Tuesday, October 23, 2012


There have never been so many Blue Wrens (Superb Blue Wren; Fairy Wren - Malurus cyaneus) as there are this spring. And it is they and their nests for which I suspect the goanna has been patrolling around.

These gorgeous little birds nest in low bushes and I've planted Banksia and Grevilleas close by the house windows (not good bush fire sense) to bring the birds. In the mornings the male (hyperactive to the point of impossible to get a good shot) is out and about in his electric blue breeding colours, tap tap tapping at the window in that strange way birds do in mirrors, pecking at their image and whether defending against the enemy or preening at self - who knows. The breeding males acquires an almost iridescent blue crown and flaring cheeks. Females, immatures and non breeding males are dull brown grey. And it seems it's only the dressy blue breeder who does the window tap - let me kiss me I am so stunning.

So this morning I was ready. Even sucking as much light into the camera as I could, it was still difficult to get a shutter speed fast enough to get a reasonably sharp image.

Male and female I suspect:

Look at me:

And now the fearsome look, goanna beware:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


He/she's back.

There's lots of fledglings (mostly superb blue wrens) about and maybe still some eggs unhatched in nests in the Grevillea and Banksia I've planted close to the house to attract the honeyeaters. It's that time of year. And Polly (the King Parrot) was here early this morning too, perched on one of the high windows, peering in as I had a cup of tea. I kid you not.

Anyway, the Goanna. I had a sense something was outside, and as I stepped onto the terrace with the dog, it bolted up the house gum.

Such a handsome ancient creature in his ill-fitting elaborately marked skin.

The dog was pretty unconcerned. She's not one for getting into trouble and takes most things in her stride. She's a kelpie, and knows it.

The goanna stayed a safe distance up the tree till the dog was inside and then after a quick check made the descent - head first, claws ripping off bits of bark - back onto the grass and oblivious to me (click clicking away) headed for Millie's recently discarded bone.

A few licks and a tug later and Goanna was circling the house gardens again looking for something to swallow, whole probably.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


It looked like one of the more normal corners of the gallery, a brown leather couch on a persian rug, with a glass coffee table and a standard lamp as the main light source, a glaringly bourgeois display next to Juan Davila's completely outrageous 'The Arse End Of The World' (which I told 'theO' I hated on the basis that that might keep it on display).

'My Beautiful Chair' it was called - an interactive installation by Greg Taylor and Dr Philip Nitschke, 2010. On the coffee table was the Nitschke Euthanasia Machine. The only machine that has done its job, four times I think in the Northern Territory before the Federal Government intervened and overturned the state legislation permitting end-of-life, is in the British Museum, Science Section. The Powerhouse in Sydney had it but the pressure to not 'contaminate the public with such evil' got the better of them. You can sit on the couch, the beautiful chair, and go through the touch screen computer programme confirming that the next touch will mean you will die, by the injection of barbiturate from the big syringe, slightly exaggerated for artistic effect, waiting in its case on the coffee table to be activated from inertia into a lethal push. I only saw females sitting there having a go. 

Dr Nitschke, an invited speaker, spoke in the conference session on "End of Life Issues". A humanist, surely, he too seems as fearless as it gets. He speaks directly, with little emotion, and with confidence but not arrogance. He struck me as a quite humble everyman, except that unlike everyone else swanning around the place he was now dealing with the federal health department responsible for medical registration needing to demonstrate why he should be registered - that is, why he should not be struck off. When the question arose about the source of funding and costs of maintaining life (in those who have no desire to continue), he countered the ex-politician now ordained priest's repost that that was a dangerous question with the simple observation that no question is dangerous. And there the session ended.

Here's what Gonzo (aka David Walsh) says about the installation on theO:

by David Walsh

So my brother asked me to conduct a group that helps out those interested in euthanasia. They told me some stuff relating to helping someone off themselves, and also this: the suicide rate in the cancer population is not significantly different to the general population.

My brother had cancer, you probably guessed.

My brother's disease progressed (read: he became more humiliated, less my brother) without requesting death. He was probably too sick to make the request anyway.

His doctor, a staunch Christian, compromised his beliefs by telling us (me and my brother's girlfriend) that whatever happened he would write on the death certificate that the cause of death was complications relating to his cancer.

So nearer death (are you engaged in a life/death binary or can you be a little bit dead?) Lynne, the girlfriend, and I started talking about whether we should off him. We talked about increasing his morphine dose. I wanted to.

He died. I don't know whether she took my advice.

The night before he died (we murdered him?) I had a big night out. I went to a Paul Kelly concert at the Uni Bar.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


The MONA experience was pretty big. It was the main reason for going down and I went with no prior knowledge other than that it was drawing world wide attention and the guy was being sued by the tax office. Not knowing much was a good start. It is completely immersive and the cleaner the slate the better in retrospect. Just go. Then go again.

The guy is David Walsh, Walshie. The things you hear down there which may be variably accurate are that he is a university dropout, very bright, direct to the point of is-there-a-diagnosis-for-this, worked out the algorithm(s) to beat the gambling odds (on line betting on horses and whatever else) and is spending about $100 mill (and that's not the collection as far as I know) developing the winery he bought into a museum, his museum, not answerable to other funders - government, benefactors, arts boards - to show his stuff his way. And he sure does.

He strikes me as being fearless, as fearless as fearless can be. Atheist by declaration (which embraces as much certainty as do the god-botherers), his interest is in the matter we are but won't be for long, if I read him correctly, with no interest in the beyond-the-transience when that which we are dissembles. Dead End.

While dead is the recurring motif there is much more, and even a few laughs. It's probably the only thing worth planning for, death I mean, and Walshie (Australians use familiarity as one way of breaking down barriers - even the flight attendant would look at the boarding card and welcome you aboard by your first name) must be giving it some thought, if not preparing. I did mention in a previous post that you can become a perpetual member with the final reward of cremation and onto the shelf in the museum you go. Well, it's not $75, of course, it's $75K. I missed the K, that special K.

We've got a shelf of dogs by the way - Megsy, Cae, Waldo, Spot, Sissy - in terra cotta pots or wooden boxes, variously labelled. I should make an exhibit - dead dogs  - and sit it side by side with Golly when he goes in his glass display case. What a difference a museum visit can make.

Anyway, for background on the Museum and the man, there's some googlies I've searched out here, and <*not for kiddies* warning> here , and herefrom where this perspective, which is hard to see as the ferry approach just doesn't allow it, comes.

Anyway, death must be on his mind, and he's keeping it in ours.

Nothing is labelled and the first night, fuelled by a couple of rosemary martinis (the bar is the first thing to meet you INSIDE the museum) was an unplanned exploration of the place - three levels of sandstone excavation, subdivided and dressed such that each section is like none of the others, linked, connected, disgorging, embracing, expelling. On the second visit, I took the O. The O is the interactive guide and the most brilliant I've come across. And with the ticket price, as should it be in all other galleries. What crap to pay more to learn more. And locals, Tasmanians, (two heads is the give away says the blurb ) get in for free.

The O (theo) knows where you are (remember nothing is labelled) with its own little GPS, and shows you what's near you, when you ask it, and there's background reading (artwank and gonzo, which is David W's take on things), plus audio for some (interviews with artists, commentators etc) and the option to like it or hate it. I heard that when something gets too many 'likes' it's likely to get pulled. Then if you give your O your email addy, it stores your tour and you can revisit in on line forever (till death that is) including your ratings, and even the sequence you followed with an interactive display of your museum tracks. Bars and toilets not included, praise the lord.

Museum fatigue is delayed (unlike death) by the brilliance of the presentation and the endless variations in levels and space. The closest I can think of is Musée du quai Branly. There's the death room for example where entry is restricted to two at a time, a nearly totally black space with stepping stones across inky black water, ending at the coffin and mummy of Paurisis. And a butterfly poem and a spotlit noose.

To give you an idea of David Walsh, here's what he (gonzo) says:

"Mummies are dead people. What 'dead' means is surprisingly difficult to pin down. We used to define death in terms of cessation of heartbeat, not very useful now we have resuscitation techniques and artificial hearts. So we talk about 'brain death' which is itself difficult to pin down. Parts of the human brain can function while the rest has failed. Under severe oxygen stress the brain shuts down less essential components. And tax agents are clearly brain dead, but by some definitions functional

But 'brain death' only applies to organisms with brains. When is a plant dead, or a coral, or a virus? To pin this down we need a negative sedition, a cessation of biological activity, the end of life.

So to make death stick we have to pin down what life is. That hasn't proved to be easy either. When i was a kid we were taught about a bunch of characteristics that define life such as 'response to stimuli'. Obviously viable organisms have been found which break each of the rules in turn. The 'Wiki' article on 'life' actually uses the phrase 'all or most' of these phenomena.

The best definition running around at the moment seems to be 'self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution', also from Wiki's 'life' article. This seems to excuse viruses because of the 'self-sustained' bit so that should probably be turfed as well.

So you're dead if you could once undergo biological evolution but now cannot. Don't tell grandma.

The only space not underground is beyond the tunnel, a long cold sewer like concrete people-activated music interactive tube

which leads to the library, then to the corridor where you can charcoal rub sheets of paper on massive blocks of granite from a Hiroshima cathedral and each rubbing, signed and dated, goes into a large bank of black drawers on the wall (here, you do yours together she said to us, in a tender moment of understanding). Next you emerge into daylight and the pavilion built solely for the Anselm Keifer Sternenfall (he wanted a pavilion so he fucking got one says Walshie). For me it didn't really work. There's an arrogance and specialness that robs it of much of its impact.

It's like the old ghost train when you suddenly burst out into the outside, before just as quickly swinging back around, doors flapping, and disappearing again, eyes startled by the light.

Back into the dark and the ride you really don't want to stop.
 are dead people. What 'dead' means is surprisingly difficult to pin down. We used to define death in terms of cessation of heartbeat, not very useful now we have resuscitation techniques and artificial hearts. So we talk about 'brain death' which is itself diffi


A shop window (hint: they also sell cakes) in Hobart -

Monday, October 1, 2012



No wonder it felt cold last night. Come the morning, there was a dusting of snow on Mt Wellington but the sky was clearing and the ferries were running.

This MONA needs more than one visit (more than two really) and at least one approach by water.

The ferry heads up Derwent River under the Tasman Bridge, a vast concrete span now well etched

into most Australians' psyche by the memory of the bulk ore carrier which crashed into two piers and sank within minutes drowning seven crew and five people in the four cars which drove into the void. It was Nearly Six Cars.

The ship lies down there still, cargo intact, covered in concrete.

It takes about half an hour up the river, past the belching zinc refinement plant to which the fatal ore was heading, up in the suburbs,

before MONA appears on the site of an old vineyard - a classified '50s house onto and around and under which the museum has been built.  Cantilevered accommodation pavillions stare out across the river.