There are a lot of lovely pictures to accompany my article about Richard Bell’s EMBASSY2019 in Venice.
Like this one.
There are a lot of lovely pictures to accompany my article about Richard Bell’s EMBASSY2019 in Venice.
Like this one.
Succumbed to self-indulgence. Was working on a piece that stretched from 1993 to now — originally intended as something publishable, the beast soon split its sides as I got carried away in my own head. Funny how you can teach how-to-write to/for an audience’s (and to a publication’s) needs, for so many years but then cast that practicality aside in the throes of memoir. The result? An essay publishable nowhere but here, I guess.
Also, you’ll know I’m not an arts academic; I’m a generalist writer. This is not a survey of artwork across Asia Pacific Triennials, nor an assessment of the nine different APT exhibitions, or a critique of how well QAG, then QAGOMA, does its job (although, *spoiler alert*, I reckon pretty well — it’s been amusing reading certain critiques of the first APT. If I may seem parochial in loving the APTs, what was the AGNSW’s response, eh? Double parochial.)
Whacking this blog together on my last 4% of battery (the replacement cord still slithering in transit). Apologies for grammatical infelicities, etc. Similarly, the article could be rewritten as we’re now staring towards the end of the APT9 in 3 weeks, but the priority is just to get the piece up. It’s long. You may not make it to the end, anyway.
I’m frequently asked for advice regarding online communication, and, in particular, social media etiquette. It’s a conversation I’ve had with people of varying online experience over many years, about a conversation about communicating with clarity, with regard for ethics and etiquette.
Plenty of guides exist, as a simple search would reveal. For example, the BBC‘s netiquette page is a sturdy place to start. Many are geared toward social media behaviour for younger people: Achieve Virtual offers a comprehensive guide aimed at students, and also lists pertinent references. The sources are a few years old, but still relevant. There’s a particularly handy hint here, too: Read everything out loud before you post.
The nature of online communication means that messages must be simple, as they’re digested quickly. Misunderstanding abounds.
Same goes for “quirky” humour (*see below).
Some people will judge your poor grammar and spelling. They may be potential clients, employers, friends, or lovers. These are not necessarily mean people; they just have high standards*. (*Insert jokey emoticon of your choice here.)
Don’t steal other people’s stuff. Acknowledge where that meme, image, clever sentence, or concept came from. If you don’t know, at least acknowledge that it’s not yours. It works wonders for your credibility.
Understand that someone’s own perception is their reality, and try to empathise, perceptively, their reality. Understand that there’s a world of cultural differences out there.
After working with and teaching online communication (and using it personally!) for decades, I realise the conversation can spiral outwards like a lovely Mandelbrot iteration. Which is not a bad thing. But understanding the needs of social media communication, both ethical and etiquette, begins with three brief points. If you start here, you start well.
Note that we’re talking here about online communication for individuals, mainly. There’s a further level needed for commerce (including individuals – “influencers” – who virtually operate as businesses if they accept products and/or payment), but that’s an issue for another time.
*** As I wrote my way through this rant earlier today, Coles doubled down in backflip town. NOW they will cease handing out free bags at the end of August. While this will be, eventually, good news, I thought I’d set this piece free anyway. Because, honestly, some of you bloody whingers need to get your act together.***
Oh, I am more than a little annoyed.
And I’m supposed to write nicely to you. I understand that the philosophy behind public engagement encourages a supportive approach to making people feel like a valued part of the proposed change, to assist in dealing with the challenge of adopting different behaviours (particularly when these behaviours are beneficial to society), to speak kindly and help people feel loved and relevant, as part of the behavioural change that’s happening, so they’ll own a slice of the conversation and not walk away from it all…
But BUGGER IT, I AM BLOODY CRANKY.
You are a bunch of big whingeing entitled waste babies.
Coles, all you had to do was get your message right. You even had a scapegoat, for Uma’s sake, since the plastic bag ban IS LAW.
And people. You big waste babies. All YOU had to do is REMEMBER TO CARRY YOUR OWN GODDAMN BAG.
Yes, Coles, you are freaking commercial cowards. But, this time, blame doesn’t rest solely with the big guys. Because I’m sure those “reuseable” thicker plastic bags cost a stack of a lot more than the thin grey turtle killers. I guess this current situation is not your ideal choice, either. Your stupid competitive approach, rather than collaborating with Woolies on this issue, has done you in.
No, wastebabies, this one’s on you. Con-freaking-gratulations, you win. You’ve taken a positive piece of legislation (here in Queensland) and MADE THINGS WORSE THAN BEFORE. ‘Cause look around – do you see many of those “reusable” bags walking with their big wastebaby owners back into Coles?
You asked for it, no, demanded it, when you whinged and whined and bullied checkout operators for the plastic you see as your entitlement.
Over the past week, I have visited an Indian takeaway in West End, a bakery in Highgate Hill, and a general store in Darra. Each of these establishments displayed a sign at the counter, prominent and at eye level, stating that because of the new Queensland law, they could not provide plastic bags, but a “reusable” bag could be purchased for ten cents. Yet, at each of these three stores, the assistant automatically moved to place my purchases in a plastic bag – without even asking me, and definitely without asking for ten cents. Why? My guess is to avoid the hassle/drama/angst/abuse they’ve been copping from customers, those wastebabies who feel that somehow they are missing out on their free plastic bag entitlement. So these small businesses now absorb a fee that their customers should be paying, a fee designed to encourage people to remember to carry a bag into a shop. Even if Coles stops giving out free bags at the end of the month, will all these smaller businesses cop it? Lose, lose.
It’s not as if Australia is leading any plastic-bag-free charge here. (South Australia, maybe.) Dozens of countries have instigated bans or levies over the past decade or so. Bangladesh was the first, after plastic bags waste contributed so seriously to floods in that country. For Bangladesh, it was, literally, a life-and-death decision.
|Where?||When?||Ban or levy/tax?|
|Antigua and Barbuda||2016||ban|
|Belgium (Wallonia, Brussels, Flanders)||levy|
|Buenos Aires, Argentina||2017||ban|
|Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward, Quebec)||ban|
|India (Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Mumbai, Maharashtra)|
|La Paz, Bolivia|
|Myanmar (Rangoon, Mandalay, Naypyidaw)|
|Papua New Guinea||2016||ban|
|Republic of the Congo||2011||ban|
|Sao Paulo, Brazil||2015||ban|
|United States(California, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Hawaii)|
What drives this international swell against plastic bags? Concern about the impact that bags have on the landscape? Self interest (some African bans follow loss of livestock after eating bags)? Marine impacts (heard of floating syndrome in turtles? It’s awful.)? Aesthetics? Common bloody sense?*
Apart from being a decent and conscious human being, yes, I have historical skin in this game. In 2012, I accepted a contract to work with an environmental organisation to coordinate a campaign designed to remove free plastic bags from shops in Queensland. When I began, the fledgling campaign had been tentatively named “Ban the Bag”, but in the interests of a more positive approach, I changed this to “Plastic Bag Free Queensland (PBFQ)”.
It was my first engagement in the environment sector since 1989, when I worked at the incipient Brisbane office of Greenpeace Australia as one of their original volunteers, helping launch the “Adopt-a-Beach” campaign. This, the first Greenpeace campaign for Queensland (somewhat presciently) involved cleaning up waterways and beaches in a forerunner to the excellent work now done by organisations such as Tangaroa Blue.
Like Adopt-a-Beach 20-odd years earlier, PBFQ was launched with a function on the shores of Moreton Bay, as marine impacts were (and are) one major reason why the removal of plastic bags is so important. More on that, elsewhere*. Clean Up Australia’s legendary Ian Kiernan AO joined John Phillips OAM from Keep South Australia Beautiful to help launch the campaign. Within months, an online community of over 2000 supporters rallied. Key public figures from Bindi Irwin to Michael Zavros pledged their support. Chef Ben O’Donoghue donated a day of his life to film a fantastic short film called “Gutful” thanks to the generosity of Phil MacDonald and his team at GPYR. No less than three Australians of the Year (Kiernan, Peter Doherty AO, and Ian Lowe AO) joined supporters Nick Earls, Veny Armanno, Jessica Watson, and many others.
The PBFQ position was not without its challenges, and not just the political climate in which it dwelled. I’d brought my inner teenage environmentalist along to the gig, and her naivety was tested by office bullies and personal politics. I was working in an unwell organisation. In addition, I experienced a little shades-of-green environmental angst. A certain corner of the movement felt that plastic bag ban campaigns were a misguided use of limited resources that should be directed towards serious, pressing “dark green” issues such as climate change. I understand the validity of this argument. However, in an interesting discussion with Ian Kiernan, I saw how waste issues could be considered a gateway to a deeper form of environmentalism. His philosophy was that waste is tangible to all (eventually, even those who forget their reusable supermarket bags), and that an awareness of the waste that we produce as humans leads to an awareness of our environment in general, and our impact upon it. When you realise “there is no away”, you question much of our consumerism and disposable society.
PBFQ was smashed to bits in a single morning. A new import, a right-leaning editor of the state’s newspaper got wind of a discussion paper (considering a possible plastic bag ban or levy) being considered by the LNP government. His front page dog-whistle (the incorrect and histrionic “Shoppers will be slugged $2 for a bag”) to the premier was answered by Newman’s unilateral decree “There will be no slug” – which he announced immediately, without any cabinet consultation (Welcome to Queensland). Death by slug.
And a certain mindset of plastic bag entitlement was strengthened, a progressive opportunity lost. Why do people think they are losing some basic right when losing access to free plastic bags?
On a distant acquaintance’s Facebook, I read a boast about how she just “used lots of those produce bags” to get around the ban. Really? What an effort. How about applying that energy towards carrying a big reusable bag? Whatever would you do with all those bags afterwards? I guess they’d go straight in the bin, being too small for much else.
One main reason behind removing free plastic bags is to prevent them from escaping into the environment, particularly the marine environment. They’re slippery little suckers. Granted, when they are wrapped around household rubbish, they’re less likely to blow away. But is this even necessary?
“But what will I use in my bin?”
Oh, please. I’ve been having this friggin conversation for six years. I guess another hour won’t hurt.
In ACT and SA, sales of bin liners, it was reported, did increase a little after the plastic bag bans – but not as much as expected. And in ACT, bin liner sales actually dropped, as people looked at other options.
And even if bin liner sales HAD increased by 100%, this is nothing like the amount of plastic supermarket bags that had stopped being handed out. The South Australian government estimates that their ban has saved 400 million bags annually.
*For more information about the impact of marine and other impacts of plastic bags and other plastic waste, here are a few links.
File this story under op-shopper’s boast, except, you know, I wasn’t even in an op-shop at the time.
But heavens, what a discovery.
I can’t even remember the original reason I was in Reverse Garbage, now, but it wasn’t to look for paintings. Yet there they were, four or five boxes of them: all oils, most in lovely vintage frames. Coastal landscapes, a few portraits, rural scenes, waterways, forests, a horse or two. And florals, arrangement upon arrangement.
I pulled some striking pieces out, and then some more.
Glasshouse mountains and wide sandbanks. A dark little rainforest. A small town harbour with 1970s-era boats, I held on to with the self-deluding excuse: my partner would love this (it’s really for me). A Lynch-esque portrait gripped me. I gathered flowers to create a feature salon hang for my parents’ wall. A bouquet in old oil.
Feeling greedy, I returned a few to the pile. Two portraits replaced I now particularly regret. I halved my swag and still walked away with a dozen beautiful paintings. At home, away from that junky environment, they glowed. I stared at them on the tiled floor.
Why would anyone dump these at Reverse Garbage?
I sent a picture to a friend who I know was in the market for similar vintage floral oils. I sent a picture to another vintage-art loving friend.
I examined the signature: H MacBride. Deceased estate, I assumed. There would have been a hundred paintings in those boxes.
Most had a description pencilled on the back. A pattern emerged. I noted the majority of landscape painted was southeast Queensland coast or hinterland, from north of of Brisbane to Coolum, and particularly Caloundra and the Pumicestone Passage.
My friend Wendy grew up in Caloundra in the 1950s and 60s, and knew artists there. I sent a speculative message. Any clues about this dumped art? Who was H MacBride?
“That must be Heather MacBride,” she responded. “I heard she died a few months ago.”
“She surfed with Ma and Pa Bendall.”
I sent through the portrait: yes, it was a self portrait of Heather MacBride.
I Googled, and found a tantalizing slice of an obituary for Heather MacBride, but the link was broken.
My friend texted back: an image of eight floral oil paintings. So did my other friend, who was ecstatic at her haul of beach scenes and flowers. In their images, I noticed beautiful paintings that I hadn’t seen in the RG boxes, earlier.
There must have been more!!!
Wendy sent a message asking if I could pick some up for her. It was Saturday afternoon, and RG would close in 5 minutes. I made plans to be there Monday.
Some of the work had been framed in gorgeous old frames, particularly the larger paintings. I dreaded to think that these had been collected by people to use the frame only, and I hoped that the paintings wouldn’t be dumped. The two portraits I’d left behind haunted me: one was of a swarthy man with an intense gaze, the other a blue-eyed woman in a red scarf, hand on chin, looking pensive.
I arrived a few minutes before RG opened on Monday, and asked about the paintings. As much as I love RG, I explained my surprise at the art ending up here (at a depot to recycle materials otherwise destined for landfill) rather than an op-shop, or even a gallery?
The driver who’d collected the donation happened to be on-site: he explained that he’d picked up around 300 works of art from a man in a suburb on the north of Brisbane. He thought it was the artist’s nephew.
But didn’t anyone in the family want her work?
The driver believed that the family had already taken what they wanted (or could). These were the rejects! They’d also offered them to some places in Caloundra, and the regional gallery, he said, but nobody was interested. The collection was too large. RG was a distress option.
I explained that I had been asked to buy some work for an old acquaintance of the a
rtist, and was invited into the back room, where another hundred or so paintings were waiting to be priced. Some of these works were of lesser quality, but amongst the dusty frames were more gems.
Sadly, my two portraits were long gone, but I discovered another image of the blue-eyed lady in this back room.
I gathered paintings like it was Christmas.
Later, I give away paintings like it’s Christmas, and it is so much fun. Friends have floral arrangements, surf breaks, a serene image of a canoe on the upper reaches of the Brisbane River.
A discerning connoisseur visits and falls for the portrait of Chairman Mao as a young man, so I give it to him. I complete my parent’s salon hang wall, and create a small collection of hibiscus paintings at home. I am a little bit in love with Heather MacBride, and I wish I’d met her.
Wendy’s mum tells me she was a doctor in Caloundra. She went to Caloundra State School, then Nambour High (“I don’t think she wore shoes until she went to high school,” she says.).
Wendy sends me the cover of a 2018 calendar put out by Caloundra council.
There, amongst the Moffateers, is Heather MacBride and her surfboard in 1974. She is beautiful.
Is there a word for that mixed feeling of envy and enjoyment you feel when looking at other people’s holiday pics?
My friend tagged me in a post of her visit to Sifnos, which reminded me I’d forgotten to put this story up here… until now. It will also be published soon in a shorter format in the West End Magazine.
TRACE4101 is a biennial contemporary art exhibition and auction that takes place throughout the streets of West End (hence the “4101”: we dig our postcode in these parts). And the art is outstanding. I’d fallen in to TRACEd throes two years ago, being able to stare for eons at a powerful work by Vernon Ah Kee in Charlie and Liz’s fruit shop, among many other highlights.*
Trace 2017 is the second TRACE4101, and it’s equally awesome. I get to look at this year’s art a lot more, too, as I’d been asked to help out with social media (you can *like* your life away here and here), and have been behind a camera while the indomitable Bec Mac interviews TRACE subjects for the new POPSART series (more on POPSART, to come). People like artist Joe Furlonger, such a lovely subject, my newest art crush Ross Manning (*sigh*), Judy Watson, and effervescent Leanne Bennett, who has donated 100% of the proceeds of a significant work by her late husband Gordon Bennett to TRACE4101.
TRACE owes its existence to the stamina and perseverance of its founders, force-of-nature Marilyn Trad and designer Jason Grant, who writes about the exhibition on his inkahoots blog (where you will also find a shout-out to the rest of the stellar crew).
It raises funds for the work at Community Plus+, which is a very good thing.
*The work sold; I know where you live.
It was a fabulous shindig: a local landscaper, nursery owner, and all-round bon vivant threw a party to celebrate his premises expanding from the heritage brick bakery into a vast white warehouse next door. So he invited a half-dozen aerosol artists over to paint the walls, popped up some scaffolding, opened the gates to a couple hundred of the neighbourhood’s finest citizens, whacked a lot of booze in ice tubs and some fume-protecting masks on the tables, and threw a bash* that lasted well past dawn. Or so I am told.
I’d remembered how, in a low demand period of my writing life, a few years ago, I’d seen a help wanted sign in this nursery. I love gardening, and the thought of getting to hang out around plants for a day or two a week tempted, despite the pay cut.
So, as I told my polite-but-probably-bored audience at the party, I wrote an email to the business owner. This bloke, incidentally, knew I was no horticulturist, and that my frontline retail experience was faded beyond recognition, and that I probably couldn’t even lift half the pots in the showroom. But Christ I loved writing that email. Necessary words and useless words about random things that may have been related to the position, or may not. Like my infatuation with Costa Georgiadis (pre-ABC, mind, when he was still on SBS and before he was media-trained to speak like every other… incorrectly punctuated… newsreader). And inheriting a rose garden, even though I’m not really that type of girl. And weeding.
Of course I didn’t follow it up, and of course he didn’t even reply. Was probably scared out of his wits. Perhaps he’d never received such a fiercely gonzo application before. But while recounting the story, I became aware that this was around the same time that I had been receiving comments on things that I was listing on Ebay in an attempt** to de-clutter. I had listed some of the op-shop treasures that were hulking in crowded corners of the house, and may have had a bit too much fun with the descriptions. I had a couple (yes, more than one) comments from people saying, “When are you going to list some more things? Your descriptions are hilarious.” And “I don’t want to buy anything but I’ve just favourited your account because I love reading your stuff.” I think I was funny, too, but I’ll never know because I didn’t keep a copy and Ebay surely doesn’t have any sentiment for old content either.
With a flash of lovely hindsight, I see now that I wasn’t doing much writing about this time. And so, I’d relished any chance to get my hands wordy, to knead sentences until my knuckles ached, and flick punctuation around for fun. Because I am a wordsmith. I may not be a particularly interesting writer, I can appreciate this sad fact, but I need to write. I realise how lucky I am that writing occupies a significant proportion of my working hours.
And it’s a trade. It’s my trade. The more I write, the less the subject even matters – it’s all about the action, the work, the process of clicking these strokes together to make some sort of sense for a reader. I love writing for clients in fields I know little about, because then I get to learn a bit about something as well. And I love creating something from nothing. Words fly together in my head when I’m in the shower. Sometimes I even write them down. As much as writing, I love the edit. I love to chop dead limbs away, or leave that little bit of purple there if it helps with tone. I actually was the little girl who said she wanted to be a writer when she grew up, and although most of my writing goes unacknowledged as “mine”, I don’t care.
By the way, I’m not sure what the point of this post was, and it contains far too many personal pronouns for my taste. Also, I’m going to stick it straight up without proofing it or giving it a tidy-up edit, because I’m anticipating delightful irony for you, dear reader, when you see a whole shipload of infelicities in a blog post about the act of writing for work.
But gosh it was fun to write.
*soiree, shindig, party… Yes, Ros would scold me for “thesaurus syndrome” here, but I do like all those festive synonyms rolling around that paragraph
At risk of being outed as a tragic old hippy, I’m mourning a tree. Again.
This tree-mourning, I’ve only just realised it even happens. This time, this tree. It wasn’t even a significant tree, or a pretty tree, or even my tree. Just a big, old tree.
My neighbours, I like them, and I think they thought I’d be happy to see it go. Its absence would impress real estate-y types. Our outlook has been, they would say, enhanced. The aspect to the north-east has opened substantially with the tree’s departure. Property values probably up up up. Whoopee.
It was an old pecan, too tall for us to reach any nuts (but the cockatoos could). Some of it was dead, but not all. And when the branches were all stacked on the truck on Saturday, when they were cut and stacked to be taken away, you could see all its little spring buds ready to burst. As it transpires, never to open, but ready anyway. As a deciduous tree, it did us all a favour, keeping a few houses in a row cooler in summer and letting winter sun through.
It’s not the first tree felling to make me sad, but I’ve only just named these individual sadnesses as actual mourning. The old fig up the coast at my folks’ house, the one that cooled and protected a garden and homed birds and bugs and green tree snakes… whole bloody communities of critters. Cut down by its “owner”, and we’re not quite sure why. It’s hot up there now, in that yard.
The big old school fig, 120+ years old, lost in a storm; the same storm took some of the figs down near the river, including the one with the secret cave that my boys and their friends liked to hide in.
The leopard tree at the house I grew up in, planted by one of the first families in the area, maybe the first exotic in Sherwood. I used to look out my bedroom window and watch kingfishers nest in its fork, as a teenager.
The 60-year-old magnolia we lost in a drought.
The 80-year-old banksia, the ancient melealuca, and every other single tree on the block of a house in Yaroomba, cleared for an architect’s ugly folly. (The neighbour’s son used to play on the footpath; it was the only land spare.)
When these big trees go, it’s rare that anyone checks them for nests first, and this makes me sad, too.