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Friday, 25 January 2019 at 09:48

The Conciliation

I'll put up some poems from Vandemonian (Arc, 2013) and add them to the portfolio pages for that collection.

Trucanini, the last of the full-blood Tasmanian Aborigines, was born on Bruny Island around 1812. After many of her family and tribe were killed or sold into slavery she joined builder-turned-evangelist George Augustus Robinson and his guide the Aboriginal chief Woorady on his journeys of exploration and “conciliation.” During the early 1830s Robinson made contact with every remaining group of Tasmanian natives and carried out rudimentary anthropological inquiries into their customs and rituals, as well as compiling basic vocabularies of their languages. After the failure of The Black Line (1829) to pen the Aborigines in the Tasman Peninsula, in 1834 Robinson led the remaining natives to Flinders Island in the Bass Strait, where he attempted to Christianize them. The “National Picture” showing Robinson and Trucanini “bringing in” the remaining Aborigines is Benjamin Duttereau’s The Conciliation (1840). By 1845 there were 150 Aborigines left. Robinson had left Flinders to return to the mainland in 1839; his successors treated the remaining aborigines in their concentration camp appallingly. In 1846 the survivors were settled at Oyster Cove on the d’Entrecasteaux Channel near Hobart where their keepers provided them with insanitary huts and rum. By 1855 there were only sixteen left, including Trucanini. The last man, William Lanne, died in 1869. Trucanini died in 1876. There is of course a big problem about the concept of “the last of the Aborigines”; many Tasmanians are mixedrace descendents of Aborigines and immigrants.


Last full-blood Tasmanian Aborigine (1812? – 1876)

Trucanini, Truganner, I’m not sure what to call you,
your name has grown vague and lost as Trowenna.

Trucanini, Truganner, last full-blood born here,
raped by whitefella convicts, sterile with gonorrhoea.

Trucanini, Truganner, still hanging round their woodsmoke,
you sell yourself to sealers for a handful of tea or sugar.

Trucanini, Truganner, they murdered your mother;
come again, a little later, killed your new step-mother.

Trucanini, Truganner, whitemen murdered your intended,
convict mutineers stole your blood-sister Moorina.

Trucanini, Truganner, there’ll soon be no one left now,
so many sold to slavers just like your tribal sisters.

Comes another whiteman: comes George Augustus Robinson,
together with Wooraddy, loyal guide and his Good Friday.

This whitefella Robinson’s a missionary unlike any other:
cockney builder become explorer, The Great Conciliator.

Trucanini, Truganner, help-meet and translator:
interpret, make word-lists, catalogue their customs.

Trucanini, Truganner – tiny, tiny, tiny –
married Wooraddy, also full-blood out of Bruny.

Trucanini, Truganner, with Robinson you both wander,
so long since you left your home on Bruny Island.

You go gathering them in now, most-trusted Trucanini.
Orphan-mother to the whitefella’s blackface piccaninny.

Interpreter, translator, Truganner, Trucanini,
in your story I hear echoes of Pocahontas, La Malinche.

Traduttori sono traditori: I heard an Italian say in Sydney.
And, for a long time, I thought, Trucanini, Truganner,
how lives fork when we live in a stranger’s tongue.

My Lord’s a Cockney Shepherd
who’s bringing in His Flock
and we’re singing Ba Ba Black Sheep
as we huddle in His Fold.

Some say I’m rounding up the black sheep,
like the shepherd’s faithful dog,
but there’s nothing left but pasture,
and my forest’s turned to logs.

Now there’s a bounty on the Tiger,
there’s a fence across the land,
and they’re grazing fluffy white sheep
while the Shepherd sings the hymns.

He leads us to the Promised Land
where we will all be safe,
and our Pen is Flinders Island,
though there’s not many still alive.

But the Master’s gone and left us,
least what was left of that last Fold.
Shipped us back from Flinders Island
to slums and rum in Oyster Cove.

Trucanini, Truganner, now you’re dying on your own,
the doctors pick your bones like ghostly thylacines.

Trucanini, Truganner, your flesh and blood all gone,
your people dead as Dodos and they’ve stolen what remains,

You star in that National Picture high up on the Museum wall,
but though your bones are still raked in a big glass case,
you saved No One after all.

Paragon Station.. Inside now

Friday, 7 December 2018 at 19:16

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It was time for a break from the cityscapes. Still looking at the city, but my new project's about how people inhabit its spaces. I've done Paragon several times from up and above outside. Let's look at it from another angle.

Here's something in progress: I think's it's about half-way to being there. Let's see. I'm now thinking about gesture and how that relates to public space.

Sticking with Euan Uglow

Friday, 7 December 2018 at 18:50

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Euan Uglow is one of my heroes. He famously took a long, long time over his paintings. Models would go off, get married, have babies, get divorced, in the course of a portrait. Sometimes, the original model was no longer available, and others had to be found to fit in. Upper part is X, Legs down is Y. This is extreme formalism. Uglow would insist on each body part being in exactly the same position, marked by paint, nails etc. He might take hours waiting for the light to return to the previous day's work. Or paint a model from a series of different, absolutely detrermined perspectival differences.

Maybe, I'll post something more on Uglow's method another time.

Meanwhile, here's a Uglow-like set-up; but with a huge difference: I had just two sessions of about two hours on this. Hoping I'll get another session. There's a nod to Uglow's mathematical proportions, but everything is done very quickly here. If only I could organise studio time to work like Uglow. We do what we do and make the best of it. But, one way or another, I'll sort this, at least the white sheet if I can't get the model back.

Back in the Studio

Friday, 7 December 2018 at 18:46

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it's taken a while to get going in the new studio. The heating finally got connected this week. Here's what's on the easel at the moment. It's been slow, but a couple of things are coming along, which I hope to finish before Christmas.

Russia: Minus Twenty-Seven

Monday, 3 December 2018 at 09:41

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Photos of a demonstration camp set up in Red Square in the winter of 1992-93. Below poems from Minus Twenty-Seven (1993) which came out of a couple of trips to Russia at that time.

Russia: Builder of Communism

Monday, 3 December 2018 at 09:40

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Through the Forest

Monday, 3 December 2018 at 08:57

Here is the third and last poem from Minus Twenty-Seven.

I was staying with a Russian family in the Vladimir. One day we were going out and they gave me skis. I told them I'd never skied before, but they couldn't understand how anybody hadn't learned to ski, and just assumed I meant I hadn't done it for a while. This was cross-country, not downhill, so I managed somehow.

Like most Russians, the family did use their outside window ledge as a fridge in winter.

There was a lot of moonshine around then, too. There's a great novel Moscow-Pietushk, by Venedict Yerofiev, which gives recipes for moonshine cocktails made from various domestic ingredients, an idea I borrowed for the made-up hooch names in "Security".



The poem also appeared in New Writing 4 (Vintage, 1995) and in The Dade County Book of the Dead (1995).

Through the Forest

Minus Twenty-Seven. The town gives out,
trolleybuses terminate in dirty snow.
Out there it’s clean. You click skis
and head towards the aching sky.
Fangs fasten upon the woods.

Rats’ teeth threaded on the wind
pierce your lobes and gnaw.
Birch trees run out like barcodes
– those western goods eyed on Arbat stalls.
Your mind is as clear as that last vodka batch,
out on the sill, gripped in a handshake of ice.

Already the moon is twisting silver
like a lure where the sky fatigues.
Then it’s gone, loping over your shoulder
as you slither a bend at speed
to catch the sun’s last lick around tenement teeth.
The air’s smudged by a single cloud:
a speech bubble over the lit-up factory.

At the edge of the forest, your blood is hot.
No more than a hundred heart-beats ahead of night,
you pause, pant out stars and wipe
the pelt of frost from your face.
Eyebrows crackle with static.
Ice has woven through your hair.
It beaks under your clumsy glove like birdbones,
hanging, hinged on feathered splinters from a paw.

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