Monthly Archives: December 2011

Summer Christmas

On Christmas Day 1789, Governor Arthur Phillip and his guests at the governor’s table in Sydney ate roast turtle, ‘a very fine one’ brought by HMS Supply from Lord Howe Island.  The convicts managed on their reduced rations of salt pork, flour and ‘pease’ or dhal, though on Norfolk Island, two pigs were slaughtered and extra flour released from the stores to provide a Christmas feast.  There was also a lot of extra rum.

Phillip had served in the Portuguese navy, spending time in Brazil, so Christmas in the heat was no big deal for him.  But for the convicts, as for nearly all new arrivals to Australia during the subsequent 200 years, a summer Christmas was very strange, for Australia has been overwhelmingly populated by people from the Northern Hemisphere. Continue reading

When the Boat People were Welcome

The problem of unauthorised boat arrivals on the north coast of Australia shows no sign of going away any time soon, despite all the good will – and more particularly the bad will – of politicians and the public.

Yet the subject of a permeable frontier in the north is hardly new.  The poor Indonesian fishermen who today transport cargoes of desperate people to our shores are the 21st century descendents of the poor fishermen who sailed south to the lands they called Marege [Arnhem Land] and Kayu Jawa [Kimberley] in the 18th and 19th centuries to harvest shark fin and sea slugs [bêche de mer or trepang] for the Chinese market.  The sailing season is similar, with most boats arriving before and after the summer cyclone season – though one difference is that, in these days of diesel motors, they are no longer dependent on the monsoons to propel their boats.

The other difference is that once, these visitors were enthusiastically welcomed by the British settlers in northern Australia. Continue reading

Dürer and the Aztecs

Matisse: Drawing Life is a new exhibition at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art.    Most of the drawings come from the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, with others from the National Gallery of Australia and elsewhere.  GOMA has curated the exhibition very well – and I just love the ‘Drawing Room’ at the end, where visitors are encouraged to do their own still lifes, either with pencils on paper, or on electronic pads (which had me hooked – I’ve now downloaded Zen Brush to my iPad).

Drawing at the Matisse exhibition, Brisbane

Matisse drawings are often an extreme simplification of form, a reduction to a few telling lines.  They look easy – but get close and you can see where lines were changed or rubbed out as he drew, until he reached that deceptive simplicity.

Matisse Patitcha smiling

Henri Matisse, Patitcha souriante (Patitcha smiling) 1947

Matisse was influenced by non-Western art.  It is hard to imagine Picasso’s art without the influence of African masks.  Matisse too, to a lesser extent, was influenced by North African images, while Rodin was inspired by Cambodian dancers.  All of these exotic images were readily available in Paris or Marseilles, courtesy of French imperialism.

Some artists are content to work within their culture, but others push the boundaries.

In 1520, the German artist Albrecht Dürer travelled from his home in Nuremberg to Antwerp to meet Charles V. Continue reading

Marriage traditions, now and forever evolving

English: The front cover of William Blackstone...

Image via Wikipedia

Two very different but significant decisions were made in Australia last week, which have a bearing on the nature of marriage.  Firstly on 30 November the High Court overturned ‘spousal privilege’, the common law right of a spouse (in this and virtually every case, the wife) to refuse to give evidence against her husband.  Secondly the Australian Labor Party voted on 3 December to include same sex marriage in its federal platform (while reserving a conscience vote that will ensure nothing actually changes).  Throw in a third – Andrew Fraser’s private member’s bill to legalise civil unions for same sex couples in Queensland on 1 December – and something interesting seems to be going on.

Maybe I’m not looking in the right places, but so far I haven’t seen any analysis that links the High Court decision to the issue of same sex marriage, and changing attitudes towards single sex unions in the general community, but taken together they seem to say something about the practice of marriage itself. Continue reading

The cost of a pearl of great price

The actress Elizabeth Taylor’s art, clothes, furnishings and jewellery are being sold by Christie’s auction house this week and next, with the best of the jewellery to be auctioned in New York on 13 December.  Lot No. 12 is La Peregrina, meaning ‘the wanderer’ or ‘the pilgrim’, a pearl of impeccable provenance.  Christie’s estimates it will sell for $2-3m.

The pearl was found in the Gulf of Panama during the first half of the 16th century. Spain was then colonising Central America, and Spanish colonists presented the pearl to the Spanish king, Philip II. Continue reading

Clothes and the stories they tell

Helen [not her real name] got married during World War II.  There was strict rationing in Australia at the time.  Wedding dresses were exempt, but not other non-essential items such as a trousseau for the honeymoon.  Being a feisty young woman even then (and she is still, in her 80s, a feisty old woman), Helen decided to get what she needed wherever she could.

Pellegrini’s Catholic Depot was the traditional supplier of Catholic religious furnishings in Brisbane.  Helen bought lace altar cloths, and sewed them into the lingerie that was considered suitable for her wartime honeymoon.  Possibly the crosses, chi rhos, and other religious symbols on her knickers and nightdresses added to their sexy allure. Continue reading