Tag Archives: Brisbane

Creative echidna

My new years resolution for 2020 was to always have a creative project to work on. It started well. At Woodford Folk Festival I saw a naive drawing of an echidna on a woman’s t-shirt. In my little notebook, sketched in the style of what I had fleetingly seen. Back home, I took my resolution seriously. I drew three echidnas and loaded them into Photoshop, where I mirrored and swung the three drawings, and arranged them in a repeating pattern in a jig that would fit together, and printed an A4 transparency which I then exposed on a silk screen.

My friend and neighbour, Birgitte, took me to the Fabric Store in The Valley. I fell in love with a paprika-coloured linen, and imagined my echidnas roaming this fabric. I bought 2.4m of the fabric and immediately started printing, frame after painstaking frame, my pattern onto the fabric in white screen printing ink. The ink was thick and it took me a while to get the right viscosity for the print. It took me quite a number of weekends to fill the fabric with little white echidnas, because after squeezing ink through each frame it needed to dry before I could line up the the next section of the pattern without smudging the prior.

We went into covid lock-down before I was finished with printing the fabric. This was problematic because I felt I needed help with the next part of my project. You see, last year, I was at Artisan for the opening of an exhibition that was the outcome of a collaboration between printmakers from Hopevale and QUT fashion students. Hopevale happened to be one of the communities we were working with to develop State Library’s Spoken exhibition about Indigenous languages. I saw this amazing length of fabric, a straw coloured lined printed with large camp dogs in blue and yellow. Even though I had not sewn anything since I was 12 when I failed miserably at sewing a cotton skirt, I decided to buy this beautiful fabric for the purpose of sewing a dress for the opening of the exhibition. My mother-in-law had recently given me an old sewing machine, which promptly broke when I fired it up, but this gift had convinced me that I would be able to sew a dress. It was only because Birgitte, who is a fiend at sewing beautiful clothes, offered to help me that the camp dog dress ever became reality.

So when I was ready to sew the echidna dress, I felt a tad lost without Birgitte, though she was available on the telephone. I still had the pattern from the camp dog project, and emboldened I decided to modify it somewhat before I started cutting. Measure twice and cut once, Birgitte’s voice rang in my head. And it worked! I cut out the front and the back pieces, and two short sleeve pieces. Then I pieced them together, first with ample pins, and then with stitches on my new sewing machine.

I am proud of the result. Thanks to the artist whose work on a fellow festival goer’s t-shirt caught my eye, and inspired me to give it a go.

It was a long journey through the night…

Travelling faster than human speed across time zones causes jetlag. That and a sore backside from sitting too long on a long-haul flight. But I musn’t complain: initially it took homo sapiens thousands of years to immigrate across the world, today we can do travel half-way across the globe in about 30 hours including ground travel and transfers. It is the 7 time zones between the one we left on the East coast of Australia, to the one in Northern Europe that is the killer, together with the dry, putrid air that comes from so many people stuck in a small space, the sore eyes and swelling legs that stay with you for a few days after you have again stepped foot on solid ground.

In this light, it is very hard to understand why traveling is equated with living, when all you want is to survive the situation you find yourself in to be back to where you came from. At best, it is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, to be in this moment without longing for a future one.

Here, share some of our long trip.

At reise er at leve

Such wrote Hans Christian Andersen in ‘Mit Livs Æventyr’ in 1855. To travel is to live. I would translate that title, given the HC Andersen context, The Fairy Tail of My Life, though literally it may be better translated as The Adventure of My Life.

It has been 18 months since we returned home to Australia from our big year in Copenhagen. We have created new routines and new ways to make meaning of life and the everyday routines back in Brisbane.

We are back on Danish soil to see family and friends in Europe for seven weeks of holiday. And a little bit of library conference at the public library of the year DOKK1 in Aarhus, Denmark.

Jetlagged and with sore legs and bottom, I don’t necessarily think HC Anderson was right: life happens where you are and you make a choice to live in it, whether or not you are travelling. Travelling gives you the opportunity to experience something new and make memories. But if we live to travel, we invariably spend most of our life yearning to be elsewhere.

Before we go, I wanted to say See Ya Later to my home suburb and my boys. So I made this little film, though you may feel cheated if you expect to see Yayoi Kusama and an upside-down elephant in Mitchelton. I added for effect and to try out my new-found iMovie skills.

Home and November

The Mitchelton Pony Club in November. Photo: Mick. 2015.

The Mitchelton Pony Club in November. Photo: Mick. 2015.

It has been a week now. A whole week since we came home from Copenhagen. Home to our two gorgeous sons, our familiar house, our green garden, our neighbourhood in our suburb in Brisbane.

It was a good time to leave Copenhagen. October was mild and full of sunshine, blue skies, red ivy blazing on old brick buildings, brown chestnuts falling into the lakes and green treetops fading to yellow to brown. You would still see the odd person in shorts and singlet in the sunshine on Dronning Louises Bro. Granted, the sight was much rarer than in spring, when the Danes seemed to strip at the slightest ray of sunshine. But November was, well, rather Northern European November-like: Colder, wetter, grayer, windier, darker. Not quite cold enough for snow, not quite warm enough for comfort: just that miserable in-between. And our tenancy was up. Yes, it was time to leave.

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The roots of belonging

I even love the cold, especially when the sun is shining. Photo: Lone 2015.

I even love the cold, especially when the sun is shining. Photo: Lone 2015.

The plan to come to Copenhagen for a year did not come to me in a flash – it evolved slowly from that feeling of not quite belonging where I was. A tiredness from being a just little bit out of place, a little bit different. A feeling of being surrounded by truths a little bit – or sometimes a lot – different from what I knew to be true when I was much younger than today.

We have now been in Denmark for eight weeks and in our flat for five. It is four weeks since our older son left to go back home to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia – home to our younger son who did not want to come. Thankfully, they report that they are both doing well.

In that time we have been exploring our new place. And: I love Copenhagen. There are so many things to see, to do, to enjoy. I love hearing Danish language around me. I even love the cold, especially on a sunny day when every spot of sunshine on the street walks fills up with people catching just a bit of that sun. I love seeing my family and my friends. And I love that my husband is so completely on the journey with me. But it is too soon to say if I belong here.

It is hard to come home when you don’t belong writes Maren Uthaug in her debut novel Og sådan blev det (And so it was) from 2013. Like the main character, Kirsten, Uthaug lives in Denmark, but her parents are Sami and Norwegian. The story is about going back to ones roots to discover identity. Kirsten is born as Risten in Northern Norway into a Sami community. When she is seven years old, her parents separate and with her Norwegian father she moves into the home of a well-meaning Danish woman. In all her well-meaningless and desire for minimum conflict and otherness in her midst, the woman changes the girl’s beautiful Sami name to a Danish one. She also changes the name of the Vietnamese orphan who came to live with her when Vietnamese boat refugees came to Denmark in numbers so large that authorities had to billet them with private individuals.

Kirsten’s plan to reconnect with her Sami family also does not come in a flash and when she finally visits her mother in Northern Norway, her sense of belonging to the country and community in which she was born is blurred by years of absence, growing up in a different country, community and culture.  Even the belief system for keeping evil away that she learnt from her grandma; the silver, the chants in an old Finnish language, Kvensk, the warning to never look at the northern light; are foreign to the Sami community to which she returns.

I have always wondered how people in the arctic circle managed to survive and have children. The exhibition Fur - life or death? at the National Museum gave me some insight. Photo: Mick 2015.

I have always wondered how people in the arctic circle managed to survive and raise children. The exhibition Fur – life or death? at the National Museum gave me some insight. Photo: Mick 2015.

Just before she leaves with her father for Denmark, young Risten commences a massive project to draw a fantastic tree covering numerous taped together pieces of A4 paper. She wants to draw the roots, the crown, the branches. The roots of this tree – of this girl – are clearly deeply buried in the northern country near the arctic circle. When she returns she probes to discover just how deeply her roots are buried – they are so well covered up by an alternative truth that they are nearly impossible to discover.

This is a touching and moving story, well written and beautifully told. Being out of place in a well-meaning, but much misguided ‘civilisation’ parallels stories of first nations people across the world. And I am happy to say, it is a far cry from my own experience: my struggle for belonging are nothing on a scared little girl far away from home, clutching her grandma’s silver ring and chanting to keep evil spirits at bay and holding tight to cultural truths that no-one surrounding her has any possibility of understanding.

My story has none of that drama at all. I deeply respect the genuine struggle of all people who are displaced, especially to those who did not – and cannot – themselves chose to be where they are.

Home of part of the heart

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Passports – check, Credit card – check, Tickets – check, Place to stay – check, Dreams – check, Sense of adventure – check

This week, in the muggy Brisbane heat, we’ve put it all together and are very close to ready to leave for cold Copenhagen, Denmark.

At times, exhilarating, at others terrifying for the lack of a set plan. I am not particularly good at not knowing exactly what will happen next.

You see, I have planned for this for a long time. Since at least 2012, when finally I realised that the magic of sunny Queensland, Australia, could wear off. Experiencing the Brisbane floods at the beginning of the year did not at all help. It was bizarre to be in the middle of civilisation and feel so helpless against the rage of nature, the mass of water – water of life and water of destruction. And these last few week we have again seen the fury – hail the size of golf balls rained down on Brisbane inner city, and on level 16 in the office building, we felt how it shivered in fear of the furious winds that spun around like a washing machine on its final spin cycle. Cyclonic conditions in an area below the cyclone line. Nature cares little for bureaucrats’ convenient categorisations, for houses lost their rooves and windows exploded into splinters of tiny glass, spraying terrified occupants. At least no people lost their lives in the 2014 storm of Brisbane. But it is a sign of things to come, of that I am certain.

Though the real reason for the plans is nothing to do with the climate. It is simply: a part of my heart is somewhere else, back in my mother country, where people I love live. Like my sister, two brothers and their partners and children. Like university friends and school friends. Like aunts and uncles and cousins and their families. I want to reconnect with my culture and the Denmark that exists today. No doubt it is a very different Denmark from the country I left in 1991, but then I am a different person to the 24 year old that immigrated to Australia in 1991. I look forward to seeing how the me of today will fit into Denmark of today.

It helps that my most excellent man is excited and supportive of the venture, too. He has been admitted to study at Københavns Universitet and has applied to study Danish Cinema and European Art Film as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts he is working toward here in Brisbane. He will attend a three weeks Danish course and perhaps finally be able to converse in my language.

Will I miss Brisbane? Yes of course. Not just will I miss the climate and familiarity, I will miss my adorable, lovely, great boys, who will stay in our home while we are off. Thank heavens for skype and social media.

I hope to write about my experience, right here on this blog. A reverse migrant experience, I guess. I hope you will join me on the journey.

Stuff and memory

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

There is only so much you can fit into the luggage limit of airline carriers. When you are packing your bags for a year-long sabbatical in Denmark you have to make harsh choices. Luckily we’ve secured a furnished apartment just outside the lakes in Copenhagen. This does reduce the amount of stuff we need to bring or acquire.

For years we have been trying to get rid of stuff – to declutter our lives. Somehow stuff just seems to accumulate and fill every surface, like dust whirling up in the swoosh of movement or encouraged by south easterly winds – and settling in the corners and on the skirtingboards until it is disturbed again.

I find that I hang on to stuff because it has a meaning for me. It may be a present given to me by someone I love. It may be something someone was made especially for me. Or it may be something useful one of us bought. The best stuff is stuff that is designed well and used often. These are the objects that last and also bring lasting memories.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Each time I sit in one of the Børge Mogensen Spanish Chairs I am thankful that these beautiful chairs ended up in our house in Brisbane. My parents bought these chairs in the 1970s when we moved to Gjellerup. They sat in the tiled lounge room in the middle of the brand new house, together with the clunky, soft and deep modular couch. Like a casual prop in photos of my grandmother comfortably sitting at a family party. When we moved to the next house in Gjellerup on top of the hill, the chairs were incorporated into the combined kitchen and tv room – much more frequently used, but less elegant because they could not sit side by side in the space. Finally in my father’s last house in Herning they sat in the corner of the swimming pool room together with the buffalo leather couches, inviting one to perch a cup of coffee on the wide arm rests and pick up a book from the overflowing coffee table while listening to music blaring from the Bang&Olufsen sound system installed to fill the large room.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

Now, in the early hours of the morning, the chairs let me catch the weak rays of morning sun before they gain power and blaze onto the solar panels on the roof. The chairs sit with the cedar coffee table that Mick created from the beams left-over when we built the house on the hill in Bunya in the early 2000s. Inspired by a large, rustic coffee table from my childhood home, it is a robust table that is both functional and beautiful. On the other side of the table is one of the green Natussi leather couches we bought, one at a time, as a present from my parents when our boys were born. Those couches have been tough enough for babies, toddlers and teenagers, finally giving in to the direct sunlight on the deck, causing the leather to crack.

Over the table hangs a PH lamp – the classic lamp that was a wedding present from my parents’ business partners. It was second hand then, surplus to requirements, when they decorated the ground floor flat of the home that also housed the publishing business and my family. On the table sits a small dish that Mick wove out of tie wire during his first year of the fine arts degree. It accumulates stuff: ear phones, coins, a card. On the wall hangs Mick’s Takemine guitar, so often picked up by our younger son to strum a few chords or pick a few Spanish notes. It hangs next to a painting by artist Joanna Underhill, ‘Cellular Intelligence’. Following a bout of cancer, she studied cancer cells during a residence at the Brain Institute. The result is a series of work that explores the structure of cells which provides inspiration for quite intricate imagery and colour.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

On the other side hangs a piece my older son did in Year 12 Visual Art, ‘Waiting for skating’. Three skate boards form the canvas and three faces in various states of patience adorn them. Clearly, my son is not particularly patient. One day he screwed the wheels back on to one of the boards: he wanted to skate. When I realised, I promptly bought him a fresh board and the piece was restored to the wall. He promised to touch up the scratched board. However, in the intervening period I have grown quite fond of the authenticity of the green and pink paint that shines through and the edges that are worn down to the timber core of the board. Besides, it is a good story.

None of this stuff will fit in my suitcase. And this is part of the point. These objects are integral to the life world I have created in Brisbane with my family. This life is part of me, but only one part. With the chairs and the lamp – and many other objects – I have integrated my Danishness into my Australianness in physical manifestations. I have invented a self that combines my experiences, language and memories. One reason for going back is to refresh and reconnect with the Danish part. Together we will find new inspiration and create new memories for the next period of our lives, which integrates more of my Danish heritage.

My self is indivisible and when we are away, there will no doubt be things that I miss from this sunny part of the world. Stuff that I have grown used to.

Morning walk

The bright red of the flame tree is just starting to come out. This shapely shade tree hails from Madagascar originally. Photo: Mick 2014.

The bright red of the flame tree is just starting to come out. This shapely shade tree hails from Madagascar originally. Photo: Mick 2014.

Last week I wrote about the jacaranda in Brisbane. Thinking about, noticing and writing about the dots of purple so iconic in Brisbane, helped me also notice the other shapes and colours that make up our local suburban landscape.

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Beauty and blue

October provides purple paths all over Brisbane. Photo: Mick 2014

October provides purple paths all over Brisbane. Photo: Mick 2014

As I walked over the purple carpet of spent jacaranda flowers I thought about the fleeting nature of beauty. Jacaranda trees are a hallmark of Brisbane in spring. They dot the urban landscape with bright purple crowns, like lanterns, and look beautiful against the high blue Queensland sky in October. deciduous as they are, their tiny compound bi-pinnate leaflets turn yellow and drop in winter, before the tree smothers its twigs with trumpet-shaped purple flowers in October that beckon the insects and critters for help with fertilisation. Only then does the bright green foliage return, providing great shade in this sunburnt country that is curiously low on good native shade trees. Once spent, the flowers fall, like droplets of purple rain, and are then followed by round, flat woody seed pods, about 5 cm in diameter, from which flat, winged seeds float when they open, ready to generate new trees.

R. Godfrey Rivers' Under the jacaranda from 1903 was purchased by Queensland Art Gallery - Godfrey Rivers was instrumental in establishing the Queensland National Art Gallery in Brisbane in 1895 and his painting features on the cover of the Gallery's publication about its survey of Australian Art from 1850 to 1965 shown n 1998.

R. Godfrey Rivers’ Under the jacaranda from 1903 was purchased by Queensland Art Gallery – Godfrey Rivers was instrumental in establishing the Queensland National Art Gallery in Brisbane in 1895 and his painting features on the cover of the Gallery’s publication about its survey of Australian Art from 1850 to 1965 shown n 1998.

Jacaranda trees are prolific in Brisbane and important to the Brisbane identity. But the jacaranda is not native to Brisbane or even to Australia. It is an invasive species that easily germinates near our rivers and creeks, crowding out more fragile native species. Jacaranda is listed as a ‘low priority pest species’ in the Brisbane Weed Management Plan 2013-17 and as an ‘invasive naturalised species’ in a paper published by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foresty. The very first jacaranda was brought in deliberately from Brazil and planted in Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens near Parliament House in 1864. It is the very same tree that Godfrey Rivers immortalised in his painting Under the Jacaranda in 1903 that was acquired by the Queensland Art Gallery. I love this painting of the artist and his wife taking tea underneath the shade of the giant purple crown with her bright red parasol shining like an illuminated button. Later destroyed by a storm, this tree is thought to be the mother of all jacarandas in Australia and so lives on in its seedling trees.

Jacarandas dot the Brisbane suburban landscape when it is time to study for end of year exams. Photo: Mick 2014

Jacarandas dot the Brisbane suburban landscape when it is time to study for end of year exams. Photo: Mick 2014

It is easy to see why the jacaranda has become a much-loved – and beautiful – symbol of Brisbane. When I was an overseas student in 1990, one university lecturer said to me that if you haven’t started studying when the jacarandas flower, you are likely to fail your exams. This was good advice for someone who was wondering how you knew spring from summer and autumn from winter in this great southern land.

One of the things I miss about Denmark is the dramatic transition of the seasons. From winter’s sometimes white, but mostly just wet, cold sparse landscape to spring’s affirmation of fresh new life and bright colourful flowers from bulbs awoken by the warmer weather. From the pale green foliage of spring to summer’s dark green crowns teeming with life, insects humming and blackbirds singing for their growing children, when even the dead of the night fails to eradicate the light of the sun entirely. From the holiday sun tan of summer to autumn’s golden fields and heavy fruit trees, ready for harvesting under the blue sky of September, before the cold and rain set in, ready for winter. These seasons are all beautiful in their own way – and the regularity of their passing is so different from the way Australian seasons seem tied more closely to the randomness of drought and wet.

From winter's white over early spring's budding green life to late spring's bright green leaves on a birch tree in my back yard in Aalborg. Photo: Lone 1991.

From winter’s white over early spring’s budding green life to late spring’s bright green leaves on a birch tree in my back yard in Aalborg. Photo: Lone 1991.

Next year in Copenhagen, I will experience the cycle of the northern European seasons again, for the first time since 1989. I look forward to that, though when October comes around, I might just find myself missing the beauty of the jacaranda blue and the mild weather of spring.

Liveability and cars

In Goulburn, NSW they are honest about their priorities on the main street. Photo: Mick, 2014

In Goulburn, NSW they are honest about their priorities on the main street. Photo: Mick, 2014

Friday morning, I was very nearly run over by a car while walking to the train.

I was crossing the road at a T-intersection. A woman in a white ute wanted to turn right into the road I was crossing. She decided she had right of way. She beeped at me and shouted profanities when I kept walking. I was on the road before she even was ready to turn and this was a suburban road with a 40 km per hour speed limit. I had right of way. The adrenalin was rushing through my veins, as she accellerated past behind me.

Australians love their cars. It is an Australian birth right to own and drive a car – preferably fast – irrespective of the cost to the community and the world. Though car ownership in Australia and many western countries peaked in 2004, Australians still have more cars per 1000 people than the OECD countries on average. Seventy one per cent of adult Australians commute by car to work or study every day. On the balance sheet, car drivers take up space on the road, cost  CO2 emissions, incur road construction and maintenance costs and kill over 1300 people in Australia each year.

Car drivers sit in the traffic jam cursing the traffic, curiously, not realising that they themselves are the problem they are cursing, not the solution. Often their solution is wider roads, fewer busses that have to stop and slow traffic down, no cyclists on the road and generally cities that favour cars over people.

Mick. Chill. 2014. Enamel on MDF.

Mick. Chill. 2014. Enamel on MDF.

Yet this is not only selfish – it is also stupid. We know that the most liveable city in the world preferences ‘soft traffic’, the pedestrians, cyclists and public transport options, over ‘hard traffic’. A ‘new world city‘ would do just that.

I could drive to work every day and park under my building – but I choose not to for the sake of my own sanity and for the future of the planet. I cannot stand to sit in the traffic with frustrated drivers all around me, raging and swearing at the delay. Even though it would probably costs me less to drive into work every day than the overpriced GoCard fare, I prefer the walk – keeps me fit – and the train which takes so many cars off the road each morning.

It seems that in Australia every conversation about our role in global warming needs to start from scratch. In spite the overwhelming evidence supported by 97% of peer-reviewed climate scientists, our dominant discourse is still that fossil fuel mining is a crucial pillar of our economy, that we have a right to choose to drive our cars – and once in our cars we rule the road.

A young Danish girl was killed on her bike at Wooloongabba a few weeks ago. She was here as an overseas student, paying handsomely into our economic prosperity (I know, I was once also a full-fee paying student) and her preferred mode of transport was the bike, just as it would have been back home in Denmark. Clean transport, health-and-fitness-inducing transport, small transport. Yet she was clipped by a truck and died instantly. It is life threatening to ride a bike in this city – not because of the fact of riding a bike, but because you truly are soft traffic against raging, hard car and truck drivers. One could hope that this young girl’s sacrifice will make town planners and purse-string holders sit up and change the cityscape, but I am not sure the calls for better and safer bicycle lanes will be successful. Australians just love their cars too much.

The woman in the white ute probably went on to have a really horrible day. I hope the people arround her were not too badly affected. I wrote this post and got her bile out of my system. I wish she was a rare exception in this town, but sadly I know she is not.