Thursday, November 29, 2012

Amor victor est ( Love is victorious )

Arthur Percy Sullivan was my grandmother's cousin, making him my first cousin twice removed. He was also a gallant recipient of the Victoria Cross. Like my grandmother and myself, he was born a Sagittarian. Today I have turned 54 - crikey mate, you don't look a minute over 14! - so I am  talking to and about those who matter to me.
Arthur and my grandmother were close friends. I hope that I can honour them.

Enlisting as soon as he legally could, he was too young to fight in WW1, so transferred to the British Army, and joined the Russia Relief Force.
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 10th August 1919, at the Sheika River, North Russia. The platoon to which he belonged, after fighting a rearguard covering action, had to cross the river by means of a narrow plank and during the passage an officer and three men fell into a deep swamp. Without hesitation, under intense fire, Corporal Sullivan jumped into the river and rescued all four, bringing them out singly. But for this gallant action his comrades would undoubtedly have been drowned. It was a splendid example of heroism, as all ranks were on the point of exhaustion, and the enemy less than 100 yards distant.
—The London Gazette, 29 September 1919 
The above quote comes from the Australian War Memorial, and is re-recorded on Wikipedia. And following, now, a little history of his life, this relative I'm proud of, who put love and protectiveness first.
Arthur Sullivan was a very popular man, and was known as the "Shy VC". Upon his return to Australia, he resumed his former employment with the National Bank of Australasia.
He was married to Dorothy Frances Veale at an Anglican church in Fairfield, Victoria, on 5 December 1928, and in 1929 he transferred to the head office of the National Bank of Australasia in Sydney where he and Dorothy were to live happily for five years. During this time they had three children, two of whom were twins.
In 1934, Sullivan was made the manager of the Casino branch of the National Bank of Australasia. As a Victoria Cross recipient, Sullivan was selected to join the Australian contingent to attend the coronation of King George VI and to return the remains of British soldier Sergeant Arthur Evans, VC, who had died in Australia. The "Australian Coronation Contingent" comprised 100 soldiers, 25 sailors and 25 airmen. Half the soldiers were serving troops and half were returned members of the AIF. Sullivan was the only VC winner in the group [5]
On 9 April 1937, eleven days after ceremonially handing over Evans's ashes and thirty-four days before King George VI's coronation, Arthur Sullivan died when he was returning to his accommodation and accidentally slipped in Birdcage Walk, Westminster, near the Wellington Barracks, and struck his head against the kerb. He was taken immediately to hospital, but died soon after from the severity of the head injuries he had sustained.
Arthur Sullivan was afforded a full military funeral in London where the Australian contingent's salute volley was respectfully returned by the Foot Guards. General Birdwood and a dozen British VC winners attended the funeral. His body was cremated in London and his ashes were returned to Sydney and interred at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium. A month after the funeral, a gap was deliberately left in the ranks of the Australian contingent as they marched in the coronation parade.[6]
In 1939 a plaque was placed upon the iron railings of Wellington Barracks in his honour. It features the second version of the Australian Army's Rising Sun badge, four decorative Victoria Crosses in each corner, a twisted vine of leaves, and reads: "To The Glory Of God And In Ever Living Memory Of Gnr. Arthur P. Sullivan. V.C. Who was accidentally killed on April 9th 1937 whilst serving as a representative of his country at the coronation of H.M.King George VI. Thus tablet was erected by his comrades of the Australian Coronation Contingent 1939."
His wife Dorothy died in 1980 and left his Victoria Cross to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where it is displayed in the Hall of Valour.
Thanks to Wikipedia.
Arthur died an accidental death, having shown unusual bravery. However grotesque it may seem that he died in what seems a random way, I cannot help but feel that a man of courage, as he was, could have been allowed to die normally.
Victory ultimately remains with those who have loved, who love, who are willing to stand up for their love.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Never Never Land

The cicadas have begun singing, at a pitch so high you can hear almost nothing else.
Up in the tree-tops where the bark is peeling, the cicadas sing. It was 35 degrees Celsius in Melbourne today, an early start to to the coming summer.
I've just read this, "The Runaway," a children's book, by Ruth Morris, published in 1961. In it, the heroine, disconnected from family, makes her way with horse, cart and dog across the many empty miles of southern Queensland. She'd felt she had nowhere to go but away. In the end, of course, she finds a home away from home.
Place, the place we're born and raised in, is supposed to play a significant part in the creation of our character. I have been raised in a dry, open country, where the birds spin like flashlights and anywhere you take the time to look, there are sanctuaries.
Above, an unfinished ringtailed possum's nest, dislodged, unfortunately, by a neighbour. This photo doesn't suggest well enough the perfect globe shape within.
I found this blurred photo of a ringtail in an vintage book about the Melbourne Zoo. But a blurred picture might be the best you will get, being, as they are, shy creatures of the night.
I've noticed that many native animals orient towards native plants, whatever has been planted in what had been their habitat. Eucalypts are favoured... when they peel, they reveal an Impressionist's palette.
Or warts, rivers, footprints, time itself.
From the same book, again blurred, as life itself can so often be, a finished ringtailed possum's nest. We are all interpreters of needs and feelings and directions.
Now, among others things, I am reading this. In it the author traverses an Australia way out beyond the cities, where my heart wants to go.  ( Traveller's Tracks, by George Farwell, published by Melbourne University Press, 1949. )
Until that day I sing with my brothers and sisters the trees, or rather, hear their singing. Don't fence me in, let me flow, let my flowing go onwards, and do not let me halt, but let all the rain and all the rivers of life run.
 I am getting crookeder now, with bones and flesh needing to take their time to recover. Old and new: we are both at once, are we not?
I was trying to commemorate, today, the life of the bark of the trees of the world as I know them. To commemorate means to care and to go onwards.
Above is not a post-Expressionist work. The planet has been doing post-Expressionist a long time before we copied the idea.
Now I realise I've brought up both Impressionism and post-Expressionism. The world, however, is an artwork that can't be all of its gestures it signifies a never-ending alive-ness.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Anchorage at Willy

If only something about today had gone right, I've been thinking, as I left Zara at home, to venture out unguardedly...
perhaps I'd never have left my breakfast uneaten to see the world, or some balmy, un-bicycled, leashless fragment of it. And have shambled and chugged my way along, due to railway repairs, on a total of ten rail journeys, not to mention the bus trip and the bus trip that didn't happen, meaning I spent an hour walking home, and got myself over to the other side of the bay, to Williamstown, named after William IV, to this site of respite, pleasantly green as it vibrantly is...

I have much feeling for this beautiful garden, though my last visit had been during the drought, when so much was dead and derelict. Williamstown Botanic Garden, way over woop-woop, on the other side of town, is "one of the oldest municipal gardens in Victoria. In 1905-6 the original layout was supplemented by the addition of the Jubilee Fountain and lake. The massive Glasgow-built entrance gates came from the mansion "Fairlea", South Yarra in 1907." Suffice to say it has been re-born.
Designed by Edward Latrobe Bateman, a cousin of our then governor, and opened in 1860, it remains a significant part of Melbourne's cultural and maritime heritage. Getting there, for me, was difficult. If only I had some sort of boat that could sail effortlessly over poor public transport systems. A boat that would take doggies...
I'd imagine no-one much knows much about Melbourne's significance. But it does swing. Or sometimes swings, given the appalling traffic conditions. It also slumps, as it did for me, feigning indifference, reading the Saturday paper, staring out of the window, dogless. Nonetheless, the Victorian geometry is striking. No, I forgot to bring a cool drink, so I kept on snapping...
at the pool of water,desperately empty on my last visit, where there were ( not shown ) ducks.
No-one visiting could fail to be impressed. Everywhere there were, or are, agaves, succulents, palms, unexpected tokens of the past - ( I didn't notice a Golden Elm, by the way, not that that matters ) -
  such as this bit of signage, a legacy of prior days, still here, still nailed into place, as I was, all Saturday.
Williamstown situates itself on a little peninsula to the south-west of the CBD and was at first considered as the site of the fledgling capital. It has a character like no other part of Melbourne, full as it is with Victorian doll-house abodes, enormously wide streets, a riveting nautical swagger and the wift of salt-laden breezes so suggestive of intriguing Mediterranean-ish garden-scapes.
The Victorians went mental for exotica like this. Myself, I still go mental.
And even more mental to come across statuary like this, behind which plies the ocean, reminding fey visitors to this tranquil sanctuary that however difficult it was to arrive, the greenery will assuage all.
Isn't it wonderful to travel some rather troublesomely circuitous way to find the past smack bang and alive?
A gorgeous tree, this West Australian flowering gum. I could live here. That's what I was thinking, the whole of my hurried trip: I could live here, if it wasn't for the fact I'd be a sort of vagrant.
And the pretence of living a sort of 19th century vagabondish man-of-the-trees-cum-hermit life, no longer able to shave, let alone have a decent bath, except with ducks in the full glare of publicly civic perambulations, would probably gall me more than Melbourne's laggardly, inexplicably discomoding public transport system.
If I were to be galled. This sapling, though, reminds me of a finer continuity, where gall belongs to wasps, or those being waspish,
not to me here, in this particular piece of real estate, re-made and re-articulated for a new century.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Run to You

O, this world, with its stifling restrictions! Uninterested in a mastery of it as I am, I must needs run from it... Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens, in South Yarra. At its southern corner, where I entered, this young Kauri was waving to the world,
as was this young Macadamia, from Queensland, its new growth sure, if gingerly sure.
When I get away, on the occasions I have, it is to get to where naturalness occurs. A giant of a paperbark, above, sprawls out. I have run to where I feel part of things -
  - or have caught a tram from the city centre, no real distance away. Who'd have guessed magpies would be as I am, making my way?
These gardens are a sanctuary. I don't want to know about great ambitions, for now. I want to watch much simpler ambitions play out...
It's spring, downunder, and all the new life is burgeoning...
...bursting as it does, out of the ground. The days of my life wash out of me and I am become human.
Helmholtzia glaberrima, 'Stream Lily', first described by the famous Joseph Hooker in 1873, but no doubt growing blithely for countless thousands of years without his nomenclature. It hails from the McPherson Range, strutting the states of Queensland and New South Wales. Its innocent blush speaks of a native innocence.
Above, this jungle of natives betwixt sundry sproutings reminds me I'm home, everywhere I go, though I have run away... be amongst the flowers and the limbs, the greenness, the air, the canopy, the sweetness, the suddenness.
And to be near giants, such as this Kauri, reaching to heaven, the direction of all life...
...whether it is with redness spilling out, as it is for this Cordyline,
or just with a whole lot of shaggy newness, as it is for this Grass Tree ( Xanthorrhoea sp. ).
I have come here to be renewed. The Gymea Lily, ebullient, robust, burning with life, reminds me to go on, in my search amongst the profane... 
to find for myself a sacred pattern of life, belonging, reaching, pertinent, otherworldly, MOVING.