Listen up

This issue of Meanjin magazine - Blak Times has been edited by Peter Minter, poet and lecturer at the Sydney University Koori Centre. It is chock full of apposite, informative and powerful essays, interviews, stories and poems by and about Australian Indigenous writers, visual artists, critics and musicians. It has a sixteen page, full colour spread of artworks and stills from recent films.
From Peter's introduction: In the late twentieth century, settler Australia was reminded more vigorously and effectively than ever before of colonisation's exploitation or annihilation of Indigenous communities. This was not simply the result of an awakened post-colonial social conscience or a renewal in civic moral virtue. It was driven rather by a resurgence in many Indigenous cultures after generations of physical and psychological warfare. Australia was asked to take notice, listen up and come to terms.

Blak Times is a crucial collection. I'm selecting it as my imperative reading for April


Attention Span

Steve Evans, professor of poetry of Main Street (Orono) Maine, has begun putting the 2005 Attention Span up on the web. I've been pleased to accept Steve's invitation to participate for the past three years. My list of titles for 2005 can be accessed here


An illustrated lament

'Acme Demolitions - All We Leave Is A Memory'

After work last Thursday I had arranged to get picked up by Amanda Stewart on the corner of City Road and Cleveland Street just outside The Seymour Centre to go see and hear the sound installation Sign she had made for 'What Survives' at The Performance Space in Redfern.

                 Amanda Stewart, April, 2005

What Survives: sonic residues in breathing buildings is about just that and takes its title from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke in which he asks 'Who says that all must vanish ?' So it's about traces that resonate, in the case of sound, within buildings, bridges and architectural spaces.

                 My shadow walking - thursday arvo 20.4.06

I walked across the university campus past the hole in the ground that was once the Stephen Roberts Lecture Theatre where I had heard visitors to Sydney like the philosopher Jean Baudrillard and Gayatri Spivak speak. It was the venue for conferences on topics as diverse as Artificial Intelligence and the Kanak struggle for Independence in Nouvelle Caledonie and so on. The theatre was once packed out for popular palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould. The only traces of that place are now either dust or memory particles.

Then I crossed City Road and was shocked to see another demolished, empty area where The Tin Sheds had stood only a few days ago.

   The Laughing Wall by Colin Little and Alex Danko - The Tin Sheds fence in 1972

The Tin Sheds, so-named because of its corrugated iron walls and roof, was built originally for the CSIRO (a government funded sciences organisation). By 1970 though, it had become an extraordinarily eclectic art workshop owned by the University of Sydney. There was, over its thirty odd years, far too much happening there for me to cover properly in this outline so I'll just note some (but by no means all) of my own connections.
In late 1971 Colin Little, an Engineering dropout, began screenprinting at the Sydney University Art Workshop with the assistance of Vicky King. He established the Earthworks Poster Company and formed a close association with the artists of the Yellow House, Potts Point, Sydney. (The same year, 1971, I had made a sculpture at The Yellow House as part of a women artists' project co-ordinated by Vivienne Binns)

In 1971 I had a silk screen printing workshop in Glebe Point Road, Glebe called Cocabola's Screenprinting.

         Pamela Cocabola Brown pours a cup of thinners solvent for Di Fuller outside Cocabola's Screenprinting. Glebe, 1971

I would walk across Victoria Park with my screens to the Tin Sheds to use the darkroom there. I became friends with Colin Little who was not only a great silk screen artist but also the first vegetarian, Tai Chi practitioner I had ever encountered. Colin's company changed its name to Earthworks Poster Collective in 1972. The late Mitch Johnson, Tim Burns, Mostyn Bramley-Moore and members of Optronics Kinetics worked with the collective as did members of the Architecture School and people from the community at large.

In 1974 I co-edited with poet Nigel Roberts, artist Tim Burns and publisher Dave Morrissey A Package Deal Assembly Book based on the assembly books produced in the US by Richard Kostelanetz.The catch phrase was 'Every contributor will be a distributor'. Sixty poets and artists each produced 1000 pages of a work and Colin Little quickly screened a cover on the day of collation at the Tin Sheds. Poet John Forbes was still printing his contribution in the bottom shed as we were assembling the rest of the book in the middle shed.(There was often a kind of immediacy to pursuits in art in those days.)

Chips Mackinolty a student (and son of the Dean of Law at Sydney Uni) joined Earthworks Collective alongside women like Toni Robertson, Jan Mackay and Marie MacMahon. They each produced some wonderful political posters.

May Day Palace Revolution Ball. Chips Mackinolty 1977

Sadly, in 1979 Colin Little died from lymph cancer thought to be caused by the chemicals then used in the screen printing process and possibly the lack of ventilation in the screen printing shed.

Later another screenprinting group,that had started in Wollongong, a mining and steelworks city on the coast south of Sydney, became part of the Tin Sheds collective. They were Redback Graphix. Michael Callaghan was prominent in Redback.

Throughout 1976-77 I was a member of an anarcho-feminist theatre group, the Lean Sisters, that performed political comedies at The Tin Sheds. The group's members included poets, lawyers, political activists, journalists, teachers, musicians, painters and two actors. We developed the scripts, sets, the entire productions collectively which, looking back now , was an amazing feat. All money raised from ticket sales went to womens' groups like, for example, the Elsie Womens' Refuge in Glebe. One show, The Poetry Water Gossip Show, involved assembling an above ground swimming pool and a diving board in the middle shed. Every performance in that show took place in the pool.

Lean Scenes from The Leans Lurch Left and The Crunkboonk Xmas Show at The Tin Sheds, 1977. (photos by Helen Grace)

Lean Sisters Micky Allan, Frances Budden and Diana Fuller painting the set and prop-making, Glebe, Summer 1977.

At the Sheds there were also annual Xmas Eve celebrations with bands like 'Mental as Anything', 'Sheila' and 'XL Capris' called 'Xmas-Is-False-Consciousness-Dances' where many a romance began or ended. There was the annual Anarchist Fete on the lawn behind the Sheds (a space now occupied by a portable that houses a departmental IT group), art classes, poetry readings, discussions of contemporary art practise, 'art + language' expositions (Ian Burn and Terry Smith) exhibitions and much more at the Tin Sheds. The university tolerated some of the oppositional activities of the artworkers and continued practical courses for arts students throughout. In 1979 I participated in Micky Allan's community photography project at the Tin Sheds and their component of the annual Chippendale festival involving the Redfern Indigenous community. The following year, 1980, I taught courses in Super 8 film-making there. The Tin Sheds had various directors over the years including Joan Grounds, Peter Kennedy, Louise Dauth and Martin Munz. It was the hub of Sydney counter-cultural culture. You can read more about it in The Tin Sheds - Under a Hot Tin Roof: Art, Passion and Politics at the Tin Sheds 1969-1994 by Therese Kenyon. (Published by State Library of NSW Press with the Power Institute of Fine Arts)and listen to a radio program about the Tin Sheds here.

Of course, last Thursday afternoon, I did already know that the Tin Sheds gallery had closed a couple of years ago and had been recently re-invented as an official venue in the Wilkinson building that houses the Sydney Uni Architecture Department just down the road, but to suddenly come across an empty space where an important cultural site had stood only a few days earlier was, for me, a shock.

By the time I arrived at the corner where I was to wait for Amanda's car I was in a strange state - feeling sort of bereft, I guess, and definitely feeling that this was far too much irony for one afternoon. I'd like to affect being a flâneuse but in Sydney it's impossible. Next I found that corner also undergoing demolition.

Later, to my relief, we found that The Performance Space was still standing with various mostly-abstract sound pieces installed throughout the old building's galleries on the ground floor and the theatre intact at the rear.

An update from 2010 - The Performance Space no longer exists. A few years ago it moved and was re-named Carriageworks, housed in a vast section of the old Eveleigh Railway Workshops at Redfern


Sub heading of the day

This week's printed-in-Sydney edition of The Guardian Weekly has the headline Scramble is on for Arctic oil but perhaps it is the sub-heading that might seem perturbing to readers -

Britain and US in conflict over plan
to exploit fossil fuel below melting ice


Two booklets

My Lightweight Intentions was first published in Cambridge, U.K. by John Kinsella's imprint Folio (Salt) in 1998. Never-Never Books reprints this 23 page C5 sized chapbook of poems from the late 1990s with a cover photo that I took in the Graffiti Tunnel at Sydney University in late February this year. Here's a sample poem.

 This & That
(I cite myself)

Resting like a relic
in a field of meaning -
push the rocks around
for transformation -
gravel rash, scab, scar,
factors that
fall squarely.
(like that)

those well-known codes -
public-private continuum -
a surveyor's tripod clacks -
the laneway, reduced
& framed,
is picturesque -
even the rubbish
appears artificial.

casual citations
empirical tactics -
o no it's
an index of anecdote

the hypermarket
surveillance camera
attempts its capture -
my nearly-beautiful
every dream,
my artificial memory

disease, elusive entity,
pale gloved hands,
yet HIV negative.
the milky
ampoule's contents
swallowed -
waste management, the nightclub.

sleepless in a townhouse,
hours of
(like this)

Peel Me A Zibibbo is a group of recent poems - five poems written for friends. It's a 14 page C5 sized chapbook. Here's the title poem -

 Peel me a zibibbo

I could go
in any direction
but it's best that here and now
I remain lesbian,
keep my vanishing cream
I'll go south
to follow the sheen
of your signals,
in the meantime
my problem's like how to
design a wall didact -
serif or not's
a big decision


it's October so
the bogong moths
are back
and the koels - the October
crack of dawn racket -
are back again too,
mauve jacaranda petals
are stuck
on the windscreen wipers rubber


by now the wall text task
is impossible -
application decreasing,
attention span diminishing -
transparency an aim,
how coded the coding


imperfection in kindness
comes with the void,
you need to
the 'I'm feeling lucky' google option


drinking in the cemetery
sounds like an early
Nick Cave song
but it's
it's also the subject
of Paddy Fordham's


should I start carrying
my books
in clear plastic bags
my polyester document bag,
is this a solution ?
16° centigrade
95% humidity
what a precipitate place


shouting Shakespeare aloud
to the sea
in Surfers' Paradise
in 1964
after hurling your body down
fine off-white sand dunes.
now it's 2006
you're experiencing thanatos
high up on a Seidler balcony.
if you are in doubt
(slurp over drinks)
what gives the false poet
such confidence ?


awake and refreshed
tho with nothing on the page


John T phones -
this cloudy gloomy
early summer day
is 'like the fifties' he says.
every day ?
miserable childhood ?
photographic weather memory
à la recherche du temps inclément


I was reading
about the sweet potato farmers
of Osaka
living such long lives -
nonogenarians, centogenarians -
when Kurt called in with his new book
Hyper Taiwan
Taiwan - it's 'sweet potato island'

hi Kurt, hi John T,
hi Nick, Paddy, hi Shakespeare,
peel me a zibibbo
would you,
one of you guys ?

Never-Never Books PO Box 55 Rose Bay NSW 2029 Australia


In the transit lounge

do not sit on your feet
do not unfreeze
do not unfreeze
is this my soundbite
roger wilco
can concepts dim
if you forget
that you've forgotten
where are you off to
please excuse
my english
pacific palisades
sounds like paradise
what to do
if the pilot
turns blue
over and out



Bangarra Dance Theatre's latest show Gathering at the Sydney Opera House last night was another engaging performance. The embattled telcom Telstra recently cut their funding sponsorship of Bangarra. The Australian Ballet then invited Bangarra to combine with them for a show. The Australian Ballet is currently sponsored by Telstra. A canny move, but I'm not sure that it was a good move on every level artistically.
David Page, Bangarra's usual composer, collaborated with Elena Kats-Chernin on the score for the first piece Amalgamate. Bangarra doesn't usually work with a pit orchestra and David's music, in previous productions, has always been an inventive mix of traditional indigenous music and contemporary electronic or studio-based composition and sampling. Elena Kats-Chernin's more conventional score was very uninspiring. At times it sounded like a cross between 50s musicals like 'Showboat' or 'Oklahoma' (and then very muddy) and television themes like George Dreyfus's music for the old 60s Australian tv show 'Rush'.
The Sydney dance critic, Jill Sykes, described Kats-Chernin's score as 'sounding mushy, like Mantovani strings'. David Page hardly got a look-in. So his brother Stephen Page's choreography became increasingly merely illustrative of the poor score as the piece progressed and finally Amalgamate looked like a dancer's exercise in style. What a disappointment.

Scene from Amalgamate

Fortunately, the second half of the bill was terrific. Rites was commissioned nearly ten years ago by the then director of the Australian Ballet, the late Ross Stretton. He asked Stephen Page to create a work to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. It premiered in Melbourne in 1997 and toured to New York in 1999. This time, again in combination with dancers from the Australian Ballet, it was a fast, mesmerising and very beautiful work that is what, as a regular at their shows, I've come to expect from Bangarra's powerful performances.

It's GOOD Friday and all the shops in this neighbourhood are doing a roaring trade in chocolate eggs and hot cross buns when once they would have been closed to observe this Christian holy-day. Heathens R us. I am happy to have received this little easter message


Art plus

In case you thought The Deletions was merely an apolitical lifestyle-and-entertainment aperçu into a blissfully apathetic and placid cyber resort then I should let you know, right now, that it isn't. In a small bloggy way I am looking to represent the cultural activities of my own community of friends and acquaintances whose projects give positive examples of how to continue all kinds of art practice in the face of dark times.

A digital video that is a critique of power, meaning and subtext in the language of global politics in this era of permanent war is Kate Richards and Sarah Waterson's project subscapePROOF.
Installed at ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) in Melbourne last year, it is now showing at d>art 6. Viewed via a periscope this is an experience which concentrates your focus and limits distraction as you, the audience, enter a multi-layered digital subtext.
'sub_scapePROOF' critiques the notion of evidential, superficial 'truth' in a post-faith age. By mapping philosophy and corporate data back onto the language of superpower politics and western, pathological tropes of fear and anxiety, 'sub_scapePROOF' generates a playful and ironic critique on the traditional politics and power dynamics of knowledge-through-mapping.
By playing on the emergent aesthetic and sense-making behaviours of the datasets, by using the dynamics of turbulence, balance, recursive effect and pattern formation in the data, sub_scapePROOF transmits an affect of 'truth' more baroque than Cartesian, and 'meaning' more symbolic than fixed.
The piece uses my own poem 'Every American Wins A Prize'.

when: wednesday april 12, 7 pm
at: the Studio, Sydney Opera House
what: "sub_scapePROOF - a machinima"

This is a 5 minute video output, recorded from Kate and Sarah's software project
sub_scapePROOF. You can view it in process at the sites -


Kate Richards is currently in residency, with Martyn Coutts and computer programmer Jon Drummond, to spend the month of April working on a project called Unidentified Industrial Accident at the Performance Space in Redfern, Sydney.

Multi media artist Kurt Brereton is having a small solo show
of some selected works from The Vanuatu and Chronography series



Kate Fagan, poet - author of The Long Moment, editor of the online journal How2 (contemporary innovative writing by women) and singer songwriter will be launching her CD Diamond Wheel at the Vanguard on King Street in Newtown, Sydney at 9pm this coming Wednesday 12th April. For a preview you can listen to Kate on Lucky Oceans The Daily Planet music show on ABC Radio National this coming Monday 10th April

This Saturday arvo we are listening to Lagrimas Negras - black tears. Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes and Spanish gypsy singer Diego El Cigala. It is intense and beautiful.



This weekend we're listening to Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach with Paul Grabowsky and the Australian Art Orchestra.



It looks as though I'll be adding to The Deletions on weekends. It might become a kind of record of events around Sydney as well as news on books and some actual live poetry.

Tomorrow morning, Sunday 2nd April, I'll be attending a film premiere at the Palace cinema in Leichhardt.

Film Australia announces the release of a new animation The Safe House, which tells the story of a small girl's mysterious association with the Petrov Affair of the 1950s.

Writer/director of The Safe House is award-winning animator Lee Whitmore, Denise Haslem is producer, and Anna Grieve is executive producer.

The Safe House continues Lee Whitmore's autobiographical and hand-drawn approach developed in her earlier films Ned Wethered and On a Full Moon. It is based on a true story from Lee's childhood when the lead characters from a real-life spy drama moved in next door. The lead characters were the Petrovs. It is the summer of 1954 and seven-year-old Lee and her friends are drifting through the holidays, exploring their quiet suburban neighbourhood where nothing ever seems to happen... until the day mysterious strangers move in with the old lady next door. No one explains the odd comings and goings, the big black cars, the men in suits and hats, the overheard snippets of conversation, but that does not stop the children from imagining. The Safe House is a half-hour animation giving a young girls innocent perspective of one of the most talked about moments in Australian history - the spy drama known as the Petrov Affair.

Film Australia is a Federal Government-owned company which supports production and distribution of documentaries in the national interest. They say - "Animation is notoriously difficult to finance in Australia and Film Australia thanks our partners in The Safe House, SBS Independent, for supporting such an interesting project." (SBS - Special Broadcasting Services - is Australia's national multicultural TV and Radio broadcaster).

You can find some information on the Petrov Affair and the Cold War era in Australia from an exhibition at Old Parliament House in Canberra.

Last Wednesday evening I went along to Gleebooks to hear Carolyn Burke talking about her new biography of the photographer Lee Miller, famous for her photographs of the Nazi concentration camps, the London Blitz and other places during the second World War. Carolyn is the author of an earlier biography of the modernist poet Mina Loy. I first met Carolyn when I introduced myself to her at yet another event at Gleebooks in November 1995. I had been interested in Mina Loy for a long time and, surprised though I was to notice that her biographer was actually in Sydney, I thought I could interview her about the book and about Mina Loy. A few days later, we met in a tiny flat in King's Cross and made an interview - with no prospect of actually publishing it (I tried several Australian literary journals to no avail). It has subsequently been published in two web magazines and here on my own site.

Carolyn Burke and eclectic gardener Denis Gallagher at 'Dumbi Dumbi', Denis's home in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains (115 kilometres west of Sydney) in January 2005.

The Lee Miller biography (which I am yet to read) has two very different covers. The U.S. version is melodramatic. The U.K./Australian cover is a soft-focus Man Ray portrait that, although revealing Lee Miller's extraordinary beauty, lends a gentility that seems to want to tone down a woman more known as a kind of tomboy-femme-fatale, brilliant photographer and genuine enthusiast for living.

US cover image

UK-Australia cover image

For further information and a short interview with Carolyn Burke on Lee Miller visit the publishers Random House and Bloomsbury

The Minneapolis-based poet Lyle Daggett has sent me a comment on his interest in Mina Loy and Lee Miller. He has kindly sent the url for the Lee Miller archive. Thanks Lyle.