Tapestry

A big, warm thank you to those who responded to my last post about my brain taking time off. I am fine, but am artistically working at a slower pace. And I am so pleased to be back blogging again.

I know that I want to blog because I am hearing that blogging voice in my head again. Not a scary voice in my head, just me composing blogs about the things I come across during the day. Most of them never get written, much less published, but I enjoy them, sort of a diary of my life. For example, as I was driving to my hairdresser, about a 20 minute trip, I was musing about how contemplative I find driving and I started to mentally write a blog post about it. I hasten to add that I was still driving very competently. In fact what I was thinking was how doing the routine driving tasks ~ changing gears, monitoring the traffic, etc ~ freed up a part of my brain to think about other things.

Do you have that blogging voice too?

In that last post, where I was wondering about my creativity at the moment, I mentioned something that had fired my creative juices.

I have always loved yarns and textiles. They have been more of a constant in my life than paints. At school I did Craft rather than Art and I remember the delight of learning how to smock and embroider, and even basket weave. So while I don’t talk about much about these projects, I usually have something involving threads on the go. I made bags for a few years and used embroidery and beading to decorate them.

You will also remember how fascinated I became with the melaleucas on Flinders Island. EllaDee mentioned that from the photos she “could see the potential for a textural approach.” Gradually that thought about using the photos as a reference, moved from the back of my mind to the front, and I started working on representations. This is one of the photos I used as inspiration

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Mt Strzelecki National Park, Flinders Island (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)

One of the early tapestries

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(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)

This is the latest in the series of about four tapestries. You can see how I am much more adventurous with the stitching, and how it helps me to create texture and depth. I think it makes a more vibrant and interesting work.

About a month ago I was trawling Pinterest and saw a weaving loom that I just had to buy. I followed the link to the Etsy shop of the Unusual Pear and bought a simple loom about A4 size.

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My new loom from the Unusual Pear. The weaving is a sample that I used with kids from the holiday programme. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

I immediately knew how I was going to combine some weaving with the tapestry. It was the answer to that excellent creativity question “What if…..I created a rock with weaving and added that to a tapestry?” After a short practice I had a woven rock intended to be the massive rock face that was at the entrance to a valley in the national park. And I had a little feeling of creative excitement.

This is where I up to at the moment.

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Tapestry, with woven rock, work in progress (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

The white stuff are the threads for the weaving that I am binding into the back of the tapestry. It’s not quite how I envisaged it, and I think it is too tonally similar. Next time I will try for a lighter grey for the rock, and try to work more variation in it. It is very much a work in progress ~ I have to add the waterfall and the other side of the valley and the background, and I am gong to work into the rock some more. That said, I think the idea is an interesting one, and worth considering for other works.

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Close up of the work in progress (Art work and photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

So something satisfying has emerged from the “holiday” I have been having lately.

Like to check out my Pinterest finds? AnneLawsonArt 

The migration of the Short-tailed Shearwaters

The islands in Bass Strait, especially those off shore from Flinders island, are famous for their mutton birds. The proper name for mutton birds is the Short-tailed Shearwater, Ardenna tenuirostris. They are called mutton birds because, surprise, surprise, apparently they taste like mutton!
For many years mutton birding was an important industry on the islands. 300,000 are still harvested annually, for the oil from their stomachs, down for pillows etc and meat.
While I was on Flinders Island I came across a fascinating book — Patsy Adam-Smith’s “There was a ship: The story of her life at sea.Patsy Adam-Smith lead a fascinating life, including time as a cook on the steamers that supplied the islands.
Part of her book describes the migratory habits of the shearwaters. Adam-Smith begins by retelling the scientific research of Dom Serventy. When her book was written he was the Chief Officer of the Wildlife Survey Department of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). He established a shearwater  banding program in early fifties, banding every bird on the three rookeries on Fisher Island. Each band had  a serial number and request to contact the Fauna Board. 20,000 birds were banded, not an easy job, and he did much of the work himself.
“……Serventy had slept among the grass tussocks with the sky for a roof, on lonely, uninhabited Bass Strait islands, walked hundreds of kilometres over rock peaks, and pushed through scrub where two metre tiger snakes curled….”
His research solved what had been a mystery.
Previously, people in southern Australia knew that the shearwaters flew away from Australia and then, to all intents and purposes, vanished. Similarly, in the Northern Hemisphere birds also took off and then vanished. The connection, that these were the same species, wasn’t made because it seemed impossible that these birds could make the journey in the time. However, when bands were returned to Serventy from the edge of the Arctic Circle and from Japan, he knew that they were his birds.
“Several Japanese fishermen did return bands. The first no. 22208 was banded on Babel Island on March 13th 1955 and 75 days later, on 27 May was found off Tanoura, Shikoku Island, 8,050 kilometres away. This proved conclusively that the Northern and Southern Hemisphere group, originally thought to be two separate species, were one and the same.”
Adam-Smith described the life of the shearwater:
“As the bird spends most of its life on the wing, coming into land only because of its breeding obligations, it develops a great power of flight. It has been known to wander 1000 kilometres and more from the breeding islands for food.
      To accommodate its moult to its migration the bird moults head and body in the southern hemisphere then waits until the long flight is over and it is safely in the northern hemisphere before moulting its wings and tails. At this time, the Eskimos report, the waters of the icy north are covered with sooty brown feathers.
      On the long migratory flight, which roughly resembles a figure eight, the birds are assisted all the way by the strength and direction of the prevailing winds, except on the last leg of their flight back to the east coast of Australia. Then the south-east trade winds, which blow all the year across the Pacific, batter them badly. Some years the birds suffer tremendous mortality at this spot on their circuit and thousands of their bodies are washed up on the beaches of New South Wales.
         Because of their webbed feet and long wind span (over a metre) the birds cannot rise directly from the land, but must climb a rock or a cliff face to get the lift of a breeze under their wing.”
Their time spent on the islands is equally amazing.
“The birds come to the Furneaux group of islands in September, to scratch out their nest and, if possible, occupy the same burrow each year. Then suddenly, during the first week of November, they desert the islands and every burrow is empty. It stays that way until the end part of the month when they all come ashore at dusk in a big cloud, swooping down to their burrow. The next day they lay their eggs.
     The older islanders told Serventy the one- and two- year old birds didn’t return to the breeding islands. After five years of banding Serventy proved them right.
      When the mutton bird fledgling leaves it burrow it sets off on its first remarkable flight, not making landfall until three or four years later. When it reaches the age of five it comes in with the mature breeding birds. Females begin to breed from five to seven years; males from seven to eight years. For a bird this size, its period of immaturity is very long.”
The adults set off on their migratory flight in mid-April, leaving the chicks in the nest. After 14 days, the chicks are mature enough to make the flight, and they too leave the islands. The wind was very strong when we were there in May, and some of the locals referred to it as a Mutton Bird wind, as the chicks needed the high winds to give them lift. (Unfortunately they had already left the Island. It would be a sight to remember.) The chicks instinctively know where to head to start their first migration.
The explorer George Bass mentioned it in his writings from his journey with Matthew Flinders
“For several hours during the early part of the morning, a vast stream of sooty petrels (Short tailed shearwater) issued from the deep bight which had been left unexplored, and passed the vessel on their way to the westward. There must have been some millions of birds.”
The journey is very arduous and the website WIRES has this to say about the dangers:
“……thousands of birds die each year from starvation, bad weather conditions, gillnet fishing lines (150,000-280,000 yearly), ingesting plastics, oil spills and predators. Often exhausted and emaciated birds in great numbers are washed up on the beaches of Japan, the Aleutian Islands, North America and Australia every year. The mortality rate is very high in the first year that the young Shearwaters migrate with up to 50% not making the journey back.”
I love the story of the short tailed shearwaters for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they are amazing animals. Their ability to navigate around the world, to fly such distances and at such speeds and with such grace. Like all the creatures we share this planet with, their uniqueness deserves to be celebrated.
Secondly, I love the dedication of Serventy. He contributed so much knowledge to our understanding of birds and their migration. We need to celebrate the scientists in our world too. Gotta love scientific research!

Melaleucas

As you can see, I have been obsessed  fascinated with the melaleucas on Flinders Island. I have even learnt how to spell “melaleuca”. 🙂 You may know them as paperbarks, as their bark peels away like sheets of paper. I think this variety is a swamp paperbark.

I did many sketches when I was there, doing my Artist in Residency at Mountain Seas.

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Image copyright: Anne Lawson 2015

It is a move away from my detailed botanic work and I have enjoyed discovering how to capture the form in paint. Easy to do with pencil and graphite, as you can see in the gallery above; not so easy for me to do as soft watercolour washes.

I also loved the tangled undergrowth, using masking fluid to build up the depth. I will tell you my process in a future post.

I don’t think I have finished with the melaleucas yet, but I am conscious that I need to move onto other elements of my time there. At the moment I am playing with paintings of  individual trees, using soluble graphite and negative spaces. My evening project is to work up a tapestry. Thanks to my friend Liz, who has given me lots of inspiration and advice. Again, I am just playing with this, thinking about what works and what doesn’t. I would love to get any feedback on anything you see here.

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Copyright: Anne Lawson 2015

Also, I have some other plans, secret plans for the moment, just in case I chicken out. I hope I won’t. My new motto is “Be brave and the rest will follow”, so wish me some courage!

Flinders and Bass –Island and Strait

My last blog had left some of the crew of the wrecked Sydney Cove clinging to Preservation Island. You may remember that a party had sailed off to get help and that a remnant of them struggled into Sydney, alerting Governor John Hunter to the plight of the others. [If you have missed out on that story of courage and determination, go back to my last blog post.]

So, let’s pick up the story…..

Those wrecked on Preservation Island had had a miserable time:

After the departure of the longboat, Capt. Hamilton and the people remaining with him were employed in getting ashore various pasts of the cargo from the wreck. The stock of provisions saved being but small, and the time when relief might arrive uncertain, each man’s daily allowance of rice was limited to a teacupful.

The weather proved extremely cold, with constant gales and heavy rains, and the people, having no other shelter than tents made from old sails, suffered greatly.

From the 23rd April till the 1st May was one continued storm, with thunder, lightning, rain and extreme cold. The tents being soon dismantled and blown to pieces, the unfortunate sufferers were left exposed to the extremities of cold, wetness and hunger, for during the continuance of this storm it was impossible to keep always fire to dress the pittance of rice on which their subsistence depended.

Once Governor Hunter knew about the plight of the Sydney Cove he sent a rescue ship, with Matthew Flinders on board.

Flinders and Hunter had both come to the new colony in 1795, on board HMS Reliance. On this outward journey Flinders established his reputation as a fine navigator and cartographer, skills that Hunter would later use.

While sailing too and from Preservation Island Flinders suspected that a strait existed between Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania] and the colony of New South Wales. On his return to Sydney he chatted with a good friend George Bass about the geography of the area. Bass had also recently returned from an expedition to the south, and had formed the opinion that there was a strait. It was a subject dear to his heart.

Bass had also come out on the Reliance as surgeon. He approached Hunter, asking to be allowed to explore the southern coast. Hunter describes him as “of a well-informed mind, and an active disposition”, and gave Bass “an excellent whaleboat, well fitted , victualled and manned to his wish, for the purpose of examining along the coast to the southward of this port, as far as he could with safety and convenience go.”

He was able to get as far as what is now Western Port Bay, just to the east of Port Phillip Bay, where Melbourne is. Hunter reports Bass’s findings of the country as “barren and unpromising…..with very few exceptions, and were it even better, the want of harbours would render it less valuable.”

What Bass did find was a group of escaped convicts trapped on an island. His boat was too small and provisions too low to accommodate them. He could only help them to the mainland, leaving them with a small amount of food, a musket and directions and advice for the 500 mile walk to Sydney.

He also noticed that the swells came in from the west. As Flinders says

It ought to be first observed that his Excellency the Governor named it Bass’s Strait, after my worthy friend and companion, as a just tribute to the extreme dangers and fatigues he had undergone in first entering it in the whaleboat. The southwesterly swell which rolled in upon the shores of Western Port and its neighbourhood sufficiently indicated to the penetrating Bass that he was exposed to the Southern Indian Ocean.

So Flinders and Bass persuaded Hunter to equip an expedition to explore the area further, to confirm their idea of a strait. So began the Expedition in the Colonial sloop Norfolk, from Port Jackson, through the Strait which separates Van Diemen’s Land from New Holland

As you can see from Flinders’s map, they circumnavigated Tasmania, proving that it was an island. It was confirmed when, following the coast around Hunter’s Isles, they turned south. Also, they knew they were looking at the Indian Ocean because “for what within the extent of a vast sea could give birth to the monstrous swell that was rolling before their eyes?”

They only touched the sides of the Furneaux Group, of which Flinders Island is the biggest island. However Flinders does write this:

…when the granite mountains of Furneaux’s largest island made their appearance through the haze, and their towering peaks, bathed in the late showers, reflected the gleaming sunshine, and presented a spectacle so magnificent and stupendous that the circular, gently declining Mount Chappell ceased to attract attention. I could not at the moment blame the sterility that produced so rich a scene.

And it really is as stupendous as he says. The wet granite slopes glisten in the afternoon light.

Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2015
Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2015

Mount Chappell Island was named after Flinders’ wife, Anne Chappell. Flinders not been long married and had hoped to bring Anne with him to Port Jackson. However the Admiralty had strict rules against wives accompanying captains. Flinders brought her on board ship and planned to ignore the rules, but the Admiralty learned of his plans. He was severely chastised for his bad judgment and told he must remove her from the ship. He didn’t see her again for many years, as, on his return to England he was arrested by the French and imprisoned as a spy. He was released after 7 years and finally returned to England in 1810. He died in 1814.

Mt Chappell Island from Flinders island. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2015)
Mt Chappell Island from Flinders island. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2015)

Even more important than his journey around Tasmania was his exploration around the whole continent of Australia ~ a story for another time perhaps. The Australian Dictionary of Biography says this about Flinders

Matthew Flinders was among the world’s most accomplished navigators and hydrographers, though his exploration was mostly made in unsuitable, leaky or rotten ships. To ensure that his observations were as accurate as possible and that nothing important was overlooked, his constant practice was to stand his ship off shore at dusk and run back each morning to where the previous day’s work had ended. Each bearing and angle in his charting was taken by himself either from the deck or the mast-head and the results worked up by him each night. Flinders is remembered not only for his achievements in the realm of discovery but also for great improvements in the science of navigation, for his research on the action of the tides, and the affinity between the height of the barometer and the direction of the wind, and for his practical investigations into the deviation of the compass through the presence of iron in ships, since controlled by compensating devices such as the bar named after him.

After the journey Bass was attracted to the profits to be made, or lost, in bringing goods to Sydney. Unfortunately when he arrived with his cargo he found the market was glutted and his goods unsaleable. In 1803 he sailed out of Port Jackson in the Venus, heading for lucrative profits in South America. Nothing was heard from him again.

Bass’s observations are recorded in Lieutenant-Colonel Collin’s Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, and show Bass to be someone fascinated by everything he saw ~ Aborigines, plants, animals, birds, geography. He has quite a long description of the wombat, which Bass describes as “very economically made”(!) and counted three hundred black swans in the space of a quarter of a mile.

Their discovery meant that the sailing time to Sydney was not only shorter, but safer, although Bass Strait can be a very treacherous body of water.

While my history lesson of Bass Strait is finished, I do have more things to tell you about this fascinating and beautiful part of the world. I also have to show you some of my art work that is coming out of my time spent there.

[I must make a mention of Project Gutenberg, which has digitalised so much of the primary material from this period. Such a wonderful resource to have. The two documents I have been quoting from are

Flinders own writing http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks12/1203411h.html

and Collins’ writings of Bass and Flinders in Vol. 2,  Chapters 15 and 16 http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00011.html

Hooray for Project Gutenberg!!]

The Discovery of Bass Strait

On my last post, about the geological history of Bass Strait, Meeks lamented why this history was not taught to us in school. I had History Lessons from Grade 3 onwards, and always loved the subject. Except for a couple of years, History was entirely British and later European. I had one year of Australian History (Grade 4?) and mid-way through secondary school learnt Australian/Asian. I mention this, because even though I loved History, I found Australian history boring. And I mention my boredom because, over the last 10 years or so I have read a lot about the exploration of Australia and it is far from boring. There are many amazing tales to tell.

Way back when I went to school, to learn about the explorers we drew maps from the blackboard of their tracks — maps of the world and maps of Australia with dotted lines in different colours. This quote from Tim Flannery’s introduction to his collection The Explorers sums up the educational point:

I was bored [with the topic of the Explorers] because I did not know the country the map represented. The men were just names, their journeys snail-trails across paper. No attempt was made to bring exploring to life, perhaps because the inconvenient details about Aborigines and barren wastes would simply have got in the way of the main message: that the Europeans had triumphed. Somehow, those lines granted possession of a continent. And in that message, all of the subtlety, the excitement and wonder of exploration was lost.

I have used ‘discovery’ in the title of this post. Too often its use shows ignorance towards the people who were living there ~ people who were not lost and had no need to be discovered. Think of ‘Christopher Columbus discovered America’ or ‘Captain Cook discovered Australia’. However, I think, in this instance that I am right to use it. Tasmanian Aborigines has been separated from mainland tribes for thousands of years. There doesn’t appear to be contact across the Strait during that time, so I assume that the Aborigines on either side considered it to be another ocean and not a smaller body of water. [I could be very wrong about this, and happy to be corrected.]

So, let me tell you the tale of the discovery of Bass Strait, a tale of adventure, daring rescues and rum. It will involve maps with dotted lines, and some side journeys. Make a cup of tea, get comfy and enjoy the stories.

Let me start with Abel Tasman. In 1642 he set sail to explore the southern and eastern oceans. Using the strong westerly winds of the lower latitudes, the Roaring Forties, he careened along, clipping the bottom of Tasmania. He was mighty close to missing it. Was coming upon it just plain good luck? After exploring he used the westerlies to go over and ‘discover’ New Zealand.

Now to the first European sighting of the islands in the Strait.

In 1772, James Cook lead a second expedition that became one of the great journeys. He sailed south to cross the Antarctic Circle and explored many Pacific islands. Not only was he an excellent navigator but in the three year voyage only four crew members died. If you love a good adventure, read about the voyage. Cook is one of the great navigators but it was not Cook who noticed the islands.

There were two ships, Cook’s H.M.S. Resolution and H.M.S. Adventure, under the captaincy of Tobias Furneaux. On February 8 1773 the ships were separated in fog and Adventure headed for their agreed rendezvous, Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand. On the way Furneaux explored Tasmania , and was the first English vessel to follow Tasman’s journey. You can see by the map that he went further up the east coast than Tasman did. He sighted some of the islands in the Strait, but thought they were part of the mainland. They were named the Furneaux Group in his honour.

This extract is from the entry on Furneaux in the Australian Dictionary of Biography Banks Strait is not a typo. It is the strait between Tasmania and Clarke Island.

Sailing north on 15 March, Furneaux named St Patrick’s Head, St Helen’s Point, Bay of Fires and Eddystone Point, all on 17 March. Next day he noted ‘the land trenches away to the westward, which I believe forms a deep bay’; it was, in fact, the entrance to Banks Strait. On this day islands were sighted, the land high and rocky, and the south-eastern point was named Cape Barren. He considered investigating whether a strait lay westward but decided to rejoin his commander and on 19 March the vessel ‘haul’d up for New Zealand’. Furneaux later declared that ‘it is my opinion that there is no strait between New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land’, a view he persuaded Cook to accept.  Adventure and Resolution were united in New Zealand in May 1773 and in August Furneaux re-visited Tahiti where the Tahitian Omai was taken on board. The vessels were again separated in October and Furneaux returned to England, arriving at Spithead in July 1774.

Let’s move on a few years, for it is the next part of the story that involves rum.

Sydney was established as a penal colony in 1788. Ships would often use the Roaring Forties as a quicker route to the new colony. They would come around the bottom of Tasmania and then out west a little more before they turned north to Sydney. As ships did not hug the coast it was still thought that Tasmania was joined to the mainland. I had often wondered why mariners believed that, and I now understand that there was no need explore that coastline.

The ship, The Sydney Cove, took this route. It left Bengal on November 10th 1796 with a cargo of rum headed for the rum-soaked Port Jackson. [There was a period where rum was used as a currency.] Early on its journey the ship encountered heavy gales and took on water.  It laboured away until a final gale ~ “a perfect hurricane with a dreadful sea” according to Captain Hamilton ~ forced them to land.

Finding the ship must soon go down, the longboat was got out and sent ashore to the island with some rice, ammunition, and firearms; still standing in for the island, till she struck on a sandy bottom in 19 feet water, a few minutes after the longboat left her. All the people being safely landed, small parties were sent out in different directions on the following day, the 9th February, in quest of water, but without success.

They named their island haven Preservation Island, and a smaller nearby one Rum Island. They are the first Europeans to venture, albeit unintentionally, into Bass Strait. However, they are in dire straights and need a very bold plan. Capt. Hamilton’s account goes on

…..from the 10th to the 27th February Capt. Hamilton was employed in equipping the longboat in order to dispatch her to Port Jackson with an account of the loss of the ship, and to request such assistance as could be afforded. The longboat being completed was dispatched on the 27th February in charge of Mr. Hugh Thompson, chief mate, with Mr. W. Clark, assistant supercargo, and fifteen men, the best of the crew.

So the intention is to sail in a longboat 400 nautical miles up the east coast to reach Port Jackson and get help. Desperate times, desperate measures. Of course, it does not go to plan. The longboat founders in heavy seas and more gales and they are shipwrecked on the northern part of the Ninety Mile Beach in Victoria. You heart goes out to them:

Imagination cannot picture a situation more melancholy than that to which the unfortunate crew was reduced — wrecked a second time on the inhospitable shore of New South Wales [as the whole of the east coast was called at the time]; cut off from all hopes of rejoining their companions; without provisions, without arms, or any probable means either of subsistence or defence, they seemed doomed to all the horrors of a lingering death, with all their misfortunes unknown and unpitied. In this trying situation they did not abandon themselves to despair; they determined to precede to the northward in the hopes of reaching Port Jackson….

It was thus with our little party; the dangers that surrounded them served but to excite them to exertion; they resolved to brave every difficulty and to commence their journey without delay.

And three of them did make it; the rest died of starvation and exhaustion along the way. In May 1797 three survivors of the march, William Clark, sailor John Bennet and one lascar were able to signal a fishing boat which took them on to Port Jackson.

Project Gutenberg has digitalised many of the documents connected with this shipwreck and journey. [Hooray for Project Gutenberg!] I found it quite a fascinating read.

There is a letter from Governor John Hunter to the Duke of Portland about the survivors. He writes “The remainder of the seventeen have undoubtedly perish’d or been kill’d by the natives, these survivors having been much annoy’d and wounded by them.” Yet, when I read the account of the journey written by Mr Clark, I was struck by the friendliness and generosity of the Aborigines. Yes, they did encounter hostility, but seemed to find that talking and giving small pieces of cloth undercut a lot of the tension.

They had to cross a number of rivers. Sometimes Aboriginal people who had befriended  them a couple of days earlier would arrive at the river to help the Europeans cross. “We began to prepare a raft, which we could not have completed till next day had not three of our native friends, from whom we parted yesterday, rejoined us and assisted us over.” The party was given gifts of shellfish, fish and a kangaroo tail.

It is the familiar story of Europeans in Australia. So many perished in a land where Aboriginal people have lived successfully for tens of thousands of years. And they were seen to be the inferior people.

By now my cup of tea is well and truly drunk and the fire has burnt low. So I am going to leave off my tale for a little while. Captain Hamilton and the crew are still on Preservation Island, but you will be pleased to know that a rescue is on it’s way. Included in the rescue party is Matthew Flinders, and George Bass is waiting in the wings. So let me pick up the tale with them next time.

Mountain Seas Artist in Residency

You may remember that, before I left, I had little idea of what my Artist in Residency (AIR) at Mountain Seas would involve. Now I have all the answers!

Mountain Seas is nestled at the base of the Strzelecki Range, on the southern end of Flinders Island. Every time I looked out the window, walked out the door I was enchanted by what I saw — the huge granite boulders, the shapes of the trees, the view way off to the middle of the island, the wallabies and blue wrens. Instead of traffic there were the sounds of the wind, the surf on the beach a few kilometres away, the birds.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2015)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2015)

Our room was warm and cosy, and we had the use of a communal kitchen and sitting area. A car was provided for the artists’ use, a generous but necessary part of the residency. The supermarket in Whitemark is about 20 kms away.

The Fella and I had the first few days to ourselves. Eleni Rivers arrived on Monday. She is a very fine contemporary watercolour artist. The following week we were joined by Christina Harrison and her partner Karl Richardson. She is a multimedia artist. They have an exhibition currently touring Queensland, “We are all one under the skin”. Of course we had some interesting discussions over dinner about art, artists and politics. I only know how to do botanic art, so I was fascinated to see how these much more experienced artists worked. Both created their paintings on larger sheets of paper, and canvas in Christina’s practice, building up broad washes. I am used to working on smaller areas, so it was an eyeopener.

There is a strong art community on Flinders Island. David and Lila, who run Mountain Seas, want the AIR programme to build connections to that community. Youdit, the person in charge of the artists in the programme, set up a Sunday afternoon catchup with four artists from the Island. What a great experience to sit around the warm fire, chatting to other artists about their work and their life on the Island. At another time I met up with Maria La Grue and her art buddy, Pip and talked to them about botanic art and my process. Such a warm and welcoming group of women.

There was no expectations on me, just to use the time to develop my artistic practice. What a privilege! However, Youdit took up my offer to do a tonal drawing workshop at the school. It was a great way to see another slice of Island life, and to remind me that kids are kids, no matter where they live! I had two sessions, one with the Grade 2/3 and the other with Grade 4/5/6. The art room was bright and airy. I got a buzz being back in the classroom and the kids seemed to take in my talk about my work and the importance of tone. Then they were into their own drawings.

Our time there was made even more comfortable by Helen, the Property Manager ~ nothing was too much trouble for her. She knew so much about the Island that I learnt something every time I chatted to her, and enjoyed every chat.

So if you are looking for an interesting place to holiday, add Flinders Island to your list. Looking for an Artist in Residency Programme? Mountain Seas would be a great one to apply for.

Coastal heath

Kate, who does beautiful quilting, commented on one of my photos from the last blog, remarking how she could see colours and textures to make a quilt. I was delighted that she might like to use it. EllaDee saw it as a woven piece, and I see paintings and maybe tapestries in it. Personally I think we are responding to the textures, the colours and the patterns and rhythms of the bushes as they flow up the bank. So, a couple more photos. I would love to know if they inspire you in any way.

Home again (sigh)

It really seems like just the other day that I was telling you that I was off to do an Artist in Residency Programme at Mountain Seas Resort on Flinders Island. Here I am, home again.

As to be expected, the weather as we were leaving Flinders Island was just perfect — no wind, clear, sunny skies. Perfect for takeoff. I also see it as the Island telling me that this is how it usually behaves, telling me to come back. And I will. (You should visit too!)

But don’t think that I am whinging about the wild and wooly weather we had. According to locals it was the longest blow they have had for quite a few years. I didn’t think I liked wind, but this was exhilarating and invigorating. Sketching was fun, as long as I was rugged up and sheltered. There was a bush walk around the edge of the property, protected by the tall gums for most of the way. I only felt the force of the wind as I came up from the stream. The rain was squally, pelting down and then blowing onto somewhere else.

I love being in the mountains, but miss the beach. When I am at the beach I miss the majesty of mountains. Flinders Island has both very close together. Perfect.

Mountains and Seas (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)
Mountains and Seas (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)
The Strzelecki Range from Trouser Point (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)
The Strzelecki Range from Trouser Point (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2015)

So I landed back in Melbourne, back to the reality of big city life — traffic and traffic lights, washing and shopping, and grey skies (although today, Sunday is a beautiful day).

It is not all bad, of course. I love Melbourne, and my part of it has a little bit of that small town feel about it. I love that I can easily upload my photos to show you — almost an overload in this post! And I want to get stuck into my art. Ideas are swirling around in my head and I want to start to get them onto paper.

I am mentally scheduling lots of posts for you — more photos, info about the Island and Bass Strait, mutton birds and of course, updates on the progress on my art work. Just let me know when you are sick of the words “Flinders Island”. I am not sure that I will ever tire of them!

A little slice of Flinders Island

The internet connection on Flinders Island is slow. It must be so frustrating for the residents, and an indication of some issues faced in the more remote parts of Australia. Not that the Island is that remote — an hour’s plane flight from Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, and even closer to Launceston, Tasmania’s second city. Australia should have a far better internet connection; but I will not start up on the NBN. So the connection is poor. I mention it not only to lambast the Government, to also explain that uploading photos can be frustratingly slow and this post will be without them.

While the weather has been full of wind and rain, the Islanders have been warm and welcoming. Nothing seems to be too much trouble.
Helen, who is the resort manager at Mountain Seas, met us at the airport and, on the drive south, filled us in on Island life. “Wave to everyone, say G’day, and they’ll wave back.” And it’s true, they do! Of course, in the car, it is the country wave, where the driver only raises his/her index finger from the steering wheel as the cars speed past.
The locals will usually say “G’day” back. Some even stop for a chat. Like the farmer we met in town. We talked about the usual things — how welcome the rain was and how he had come to the Island for a 3 year contract 30 years ago. He was in town to pick up his wife. She was a volunteer at the CWA shop which sells hand knitted woollen goodies. The shop has a sign in the window saying that if it is not open, ask at the supermarket and they will get you the key.
When I asked Helen if she knew of any information to help me identify plants she told me about a number of people who had that knowledge. Later she appeared with an armful of books that she had found on the bookshelf. Instead of saying to me ‘Look on the bookshelf”, she went the extra bit and found them for me. Nothing seems to contain her energy and enthusiasm, not even her broken arm!
She told us that no one on the Island locks doors, and will often keep the car keys in the ignition. Her theory is that if a thief comes across a locked door that’s the one they try to open because there must be something valuable inside!
We put that to the test in Whitemark, parking outside the supermarket and leaving the keys in the car. Later I went off to the bakery around the corner. Imagine my horror to come back and find the car not there. Helen’s faith was missed placed! I waited outside the pub for about 10 minutes, and finally saw the car, driven by my Fella come around the corner. He had gone looking for me and had ended up at the hospital to ask if they had seen me. He didn’t think that I had been injured, but thought that the hospital was the library!!

While there is a threat that the community will loose the Westpac bank — not economic enough — the hospital seems to be in good shape. According to someone I spoke to, there are three doctors and Government money has been put into it recently. Nice to know that my taxes are doing some good.

I had another ‘It’s a small island’ moment the other day. I had planned do some art with a couple of classes at the school. I was in the bakery having lunch and mentioned that that’s where I was heading. The lass behind the counter said “Oh, don’t you know that there was a burst water main at the school and the children have all been sent home?” I found out through the bakery! I loved that! Although I hasten to add that my contact person about the classes had been trying to ring me. I had given her the wrong number…

On Saturdays the bakery and the cafe alternate being open. Today it was the cafe’s turn. As we were waiting for our coffee we were amazed by the stream of children and fathers who came in. The cafe owners were run off their feet. It turns out it was the end of Saturday morning footy, and all the participants were coming in with Dad to stock up on Saturday treats.

So a little bit of Island life, filtered through my eyes.