In Vino Veritas

Chapter 4

Primary school jogged along quite merrily. Caning was commonplace, pastoral care thinnish. But we did learn. The star of the show was the ‘times table’ lessons (up to 12) whereby the head teacher had a primitive but effective closed circuit classroom audio system so that the whole school had tables drill straight after breakfast.
This rote learning, to me at least, has lasted 70 years. Sticking to the brief and general orthodoxy was encouraged. Any deviation (such as when I found copying a prescribed pedestrian rendering of a ship could not compare with my Johnny Depp piratical galleon), was not tolerated.
The correction cane was produced. I saw the error of my ways, and resolved to change the error, not my ways.

Secondary school could have been done locally, but it was commonplace in those days, and probably still is, for country kids to be shunted off to boarding school in the bigger cities. Thus it was. There are some kids , particularly the introspective ones , who should never be made to do this. Communal living was abhorrent, the hand me down English public school hierarchy, complete with prefects and duxes and house masters and matrons, head boys and girls and vast mahogany panels crammed with acres of gilt lettering naming the great and the good, was hugely destabilising. One suddenly realises that there are hoards of people you really don’t want to know about. Ever. How I hated it.

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Love appeared in a strange guise at about this time. Her name was Adelaide, or more precisely, Queen Adelaide claret. She had more tannins than an Indian tea plantation, and feeble fruit, but notwithstanding that, the door she unlocked is still wide open.
The joys of a solitary life were made manifest during the 1956 Olympics. Those parents who could raise the wind sent their little darlings off to Melbourne for a week, slightly lesser mortals had a range of outings offered, and I was the only child left in the whole school for the duration. The school must have loved this, I know I did.
My school report linked ones attainments by a simple graph joining up the ‘score’ dots on one axis against the range of subjects on the other. Result: smart kids got a profile rather like that of the Himalayan peaks. I flat lined down in the foothills, littered with C’s D’s and E’s…. Highly amusing reading for my grandson.
Only one comment was in any way prescient ‘Has a deep interest in art and music’.
At least I persevered in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and something else to get my A levels. Yet, there was one sign of enlightenment. In my final year when I was given the nod to attend evening art classes at the local ‘Tech’. Thank God.
At last another door had opened. Praise be the Lord.

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In Vino Veritas

Chapter 3

The big game of the day was marbles. About a 2 metre ring, inscribed in the grass or gravel was surrounded by players who simply  had to knock the opponents marbles out of the circle with a well aimed shot. Every now and then bigger kids would appear with soft clay on their boots and proceed to walk through a well stocked ring. Bastards.
Never mind that. The joy of these things were the rainbow hued cats eyes red, green blue, and all the rest… Colour again.  I would hold them up to the light and watch the colours refract and glow, sometimes one to each eye. I would miss my turn doing this.
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At school I had a two-tier swivel pencil case, a ruler which doubled as a spirit level and a range of soft to hard pencils. They all had a wonderful smell, even the eraser.
All art paraphernalia had a  heavenly scent (like that!) which remains with me to this day.
The walls of our house were bedecked, or spotted with the usual range of ‘furniture pictures’ a phenomenon which has remained largely unchanged in contemporary dwellings. It was mostly agreeable or anodyne stuff that contributed to domestic serenity but was wholly unconnected with the visceral power of painting. Pictures again. Bits of French confectionery (street scenes) rubbed shoulders with exotic scarf/earring portraits which exhibited a certain leaden charm. A blast of the chilly wind of C17 Dutch Protestantism made an appearance,  so at least we had, in these cathedral prints, moved off the picturesque.
But, I wondered, as I gazed across the unique splendour of the Tasmanian landscape, why hasn’t somebody not done something with this? By that I meant not knocking out cosy European models, but establishing the spirit of the place in a new language.
The answer to that came many years later when I was a student in Melbourne.
His name was Fred Williams , an uncharismatic moniker, but boy, did he do what I wished for.  Stunning. Met him in the print studios at the college. Lovely man, an inspiration. Still.OA6.1965##S.jpg.505x375_q85

© Estate of Fred Williams

In Vino Veritas

Chapter 2

More from the early years…

Apart from the paper mill, the local economy depended on the production of hops, berry fruits and mixed farming. The river supported a rich crop of willow trees, whose elegant branches were just made for fashioning longbows. The arrows were bamboo (sometimes weighted a bit) and the tough bowstring came from the mill. Hardly the stuff of Welsh archers, but pretty good. Later, being fed on a diet of American Westerns at the local Odeon, we simply had to have Winchester repeaters in our saddle bags. One quickly learnt the perils of having exposed metal parts on your home-made rifle. How often had one seen a lantern jawed sheriff nearly blown off his horse because the baddies saw the sunlight glinting off his shotgun. BEWARE!

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The unadulterated tosh of the Westerns was at least entertaining and as predictable as gravity. These were replaced by the saccharine kitsch of the musical. A huge turn-off for kids. No sex, endless antiseptic dance routines couldn’t stand a chance against the goings on in Dodge City. John Wayne was a piss-poor actor, so was the script and the direction. Any 5 year old could spot that, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. I fell in love with Nancy at the cake shop but she didn’t want to know, even when I wore my Lone Ranger cozzie. Never mind.

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After the trip to Melbourne it was time to get down to work. This involved sitting on my bedroom floor surrounded by pens, paper, crayons et. al. and trying to draw.

The gap between expectation and achievement could be measured in light years. One thing never in doubt was the magic of making marks, the overwhelming power of colour and how all this could fashion another world, as real as the one in which we exist. (As with any beginner, child or adult, the aim is to represent the physical world. Once one can do this, it is time to move on. Whether you take anybody else with you on this endeavor is problematic, to say the least.)

My reading matter, or being read to, kicked off with the Little Golden books, which consisted of pretty ordinary versions of Grimm of Perrault. Yet the imagery lives on. I can still see the witch holding Hansel’s hand to see if he was fattening up nicely for the hotting-up  pot behind him. Crossing cattle grids or bush bridges was nerve wracking… I bet that ogre was down there somewhere. I was sure I could hear him.

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A bit further on, the English childrens classics were widely available. Although American and sometimes Australian stuff was around, I had a bit of difficulty responding to the European muted settings and fauna. Squaring the sylvan vegetation of the Ashdown Forest with what I saw walking to school was difficult. This ranged from a kaleidoscope of crimson Rosellas to a drunken bunch of sulphur crested cockatoos. Once the latter had crashed their way into a tree, their clatter would cease, as if by some celestial intervention. The reason was partly celestial, a ‘wedgie’ so called, was on the look out for a spot of lunch.

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What was really a great sadness for my mother was my developing addiction to a form of literature of a much lesser God… COMICS! Worse, American and all about Superman. Tosh of course, but what was the attraction? COLOUR. Trowelled on primaries had all the subtlety of an outside dunny in a cyclone. They also had a powerful smell and contained other niceties like speech and thought balloons. These features were to re-appear in a different form decades later.

Another life-long passion was, oddly enough, established at the age of 3 or 4. This was an unbroken link between our Sunday lunch and so called ‘classical music’. The music mostly took the form of C19 warhorses but as I tucked into my roast lamb I absorbed the sound as well, and the hooks were in, never to slacken. My debt to my parents for this gift is immense.

In Vino Veritas

Chapter 1.

I was born at a very early age…

The aged Dakota DC3 trundled towards a rather basic building at the Hobart airport. It’s piston engines set up a splendid racket and the heat haze smelt pretty good too. This was not wasted upon a wide-eyed 4 year old child bursting with excitement within the confines of the ranch style terminal.

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A trip to Melbourne! This prospect opened the door to another world, a much bigger one. One with loads of trains and trams, big buildings, clouds of people and… some of the houses even had stained-glass windows… even the sky was a better shade of blue. But more than that, if this was one door, how many more were there in this world? The child flirted with this open ended concept. The other huge driver in his short life was his greatest wish that he could learn the skills in order to draw these aircraft. The magic was spun further with the plane ride. Who remembers the sloping aisle to the cockpit? You sat in chairs rather than seats. And those boiled sweets! The hostess gave loads to the kids. AND… being able to visit the cockpit and sit with the pilots as they left the Bass Strait and began their approaches to Melbourne. Magic. Try that now.

And yet, greater excitement awaited. His aunts serried ranks of multi-coloured biscuit barrels were stuffed with a cornucopia of goodies. Viewed from today’s healthy diet platform they would be biscotta non-grata. Never mind, the teddy bears, the stars of the show, were little treasures and will forever remain so. The trip from Tassie was a harbinger of things to come. Even at the ripe old age of four it was clear that there is another world outside this insular community.

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I started life in a mill town, a good chunk of the economy was predicated on that paper producer. It also established a kind of local real estate hierarchy which mirrored that found in the mill. The town was bisected by a fast flowing river, good for swimming but could be dangerous. My mother did not know how close I came to never writing this stuff when I slipped off a greasy submerged plank. A flailing arm grabbed a mooring rope. The arrival home was tricky… how to get into some dry clothes and look relaxed and happy whilst re-living the suffocating horror of the water closing over my head. I attended a funeral service for a child at about that time. Maybe that WAS me and I have entered a parallel universe. I mentioned this concept to my cat Trevor but he looked at me as though I was a chop short of a barbie.