Saturday, May 26, 2012

Racing to the Garden, Racing to Lunch...

  Here I am on the tram, off to lunch at Jimmy Watson's in Carlton with my friend Ian, but before I do, I'm stopping off at the University of Melbourne to try to capture some of the spirit of the many pieces of garden there...
The university is old. How old? Older than me. I first attended the university in 1977, but it was founded in 1853. I love that in a university, aspects of life that may be chopped off in the wider world are allowed to loom as they will.
Despite its age, significant attempts have been made, throughout its time, to keep its surrounds contemporary, interesting, and alive. A courtyard, above, circa 1970s.
And here, a piece of some old building's been incorporated into landscape.
Not being a plantsman, I've no idea what you call this glorious green and gold thing, but I love its boldness, set as it is, against old stone.
Look! Someone's decided to transform a bit of old industry into sculpture. Despite my checkered history as a student of this university, I only feel at home here contemplating its spaces.
I hope to be able to post a more comprehensive survey of this university's grounds before too long, but racing off to lunch as I was, I had little time to spare. Fortunate then, that time stands still sometimes... Swanston Street, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, or its facade, seen here, is an integral part of the university.
Just down the road, an example of the streetscape the university belongs to...
...and here, a dunny, or to European/American ears, a toilet, of an outdoor variety.
And here, the wonderful King and Godfree's, a delicatessen, wine store,a  place to lose or find your senses...
The neighbourhood is intoxicating. A local church, above, gives a sense of the age of this most popular of Melbourne's shopping precincts.
 At last I've made it to Jimmy Watson's, an institution in Melbourne for 60 years. My Dad used to come here. You go in, and everything's the same as it was then, even the menu, more or less. Was it the first wine bar in Melbourne? It was certainly the most popular place to stop and enjoy friendship and good, honest, Italian-inspired food for the University of Melbourne's academics.
I am not an academic, but I enjoy a simple meal, good food ( a seafood risotto ), and a decent red. More than that, after all my racing, I enjoy my friendships, whether they are here in this very cultured city, or far away, across the world, in gardens, or not.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Heroic Poet Tom Quilty

The other day I found this beautiful book of poems by a man claiming not to be a poet. Tom Quilty ( 1887 - 1979 ) holds the record for owning more freehold land in Australia than anyone else - 3 million acres.
'The Drover's Cook' ( published 1958, the same year I was published, so to speak ) is a very rare book, and worth far more than I paid for it, but the point is that Tom Quilty wrote with authority, wrote from out of his raw, everyday experience, and wrote with love for the life he knew.
With all due respect to the Aborigines pictured here, who do not like to have images of themselves taken, this shot gives you some idea of the world Tom lived in, under a  relentless sun, in an Australia still here, and in my heart, a big country.
It seems I may be only the fourth person to have read this copy, from the Christ Church Grammar School library, after D. Ingram, 'Underwood,' and 'Potts' ( staff ). I hold it close to my heart. I don't normally read our 'bush' poets, but this time, something about the honesty hit me.
I don't know how easy it is to read this, or if you want to, but the realism of the life, the humour, the gutsiness, the lack of bullshit - despite a lack of 'poetic' niceness  - have taken me in. I want to be out in the unbroken, untamed vast expanse, where words are heard more clearly under silent, never-ending skies.
Here's my favourite image from the book, one of several B&W photographs, entitled 'Tucker Time at Bamboo Creek.' It's wondered why Australians are so good at sport, and so cheerful; it's because we have to deal with a hard country, a country that's nonetheless immensely beautiful and quiet. We're not going to let anything get us down. Life has gone on here far longer than it has elsewhere.
There's nothing cultivated about the verse. Why should there be? Chaucer wrote out of the everyday. Tom Quilty, despite immense wealth, was a Christian, humble, forever remembering what had made him.
'Bemi' tells the story of a horse:

"We go to Hall's Creek races,
Where, each year, he faces,
The guns from all the stations for miles around."

Tom Quilty wrote in a manner not considered literary. Rhyming verse, based on an everyday, country reality, has sometimes held little appeal for forward-moving, city-based critics.
'Broken Down Squatter' tells the story of many who've tried to have a go here, in this difficult country:

"His pathway through life
Was ruffled by strife,
And the hopes of his boyhood destroyed."

Who doesn't know that? Dreams break, and there you are on the floor, every bit of you broken. But my brother Tom, if I may call him that, is only telling these stories to be authentic. He's not asking that you fall down too, only that you have generosity towards those who have fought, those who have fallen.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nautical Mishaps, Two Danes and Some Shrubbery

"Shipwrecked in the Antarctic" in the 1860s ( my mother's cousin wrote in 1978, after visiting Denmark ), my great-great grandfather, Thomas Chistensen Kragh, of the Royal Danish Navy, was rescued and soon put down in Adelaide. I mention this only because I too seem to have an aptitude for Incidents Involving Boats, and am grateful to be on dry land.
But here I am in the present, on an autumn day, in the Alexandra Gardens, on the southern bank of the Yarra River. I've temporarily turned my back on the CBD, across which they look to.
First laid out in 1901 by Carlo Catani, the gardens belong to a vast stretch of green space called the Domain parklands, which include our Royal Botanic Gardens.
The Alexandra Gardens were built for the visit of the Duke of York in May 1901, and named in honour of the beautiful Alexandra of Denmark, wife and queen consort of Edward VII. We are not related, I am disappointed to say, my ancestor having been born on the tiny island of Samso, off the Jutland Peninsula, now famous for its development of renewable energy. I hope he'd have loved stone-work like this, as I do.
Tiered with locally-found basalt, the beds are full of succulents, palms, Euphorbias, grasses and Echiums.
Turning my camera behind me, see here a view across the river to Federation Square. It was never there, many years' ago in my youth... 
...but this was, this boathouse, belonging to my school. It was from here, three times a week, that this very unable seaman, now remembering different pasts, rowed out on the muddy river, without any real hope of navigating his way back. I belonged  to a crew known as 'The Gentlemen's Eight,' expert at floundering mid-river, coming last in any race and needing rescue. Oh, Thomas, at least you made it to the other side of the globe!
Steps, such as these, just after you cross Princes Bridge, are made for those who come after those who came before.

Have I found my feet? Would I rather not sail away to a  farm in Denmark? This country, down here, has been 'made' by newcomers, by stragglers, by adventurers. If it wasn't for its gardens, for its landscapes, I'd almost be back in that "Gentlemen's Eight,' meandering out to sea, prepared to hit an ice-shelf...but there's too much here moving forward to feel stranded.