There has been some low-level scurrying and snuffling in the Fox Holes. We threatened to stage an art exhibition, and now we are. The two Vixens (Amelia and Joy) and the old worn Dog-Fox (Ant … i.e. me) have got together under the guise of A.Fox Collective. Our exhibition “Abstracted Landscapes” will hang for two months at the lovely Rain Moth Gallery in Waikerie by the River Murray in South Australia’s fruit-growing Riverland.
We call it “Abstracted Landscapes”, but perhaps that is slightly – just slightly – misleading. Some works are more like “abstracts landscaped”, some are “fibrescapes”, some “buttonscapes”, some “lightscapes”.
Amelia captures, in fibre and photo, the subtle light of landscape and experience. Joy repurposes buttons from the past, some mundane some flashy and fashionable, bringing wearable hints of history. My paintings attempt to show what landscape feels like, rather than record exactly what it looks like.
If you are passing through the Riverland, pop in – supporting the rural art scene is a good thing, and supporting us Foxes would make us very happy. We are friendly and house-trained!
It was a good house, sitting on a few acres of steep ground. The front was 1880s dressed stone. The back part was dug into the hill and cool. The clothes line was accessed by climbing stairs to one side and walking onto the flat roof section at the back. Fruit trees surrounded it. The vegetable garden was black aluvial soil above the creek. The chook sheds were concrete cells that were once kennels for dog breeding – while we were there they held nesting boxes for red hens, and some housed the orphaned and injured owls that we fostered. The front door was reached by crossing a footbridge over a permenantly flowing stream, and then climbing more than twenty steep steps that passed through the garden. These steps were a favourite sunning place for red-bellied black snakes and tiger snakes that lived in the creek vegetation. The snakes were no trouble – we just needed to watch where we walked.It was a good house, of fond memory. It wasn’t big, but it was cosy and comfortable. It was the place where our son Huw was conceived, and the first place he lived – born on our tenth wedding anniversary in 1983.
This was the fourth place Joy and I lived as a couple. I came down from Lobethal in the hills in 1972, and Joy and I had a flat in Norwood. We were married in 1973 and lived first in a century old house in Hyde Park just off the now very trendy shopping strip on King William Road.
From there we went to Fullarton to a house with a big garden and orchard out the back. Thence we headed for the hills and dwelt Hobbit-like in the Horsnell Gully cottage, known locally as “The Dogs’ Home” or “The Kennels” … a dog’s home with two Foxes living in it – strange!We lived in that house for quite a while, playing loud, loud music (there were no immediate neighbours to complain), drinking chilled Bolly on the verandah (especially on Saturday and Sunday afternoons). People with musical instruments popped around to relax, and Joy catered lavishly. We hung out with the arty set and spent a lot of times in galleries and dimly lit clubs and bars.
It was a pleasing lifestyle. … the bright front rooms and the cool gloom of the semi underground back rooms … reclining in the bath on Saturday afternoons with the lorikeets hanging in the pear branches outside the open door … the wild fox walking across the back roof to pick the olives … the echidnas walking up the steps by the kitchen window … the possums yelling for jam sandwiches on the verandah … the choruses of frogs … and the constant singing of birds.It was a good house that had seen much in its 100+ years, but wasn’t telling. It held the drama it knew close to its breast, but sometimes there were echoes. No, it wasn’t haunted but some nights it sounded as if it was. Strange beasts dwelt between the ‘new’ ceiling and the original wood ceiling above it. Wraiths squirmed about in the sealed off bedroom chimney. The iron roof moved and creaked in the heat.There were physical threats as well as those imagined spookings. The cottagey rural charm was spared from the Ash Wednesday bushfire horror. Flames skirted around it. The fire, roaring like daemons from Mordor came straight down the valley, dark at 3pm, to within not all too many metres from our door where it changed course and went up the hill and behind the back of the house. Emergency services ordered me and my heavily pregnant Joy to evacuate – it seemed a very wise idea. A week or so later a “rain event” swept black ash down the flooded creek, over our gardens and poultry sheds, and through the two Humber cars I had parked in the lower area.When the baby started to crawl, and looked like toddling wasn’t far away, it became apparent that a house sticking out of a cliffside, infested with snakes and all sorts of bities, with a precipitous stone and concrete stairway access, probably wasn’t the place for us.We reached into our pockets and purchased a house in the ‘nice’ end of Prospect and became almost respectible suburbanites.
But we missed the Gully. Bits of that cottage still circulate in our blood.
Summer is hot where we live! Too hot for cottage garden plants, and this year too hot for me..
The love-in-the-mist plants have died off and their brittle corpses bestraggle themselves brownly across bits of our garden path and bestrew their brittle branchlets amongst the roses.
In this heat, I know how they felt as they dried to a desiccated death (or would have “felt” if plants feel).
The hot sky is cheerfully and cruelly blue.
It is far too hot to ride a bicycle!
Too hot or not, that hot summer sky’s blueness both blends and clashes with the gaudiness of the lycra clad pedalling racers Touring Down Under through our hills.
The ‘Tour Down Under’ cycling event is always raced under the harsh South Australian summer sun.
This past few weeks, little old Nairne, and places like it, have been packed with parked cars and strangers.
It’s a cafe trading bonanza!
Touring gawpers gawp at gardens, grapes, granite, and gables as they bustle to see bunches of blokes on bikes breezing through the Adelaide Hills.
A hot, racy breezing on bikes in the heat.
The two-wheeled carbon neutral physically fit transport concept is great
– but the act of competitive pedalling turns otherwise normal and nice people into obsessed overheated fools who have lost all idea of dress-sense and sensible behaviour.
You know that can’t be good. They risk cardiac crises and dehydration.
Never-the-less they smile through the sweat as they congregate in the alfresco areas of village coffee shops.
Good on ‘em!
I remember another era when a bicycle was a different beast entirely from the one they it has evolved into – a finer beast– a refined and elegant device.
My ‘Bullock’ with its proud ornate “B” badge thrust forward
– all black, graceful, heavy.
No carbon fibre or light alloys on that girl.
She was steel – British steel, Her big wheels soaked up the inconsistencies of the dirt tracks and gravel roads. Her momentum carried this pre-lycra, corduroy and denim clad, helmet-less rider effortlessly. She carried me over the miles, seated luxuriously on her extravagantly sprung seat.
Her horizontal crossbar had ties to hold a collapsed sports fishing rod Her hessian pannier had room for scrumped apples, Her wet bag held fish.
She was a bike of bikes – big, bold, black, and beautiful
… but now her kind is gone and replaced by all these lighter,lesser, mean, nasty, skinny, fast, expensive machines.
Machines that swarm the roads like locust plagues in their shiny, gaudily alloyed millions.
Let’s go back to a hot Barossa Valley day in January 2014.
In St John’s manse, Joy and Amelia and I were eating our mutton and drinking our wine.
We sat back and watched French murder on DVD.
We were revelling in the cool change – all the windows wide open and the cool airs wafting in through the screen doors.
Peace and cool
… the women in their light cotton house dresses, I in my shorts and “Yes” concert tour tee shirt (British prog rock never lets you down.)
The sounds of Summer.
The galahs bedding down late in the church trees.
The occasional car.
The hissing of summer lawns as the sprinklers refresh the grass I’d cut that afternoon.
The French talk blending perfectly with the summer evening.
Serenity (with French violence) …
Suddenly the Black Dog strikes!
No, not THAT black dog
… not the black dog that plagued Mr Churchill … that plagued Reverend Fox … that plagued the peace of mind of those two gentlemen as they sat, years and a world apart, in their melancholy struggling to set their minds on the hard, misunderstood tasks ahead of them.
Our Black Dog
… Diesel the Wonder Dog
His nose propelled the sliding back screen door open
and that door yielded to his enthusiastic anxiety to share the wonders of unattended sprinklers in his back yard.
Fun that must be shared, if en passant, with the family.
Suddenly the screams are not confined to the flat screen.
Suddenly the accents of dismay and suffering have an Australian twinge.
The sun is up and the air is hot already. We are 160 kilometres from home – time to change drivers. Yumali sits quiet and warm by the highway. I have often travelled this Adelaide – Melbourne road and, thinking back over the last half century or so, I don’t remember Yumali being anything but quiet … but not always this quiet.
The air is beautiful. The quiet is beautiful. The light is beautiful.
The traffic is very light at this hour of the morning, but this stillness serves to make the noise of passing trucks all the more intrusive. Distant magpies carol, singing honeyeaters make the songs singing honeyeaters make, and a very stroppy Willie Wagtail scolds this bald, bearded intruder.
Mrs and Mr Wagtail have claimed the old Yumali hall as their territory. They have a nest secreted away from the world in its dusty eaves.
The hall isn’t really “old” so far as “old” goes. It was built of concrete block work in 1960. Even though this building is nine years younger than I am, it has an older, perhaps “timeless” authority than I could ever manage sitting there by the Sherlock Road intersection with the highway. It looks old with an old kind of charm. It is plain but lovely.
The weathered doors and woodwork make the building look a little bit unloved, but I am sure it is loved. Its silence holds quiet echoes of the life and love it once held and felt. I am sure that life and love lives in the hearts and memories of people living not far from these doors.
And peeking through the gap in the wooden doors, holding my phone camera to the hole, I can see an echo of that life. I can take the photo and keep a wee trace of that lovely echo for myself.
Something in me wants to stay. Part of me wants to keep the silence for my own. Part of me longs to be wrapped in the quiet. Part of me wants to stop in Yumali and love this hall. But we have roads to drive, journeys to make, promises to keep.
Yumali Hall is safe under the gaze of the Willie Wagtails.