The good Oils

I am standing in a dark cupboard – about the size, shape and build of a polling booth. A black curtain is pulled closed behind me. On either side of me at waist height are two plastic arms, elbows sticking out, attached to the wall.  Apparently they are meant to move and jostle me around, as if we were standing in the audience of The Antler hotel in Narrabeen in the late 1970s. But the elbows remain static in the dark, inversed Vs, props in some weird Halloween party. In front of me is a largish screen playing a video of a Midnight Oil gig, circa 1982 – and the elbows are irrelevant because I don’t need reminding what a Midnight Oil gig is like. I do remember.

The Making of Midnight Oil retrospective exhibition is in Canberra at the moment at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre and is well worth the hour or so spent down memory lane. First mounted by the Manly Art Gallery and Museum in close consultation with Oils band members, the exhibits cover the life of this iconic Australian band, from its genesis as Farm, through to the early 2000s when they wound up shop. There is plenty of video content to see, as well as clothing, tshirts, album covers, 45s (!), and a stage set up complete with drum kit. The height of Peter Garrett’s microphone stand gives an idea of the size of the man but I suspect they would have needed more room on a real stage to accommodate him, his movement and dance style, and three guitarists as well.

Midnight Oil image 3 stage

Stage set up

The first time I saw Midnight Oil was at The Ambassador nightclub in Newcastle. I was 16 (checking ID wasn’t much of a thing in 1979) in year 12, and had convinced my friend Melanie to come with me. I didn’t see much of her that night, but she knew where I was if she needed me. I didn’t move from my perch on a stool at stage right, mesmerised by the driving energy of the sound and, if I am honest, Rob Hirst’s biceps. Yes, Garrett’s presence was overpowering too, but it was the music that stayed (and stays) with me, and I straight away ordered Head Injuries from the CBS record club – a well-loved piece of vinyl that I retain today. By the time I moved to Sydney the following year (and eventually to North Bondi the following year ), they had taken off and were playing all over the place.

Midnight oil image 2 Ambassador

Poster from gigs at The Ambassador nightclub in Newcastle, complete with surfing and steel-making visual references

The exhibition is very comprehensive – it tracks through the key pinch points of their career – the Oils on Water Triple J concert on Sydney Harbour (somewhere in the garage I have a cassette tape of this, recorded from the radio), endless tours in the US, travelling and touring through the Australian outback – unheard of in the 1980s, the Sydney Olympics and the Sorry suits – politics was never far away and it’s fair to say that it was not the sole province of Garrett. He’d have been given short shrift if the agenda were only his and this comes out in lyrics written by all of the band members.

The high points of the exhibit for me are the personal items on display – the guitars and drum sticks, the Casio keyboard used for song composition, and a tattered set list left over from a gig – perhaps kept by chance but encapsulating the band’s life-time output. And the handwritten lyric sheets – complete with copyright tags – are fabulous to see.

Midnight oil image lyrics

Handwritten lyrics for Run by Night

The film of the making of the 10-1 album is also running on a loop, and features interviews with the brilliant Jim Moginie and producer Nick Launay and illustrates the technical brilliance and musical knowledge that sits behind the unique Oils sound.

The exhibit will be touring elsewhere in regional locations, which is great, but if you are in or around Canberra, I can recommend it.

The Making of Midnight Oil exhibition  is free and runs in Canberra until 14 May – http://www.tuggeranongarts.com/the-making-of-midnight-oil-2/

Who are the Canberra Day Kelpies?

My new children’s book is now available.

Tilly and Banjo, the Canberra Day Kelpies, tells the adventure of two sheep dogs running free on the day that the name of the national capital of Australia was announced.

Targeting children from years 3 – 5 in primary school, the story aims to engage young children in the historical impact of the naming day. You can learn more here, and even order a copy of the book!

http://tillyandbanjo.wordpress.com/

Life gets in the way of Life with a blackdog

I’ve been an absentee blogger, sadly.  Real life got in the way in the form of a new job – my first real full time role in 15 years. Yes, having children was a choice and it meant changes and compromises and I’m pretty happy with the results – two beautiful children who I can say bring me joy every day.

But getting back on the chain gang has been a challenge. The life logistics got even more complicated – who needed to be where when and with what packed in a bag?  Evening meals got more simple (simpler?) – being a very plain cook, I wasn’t sure that was possible, but it was. Food as fuel.

The dog has continued to be walked of course, but starting the job mid-winter has meant very little time for wider forays into the public art scene in Canberra.  Now that spring is upon us though and the days are longer, I have plans to get out amongst it all again.  That’s a promise I will try to keep!

In the meantime, here are some pics of our adventures, some close by, some a bit further away.

garden dog Letterbox Seed pods  Suburban swing Tilly and the banksia rosesShoes make a pillow

Who you callin' a dummy (One of these dogs is not a statue!)

It moves, but never gets off the ground

When I first saw Dinornis Maximus I thought it was an actual wind measuring instrument, something that the Weather Bureau had put up to test which way the wind was blowing, or how fast – a kind of new-fangled wind sock. Or maybe a new wind turbine for generating electricity.  But no, it’s a kinetic sculpture.

Tall wind sculpture Tilly

It has grown on me – I regularly drive past it en route through Woden – and I find I am now less distracted by it than previously. Initially I thought the blades might fly off.  Up close, though it seems pretty stable.

Upwards wind sculpture

The day we went to take a look, it was freezing cold, but there was no wind, which is why I felt able to get so close.

Tilly base wind sculpture

Dinornis was the giant moa, a flightless bird, from New Zealand.  Extinct now of course, and thought to stand more than three metres tall.  This sculpture is 11 metres tall, and its arms rotate every which way, whatever way the wind takes it.  A bit like life, really.

Dinorsis long view Dinornis Plaque

The artist is Phil Price, a NZ sculptor.  I do like the irony of the artist naming this sculpture with swinging arms after a flightless bird.  It moves and moves, but never gets off the ground.

Here’s a quick film on YouTube of the sculpture’s arms moving about.

On the road again

With the wind in my ears and a smile on my own face, I think this sculpture adroitly captures the joy of the dog taking a road trip with its owner.

Tilly and on the road again

Dog truck 3

The whimsy of the composition, with the dog’s head stuck out of the car’s window – which seems to hang mid-air – encourages the imagination.  And you can feel the movement of the wind as it whooshes through the car, pulling the dog’s ear’s backwards while the car is propelled forward.

Dog truck 1        Anne Ross On the Road again 2011

On the road again by Anne Ross  is located at Lyons shops, and is made of bronze. It was installed in November 2011, and unveiled in 2012.

It adds humour to the shops at Lyons, which is one of the few local shops that also has information about the person for whom it is named, Australian Prime Minister Joe Lyons.

Lyons sculpture

Lyons 2

To the trig and back

Once the rain cleared yesterday morning, Tilly the blackdog and I headed out for a longer walk.  She deserved it, and I needed it too.  We drove over to Narrabundah Hill, at the top of Duffy, an old haunt from the days of blackdog version 1.0.

When we walked there, way back in the early 1990s, it was a pine forest, dense and dark with hidden corners and large puddles.  Entering from the Mount Stromlo end of the forest, we would walk along the flat path, past the wild blackberries and the cattle grazing in the paddocks over the fence.  Once we’d rounded the corner, been blasted by the wind coming up from the south, and taken in the vista of the Tidbinbillas , Whitby (version 1.0) would take off – she was an excellent off-lead dog, who rarely went anywhere too far away … unless there was a puddle to loll about in.  And that was where she always headed.  Straight down the hill and splash, flat out on her tummy, drinking the muddy water.

All that was well and good, unless she had the kong in her mouth at the same time.

Kong

Because kongs have a hole in their top and bottom, and guess what?  They don’t float.  So if she landed in the middle of the puddle, well, finding the kong again was a job for “super partner” and the rake.  The next day.  Early, the next day.  Ah, the memories.

But these days, we head into the forest from the south, near the water tower.  The vegetation is slowly recovering, although it’s no longer a working pine forest after the devestation the 2003 bushfires caused. But it is still well loved by walkers, with or without dogs, and like us, people were making the most of the sunshine returning.

Trees on Narrabundah Hill

Leaves eaten

Charred

The wind was up, whipping my face, and we did a good hour, heading south and then west in a loop up to the trig station.

Wide view trig

Once up there, I realise it’s been several years since I was there last, and the view has opened up with all the pine trees gone.

View to molonglo

The new suburbs of the Molonglo development fall away in the distance, and there are new buildings up at the astronomy observatory on Mount Stromlo.

Jessie 2

But at the base of the trig station tower is a little box, bearing the name Jessie, and the message “You were truly man’s best friend”, with a collar inside. Evidence that it’s a special place to many.

Tilly and trig

I give Tilly the blackdog a special pat – she’s a bit annoyed at all this camera-ing and wants to head off .  But I pause to take in the whole view again before we head back down the hill.

Swaying stalks of light

The Vessel of Horticultural Plenty looks brilliant at night, but Tilly and I aren’t allowed out then – it’s way past our bedtime. Needless to say, it’s still striking during the daytime.

Funded by ArtsACT in 2009, the artist is Warren Langley.

Light sculpture 2  Light sculpture Tilly

The sculpture is made of galvanised steel, polycarbonate and coloured LED lights. The strips of lighting sway in the breeze, casting a colourful swathe through the night sky. Here’s a picture of what it looks like at night.

It’s located in Childers Street, in Canberra as part of the new ANU precinct (at the Barry Drive end).

There is another Warren Langley glass and light sculpture at the Canberra Glassworks. Will have to ask for a pass out to see that one evening.