Graeme Buckley self portrait
It seems that I am about to become a PUNQ.
That crazy title will probably be more attractive to the young ones than an old guy like me. I am past the age where rebellion can be seen as a fashion statement.
So, what is a PUNQ? It stands for Pop Up North Queensland, and is being run by Umbrella Studio. It means that about forty artists or groups can have a shop space in the city for ten days at the end of July.
Lynn and I have been lucky enough to snag one, so we will have a taste of what it is like to run a gallery. A lot of artists harbour fantasies about having their own little gallery. I know I do. Exercises like this can be a good way to get a dose of reality without any great financial risk. Why would anyone think that an undercapitalised small business could possibly survive? And why do creative visionaries imagine that a can of cheap white paint can turn a daggy old building into an art gallery? And yet we dream. Artists are always dreamers.
We dream of bringing all our old pictures into our shop, and possibly even selling some. We dream of holding drop in art classes. We dream of doing demonstration paintings in our gallery and selling them off the easel. We dream of a stream of interested visitors who will come in to our shop and get involved in discussions of art and life and the nature of beauty.
We dream that you will share our dream at 21 Stokes Street (opp the Old Court House) from 28 July to August 8.
We have two fish ponds in our yard. We built the dragon pond before we put in the bamboo. Shortly after that it got clogged with bamboo leaves. It has been a problem since then until this year when I built a shade cloth structure to keep the leaves out. I was worried that it would be too dark, but the ribbon-weed survived, and the fish thrived.
The other pond was larger and had a plastic liner which lasted twenty years before it started to leak. Instead of concreting it as I always intended we decided to use an old bathtub.
Unfortunately it was smaller than the old pond and we didn’t have the soil to backfill around it so I filled the hole with leaves and hoped it would compost down in time.
This pond was working well for a while but then the number of fish seemed to decline. I tried feeding them more in case they were so hungry they were cannibalizing their young. This didn’t work so I tried feeding less as excessive feeding can poison the water. I even tried thinning out some of the rampant vegetation.
The puzzling thing about it was that the largest fish were disappearing and leaving the babies. I should have guessed that it was a predator. Then one morning I noticed two tiny snakes (no more than one foot long) floating on the duckweed. I think I had actually seen them before bot not recognized what they were and assumed they were part of the vegetation. When I disturbed them they went down a burrow in the half-composted leaves. It should be warm down there, and with food laid on they should grow quickly.
They are keelbacks, specialist freshwater snakes that live on fish and frogs. They are also one of the only native animals that can eat cane toads. I am thrilled to have such valuable creatures in my garden, and don’t begrudge them a few guppies. There are plenty in the other pond I can move across if they run out.
Dragonflies and Damselflies (Family Odonta) have held a fascination for me since I was a child. Their bright colours and connection with water proved an irresistible lure as I struggled to come to terms with my first SLR camera. Then I learned to paint. For years I concentrated on the subject that had been the primary motif of artists in most ages and cultures except where expressly forbidden by religious decree, the human figure. My style was modernism, the style of my times, the twentieth century.
My painting has been changing lately. The pictures are getting smaller and the mark-making more constrained. I’m afraid I am beginning to conform. I have got old, even as modernism has got old. Picasso’s les Demoiselles d’ Avignon is a hundred and ten years old this year. Even de Kooning’s Woman is a respectable sixty five years old. The shock of the new has been replaced by the shock of the geriatric. It is hard to maintain the angst in the face of Victorian mediocrity.
When I was young there was a standing joke “Welcome to Queensland. Please set your watches back fifty years.” We’ve regressed from there, or at the very least not progressed. Coal power is still seen as the way of the future, and a V8 race is Townsville’s signature event. We don’t know where we’re going, we might be going nowhere, or to hell in a hand-basket, but burning fossil fuel is sure to get us there faster.
I have been involved with Creekwatch for the past two years. Visiting the local creeks every week put me back in touch with Dragonflies and reignited my interest in these colourful insects. I started doing small paintings as exercises and soon had an exhibition ready.
Unlike many of my earlier exhibitions, Dragons and Damsels has no political agenda. I am not trying to make a statement or force anyone to think. They are pretty pictures, domestic in scale, and should not offend anyone.
Dragons and Damsels opens at Gallery 48. The Strand, Townsville, on Saturday 13 May from 3pm til 5pm. The gallery is open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, or by appointment and the exhibition runs for two months.
We decided to try Smashwords for ‘The Self-Initiation of the Witch Chironex’. It should have been easier because all the formatting is done in Word. Actually it was an ordeal, but then, everything to do with computers is an ordeal for me. Scrivener was worse and I think this will get easier with practice. They have access to more outlets too so that should work well.
I wrote that above in June last year. I suppose I should have posted it then but I wanted to be able to say that it had worked well and Chironex was up. Unfortunately I had a few problems with that. I had a health scare (Appendicitis) that required surgery and a stay in hospital. Then a major series of dental work and, in amongst all of this, a general lethargy that has left me unwilling to try anything that might prove stressful. Now it seems that we might have been very close to success when we gave up.
In the end we redid Chironex four or five times before we finally got it right. The good news is that we did finally manage to get it right. It is now available on Smashwords premium catalogue. I am relieved to have succeeded and frustrated by the whole process, but we will persevere. The original plan was to publish thirteen books in two years. It has been longer than that and we have only managed four. The plan is still thirteen books but with an unspecified time frame.
I hope you enjoy The Self-Initiation of the Witch, Chironex. I think it is one of my best.
You might think that I would embrace the change of the season; that the first sub-thirty day of the year would be greeted with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Instead I feel hung-over. Every summer saps the life out of me. Nobody can endure the relentless heat and humidity, the sweltering nights that never cool down. I feel that it is killing me, but I am powerless against it. Summer is like the booze, so seductive with its promise of life-giving rain
A dry summer is the worst.
I spent the dry season planning my garden, gathering the plants that I would plant out when the rains came. I was assured there was a seventy per cent chance of above median rainfall. November arrived dust dry and baking hot. The BOM did a reassessment; thirty percent. In the end we have the driest summer on record. Too bad! I had to plant the fruit trees anyway. They wouldn’t survive another year in their little pots. I attacked the brick hard earth with my trowel but barely managed to scar the surface.
Time to get a bucket. Ten litres of water moistened one litre of soil. How does that work? Logic and science have no power in a drought. I scooped out the damp soil, down to a bowl as hard and impervious as terracotta. The plants are used to that. I put them in and get another bucket of water. How deep will this one soak in? Deep enough, I hope, to soften the bowl and give the roots a chance to delve down to the groundwater three metres below.
Will they survive? Time will tell, but those that make it through to the next normal wet season should be unstoppable.
A carpet snake eating a brush tail possum
We occasionally see snakes in the yard. When we used to let the cats out they would bring snakes into the house very often. They tended to lose interest after a while and leave them lying about, usually still alive and very angry. Thankfully they were mostly tree snakes and keelbacks, although there was one whip snake that took revenge and sent us off on an emergency trip to the vet. After that the cats were locked inside permanently and we didn’t see anywhere near as many snakes.
Then one morning I noticed that a carpet snake had one of the possums. I raced inside for a camera and a chair. I sat and took photos for as long as it took for the snake to swallow the possum. It was a very intense experience. The whole process took about an hour and left me very shaky for the rest of the morning. These photos are some that I took that morning. Interestingly, I found three cast off python skins in the yard during December. We obviously have more than one resident snake.
Again, it has been a long time since I wrote anything in this blog. So what has been happening? My real job gave up on me. This was no surprise. The hours had been getting less and less for months until I couldn’t survive on what I was getting and had to go on the dole to make ends meet. It was almost a relief when it finally cut out completely.
So now I am on the dole fulltime. Fortunately, as an over-55, I don’t have to jump through as many hoops as the youngsters. I do have to volunteer twice a week though so I signed on with Conservation Volunteers Australia, (CVA). On Wednesdays I go with the creekwatch team to local waterways to test water quality and do fish and invertebrate surveys. I’ve always had a soft spot for aquatic life so I’m really enjoying that. Then on Fridays I work in the nursery growing native plants for revegetation projects. I feel that I’m doing something worthwhile and both days begin and end on the beach so that is a real bonus.
We have both had the flu too. Anyone who thinks the flu somehow results from cold weather will be disappointed to learn that our daytime temperatures are still 30degrees and over. Pretty impressive given that winter is due to start tomorrow and we’re still having summer conditions. I don’t know what’s happening to the climate but it can’t be good.
Once I manage to throw off the flu I should be able to settle into this new routine. I might even start writing regularly again. I need to finish the Ninox Saga. I am 20,000 words into book 5 of a 5 book series and I have stalled. I have never known writers block to last longer than a year. I will have to do something about it. It would be a terrible shame to lose that much work for the sake of a little bit more.