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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.

 

 

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.

The beeman cometh

 

Tim knows bees

Tim knows bees

 

If West End has the highest occurrence of native bee hives in the country, it’s probably due to Dr Tim Heard.

Tim’s an entomological original: one of the pioneer native bee-keepers who’s been dabbling since the 1980s. He wrote an early article about them in Nature magazine in the 1990s. He’s done time on Gardening Australia.

He’s also keeping an eye on the hives he installs around the neighbourhood. Every year or so, Tim’s “hive crawl” sees amateur bee-people* crowding each other’s verandahs and gardens while Tim demonstrates hive splitting and honey extraction.

Stormtrooper beekeeper

Stormtrooper beekeeper

Last weekend, we were fortunate to have Tim attend to our back deck hive, with a swathe of spectators in tow. (We’d amassed a dozen or so curious kids from around the neighbourhood, too.) Stingless bees don’t sting, but they do give you a little nip if they’re really testy. As soon as the hive was disturbed, the little blighters started swarming. You could tell the blokes who’d done this before. They were the ones wearing hats.

The kids hanging around soon dispersed. Many took souvenir bee pets away in their hair. My youngest found a creative way to stay bee-free, while indulging his Star Wars thing.

*I’m trying to avoid the terms “apiary” and “apiarist”. These terms are derived from “Apis”, which is the scientific term for the honeybee species. “Trigona” and “Austroplebiea” are the genera that Australian stingless bees fall under. In case you were wondering.

 

Robbing the hive

We started with the honey. Tim prised the top layer off the three-tiered hive. This is where the bees have constructed their honeycomb: it’s food storage for the hive.

Bees store honey "pods" in this top layer.

Bees store honeycomb in this top layer.

In our case, sadly, the bees had also added a bit too much pollen, so our honey was deemed “not ideal”.

Pricking the honeycomb

Pricking the honeycomb

The honeycomb — the wax pots holding the honey — was pricked with a sinister-looking device: it’s like a scrubbing brush whose bristles have been replaced by nails. The whole layer was then inverted over a wide container so that the honey could drain out, while we focussed on splitting the hive.

Pollen tastes ok when it’s first been smashed, but too much doesn’t make  lovely honey. It’s chewy. The honey resting around the edges of the hive is nicer. You lick that stuff up on your fingers for hours.

When the honey had drained from this first honeycomb pressing, Tim strained it again into a container. (When he’d left, I passed it through butter muslin, twice.) It’s not too sweet, tasting a little smoky, a little fruity. I’ve left it a couple more days, and have noticed pollen has risen to the top. I’ll separate it again, to get really pure honey, but this is probably overkill.

We ended up with about half a kilo of honey, which Tim said was not much.

 

Splittsville

Our hive was nearly 2 years old, and heavy, man. It was ready to split.

First, the middle layer was carefully removed. Usually, the advancing front (the top layer of the brood’s spiralling structure) would have filled up into this section, and the hive could be split across these two sections. However, our brood was still mainly in the bottom section, surrounded by pollen and honey structures. Tim had to slice a section out, and physically rest it into the new hive box. This box was then placed upside down (so the brood didn’t collapse) in the old hive’s position. We’ll turn it over in about three months, when the bees have created enough structure to support it.

The other hive sat on a chair for a day while we figured out where to put it. (We probably should have planned ahead.) The next night, we put it in the front garden. We did this after sunset, when the bees were inside.

Since the split, we’ve had what the kids call bee wars around the hive on the back deck. This is when another swarm comes and fights your swarm. I’m not sure why; I’ll email the bee man and ask.

Bee swarm

Bee wars

 

Check out Tim’s videos on hive architecture, splitting hives, and extracting honey.

You can also find Tim at his website.

Self indulgent chunk of flash memoir

Memoir. It really should be avoided by all but those with the most interesting, important, timely, or unique stories.

Oh well, tough. I just pulled another old writing exercise out of its box. It’s none of the above. This one’s being set free today because it’s my Superbowl story. It’s also an Ekka story. Does that send you running, screaming in the other direction?

wool parades 2013

Click these lovelies to read “Ekka”

Ros had encouraged me to play with flash pieces: it’s her fault. At least flash memoir is brief.

Discovering Harvey Graham.

I’ve been back working with Brisbane Arcade recently, for its 90th birthday celebrations.

I love Brisbane Arcade: its bloody history, its Art Deco bone structure, and its personalities — many of whom I got to know when I was marketing manager there a decade ago. For the 90th, I’ve had the exceeding good fortune to work with the current (awesome) marketing manager and a canny publicist. The luxury of a team of three! Just like Charlie’s Angels.

 

Faye Rolf in Royce Facy

How gorgeous is Faye Rolph? This is one of Royce Facy’s clippings.

As well as event production, this time around, part of my work involved researching past arcade tenants, particularly fashion tenants. And it’s been a joyful little voyage of discovery. I’ve been able to reminisce with designers including Royce Facy, a local treasure. Revisit the RAQ awards (always just a little self-conscious, those televised 80s/90s galas) and the women who would have been supermodels, had they grown up in a city with greater prospect than this “big country town”. Giggle at blowsy advertising claims in old Trove searches. Try to imagine a retail environment where a store that only sold umbrellas made perfect sense. (Or an arcade where two successful dancewear stores thrived for years, facing off at opposite ends of the balcony level…)

Anthony Leigh Dower and Libby Bowley at the RAQ Awards

Anthony Leigh Dower and Libby Bowley at the RAQ Awards

 

The process has encouraged a contemplation of the nature of history, of what gets remembered (often that which is uploaded, or oft-copied). The creating of history through the telling. Wars that are described by the victors and all that.

Has which chosen history a Wikipedia page?

Serious modelling: Royce Facy designs in 1980

Serious modelling: Royce Facy designs in 1980

 

I’ve met a talented man who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (yet).

I thought I’d met, or heard about, a fair swathe of southeast Queensland’s dressmakers and designers from the second half of last century. Surrounded by talk of them since my first after-school job, selling paper patterns in the family business, I sold fabric and haberdashery to most of Brisbane’s dressmakers over a couple of decades in the rag trade. So it was near-mortifying to only be introduced to the designer Harvey Graham so recently.

Serendipitously, as we were planning the Arcade’s 90th events, a southside vintage store had taken delivery of a pristine Harvey Graham collection from a deceased estate, and Andra our publicist had made contact. These outfits were gorgeous: late 60s and early 70s, neat. Adorable.

I googled him: nothing, save an oblique nod to his awesome taste in architecture. (The Graham House in Indooroopilly, noted by Rob Riddel as one of Brisbane’s key mid-century designs, is now a vacant block for sale.)

But then I started talking to people who’d remember.

“Your grandmother loved Harvey Graham,” said my mum. “He was her favourite of the city designers.”

My dad remembered his cool car, of course, and also his consummate elegance.

Others remembered his attention to detail: Buttonholes of perfection. Belts to make you swoon. Trim detail matched only by Helena Kaye, or his arcade neighbour, Gwen Gillam: a designer who one fashionista with a longer memory whispered “wasn’t as good as Harvey, but she was louder.”

But the internet didn’t remember him, and a tip from local fashion insider Michael Marendy led me to one grainy picture of the confirmed bachelor.

 

Brisbane designer Harvey Graham

Harvey Graham, alias “Sir Bernard”

 

Harvey Graham’s salon moved from South Brisbane to Brisbane Arcade in the 1960s, and remained there until the early 1980s.

He’s back in there right now, and there’ll be a long-overdue Harvey Graham parade next Friday.

HG2

I can’t wait. It’s nice to give back some kind of history, even if it’s just a shout into the www abyss.

 HG1

You can read an article I wrote about the fashion designers of Brisbane Arcade, as part of Brisbane Arcade’s 90th , here.

 

The Esplanade

 

Oh, there are no photographs, as we were enjoying the moment far too much to bother recording. As usual.

But here’s a recipe for a cocktail we created last weekend.

Get invited to two of your dearest mates’ place for a kind of housewarming on a Saturday night. Go to the Yandina farmers’ markets in the morning (or, as we like to call them, the Good Markets) and buy a lovely pineapple and a bag of limes. Ask your dad if you can have a handful of mint from the garden (which, sadly, you forget. Mint would have made this drink even more awesome.)

Grab a bottle of Stoli, for old times’ sake, and hope that your friends have coconut cream in the cupboard after you forget to pick some up at the IGA. Throw in some mixers.

Deposit the lot on the kitchen counter and have a few glasses of Champagne. Hug old friends. Share some jokes.

Later, grab some accomplices. Gather ice. Chop half the pineapple into chunks. Add these to the bowlful of ice in Lindy’s big thermo thing that presides over the kitchen bench. Ask Justin how much alcohol. He’ll add about ¼ bottle of vodka and 1/3 bottle bacardi to the ice. That sounds about right. While Justin and Lou are trying to talk over the noise of the ice-and-pineapple-smashing machine, muddle a few massive teaspoons of sugar and limes (3? 4? Something like that) with a mortar and pestle. Wish you’d remembered the mint. Steal a can of coconut cream from the cupboard. Grab the ginger beer from the fridge.

When it’s smooth, pour the mashed ice/pine/vodka/bacardi into 2 jugs (it won’t fit in one). Into each, add: 1/2 can coconut cream, half the juice from the muddled sugared limes, and a good slosh of ginger beer. Stir.

Roll the rim of whatever glass you choose in the lime and pineapple juices which are probably still drenching your chopping board, then dump into leftover sugar for super sugarrimmed glamour.

Gently lower a chunk of pineapple to the bottom of the glass. Try to balance a slice of lime on the rim, fail, and drop that into the bottom as well. Fill with the blended goodness of pineapple, ice, vodka, white rum, lime, sugar, ginger beer, and coconut cream.

While glasses are being filled, take a baking tray and fill to about 2cm deep with the Esplanade mix. Secrete it into the freezer. In a few hours, you’ll remember that you did this, and you’ll be delighted to find you’ve got the beginnings of a delightful vodka granita. Or you’ll forget, but it will be perfect for tomorrow’s hangover.

That is how you create the Esplanade.

Pineapple

 

Too many months have passed without self-indulgent writing, with no wordy rambling save skinny scratchings in a work-related notebook and the occasional sentence plugged into my phone’s orangey notes.

 

Someone has left a whole watermelon on my doorstep.

 

The eyes have been scratched out of a massive poster of Wil Anderson up the road. He looks more interesting, satanic.

 

My beloved rooster is yet to crow and give the whole game up.

 

 

Yesterday, we took the boys to Sea World. There were many tattoos. We left at closing time. The nearly empty carpark suffered random discards: bags and containers stealthed down between parked cars guiltily revealed when their cover drove off. In a straight line to our car, I passed two dirty disposable nappies. People suck.

 

We had stayed at Greenmount, which was a younger sample of the weekend’s generally vintage vibe. I want to save every last faded one of the southern Gold Coast beauties: the random terrazzo floors, proud little skillion roofs, all the asbestos-clad modesty.

Those beaches of the GC’s cooler lower reaches are stunning, and the high-rises grotesque alongside.

Whenever I look north across the sweeping bays towards the silhouetted geometric outline that spreads from north of Surfers Paradise to (where? Broadbeach? or would it have sprawled down to Nobby’s by now?), I can’t help imagining it a smoking ruin. The ocean, sparkling and alive, in front of apocalyptic desolation. An annihilated future.

Autumn, northwards

Autumn, northwards

I must go. Work demands attention, and I also must find out what sort of bird made the nest that landed on the driveway last week.

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