This time last year I wrote of local photo artists continuing to make their marks. 2022 has surpassed it. I have seen and reviewed 37 exhibitions of photography-related artworks, including videography, post-digital and networked photographic art.
It began with Judith Nangala Crispin’s sell out show at Grainger Gallery, which resulted in a Canberra Critics Circle Award.
Then the first Photo Access show of the year, featuring diverse photomedia works by ten emerging, or re-emerging, contemporary photographers – including an 80 years old.
A Critics Circle Award also went to Michael Armstrong, for his stunning portraits of Veterans with PTSD. It was just one of the exhibitions this year focussing on important issues and groups in the community.
There was Tim Bauer’s portraits of people and an accompanying documentary by Liz Deep-Jones, about confronting racism and bigotry. Flavia Abdurahman and Gabor Dunajszky revealed the resilience of Afghan Muslim women in war zones. And at year’s end (continuing into February), there is Hilary Wardhaugh’s work portraying people with lived experience of being disabled or of being mental health consumers. These are all worthwhile uses of photographic art.
There was more than one exhibition looking at issues relating to climate and ecology, educating artists and art lovers about biodiversity, heritage research and more. Most recently, ecologist and photographer David Wong explored different aspects of eucalypt ecosystems within local nature reserves. A group of 17 photographers led by Wong also produced a delightful separate exhibition about Bluett’s Block which is under threat from encroaching suburbia.
A photobook of the Bluett’s Block show is just one of the books released this year from Photo Access projects. There were three more in May, and another three in July. And Margaret Kalms launched her own excellent book in February to raise awareness about the illness endometriosis.
The exhibitions seen include some shown in NSW. There was Ali Nasseri’s exploration of his local patch, the ocean at Bondi, shown in Bungendore. And there was a celebration of the cyanotype print displayed at Sutton Village.
It has also been a year of modest (or small) shows, including an exhibition of photos by someone who is not a photographer at CCAS Manuka. Jane Duong had just a few images displayed at ACT Hub, in The Causeway Hall – which is the oldest hall in Canberra and a listed item on the ACT Heritage Register. They were also cyanotypes. And even more cyanotypes featured in Claire Grant’s wonderful “Up in the Air” and a simultaneous members’ exhibition at Photo Access.
There also have been outdoor exhibitions – the Bluett’s Block one opened in a pop-up at the Block before moving into the Manuka Arts Centre Gardens. Sammy Hawker had a show in Tuggeranong, on the windows of Lakeview House & under the Soward Way Bridge. And Hilary Wardhaugh has had works on display in Queanbeyan’s No Name Lane.
Hawker was also a most deserving winner of the Mullins Conceptual Photography Prize this year with her work Mount Gulaga, 2021, making her the third Canberran in succession to take out that annual Prize and, thus, confirming the high calibre of local photo artists.
Two other female Canberra photographers, Lyndall Gerlach and Susan Henderson were amongst the finalists. Gerlach and Henderson were also amongst the exhibitors in an excellent all women show at M16 Art Gallery.
There have been great shows at major institutions, including the National Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, and Viewfinder: Photography from the 1970s to Now at the National Library of Australia.
My advice? See every local photo art exhibition in 2023.
This article was first published in The Canberra Times online here and at page 31 of the print edition on 2/1/23.
End date not known yet, but probably until the end of 2022
Many, if not all, cities and towns have pedestrian laneways without names. Queanbeyan has one that is now being referred to as No Name Lane. It runs off the northern side of Monaro Street and is directly opposite Blacksmiths Lane on the southern side. After securing funding from the NSW Government’s Your High Street grant program in May 2021, Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council put in place a project to improve the safety, amenity and functionality of these two lanes.
Four artists are currently creating a contemporary take on an evocative old-world experience in Blacksmiths Lane. The concept is to reimagine the laneway experience reminiscent of the blacksmiths and wheelwrights who used to work in Monaro Street dating back to 1877.
In contrast, No Name Lane has a colourful and contemporary design. Canberra-based artist Yanni Pounartzis has completed a large-scale mural work in “fun colours” that encompasses both façades and pavement. The re-designed laneway also features neon light elements, greenery, new seating and a collection of lightboxes to showcase rotating exhibitions from local artists. In effect it has become an outdoor art gallery.
Looking along No Name Lane towards and across Monaro Street, we can see through Blacksmiths Lane on the opposite side to a large-scale mural on the side of The Q theatre, featuring Ricky Stuart as the face of Queanbeyan – another Council project.
The first exhibition in No Name Lane is now in place. The artworks are by well-known Queanbeyan professional photographer/artist Hilary Wardhaugh. She has said “Photography to me is more than just a business, it’s an expression.” The “candid, photo journalistic moments” and the “the dirt in between” is what lures her to capture an image.
This display brings together a number of quiet and reflective scenes from around the region.
Wardhaugh tells me she did not personally curate the artworks. Rather, the agency designing the laneway selected them from images she supplied. Some are from her project #welcomenotwelcome– exhibited at PhotoAccess in 2016, and in her finalist photobook in the 2017 Australian AIPP Photography Book of the Year.
Wardhaugh loves documenting urban scenes that are often not noticed by passers-by but which, with the right light, can quietly come together in a body of work. She loves creating mystery, asking the viewers to question or imagine what is behind a wall, fence or hedge – her images deliberately framed so as not to reveal the answers. A published review of #welcomenotwelcome said “It is a case of what you see is not what I want you to see.”
One image featuring a quite lovely colourful floral hedge has the intriguing title I haven’t got a welcome mat because I’m not a fucking liar. Virtually all we can see beyond the hedge is a broodingly dark cloud-filled sky.
Build a Fence also features a substantial area of sky, with a tiny glimpse of the moon, plus the tops of two streetlights – one adorned by the presence of a bird. But the new-looking fence, with absolutely no gaps in it, totally hides whatever else might be beyond.
Wardhaugh considers couches sitting by the roadside to be “so Queanbeyan”; therefore something that just had to be part of this display. She views abandoned couches as a comment on our throwaway society. This artist is not the only person to photograph such couches – indeed, there is a Canberra-based Instagram account devoted to them, @kerbsidecouches.
No Name Lane’s gallery space is a welcome addition to the Queanbeyan CBD and Wardhaugh a most appropriate choice for the first artist to be featured there.
This review was published on page 10 of Panorama in The Canberra Times of 20.8.22. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.
We travelled by train, commencing our journey in Queanbeyan with just a few carriages behind one engine. As we travelled north, additional carriages were added and somewhere an additional engine until the train was very long. Each time we stopped to pick up more delegates, regardless of whether it was a large number in large cities or just one person at a small country town – and regardless of the time of day or night – we opened the windows and welcomed the additional passengers by singing the official Convention hymn.
On arrival at Brisbane South Railway Stations around 26 hours later our carriage being at the rear of the train was a long distance from the platform and we were told to be patient whilst they unloaded the front carriages, then backed the train out to remove the empty cars then return to the station to unload the next lot and so on. We soon decided that would take forever so we clambered down with our luggage and walked alongside the train until we reached the platform!
Arrangements had been made for each of us to be billeted in the homes of local delegates. My host family, including one son John and two daughters were very nice people and looked after me extremely well. I had a great time and discovered the city of Brisbane. Virtually every day whilst in Brisbane brief storms would pour rain on me for as I made my way back to their suburban Norman Park home late in the afternoons and the summer heat always soon dried me out.
Every time another table filled in the dining area for lunch, those sitting at it would sing the grace – trying to use a tune that no other group had used for it. The one that sticks in my mind is “Hernando’s Hideaway”.
During the convention I became friends with a girl called Ethel, who was from Winton. After returning home, I sent her two photos I had taken of her, but she didn’t like them and sent me two others that she thought I might prefer to have. Our plans to stay in touch didn’t come to fruition. I wonder what happened to her.
I also had an opportunity to visit Lone Pine Reserve, with its collection of animals, including a carpet snake that I had my photo taken with.
The return journey was also by train, and I recall us filling the floor space between the two bench seats in our compartment with luggage and covering it with blankets, effectively making one large bedspace where a group of us lay close together trying to sleep.
Mum and dad, Alan and Jill all moved to Canberra in early 1960, as dad’s employer relocated operations from Goulburn to the growing city of Canberra. They purchased a home in Duffy Street, Ainslie at the foot of Mount Ainslie and I moved back home with them. It was the first, and only, home they actually owned.
Everything was different in 1960. Whilst I was, technically, repeating the three failed subjects from the previous year, in reality the content was very different. Canberra University College was no longer associated with the University of Melbourne but, instead, was now the undergraduate school of the Australian National University. What I had studied in first year Economics was now the second-year syllabus, and vice-versa. The same was true of Statistics. So, rather than repeating the material studied in 1959 I had to study new material altogether. I failed all three “repeated” subjects, and my Cadetship was cancelled completely.
A girl whom I had met came to Canberra one weekend to go with me to the University Ball in the Childers Street Hall. She stayed with her brother in a flat behind one of the car yards in Braddon. After the ball ended around 2AM, we walked back to the flat and she changed out of her ball gown. We then walked to mum and dad’s house in Ainslie arriving around 4AM and settled down in the living room. Mum came out of her bedroom and admonished me for keeping the girl up all night and for disturbing the household at that time.
Yvonne Mills from the Reid MYF was my girlfriend for some months, until she dumped me. I was most upset and poured my hurt feelings out to mum, who simply said “there are many more fish in the sea”.
After losing my Cadetship, I remained employed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a Base Grade Clerk working in the Mechanical Tabulation Division. We used machines to process statistical information. Punched paper tape was processed through a so-called computer – a Hollerith 1201 – and punched cards were put through various machines. I learned to sort the cards into order by gently inserting a small metal strip into holes until it was blocked by a card without a hole – push too hard and you made a hole where there wasn’t meant to be one!
I well recall Fridays when, at knock-off time of 4.51PM, we would all rush from work in West Block to the back bar at the nearby historic Hotel Canberra to have a drink before 6 o’clock closing. The idea was to consume as many beers as possible in the available time. As a youngster (turning 18 in early March), I wasn’t up for the challenge. After one beer, I would quietly slip away and ride my bike home.
I also recall one very wet day being lent an MGA sports car by a work colleague to drive to university lectures not all that long after gaining my driver’s licence and before buying my own car. I was both terrified and exhilarated at once. I felt like I was practically lying down in the car and, so, not really in control of it, but also felt very special being at the wheel of such a vehicle. Sadly, the owner of that MGA was killed in it later when he ran into the back of a lorry with pipes overhanging its rear end which penetrated the MGA’s windscreen and its driver.
Once I turned 18 in March 1960, Dad taught me to drive in his car but, after failing the test twice, I had a few lessons with a driving school. That was seemingly enough to satisfy the police as I was successful in gaining my licence at my third attempt. The test included reverse parallel parking in between two movable signs near a short piece of gutter that had been constructed in a parking area outside the then police station.
At first, I could only drive dad’s car when he let me borrow it. Alan was usually beside me in the front and, so, experienced my “accidents”. On one occasion I did not notice a cyclist on my right until very late, slamming on the brakes in the nick of time and coming to a stop with the car’s front bumper immediately behind the cyclist’s left foot on his pedal. When we told dad, his response was “you won’t be a good driver until you’ve had a couple of accidents”.
It wasn’t long before I had more passengers – girls from the MYF group were keen to travel with us. One night when three of them were in the back seat going with us to a church dance, I spun the car 360 degrees as I turned left too fast at a corner where there was loose gravel on the bitumen surface. Fortunately, we missed hitting anything else. Further on we broke down because of a blocked fuel line. We were rescued by friends, including Kevin and Noel Wise – brothers who had some mechanical knowledge. Returning the girls to their homes later I managed to “paint” a pinstripe of paint along one side of the car by backing into a driveway too close to a large painted timber mail/bread box whilst showing off to the girls. I had to confess to dad again when we got home. Waking briefly to receive the news, dad gave the same response.
The first car I owned myself was a second-hand white Ford Consul, baby brother to dad’s white Ford Zephyr.
Around this time I had a penfriend, Elaine, who lived in South Africa. She sent me photos of the area around where she lived as well as one of herself. I don’t recall how the penfriend-ship came about and it didn’t last for very long. The photos remain in one of my photo albums. I wonder what ever happened to Elaine.
On 20 October 1960, 16-year-old Denise Hawes, arrived in Canberra from Melbourne with her parents. Denise has told me I was the first boy she saw on the church steps when her parents brought her to Reid Methodist church. Her younger sister Rosemary was still in Melbourne staying with Nanna to finish her school year and their even younger sister Lynne was staying with Gran in Tasmania. The family were reunited in Canberra just before Christmas. My previously mentioned grief at being dumped by Yvonne Mills was short lived when Denise and Elizabeth York suggested I take them to the drive-in a couple of weeks later. Denise, and her whole family, was destined to become a large part of my future.
Despite failing my studies and losing my Cadetship, I was enjoying my life. The MYF group was strong and provided many great friends. We went to district gatherings, attended Crusader camps in various places, took day trips to the snow, went regularly to the movies on Saturday evenings, and attended dances/socials at other churches. We played snooker, tennis, table tennis, badminton and other games at the church. We went to church twice on Sundays – to the traditional service with the whole congregation in the mornings and the more informal evening worship preceded by the singing of our favourite hymns. MYF meetings themselves were a great time of socialising. Another group, Christian Endeavour was more focussed on spiritual things than we in the MYF. Its members were generally a little older than us, but I still know people who were involved with one or the other group.
In September 2021 the Australian Photographic Society held its first APS PhotoWalk Day with the theme Environmental Impact – What does it mean to you? I walked as an individual (not a photo club group), entered two images from the Walk and was placed 3rd. I wrote about it here.
On 14 May 2022, the Society held another PhotoWalk Day with the theme Repair – Recover – Renew. I suggested the club I belong to, the Canberra Photographic Society (CPS), participate and enter as a club and it did. But, unfortunately, at the last moment it pulled out because of illness affecting a number of Committee members. So, I quickly registered as an individual again and, on the scheduled day, set off with my camera to walk and find images.
The promotional material for the event said “In a world impacted by significant events through the impact Climate Change, COVID and Natural Disasters, nature and people show an incredible capacity to repair, recover or renew. Wherever you participate in the 2022 APS Photo Walk Day we want you to focus on the positive and capture the optimism of the future: show us how nature and/or people are moving forward so this a wonderful opportunity to capture and showcase the emotions that come with repair, recovery or renewal. Your images may reflect an emergence from the impact of COVID lockdowns and the joy of people rediscovering their lives and livelihoods. You may capture the beauty and strength of nature as it recovers from the ravages of fire or floods or other natural disasters or the efforts of communities to renew what once was. You are not limited by these examples; you are only limited by your imagination. The emotional impact of your image/s are the key to success.”
There were three judges and each of them were to score all entries, with their points being added together. And, again, the individual scoring most points was to receive a $150 MOMENTO Pro Photobook voucher and certificate.
As in 2021, an introductory session was held via Zoom the evening before the event. The surprise speaker was Len Metcalf, an artist, educator, environmentalist, writer and photographer based in Sydney. I very much enjoyed his presentation and he inspired me to create and submit Contemporary images.
Mostly in the Yarramundi Reach area of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin, but also in the urban area of Braddon, I took a total of 118 photographs – most with a DSLR camera but some with a phone camera using software that enables it to be used in “professional” mode. My challenge then became to create four images from those 118 shots that were suitable to submit to the competition. And, to give them titles that provided clues as to how they fitted my concepts of the theme.
Firstly, I created a montage of six images showing people renewing and repairing themselves by exercising.
Then I used a completely different image to portray renewal in another way altogether.
My third entry used a Hipstamatic App to create a pinhole style image of a couple of seats and a makeshift table that I came across by the lake. My guess is that a fisherman created this. I sat there resting and enjoying the view for a short time. This one is about recovery.
And my final image was created by overlaying two shots taken from the same position but with the camera pointing in a slightly different direction. The technique I used involved using Photoshop’s feature that merges two or more images to create a High Dynamic Range result. This one is again about renewal – but of the mind rather than the body.
On 24 June, a Zoom session was held to announce the results of the competition. It was convened by the APS President, Margaret O’Grady and attended by numerous entrants, two of the judges and Libby Jeffery, Marketing Manager of MomentoPro which was again the sponsor of the Photo Walk Day. Libby announced the results of the photo clubs’ section of the competition and then the results of the individual’s section.
To my great surprise and delight I was announced as the winner of the individual contestants’ section. During the opportunity for anyone who wished to speak to do so, I noted that I had only participated as an individual at the last moment and suggested I needed to thank CPS for its unfortunate late withdrawal from the Walk Day. If that had not happened, I would not have competed as an individual and, so, not won the $150 voucher from MomentoPro – received by email from Margaret O’Grady moments after the Zoom session wrapped up!
Hopefully, I’ll be able to participate as part of the CPS in the next PhotoWalk.
Roughly every four months, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the July 2022 issue now in newsagencies.
At the time of writing, I’m participating in a free workshop spread over 6 two and a half hour long sessions. It’s a program designed to assist folk who are sixty-five or older to do something with their boxes of slides of past travels, their prints falling out of family albums, or even their smartphone snaps. Small groups of participants are learning how to creatively review their photo collections, how to scan slides and prints, and how to manage and process digital files.
With the assistance of experienced tutors, participants are curating selections of mages from their own archives and will use them to tell stories through printed 50-page photobooks. The project is being run by Photo Access in Canberra, the ACT and region’s centre for contemporary photography, film and video and media arts. Like the APS, it is an established non-profit body, and is a friendly creative community making, sharing and investigating photographic culture in the interests of artistic expression, cultural participation and positive social change. This particular project was made possible through private donors plus a Creative Partnerships Australia Plus One matched funding grant.
If you know that I’ve previously made quite a few photobooks and have been on my photographic journey for many years, you might wonder why I am participating in this workshop. Well, I am seeking to improve my curatorial skills, to develop my ability to combine words with images to tell a story, to motivate myself to find special images in my huge collection, to create a new photobook that is more than simply a collection of some of my photos, and to learn new things – because I firmly believe we can always learn more.
So, for the project, I have decided to create a book providing a glimpse of my life as an adult, all of which has seen me living in Canberra. It will look at who I am – my component parts if you like.
Our group’s tutor suggested that I select the images I will use, then place them in the book under various themes rather than in chronological order. She has also suggested I include scans of relevant objects acquired along the way and of newspaper and magazine articles that add to the overall story.
My chosen themes are my family and friends, my employment and volunteering, Canberra events (that I have organised, participated in or photographed), Canberra places (that I have photographed), well-known people (that I have met and/or photographed), and my extensive involvement with photography.
I currently have identified around one hundred images and scans for potential inclusion in the book. That’s probably too many for fifty pages, so I still need to be a little more ruthless in whittling the numbers down.
I very much hope my finished book will be good enough to enter in this year’s APS Photobook Awards? You should be reading this in July – by which time entries for that event will have opened. Entry is free and open to all APS members and camera club members. There is no limit to the size, format, or number of pages. And entries have to be submitted by 7 October 2022. Full details are on the APS website at www.a-p-s.org.au. So, why not participate?
Footnote: All the photobooks created by participants in the project are to be launched at an event at PhotoAccess scheduled for 6 PM on 21 July 2022.
Princess Elizabeth was traveling to visit Australia in 1952 when her father King George VI died. She returned to England without visiting. However, Queen Elizabeth II has visited Australia 16 times, usually on important milestones, anniversaries, or celebrations of Australian culture. I favour Australia becoming a republic but, nevertheless, over the years I have seen the Queen on a few occasions during her numerous visits. And her 70 years of service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is certainly quite extraordinary.
On 25 April 1970, I was amongst the crowds when she officially inaugurated the Captain James Cook Memorial which was built to commemorate the Bicentenary of Cook’s first sighting of the east coast of Australia. The memorial includes a water jet located in the central basin and a skeleton globe sculpture at Regatta Point of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, showing the paths of Cook’s expeditions.
I was there again the following day, 26 April 1970, when the Queen opened the National Carillon on Aspen Island in Canberra. The carillon has a symbolic value in the link between Britain and Australia. It also has some historic value for its association with the commemoration of the 50th jubilee of the founding of Canberra.
When the Queen again visited in 1988, my job saw me responsible for many aspects of all the Bicentennial events in Canberra including the outdoor entertainment for the opening of the new Parliament House on 9 May. Royal “flags”, “designed” by me, were flown from numerous flagpoles during the visit, much to the chagrin of certain officials who objected to “pennants” being flown from flagpoles!
As a result of my job responsibilities, I was one of the people invited to attend the Royal race meeting with the Queen on Sunday 8 May. Of course, we were not actually with Her Majesty rather we were all seated several rows in front of her (with an empty space in between) and were instructed not to turn around and look at her.
The Queen officially opened the new Queen Elizabeth II stand at the racecourse and presented the trophy to the winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Bicentennial Stakes, a weight-for-age event over 2000m carrying prize money of AUD$100,000.
Despite the instructions, various people (myself included) took opportunities to peek and some of us also captured some images albeit from a distance.
On the evening of the same day, I attended a “dress rehearsal” in the new Parliament House for the following day’s main event. Guests were able to roam through the new building and many took the opportunity to sit in the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Representatives chamber. We experienced the entertainment the Queen was to hear the following day and enjoyed refreshments. I have no photographs of the event – my memory suggests we were not allowed to take any.
I was, of course, outside for the official opening of the new Parliament building, so did not actually see the official party that day, but I was close by and able to photograph the protestors who hung large banners on the outside walls.
On 20 October 2011, I was on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin when the Queen travelled along it from Government House and many folk waved flags and their hands. The boat was too far from the shore to make out Her Majesty (or anyone else) from where I was looking.
Earlier this year, the National Capital Authority put out a call for anyone who had met the Queen to submit photos and their stories for potential inclusion in a planned exhibition celebrating the Platinum Jubilee. The exhibition was to be included in the permanent National Capital Exhibition in the Regatta Point building where Her Majesty had stood to see where the Lake would be once rain fell and filled up the created expanse for it. I decided to submit one of my photos of the Queen from 1988 and the story associated with it.
On 23 May I received an invitation for myself and a guest to attend the opening of The Queen and Me.
So, I accepted for myself and my wife. And, at 4.30PM on 3 June 2022, we arrived at the event and very soon found my image and story had been included.
We perused the other parts of the exhibition, listened to some amusing stories told by the organisers, had some light refreshments, took some photos and chatted to one of the organisers and a few other guests.
As we left the building around 5.15PM we saw that the nearby Water Jet, along with the Carillon and some other buildings on the lake shore were lit with a purple colour. So I grabbed another photo on my phone. We subsequently learned it was Royal Purple and was part of the celebrations for the Platinum Jubilee.
As part of Australia’s celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee celebrating her 70 years on the throne, on 4 June 2022, there was a ceremony on the island where the National Carillon stands.
Australia’s new Labor Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, renamed it from Aspen Island to Queen Elizabeth II Island. He described it as a “fitting salute” to the monarch. “Today we celebrate her long life and 70 years of service to Australia and the Commonwealth, including no less than 16 visits to our shores.”
One little functional building in Canberra, the Manuka electricity substation (Chamber Substation 69), was built in 1936. It is thought to have been designed by Cuthbert Whitley. It may be the only one of its kind left. It is no longer used for its purpose and, right now in May 2022, Evo Energy wants to demolish it.
A Development Application (DA number 202240055) has been lodged for Block 5, Section 41, Griffith (zoned for community uses), where the building is located. The remainder of the block contains a small parking area and is, otherwise, undeveloped.
There is now a temporary security fence around the building, which is covered with painted “street art”.
Who was Cuthbert Whitley and why is his involvement in any way relevant? An entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography by Roger Pegrum reveals much about Whitley:
Whitley was an architect and public servant, who was born on 30 July 1886 at Rutherglen, Victoria.
He trained in design and building with the Victorian Public Works Department. In 1912 he joined the Commonwealth Public Service as a draughtsman in the public works branch of the Department of Home Affairs.
In 1920, Whitley was appointed architect in the Department of Works and Railways. Soon after, he was admitted as an associate of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Whitley was transferred in 1929 to Canberra, where he worked under the principal designing architect (later chief architect) E. H. Henderson. In 1935, he was promoted to senior architect in the Department of the Interior. His first major project was a new building for the Patent Office on Kings Avenue, for which he chose a formal axial composition with sandstone facings and restrained Art Deco embellishment.
In 1936, Whitley designed Ainslie Public School. His plans were both functional and elegant, with carefully articulated facades and creative treatment of conventional materials internally and externally. Art Deco motifs such as chevrons and vertical flutes suggested a fresh and forward-looking view of education.
He followed this building with a dramatic design for Canberra High School (1939) at Acton, with a lofty clock tower marking the high ground overlooking the city centre and long symmetrical wings of classrooms terminating in bold semicircular ends. He enlivened the formality of the composition with decorative elements integrated into the overall design. Featuring many technological innovations, it was described at the time as ‘the most modern school in Australia’.
Following Henderson’s death in 1939, Whitley was acting chief architect for some six months. His ambitions for a truly modern Canberra were also realised in smaller projects, including houses, and the city’s first fire station, at Forrest. The flat roofs, crisp steel-framed windows and unrelieved brick walls of these buildings were early expressions in Canberra of the Inter-War Functionalist style.
Whitley travelled only for work and, despite his appreciation of contemporary architectural movements, never went overseas. After suffering the first of several strokes in 1941, he retired on 19 September 1942. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 23 October that year in Canberra Community Hospital and was buried in Canberra cemetery.
Once upon a time – in April 1979 actually – there was a farmer with the unlikely name of Shepherd. Mike Shepherd that is. A part-time weekend farmer when I met him. A public servant concerned with matters agricultural during the week. And also a man with a precious knack for entertaining young people. A man who took chances.
Have you ever taken a chance? I don’t mean buying a lottery ticket or betting on the horses. Although that is really how I first met Mike. He had brought a tiny piece of his farm to Canberra one fine and sunny afternoon, as part of a ‘City meets Country’ happening. And I was there with my young children. My nine-year-old son Darren entered a “Guess the Weight of the Black Sheep” contest and, you guessed it – he won! The prize? A visit to Mike Shepherd’s farm.
And so it was that we came to spend two days on Mike’s farm. Not a new experience for me I thought, having lived on farms for some years as a child. Even when Mike warned that the farm always hosted an assortment of people at weekends, I didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. But even Mike didn’t always know who would turn up on any particular weekend. Always adventurous, we just set off into the unknown to take a chance on this Mike, his farm and his other unknown guests. As always, of course, my camera was on board!
Arriving early Saturday morning we found all the other guests had turned up the night before. One group was in the process of slaughtering a sheep in readiness for the evening meal. As promised – or, perhaps, threatened – the other guests were indeed a whole variety of people. Various ages. Various backgrounds.
A public servant about to opt out of his personal rat race and work the farm. A woman, her four daughters – aged from about six to thirteen – and her unemployed brother. And a caftan-wearing American, resident at the farm. Mike himself. Des, with his great hat. And a couple of teachers from Sydney. Oh, and their class of thirteen teenage children with a level of intellectual disability from Wairoa Public School in Sydney.
The teachers and children were, in fact, stopping over for a few days experiencing country life. With little previous experience of such children, and certainly not any previous opportunity to get to know a group of such children at first hand, the weekend was to prove an exciting opportunity for me. And for my camera!
Ask any farmer and you will be told there is always plenty of work to be done. This one was no exception. All the guests were welcome to get involved with whatever was in progress. My then wife settled down with her sketchbook. My children went exploring and found a pony to ride. One of the other children, Susie, looked longingly but could not be persuaded to join them.
I found myself helping Mike to bring in some sheep. One of the school children used his imaginary walkie-talkie to pass innumerable instructions to imaginary security guards, and to the rest of us as we gathered the sheep! As the rest of the children ran towards us when we brought the sheep in, I ran to get my cameras.
I was not disappointed. Teacher Sylvia, and Des in his hat, tried their hands at cutting toenails and treating footrot on the rams. An upside-down ram and an inquisitive bunch of children soon found Mike giving an impromptu biology and sex lesson. The farm visitors watched on whilst one held a sheep steady, and the nearby building silently observed.
Once the work was over, there was time for fun. The children were enticed to leave their safe viewing positions beyond the yard fence and join the sheep. Not an easy thing for some of them. They dug deep for courage to really get among the unfamiliar.
Eventually, my camera followed Hatice, a mildly retarded girl, as she tentatively moved – in a few feet, back several, in again, back again!
Until eventually she took a firm hold on a sheep and grinned up at me in triumph!
(Those five images about Hatice were published under the heading “I was there” in the February 1980 issue of an Australian Photographic Society magazine, Image.)
Dean, an only child, adopted almost everyone as his temporary family. He really took a fancy to Sandy. She became his sister. Her mother became his mother. Others became his father, uncles and aunts! Around the evening campfire later this young boy delighted us all with his skills playing a guitar.
John also thrilled us with his musical ability. He lacked the co-ordination to peg clothes on a line, but he was able to produce tune after tune on a piano accordion keyboard – as Mike did the squeezing for him!
I will always remember the weekend for so many things. The way small hands slipped quietly into my arm. The way small arms slipped around my shoulder. The shy smiles. Susie – who eventually found the courage to ride the pony. The music and singing after we ravenously tore at the barbecued sheep. And, particularly, the hauntingly beautiful unaccompanied singing of the Lord’s Prayer by one of the young girls from the special school before we turned in for the night.
I became so engrossed in learning from, and getting to know, these special children that I forgot to keep taking photographs. I don’t make that mistake any more. But the images I did get have always served as a reminder of the day my son took a chance.
Roughly every four months, I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the March 2022 issue now in newsagencies.
One of the things we all should do is set ourselves personal projects to work on. In recent years, I have identified various projects I thought might lead to the production of photobooks or even exhibitions.
Creating photobooks is quite straight forward really. The cost of a particular size book is known ahead of time, so you can decide what to make and be aware of exactly how much money you need before proceeding. And if you do make a good one, you could always enter it in the annual APS Photobook competition – either in the portfolio category or the storytelling category. And there are also other photobook competitions you might decide to enter.
The projects I have embarked on in recent times have been diverse, despite the pandemic restrictions. Walking, cycling or driving around your close neighbourhood is all you need to do when searching for shots. I found the roadside littered with many more than usual corflute signs when it was election time here. See. Stop. Photograph. Repeat. The end result was 54 images – plenty for a photobook.
Then I found Love. Well sort of. Someone was, and still is, painting graffiti all over the place and, most particularly, around the suburbs closest to where I live. Every artwork primarily consists of images of a dinosaur/worm/alien, often accompanied by a heart and messages. I’ve completed a book Expressing Love in Canberra featuring many of those artworks that I photographed. If nothing else, I have a documentary record of those since removed or painted over! And, I’m adding to my collection every time I see a new work. I’d actually like to acquire one work that is painted on an electrical box door so I could display it along with my photos and the photobook at an exhibition.
When I first saw some Say Less graffiti on buildings in two suburbs on opposite sides of a major entrance road to our city, I had no idea what it was about. However, I quickly thought about the old saying that one picture is worth a thousand words, and the concept for a book about saying less with words and more with images started to take shape in my mind. Again, I’ve made a photobook.
Say Less is also about graffiti (or street art if you prefer) and explores various meanings of the term.
My possible exhibition could explore Love, Say Less,Corflutes and, maybe, also E-Scooters – the method of transport that has made a relatively recent appearance here, welcomed by many but irritating others because of perceived misuse as the scooters litter our streets.
Having an exhibition is more difficult to achieve. Firstly, there is the difficulty of getting a timeslot in a gallery. Getting into most of our local galleries is a real challenge. You have to compete with many graduating students keen to emerge and establish their names, as well as numerous already established photo artists from other parts of the country and even overseas.
I ask myself if older folk like me who have been in numerous group exhibitions over the years but never had their own solo show, can now emerge and be lauded as photo artists? I don’t know, but I’ll keep pursuing a solo exhibition and, in the meantime, will make more photobooks. What was the closing date for that competition I read about?
I’d helped him move his stock of books in boxes to Canberra’s The Street Theatre earlier in the week, then we transported a final box of pre-sold copies ready signed for each purchaser arriving at his request around 2.30pm on the day of the book launch. He was already there set up at a small table underneath the permanent installation on the wall commemorating the man who the book is about. Nearby, a theatre staff member was ready to start selling copies for him to sign as purchasers brought them to his table.
The book If This Is The Highway, I’ll Take The Dirt Road – the Formidable Encounters of David Branson Esq. was written by my stepson Joel Swadling, hence my involvement – although I also knew the late David Branson, and all his family are also my friends. I’ve written about Branson and Swadling on this blog previously here. My concluding sentence then was “I’m looking forward to the attending both the 20th Anniversary Concert and the book launch, reading/hearing the interviews, reading the reviews – and completing my own reading of the book.”
By the time the launch date arrived I had attended the Concert and read almost to the end of Act One in the book. Both had added to my “looking forward to” mood. My wife and I had been on tenterhooks after having been deemed casual contacts of a grandson who contracted the Covid virus earlier in the launch week’ forcing us to have tests – thankfully negative. A positive result would have prevented us attending both the concert and the launch.
A publicity shot I prepared was displayed on monitors in the foyer/bar area of The Canberra Theatre before, during and after the 20th Anniversary Concert by Mikelangelo & the Black Sea Gentlemen, plus their guest Fred Smith.
Also displayed were numerous photos of David Branson taken by ‘pling.
But here we were at the appointed time on the appointed day, with many people gradually joining the crowd in the theatre foyer, purchasing drinks from the bar, purchasing books, getting them signed by the author and greeting numerous friends – some from other places than Canberra, and some not seen for years. What to do first was the challenge. For me, it was getting my camera out and starting to document the event – book selling, author signing, friends mingling. One of the first images shows Dominic Mico, whom I got to know personally when heading the (ACT) Arts and Recreation Branch way back in 1987. I went to many of Mico’s events at Canberra’s TAU (acronym for Through Arts Unity) Community Theatre. Later, Mico was founding director of the National Multicultural Festival. And here he was getting his copy signed.
There’s my wife Robyn Swadling speaking with our friend Pauline Everson, who has come along with her neighbour at Goodwin Ainslie Retirement Village.
And there’s Paul Branson, who will be speaking during the launch – reading his own words about brother David from the book.
Michael Simic (aka Mikelangelo) is here too – ready to perform. He’s talking with Iain Campbell Smith – Australian diplomat, singer/songwriter and comedian. He performs under the stage name Fred Smith in Australia. Smith has been described as ‘Australia’s secret weapon’ in international diplomacy. As a career diplomat, he served for two years in southern Afghanistan. Working alongside Australian soldiers in Uruzgan Province, Fred’s second career as a musician came to the fore, his guitar serving as a bridge not only to the troops, but also to the people and tribal leaders of that war-torn region. His song, ‘Dust of Uruzgan’, captured the hearts of many serving in Afghanistan. And he authored a book with the same title.
A little after the scheduled time we began moving into the theatre for the launch. I headed in early to get a front row seat where photography would be easy. The woman beside me and I thought we knew each other. It was Kate McNamara – poet, playwright and critical theorist. For almost ten years she worked as a dramaturg with David Branson’s Splinters Theatre of Spectacle. But I probably had met her through her involvement with TAU, alongside Mico.
Seated on stage are David Branson’s sister Liz Bishop and brother Paul Branson, together with Louise Morris (Branson’s partner at the time of his death), and our author Joel Swadling. At one end of the front row are Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, including the other Branson, Pip (aka Rufino), waiting to perform.
Elsewhere in the theatre are other members of the Swadling and Branson families. Joel’s father Paul and wife Janet Scott, brother Anthony and partner Sarah Powell, and brother Justin with partner Rache(l) Pettit and their children Jasmine and Riley. That damned pandemic has prevented brother Adam from being present. Margaret Hunt (previously Branson) and her husband David, Paul’s wife Jeanette Watts, Pip’s wife Megan and their children Denholm and Holiday. They are all here.
The doors close. Louise approaches the lectern. She speaks lovingly of David and praises Joel for his dedication and persistence in bringing the book to fruition. Joel replaces her at the lectern, welcomes us all, thanks key people and delivers a short speech, starting:
I’m not going to give a long speech, because the readings I’d like to give are self-explanatory. But I really must thank the management of the Street Theatre, particularly Dean and Carolyn, who’ve so graciously organized this event; as well as Cathy Winters, in helping me to plan the running order. I’d also like to thank my friends, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, for agreeing to play for us. I’ve had several compliments on my book’s title. But I can’t take full credit, as they’re cribbed from Michael’s song, “In Carnival Time”: “If this is the high life, I’ll take the dirt path”.
For this book couldn’t have been produced without the direct involvement and support of our entire community. Of course, I want to thank you all for being here today. But I know equally that there are many who wish they could be but aren’t able. I think in particular of Patrick Troy and Peter Wilkins. Also, some who have passed from our number in the time it’s taken me to finish the book: Phillip Crotty, David Unwin, Renald Navilli, and ’pling (whose photographs so graciously accompany my pages). This, of course, is a celebration of the magnetic force of David Branson. But it’s equally a celebration of the upward spiral of the community which he so richly engendered. As David would have said, “Love you, love your work!”. So please, raise your glasses and toast: “Creative Community!”
Those in the audience who happened to have a glass of something in their hands raised them as directed. Joel then invited Mikelangelo and friends to sing us a song. They take the stage and perform below a projected poster for the book featuring the image of David Branson. In their inimitable style they entertain us and speak of David. They then take seats at the rear of the stage.
Next Joel invites Liz, Paul and Louise, each in turn, to join him. He reads his own words from the book, whilst they read words spoken by them years ago when interviewed for the book. Words that Paul later tells me he didn’t remember saying. All of this is well received by the large audience.
After that it is Fred Smith’s turn, accompanied by Pip. Fred sings his new song about David whilst a video of ‘pling’s images of David plays on the screen above him. Pip plays his violin beautifully to accompany Fred. This is a truly emotional moment for all who were closest to David, indeed for everyone. Then Pip speaks about David and what he meant to him. More emotion!
To bring the actual launch to a close we are treated to more Black Gentlemen, ending with Mikelangelo being unable to resist removing his jacket and throwing it (landing at my feet), waving his arse at us all, then climbing into, over and onto the audience.
Joel thanked everyone and invited all to return to the foyer for refreshments. Later in the foyer a friend confided to me that he thought Mikelangelo took the focus off Joel. I replied – but it is exactly what David would have done when he had such an opportunity.
Back in the foyer Joel signed more books, we ate provided food, drank more, laughed, cried and talked until the staff packed up around us and, eventually, closed the doors. All a bit of a blur really!
Gemma Clare, who plays cello with The Gadflys amongst other groups, is speaking with Louise Morris – and I do believe that is Marc Mowbray, the Piano Guy, with them. Nearby, there’s a smiling Helen Musa, OAM – art journalist and critic, Canberra City News Arts Editor, founder and Convenor of the Canberra Critics Circle, consultant at the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre.
Rev. Dr. Bruce Stevens – founder of Canberra Clinical and Forensic Psychology, currently providing pastoral care to folk from St Margaret’s Uniting Church in Hackett which the Swadlings, Bransons, and Bishops all have connections with – says he enjoyed it immensely. Sue Wilson – who recognised Bruce Stevens and says he saved her life at a difficult time – also had a great time.
Megan – wife of Pip Branson – and their children are having fun. Simon Clarke – lay preacher at St Margaret’s – is in animated conversation with Margaret Hunt.
John Goss – chair of the church council at St Margaret’s and Mark Bishop – husband of Liz – are catching up with her and with Rev Paul Swadling who used to be the Minister at St Margaret’s.
There’s Fiona Edge – graphic designer (whom I first met when she did design work for the Deafness Forum of Australia when I was its CEO for 10 years) and with personal links to ‘pling (Kevin Prideaux, 1955-2018) who was deeply respected within the arts community for his continued passion, love and support. His photographic legacy is an immense record of the Canberra theatre/music scene from 1970s – 2010s. It is his photographs that feature in Joel’s book and on Fred Smith’s video of his song about David.
Ben Drysdale – actor, director, drama tutor, musician, events coordinator and Creative Producer at Canberra’s Rebus award-winning, mixed-ability Theatre Company in Canberra, which seeks to stimulate social change and healing and with which Joel performs – is enjoying a beer whilst chatting with Fiona Edge and Fred Smith.
The book launch was over. Joel had much to be pleased about – not the least the large volume of book sales! His family and friends were proud of him. And the launch was a fine celebration of David in a place where he is permanently remembered.