Today I watched Ben stroking the bottom of pots with a paintbrush dipped in wax, and Peta then dipping them into buckets of glaze so cold they let off steam. They had already done one glaze that morning, a white one, and after the other glazes were done they would put them in the kiln. To get one pot is a lengthy, involved process.
As they worked, Ben described a part of the conversation I’d missed yesterday, about how Scandinavians are good at working with textiles and interior design because they spend so much of their lives indoors. You can’t do a tapestry in an Australian summer, I added, because sweat and wool don’t go together.
I’ve been thinking about this distinction between inside and outside, and at lunch yesterday I’d also asked why Tasmanians are sometimes so resistant to outsiders. Resources are scarce, I was told, and competition is fierce. A comparison was made with Darwin, the population of which is more open and fluid (though I thought it was still felt like a frontier town, when I visited three years ago). Is it something to do with migration, I wondered, as Darwin is opened to an influx of people from Asia, and people constantly travelling with the army? Or is it that Tasmania is a microcosm for Australia as a whole, with its aversion to boat people and subservience to dinosaurs who crouch over piles of fossil fuels or woodchips? If this is the case, then, as Peter Timms writes in his essay on Lady Jane Franklin in Griffith Review, ‘Assuming the Mantle’, Tasmania also has the capacity ‘to serve as a cultural laboratory – to be Australia’s off-Broadway, as it were.’ The smallness ‘tends to throw people together, which generates conversations, especially across disciplines’ (28). And that is the thing about being inside – you sit, talk, think and generate ideas for a future.
When I phoned Parental Unit to let them know all was going well, they told me I was a wuss for not coping with the cold. I pointed out that they couldn’t abide Brisbane’s heat. I frequently wonder how I survived four years in London, and pull on another jumper.
Friday 21st June
After putting Bachelard away, I picked up Susan Stewart’s On Longing. I really like this book, because it attempts to articulate how reading makes you yearn for something you cannot have. However, after perusing Stewart’s meditations on tiny dollhouses, books that need to be read with magnifying glasses and writing about the miniature in fairy stories such as Tom Thumb, I realised there was a problem. All of these things were crafted, and the flora in WA was not. It was merely seen as small in comparison to English flowers.
I wasn’t completely stuck, because I could still use her idea that new worlds could be opened from a collection of words, and this could be linked to the hortus siccus, the book into which Georgiana fastened specimens so that Mangles could see what his seeds would grow into. In this way, by ‘reading’ the hortus siccus, Mangles and the men to whom he distributed Georgiana’s seeds could envision Australia, albeit in a fairly rudimentary way. Likewise, the seeds they grew in English soil were a literal embodiment of the growth of new worlds. However, I need to work out a way of tying together craft and reading.
In between bouts of writing, Peta and Ben kept me busy. Ever a slave to fashion, I decided to risk pneumonia and wore my favourite grey frock to the opening of The Red Queen at MONA on Tuesday. The impression I have of David Walsh is that he has single-handedly revitalised Tasmania, so I was pretty excited about going to an opening exhibition. Inside the sandstone walls, lit with red light, I found it was warm enough to take off my coat and expose my bare arms, while a glass of champers took care of any goosebumps. There was a trampoline, and ping pong tables, and an installation of a possum besieged by insects, which were suspended from the ceiling. Peta and I peered at a spider and an elegantly-dressed man stood beside us, studying it as well. He said something in an accent to Peta that I didn’t hear. ‘No, I don’t think that’s Australian,’ she replied, ‘it’s too big.’ He continued to stare at the spider.
A while later, Ben and I sat in a mirrored room for a tea ceremony with a lady in a kimono that was also spangled with mirrors. Ben, who has been influenced by Japanese ceramics in his pottery, explained that it was usually a very simple ceremony and the shiny reflections were the antithesis of this. We had a bit of Japanese biscuit and then the bitter tea. The lady in the kimono asked me if I liked it and, as one who is always to the point, I replied, ‘Not really.’ However, I loved the novelty of it.