of sleep, wanting to do something and yet not wanting to make the effort to do it. I seem to want to let the moments tick by, as easily as the cars in the street glide past and the mynah birds chirp in the trees.

Nevertheless I have a simple plan to go back in time – way back to when I was a child growing up in a peaceful little town called Mullumbimby on the lush North coast of NSW, Australia – so long ago it seems like another country that I am reluctant to make the long trip into.  I am so immersed in the dense, buzzing city-scape of the present.

The trip from Mullumbimby to Lismore was a short drive of about an hour along the coastal plains, until it took a dizzyingly steep turn up the ancient ragged, volcanic escarpment to the hinterlands.  It went past the turn-off to the village of Clunes and then a curious old quarry called Bex Hill, caught in the bowels of a steep rocky hill with its deep green waters of mysterious depth and where my parents spent a lot of time finding fossils of ancient plant life embedded in its loose rocks of charcoal coloured shale.  The road rolled on to over the bridge at the Wilson’s River at Richmond Hill, where I would then watch the accompanying river winding lazily along across chocolate loam and verdant buttercup-starred pastures and fields of brown Jersey cows calmly grazing on the grass.

And presently the river would come right up close to the road and there between two green hills and descrying a high church steeple and clusters of houses, we would enter the domain of the city of Lismore, population at that time: 30,000.

Lismore was (and still is) a quiet, rural city on the banks of the muddy Wilson’s River, which winds through its centre flanked by hordes of beautiful, but feral weedy weeping Willows whose proliferating branches and roots make it impossible to walk along its banks.  From time to time it is prone to flooding, though the subtropical climate is otherwise kindly – warm and humid all the year around.

Grandma and Grandfather lived in a large, wooden, white-painted Queenslander house (a kind of house perched on high stilts that allowed ventilation and precaution against flooding) in a street lined with graceful, ferny-leafed Jacarandah trees near the top of a steep hill on the near outskirts of Lismore.

We would arrive through the concreted drive-way shaded by trees with red, star-shaped flowers with petals like leaves and would park near the house atop the long sloping sweep of back-yard.  We would step out and eagerly meet my father’s parents as they clambered down the long, narrow and precipitous wooden stairs – Grandma dreamily effusive and warmly affectionate, Grandfather lean and spare, his long face sand-paper cheeked and grave – and we would go up the stairs through the covered, linoleum-floored porch (with its lavatory) and into the kitchen/dining room with its ‘Early Kooka’ gas oven and stove where we would sit at the large steel and laminate dining table just under a print of a painting of blue boats by Van Gogh and talk.

The dining table was to the left of the door.  The kitchen area, flanked by a large bench where a big black telephone lived and where Grandma did her cooking preparations, was on the right.  This kitchen bench depicted a watery blue scene of tropical fishes, painted by my mother the night before I was born.  Ahead against the wall was a small bookcase with books from Grandfather’s favourite authors – Shakespeare and James Joyce and higher up was a lacquered wooden shelf of little china animal ornaments, an hour-glass and a tiny ornamental watering can.

There were all kinds of cooking utensils in the cupboards under that kitchen bench and that was where our favourite jar of Grandma’s home-made biscuits were – some with cherries, some with chocolate chip and others with cornflakes. The kitchen sink was under the window and beside was the gas oven, stove and the constantly humming refrigerator.

The view from the kitchen and the windows of the covered verandah/porch that stretched outside it were of soft, green, rolling hills that had reminded my great-grandfather of the rolling hills of Wales.  Except (as I learned later), this beautiful, romantic, peaceful scene was not of a natural making.  My ancestors, the White People, had invaded the country rather like locusts, hewing and mowing down countless trees and undergrowth of the dense, sub-tropical rainforests so unique to the coastal plains of North-East Australia – The Big Scrub.

Through the window, we could also see the whole networked town-scape of Lismore spread out far below, with its streets of houses, clusters of office buildings and shopping centres, its several-storied hospital and the twin chimney stacks of what I think was the power station.  At night, hundreds of white and yellow lights gleamed all connected to the backbone of quietly humming electric grid that bound us all to the linoleum-clean civilised life of the mid-20th century.

Of course, the White People had so razed the land to replicate the way of life they had had in the British Isles and in Europe: to feed their livestock, grow their crops and build a civilised state.  At Lismore, the denuding of the land had been so thorough by the 1960s, that when Grandma took us three young sisters for a drive to the local Lions Club park, the rich tangle of liana vines, blackbean trees and great, spreading roots of giant fig-trees seemed like an utterly alien world.

But in my childhood and early adolescent ignorance, the hills and verdant, grassy landscape just seemed a symbol of all that was beautiful and serene and calm in the world.  The hill at the top of the street was farm-land and the grass grew lush, with plenty of weeds like burdock, dandelions and scotch thistles which shed their silky-haired seeds delicately into the warm, gentle breezes.  The beautiful music of Mozart was often playing on the record-player, perfectly reflecting the sense of carefree peace and happiness.

Grandma and Grandfather’s house on the hill had a long backyard, with a good two-thirds of it a vegetable and fruit garden of Grandfather’s steady and industrious cultivation.  In the rich, black soil he grew lettuces, carrots, tomatoes, beans, peas and grape vines and there were fig and pawpaw trees thick with luscious fruit in season.  A substantial lawn of green grass that Grandfather periodically mowed surrounded the cultivation patch and the borders were fringed with piles of forgotten black basalt rocks, a large Jacaranda tree and dense Jasmine bushes that burst into profusions of little starry flowers in spring, gracing the air with their sweet, nectar like scent and attracting hosts of butterflies and bees.

Meanwhile, in the damp earth around the bottom of the stairs, Mint grew in great clusters along with Nasturtiums, Forget-Me-Nots, Violets and Wandering Jew. In the cool earth-scented darkness under the house was Grandfather’s work area, with his saws, drills and fishing equipment neatly stacked.  Alongside, there was the laundry, with its big cement twin-tubs, rubber wringer, corrugated scrubbing board, pieces of old yellow soap and the little deep cobalt blue-bags which astonishingly made white clothes whiter.

Whenever we visited, my sister Cathie and I both got the spare bedroom, painted pure white, with intriguing patterns in the plaster ceiling and the two windows framed with gauzy white curtains embroidered with purple flower-sprigs.  There was a double and a single bed, both covered with pretty mauve and white bedspreads and two dressing tables.  I used to wake up in the morning to the sounds of a rooster crowing and hens cackling in the distance as the pale shafts of sunlight stole their way around the room and feel perfectly at home and peaceful.

Outside the spare bedroom was a small hallway carpeted with stiff, gold-brown plush and hung with smiling black and white photos of my father and my aunty Norma.  That was where while sitting on the floor I broke my leg at the age of three, when my toddler sister Cathie walked over me.

The hall led to the kitchen on the left.  Straight ahead was the linen closet all neat and tidy with clean, lavender scented white sheets, scratchy towels and face-cloths. Beside it was the tiled bathroom in cool darkness redolent of soap, with a huge bath that Grandma ran nice and hot for us children, shower recess and old-fashioned sink.

Further to the right of the hallway were two doorways. For now I will go through the lounge room.  It had the same gold-brown plush carpet, it had two lounge chairs and a lounge and a record-player and television at the far end of the room. Above the lounge was a fascinating print of Vermeer’s painting of a girl reading a letter and I used to endlessly speculate on the content of the letter, which despite the calm serenity of the domestic scene, could have been anything.  There was a book-case containing such entertaining books as ‘The African Queen’ and ‘The Girl With the Swansdown Seat’ and ‘What the Aussie Papers Didn’t Mean to Say’. There was a pale-brown lacquered cabinet containing the good china and a beveled mirror.

At the other side, towards the front door, the lounge-room had two frosted glass-paneled doors draped with rich red drawn curtains, one on each end of the wall. These doors led out to a bright sun-room and the front door, whereby one could go down a few steps onto the path through a lawn and a garden lush with ferns and hydrangeas.  Hardly anyone ever went to this sun-room, which was a pity. Because with its white wired chairs and table upon which a rampant maiden-hair fern showered its tresses, it was a calm, still kind of place with a view of the wide, grass-edged and usually deserted street through its ample windows.

Back at the hallway there is an entrance between the bathroom and the lounge-room.  This was Grandma and Grandfather’s bed-room.  The windows were usually draped over with curtains, so it was quite dark and made more so with the dark, ponderous furniture – a large wardrobe, a dressing-table with fascinating Grandma things on it like powders, her favourite Tweed Lentheric scent – a delicate spring floral fragrance that pervaded all of Grandma’s presence – and boxes of costume jewelry.  There was also a big double bed, which us three girls all piled onto with Grandma and Grandfather of a morning to read the Sunday Papers.

A door beside the bed finally led into a kind of long side room.  To the right was a curtained alcove in which sat an old Singer treadle sewing machine (which Grandma taught me how to use) and all Grandma’s sewing things – lots of cotton reels of all different colours, needles of all sizes, pins, buttons, tape measures, thimbles and scissors.  At the centre was a long dark brown plush couch which my youngest sister Berenice slept on.  It was alongside windows draped with cotton curtains of a pattern of dancing red flowers.  Opposite the couch was the window to the bathroom and beneath this a long, old dark brown cabinet with creamy bone handles which held many secret things like old board games and toys, books, yellowing manuscripts, fountain pens and stored Christmas decorations like a frosted tree, some tinsel and tiny, brightly coloured balls.

At the end of the room and in front of a window that looked out onto the backyard and beyond was a large jet black desk with a typewriter, pencils, erasers, pens and lots of typing paper.  Grandfather liked to write and this was his work-place and we would often hear the tapping of the typewriter as he worked away in the afternoons after lunch.

And beside the desk was a door leading out in the kitchen, back where we started.  For dinner, Grandma would make a roast lamb with crunchy roast potatoes, pumpkin and peas from the garden.  She would make the gravy with flour and dripping and put in a fluted green china gravy-boat. She would make the mint sauce with sugar and vinegar and mint growing from under the steps of the house.  It always seemed she would never be done fussing over the dinner and would still be in her apron hovering around after people had started.  But eventually she would give in to persuasion that she really had thought of everything.  And the meal would be absolutely delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

To The Sydney Botanic Gardens

The early autumn weather was warm, but overcast. There was no sign of rain, so I decided to go ahead with my day trip to the city’s Botanic Gardens to see what muses presented themselves to my attention.

On the way over I stopped by the nearby Art Gallery. There are three young Wollemi Pines gracing the glassed outlook of the Art Gallery Members’ Room. The Wollemi Pines (they are not actually pines, but descendants of an older conifer family called Araucariaceae) are of an extremely ancient lineage stretching back as far as the age of the dinosaurs. They are primitive, graceful trees festooned with long, snaking branches each bearing a fringe of spiny, rich dark green leaves.

Three conifer trees

Wollemi Pines

They are modest trees, seeming very dusty and ordinary to the casual glance, until one notes there are few trees like these. But they have survived and seem to view the modern world of smog and concrete jungle and cars with placid indifference, perhaps knowing that this age (like all others they have seen) will one day pass.

The entrance to the Botanical Gardens is graced with a

Fountains and cacti at Botanical Gardens Entrance.

Gardens Entrance

refreshing puzzle of ponds with little fountains and against the nearby wall, distinctive Barrel Cacti plants preside in a row.

Large Hoop Pine Tree

Hoop Pine

Once in the gardens, a large Hoop Pine (native of New Guinea, QLD and NSW) has swaying clumps of fingered pine needles hanging from its branches.

A large Port Jackson Fig Tree with garden seat in foreground.

Port Jackson Fig Tree

Trunk of Port Jackson Fig Tree.

Port Jackson Fig

A majestic writhing Port Jackson Fig provides shade for myriads of fleshy Bromeliads living under its shadow and a comfortable seat for visitors.

Mexican Bald Cypress tree trunk with branches and leaves.

Bald Cypress

A Mexican Bald Cypress has a trunk like grooved shale and from its branches hang weeping light green fingers of tiny, feathery leaves.

An old QLD Bottle Tree.

Bottle Tree

A QLD Bottle Tree looks like a paunchy old man about to go off for a walk.

 

Banksia tree blooms

Banksia Tree

Meanwhile, a group of banksia blooms sit on their seats of radiating leaves as if waiting for a conference to begin.

Trunk of large Flooded Gum Tree

Flooded Gum

This mighty tree, the Flooded Gum (or Rose Gum) occurs in North NSW to QLD and is a dominant tree in the tall wet forests and rainforests there.

Brazilian rainforest tree with large green leaves Chrysophyllum Imperiale

Chrysophyllum Imperiale

Chrysophyllum Imperiale. This tall tree with its distinctive large, pleated, almond-shaped leaves of a shiny dark green is a lone refugee of the disappearing rainforests of Brazil.

 

Further along the path I come across a nest-like Spiny-leaf Podcarp, a Australian conifer cousin of a nearby Wollemi Pine growing in complete harmony with it.

Nest fern-like conifer plant the Spiny-leaf Podcarp

Spiny-leaf Podcarp

Johnstone River Almond - small tree native to Australia.

Johnstone River Almond

This handsome young tree is a Johnstone River Almond.  Bearing edible fruit once eaten by Aboriginal peoples, it is a native of the North East QLD rainforests.

 

A park with lawn in foreground and pond and island with palms.

Botanical Garden grounds

Here I paused to genuflect on the calm, verdant, placid scene of

the Botanical Gardens and how it has and is providing rest, information and relaxation for generations of people as well as offering sanctuary for many precious, endangered plants.

Large circular yellow sandstone monument in Neo-Classical tradition.

Replica Ancient Greek Monument.

This totally dysfunctional looking thing nearby is a yellow sandstone replica of an Ancient Greek monument, erected at Athens in 330 BC, before which a certain Lysicrates received the Victor’s Tripod at the Festival of Bacchus. So now I know. Around the top of the monument there is a strange frieze of figures of men metamorphosing into beasts although much weathered away.

Here below is garden life on the banks of a pond completely

Banks of a pond of Lotus plants with pink flowering bushes and nearby tree branches.

Banks of the Lotus Pond

taken over by rampant Lotus plants.  The tree in the background with its lovely sheening grey and ash branches is a Water Gum (family Myrtaceae) from the forests of the East Coast of Australia – from Maryborough in QLD to East Gippsland in Victoria.

White marble neo-classical statue of a draped woman by the side of mossy canal.

Spring

Then I came across this charming Neo-classical statue of Spring by a mossy canal – ah, but it is now Autumn!

This is a Floss Silk Tree – indigenous from Brazil to Argentina,

Floss Silk Tree

Floss Silk Tree

a very large spreading tree bearing beautiful soft pink flowers, mostly fallen with the late summer season.

Grove of Senegal Date Palms with epiphyte Bromeliads living on trunks.

Senegal Date Palms

Here are clusters of the fleshy, epiphyte Bromeliads clinging to the trunks of these slim, graceful Senegal Date Palms (from subtropical Africa and Madagascar).

So ends my jaunt for the day. I reluctantly took my leave and went home, but bearing lots of memories and a strange sense of renewal and serenity. People should do this more often.

To Murramarang National Park

Having a week to ourselves, John and I decided to go on a few days holiday down the South Coast of NSW.  We were curious about Murramarang National Park, which lies north of Batemans Bay, a small fishing town sitting on the banks of the Clyde River.  So John booked a cabin at the adjacent Murramarang Nature Resort, we packed our bags and left at a leisurely late time of the morning for the long car trip down south.

Tree with red blossoms in street

Illawarra Flame Tree

Past Wollongong, the landscape was, as it usually is, green and lush looking with the native Illawarra Flame tree at its peak flowering putting out a burst of magnificent red here and there.

It was an unusually hot day and when we got to the quaint old, over-loved town of Berry (which is always crowded with bloody tourists) for lunch, the heat hit us like a furnace when we got out of the air-conditioned car.

Nevertheless, Berry radiates peace and serenity as this country

Country town lane with trees

Berry back street

lane shows.  However with these lovely old towns there always seems to be a ghost of the marauding white settler in hob-nailed boots whose grave lies somewhere in the gently whispering cemetery – someone not quite ever aligned with this much harsher and wider country than from whence he or she came.

The gloriously purple Jacarandas are still flowering along with

Two flowering trees by roadside

Flame and Jacaranda tree

the magnificent red Flame Trees, but it was hard to get the two of them together.  When I did see one such duo growing wild by the side of the road, I clambered up the slope and found myself plunged knee-deep in grass and was too terrified of snakes to wander further and find a better camera view.  So this was the best I could get.

When we got to the Resort, fairly late in the afternoon, we exclaimed in pleasure at the pretty and very spacious villa that we had, overlooking a charming garden courtyard with native palms and a barbeque.  Later on, the

garden with palms and kangaroo

View from the Forest Villa

 resident kangaroos that grazed lazily around the resort moved to our courtyard and were busily chomping the grass.  Apparently the staff never need to mow the lawns, due to these insatiable herbivores and even have a problem with the outsides of the lawns being eaten out of existence.

Actually the occasional wallaby, darker more chocolate brown, smaller and of more curvaceous build was much more timid, bounding off into the bush almost as soon as they were noticed.

I spent the first full day lazing on the beach, where I saw a majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle bursting out of the nearby forest and flying far over the bay pursued by two aggressive Ravens, who soon lost pace.

Large tree trunk in eucalypt forest.

Trunk of Large Tree

The afternoon John and I went on a walk in the forest, following a trail that led to reputedly the second-largest tree in NSW.

Branches of large eucalyptus tree.

Top of large tree

 And here it is with its massive trunk and tall, twisted arms.  The forest trees were a kind of spotted gum, the blackbutt and the occasional stringybark.

Eucalypt forest with vines

Eucalypt forest with vines

It was a dry, dusty kind of forest with open glades, some mossy logs and vines that from time to time festooned themselves on trees.  Resident birds ranged from

Eucalypt forest

Eucalypt forest

finches and wagtails to wattle-birds, whip-birds, pigeons and kookaburras.

Forest glade in eucalypt forest

Antipodean forest glade

When one speaks of open forest glades, it kind of conjures up the sort of pretty clearings with green sward that happen in English and European forests, so beloved of medieval knights and ladies of yore.

Ferns and mossy log in eucalypt forest

Ferns and mossy log

But glades in Australian forests can be enchanting too, especially in the manner of its botanical diversity and its lone, wild beauty, untouched by civilised history.  Apparently when the Europeans first arrived, the forests were kept in a park-like state with myriads of diverse native rodents.  But

Ground cover in eucalypt forest with small yellow and white flowers

Ground cover with small flowers

unfortunately they have mostly disappeared due to the depredations of

Large Eucalypt tree with boles on trunk

Boles on Eucalypt tree

introduced species like dogs, cats, foxes and prolific rabbits and these days the eucalypt forests are much more prone to destructive bush fires.

The next sunny day in Murramarang (Paradise), after another dip in the ocean and appreciating the fresh air and crystal clear waters, I went for a short walk along bush trail down to the rocky southern headland and into the National Park.

Honey-comb weathering at Wasp Head

Honey-comb weathering at Wasp Head

I arrived at a place called Wasp Head, which probably got its name from the intricate honey-comb weathering covering all its sandstone rocks.  Further out at sea was Wasp Island, which apparently is haven to much bird-life including, Terns, Mutton-birds (Shearwaters) and even a colony of Little Penguins.

A view of Wasp Island from Wasp Head

Wasp Island

 On the lonely head (which I had all to myself), I saw a Pied Cormorant preening its drenched feathers in the sun and two Sooty Oyster-catchers with their long, thin, vermilion beaks and red legs.

Emily Miller Beach

Emily Miller Beach

Further southwards stretched a lovely little bay known as Emily Miller Beach, which I again had the luxury of having all to myself.

Cave at Emily Miller Beach

Emily Miller Beach cave

The colour of the water was a beautiful turquoise green and there was even a cave among the rocks.

The next day was Monday, some clouds had blown over and the weather was cool and breezy.  Some gentle rain set in

Coastal headland

Headland at South Durras

as we walked Northwards up the beach where the small village of South Durras nestled.  There was supposed to be an Aboriginal midden near the cliffs of this headland but we could not see anything of it amongst the graffiti-scrawled rocks and caves at the foot of the beach.

Sandstone rock weathering at South Durras headland

Sandstone rock weathering

We saw some Cormorants and a black little Egret fishing along the sandstone rocks, which bore some very interesting weathering, a series of rounded smooth holes through which you could see the waves threshing under.

That night we went to nearby Bateman’s Bay for fish and chips, eating our takeaway at the quay and trying to avoid the greedy seagulls.  The place is a little fishing town presiding over a pretty bay and the mouth of the Clyde River.

The late afternoon deepens into evening and a rich blue-black inky cloak of night falls gracefully over the scene.  The yellow and white lights of the bridge, jetties and houses enliven the black waters with glistening, moving, coalescing towers.  It is quiet except for the sometime cars and the occasional road train chugging over the bridge.  A number of small fishing boats and yachts are moored in the quay, silent and barely moving with the lapping tide.

Later on at night when we got back to our cabin, some

Mother and baby possum

Mother and baby possum

uninvited guests in the shape of possums dropped in hoping for some of our food.  However we do not feed wild animals, particularly as doing so makes them more aggressive.  The possums and kangaroos at the resort seem quite used to humans and they can be quite bold and difficult to shoo away, especially where there is a prospect of getting some food scraps.

The following Tuesday morning, we reluctantly packed and said our goodbyes to this utterly salubrious place.  We headed for Mt Pigeonhouse, near Ulladulla, on the way back home to Sydney.

Fortunately, the weather was a mild and sunny one tempered

Mountain track with surrounding trees

The track to the top

with a cool breeze.  At a turn-off from the Highway, we drove for about 30 kilometres along a mostly rough, dusty, unsealed road to the foot of the mountain we intended to climb.

First there was a stiff climb up dry Eucalypt woodland like spotted gum and Stringybark.  Then an easy stroll through a kind of heath where we saw quite a few honey-eaters feasting on the red flowers of the prickly Mountain Devil bushes.

Then we neared the last part, the great crop of sandstone rocks that formed the citadel of the summit.  Extremely tired from the continuous uphill climb, I felt so slight and frail against the onslaught of mighty rock that it seemed that getting to the top was impossible.  But I did it with small, patient steps, stopping every now and then to rest and catch my breath and climbing carefully up the perpendicular steel ladders.

Then we got to the summit of Mount Pigeonhouse, where our

View of mountain plateaus

Summit, North view

panoramic reward awaited us.  To the North stretches a stunning view of plateau mountains, clothed in dusty, khaki coloured trees.  They raise their solemn, rocky slopes clear from their forest skirts among the deep u-shaped valleys.

To the West, there are an interlacing network of ululating hills lying like a crumpled, grey-blue blanket under the heavy cloud covering of that part of the sky.  I see trees from that distance like bronze-green cauliflowers clothing the gentle swell of the hillsides.

South and East, sweeps the undulating hills and plains to the coast and beyond.  And the summit holds sway over this inviolate, fecund last great domain of wild forest woodlands, rainforest and heath that hugs its gullies and slopes.

View of mountain plateaus

Further View of plateaus

No-one knows what goes on in that expanse of uninhabited country, lying peacefully under the shadows of clouds, warmed by the late spring sunshine and enlivened by a fresh, cool North East breeze.

Grasses on mountain summit

Summit life

After observing some birds like a green Wompoo pigeon and a small, tan-breasted Origma (similar to a Wagtail) on the rarified environment on the summit, we made our way down and got into the car for the long trip back to Sydney.  And that was the end of our lovely trip.

Like Molly Malone

In winding paths a pale, pretty girl walks

Like Molly Malone

Wheeling her barrow

Through the city streets narrow

Selling flowers

Only this time someone could have saved her

 

But alas she went singing her own way

Where the sun shines bright

Prognosis is grim

Where the flowers grow lovely

All around her

At the dark bank where the River Lethe flows

 

Such purple blooms of Bella Donna glow

Fruit like live black eyes

Tattered leaves on stems

They told her they would heal her

She believed them

So she gathers them to heal others too

 

Sooner or later I do not know when

Her coffin will go

To an unknown grave

And they will all weep and wail

Cry why oh why

Did she die in such an untimely way?

 

They will say she did not laugh quite enough

Not honest enough

Did not love herself

As she synthesizes thoughts

So cure means heal

Sucks the goodness of the earth through a straw

 

She is desperate but they don’t know that

All her fairy friends

All her well-wishers

As they laud love and applaud

All this Queen’s men

Time time running out is not on her side.

 

It’s one thing to toast death before dying

And another to

Pretend it’s not there

Where the chasm is crashing shut

No exit clear

For how long will you wheel your wheelbarrow?

-Megan Payne