You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2010.

Not that I’m counting – okay, I’ve been counting just a little – this humble little blog-shaped place in the world came into being a year ago today.  This is quite something for someone who didn’t even have the internet on at home until the beginning of 2009.  One minute, so it seems, I was happy going about my life ignoring all the possibilities that the on-line environment has to offer, the next I was creating Under the Counter or a Flutter in the Dovecot, posting this and that, finding other blogs to love, and – gasp! – even getting to know people through the interwebs.

Crazy, just crazy.

I won’t deny that there have been times when I wonder why I keep doing it; indeed I only committed myself to blogging for a year, promising that I’d review whether or not it was worth continuing.

What do I like about blogging?  I like the fact that it makes me engage with the world – seeing something interesting, taking a photo, then writing a post about it, then editing that post so it’s something that might actually be read.  I like the fact that I’ve realised that writing about a new book or album is actually really hard – I never set out to write reviews, but I do set out to write something of value about something that I’ve valued.  I like the fact that when I post a piece I’ve written for another format, for example something written for a newspaper, people actually comment, and the comments are almost invariably thoughtful and incisive.

I like the fact that I’m realising that a blog is simply another tool to create – a tool to explore and record and communicate.

What don’t I like about it?  Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – it feels more like a game than a serious pursuit: it’s easy to get trapped by the stats: subscriber levels, daily visitations, who’s googled what to reach the Fluttering Dove (except the latter can be pretty hilarious, it has to be said).  And sometimes – not often, but sometimes – it takes me away from the main game, which is writing good fiction.

But the pros outweigh the cons so I’ll keep this little guy going, at least for another year.

Which is handy, because I’ve just been informed that the National Library of Australia has selected Countering the Under-Dove for archiving as part of its PANDORA project.  According to the National Library of Australia, PANDORA is:

‘a growing collection of copies of Australian online publications, established initially by the National Library of Australia in 1996, and now built in collaboration with nine other Australian libraries and other cultural collecting organisations. The purpose of the PANDORA Archive is to collect and provide long-term access to selected online publications and web sites that are about Australia, are by an Australian author on a subject of social, political, cultural, religious, scientific or economic significance and relevance to Australia, or are by an Australian author of recognised authority and make a contribution to international knowledge.  PANDORA is a selective archive. The National Library and its partners do not attempt to collect all Australian online publications and web sites, but select those that they consider are of significance and to have long-term research value.’

So there you go: all contributors to Fluttering Cot-Counters are imortalised in the National Library of Australia!

Thanks to everyone who’s visited, thanks to those who comment, and a special thanks to those who comment regularly.

I appreciate all the thoughts and opinions and feedback.

I have no idea why...

...old things make my heart sing.

It might be due to all the living...

...that's been and gone and will be again.

Or it might be that one day, one day...

...I will live in a place like this.

For most people it doesn’t happen every day, but for Jack Featherstone it’s barely happened at all.  Until now.  For the first time in 35 years, and for only the second time in his life, yes, my father is having an exhibition of his paintings.  And it’s at the Canberra School of Art.  Which is not bad – and slightly ironic – for a self-taught artist who has next to no connection with the art world whatsoever.  For the last sixty years he’s just been painting, just doing it, just making shapes and colours on whatever he can find – canvases, bits of stone, bits of bark.

When my brothers and I were kids our father would escape into the roof of the family house where he had a very basic studio – essentially it was just an easel balancing precariously on the joists.  Later, he was able to upgrade to a ‘studio’ beneath the house, where he’d sit amongst the damp soil and cobwebs and boxes of toys no longer used. The way I remember it, he was always painting – he just always seemed to be doing it.  Of course, it’s never been his ‘profession’; no, to bring in the cash, he spent his life fixing people’s teeth.  Did he want to be a ‘professional painter’?  I have no idea, he’s just painted.  He’s never had classes, and I very much doubt that he’s ever considered – however briefly – the thought of actually learning to paint.

Ten years ago he retired to Braidwood, a small town in New South Wales, where he spends his days painting and walking and feeding his chooks and doing more painting.  Every so often he’ll submit something to the folk-art section of a regional agricultural show and score the odd ribbon, but then he just bunkers down again and gets back to it – making shapes and colours on whatever he can find.  He’s never thought of having a formal exhibition, mainly because he had one thirty-five years ago, in Sydney, and the critics tore him apart.  Well, one critic did, and I’m not even sure it was a proper critic, just someone who clearly didn’t have an encouraging bone in his or her body.  I guess it was the 70s back then – it was a time when people said what they wanted to say, and offended all and sundry in the process.

So Jack Featherstone kept painting, just doing it, because he’d fall apart if he didn’t.

Then, a year ago, Associate Professor and Associate Head of the Canberra School of Art, Nigel Lendon, dropped in to my father’s little blue house at the bottom of the mainstreet, fell in love with the work stuck on every surface and hidden behind furniture and vowed that he’d work towards putting on a proper show.  Last Wednesday, that ‘proper show’ became a reality.  Within 24 hours, my father was interviewed on ABC radio and had stories appear in the print media.  A senator even turned up at the launch; my father shook his hand and there were smiles all round.

I won’t go into the qualities of my father’s work – over the decades most people who were lucky enough to see his pictures considered them the output of a ‘naïve’ painter – but Nigel Lendon, who curated and launched the show, has written an expansive piece over at Iconophilia.  It’s well worth a read.  For me, it’s all about someone who has just painted, not to have work shown, nor for the accolades (though this recent event has certainly been very much appreciated).

What is it that makes someone want to create?  Is it about seeing something and wanting to make some kind of record?  Is it about interpretation – not understanding something until it’s been taken apart and put together again?  Or is it about simply having something to do?  If it’s the latter, then why not just have a veggie garden, or make model airplanes?

Obviously, part of this post is about pride, pride at what my father’s achieved.  But it’s also about realising that for some people – perhaps many people, many more than we care to think – there’s an innate need to make, to create, to explore, to communicate.  But there’s something else: it’s about doing something for life (in more ways than one), sticking with it, being determined, but not necessarily having aspirations, just a desire to do, to keep at it, not to achieve any kind of end-game, because the making is the point.

Because creating makes us feel properly alive.

It was orange and plump and I found it yesterday in a cardboard box in my garage.  I picked it up and turned it over; it was neither heavy nor light.  Written on the front in red texta was ‘1996 (2/3)’.

As I removed the envelope’s contents I realised that 1996 was the year before the internet and email snuck its way into my life.  Back then it was an end-of-year tradition to bundle up the letters, postcards and invitations family and friends had sent me and put them in an orange envelope and file the envelope away in a cardboard box – not unlike when at work we’re required to keep key documents for an important project, in case one day someone wants to find out how it happened.

I wanted to know how 1996 happened, so I leafed through the collection, this the second of three envelopes – it must have been a bumper year.  Thoughtfully composed letters from friends: how courageous we were, how wanting, and revealing.  In the midst of our twenties we expressed so much love for each other, sometimes testing to see how far we could go, desiring to cross lines, to define ourselves.

But there are two pieces that stick in my throat.

One is a handmade card in a handmade envelope.  In this undated piece a friend with whom I have lost contact apologises for his behaviour at a dinner party: he is sorry for not wanting a meal I’d prepared because he’d recently and privately become a vegetarian, he is sorry for leaving my house between dinner and the movie on video, sorry for going under what appear to be cloudy circumstances – he asks me to forgive him for these ‘terrible things’.

The second and similarly undated piece is a black-and-white newsagent card, on the front an image of a blue-heeler dog chained to a kennel, a windmill in the background, desert on the horizon.  Inside the card it reads, ‘Dear Nigel, just a quick note to say THANK YOU, I had such a wonderful time’.  But the correspondent is nameless and I don’t recognise the handwriting.

There is no way of knowing if the two events are connected, except in the sense that in a world where letters are becoming increasingly rare, where we’ve forgotten about the physicality and intimacy of handwritten correspondence, something is lost, if not altogether broken.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 2 October 2010.)

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The past