An Afternoon at the Castlemaine Gallery with Ben Quilty

April 11, 2016 - 9:18 am 4 Comments


“Have you seen the Ben Quilty exhibition at the Castlemaine Art Gallery?” I asked a local man.

“Which one is that?”

“It’s called ‘After Afghanistan’.”

“Uh, no. I’m not into war.”

“Neither is Quilty.”

The fact that Ben Quilty was an official war artist when he was in Afghanistan must have created a dilemma for him. It no doubt has allowed him to further investigate Australian masculinity, for his focus in this exhibition is on Australian soldiers, mostly male, though female soldiers get a look-in too. His response may be what is expected of an official war artist—the heroic proportions of his portraits revealing the artist’s deep respect for his subjects.

Kandahar, the second-largest city in Afghanistan, which Quilty described in a television interview as a violent, chaotic place, is depicted as an ugly draining of colour and merging shapelessness, an inchoate cry of protest, like an angry toddler’s frenzied scrawl. Quilty’s desperate fury at the incomprehensibility of this setting is visceral.

The faces of his subjects, however, are lovingly created, even in the thickest impasto. It is quite the measure of the artist’s mastery of his medium that the observer can note the heavy layering of paint at too-close quarters with perhaps a qualm or two, and then step back a few paces to see those colours and lines segue into a remarkable portrait. The three aspects of the face of Flight-Commodore John Oddie are particularly moving.

“The pale blue of his eyes becomes almost liquid as you walk past. It is a deliquescence,” said one of our party, lingering on the last word.

This same observer, an artist herself, made an interesting comment about the nude forms in this exhibition. She pointed out the similarity of the style with that of Francis Bacon. For her, these nudes just do not work, because they recall Bacon’s work which is usually about homo-eroticism, a cold appraisal whose gaze is pornographic, not empathic. I can understand what she was getting at. Quilty, the empath, is also didactic. He is telling us of the soldiers’ physical and psychological suffering. Another in our party mentioned the film footage which accompanied the exhibition. It was an episode of Australian Story where Quilty says he asked the soldiers who came to his studio to sit for him, to choose a pose which best exemplified their experience of soldiering in Afghanistan. According to him, they chose the poses. Clearly Quilty asked his subjects to pose nude for him to emphasise their vulnerability—which observers get, in spades. They also get the anguish and the agony.

So if you’re not into war, have a look at Ben Quilty’s take on it and marvel at his portraits, his perfect choices of colour, and those thick, thick lines and daubs of paint which create the most delicate empathies.




Vale Myuran, Vale Andrew

May 6, 2015 - 1:14 pm 3 Comments

It has been one week since Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed and the horror and the grief has not diminished an iota—despite the devastating natural tragedy that befell those gentle, beautiful people in Nepal. (Those of us who have not trekked across the awesome Nepalese landscape may remember the Peace Pagoda at Brisbane’s Expo 88—which was the highlight of the whole assemblage of exotic offerings from the rest of the world for my children and myself. We sat in the upper storey of the pagoda sipping ice-cold orange juice from plastic bags sealed with a rubber band, admiring the ingenuity of the people who chatted and laughed with us and whose sweetness is still a strong memory after almost thirty years. When the Exposition ended, the Nepalese entrusted Queensland with their exquisitely carved wooden pagoda, which still graces Brisbane’s Southbank, reminding us of happier, more innocent times.)

Were they more innocent times, I wonder? No, not really. No analysis of any time past has shown itself to be innocent. They just seem, retrospectively, to be innocent times.

For now there is blood on all of our hands. Blood on the hands of a nation that trusted the Australian Federal Police to protect us. For while the AFP believed it was protecting us from drug dealers—and it was protecting us from this crime that we find abhorrent—it did not protect those young Australians who were perpetrating it. What the AFP thought expedient then in handing over the drug dealers to the Indonesian police now seems a tragedy of Greek or Shakespearean proportions. How badly we feel for Lee and Christine Rush, who informed the AFP about their son Scott, in an attempt to prevent him embarking on his Indonesian misadventure. They were apparently betrayed by the Feds for doing what they had hoped was the right thing because Scott was not detained at Brisbane airport as they had expected, but in Indonesia, in company with the other drug smugglers.

There are so many contradictions in this ten-year saga we have all just experienced. It was the media who first informed us about the arrest of nine Australians in Bali for attempting to smuggle over eight kilograms of heroin out of the country. Television news images of the plastic-wrapped heroin strapped to the bodies of the drug mules were horrifying. Then many of us put those images out of our minds. The fate of these people was  pretty much a foregone conclusion, regrettable, but. . . Those images of Myuran pushing angrily against his Indonesian captors reinforced the imagery of the ruthless drug dealer, out to make a profit at the expense of others’ lives. Then, nearly ten years later, a 4 Corners program introduced by our most loved and esteemed investigative journalist, Kerry O’Brien, showed a completely different person from the Myuran Sukumaran we had seen before. This was a calm, more mature young man whose demeanour was reassuringly gentle. He had been tutored by one of our official war artists, Ben Quilty—a man we also admire and trust—and was producing excellent art himself. Ben spoke of many of the good works that Myuran and Andrew had been doing in Kerobokan prison. They were not only reformed themselves, they were helping other prisoners to deal with their own individual nightmares of incarceration, helping them to aspire to and claim the potential of their own humanity. Here were two good young men. Surely they would not be put to death.

Rightly or wrongly, it has seemed to many Australians that President Widodo played a cat- and-mouse game of allowing us to hope that he would grant Andrew and Myuran clemency in not having them executed, and then, finally, cruelly, snatching that hope away. No doubt many of his own people feel the same way—for many Indonesian people are against the death penalty, including apparently the Jakarta Post newspaper and even members of the President’s own family. (How difficult has life become for them?) Cynics have suggested that had the two alleged ringleaders of the Bali 9 been executed soon after they were apprehended by the Indonesian police, no diplomatic tussling would have ensued and none of this brouhaha about the death penalty would have occurred, so in a weird way, the horribly drawn-out nature of this whole ordeal has brought with it its own peculiar form of grace. For however painful this ordeal has been for Myuran’s and Andrew’s families and friends, this sad episode in Indonesia’s and Australia’s histories has highlighted the fact that the two ringleaders of the Bali 9 were not just statistics, but men, flesh-and-blood human beings as capable of greatness as they were of the misdeeds that had them detained in a foreign country in the first place. It was with greatness and dignity that the two men died, and heartening in the way in which they comported themselves in prison once they had relinquished their criminal personae. Have two drug smugglers become heroes? That is for you to decide.

It has been posited that Australians, of lowly convict origins, love our criminals. (We even cite our Prime Minister as a type of low-level crim when referring to his budgie-smuggling). But this supposition is of course not even a truth beloved of liars, and too simplistic to be entertained by any sophisticated being. Perhaps for Australians instead, there is the melancholy acceptance of the flawed nature of the human—which we must extend to those countries who still support the death penalty instead of our anger and our hatred. Hatred of other people is not a quality of the enlightened. Let us learn from this saga that we must continually strive to exercise the best of our humanity, and never succumb to its worst.

These last few months have been an emotional see-saw for the supporters of Andrew and Myuran, but I believe something worthwhile can be retrieved from them. Firstly, we can recognise the admirable efforts of our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, intervening of behalf of the two young men, yet often hamstrung by the unbelievably insensitive  comments of her leader, not so much a “Mr Budgie-Smuggler” as a Mr Foot-in-Mouth. His most recent inane comment about the scholarship offered to Indonesian students from the Australian Catholic University is amazing when you consider he is someone who claims to be a Catholic himself. Perhaps, if he is a member of a Catholic community, his parish priest might have a quiet word with him. The other good thing is the offer of the scholarship by ACU.

The tragic demise of Andrew and Myuran tested my own humanity. Though I hate the illegal drug trade in any country and can empathise with that hatred in others, the horror of the death penalty and its enactment on two men I felt I had come to know through media portrayals of them, was visceral. I literally felt sick when I learned the fates of Myuran and Andrew— still feel sick and very sad. I believe that many others—Australians and Indonesians—feel the same.

Two images have burned themselves into my psyche. One is the look on Myuran’s face when he displayed an art diploma he’d earned from a Canberra institute of art: a bittersweet mingling of pride and regret based on the comprehension that here was recognition for something he’d done really well in his life, but an achievement that  had come too late. For I believe I saw in that expression, Myuran’s absolute knowledge of his fate— though I hoped desperately he was mistaken. The other image is the stunned expression on the face of Mrs Chan, Andrew’s  mother, as she was helped into a car at Sydney airport after the execution of her son. I believe these images to be indelible.


Mercy for Myuran and Andrew

February 25, 2015 - 10:35 am 1 Comment

A Letter to our Indonesian neighbours.

Dear Neighbours,

When I first saw television coverage of the group of young people since called “The Bali 9” I was horrified. As someone who has worked with young people in schools I was mindful of the terrible toll that illegal drugs takes on our society. Drugs destroy lives and even the whole family of the addicted ones. Parents and siblings are confronted with someone who is so changed by the illegal substance, it is as if some alien were residing in his or her skin. It is as though the loved one has been murdered and some other creature has taken their place. When I saw the two boys who were claimed to be the ringleaders of the 9, I saw two sullen, angry young men, frowning, eyes downcast, pushing violently against their captors, scarily unrepentent, and I thought “typical drug dealers” and put them out of my mind. They had been caught. Justice would be summarily dealt to them.

Then two weeks ago I saw the Australian current affairs program, “Four Corners.” It is almost ten years since Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were first incarcerated in Kerobokan Prison and I had coldly put them out of my mind. But what a change your gaol has wrought in these young men! Andrew, I believe, has turned to religion, become a pastor, and is helping other prisoners through the nightmare of their own incarcerations. Myuran has developed an understanding of the spiritual through the arts, and become, with the help of our young artist Ben Quilty, an accomplished artist himself.

Myuran amazed me. There is footage in the “Four Corners” program of him smiling broadly—even laughing—despite the impending tragedy of his sentence. There is about his face nothing of the closed sulleness and anger of the time of his capture, but a light of compassion, and, dare I say it, a quality of grace, which shows me he is a different man from the one who went into your prison almost a decade ago. I felt deeply ashamed of my having dismissed the two as “typical drug dealers” and when I heard his letter that was read to the crowd at a vigil in Sydney, was moved to tears.

Myuran and Andrew have done what so many of us cannot do: admitted they have made grievous mistakes. They have promised that they are no longer those men capable of the criminal acts for which they were imprisoned. I do not believe that it is just the sentence of death that has changed these two. Something in your prison has wrought good men from damaged goods capable of horrible deeds. Perhaps it is the connection with other, Indonesian, prisoners, that has done it. All I know is that a transformation has taken place, something that does not often happen in such circumstances. It would be a wonderful thing to see these young men continue to grow as even better human beings in forthcoming years.

Indonesia and Australia are kin because we share the same part of the world. We were appalled when the tsunami took so many Indonesian lives. Regardless of what people say in moments of fear or anger, we would never abandon you, our neighbours, at any time you needed our help. That would be completely unAustralian. We are in this part of the world together. Together we will protect it and grow as even better neighbours.

If there is a lesson in the story of Andrew and Myuran, it is that their plight has made us all re-examine our own humanity. Made us question ideas that were convenient but did not actually stand the glare of scrutiny. Andrew’s and Myuran’s predicament has made us all a little more human. Please allow them to continue growing as good—maybe one day even great—human beings.

With respect and love,

Dengan segala hormat,

Cheryl Jorgensen,



Sandcliffe Writers Festival 2014 Programme

August 13, 2014 - 10:00 am 1 Comment



Read on…


Sandcliffe Writers Festival 2014

July 11, 2014 - 1:14 pm 12 Comments


Lingering Doubts by Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis

March 3, 2014 - 4:45 pm 10 Comments

Lingering Doubts

by Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis

Sixty-six years after Reg Brown was convicted and imprisoned for the alleged sexually-motivated slaying of 19-year-old Bronia Armstrong, his granddaughters, Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis, investigated ‘The Arcade Murder’—as it was generally known—and published Lingering Doubts. If this book hasn’t vindicated their grandfather, to some extent straightening a highly-suspect official record, it has raised grave doubts about the integrity of the police investigation in 1947, headed by Detective Frank Bischof.

Read on…


Photographs from the Sandcliffe Writers Festival, 2013

September 6, 2013 - 11:42 am 1 Comment

Report on the Sandcliffe Writers Festival

September 5, 2013 - 3:40 pm 4 Comments

Thanks to Sophia, I have some photographs from the inaugural Sandcliffe Writers Festival which you can see in the blog above. You can find out who the people in them are by clicking on the red comment tab.

The day started with two excellent seminars, courtesy of the Queensland Writers Centre. Kristina Olsson introduced us to the process of writing  memoirs, illustrating her points from her own discovery of a lost brother, the child her mother had with her first husband. It’s a heartbreaking story, but one which, no doubt, everyone in that class will want to read. I cannot wait to read “Boy, Lost” myself, and  confidently recommend it to others, knowing what a fine writer Kristina always is.

Megan McGrath presented the next session, entitled “Blogging and Author Platform.” Once again, I have heard nothing but high praise for this part of the festival. I know many of us have been inspired to seriously apply ourselves, now, to the blogosphere.

We had 44  audience members in these two sessions, in a room which normally accommodates no more than 30. When they realised that more bodies could be reasonably comfortably added to the quota of 30, the librarians from Bracken Ridge rang a number of people who had missed out on being included, but were in reserve in case the first to book a space couldn’t make it to the presentations. Bless their hearts. We were so well looked after by the folks from the Bracken Ridge library, we can only say thank you, thank you, and thank you again. Let’s do it next year, too, guys.

The rest of the festival was held in the Seaview Hotel in Shorncliffe. After an inspirational, and the most moving Welcome to Country I have ever heard, from the redoubtable Sam Watson, a man I have admired for many years, the Yulu Burri Ba Indigenous dance troupe beguiled and bedazzled us. These gorgeous people are all descendants of revered Elder, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, the famous poet and Aboriginal activist who starred in the first suburban Writers Weekend  in Queensland (also held at Shorncliffe) in 1992, presented by the Society of Women Writers, Queensland, who auspiced Sandcliffe, in 2013. As Sibelco Australia sponsored the dance troupe, we thank the North Stradbroke Island company for their part in our festival. It was sheer delight.

Next on the program were six Indigenous writers in two panels, introduced and convened by a very talented young lady, Rhianna Patrick, who works at the ABC when not helping out at Writers festivals. (This was her first festival, but no doubt,  never her last.) Aboriginal Men’s Stories gave us an insight into Indigenous lives and the struggles our Original Owners have had over two centuries just maintaining a place in their own world, through Sam Watson’s incisive account. Joshua Walker, (one of Oodgeroo’s grandsons) still wearing the body paint he wore as the songman and a dancer with Yulu Burri Ba, told us about the intricacies of Skin, the ingenious laws governing the intermarriage of his people right across the nation. He also explained some of the social mores of the Australian Aboriginal people, which, no doubt, made some  audience members nostalgic for better family organisation within the white community, which would sustain us as they have sustained our black brothers and sisters. My fervent hope is that Joshua will write all of the fascinating information he gave us on Saturday, into a book, for we really need to know a lot more about the Indigenous way if we have any intention of preserving the planet and indeed, our family structures. Sam Wagan Watson, award-winning poet and raconteur, next wowed us with a selection of his poems. This man is extraordinary, his work among the best of  contemporary Australian poetry. I intend to read everything Sam Watson Jr has written and has had published, and will report back to you on this blog.

The Aboriginal Men’s stories were followed by Aboriginal Women’s stories. Aunty Ruth Hegarty, a much-loved local Elder, spoke about how her life was the source for all of the books she has written. She read short excerpts of her published works as did the next speaker, Sue McPherson. Sue’s book “Grace Beside Me” had the audience in stitches. I intend to read and review these writers’ books on this blog, so watch this space. Last but not least, was Elizabeth Engelbrecht. She told us about her work as the curator of the Oodgeroo collection in the North Stradbroke Island Museum, and repeated three potent  words from her great-grandmother, regarding racism: “Don’t hate, educate.” Sadly, Elizabeth never actually heard  her great-grandmother say these words, as Oodgeroo died before her lovely great-granddaughter was born. However the spirit of Oodgeroo was with us at the Sandcliffe Writers Festival, as was the spirit of Eunice Watson, Sam Snr’s mother, and  another potent woman whose life touched many of ours—black and white alike. Both of these extraordinary women would indeed be extremely proud of the people who have followed in their footsteps.

After a dinner break, we filed back into the Events room of the Seaview hotel for the Open Microphone session, which was an opportunity for our local writers. We had some excellent work presented, but were let down, to some extent, by a dodgy microphone. Four people objected to a political poem and stormed out, which goes to show you can’t please all of the people all of the time (even if you wanted to). Apart from these malcontents, however, we have had nothing but praise, so it might now be time for Adele and myself to go back to the drawing board for the 2014 Sandcliffe Writers Festival.

Many thanks are also due to the Lord Mayor’s Suburban Initiative Fund for the wherewithal to allow us to present the festival without having to charge any admission fees. Many people have graciously mentioned the fact that they appreciated that the workshops, dance troupe and panels of writers were free of charge. We couldn’t have done it without our sponsors and the added help of the wonderful BCC Library Services, QWC, FAWQ and the SWWQ. May the Muses always lighten your lives.


Yulu Burri Ba dance troupe

September 5, 2013 - 11:07 am 1 Comment

The Inaugural Sandcliffe Writers Festival.

September 2, 2013 - 9:57 pm 2 Comments

Congratulations to Sandgate Rick and Emma King from the Brighton Writers for  reading at the Open Microphone session of the inaugural Sandcliffe Writers Festival —and in fact, for all those other courageous souls who had never read their work in public before. You did extremely well. The festival  was such a success we are seriously considering presenting another in 2014. There are some excellent photographs which I’d like to share with you, and as soon as I have gone through them all I will post my favourites. These would include  portraits of some of the dancers from the spectacular Yulu Burri Ba Indigenous dance troupe, and snaps of the panelists who enlightened and entertained us. The panels presenting Aboriginal Men’s and Women’s stories gave us such diversity and wealth of anecdote and wisdom, I am astonished that schools have not tried to tap into the wellspring of the knowledge our Indigenous Elders carry around with them. Wake up Australia, learning to view the world through the eyes of another culture, many thousands of years older than our own, may just save us from environmental, and indeed, social disaster.