Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Misplaced imitations

I've often heard how his mother, once a promising young artist, was so thrown by the observation, in a review of her first solo exhibition, that her paintings were thoroughly in a realist tradition (Canberra Times, 1969), that she has spent the subsequent decades in ever increasing despair and obscurity as she works on her misplaced imitations of Remedios Varo.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This system for herself

My neighbour described how from being initially scornful of the way, as she said, this young girl who lived in our street walked along -- swivelling her hips in her slender, long jeans, the pale of her wrists turned forwards and her arms moving loosely alternately with her legs -- the whole effect, as she said, of a model stepping out in casual attire -- how, from feeling annoyed by this girl who never seemed to carry any kind of bag (as if she never had any errand but her walk along the catwalk of the street), this neighbour two doors along from my house (near the park) had taken to copying the girl's way of turning the pale of her wrists forwards and swinging them loosely as she walked since she could attest it had already begun to improve her posture -- already she felt years and years younger; much taller; even slim  -- and so now she could see there was a system in the walk (no doubt a secret of the catwalk) and that she was pleased that she had begun to learn this system for herself.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Curious and interesting facts

My colleague recalled how she had once given offence to a young waitress at a café near one of the more exclusive beaches in the Sydney region when she had observed the 'curious and interesting facts', as they were called, that decorated the menu (and were researched by the owner, the waitress had said, on the internet) reminded her of the trivia that was printed on Libra sanitary pad wax paper strips, but once said, she told me, you couldn't take it back.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No way of knowing

As I walked past a young couple sitting out the front of a cafe in the early evening I heard the girl say, I have Crohn's disease, do you know what that is? and the boy said, yes he did, but I kept on walking and so had no way of knowing how their conversation developed from such a beginning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Deus Ex Machina

Although we laughed when we heard how she had overheard some people on the bus as they passed the cafe and motorcycle shop on Parramatta Road, Deus Ex Machina -- with one of them saying, what was this thing from China, this thing about eczema from China, and the other saying it was only the name of a website (which was how it was written in fact, the words running together, and the dot com dot au) -- the thought that this was what they made of such a sign, and such a sign outside such a shop, was as bizarre as it was also depressing, as one of us said before standing up to leave. For her the word sex had stood out most of all.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

And yet

And yet, she added, whenever she has seen identical twins together - or at least people she has taken to be identical twins - it has never been the similarity that she has noticed, but only the near similarity; the difficulty in ascertaining whether it is the similarity or in fact the lack of similarity that she is noticing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Only an aunt

She told us today about the twin grandmothers she sees with a stroller in her street in the afternoons - that the slight differences in hair length and shirt prints only serve to emphasise the identical cut and colour of their hair, the identical cut of their shirts and even their swaying way of walking, and she can see that their lives until this point have been led in completely different places (their differently printed shirts give this away), and how therefore it is a miracle that two otherwise very separate beings, through the strange workings out of luck and choice and geographical distance, can nevertheless come to this: one of them the grandmother, surely, and the other only an aunt.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For the letting of blood

When it came down to it - out of the two alternative careers that others were suggesting in the wake of the collapse of our industry - two careers we could take up after only a very short period of training - one of us admitted to preferring the real estate option, and the other: phlebotomy, the practice of opening a vein for the letting of blood.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Excellent work

The whole year they were in the U.K., she told us, their son kept getting D school reports from Australia for 'not handing in his assessments.' And yet, not long after their return, one of his teachers at the parent and teacher evening said that, as long as he kept up the excellent work he'd been doing in the first half of the year, he should continue to do very well.

Now wearing a muzzle

He told us that he would never have remembered the dog which had bit him over a year ago, drawing blood, had the owner not approached him recently while he was crossing the park, so she could show him how her dog was now wearing a muzzle.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It could have been the building

We heard how the crowd in The Butterfly in Shanghai went wild when his jazz trumpet soloing touched on the tune of Frère Jacques - how at first he couldn't believe that the simple notes could have this effect - how then he let rip, as he put it, with this nursery revival. Even when he learned, that evening, that the tune had a particular association with the student rebellion in Tiananmen Square, he couldn't help thinking that his solo had stirred something more fundamental in the audience; of course it could have been the building, he thought, which was cuter than cute.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A kind of radiance

Aurally, she said, the flu had given everything around her a kind of radiance. That was one way of thinking of it. The other was to notice how this everything dispersed as it tried to get in to her past the over-whelming loudness, the ringing thick white, of her own ears.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Maybe like

He told me about how the primary school boys I'd just seen leaving buy the same things from his shop every day in the afternoon and how one of them often has hundreds or even thousands of dollars in his wallet, but all in fifty or a hundred dollar notes - never less than fifty - and how once he'd asked the kid if he loved the father who gave him the money, and the kid had said: no, not love, maybe like, and he had then told me how his own father had beaten him when, playing as a kid alone in the park across the road from the shop, he had yelled and yelled for his dad to come over and watch him on the swings.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Seemed to be alive

On their last night of the residency, they said they had gone for a walk in the rain and heard a distant party, or the music of a distant party - impossible to believe, they thought, after these weeks of rural quiet, and yet, every night so far, in the dark flanks of the Boydian cliffs - visible from so far away, on the other side of paddocks and trees, and a river (invisible) - they had always seen a single luminous stripe, and if they watched it they could see faint shadows moving inside it: how in fact this single stripe of light seemed to be alive.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Already old hands

As if already old hands at this kind of country living, I heard them tell the others that they had only four rings of water left in their tank.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The sign

The sign says that Bundanon is closed even though the gate is always open. Even when Bundanon is open the sign always says it is closed.


On the rocky hill, among the Cycas, we had a strange perspective on the river – as if we were tilting over it and the calm, seaward ripples were running under us, as we should have known.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

A painting sized slit

We heard how Boyd cut a painting sized slit in his studio with a chainsaw while the photographer was having a cup of coffee so that the painting might be got out and a photograph taken from a better distance.

His studio - perhaps because it is still being used by his son - smells of turps and oil, which is to say of limitless ambition.

Figures of eight

She told us that, according to Google, the wombat's mating chase is in figures of eights.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Human-sized cage

We watched her walking along the road inside the tall human-sized cage she had been making during the last several days outside our bathroom window. Necessarily she had to walk slowly.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Furred water

She observed, later, that down at the Shoalhaven River at dusk, you might have just entered a gallery with all the lights turned off, and across the smooth water, continuing to be reflective of the rocks and leaning trees that Boyd had placed there, a defined shape of furred water runs at you in a silent, maniacal fury, and this was the bit that she wanted to paint.


Thursday, September 23, 2010


While we were looking with white gloved hands at the more deteriorated and fragile parts of the Arthur Boyd education collection - a piece from the Nebuchadnezzer series, flaking if it flexed on perspex, drawers of oil soaked canvases cut, by the artist, from frames and left in a ship's container - I heard her say that nothing had caused such a hiatus in her work as when a gallery director had pressured her to stop using children's textas and student quality oils.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Farm association

How was it, I asked, that I thought the smell came from the cows - the cows that had to be hundreds of metres away from us? Although I had known there were wombats under the house, and had even related this fact in an email, just to see one grazing in the late afternoon, its head moving back and forth as it tugged, like a cow or a horse, reminded me of the wool shop in Newtown where, once, I had held the owner's baby wombat, and how a single smear from it on my jacket had infused our house with a pasty green stink and gave my city-bought acrylic wool a farm association.

Art works

On an artists' residency, even the branches and leaves that have fallen in certain ways across a bush track, on any of the walks that radiate out from the site, should not be assumed to have fallen there 'naturally'.



A 'natural' amphitheatre, such as this one at Bundanon, should not first put me in mind of the decayed concrete remnants of the fascist era amphitheatre, with its rows of backless post and lintel benches, that used still to be inside the ancient fortress of Yedikule, along the Theodosian walls of Istanbul - rather, it should, as it does with some conscious effort, recall the scalloped bush amphitheatre of my primary school and, again by conscious association, the eucalyptus fringed amphitheatre of Miletus, which was equally hummed around by insects when we saw it in 1990.

Ordinarily, you would think it would be the sensuous associations of the insects and the trees which stirred my mind and not these simple benches, made of log sections and planks.

In my place

All the time, sitting here looking out at the quiet of the country, I could be easily convinced that the beings there (the cows, the birds, the flies) are looking in at me, or if not (because they have so many better, more important things to do), have at least looked at me, heard me or smelt me once, and in a single, short moment, dismissed me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Communicating with the outside

I wrote in the comments that the first thing you need to do at a remote artists' residency out of mobile reach is to do all you can to find ways of communicating with the outside.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A number of ways

Yesterday, I passed two different rubbish removal utes many streets apart, with two different teams of workers removing their rubbish.

As a sign this can be interpreted in a number of ways.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Theory of language

She told me her theory of language: how most languages distinguished the informal you from the formal you - had at least two yous - and how the formal and the plural form were generally the same. She also said that English had lost the informal you (the thou), not the formal one as most people thought, and that this must have happened as a result of a deliberate rejection - a rejection that was occurring right now among the more pretentious of the middle classes in France; how those families in Versailles who wished to seem smart (she had heard) were instructing their children to address them with the formal you only - with vous, rather than tu - and if this rejection had successfully occurred in the English speaking world, where the thou had been banished from everywhere with the exception only of the pubs of Yorkshire, new editions of the King James Bible and collections of old poetry that nobody read - these viral middle classes whose feeling for language was blunt in the extreme - it was only among the supposedly uneducated in Australia that it had slipped in sidewards through a sleight of words, since the plural form youse was being used, she had noticed, not only for the you in the plural but also for formal situations in the singular - a choice of language, she said, which was both intelligent and shrewd. Last week, she was walking along a street which a team of workmen were digging up when she was asked, could youse just cross over to the footpath please? and as far as she could recall she was alone at the time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The suited man's smile

Just now I described how, as I approached Yaama Dhiyaan and could see the television vans parked on the raised part under the Carriageworks sign, I reasoned that there must be an event going on and, since it was less than two weeks before the election, an Aboriginal political event, or at least a political event that attempted to connect itself with things Aboriginal, and when a suited man smiled at me as he passed me on the path, I decided that this man had smiled because, either as a politician or as a journalist, he had assumed that he would be recognisable even to someone who never watched television – and how, while reflecting on these kinds of thoughts I went to cross the road and, happening to look back in the direction he had gone, I saw that the suited man was talking to someone who would have been behind me on the path at the moment he smiled, and I could see that there was really no way of telling whether the suited man’s smile had had anything to do with me at all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


We have been told that the six-year girl who was supposed to have gone to bed at nine thirty, twenty minutes before the end of a screening of The Golden Compass on Saturday evening, and been found missing twelve hours later has not been seen by anybody apart from her mother and stepfather for nearly a month. The police have said: It’s important for us to try to backtrack if we can to establish her last movements.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What trees could do

We heard how, after one of her students had broken his golf club swinging at a ball under a tree near Dural, the broken piece had ended up piercing both his liver and his inferior vena cava - an accident that might have been fatal if it had not been for the vascular surgeon who had been putting nearby - and how after this freak accident on the green, she had become quite a bit scared of what trees could do.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Failed to do anything

As soon as she got back this afternoon she told us that on the escalator down from the shopping centre she had been standing behind an old man who was carrying a green parachute silk shopping bag that was identical to hers.

Since she was standing directly behind him, she couldn't help noticing the way the tanned skin at the top of his skull was surrounded by soft white hair, and it was then (having noticed the skin and the hair - and the way that the burden in his green silk bag seemed so light, so inconsequential) that she could imagine leaning forwards to address the old man as her friend Kate would have done: remarking on their identical bags and, perhaps, their similar contents, making a joke of it; using the bags as a pretext for making contact with someone.

But even as she imagined doing this - and at the same time becoming convinced that she would never do such a thing - the man turned a little to one side and, from the nose and the glasses (from above), she could see that he was the famous writer that she had often seen in the centre, either buying rice, or at the dry cleaners or reading a paper near the light well - and she couldn't help thinking of all the times when she had been close to speaking to this famous writer in her life - when, for various reasons (the wrong digit in a phone number, an importunate question from somebody else that had prevented her approach at a particular moment), she had taken advantage of her helplessness and actively failed to do anything.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

At any cost

All through the interview she kept using this phrase: She wouldn’t go back to Japan, she wanted a class, she wanted to keep studying English at any cost.

Friday, June 25, 2010

When she was a child she drowned

Every morning, she told us, she gets up early to clean her brother-in-law's pool even though she never goes swimming herself. When she was a child, she said, she drowned.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The job of her dreams

I learned how, all along, the terrible smell in the classroom that my colleague had taken for a Chinese concoction – and I for the evidence of un-flossed teeth – had in fact been emanating from one of our very best students who, despite her cancerous abscess, had been coming every day in an effort to improve her English and get the job, as she had written in a class survey, of her dreams.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The grey pigeon's wing I saw in the dirt at the base of the tree made me think of the two white wings that were the only remnants I had found in the chook house of the pink-legged, grumpy, flightless, fan-tailed pigeon that used to lord it over the cat and the rabbit when I was a child - only this wing in the dirt was far less accusing.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


She described the relief in the dream when you go back to the pub after it's closed, to find the book that you photocopied there - the book that doesn't belong to you and which you have to return and which, in the chaotic office that is the pub, you are unable to find - the relief, when you return a possible second or third time after that first search, as you realise that there is no necessity of finding it after all because, surely, this book that you are looking for is only a dream.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The ice-cream excursion

I heard how, twice a week, those in the dementia unit were driven to Manly for ice-creams and that they were not allowed to get out of the bus - and so they had to consume their ice-creams while sitting in their seats.

I also heard that, during one of these excursions, the driver of the bus had informed a patient named a'Beckett that his ancestor had killed the other's ancestor, and that he had proof of this connection if he wanted to look.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Going to Fisher

When she rang today she said that, just as it didn't seem surprising that her cousin, who usually lived 357 kilometres west, should ring from 5 blocks north from her on this, the very same day that she had been mentioned twice (once regarding her stance on religion and the other to do with her commerce in spelt wheat) it was also in keeping that she should begin to read Ghosts by César Aira and go to Fisher Library - the place of her first employment, where she had once learned Spanish from her Argentinean, Chilean and Uruguayan fellow workers (only to forget it completely a year or two later) - going to Fisher, as it was called, to borrow books, with her daughter, on Akhenatan and Pinochet.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Three references to Troy

She said that the first was when the security guard told her that Virgil didn't say to beware Pommies bearing gifts as he gave her a block of chocolate; the second was hearing The Chasers delivering and attempting to deliver a wooden horse to consulates all over Sydney (in another room, on Youtube); the third was hearing someone say it was what the Greeks done at Troy on a film - Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - that was playing on television.

This happened today.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The hairdresser and the Jew

As he cut my hair he talked about the recent incident with the Turkish boat and the Israelis - saying that the Turks in the boat had been provocative and that Hamas was just a bunch of terrorists - until the man sitting next to me intervened in defence of the Palestinians, and so all the time the hairdresser was cutting my hair, the comments went back and forth and I could hardly say a thing.

Even when his own haircut was over, the other customer chose to stay to continue to talk. He was a Jew, he said, but he did not support what Israel was doing. A lot of his family in Europe had been killed by the Nazis and still he believed that this did not give the Israelis the right to do the same themselves. The hairdresser then said that he had grown up with Jews and so he understood what the Israelis were feeling. They had warned that boat, he said. It was like a puppy dog being surrounded by dobermans, and: what would you do if your neighbours kept slapping you in the face?

This last question he directed to me through the mirror and, in the nature of the situation (since I was stuck in the chair), I had to look back.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


To illustrate her theory of repetition and disaster, she described the way her walk that morning had contained several features that were a precise repetition of the day before: how she had approached all three sets of lights at the exact same moment in their cycles that she had approached those lights on the previous day - how she had passed a woman near some trees whom she had passed near those same thin trees on the previous day - and how when meeting a person she hadn't seen for a while, this person had smiled and spoken with the same bright, cheerful intonations of sarcasm that this person had used many times on many previous occasions and so, during all of the other more immediate repetitions (which actually followed on from this meeting in the course of the walk), she was unable to enjoy the repetitions for what they were and could only brace herself, as she said, for worse to come.

Suicide isn't news

As she passed me in the park, talking into her mobile, I heard only this: but suicide isn't news.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Prose couplets

She showed me photos of her tiny, purpling, premature twins in their plastic beds.
Later, I saw a woman in high stiletto heels at the doors of a flat. She was holding a baby.

As I watched him run across the road, dodging the traffic, I couldn't help noticing that his artificial leg had affected neither his stride nor his confidence.
Less than two minutes later I was jay-walking myself.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

As a friend on Facebook

At the reception a woman approached and said to my friend that she recognised her, that she had just added my friend as a friend on Facebook; my friend said she thought she recognised the other woman too, and so they began to chat.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You're beautiful

She told me that she'd grown used to the noise of her neighbours through the wall. One played Michael Jackson all the time. The other cabaret, and when he played James Brown's You're Beautiful over and over - end to end, as she said, all day and all night - she assumed he was feeling low.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Only three removes

Today I am only three removes from Kafka, having talked to someone who has talked to a concert pianist - a Holocaust survivor - who used to know him (and didn't think him nice).


Friday, April 2, 2010


She told us that, in her work as a doctor, she’d seen many young patients whose first names were Abcde. One patient might have been accidental, perhaps, or the first random find on an internet search; perhaps it was a joke, we thought, like the names Zoe Bowie and Telephone Booth, or a situation where migrants who didn’t speak English wrote the only five letters they had ever been taught. But the fact remains that there is more than one child called Abcde – and all of them white, she said, with Australian born parents. It had to be the fashion, we decided: la mode. Le chic.

The pronunciation, of course, is not straightforward.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Africa

In Africa, he said, he didn’t have to wonder what to do with paper in the way he had to wonder what to do with it here – carrying it around in his bag, mostly – sometimes his mother carrying it – they all were carrying it – sometimes one of them carried the paper that the other person needed but couldn’t get until that person returned; he had missed appointments because the paper he needed was in somebody else’s bag; in Africa, he said, if anyone had paper, you took it and sold it for food.

Pens in their pockets

The night that Qirkz was closed down, it is said that the people who had been sent from the council to turn out the audience were identified by the way they wore shirts with pens in their pockets.


At the conference, as soon as she pronounced the word nostalgia with a blunt ‘u’ in the middle – saying nostulgia, in this way, at least five or six times – I became too distracted to follow what she was saying.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

About the birds

He was amazed, he told me, about the birds – about their complicated calls and the way they fly fast towards each other but never seem to collide. It was the first of a new kind of conversation with him. In all the years of my life until this moment, I was thinking, my father has never talked to me about the birds.

The first evening back

The first evening back, the house was menacing and close, and the sounds and the humidity pressed in through every crack in the building.

When I travel

When I travel, I kept saying, my brain works differently. It stops being able to follow a thought. It watches itself watching or else it gapes.