Recently I spoke at the opening of the Bay of Fires Art Prize in St Helens. Surrounded by mostly people that I didn’t know, I made the decision to speak from the heart with only a touch of head in there…but let’s face it, they are mostly intertwined. I had driven up the coast in the morning with my sister. We chatted along the way, laughed hysterically at the silliest of things and had long periods where we drifted off into our own little worlds. It was a good trip. A drive that I have done many times. And a place I have visited since I was a small child.
There is a particular light on the east coast. It’s a combination of a warm golden yellow with a hint of pink. It washes over the Sheoaks and gums and dances between the paddocks and rocks. It’s very different to the light anywhere else in Tasmania.
As a child, the East Coast was my playground. Every school holiday we would visit my Nan and Pop who lived in Beaumaris, Scamander. It was the first house built; high on the hill with two large date palms either side at the front; looking regal. Mum would bundle the four kids and the dog Smithie, the Smithfield, (very original name) into the mission brown Kingswood and we would head to the coast. If they kept me distracted enough by singing and playing games I wouldn’t get sick. But if the brown paper bag came out, it usually meant that we were all sick. A great domino of vomiting children.
The drive from Launceston to Scamander seemed to go on on forever and when we finally did arrive we would be met with darkness, the sound of the ocean and the smell of the salt water. The waves crashed in welcome to us and as we snuggled down into our beds after a cup of cocoa and a biscuit we whispered about what we would do in the morning.
Our days were spent exploring the beach, finding worms for fishing in pop’s compost, playing in the next door block; imagining that the piled up dead trees was a desert island and we were pirates. After early breakfasts we would collect an apple from the kitchen and a handful of boiled lollies, shoving them into our knitted cardigans and racing out the door. We would return at the end of the day or sometimes lunchtime, if we were hungry enough. The only direction from Nan was, be careful crossing the road and don’t stand on the rocks in your gum boots. The fear was that we would fall into the waves, be sucked under the torrent and drowned. We never heeded this warning and as such we all become very strong swimmers.
Our days were spent fishing, mushrooming, reading comics and playing on the beach; pretending to be warriors, mermaids; singing to the waves to make them taller. Trips into St Helens were a treat. Pop would head into the bar while we waited in the car with a raspberry and a comic. The return drive home, in an era without seatbelts or breath testing, was turbulent to say the least; with the occasional prompt from us to stop Pop from driving off the road.
At the end of our holiday we would take one more trip into ‘town’ for the sole purpose of secretly finding a gift of thanks; a perfect memento to express our gratitude. The newsagency and gift shop, one of the few places that remains in the town, had a large selection of hand crafted shell creatures, wooden ornaments branded with local names and cheap imports. Elephants made from shells, apple folk, timer thermometers with Scamander burnt into the side. It was a smorgasbord of crafty cleverness. We would pour over them all, searching for the perfect gift and once selected it would be hidden away until our departure.
Neither Nan or Pop were big on shows of affection, but the ceremony consisted of us handing over our carefully chosen gift, a hug and thanks and then it would be positioned on the bedroom window sill, next to the other fifty they had already received from us.
These keepsakes or mementos were treasures. They represented our time on the coast and with our grandparents. They were more than just trinkets.
The definition of memento is something that serves to warn or remind; a museum filled with war mementos; souvenir, a keepsake, something that reminds us of a person or an event-an experience.
So, if you came to my little 1960s house in the suburbs for tea, what would you see now…forty years on?
On the wall is a small painting by a dear friend and artist, Rafael Saldana. Rafael and his lovely wife Maria introduced me to Sangria and we spent many hours talking art, travel and their bohemian times in Sydney in the 60’s. Our friendship began when I was only 17 and over the years Ralf and I would talk about art, Maria and I would discuss life, relationships and their mulberry trees as we sat in their wonderful garden in Launceston and later spent time at Liffey. It’s a simple painting of two birds in his garden; but I recognise the plants, the light and his style. It’s one of my most prized possessions.
In a glass cabinet in the lounge room is a carved cuttlefish made by Gay Hawkes, a nationally recognised artist and furniture maker. Her work sits in most major galleries. I met Gay more than 10 years ago, writing an article about her for an arts magazine. We sat in her boatshed studio on the edge of Dunalley, eating freshly made sponge cake and drinking tea out of her mothers best china cups. She played piano as the water lapped against the side of the timber walls and we spent hours talking about each chair or sculpture she unveiled. Along with the sculpted white cuttlefish is a glass dome filled with bouquets of flowers made from painted shells; purple, pink, reds.
On the mantelpiece are three small paintings by Darren Meader. Exquisite works that paint the journey from Launceston along the Midlands Highway as we headed to the East Coast, but also of my many trips to Liffey. Thick painted, paletted pictures of mountains, rivers, paddocks and sheds; light and colour, reflections and movement.
These works sit alongside other original artworks, my own paintings, drawings and sculptures that my daughter has made; artwork that I have saved from tip shops and family photographs. Carefully chosen pieces that are on show, curated, to create a story. They are part of my everyday life; they make my home.
These are not just pieces of art, but mementos, treasures that remind us of a person, a place or time. Even those artworks that at first glance may not seem to fit within this, on closer inspection, tap into something in us; our lives, history, passions that draw us to them. They make us remember, contemplate, celebrate and laugh.
Art has great capacity to evoke nostalgia, memory, time and a sense of place. It’s one of it’s purposes. Surrounding ourselves with it, getting to know the artists and the places, making the effort to dig a little deeper and ask the questions, takes it from just being a collection of objects on a window sill to an environment, a cave of treasures, a home, a gift.
Thank you to the artists who work so hard to present these works before us and thank you to the organisers for making this happen. Support the artists, buy the art and enjoy your treasures.
Apologies for the lack of pics. I am on the road and technology is not as it should be. Will upload some photos when I return in August. Thank you Kelly Renny for organising such a wonderful exhibition and for inviting me to speak xxx