Day in, day out, I walk and ride my bike past the yellow double-decker bus in Braddon.
I don’t know what it’s doing there. I do know that it’s a Leyland Titan, OPD2. Probably made in the 1940s or 50s. Ex-NSW Department of Government Transport, fleet number 2721. I know that in 1975 it was registered to a G. Kyan Kuang of Downer. I know that G was for George, and that George used it as food van. Burmese food, hence Mandalay.
I don’t know what happened to George, or his business. I never ate at the Mandalay van. My late night eats were at Dollys and The Doghouse – more standard joints in both fare and appearance. I haven’t ever seen the yellow bus anywhere in Canberra other than where it sits now, hulking up one end of a rough hewn park-side car park. I don’t even remember the first time I saw it – it just seems it has always been there, part of the Braddon landscape.
For a long time the yellow and purple bus was the only blip of colour and character in a tired work-hardy part of town, flanked by petrol stations and brick box buildings. Then, as in now, she had a certain eclectic exoticism, being the Burmese themed British built bus that she is. In the fabled eras of free love many Leylands were converted to campervans, and for the more imaginative among us this tired bus, stranded though she is, still wears that potential. She stands for adventure. She stands for late nights and early mornings. She stands for a Canberra where you could actually do something like operate a food van out of a car park. She stands for a time in life when hanging out in a car park with your friends is as good a night out as any.
As Braddon is reinvented the bus has become part of the decor. The sides are plastered with stencils, graffiti, tags and paste-ups, her leviathan-like presence exaggerated by the addition of a singe large and soulful eye. Newcastle artist Trevor Dickinson illustrated her and these additions in his 2012 Canberra series – the yellow bus immortalised as a landmark and cultural object as significant to him as Parliament House or our bizarre rotund bus shelters. Also in 2012 the master plan for Haig Park (the strange and ill-reputed belt of trees that runs through Braddon) made specific reference to the Mandalay bus, using the word ‘unsightly’ and pushing for its removal.
Recent activity at the bus by men with utes and hi-vis vests makes me think this removal is imminent. I am illogically despondent about this likelihood, and frustrated by my own debilitating nostalgia. Worrying about an old bus is a time and energy consuming preoccupation (see this post), but what is it exactly that I want? For the bus to get a new paint job and carry on where it left off? For it to stand exposed in a car park until the end of time or its shell rusts through, whatever comes first? Perhaps I want to know what makes something ‘unsightly’, who gets to make that call, and why? And maybe I’m confused as to why a much-loved landmark – an object heavy with stories and memories so intrinsically Canberran – can be dismissed as refuse by one hand of government while the other tries to find things to call our own, commissions new objects and creates new sites to wear veils of significance.
Mostly I just want more time with the bus. God I wish I didn’t care about such things.
Photo at top of post is thanks to Andrew at Life In Canberra. Check out the other beautiful images of the bus on his blog.
In my search for more info I’ve also found this image on the ACT Heritage Library of the ‘Dubbl Dekka’ cafe in Civic, taken during the 70s. Could be the same bus perhaps, prior to its accquisition by George. Unless this town is big enough for two Leylands. Please let me know if you have any info.
EDIT: Only a week after I posted this we heard that the bus is now being given a new lease on life – check out this great story from the Canberra Times.
In August 2011 I found myself sitting with Chris Shakallis in the home of Robina Gugler, drinking tea and eating tim tams. Robina had pulled a selection of publications out from her personal stash – early 80s editions of Ripchord and Stilletto magazines/street press – and I was in heaven. Unfolding before me in these yellowed pages was the history of the Canberra I could relate to. My places, my people, just twenty years earlier.
I had discovered the Canberra Punk and Beyond Facebook page earlier that year, losing countless hours as I trawled through the photos and comments. It was the Internet that introduced me to Chris, and brought me to this kitchen table. And it was our meeting that day that heavily influenced design and programming for You Are Here 2012, reintroducing the current independent Canberra to its roots.
Now, Canberra Punk and Beyond has become the catalyst for both an exhibition and a book: Head Full of Flames – Punk in the Nation’s Capital. I wrote the following text for exhibition presenters Canberra Museum and Gallery:
‘A site for anyone who was there’ Chris Shakallis posted, when establishing the Canberra Punk and Beyond Facebook page in May 2011.
‘There’ was the heyday of punk in Canberra, or in Shakallis’ terms: the early days of punk and garage bands in 1977 to Nirvana’s legendary gig at the ANU Bar in 1993. As it turned out, a great many were there. The photos, memories and stories started rolling in. People reconnecting, friends reuniting and lost lives being remembered.
Canberra Punk and Beyond quickly demonstrated how social media can be powerfully employed around a common focus, with the page growing to become a crowd-sourced archival phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down.
The term ‘shared history’ takes on a new and entirely literal meaning – through Facebook interactions and uploads a formidable collection has been assembled, curated by those who know it firsthand, contributors spanning the continent and reaching across the globe. Images and recollections shared here are the starting point for connections, conversations and further collections off screen. The page has instigated reunions, gigs, a book, and was the starting point for this exhibition. And you don’t necessarily have to have been there – for many, Canberra Punk and Beyond acts as a window onto a Canberra that they may not have known personally but suspect and hope exists.
In reading Head Full of Flames and pouring over the content online I find my own stories weaving seamlessly into those told in these pages. The venues, the band sharehouses, hanging out in Garema Place, gigs at the old Griffin Centre and Civic Youth Café, buying music from Lucy at Impact records, Narrabundah college, hair dye and doc marten boots. We are all more closely connected by these experiences than many of us would realise.
I’m also now adding rapidly to a list of ‘things I had no idea about in Canberra’, like back lane cafes in Civic decades before anyone tried to emulate Melbourne, and a strong case for the fact that 1980 perhaps saw more incredible tours come through this city than ever before or since (The Birthday Party, INXS, Mental As Anything, Midnight Oil, The Saints, The Police and The Ramones JUST FOR STARTS).
So it certainly doesn’t really matter to me that I wasn’t there. What does matter is that the aspects of Canberra that I love the most have always been there, and they still will be when I’m grey(er) or gone.
The exhibition Head Full of Flames is on now at CMAG until November 24. You can purchase the book there while you’re at it. It may not be cheap but it is hefty.
…Hopefully at this on Friday. This year The Childers Group has decided to tackle ‘The Role of the Critic’ at their public forum. And they have very kindly asked me to facilitate the discussion for them. My panel is a list of Canberra heavyweights and the list of attendees is pretty stellar itself, but we want YOU!
Key questions to be tackled include:
- Who is a critic?
- What role do they have in developing our artists and audiences?
- What opportunities are there to grow our critical community, particularly in terms of the digital environment?
Facilitating or no, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world – this is an essential event for anyone who makes art, shows art, writes about art, writes about making or showing art, reads about art, or just likes to spend their lunch hour doing something more enriching that dodging chuggers and rabid magpies in Civic.
The forum takes place 12pm this Friday 18 October at Gorman House Arts Centre, Braddon
RSVPs are essential and required by 5pm Wednesday 16 October. To reserve your place contact Gorman House Arts Centre on 02 6249 7377 or admin[at]gormanhouse.com.au
If you really truly can’t make it on the day then be heartened that there will be live tweeting from the event and a scribe recording all the action for your later reference. Check #childersforum and follow @gormanhousearts @childers_g @RosannaBeatrice for more.
It seems like an eternity ago now that I first wrote about George Rose’s work. I had stumbled across a zine that caught and held my attention – I knew nothing of its maker. But I tracked her down and the rest is history. I worked on three You Are Here festivals with George, as both an artist and a designer, and she is one of the hardest-working and multi-talented individuals I have the pleasure of knowing. She took off to Melbourne about six months ago now, but the lady is Canberra to the core, and has returned home to present us with her debut solo exhibition. Months of making has gone into this body of work, wildly traversing mediums – everything from video to sign-writing to ceramics to electronics, from art to design to art again.
Back in 2010 Roses’ work was text heavy, and now it’s heavier still. There are more words and they are more cutting. That’s what I like about this work. On one hand Rose’s art is cheeky, exuberant and twee, but just when you’ve relaxed a little she’ll backhand you with one of life’s harsh realities so your heart goes cold and your mouth grows dry. Saying the things that we’re all thinking, written out plain as day.
George Rose – Anger Management and the Importance of Personal Hygiene is on show at the Nishi Gallery*, New Acton until October 23. Check out more from George at goodgeorgerose.com*Kudos to New Acton for the Nishi gallery space, unveiled at Rose’s opening tonight. Excellent proportions and light. My only two cents would be don’t do hanging rails, as I’ve heard is promised! Flexible space is everything in this tiny town.
Thirty two years ago today Gorman House Arts Centre – back then the Gorman House Community Arts Centre – was declared open. Five months ago, I started working there, and next weekend we party. Friday 20 September and Saturday 21 is our annual Bloom festival, across both Gorman House and Ainslie Arts Centres – just when I thought I was taking a short break from working on festivals.
This is going to be good: not only are we showing off the huge array of artists and artistic organisations that call the centres home, we’re also inviting a whole horde of local creative crews to have some fun at our place, including In Canberra Tonight, Scissors Paper Pen, Canberra Musicians Club and CanberraZine Emporium. The whole thing will be overseen by The Skywhale, our unlikely muse. There will be Skywhale sketching, Skywhale food and Skywhale yoga, just for starts.
I was recently interviewed about Bloom by Alice McShane for BMA Magazine – read the article here to find out more about the ideas behind the festival, then check out the full festival program and clear your plans for next weekend.
Painting – and/or painters – may be one of my all time favourite things to write about, and it’s a medium that I carry on about a great deal on this blog. Skye Jefferys is a painter’s painter, and one that Canberra has recently had the fortune to adopt. Last month I had the pleasure of preparing an accompanying text for her forthcoming exhibition Upwelling at Canberra Contemporary Art Space. If painting is as much your thing as it is mine, then I have to insist you check out the show: August 29 – September 8 at CCAS Manuka.
Skye’s work was also featured last week over on The Design Files, along with some beautiful studio shots. Take a look! If that doesn’t make you want to paint then I don’t know what will.
In 2012 Skye Jefferys arrived in Canberra, began a new phase of life and a new body of work. Colour breaking new territory onto clean canvas, crowding and layering until there’s no space in sight.
These vivid paintings are tumultuous – perhaps joyful, perhaps chaotic, or caught in a dance that swings between the two. Saturated and robust with paint the works would seem dense but for a gestural dynamism that defies the ground and implies a feathered, shimmering lightness. Representation isn’t missed and can’t be found, despite the occasional unfurling of a line that teases with suggestion of form. Instead it reveals the quiet pleasure of mark-making – the sumptuousness of paint under brush; The tremble and slip, the meandering, wandering stroke, thick impasto or rivulets, flurries and pools. Pure painting, straight up.
Why does one begin to paint? And once you have, where do you stop?
Jefferys’ paintings tumble forth in a state of perpetuity where each is the catalyst for another – one painting leading into the next and each the product of everything before it. If art were bread then here colour acts like a sourdough starter – dough from one loaf being instrumental to the creation of the next and so on forwards, loaves sharing their most vital components over years, decades or even centuries in a chain that must be carefully maintained.
Likewise these paintings have common ingredients and share their makeup. A colour from one canvas is transitioned to the next before the first work is complete. Two or three paintings are created side by side at any one time. The palette persists through a year and longer, through a whole body of work and continues to evolve. Scale and mark making remain familiar and constant – we become accustomed to Jefferys’ language, though no words reveal the deeply personal subject.
That’s not to suggest there are secrets here, there aren’t, rather the paintings’ matter is known to all of us, as the cacophony created by life in our inner world. The artwork becomes an outward examination of life, dogged proof of living. Or at least, we recognise an attempt to map clarity in the noise.
Catching the light and swallowing the dark Jefferys’ paintings are as reflective as water, and as hard to hold. Their surfaces seem just as sensitive to tremors and vibrations around them, to cataclysmic shocks, and drawn out murmurs, wearing the crash and barrel in peaks and troughs, swelling then calming, but never still. Of course we think of the ocean, because what other metaphor can do justice to the incomprehensible vastness, infinite possibility and complete lack of control we feel in life? Treading water to keep our heaps above the surface, fighting the current or relinquishing control. Giving up, giving over. Floating, pulled in all directions by the tug.
As perhaps is the way with all artists, these paintings offer their creator moments of complete presence, to be lain bare in a hope to tame and to understand. Every normal day presents its obligations and compulsory patterns of action and the hugeness of living is held tightly to chest. On a good day there are moments for art, and the hugeness finds a place.
I have a new gig. A real, full-time, desk-sitting, time-sheeting gig. For two months now I’ve been program manager at Gorman House Arts Centre and Ainslie Art Centre in Braddon. As with most artistically minded Canberrans Gorman House has played a big role in my life, and I’m so excited to be able to help the organisation through a period of renewal and reconnection with its original purpose. One of the most excellent things about being at an arts centre is that I can continue to have the privilege of working across art forms, because really, it’s not fair to have to choose.
There are a whole lot of transformations currently taking place at the centres, and a many great projects in the works. The first of these is coming up very soon, and the writers among you might be keen.
It’s Reviewers of the Future – a masterclass for emerging book reviewers with author Marion Halligan, organised in collaboration with Scissor Paper Pen and supported by the Canberra Times. Although we specifically refer to book reviews I really do think this is going to be insightful for anyone writing (or hoping to write) arts reviews. Take a look and see what you think, but don’t put it off because applications close this coming Thursday June 20.