Bringing back MacBride

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.

Heather MacBride

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.

Heather MacBride

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.

Heather MacBride

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.

Caloundra by Heather MacBride

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.

Bingo.

I GoScreen Shot 2018-01-12 at 12.51.30 PMogled, 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.Heather MacBride
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.

The Moffateers, Caloundra

The Moffateers, Caloundra, 1974. Heather MacBride is at left.

 

 

Sifnos

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.

appollonia, sifnos

Art in the community

TRACE4101 2017 FB bannerIt has been an absolute delight to work with the TRACE4101 team to bring TRACE 2017 to the public.

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.*

Gordon BennettTrace 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.

Wordsmithery

 

Bowie noseAt this delightful soiree a few weeks ago, mid-anecdote, I was whacked with one of those personal life realisations: not quite an epiphany but probably not far off.

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

**unsuccessful

 

 

Mourning trees

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 common mango in my street.

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.

Bloody hippy.

 

The common mango

There’s this guy who lives in my street. Called Dutch. Rides a motorbike. Looks like the type of cat who’s already gone through a few of his nine lives. Lives in the front half of a rented place at the bottom of the hill.

Dutch, of course, is not his actual name. I don’t know what name he was given at birth. I asked him once; he laughed at me. I don’t know how long he’s lived in this street: longer than us, probably quite a long time. He’s good for a chat.

Out the front of Dutch’s place was a magnificent gnarly old tree: one of those old-school no-nonsense common mangoes. The kind whose fruit is good for Asian salads and daiquiris, but too stringy to eat straight up, compared to designer mango brands trucked down from FNQ. This tree, a densely canopied beauty whose blossoms cranked the birds, its leaves threw the coolest shade. Dutch, you could tell, Dutch was proud of “his” tree. (It seemed quaintly contra-character, the way he called it “my tree”. Un-tough.) It’s how I met him, originally – I think it’s how half the neighbourhood met him – when one summer I picked my way through the bike parts decorating his front path to ask if I could please pick some of the green fruit to make a salad? It became a summer ritual, picking Dutch’s green mangoes. Heaps of the neighbourhood did it. I made salads (Dutch’s mangoes were always in a salad on our Christmas table); some made pickles. Standing on the footpath outside, I once watched a cheeky Vietnamese woman drive up, park underneath, and unload the branches from the bonnet of her car. Last year, Dutch’s neighbour stood on his own car bonnet to pick late-season fruit for me.

It was Dutch’s conduit to the community. A sweet crack in tough-guy exterior.

And mangoes for all. This year promised to be the best yet: just last month, the tree was so fecund with blossom I stuck a picture of it on Instagram (it wasn’t very good). We were excited. The common mango blossom

Then this week, walking down the street, I become muddled in my bearings. One of those shaky virtual-reality moments slows my feet, and I stop outside a house I can’t quite recognize. The massive old mango has vanished.

Later, I see Dutch, ask what happened. He looks sad. He says he has no idea. Woke one morning and “a couple of tree guys” were on his front lawn. Someone had complained about the tree to his landlord. He didn’t know what sort of complaint. Blossom dropping? Says if they’d just spoken to him, he would have taken some branches off the front if they were in anyone’s way (they weren’t) – it’s what he did each year, just hadn’t got around to it this year. Says he wishes his landlord had spoken to him about it. Says he’s not sure what to plant in its place.

Says, “Why didn’t they just speak to me?”

Says he thinks it might get a bit hot, his house, this summer.

We discuss the tree’s unprecedented blossom this year. Shake our heads. I say I have a frangipani in a pot, if he wants it. The November sun, glaring across his bare front yard, hurts my eyes.

Winter sun

It’s one of those winter mornings when the slanting sunlight is a treasure. Our morning schedule is thrown sideways by the end of school holidays colliding with the 5am World Cup final, so I drop my partner at work over the Victoria Bridge.

We are fortunate to spend a few traffic light changes waiting on the bridge in cross-river traffic. Fortunate because, looking up, we catch miraculous smoke above the Treasury Building. The sun’s rays, angled from the north, grab hold of steam rising from the old building’s vents. The steam twists, throwing rainbow clouds of sunbeams. Refracted? Reflected? It’s like someone’s barbecuing unicorns in the casino below. The spectrum bends in two columns, rainbow clouds.

 

Back home fifteen minutes later, I take last night’s scraps down to the chickens. Turn on the hose. Our lawn is brown. It seems we’re heading back into drought; I’ll just hit the essentials. (Also, the necessity of a full day of work is muscling in on my desire to stand here and dreamily water the garden for an hour.)

The essentials: some seedlings planted on the weekend, the chickens’ water bowl, a transplanted lime, the bird baths. There mustn’t be much water around, because I’ve already been visited this morning by some of the regulars. Common city birds. Timid wattle birds, a young magpie, crows all drink from my garden’s water bowls.

A noisy miner lands on the ancient rose beside the largest bird bath. It’s cool (for our subtropics), but he dives in, rolling around and splashing. He’s bathing with what I imagine as anthropomorphized delight.  Sunlight streams from the north behind him. As the bird moves, drops of water splay, catching beams. Throwing the sun back out over the roses’ bare limbs. Again he dives, rolls, splashes, and returns to his branch. Then back to the water, flapping and shaking, broadcasting gold spray.

It’s too gorgeous.

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Releasing pretty balloon litter

 With current “big issue” blows hitting our environment both north and south (dredging spoils in the Great Barrier Reef, winding back Tasmania’s World Heritage areas), talking about litter may appear trivial. Yet our planet suffers from the cumulative effect of discarded waste: items like plastic bags and balloons. And we can do something about it. Some of this waste can be avoided, but it will take awareness, effort, and probably legislation.

Late last year, a petition lodged in the Queensland Legislative Assembly called for a ban on the mass release of helium balloons. Talk about unlucky timing. The story suffocated underneath the silt-like slurry of the week’s big environment story, that Environment Minister Greg Hunt had approved the major expansion of a coal port at Abbot Point. In comparison, balloons seemed beyond trival. The issue didn’t even raise enough hot air to rustle up the usual chorus of “nanny state” calls.

But the balloon release campaign raises an important – if not so eco-dramatic – point about sustainability. Rubbish. Particularly, legitimising litter. What happens when balloons are released? Don’t they just go up, up, and away? Away? There is no “away”. A flock of balloons makes pretty litter. They rise. Some fall to land or sea whole. Others shatter at altitude, and smaller pieces return.

Industry asserts these fragments are benign. The phrase rolling around the Internet sounds like this: “Balloons decompose at the same rate as an oak leaf.” The balloon lobby has been enlightening local councils with this nugget since the late-1980s, when this “oak leaf” study was commissioned. (By Du Pont.) A researcher dried balloon pieces then left them outside, in earth and in water, for six weeks. The balloons did not decompose completely by the end of the study: they broke into smaller pieces.

Last year, at the University of Queensland Moreton Bay Research Station on Stradbroke Island, I observed Honours student Lauren Roman conduct necropsies on seabirds found dead along the coasts of Queensland and northern NSW. These birds showed signs of malnutrition. All had plastic fragments in their stomachs. Some contained pieces of balloon. One shearwater’s gut was so full of balloon fragments they had backed up its esophagus. I do not doubt that this bird starved to death because its stomach was stuffed with fragments of latex balloon, leaving no space for real nourishment.

Balloon debris is deadly litter.

But hang on. My kids have a right to fun and wonder. My loved ones have a right to celebrate my life by releasing latex helium-filled balloons at my funeral. Banning balloons? That’s demonising the universal symbol for “party”. What’s next for the fun police? Face painting?

Understandably, the Balloon Artists and Suppliers Association (BASA) rejects calls for a balloon release ban. BASA’s Queensland president Gunter Blum believes a ban would affect “a thousand (balloon) suppliers in Queensland.”

It’s not about the actual ban, he adds, rather a knock-on “perception that helium balloons are bad.” BASA wants to do the right thing. Their guidelines encourage responsible releases: no plastic ties, degradable string. They also want to sell balloons.

Addressing the petition, Environment Minister Andrew Powell acknowledged balloons “have potential to create an environmental impact… (particularly) in the marine environment where they may be eaten by turtles and other animals.” Powell’s position is that a ban is not the best way to address this, preferring to invest in “education and awareness, along with partnerships with industry sectors and peak bodies such as the Balloon Artists and Suppliers Association” as the most effective way to reduce balloon litter. However, Blum concedes that, at 26 members, BASA does not have the ears of the large majority of balloon suppliers. With such low industry representation, the government would not be dealing with the majority of balloon sellers.

Keep Queensland Beautiful CEO Rick Burnett believes this is a litter issue. “Helium balloons are litter about to happen,” he says. “Litter is an environmental problem that is growing with population growth and lack of awareness. Helium balloons are one of many forms of litter.” New South Wales banned releases of more than 20 balloons years ago. So has the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, due to concern about the impact of balloon debris in the marine environment.

Superfluous regulation is this government’s avowed bête noir. (Unless, of course, you’re a bikie.) The Environment Minister doesn’t want a ban. Yet legitimising the mass release of helium balloons by NOT banning them gives a covert message to the public that it’s ok to litter.

Balloons are not bad. Letting them go is.

I’d extend a ban to halt handing out free helium balloons for any public promotion. Did anyone who attended last year’s Ekka count the number of escaped LNP balloons rising skyward? I gave up at 50. Where did that litter all go? Even BASA concedes that balloons escape. Of 1500 balloons they handed out a recent tunnel launch, Blum counted 113 on the roof of the tunnel a couple of hours later. Lucky the tunnel had a roof.

Releasing helium balloons is littering. We prosecute other forms of littering. Why legitimise this shiny one? Caroline Gardam is a Queensland writer and ethical marketer. Last year, she worked with Queensland Conservation to launch the Plastic Bag Free Queensland campaign.

Balloon begone

Balloon begone

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