Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A wee Riverina town


The Doug Anthony All Stars had fun with the name ‘Uranquinty’ when they came to Wagga. I checked, ‘Uranquinty’ is indigenous; it means yellow box tree and plenty of rain. These days Uranquinty’s average rainfall is about the same as the rest of the Riverina’s but maybe it was remarkable a few thousand years ago. The yellow box tree is a slow-growing, spreading eucalypt with yellowish tinged bark that shreds in ribbons. According to Landcare, it thrives in ‘light to heavy well-drained moist soils but ’resents high water tables’.  Again, did it enjoy more of a drink back in the day? 

Then there is the association with the 2001 musical, ‘Urinetown’ which I haven’t seen but, as it is described as a witty post-Brechtian satire on disaster capitalism,  it would undoubtedly be just my cup of diuretic tea.

It would be crass to dwell on these cross-linguistic homonyms were it not for the fact that at least some amongst the town’s roughly 900 residents find lavatories and drainage a source of great civic pride. This is evinced by pages on their promotional website ‘Uranquinty the Friendly Village’ and ‘Visiting Uranquinty’ which between them feature five images related to public toilets and waste disposal: two images of the toilet block in the rest area, two images of  art work on the wall of said toilet block, and an image of the grey and black water disposal facility. These pictures are given prominence and, unlike photographs of the cenotaph, roll of honour, RAAF memorial and statue commemorating immigrant women and children, are displayed the right way up!

A good investigative blogger does not rely only on secondary sources and old DAA jokes, she goes to the source – especially if the source has one of the region’s best bakeries! So I recently made my fifth visit to Quinty, as the locals call it. Despite two days without rain, the gutter outside the Quinty Bakehouse was awash - spooky! Having applied hand sanitiser and availed ourselves of different entry and exit points, we took our coffee and two of the tarts spruiked on their ample signage opposite to Wirraway Park. This ‘popular rest stop and play area right on the Olympic Highway’ (Wagga Wagga Council website) features all of the above mentioned monuments and 10 life-sized cow cut-outs made from hand-forged solid flatbar steel by artist Jane Cavanaugh. The cows are fun, juxtaposed nicely and good for teasing the dog. They also light up at night.


I’ve lived in the Riverina for five and a half years now but I still behave like a tourist reading every plaque, inspecting all public art and commemorative installations, researching the area’s history and taking lots of photos. So I checked out the simple cenotaph and granite plaque commemorating locals who served and fell in World Wars 1 and 2 respectively. For such a small town, Quinty made a huge contribution to the forces in the latter conflict. In a chicken and egg conundrum I haven’t been able to determine if that is because an RAAF training school and fuel depot were located here, or vice versa.

I was surprised and pleased to see Canny Kinlock‘s sculpture of a woman, with her two children and suitcase, representing refugee families offered  a home in one of Uranquinty’s disused army and air force camps in the late 40s and early 50s, their men folk often working as labourers on the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme. 

But all that is on the public record. I sought the public toilets. Our coffees did their work and it was time to inspect these facilities.  Inescapable on approach is the bright blue plastic lidded ‘Dump-Ezy’ tank. Resembling a children’s paddling pool or sand pit, though one hopes it is never mistaken for either, it is labelled  a ’dump point’ for the ‘disposal of black and grey water’ from RVs and caravans. Grey nomads, for whom my spouse and I often get mistaken, pass this way often and take the opportunity to download, so to speak.  I know about ‘grey’ water, we use it on the garden, but ‘black’ water I had to look up. Ah, it is the liquid that comes from flushing the toilet in mobile homes it ‘contains the pathogens of faeces and the nutrients of urine … diluted (by) flush water’.  Put like that is seems crime to harbour it – or to waste it!

The ‘dump point’ does tend to dominate the view which is a shame as a framed photograph of the toilet block on the wall of the toilet block (a bit meta that) features a caption in texta drawing attention to the fact that ‘the toilet block is made to blend in with the silos at the back’, an idea ‘suggested by Elaine Mortimer’ and realised ‘by locals’. 


Heritage-sympathetic architecture is alive and well in Quinty! 


Our historical and aesthetic education continued even further as we entered the conveniences. Front and centre is an unattributed mosaic mural depicting the (European) history of Quinty including the growing and cartage of crops, the pleasures of being a smocked figure sitting in the fields (although this could be a trio of scarecrows), two small planes looking as if they are about to engage in a dog fight and a glimpse of the formidable silos. Most prominent of course is the pub! Fair enough, it is one of only half a dozen functioning businesses in the town, is a nice arts and crafts influenced design and has probably contributed a fair number of users to these facilities.


Thinking I was unlikely to ‘squeeze’ any further ‘drops’ of blog material out of this visit, imagine my delight on opening the cubicle door to yet greater evidence of Quinty’s joy in all things lavatorial!


Note: All photographs are mine except for Yellow Box Tree, Wagga source: Wikipedia and Unranqunity public toilet block source: Google Maps

Monday, April 13, 2020

Ekphrasis - Tree Conversations

Poems written in response to the exhibition Conversations With Trees - networking with the world wide wood, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery,  8 February - 3 May 2020. 


As Above So Below - Nancy Tingey 2019 (pictured below)


Shiny filaments of polyester
Static yet sprouting
spindly roots and branches

Fibre from the techno-sphere
rendered into an
exclamation of grasses

Avian sounds playing in the background
at odds with these synthetic forms
woven, meshed, bound
coiled, spun, and splayed.

Neatly wild
in their perfect glossy blackness,
too pristine
to come from soil.


Jan Pittard© 2020



  


Picnic for the for the Trees - Dotti le Sage 2020
Intercontinental Picnic - Dotti le Sage 2020

The artist says she is illustrating
our symbiotic, ceremonial and social connections with trees.

She has superimposed images
of classic vessels and bric-a-brac shop china
on screen prints of plantation timber.

Strange to see a picnic site
set with genie bottles and Doultonware

Where are our discarded soft drink bottles,
Maccas wrappers and lethal plastic straws?

Have they charred with the perished forest
in the fires?

These pictures remain.

Jan Pittard© 2020



Peeling Away Series I – V - Christine Appleby 2018 (pictured above)

Calico tinsel spirals

suspended tubes and cylinders
dancing threadbare weaves
Sheer gossamer
with copper sheen

Steely filaments
fraying strands
suspended with wires
to hold their billowing forms

Gallery lights cast inevitable shadows,
less subtle versions of your tactile selves

‘Coiling shapes of peeling, falling bark’ says the artist...

Your lustre is like no chalky gum tree surface I have seen;
you belong to a submarine realm.

Buoyant, adrift
insubstantial

Through the camera  
less solid still,
strands no longer distinct
blurs of putty and saffron
like imploding fungi

Improvisation on a theme?
Interpretation of a brief?
Word on object.
Parasite on parasite.


Jan Pittard© 2020

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Nordic Saga

I

We were at Ikea in Fyshwick
at opening time
in anticipation
of domestic transformation.
The excitement abated
after the first hour and a half.
In the end we were there
for over three hours…
We lost each other four times
and had to text or call.
There is a store plan and arrows
projected on the floor;
we were generally heading
counter to the arrows
while technically not illegal,
it still felt like failure.
Towards the end we discovered secret shortcuts,
‘worm holes’ Bob called them,
but nothing spared our aching legs and feet.

II

We went to Ikea to get the Hemnes and the Fillan
simple enough you would think.
We ended up with the Skurup, the Skogslok,
the Djungelskog and the Dronas;
the Fillan was out of stock.
They were expecting some in
but we baulked at the $200 delivery charge to Wagga
and decided to wait,
to take a chance,
see if we can get it next time.
We did order two Flarras to come by courier though,
much cheaper
they should be here on Tuesday.

III

At home now
we are integrating our Hemnes
into our existing furnishings.
It has Scandinavian cousins
in our Billy bookcase and a 1980s trolley
anonymous now
forerunner of the Bror.
Ikea names come
not from a random generator of letters
as it is  tempting to think,
but from words for Swedish places, people and things
(I know because Bob Googled it in bed).
The tradition was set by its founder,
Ingvar Kamprad
who struggled with numbers;
I can relate.
There is a taxonomy online
don’t be disappointed
it is still quirky…
kitchen utensils get their names
from fish, mushrooms
and adjectives.

IV

The first flatpack is open
there are 30 wooden plugs,
24 shoulder bolts
and two sets of eight screws.
Bob says assembling the Hemnes
is therapeutic -
let’s see how he feels
after three hours!


© 2020








Thursday, October 24, 2019

Interwoven

It’s funny how apparently unrelated threads in our lives can intertwine and how we sometimes hit upon unknown facts about people that resonate deeply with us. In the last couple of years I have discovered the unknown (to me) talents of two friends  and an unsuspected connection between their lives and mine. These disparate skeins have become woven together in a way that is both bittersweet and cathartic.

Diablo Mode was big, dark and hirsute. A bear.  I met him when he was the newish partner of our long-time friend and former neighbour John Stone. John is a bear too. But grizzly. I sat on their deck in Stanmore and admired the assorted boots, joggers, and lone leather motorcycle glove, hanging on the fence, sprouting succulents. They looked quirky, a bit random and a bit curated. ‘That’s Diablo’s work’ said John. I looked around and soon saw other evidence of Diablo’s creativity: objects combining manufactured elements like thread, copper wire and brass tacks with native grasses and seed pods.


Diablo Mode (aka James David Gardener) 

As well as being John’s witty, saturnine companion who lent me a sympathetic ear and settled me down to rest on their window seat when I got drunk after a fight with my sister, Diablo was an artist!

His earliest work was playful, impermanent. With chalk he drew stitch patterns over cracks in pavements and masonry and traced the outlines of shadows cast by streetlights leaving evocative after-images when the sun rose.  He came under the influences of surrealism, and its sister movement Dada, making slyly homoerotic collages and sculptures, increasingly incorporating found objects. As he matured as an artist Diablo was affected by a rich range of other influences and produced work of increasing originality and sophistication. On an art school trip to Central Australia he found his true metier: weaving using a combination of Australian native flora  and man-made elements.  



Examples of Diablo's work blending natural and manufactured elements 

Diablo Mode was also known as  James David Gardner and he died suddenly in the early hours of 25 October 2018 aged only 45.

John was poleaxed. Sydney friends and artists rallied and arranged a fittingly flamboyant wake within days. Five hours away in Wagga, with a husband who had just had a heart attack, I couldn’t make it. John sent us a link to the slide show. The art impressed me, blending those industrial and botanic materials into forms that belied their fragility and impermanence. The pictures and videos of them together taking their dog, Bodhi, on road trips, walks and swimming undid me.



John, Bodhi & Diablo on a road trip in their van 

Now John was faced with the challenge of re-homing Diablo’s vast stock of works in progress, art tools, accumulated found objects and botanic materials. Most could go to his family, but a destination for the painstakingly accumulated raw and prepared botanical materials needed to be found.


Aunty Kath Withers in her studio in Wagga Wagga not long after her diagnosis

I first met Aunty Kath Withers during my short-lived career with Riverina TAFE. A revered Wiradjuri elder, she taught art at Junee Gaol. In its wisdom, the New South Wales vocational education system insisted she acquire a formal qualification to continue to do so. I met her weekly in the library and we quickly formed a bond over fathoming the weasel words and coyote concepts that make up vocational  training ‘packages’ and the byzantine complexity of TAFE’s eLearning system.

Aunty Kath got a diagnosis of breast cancer a few weeks in and we took a break so she could undergo treatment.  For some reason during that interval TAFE decided not to fund any more of our sessions together. Kath and I stayed in touch. I saw her give the welcome to country at several events and she invited us to her exhibition Looking Forward, Looking Back at the Wagga Art Gallery.  The breadth of her artistic output, which includes print-making, painting, pokerwork and weaving, often referencing her childhood in Wagga’s Tin Town, astounded me. We have two of her pieces, Murrumbidgee Dreaming and New Beginnings, on our walls.


Work produced at Aunty Kath's weaving workshops

Despite an increasing success as a practising artist, Auntie Kath says her greatest joy is passing on her cultural knowledge and technical skills by running workshops, particularly weaving workshops.

An idea began to form…

Maybe Diablo’s botanic stockpile could travel the 450 km from Sydney’s inner west to Tatton in Wagga Wagga. There it could fulfil its destiny in Aunty Kath’s hands and those of her workshop participants. I talked to her and to John about it and early in 2019 John arrived in Wagga with Bodhi and a van full of treasures.



Delivering some of Diablo's botanic materials left to right: me, Kath and John

Delivering the cache and chatting we discovered a beautiful synergy.  Diablo and Kath had both learnt from the same mentor, the extraordinary and acclaimed basket weaver Virginia Kaiser. To compound the coincidence, I had also known Virginia, and packaged her work for an exhibition in Teheran, during my time at Craft Australia in the 1990s. It is extremely satisfying that our disparate paths have dovetailed like this. John  and others who knew Diablo agree that his materials are in good hands and will continue to be used by artists. It feels as though we are preserving an important legacy and perhaps contributing to the creation of new ones.


 In Memory of  James David Gardner (1973 - 2018)

NOTE: All images are reproduced with permission of Kath Withers and John Stone.


Sources:


Conversations with John Stone and Aunty Kath Withers
Carmichael, R. Gordon, Catalogue essay ‘Don’t Ever Stop’ retrospective exhibition of Diablo Mode’s work 2019
Recharge, relax, relearn/Brooke Munro @ Dirty Janes Bowral, 
 2017 – accessed September 2019
City of Wagga Wagga Council website – various pages - accessed September 2019

For more about these artists visit

Diablo Mode

Aunty Kath Withers

Virginia Kaiser




Wednesday, July 31, 2019

EKPHRASIS* LINDA LUKE's 'STONE'

*The word ekphrasis, or ecphrasis, comes from the Greek for the description of a work of art produced as a rhetorical exercise. It is a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined.


Image promoting 'Stone'  from Wagga Wagga Art Gallery site

Choreographer/performance artist Linda Luke’s ‘Stone’ is described as an ‘intimate and atmospheric performance’ and a ‘meditation on nature and deep time exploring the symbiotic relationship between evolution, geology, rivers and humanity’. The work was developed with support from CREATE NSW, the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery and Booranga Writers’ Group and specifically references this locality and the Murrumbidgee. I saw the final of three performances at the Links Gallery last weekend.


Morrow Street, Wagga Wagga (my photo)

We approached the Civic Precinct in misty winter twilight to see the 45 minute performance. Visible through the sliding glass doors were multi-coloured stools and figures surrounded by surfaces that looked as if the contents of a technicolour piƱata had exploded and stuck to them! This was the unlikely pop art prelude to the monochrome hues and serious mood of the work we were about to see.


Polychrome explosion - Wagga Wagga Art Gallery entrance way (my photo)

Roughly twenty five people, ranging in age from pre-schooler to sexagenarian, turned out to see ‘Stone’. An un-mic-ed staff member, as far as I could make out, asked the group to wait in the main gallery space so we could be admitted and all take our seats simultaneously and thus minimise disruptions. Viewing the amazing Art Express exhibition again while we waited was no chore and inevitably several people did wander in after the performance began.

After what seemed like several minutes of pregnant silence, the performance in the darkened space began under projected grainy images evoking flowing water and textured bark and accompanied by Liberty Kerr‘s percussive cello notes.  Next came the occasional clinking of stones as they rolled from atop a large meandering pile in the centre of the performance space, hitting the floor, suggesting an underlying upheaval. Surely, steadily, a human hand snaked from the mound, forming shapes resembling a plant shoot or a bird’s head emerging from an egg.  Slowly a full arm appeared. Tentative, hypnotic writhing and darting movements ensued. Then legs, one at a time with feet turned out like those on the Manx flag (sans armour), projected above the stones, as if testing the safeness of the air. Then the performer, Linda Luke herself, gradually arose from the stones, crouching, then standing as if willing herself to occupy minimal space, and lit with eerie shadows, her eyes closed seemingly reluctant to encounter even muted light, perhaps roused from hibernation. 



Feet turned out like those on the Isle of Mann flag (sans armour)

The projections continued to play across the surface of her body, across the stones and onto a series of screens behind her.  The impression was one of natural elements merging and changing continuously. Linda wore a simple gauzy grey-black costume with some reddish tinged striations, her arms and legs bare and her face partially veiled some of the time.  A good surface for the play of light and shapes though my mind did also conjure a fleeting vision of a  faded flannel Annette Kellerman style swimsuit.


Alice Docker wearing the kind of  one-piece swimsuit popularised by Annette Kellerman. 
Image sourced from Australian Dress Register site https://australiandressregister.org/garment/501/

The cello produced sounds like breath and heartbeats, and as my partner noted later, not unlike the rhythms of much Australian Indigenous music. More strategic silences were employed. Linda’s movements suggested a creature both in confrontation with aspects of nature and also melding into its organic environment. Eventually she did so, almost literally, by slowly backing toward a series of screens at the rear of the space.  Densely mottled images projected uniformly across her body and onto the screens, she did seem to fade into them and to become absorbed.

There was a long pause before the audience broke into patchy clapping as each member decided for themselves if the performance had concluded.  A further pause and Linda returned in more conventional lighting and thanked CREATE, the gallery and us.

I felt moved by the concentrated intensity of the performance and thought its evocation of an ancient river and surrounding trees and terrain very effective. The work made me contemplate nature’s pre-human existence and its endurance into a future possibly also devoid of human life. One of my companions said he thought ‘Stone’ was about rebirth, the other that he thought it had the feel of a Dreamtime story.  I shared the view of one of them that the movements were not quite smooth enough to do the concept full justice when compared to say Lindsay Kemp’s seamless gliding and nuanced gestures or the fluid movements of many contemporary dancers.


Lindsay Kemp, A Domenica in Negli Anni Ottanta 

‘Stone’ largely achieved its artistic and aesthetic goals. If for me it inadvertently referenced Annette Kellerman's preferred swimwear and made me nostalgic for Lindsay Kemp, I can live with that.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Both Kinds of Music


The earliest 'pop' music I remember hearing was an Andrews Sisters’ EP of ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree’ and 'Oh, Johnny’ that belonged to my grandmother. Then there was my parents’ Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra collection – text on the sleeves all in Spanish because they bought the records in Argentina. We also mysteriously owned a Burl Ives’ 78 of ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ and Noah Found Grace in the Eyes of the Lord’. I'm talking the late 50s, early 60s, only Sammy and Frank could have been considered vaguely contemporary. Burl, Laverne, Patty and Maxene were quaint, if catchy, a description which also applied to most of the offerings on BBC radio’s ‘Children's Favourites’ which we listened to on Saturday mornings. 'Nellie the Elephant' and  'I Don't Wanna Play In Your Yard' come to mind. Sometimes Dad tuned our only transistor to Radio Luxembourg, a pirate station, but I can’t remember any of the shanties they played. 
  
The Andrews Sisters - they swung!

As young girls, my sister and I had the obligatory crush on the Beatles and slept with black and white photos of our faves, given away in packets of Birdseye frozen peas, under our pillows. Me – John;  her – Paul. We had just one of their records, a mono EP, the one with the arty shot of the fab four, faces in half shadow, on the sleeve.  Though there is no way you could play music in the car in those days, in my mind the refrain: ‘and then while I’m away I’ll write home every day’ is inseparable from our drive away from our Lancashire home of 3 years to return to England’s south.


 'and then while I’m away I’ll write home every day...’

As teenagers the same Paul-fancying sister and I lived in the granny flat under our house in 'The Shire', an infamous southern suburb of Sydney, Australia, not Hobbiton. There the radio was mostly tuned to 2SM.  I remember top forties stuff like ‘I Did What I Did For Maria’ and ‘Ma Belle Amie’ as well as a smattering of ‘golden oldies’. Hearing 50s songs prompted me to see the movies ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘That’ll Be The Day’ and I experienced the bizarre frisson of feeling ‘nostalgia’ for a decade I mostly missed or spent in rompers.

I owned just one record as a child, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves.  I had asked for a recording of the folk song attributed to Henry VIII only to be disappointed that Mr Williams had omitted the vocals.  Much later I acquired a few more ‘discs’. In about Year 8, a precocious classmate gave me a cover version of ‘Hair’ for my birthday.  Vocals were very much present on that record and I sang along, enthusiastically pondering why ‘pederasty sounds so nasty’ and, less provocatively, where ‘the Waverley Building’ was. 

In my teens a boyfriend gave me Cat Stevens’ ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ and the follow up album ‘Teaser and the Fire Cat’. Both featured the singer’s own folksy (and possibly proto Islamic) cover art. It was the sleeve design, and of course the incomparable ‘Maggie May’, that attracted me to Rod Stewart’s ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’. However I was soon rocking and thrashing to every track on the LP until a coating of tomato sauce applied at a party we held in the flat rendered it unplayable. I had never heard of mondegreens in 1971 but I am pretty sure that at his near hysterical bluesy best Rod screeched ‘every preacher tastes of stale donut’.


Loved this sleeve art on 'Every Picture Tells a Story'

American Pie’ and ‘Hot August Night’ were omnipresent in the early 70s. I have never tired of the poignant catchiness of Don McLean’s hit with its tantalising references to pop history, although Madonna later tried valiantly to ruin it for all of us. However even as I gyrated with my peers to ‘Crunchy Granola Suite’ and ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’ I felt there was something a bit naff about Neil Diamond, not least his name and jumpsuit.  Carly Simon, Roberta Flack, Carole King and Bette Midler all entered my orbit in the following years but somehow I didn’t encounter Dylan, Bowie or Springsteen… That was because my popular music education was arrested when I fell for a moustachioed uni student I met at the theatre. He was studying IT and ‘serious’ music and though he never introduced me to Cobol and Pascal, I was plunged into a parallel musical universe where Beethoven and Rossini (from the ‘Clockwork Orange’ soundtrack) emanated from his car’s tape deck. John Cargher’s ‘Singers of Renown’ followed The Goons every Saturday afternoon on ABC radio and Kiri Te Kanawa’s recording of ‘Les Chansons d’Auvergne’ was played obsessively at home by our thespian flatmate.  I was soon hooked on that and on the sublime arias Cargher played to say  nothing of his velvety blended Scottish-Argentine accent. 

One exception was Handel whom I just didn’t ‘get’ then. It was the use of repeated and quaint sounding phrases in his oratorios that got me sniggering. I thought declaring Jesus a ‘wonderful counsellor’ was seriously weird and that George Frideric could have come up with something a bit more apposite than likening the son of god to an effective therapist.   I am more mature and better  educated now and am only tempted to giggle at ‘we like sheep’ – I mean, who doesn’t, in the paddock or on the plate?

The soundtrack to our lives wasn’t entirely classical. While we didn’t see pub bands and cult movies like ‘Performance’ and ‘Lisztomania’, we did sit up late and watch black and white Busby Berkeley and Astaire and Rogers movies, the pop culture of the 1930s! Seeing these films was a liberation for me as whenever musicals were screened at home my father complained that people did not burst into song like that  ‘in real life’ and responded to any terpsichorean activity by the men in the cast by yelling ‘dancing poons’ and turning the TV set off. 

A foretaste of my passion for aqua-aerobics? Busby Berkeley's trademark style.

We weren't completely Amish about modern music though, and fell hard for Ian Dury and the Blockheads in the 80s – I think my Essex background partly accounted for that. However my poor training in live rock music performance sent me home in a taxi from their concert at the Capitol with a migraine. We were exposed to Madness and Dexy’s Midnight Runners on The Young Ones and I did follow British pop of the 80s for a while, UK Squeeze a particular favourite. I also went to a party once where ‘Ant Music’ was played over and over but it took Adam Hills years later to convey Adam Ant’s full cultural import.

About this time, someone I worked with had a brother in a band called The Skolars and also used to go and see some guys called The Cockroaches. All I saw of either band was flyers taped to telegraph poles.  I believe the former traded in their Newtown black for some colourful turtle necked garments and had modest success a while later.

 Some grungy garage band from Newtown

Pregnant with our first child I discovered Carmina Burana. The baby heard it in utero at the Sydney Opera House and then kicked along to the CD at home.  In his first year of life he was piggybacked around the house to ABC ‘Classic Kids’ – Flight of the BumbleBee and the William Tell Overture particularly delighting us both.  I liked the songs on the Tim Buckley tape a friend, recently unlucky in love, gave me, but failed to realise that his death  some 15 years earlier was the loss of a great talent. Fortunately he bequeathed the world  Jeff, equally talented, and sadly equally accident prone.

I thought ABBA 100% Eurovision material, i.e. horribly kitsch, when they won that contest and didn’t  really warm to them as they went on to take the world by storm.  Being deeply pedantic I disputed that a history book on a shelf could repeat itself and that Agnetha’s and Frida’s sexual surrender could have unfolded in ‘quite a sim’lar way’ to Napoleon’s military one. (I certainly hope they didn’t suffer piles like he did). I did appreciate Toni Colette’s and Rachel Griffith’s ABBA homage in Muriel’s Wedding though assumed it was a parody. When I finally saw ‘Mama Mia’ I had to admire its sheer exuberance (Pierce Brosnan’s singing notwithstanding). Kathy Burke and James Dreyfus also gave ’Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ associations I could live with in their eponymous comedy series. Anyway, doing aqua-aerobics for over 20 years makes ABBA’s music inescapable and it is good to exercise to.

Maybe surprisingly my musical education was further enhanced by my Masters studies. A favourite lecturer on 'Work & Learning' played us songs such as Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’,  Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Working Life’ and  Roy Orbison’s ‘Working for the Man’ and proved that a very respectable critique of capitalism exists in popular music. I continue to learn at my exercise classes in the pool. I have encountered Coldplay’s ‘When I Ruled the World’, Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and  Mental As Anything’s ‘Live It Up' there as well as the most bizarre upbeat cover of Helen Reddy's 'I Am Woman' (difficult to splash around merrily to: 'you can bend but never break me' and 'yes, I am wise but it's wisdom borne of pain').  I both recalled and learnt heaps about western popular music (including the all-important Adam Ant) by watching Spicks and Specks. Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan snuck in to my consciousness too, courtesy of a work colleague, and I had the pleasure of seeing each of them live in Sydney with my niece.


Alan Bro, Adam Hills and Myf Waughurst - Spicks and Specks conjured up my repressed pop memories and taught me lots of stuff I didn't know. 
 
I continue to discover a lot of pop music retrospectively. Michael Jackson in the saturation coverage during the weeks after his death, Elvis, also posthumously, because of a marvellous 2 part doco shown on SBS, and a multitude of blues artists through Martin Scorsese’s amazing  2003 series.  Our radio is permanently tuned to ABC Classic so that is the music that still dominates my days. I recently let the side down by not voting in their Top 100 Favourite Composers, or I may have actually let the composers down personally if some of the station’s promos are to be believed. Thing is, I don’t have a single favourite composer or artist or even a list of ten of them.  

Peter Sculthorpe and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunipingu are my favourites when I want to submerge myself in the essence of my country, George Gershwin and Lenny Bernstein are my favourites when I want to feel the sheer exhilaration of America  in the first half of the 20th century, Billie Holliday and Edith Piaf are my favourites when I want to hear the rawness of women’s pain given voice. I am not averse to a bit of Paul Simon, Georgie Fame, Patsy Kline or Marianne Faithfull either.

Variety is the spice of musical life! Looking forward to The Sapphires this week in Wagga and Bach in the Dark in Gunning soon!