One of the delights of being at Point Nepean, or Mon Mon as the Boon Wurrung people call it, is the abundance of walks.
If you receive my newsletter, which I have been sending out weekly while I am down here, you may remember me talking about walking Wilson’s Folly, a track between London Bridge and Police Point. (If you would like to get the letter from my studio just jump to here to sign up.)
The other day we went on another good walk, to the Monash Light. If you are ever down this way ~ and wouldn’t it be something if you could visit here? ~ you would like this walk. It’s not difficult, with a couple of steepish hills and lots of steps up the tower, which are good to get the heart rate up and the gluts working! Mostly you walk through lovely moonah habitat on a soft, sandy track.
The big attraction is the view from the tower ~ 360 degrees.
The Monash Light was a navigation beacon on the Monash Tower, which is on the highest point of the national park. It was erected in 1932 and extinguished for the last time in 2005. The Light played a key role in the safety of ships in Port Phillip Bay. The entrance to the Bay, the Heads, is only 3 kilometres wide and reefs reduce the navigable channel to just one kilometre. Just inside the Heads are extensive sand banks, called ‘The Great Sands’ (well named!).
Matthew Flinders explored the area and wrote:
“The depth of the remaining part varies from six to twelve fathoms and this irregularity causes strong tides, especially when running against the wind, to make breakers, in which small vessels should be careful of engaging themselves”
So whatever aids ships could use was very welcomed. The Monash Light was a ‘leading light’, which is, I guess where the expression comes from. The light was lined up with another marker on the shore for ships to navigate the channel safely.
The Light is now used as a receiving station for wave buoys in Bass Strait. (Don’t ask what ‘wave buoys’ do….although any thoughts welcomed in the comments.)
Lastly, while I am lecturing you, let me tell you why it is named Monash Light. Most Australians would have heard of Sir John Monash, the esteemed Commander of the Australian Armed forces in WW1. His victories, which were the turning points of the war, were based on planning, integration of all available resources and a belief that he had a duty to the safety and well being of his men. Apparently Monash was the Commanding Officer at Point Nepean between 1897 and 1908.
However, if neither maritime nor military history is your thing, just enjoy the views.
Of course, I loved the textures and patterns of the windswept vegetation. I think I will be creating a tapestry or two from this landscape.
I grew up in Brighton, a bayside suburb. I would like to say that the beach was a big part of my life, but I can’t. We lived about 3 miles away, almost as far away as you can get and still be in Brighton. I was never much of a swimmer, and am even less of one now.
It was a part of my childhood. We would head down to the beach after a hot day at school. My memory is that we would arrive about the same time as the cool change would blow in! Often we would swim in the Brighton Beach Baths, a stretch of sand and water enclosed by iron railings. Like a swimming pool, but with sea water and waves. There’s a smell that always takes me back to the changing rooms. I guess many people were happy to pay for the diving board at the deep end. For me, I was, and still am, happy to meander along the shore line, paddling, looking, picking up shells.
Brighton Beach is one of the long sandy beaches that circle Port Phillip Bay. The Bay is wide and flat, the waves gentle. It has always been one of the backdrops to my life, but never something I really thought much about.
Until I came down here to Portsea. Now I have fallen in love. As I have said many times, I am fascinated with the play of light across the stretch of water I can see from my studio. The water can be pure silver or a series of sparkles or deep blue as the wind whips up the white caps. The clouds throw shadows onto it. At sunset it turns pink and grey. Sometimes I can see clearly right across to Queenscliff, but when the rain comes in, I can’t see very far at all.
I am captivated by its moods.
Beauty is a great beginning for a love affair, but intrigue is important too. I am intrigued by the Bay’s geological history.
Port Phillip formed between the end of the last Ice Age around 8000 BCE and around 6000 BCE, when the sea-level rose to drown what was then the lower reaches of the Yarra River, vast river plains, wetlands and lakes. The Yarra and other tributaries flowed down what is now the middle of the bay, formed a lake in the southern reaches of the bay, dammed by The Heads, subsequently pouring out into Bass Strait.
Indigenous people were living here then. They have been here for at least 20,000 years, and probably twice or even three times that long. Before it filled, the Boonwurrung would have hunted kangaroo and cultivated the yam daisy on the plains. It is quite mind-blowing to know that people witnessed the formation of Nairm, as the Boonwurrung people knew the bay.
In fact they have seen the water dry up too. About 2,800 years ago the Heads, the small opening at the southern end of the Bay, closed. The basin, which is fairly shallow, dried up. Good hunting ground again. However, about 1,000 years ago the ocean broke through and water cascaded in. It is thought that water levels would have risen quickly.
Before I move on, let me acknowledge that I live on Aboriginal land, of the Boonwurrung people of the Kulin Nation. As I walk this land I pay my respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and hope that I walk with an open heart and an open mind.
Even now there are many sand bars and shallow channels at the entrance to the Bay. Ships require a pilot to guide them in and out of the Heads, and to set them onto the shipping channel that will give them safe passage to Melbourne. The channel runs close to Portsea, and seeing the big ships glide by enthrals me.
I love to watch the ferries ply between Sorrento and Queenscliff. They leave on the hour, and usually come into my view after about 25 minutes. So who needs a clock when you have the ferries?
This body of water, that seemed so mundane in my childhood, has a rich history. It has sculpted the rocks that I am fascinated with, and is home to the weedy sea dragon, one of my all time favourite creatures. To see one in the wild is up there on my list of Things That Would Make Me Very Happy. This one is cruising under the Portsea pier. I always look when I walk the pier.
I am not sure that I want to see the mass migration of spider crabs, but it is the biggest migration in the marine world, and it happens in the Bay. As it occurs in early winter, it might be happening right now, by the light of the full moon.
Often we need to see the ordinary from a different point. Once we see the extraordinary we are more likely to treasure it. What do you see from a different point of view?
[Don’t forget you can see my daily doings on Instagram or Facebook. It’s more than my daily latte, I promise!]
After reading my last, rather gloomy post you may wonder why I continue to go back to that arid outback land. After this year it’s a good question.
There are a few answers…..
Beckler’s Botanical Bounty is an interesting, and important, project. When the rains come plants will grow, and we will be able to see what has survived, what may take longer to bounce back. We will collect more so that the Herbarium has material over a range of conditions for scientific research.
There’s the camaraderie of the artists, friends who share a similar passion.
There are friends in Menindee too. It’s a little town, but has a strength and resilience.
The Fella and I have caravanning adventures around these trips, to the Flinders Ranges, the Coorong and places along the Murray River.
I learn so much, about botany, environmental connections, about geology and geography, and people.
But the main answer is not as easy to encapsulate. It is as far away from the city as it is possible to be; physically and more important, spiritually. It is Big Sky country, stretching as far as you can see, with the blue sky arching overhead.
This photo was taken in 2016. No where near as green now, but the horizon still stretches away.
And the clouds will take your breath away.
There is peace. I was going to write “quiet”, but the raucous galahs woke me up at sunrise every morning. However, you get my point. For over a week I can be in a place with no traffic, no TV, no radio but very good coffee! At night it seems like just the kangaroos and me are still awake.
At night the stars stretch across the sky. I miss them back in the city.
But the real magic of the place is morning and evening. My Mum taught me to love the light of those times. It is soft and pink and glowing, or yellow and pink and brash, but always beautiful.
There must be hundreds of photos of sunsets at Copi Hollow, the lake we camp beside, and I have at least half of them!
And the morning light, when a fresh, new day is appearing, and anything is possible.
It’s an ancient land, a powerful land, that gets into my soul and makes me want to return.
You can tell from my last post that I found the effect of the drought very distressing. But I can return to the comfort of the big city, with water on tap and no stock to water and feed. People living in those places cannot escape the conditions, and I admire their courage and determination to stay. But they need help. Below are some organisations that were suggested to me by people in Menindee. If you wish to donate, there are many fine organisations helping those in need. These ones may reach a little closer to Menindee.
You may have heard of the iconic Royal Flying Doctor Service. They do more than fly patients from remote locations to hospitals, although that is a vital service. Their mental health services would be very necessary in these times, and maybe a reason to donate.
The Country Women’s Association is another iconic organisation of the bush. They are famous for their scones, but they also provide disaster relief. Families can apply for help with household bill, schooling needs and so on.
Lastly, the TAFE in Menindee was fundraising for Buy a Bale. You can choose to buy hay for stock, water, fuel for transportation or even hampers from local supermarkets for farming families.
(A donation or not, to these organisations or not, is entirely up to you. Thank you for even considering.)
Soon I will write about some arty things I have been up to. In the mean time you can subscribe to my fortnightly Letter from my Studio, and find out more about my art. You get a free feather drawing too!
Lately I have swapped my little watercolour brushes for a big one, to paint our hallway. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t finished telling you about my adventures in Japan. I have also been doing a workshop to help develop my newsletter. Lots to learn, and lots to put into practice.
Naoshima is a little island in the Seto Inland Sea.
We (my mother, brother and I) needed to get there from Osaka and the shinkansen was the way to go. The JR office was so efficient. Once the clerk knew our destination she tapped on the computer and out came the tickets we needed to get there. So, armed with our trusty JR rail passes and the tickets we hopped onboard the shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Okayama. There we changed to a middle-sized train to get to Chaymachi, where we changed to a small local train to Uno. Each connection worked smoothly.
I had debated about where we would stay. You can stay on Naoshima Island, but I thought the ferry ride and then getting to the accommodation might have been a couple of steps too many for Mum. It was the correct decision, especially as I made the right choice in Uno Port Inn.
Its location couldn’t have been better ~ just around the corner from the station, and over the road from the ferry. But it was the Inn itself that made the stay. The staff were welcoming and spoke excellent English. They gave us so much information about the Inn, Naoshima, the ferries, the local area ~ and they made excellent coffee!!
The concept of the Inn is great. Each room had tatami mats but western beds ~ the Japanese vibe without the inconvenience, especially for my elderly Mum. Apparently the upstairs are all Japanese style. Instead of an ensuite each room had a small, private bathroom at the end of the hall. There was a lounge area and cafe for guests. You can see more detail on their website. And a delicious restaurant just around the corner that was still open when we rocked up for a late lunch.
Naoshima might have been headed for the same relentless decline.
Enter Benesse Holdings, an education and publishing conglomerate based in the nearby city of Okayama. Its best-known brand is Berlitz, the language school company. Benesse’s other claim to fame is its world-class modern art collection, including paintings by Claude Monet, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol, as well as many Japanese artists less famous in the U.S.
The former head of Benesse Holdings, Soichiro Fukutake, wanted a special home for the collection, someplace where it would have a local impact and could also be shared with the wider world.
It is not the only Art Island in the area, but is the most well-known.
The photos show that it was a rainy day when we went over, but still warm. And the clouds were spectacular! Unfortunately the rain stopped us from seeing everything, especially the art houses. Not really sure what they are, so I can’t tell you about them. But I will go back the see them….and then you can hear all about it! The article I linked to before details some of the benefits for the locals.
Sculpture is dotted around the island. You may know the images of the pumpkins.
Spots are the theme of the island, with the bus painted with spots too. The town bus takes you over the island to where the big art galleries are. To get to them you hop on a free shuttle bus (the town bus costs Y100, about $1), which winds up the hill and drops you at the gallery you wish to see.
We went to the Chichu Art Museum. Photos aren’t allowed, but the website gives you a very good feel for the place. It is unlike anything I have been to before. And I loved the Monet paintings displayed there
There was a lot to absorb there, so we decided not to see the two other galleries, and headed to town for another late lunch. Lunch turned out to be one of my favourite moments of the trip.
We hopped off the bus in the drizzle, looked around and down a little alley we saw a doorway with an “Open” sign.
By now we were quite used being surprised by these small restaurants….and this was no exception. It was larger than it looked from the outside. One room had the traditional tatami mats where you sat on the floor. My brother and I could have managed, but Mum may not have got up again! Fortunately the next room had tables and chairs.
Can you see the menu? Assorted seafood bowl for Y1500 (roughly $15.00) or roast fish for Y1300 (roughly $13.00). Mum chose the roast fish and said it was the most delicious meal. Andrew and I chose the other. The photo shows my meal; succulent fresh, raw fish on a bed of rice, with miso soup and pickles. The green herb in the little bowl to the right was rather like basil (but it wasn’t), to be sprinkled over the fish. The marshmallow-looking things in the miso soup had normal flavour, but a squishy texture. The meal was delicious.
At the bottom of the miso soup we found these….
Mystified, Andrew cracked one open to find a morsel of flesh inside. We later learnt that they are barnacles. Well I never!
So we oohed and aahed our way through lunch, overseen by the two ladies (mother and daughter?) who owned it and cooked for us. Then we braced ourselves for the rain outside and scurried for the shuttle bus, due any minute. Just as we got to the stop one of the ladies ran after us, saying that she would take us over the island to the ferry on the other coast. Such a sweet, thoughtful thing to do.
The last thing to show you is the fish on the esplanade at Uno. I could see it from the Inn, and it looked like a large coloured fish. Imagine my delight when I got up close….
to find out it was made from detritus, much of it from the sea. (Of course, not delighted by the fact that all that rubbish is in the sea.)
According to the sign it is “Black Porgy in Uno” by Yodogawa Technique.
And next to it is a smaller fish, created as a children’s slide.
Would I go back? Yes. I would love to wander the little villages on Naoshima, soaking it all up, finding the unexpected. And I would like to visit the other islands too.
Do you have any tales to tell of unexpected delights on your travels?
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Before leaving I researched fabric shops in Osaka and Kyoto. My intention was to buy small off-cuts and fabric to use as background for my embroidered trees. How lucky I wasn’t intending to buy dress material – I could have gone mad! My mental shopping list included vintage pieces, especially in indigo, and I would have loved to find boro fabric. (I am becoming interested in boro material/sewing/quilting, and will talk more about it later. If you are interested this link is a good beginning.)
The first shop to track down was Toraya, in Osaka. Japanese addresses are tricky for the uninitiated so my instructions came from another (English speaking) blogger. This is what I wrote in my book, which seemed perfectly doable on my couch in Melbourne:
Ebisubashi, underground shopping arcade running between Shinsaibashi and Namba stations up the Namba end. Take exit 20 at Namba station, turn right in the street, first right; turn right at ABC Mart; on left.
Mum and I negotiated the subway, with the help of a sweet young woman, and got ourselves to Namba station. Underneath every large Japanese station is a web of shopping malls, with exits leading to hotels, department stores and sometimes even to the world above. We were caught up in this maze and realised that looking for exit 20 was beyond us; we were just longing for a way to fresh air. Eventually, with the help of another woman, we popped up above ground.
A much needed coffee was found at Starbucks. (The coffee-snob in me would never drink Starbucks coffee in Melbourne, but we found in very acceptable in Japan. 😉 ) Out came the map, and, once I had oriented myself, I found out we had come up in exactly the right spot. Right at the entrance to Ebisubashi-Suji! It is a long, very long, covered walkway/mall/pedestrian street, which extended for kilometres up to the area around our hotel.
We were ambling along and then Mum said “Is this the place you are looking for?” I would have walked right on past.
It was material paradise, with the fabric enticingly displayed in lengths. And there was a second floor. The range was extensive, and the prices seemed cheap while the quality good.
It was hard, but I limited myself to off cuts. I bought this one because it was the colour and weight for my embroidery work.
It is obvious why I couldn’t resist this, even thought the background is quite vivid lime.
And this was an impulse buy. Apron maybe?
In Kyoto Mum and I passed up an opportunity to visit Himeji Castle to go fabric shopping. (Well, we had seen the castle from the train……!) My instructions were more precise but luck still played a part, as we just happened upon Nomura Tailor’s main store. It is another sewer’s paradise and not for the weak-willed! Again, reasonably priced, good quality and extensive range.
It was here that I found my scraps and off-cuts, and I had a pleasant time rummaging. This is what I came home with
Quite restrained, really.
The second Nomura Tailor shop, in another long arcade, was more for quilters, and I can imagine many of my quilting bloggy friends having a wonderful time there! I was only tempted by some threads.
Mum on the other hand…. I have to take some responsibility here. As you know, I love a project, whether it is mine or someone else’s. So, when Mum said in Osaka “I am going to buy this material for a table cloth” I did not say “Hmmm, is that a good idea?” I was all for it. When she saw material in Kyoto that would make perfect serviettes my reaction was “Perfect!” She doesn’t even have a sewing machine! I finally put on my dutiful daughter hat (once we were back in the hotel room, not in the store!) and said that I would take the material and sew it up.
She also bought one of those pre-package, very tempting kits that you embroider and make up into a bag. She loves embroidering, and I was happy to make it up for her. It never crossed our minds that the instructions might be in Japanese!
I mentioned ‘fashion’ in the title. I am never up with fashions and trends, so what I saw in Japan may be common knowledge. I loved the clothes women were wearing.
I had expected to see young women in sailor suit tops and Hello Kitty inspired clothes but I hadn’t expected the simplicity and clean lines that I saw in so many outfits. They were often layered, flowing, lots of wide legged pants, berets and hats, very few florals or bright colours. So comfortable but elegant. The colour of the season seemed to be a mustardy orange colour.
The fabulous fabric stores made me wonder whether many women made their own clothes. I was tempted by a Japanese pattern book, but again, it was, naturally, all in Japanese!
I couldn’t find the handcrafted needle shop Misuya-Bari in Kyoto. The instructions told me to look for a pink shop. I can only hope that the pink shop is now another colour and that the needle shop, which has been in the family for 400 years, is still tucked away somewhere in Kyoto.
I didn’t see any traditional cloth. That will require more research for the next trip. The closest I came was when a chap sat next to me at a diner. He had jeans mended in the boro tradition. I would have loved a photo, but felt that a stranger asking to photograph his thigh might be taken the wrong way!
Well, thank you so much for asking. My trip to Japan was fantastic, and will spawn a number of blog posts! This first one will be a general overview of the cities I visited. There will be lots more traveller’s tales to come.
In Japan I travelled all the time with my mother, most of the time with my younger brother and some of the time with my older brother and his family.
Our first stop was Osaka, which I loved unconditionally. No “this was good but I didn’t like that”. It was a great place to walk around in, narrow streets, something interesting wherever I looked. Every corner showed a street that I wanted to walk along.
And it was quiet, because there seemed to be more bicycles than cars. Not safer though, as the cyclists are rather crazy! It was one of the contradictions of Osaka…..In Melbourne I happily walk against the red light if it is safe; in Japan I waited patiently with all the other pedestrians for the green light . Meanwhile the helmet- less cyclists would ride through red lights, go on the wrong side of the road and meander across the road, often while talking on the phone or holding an umbrella! There were no crashes because they seem to allow for the path the pedestrian is on. The only ‘accident’ we saw was a lady loosing her high-heeled shoe as she cycled!
And the food….a post for another day!
We left Osaka and travelled by train to Uno. Before I tell you about that let me rave about the train system.
Foreign tourists are able to buy a JR Rail Pass. Like a Eurail Pass, it must be bought before you enter the country but it allows unlimited travel for the life of the pass. Rail is the way to get around ~ efficient, frequent, safe, clean and goes to most areas. To get to Uno we needed 3 trains, which would seem, by anyone used to Australia’s rail system, to be rather a nightmare. However we walked into the JR office, told the clerk where we wanted to go and after a few taps on the computer, she gave us tickets for all the legs. The connections were perfect. (You only need to go into the office if you wish to reserve a seat. Otherwise you just flash your pass as you enter the station.)
Our first train was one of the Shinkansen trains. They used to be known as the bullet trains. They are sleek, fast machines.
The next trains got progressively smaller as we got further into the country. Uno is a ferry port on the Seto Inland Sea, with stunning views over the many islands in the sea.
We were there to visit Naoshima, aka as the Art Island, which I will tell you more about in a later post. For now let me tell you about the place where we stayed, Uno Port Inn.
It is the brain child of Max, who lived for a while in New York. He has created a welcoming place to stay that has a great vibe, including jazz streaming from a radio station in New York. There are only about half a dozen rooms, all with tatami mats, but western beds; you get the feel for Japan while still being able to get up in the mornings! There aren’t ensuites. Instead each room has its own private, well appointed little bathroom down the corridor.
There’s a guest lounge, and they make fabulous coffee!! The ferry is close by and the staff, who speak good English, are happy to help out with visiting Naoshima.
After two nights we were back on the two trains to Okayama and then the Shinkansen to Kyoto, to meet up with the other parts of the travelling family.
I love Kyoto too, but with not unconditionally. The main streets are busy and modern, and some leading to the big temples are quite touristy. You have to get off them and, like in Osaka, just wander to find the little delights. We were staying in the Gion area of old Kyoto, so the houses were old and wooden and utterly charming (and probably expensive!) The houses and shops come right to the street, and doorways have lanterns or pot plants or maybe a tree. I was delighted to find an neighbourhood with a car mechanic, a supermarket and a hairdresser who was crocheting between clients!
Kyoto has narrow roads that run alongside canals. They are lovely to walk along during the day and quite enchanting at night.
And how could I resist this photo?!
Off again on the Shinkansen, all the way from Kyoto to Nagasaki, which is on the western tip of Japan. We changed at Hakata from the Shinkansen to a local train, and had lovely views of the coast and the mountains.
Nagasaki is nestled into valleys, which makes it very picturesque. It also has a tram system that brought a joy to this Melbourne heart! As it’s smaller than the other cities it has a country town feel about it, despite the ship yards!
Of course the Peace Park was the thing we wanted to see. I was disappointed. It was so busy with Chinese tourists from a cruise ship and school children that it lacked any solemnity. (Although the school groups were very respectful, often with heads bowed, but they were teenagers.)
There were lots of statues; the one that moved me most was in recognition of atomic survivors world wide, including indigenous Australians, service personnel and civilian workers who were affected by British nuclear testing in Maralinga. This is a world wide issue, and one one that has become so prominent again.
Back on the trains again to our last stop at Hiroshima.
It is a very modern city, as so much of it was wiped out in by the first atomic bomb in 1945. Although many parts of Nagasaki was destroyed, I think a lot of it was saved because of the hills and valleys. Hiroshima, like many Japanese cities is very flat, with the mountains in the background. The blast just radiated out.
The A bomb dome and Peace Park area were more solemn than Nagasaki ~ fewer people and a drizzly rain helped build the atmosphere. There are many memorials discretely through the park, while the A Bomb Dome rightly dominates.
There is a very moving memorial to the victims of the bombing. Oral accounts were collected in 1950, and those survivor stories are told in this memorial. Stories that world leaders who talk of annihilation should be forced to listen to.
The Children’s Memorial is another place that touched me. You probably know the story of Sadako and the 1000 paper cranes. Now children from all over the world fold cranes and some are displayed both at Nagasaki and here in Hiroshima.
Some cranes have been created into pictures.
Shikkeien is a beautiful old Japanese garden not far from the epicentre of the bomb. It was devastated by the blast, but has since been rebuilt, to provide a serene and restful antidote.
So that’s the overview. We took the Shinkansen directly from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka and then the airport train to Kansai airport. So easy!
I still have lots to tell you, but my adventures in fabric shops and restaurants will have to wait for another time.
Yes, I am off on an adventure to Japan. I have been Japlanning, a termed coined by a woman in my Pilates group. My Piladies [women who do Pilates!] are my go-to people for so many things. Anyway, my head has been in Japanese hotels and rail passes, and all the things that need to be done before you go away. I apologise that I haven’t been a very good blogger lately, only just keeping up with reading; commenting has been very sporadic.
And there has been no creative work.
I went to Japan about 10 years ago, and am very excited about going back. Last time I went as a delegate of the Australian Teachers’ Union. The AEU was a sister organisation with the Shizuoka teachers’ union, so we had the opportunity to stay with practising teacher.
It was such a fabulous experience to live for a few days with my host in her traditional house in Hamamatsu, getting a glimpse of her life. I went to school with her for two days. That was an eye-opener, and deserving of a post of its own. There won’t be any of that on this visit. This time I am a tourist, but maybe one with a little more understanding of life below the surface.
I am travelling with family and we fly into Osaka, where I will spend a few days before I go onto the art island of Naoshima. Then back to Kyoto to meet up with more family. We travel to Nagasaki, Hiroshima and then back to Osaka. I know that all the bookings and connections will be fine, but until they are, you always worry a little.
Now I am at the stage of organising all the odds and ends. I am surrounded by lists and every time I cross something off I add another thing!
So I will be off the blogging radar for a while. However, I will be full of Japanese excitement when I get back and I will be raring to tell you all about it. I hope to be posting on Instagram, so you might like to keep up with my travels at @annelawson54
Have any of you been to Japan? Any tips or tricks or must-see places in the cities I will be going to?