Friday, September 3, 2021

Voluptuous Antiquity in Turvey Park

Myrtle[1] is the name of a life sized nineteenth century bronze statue that stands in a non-descript area of Charles Sturt University’s Wagga Wagga campus. She is not the first nineteenth century female bronze I have encountered since moving to Wagga in 2014. That was a spelter art nouveau dancer discovered in an even more unexpected location, amidst car parts and man cave accessories at the Wagga Wagga Swap Meet!  We needed something to populate the plaster niche in our eclectic new home and I am a long standing fan of art nouveau. She was perfect, reasonably priced, and came home to our niche where she has been ever since.

The dancer and some other art nouveau-esque pieces in our niche (my photo 2021)

Myrtle we encountered not long afterwards. She is not art nouveau, more classical, clad in drapey robes, one breast bared, holding aloft a torch and clutching a botanical specimen in her right hand. Her exact location is beside the Tabbita Walk on CSU’s north campus close to a student accommodation block and a pair of dumpsters. She is perched upon a metal plinth significantly eroded at one corner by dog urine and a plaque on her base proclaims in a stylised font that would threaten to upstage her were it not so tarnished: 

Myrtle

Carrier–Belleuse, France

Donated to Wagga Wagga Teachers College

by

the Wagga Wagga Chamber of Commerce in 1954

she graced the lawn in front of the

Principal’s Office next to a large crepe myrtle bush - hence her name

 
The plaque (my photo 2021)

Myrtle and a glimpse of  the dumpsters (my photo 2021)

While it was serendipitous to find the only art nouveau objet d’art at the Wagga Swap Meet, it was downright puzzling to find a statue by acclaimed  nineteenth century French sculptor, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824 - 1887) in the middle of CSU’s expansive campus in the company of those dumpsters and approximately 100 metres away from a lonely unused bandstand. It was the bandstand that led me to Myrtle. My obsession with rotundas and bandstands dates back to my childhood playing in a neglected one in Valentine’s Park, Ilford, Essex (see my blog post Strike Up the Band Once More). It turns out that Myrtle and the bandstand have some shared provenance, but that is for another post. 

The man who created Myrtle, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse,  had a highly successful career in France and Britain producing major works like his marble La Bacchante (1863), purchased by Emperor Napoleon III for the Jardins des Tuileries, and his portraits of cultural icons Rembrandt (1880) and Dumas (c.1883-87) as well as creating prototypes for multiple castings, usually on allegorical or mythological themes, for manufacture by British companies Minton and Wedgwood. His works are in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in the USA, the San Martín Cathedral in  Buenos Aires and in our own National Gallery.

How, I wondered did one of his sculptures come to be gifted to Wagga Wagga Teachers’ College in 1954? How did that statue then wind up on the campus of Charles Sturt University? Pondering these questions led me to speculation, trawling TROVE, posting an enquiry on Facebook, and, ultimately, to the research findings of CSU archivist Jillian Kohlhagen and CSU art curator Dr Tom Middlemost. Here is what I discovered. 

As the plaque states, Myrtle was acquired on behalf of the thriving local Teachers’ College in 1954. Her purchase was announced in The Daily Advertiser of 29 April 1954[2] as follows: 

The Wagga Teachers’ college were granted a £25 donation and an interest free loan of £75 to cover the cost and erection of bronze statuary outside the college. The statuary is by well-known Australian (sic) sculptor A. Carrier. The college plans to illuminate the statue and install a plaque at the base. 

Unless The Advertiser was mistaken about the purchase arrangements as well as the sculptor’s nationality, it appears that initially at least Myrtle was not an outright gift. Maybe the Chamber of Commerce waived the debt later. Other editions of The Advertiser from the period reveal that Myrtle was joining an impressive art collection the college was amassing. However, she is stylistically at odds with the modernist flavour of the college’s other acquisitions.  In its catalogue of artists featured in their collection,[3] the National Gallery of Australia dubs Carrier-Belleuse’s style ‘voluptuous antiquity’, an apt description of Myrtle given her classical garb, sinuous lines and semi-nudity. Other pieces the college bought or was gifted during the 1950s include a watercolour and 3 lithographs by Frank Hinder, a series of pen and wash drawings by Roy Delgarno[4] and 12 oils by Herbert Gallop.[5] Hinder is an abstractionist, Delgarno, a social realist and Gallop produced landscapes that evoke the Heidelberg school but also the travel poster and pub art of the 1940s.


 Myrtle in situ in the formal gardens in front of the administration block, (Source: CSU Archives)

Myrtle is signed ‘A. Carrier’, like all  his pre-1864 pieces, so she likely dates from the 1850s which means she was perhaps 100 years old or more when she came to reside in Wagga. Was she found in a local antique shop? If she came from Sydney or Melbourne, how, in those pre-internet days, did her availability become known to Riverina customers?  What influenced the college’s choice? Was it her European artistic pedigree or her allegorical qualities? Did her lantern–bearing pose suggest the illumination provided by a place of learning? Was she just an attractive bargain? Once installed on her concrete plinth in the college gardens, amongst rose and myrtle bushes (‘hence her name’), her attractiveness to some of the students became apparent.  As archivist Jillian Kohlhagen puts it ‘certain students… took to polishing her exposed anatomy’. Or to quote a graduate of the college, Mavis Lupton, reminiscing about her student days in the Lost Wagga Wagga Facebook group, ‘In 1962 – 63 - I remember some of the boys polished Myrtle’s exposed breast’. [6] 

The Wagga Wagga Teachers’ College was established in 1947 to meet a state-wide post-war need for teachers. It wasn’t the first Teachers’ College in Wagga – there had been a more modest one on Copland’s ‘Hillside’ Estate on Willans Hill founded in 1928[7] The new college was almost built on part of the showground, but a former RAAF hospital site in the nearby suburb of Turvey Park won out. It was the first wholly residential co-educational tertiary institution in Australia and early intakes included ex-military and mature aged students. The campus buildings were linked by intersecting covered walkways and set amongst impressive grounds conceived by the Chief Landscape Gardener of the Department of Agriculture , Ezra Steenbohm and realised  by Lucas Schatte, described in The Advertiser[8] as ‘former Royal gardener to King Peter of Yugoslavia’. The college’s tiered and trellised ‘Pleasance’ incorporated an ornamental fishpond and another bronze, a miniature Naied, by contemporary English sculptor Katherine Murray-Jardine. Its whereabouts today can only be guessed at.  Maybe I will happen upon it in my wanderings.


Female students beside the fishpond and the miniature Naied
 in the Pleasance (Source: The Wagga Advertiser, 8 October 1954)

The Teachers’ College closed in 1971 and became part of the Riverina College of Advanced Education which then merged with CSU in 1986. The old college buildings and grounds have long since fallen into disuse and there is no trace of any rose or myrtle bushes on the site. The CSU Archives now house the college’s art collection in a Brutalist-style building at the old college location shared with the Riverina Conservatorium. In the past two years a new housing estate has sprung up adjacent to the old campus.  In 2018 it was announced that the Conservatorium is destined for new accommodation on Simmons Street beside the Wollundry Lagoon. I am not sure where the Archives are headed but as the H.R Gallop Gallery is already situated on the CSU campus I suppose they may be joining it. 

In the 1950s and 60s Myrtle stood, an idealised beauty, serene and impassive, shining her lamp over manicured gardens and enduring the irreverent, if affectionate, attentions of young male students. However, she vanished from the grounds some ten years before the college closed. Sad students wreathed her empty plinth with flowers and left a poignant sign there lamenting her disappearance. Rumour has it that the Principal, Maurice Hale, thought the constant attention to her anatomy was ruining the statue’s patina and another, associated, theory was that the sun reflecting on her polished surface, shone directly into his office[9].  She went to ground until she was re-erected in her present location. 

Dr Tom Middlemost, CSU’s Art Curator, has delved into her origins and discovered that Myrtle is in fact one of a pair of bronze ‘torchere-holders’, originally designed to support gilded candelabra, representing Night and Day.[10] Myrtle, whose head is draped and who holds sleep-inducing poppies in her right hand, is Night, her companion Day is bareheaded and with braided hair[11]. Carrier-Belleuse produced numerous similar figures throughout his life, usually as adornments to grand public buildings. It seems safe to assume no others found their way to a rural Australian university.


One of the three Lionel Gailor murals entered in the Sulman art prize competition in 1953
 (Source: The Wagga Wagga Advertiser 5 March 1953) 

I am still intrigued to know what drove the Chamber of Commerce and the Teachers’ College to select Night/Myrtle for her place of prominence on the campus and wonder if the burnishment she endured at student hands might not have been predicted.  Her whereabouts during her temporary retirement would also be interesting to discover. I am, however, very glad she’s back on view and we know a little more about her history. Now to investigate the fate of Murray-Jardine’s small bronze Naied and of the three Lionel Gailor murals [12]depicting the progress of the Wagga district, the history of education, the life of the college[13] that once adorned the college’s Assembly Hall and were considered worthy of entry into the Sulman prize art competition. Oh, and to find out more about the bandstand of course. 

NOTE: Much of this information came from Jillian Kohlhagen's excellent CSU Archive blog post For the Love of Myrtle and from a conversation with Dr Tom Middlemost. Those sources are acknowledged and I extend my thanks to both of them.

[1] Not her real name, read on...

[2] ‘Pleasant Corner of College’ The Daily Advertiser 4 March 1953

[4] ‘Art Collection Being Built Up In Wagga’ The Daily Advertiser 5 May 1950

[5] ‘Oil Painting At College’, The Daily Advertiser 7 October 1954

[6] Lost Wagga Wagga Facebook group 25 August 2021

[7] Sherry  Morris, Wagga Wagga - A History, Bobby Graham Publishers, 1999

[8] 'Happy At Wagga', The Daily Advertiser 4 March 1953

[9] ‘South Campus – A History’ by Dr Nancy Blacklow quoted in CSU Archive blog post ‘For the Love of Myrtle’ 25 August 2019

[10] Information provided by Jillian Kohlhagen in a response in comments to her blog post ‘For the Love of Myrtle’ 25 August 2019 

[11] https://toboganantiques.com/en/objets/carrier-belleuse-colin-torcheres/

[12] ‘Wagga College Murals Entered For Big Art Prize’ The Daily Advertiser 5 March 1953

 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Wagga's former commercial glories

Time was when most country towns had a local department store, usually a family owned business that had grown to meet the community’s consumer needs. These days Knights and Hunters on the Hill seem to be the only extant home grown retailers. Both businesses are now shadows of their former selves.  A bit of research proves that Wagga once had many more thriving local businesses.  The Museum of the Riverina did more than a bit of research to produce their recent pair of exhibitions: Huthwaite’s the Friendly Store and Made in Wagga.


Huthwaites in the 1960s (photo source: Lost Wagga Wagga Facebook Group page)

The latter is a recreation of the an exhibition from 1999, the year the City Council took over the running of the museum from the local historical society. Made in Wagga comprises stories and artefacts from Wagga’s history, identities, industries and businesses that showcase the once vibrant and thriving commercial culture of the city.

Amongst the industries and entrepreneurs featured are:

  •          Milliner Marea Bright whose business still exists and has provided stylish hats  for Wagga’s bridal parties and race goers for over 50 years.
  •          Charles ‘Bartle’ Nixon who began in 1858 selling watermelons to bullockies to producing a successful range of condiments in a business that lasted until the early 20th century.



Information about Wagga's condiment king from the exhibition - my photo

  •          August Menneke, a German immigrant who forged cattle bells from imported steel at his foundry in North Wagga in the 1860s and 70s. His business features in the writings of Alan Marshall and Mary Gilmore.
  •          Bendigo boiler maker, Gerard McEnroe, inventor of the Chiko Roll, which made its debut at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural show in 1951

Something of a surprise amongst all the commercial and industrial exhibits is Maure Kramer’s 1976 prize winning Crabcycle Gumi boat (revived for the 2004 race). However it certainly fits the description ‘made in Wagga’ and its presence adds to the general diversity and nostalgia of the exhibition.


Crabcycle Gumi boat - my photo

The highlight of these two-exhibitions-in-one was the presentation of the history of Huthwaite’s department store. The collection of items, imagery and reminiscences about  the store which operated in Wagga for 75 years, is rich and varied. It included informative audio visual presentations and a wealth of photographs and objects including a delivery bicycle and original carrier bags and advertising material.


Huthwaites delivery bicycle - my photo 

One shortcoming of the exhibition was the lack of information provided about the content of the two videos – when I visited I had to ask a staff member a number of questions about who was speaking/ being interviewed.  The staff, as they always are, were very helpful and I have since discovered that a number of fact sheets relating to the Museum’s collection, including these two exhibitions, is available online: https://museumriverina.com.au/education/schools/facts-sheets



The Museum of the Riverina has two locations - these exhibitions were at the old Council Chambers site on Baylis Street (photo source: https://threebestrated.com.au/landmarks-in-wagga-wagga-nsw)

Monday, May 17, 2021

Abundant Wonder – Tom Moore

National Glass Gallery, Wagga Wagga, NSW 

Tom Moore is one of Australia’s pre-eminent glass artists, and probably our most innovative. His retrospective exhibition, Abundant Wonder, currently showing at the National Glass Gallery, Wagga Wagga is a cornucopia of sinuous, whimsical objects showcasing  this talented artist at the peak of his powers.

This touring exhibition, commissioned by Adelaide’s Jam Factory in 2020, is the culmination of over 20 years practice and features hundreds of individual and tableau-style pieces.  It is a  technical tour de force that is also visually enchanting and provoking, humorous and disturbing. 

In a 2016 interview Moore said that his work is ‘trying to make sense of a complicated and nonsensical world’.  In doing so he repeatedly returns to the theme of  ‘human-initiated environmental damage’  through mutant figures, half machine, half animal, lush vegetable forms sprouting eyes, potato-like disembodied heads in a cabinet of curiosities and sea creatures out of their element. 

Despite their apparent organic spontaneity Moore’s objects are based on detailed drawings and are wrought through highly challenging techniques. The artist and commentators have noted the paradox of creating objects of such writhing vitality out of the rigidity of cooled glass.  Moore’s inspiration is eclectic, there is a clear evocation of pop art, think the Beatles’  'Yellow Submarine',  Reg Mombasa’s  Mambo imagery, Nickelodeon’s 'Real Monsters', Tim Burton... Two avowed influences are the drawings of nonsense poet, Edward Lear and the capriccio glass vessels of 13thC Venice.

Many of Moore’s creations are distinctly Australian in their inspiration, kangaroos with other kangaroos as heads, both roos and koalas emblazoned with lit matches, a semitrailer carrying a hammerhead shark. Re-imagined dinosaurs feature prominently too, many with tiny appended wheels that would buckle under  their ‘real life’ weight.   More playfulness with his materials! Every fabrication is simultaneously both delightfully amusing and expressive of  his deeper concern for the planet under threat.


The  theatricality and dynamic qualities of Moore’s work makes it ripe for  animation and a major component of the exhibition is the digitally created videos depicting his hybrid creatures in fantasy landscapes blinking, flying,  spinning, consuming one another and even exploding – his favourite effect! 

All this richness  and grotesquery is displayed  in the reassuringly familiar setting of cubby houses and puppet show  booths, storybook illustrations and  alphabet blocks. Thus we are soothed and beguiled only to be confronted and disturbed.

Do see Abundant Wonder. It is in Wagga Wagga until 4 July then travelling to Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. For details visit: https://www.mooreismore.com/abundant-wonder-exhibition-and-tour/

 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Limerick from slumpsville

 


A one year old sheep is a hoggeral

Not a species of porcine doggerel

Who’ll not be averse

To report this in verse?

You’ve guessed, this inspiration-less blogger‘ll

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Better lactate than never

I always planned to write about my experience overcoming the limitations of my ‘flat’ nipples. I thought I might give hope to other women having difficulty breastfeeding. But I was timid about re-visiting those early days when feared I was starving my son and felt that I was somehow failing as a ‘natural’ woman.

After some 29 years of hesitating, words came. I was in the change room at the pool and saw a mother casually breastfeeding her baby while her two year old looked on and chatted. I was flooded with recollections (and a touch of envy). Later that day I wrote a poem expressing my feelings, concluding with the comforting sentiment that all mothers feel inadequate in some way. 

Madonna With Green Cushion, Antonio Solari (1460 - 1524) an idealised image of breast feeding

When I read the poem at an open mic event it appeared to resonate. Maybe I am generalising, but the women listening seemed to have a ‘yes, sister’ response, while the men were more ‘wow, she’s brave - sharing that private women’s body stuff’.  Of course they may just have liked the poem! 

Either way I have taken heart and decided I can now write about discovering that not all nipples are equal and the ones nature gave me were not up to the task of suckling my young. Indeed in former times, unless I was wealthy enough to employ a wet nurse, my babies would not have survived. 

At 33 I was statistically, for the West and for that era, the 1990s, an ‘older’ first-time mother. However my pregnancy went well. I felt buoyant, worked up to week 38 and sported elegant maternity outfits tailor-made for me by a dear friend. This was before the trend for bump hugging and baring which I could not have carried off. I swanned about in flowing smocks and perky pinafores. 

My son came 3 days late, a blessing for him as he was due on Christmas Day, but an ordeal for me as it was a protracted, stop-start labour. At one point, believing the labour had gathered momentum, the staff at King George V decided the best strategy was to place me on the equivalent of a gym mat on the floor of the delivery room overnight. When they opened the doors in the morning and I disappointed them they discussed the situation with the locum (my obstetrician was unsurprisingly on holidays), and she elected to induce. Already wrung out from several sleep deprived nights, the oxytocin drip did little to buck me up. I stumbled through labour in a stupor and found out later I had damaged a nerve in my lower back pushing whilst under the effects of the epidural. In my supported standing position atop a gurney, I was able to witness my son’s emergence in a mirror the nurses held up before me. He had a decidedly elongated form and egg-shaped head from his time in the birth canal.  I felt relief rather than joy at his arrival when he was placed in my arms. 

King George V Hospital for Mothers & Babies, Camperdown, NSW where both my children were born 

Soon I had more than exhaustion and the after effects of anaesthesia to worry about. When I tried to feed him, my son had difficulty ‘latching on’. The lactation nurse identified deficient nipples. “Do they ever come out more than that?” she asked handing me a glass and rubber ‘nipple puller’ that was meant to do the trick. I said I thought they did ‘a bit’ but their response to the suction device was to emerge half-heartedly and retreat almost immediately. I tried to capitalise on their brief extension and pop my son on but inevitably they provided an insufficient mouthful. He was hungry, frustrated and screaming. I was sore, guilt-ridden and desperate. When the senior lactation nurse was sent to get us sorted she confirmed his inadequate nutrition by telling me he looked like a ’skinned rabbit’. This tactlessness aside, she did help by getting me to express milk, both as a way of ensuring my flow was maintained and to offer my baby ‘comp’ feeds should the attachment problem remain unresolved. Although we would later hire, then buy, an electric breast pump, my first experiences were with a tubular device that I needed to operate manually punishing my inadequate breasts with pulling and pushing a sliding mechanism to create a vacuum. Had its result not been so sought after I would consider its use the height of masochism. 

 A 'Pigeon' brand nipple puller

The attachment problem persisted and the nurses confessed to giving my son bottle feeds overnight  including, on one occasion, feeding him someone else’s expressed milk. I was dismayed at this other woman’s hyper abundance and the implied insufficiency of my own supply. I was also concerned there could be health implications. I have since read that each mother’s breast milk has its unique ‘recipe’ tailored to her baby’s needs and that feeding another woman’s milk isn’t ideal.

My nipples were becoming sore from the poor attachment. My son was restless and hungry and barely maintaining his birthweight. I was exhausted from prolonged sessions of attempted feeding followed by expressing. My whole life revolved around lactation. Things reached their nadir on King George V’s rooftop on New Year’s Eve, fireworks in the background. I was sitting with my husband and mother when a nurse came rushing out telling me grumpily that my two day old son was in the nursery crying with hunger as if I were somehow indifferent to him and just partying. I felt absolutely lousy and powerless and began to sob. I probably made another futile attempt to feed him.  I probably expressed milk for half an hour afterwards. I am fairly sure they gave him a bottle of my or some other mother’s milk.  It is a blurry and distressing memory. 

Then, the next day, a breakthrough!  A lactation ‘team’ member I hadn’t seen before suggested I try nipple shields. The device I was shown was a nasty nicotine brown coloured protrusion, about the consistency of dried chewing gum, on a glass base. I needed to hold it over my nipple creating a ‘teat’ extension for my baby to suck on. I tried it with some success but for my son it was hardly akin to sucking on a real nipple and I felt like an exhibit in a 19thC museum of maternal grotesqueries! I was advised that a more aesthetic and flexible alternative style was available at chemists and my spouse went on a quest to find some. 


 The museum specimen King George V had on hand in 1990

The sombrero–shaped silicone devices we obtained fitted more subtly over the nipple although I still had to hold them in place throughout each feed. After use they needed to be washed with warm soapy water and stored in Milton solution. The nurses assured me they were to be considered an interim measure, were designed to protect scathed nipples and not intended for long term use and that they would both deter my baby from ever feeding ‘naturally’ and would reduce my supply. They advised me to continue expressing after each feed so I did, at least for the next few days, realising that compliance was my ticket out of hospital. Using the shields I could now feed my son when he needed it. I was less anxious. He became more settled.  Our proper bonding began.  

Contemporary  silicone nipple shield

A week after giving birth I was discharged, a hired electric breast pump,  an ample supply of Milton and my precious life sustaining nipple shields in tow. I remember looking up at green tree tops and blue sky with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. 

In the back of my mind I retained the idea that I wasn’t breast feeding properly and I needed to focus on getting off the shields. That didn't happen. Over the days and weeks I became ever so slightly more confident, demand fed and expressed less frequently. By late January, as the Symphony Under the Stars concert in the Sydney Domain concluded, I fed my boy under a tree to more fireworks and the 1812 Overture! 

In all I exclusively breastfed him, never giving bottles, using my trusty nipple shields, for 13 months until he was ready to move on. My supply never faltered. When my daughter arrived 3 years later – an easier birth thank goodness -  I again made an attempt to feed her without the shields. Quel surpris, I still had flat nipples and the same problems occurred. This time I had no hesitation in using the shields and felt fortunate and sensible in doing so. I was no longer paranoid that the occasional bottle would disrupt my supply and she had formula from time to time, soy-based as she had infantile eczema. She weaned herself at 8 months by diving face first into a plate of mashed potato while she was sitting on her father’s lap at the dinner table. 

Symphony Under the Stars - Sydney Domain

Other women have told me they were relieved that they couldn't breast feed or opted not to. That is their choice. For me it was important. I believe my children’s health and immune systems got the best start I could offer them. I believe the quality of our bonding was enhanced by the physical intimacy of breast feeding and its associated chemical processes. Once I relaxed into it, I found breast feeding very pleasurable. Not least because of the uterine contractions it triggers!  Those contractions help with the pelvic floor’s recovery too. 

Predictions about dwindling milk supply proved wrong in my case.  While the need to clean the shields every time I used them and to carry a little pot of Milton solution* with me at all times was cumbersome and did interfere with spontaneity feeding my babies, bottle feeding paraphernalia would have presented its own inconveniences.

For me personally, used to following through with the ventures I undertook, there was  an immense satisfaction in persevering and succeeding in pursuit of something I considered so valuable. While I haven’t necessarily become an evangelist for breast feeding, well I suppose I have really, a bit, I do urge new mothers to try. UNICEF and WHO recommend that babies are exclusively breast fed for the first 6 months of their lives – they do so for good reasons – it is positive for mother and baby in both the short and long term and is economically wise. In some countries women are manipulated by commercial interests into eschewing breast feeding or it is made very difficult for them because it is discouraged or even disallowed in workplaces. 

We need to normalise the mammalian natural

Choice is a feminist issue. So is our hard won right to proper care in our pregnancies and as new mothers, our access to adequate maternity leave and the implementation of enlightened breast feeding policies in the public arena and our workplaces. In 2021 we are questioning cultures based on male privilege and male preferences more strongly than ever. Supporting and encouraging breast feeding as part of a ‘new normal’ is important to that revolution! 

*I note that the Australian Breastfeeding Association now maintains that washing in soap and water then rinsing in hot water is sufficient.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Funding My Epiphany




All Saints East Horndon source: All Saints homepage



Above the Essex village

where my childhood petered out...

a russet Tudor church stands on a hill.

Across a busy highway

up a lane, through a barred gate

past brambled headstones

my Clarks-shod feet found it one afternoon.

 

I entered through its low doorway

to hazy mote-filled air revealing

spattered pews, uneven masonry, ancient niches

and dusty alabaster monuments.

 

A narrow brick stairway led to a tower

housing four bare bell yokes,

above the droppings and bodies of birds

 

I lingered in the church until daylight began to fade 

sensing something solemn in this deconsecrated shell

- a counterpoint to the bland bungalows and

utilitarian buildings

of our post-war constructed village

 

In those next few weeks a quest consumed me -

Kodak box camera images, wax rubbings

dutiful copies of

names, dates and heraldry

legends, culled from pamphlets,

of slain dragons and Anne Boleyn’s secreted heart…

the first frisson of discovery

 

Twenty years on

visiting from a new land

I expected the decay to be complete

yet found my church rehabilitated,

disturbingly clean,

used for meetings and musical performances.

Safe, if no longer mysterious

 

Then on New Year’s eve 2020,

to cap the chaos of Trump and Brexit and COVID and planetary conflagration,

some people held a rave in All Saints

installing port-a-loos amongst the graves

splintering the Norman doorway

shattering a window

chipping stone and plaster work

using Lady Tyrrell’s tomb as a bar and

strewing  the floor with their empties.

 

Friends of the church have launched an appeal

- my philanthropy exceeds my budget

(thirty five pounds sterling

is over  sixty Aus dollars!) 

but I spare what I can 

to preserve the 500 year old fabric

of the church and of my epiphany.

 

Jan Pittard © 2021

 


Page from my 1967 notebook with notes and drawings produced at All Saints



The church interior as it was left by the revellers source: Essex Live website


References: 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Bunny Ambivalence

Rabbits are not native to Australia but, along with other European pests, arrived by ship in 1788. Within 50 years they were endemic. 

In January 1912 Mr James McGrory of Willarma Station near Yass claimed in a report published in the Hillston Spectator & Lachlan River Advertiser that he had poisoned and collected the corpses of 5000 rabbits in one night, he volunteered three witnesses in case readers disbelieved him.

Record rabbit catch in the Riverina, The Sydney Mail 28 August 1912

Later that year the Manager of Wagga Wagga’s Borambola Station, Mr A.P. Wade, boasted a haul of 2000 rabbits in a single night to the Sydney Mail. The newspaper’s photograph of his inert quarry, arranged with Kondo-esque neatness, is reproduced above.   

As recently as February 2012, the ABC news website reported Riverina shooters culling more than 1000 bunnies each night. 

Just a week ago I went for coffee at the Lucid café in Gurwood Street (the ‘Paris end’ of Wagga) and saw a miniature lop eared bunny with markings resembling a Hercules Poirot moustache, fluffily hopping around nibbling pellets and carrot sticks. When she was ready to leave, its owner (appropriately enough) popped it into her handbag a la Paris Hilton! 

Currently on Gumtree miniature rex & lop eared bunnies are available in Wagga and Thurgoona for between $30 and $120.   

Australia exported frozen rabbit meat and pelts to Britain from the 1890s onwards. Rabbit stew was a favourite dish in ‘the old country’ and no less here where its economical and nutritious qualities sustained many a family during the Great Depression.  In the 1940s and 50s rabbit stew was still a rural favourite cooked over fires in rabbiters’ camps and, according to the Daily Advertiser of 15 January 1952,  introduced to city lads like Noel Mannering, Bill Pask and Peter Giles when they ‘went bush’ to celebrate the end of their apprenticeship training.  Ah, that 'schoolies' was as benign these days!

In the 21st century, two of Wagga’s most cherished institutions are Cottontails Harefield Vineyard & Restaurant and the Curious Rabbit Gallery-Café-Bookshop. 

Signage for arts hub in Wagga Wagga (the Paris end) referencing Alice in Wonderland 

I think it would be accurate to say that this town has an ambivalent relationship with the lagomorph. 

My own relationship with the species has also waxed and waned. An English childhood ensured that Beatrix Potter’s tales primed me to want bunnies as pets. I was given a pair when I was about nine. Benjamin was named for Potter’s creation, I can’t recall the name of his sibling. They were quite nasty and aggressive. Far from donning tam-o’-shanters and engaging in delightful whimsy, they scratched and bit me whenever I attempted to handle them or clean out their hutch and escaped to a neighbour’s (not Mr MacGregor’s) garden the first chance they got. 


Tenniel's and Potter's rabbits - my childhood bunny ideals

Despite this disappointing real life encounter, the rabbits in the books I read were consistently endearing. As well as Benjamin there was Peter and the Flopsies (we had an EP of Vivienne Leigh telling their story and singing “We don’t care, we don’t care, we don’t care a fig, there’s a cabbage in the larder though it isn’t very big (and any way tomorrow is another day!)” There was Lewis Carroll’s timid, tardy white rabbit who beguiled Alice into taking that plunge into Wonderland. There were Hazel, FiverCampion and Bigwig making the epic journey to Watership Down in Richard Adams’ 1972 novel. There were Jane Pilgrim’s delightful Blackberry Farm books and Enid Blyton’s adaptations of the Brer Rabbit  stories. 

I was not to get close up and personal with bunnies again for many years to come. Soon after arriving in Australia it was evident that rabbits were considered vermin here and subject to a variety of eradication techniques from baits to fumigation, from  buckshot to germ warfare*. Their fur was also the chief material used in Australia’s national hat, the Akubra. 

Sam Hood's 1927 photograph of Fort Street school boys being shown how Akubra hats were produced - some distinctly ex-looking bunnies as props.

It was quite by chance that we came to own a succession of pet rabbits in the 2000s. When we still lived in Sydney suburbia a litter was born under a neighbour’s house and one, whom my daughter named Leslie, hopped into our lives. We had him less than a fortnight when our ginger cat, Simon chased him and gave him a bunny cardiac arrest. My daughter was bereft and we actually paid good cash money for his replacement, a dwarf  lop eared rabbit called Waldorf (after a block of apartments we passed in Parramatta en route to collect him). Waldorf had a mischievous and engaging nature. He spent some time in his hutch but plenty with us in the house. Our Friday night ritual was for the family to occupy the sofa and to seat him on the window sill behind us as we shared a Cadbury’s family block with him and watched a movie. Waldorf’s life was short – he disappeared one night, probably the victim of a dog, fox or owl - but evidence was that he had fulfilled his destiny with a neighbour’s doe as we saw his likenesses hopping about the street a few weeks after his demise.

Waldorf being forced to endure a white rabbit trope - he hated that fob watch and immediately chucked it off the settee

After Waldorf we had Doris, Brian and Stuie – all blow-ins, or hop-ins, and perhaps  (at least the first two who had lop ears) Waldorf’s descendants. Their fate was sealed when we moved to Wagga. They did not cope well and succumbed, we thought at the time, to the heat, but now I wonder if they caught calicivirus. Any way all three perished within a few months of relocation. Strange thing was that there was another bunny hopping about, a fawn coloured beauty. An abandoned packet of pellets and an empty hutch told us it had been the former residents’ pet. It seemed well adapted to the climate but our neighbour ran it over in her 4 wheel drive.   

So the Riverina is no place for rabbits unless they are on a wine bottle label or a bookstore’s signage. However wild ones do abound so I guess the rifle totin’ locals can still catch a cheap tasty feed  or contribute to the Akubra supply chain!

*Anthropomorphic and cute though bunnies may have been in British literature I realised on a trip back to the UK in 1984 that the country of my birth had also tried to wipe out wild lagomorphs (although they were not an introduced species there), with the myxomatosis virus. We encountered an ailing rabbit on a drive through country lanes and after ‘rescuing’ it my Uncle Ken had to dispatch it with a resounding ‘thunk’ of his shovel.