White cloud drifting up from the Megalong Valley - that's the morning view from the window of the rented house on Narrow Neck Road, Katoomba where we are staying for the first week of January. It's very quiet here. I remember Sasha once saying that it was so quiet at the writers' retreat in this town that all you ever heard was the occasional sound of some other resident using the photocopier. From this place we hear a variety of birdcalls, the distant metallic kind of creaking of a long coal train on its way through the mountains to and from Lithgow a couple of times each day and, at night, the rumble of trucks driving along the Great Western Highway some distance from here.
There have been a couple of storms since we arrived. The thunderclaps are incredibly loud.
The old refrigerator in the laundry of the house gives off an annoyingly constant hum as it goes into one of its cycles several times in the day and night.
The lack of noise is hardly something to complain about but I am looking forward to next week when we move to another rented house in Leura, the next town to the south,
which actually faces a through-road to Wentworth Falls where there'll be some traffic to occupy the enormous available soundscape.
I've taken the advantage of having plenty of time and no distractions over the holiday week to read many articles and essays in various hard-copy subscription magazines - Art Monthly, the London Review of Books, overland, The Monthly, real time and the latest issue of Artlink which has a series of interviews with the people they call elders of the artworld, meaning influential and ageing Australian art historians, curators, lecturers, gallery directors and visual artists like Bernard Smith, Daniel Thomas, Donald Brook, the late Joan Brassil, Frank Watters, Bert Flugelman, the late Joan Kerr, Butcher Cherel Janangoo, Ray Crooke, Sally Gabori, Paula Paul, May Moodoonuthi (Bentick Island painters who work from the Aged Persons Hostel on Mornington Island), film-makers Arthur and Corinne Cantrill and many others. There is also Marina Strocchi's article on the mid-1990's beginnings of the senior women painters from the Ikuntji Womens Centre west of Alice Springs in Central Australia, one of whom, Ningura Napurrula, was invited to have her work grace the walls of the recently opened Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.
I have also read Martin Edmond's new book Luca Antara : Passages in search of Australia. It is an unusual book - a 'bookish' book in that Martin recounts his own historical interests and research obsessions via the books he reads about them. These obsessions follow in the wake of the 17th Century Portuguese and Dutch voyages on the Indian Ocean side of Western and Northern Australia. The books and maps that Martin, whose day job is as a Sydney taxi driver, studies are acquired from extraordinary antiquarian bookshops - one of which leads him into an encounter with an odd couple and, subsequently, a libertarian-style sexual affair. Martin is an original, exacting, and measured writer and I found it very pleasurable to read his descriptions of Sydney, especially of buildings that no longer stand or are irrevocably altered and that I remember as being as striking to me on my arrival in the city in 1968 as they are to the narrator of the book on his discovery of the city after arriving there from New Zealand. Places like the Sydney City Library in the grand old Queen Victoria Building and the now-vanished Anthony Hordern Building.
Luca Antara is a memoir but it is also an almost-scholarly enquiry into some of the speculative tales and fables around the early seafaring discoverers of Australia. It is multi-faceted. For example, intertextually, the author deals with the topic of hoax when, for an agreed fee, he ghost writes an undergraduate essay that leads him to the fictional poet Ern Malley. There is a feeling of mystery, uncertainty and of the fantastic that backgrounds the entire book - what is real ? what is dependable ? - as his obsessions unfold in both intellectual and actual journeys to places that include the Marquesas, Portugal, Paris, the straits of Malacca, Malaysia, Lombok and into encounters with possessors of old manuscripts like the weirdly mysterious Mr Henry Klang . He vividly describes the wreck of the 'Batavia' - a subject covered by several other Australian writers recently - on the premise of being engaged to write a film script. He becomes enthralled by the tale of a C17th Portuguese servant called Antônio da Nova who, abandoned during a mutiny on the coast of Western Australia, is rescued by an Aborigine who leads him on a long journey across the top end which becomes, of course, another journey of discovery of this continent, Australia.
Luca Antara : Passages in Search of Australia is published by East Street Publications
In December I visited Mirror of the World an exhibition of items on the theme books and ideas from the archives of the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne.
The catalogue explains - ”Books are mirrors of many worlds: worlds here and distant, past and present, real and imagined. Through text and image they act as keepers of ideas, of knowledge and of stories.
Mirror of the World: books and ideas provides an overview of the history of book production, design and illustration, dating from the Middle ages through to the present day.„
So it includes an ancient cuneiform tablet, the 15th Century book Myrrour of the worlde printed by William Caxton, hand-painted manuscripts and books of hours, the popular 19th Century folly, a midget library, old maps, etchings, aquatints, editions o Shakespeare, a selection of the 20th century classic orange and white Penguin paperbacks from the 1940s - 1960s, lurid threepenny thrillers (well actually 2 and 6 thrillers - cover price 2 shillings and 6 pence), woodcuts, topographical illustrations, Audubon's birds, and so on and artists' books.
A palm-sized midget library and magnifying glass. 1895
The artists' books include a copy of the July 1915 war issue of Wyndham Lewis's magazine Blast with its futurist woodblock cover, the intensely decorative William Morris edition of The works of Geoffrey Chaucer and so on.
I was surprised to see, for the first time, a display of one of the open pages of the rare limited edition of the Katoomba-based Wayzgoose Press's book of Ken Bolton's poem Terrific Days of Summer. It's large and long - a wonderful object lying there encased in a glass box.
The Wayzgoose edition of Terrific Days of Summer.
Mirror of the World runs through February.
The Victorian State Library is located at
328 Swanston Street
Entry to the exhibition is free.