Tuesday 22 September 2015

Monday 29 June 2015



Jeese, cold aye? Hope the rain holds off for the game.
Our exchange of half hearted pleasantries is interrupted by shushing. Crowded into a cramped dressing room, we quiet down to listen to Tony gee-up the kids. South Sydney Juniors under 10s division 2 grand final.
OK you blokes, this is it, the big time. I wannna see every single one of youse concentratin' an' lookin' for your mates. I know they look like big bastards, but if you don't get tackled you won't get hurt. Go in on their legs they'll hit the ground harder, and they'll get hurt. We got no reserves, so Jonesy, don't go falling over on me, OK? I cringe at hearing Kevin singled out again.
We are all focused on our kids, trying to telepathically transmit confidence into their souls before they run on. I swallow down a lump of fear just before the cheer goes up, and a dozen calloused, nicotine stained hands slap shoulders as the boys clatter past us into the tunnel to be consumed by watery winter white light at the end of it.
There is a report of applause from outside as they take the field and we file out to take up position on the sideline.
That's your third smoke Jen and they haven't even blown the whistle.
It's either that or three hot dogs. I'm on a diet. 
I'm as polite as I can be with the pious know-all cow. Oh shit, the whistle! Why did he have to choose league?
I've done this every Sunday since nappy grade. In the beginning they looked so cute all decked out in gleaming white jerseys with the slash of red V in front. Kenso United. Knights of St George. My very own little knight in shining armour on the field of valour, bearing my favour. They looked like a bobbing red jelly and ice cream coloured centipede. The coach, Len, like an attendant buzzing insect, hovered around to make sure that if one of them did accidentally pick up the ball he would run in the right direction. But the novelty wore off, and blissful sleep-in-and-read-the-newspapers Sunday mornings became only a fond memory. As the season progressed I came to realise just how vast the district was, and each successive fixture drew us deeper into the depths of southern suburbs I'd never heard of, requiring road map and compass to find hidden grounds on the blustery banks of Botany Bay, Yarra Bay, Long Bay. There were days I felt more intrepid than La Perouse.
Eight am. Sleet. Morning chaps. A few would nod in reply, but mostly there was little socialising. The only thing we had in common was the kids, and the shared misery of an arctic wind howling across the headland at Clovelly. I huddled against the cold in the cobweb-hung, cats-piss-reeking dressing shed to listen to Len read out the team, while milk teeth chattered in little skulls and plastic studs rippled on concrete.
Now, when you get the ball, remember, run towards me. Jonesy, you go reserve.
Shit reserve again. I fantasised about how Len would coach without kneecaps, but I never interfered or complained about it - not like some. Like bloody Barbara, manicured, hair sprayed, ironed-tracksuited Barbara. She who knew more than anybody else about everything to do with club politics. Her husband had played A grade for Souths a hundred years ago and his butcher shop sponsored Kevin's team, so she was the manager. I know she had it in for me, and her boy wonder, Jacko, had it in for Kevin. Jacko was head bully and the most gifted player on the side, because, I suspect, since the day he was born, Jack had a football kicked to him.
Jacko never did it in front of his mum, but at every opportunity he'd taunt Kevin. A push here, a shove into the mud, a trip there, and he never passed the ball. On the rare occasion that Kevin took the field and did find himself with the ball, he'd inevitably drop it, or hand it to the wrong side, or loose it in a tackle, and then be mercilessly abused by Jack.
You can't win if you're all backs. Somebody has to make the tackles. Turn the other cheek mate. 
But it was really hard to be philosophical with those eyes brim full of tears; all I really wanted to do was rip out Jack's cruel little throat.
In the end I found an excuse to change clubs.
Well Barb, there's a new club started up at Moore Park. Its much closer for us for training, and they play in Bronco colours. They're his favourite team.
Oh, that is a shame. She found it difficult to conceal her glee. We'll really miss Kevin. Insincere cow.
But there's a Barbara in every club, and Karen, her latest incarnation, is right beside me, sneering at me through her benign smile, and its too late to find another seat. She's married to Tony, the trainer. He prowls the sideline shouting, Good tackle Marty! Take 'em round the legs! She chimes in with, You're useless Simpson. You're not out there for decoration Jones. She only sees missed tackles and fumbled passes and seems obsessed with Kevin's obvious lack of natural talent.
There are some gifted kids out there who know what they're doing, there are some who are quick and if fed the ball can dash down the wing to score. But mostly they are just like Kevin, uncoordinated, awkward boys who's best football is played in their imaginations, inspired by the match of the day the week before. They dream of making a sliding dive for the line, dragging a wake of opposition players along and then popping up a pass at the last minute, or kicking the match winning field goal.
Three weeks ago they thought they'd played their last game for the season and were out of the comp. They'd done OK but were knocked out in the prelims. Now, following some complex ring in scandal which even Karen, with her exhaustive knowledge of club intrigue has failed to make entirely clear to me, they are playing in the grand final by default, facing the top team in the division. No one was more surprised than Tony. He rang us all up to scrounge a team together from the players not on holidays. He's nervous. They haven't trained and seem to have already lost hope. The opposition is huge.
I reckon some of those kids are thirteen.
Wouldn't be game Jen, not after the Wombat fiasco.
S'pose. I'm not convinced. Kevin is big for ten, but some of these kids are enormous.
What do you reckon Mary?
Nah, they're only little fellas. She would know. Her boy Sani is our best forward and no runt either. Mary's the coach. She doesn't say much, just keeps her eye on the game. I've never heard her shout - she leaves that to Tony, but in the dressing room she deals out calm, clear and considered strategy.
A girl coach? When he first joined, Kevin was appalled.
So what, I'm a girl, I told him.
Girl's don't know anything about football. But it's a different story now. She's not only infallible when it comes to the game, but is a world expert on everything from diet to bed times. Mary says this, Mary says that. I remember the moment a couple of years back, when Kevin became her devoted servant. He limped off at half time sucking in wind and clutching at a red hot poker of a stitch in his side. After a series of hard tackles his legs had turned to jelly under him. Tony helped him into the dressing room.
You'll be right mate. Come on, breathe in... out... in...
Mary looked like an Easter Island statue, but with one of those cartoon black thunderclouds above her head. The dressing room was in the eye of a cyclone. And then it hit.
Worst bloody performance I've ever seen. Youse are all gutless. Only kid out there with any heart is Kev. Sani, you're dropped as captain. Kev, you take over. He looked up at me in questioning surprise and then down at his feet to cover his embarrassment. I didn't know whether to burst with pride or be pissed off that she'd shamed the rest of the team into action by making an example of the most hopeless player. Whatever, it worked for Kevin. He transformed from exhausted also-ran into a pointing shouting bustle of confidence, marshalling troops and calling the play.
I still thought maybe this would be a good time to try hockey, but suddenly Kevin, inspired by Mary's confidence made a try saving tackle right on the line. There was cheering, and he felt his team surge around him. They slapped his back, and he heard Tony yell at him to get up and do it again. For the rest of the game he was possessed. He was a brick wall, impenetrable.
At full time he could hardly move, he was so buggered. They all sat cross legged on the grass spurting Fanta and Coke at each other and Mary awarded him the most improved player. He beamed at me but I kept my cool, and just ruffled his hair and said, good on you, but all the way home in the car I had to do a commentary of the play, over and over till the tackle took on Herculean proportions in his mind.
And here he is now, in the same situation, outclassed and demoralised, but giving it everything he's got. They all are, but its not enough. The first half is a nightmare - they're not being thrashed, but they are losing heart. The show ponies are frustrated, can't get a touch and the forward line is starting to come apart like a wet paperbag. The whitewashed grandstand, claimed by the opposition crowd crouches at our backs and the scoreboard across the field screams that we are 10 points down with half time only a minute away.
I want to run on, intercept and pass to him. I want to throttle the umpire and take the opposition star player out of the game. I'm jealous. I find myself wishing for the physicality of it - the sort of push and shove you only ever get with sex. The closest I came to contact sport was association netball, and then the only real physical contact was the inevitable chick fight in the beer garden car park afterwards. I wish I could feel what its like to plant a screaming tackle, but its too late for me. I do it by proxy. Most of the time his defeats and failures tear me to pieces, but when the magic happens and your side is on top, the elation makes your hair prickle and your cheeks flush.
His first ever try! I'll never forget it. The day I watched him take a pass only five metres out from the line, and drag four defenders over with him was better than sex. I shouted and whistled and danced around like a headless chook. The other parents smiled and clapped and I became one of them.
Thank god, half time siren.
We clap them off the field as they straggle into the tunnel, Mary and Tony following and the rest of us scooting round to the other entrance to hear her second-half instructions. Terry's father gets stuck into him for a dropped pass early in the game. Karen voices her general displeasure at their performance and bitches to her long suffering son, Marty, about his head high that cost us a penalty. He sheepishly plucks grass from his mouth guard, ducking her disapproval. I just feel terribly sorry for them. They desperately suck oranges and pour water over hot, red foreheads, anything so as not to burst into tears.
Mary enters the circle and silences us with a stony glare.
Youse are doin' good, real good. You keep playin' this hard and yous'll wear 'em out. Keep helpin' each other. She turns to us.
An' one more negative word out of any of you lot, I'll have you chucked out of the ground. Understood? She's staring strait at Karen.
Just stay cool and concentrate. Matty, you watch the line and make sure everybody gets back the five. Sani, keep the pressure on 'em. Everybody, watch the ball and good safe hands. No room for mistakes now. Go out there and play football. You can win this.
Kevin's aches and pains have disappeared. He trots into position, tense, anticipating the whistle. Marty kicks to start play. Kevin moves up with the forwards and I hardly recognise him. He's ploughing in for the tackle and pushing himself to the limit, testing the edges of his strength, being knocked down and getting up again - undeterred. I can't believe it's only yesterday he was a baby. How could ten years go by so fast?
In the labour ward, with nurses urging me on and slips fielding midwives between my knees, crouched, anticipating the delivery, I knew I was going to die. After eight hours I felt like a tackle bag. I felt the final slither between my thighs, and thought I was over the line, but then I heard his voice and a surge of adrenaline sat me up and turned me into a tiger. Hand over that baby or you're dead meat. They gave the purple, bloodied betesticled creature to me and I knew I could find the strength to kill anyone who tried to hurt him.
From the sideline I watch as my precious bundle is pummelled and pushed and shoved, and all I can do is shout till my lungs split, to squeeze the fear back down. It can't be my gentle natured child out there, frowning, then powering into the bulk of another player. I know its inevitable, he won't be my creature forever, and with each lunging step he gets further and further away from me.
Mary's theory is paying off. The opposition are making mistakes, and our boys are tapping reserves of tenacity none of us thought they possessed. In the lead by a point; all they have to do is hold on. Five minutes till the siren. I reel at every hit, cringe at every lunge.
Clash centre field, player down. Stand for a better view.
What's happening? Tony sprinting across. Ref leaning into the huddle of boys, clearing space.
Fuck, it's Kevin! Not moving. Mary is there. Start counting. Three minutes, three minutes repeating in my head like a mantra. Slow motion walk to the sideline. Every molecule of my being wants to be out there with Kevin, but I'm almost rigid with horror. I feel like the dog I had when I was a girl. It was never allowed in the house but could get its whole body inside while still keeping its four paws behind the threshold.
What have I done? How could I have put him at such risk. I hear all the justifications I made to judgmental girlfriends who couldn't understand why I let Kevin play league. Thugby, brutal, violent, they said. No, no, boys are like puppies, they need the rough and tumble and biting and kicking to measure their growing strength against each other; they need an outlet for all that aggression and exuberant energy, I reasoned.
Oh God, be OK. Please, please be OK.
Mentally picking out wheelchairs and special schools for the disabled. Wish I'd gone to Sunday school so I can feel less guilty about praying.
One hundred and twenty-one, one hundred and twenty-two....
Ears ringing. Sweating, burning. Still down. I think I'm going to feint from the pain in my chest, and realise I have to breathe. The ringing rises to a roar, but its not me. He's up! It's the sound of the ground applauding. He's playing on, and I want to throw up.

They won. There was air punching, high fives and jumping onto each others shoulders, and singing in the dressing room and tears of joy and beaming faces. Fear and loathing melted into sheer delight. My brilliant, heroic, knee-grazed, tag-marked angel-faced child lined up with the others to receive his medal. We'll be there next season.

Shortlisted for and publsihed in the 1988 CUB Best Australian Sports Writing. Random House.

Saturday 23 May 2015

The magic of remembering

I have a little white silkie named for my mother's mother, Nana McHugh.

Yesterday, I heard her screaming and ran to the verandah too late to see what had happened, but there was a flurry of large white wings and a shrieking of smaller birds in the trees on the bank of the creek. All that was left was a bloodied scatter of Nana's fluffy feathers on the lawn. Hawk attack. She didn't come for food in the evening, so we lamented the loss of her little life.

Poor Nana.

Last night I was filing correspondence and found the following letter from me to my Nana in 2002, just before she died. So I read it in honour of her namesake's passing.

Dear Nana, Lydia:

I am so sorry you are in pain now, and I wish I could make it stop for you. Remember when I asked you if you were afraid to die? You told me, no, as long as you got to go in your sleep. I want you to know I will miss you. Death is all very well for the one on their way out, but it's not for us left behind. You never told me your stories! That is my business, stories - I know thousands of stories, but none of them mean as much to me as yours, because yours tells me who I am. Please, before you get too ill to remember, tell me your story so I've got something to be going on with! Write to me - tell me where I come from; tell me who you are, so I know how I've become myself.

You are my only remaining grandparent, and I am your first born's first born. Tell me what you wanted to be when you were 16, tell me your secret desires, tell me what you haven't had a chance to achieve, and I'll pick up the baton and run with it!

I find myself thinking about you a lot, and your life, and what it means, and how to deal with your eventual death. We all spend too much time trying to ignore death, or hide from it. I try to imagine what it would feel like to finally release myself from this bloody bag of bones and water we all drag around and call our 'body'. I try to imagine what it would be like to just be me, without the weight of existing in this world.

Your daughter, my mother, said to me when I was pregnant with my son, while she watched your husband, her father , dying, that she thought they were the same thing, birth and death - a release from one state into another. She knows big things, our connective tissue, the body between us, Hazel.

I am distressed that you are ill, that your body is worn out, but I am really distressed because you are living out my own mortality. You are proof that I will have the same fate as you - I will age and die - your fate is mine. We are the same thing and will suffer the same fate. And it makes me realise that all the nonsense and stress and crap that I worry about in the minituae of daily life means nothing - it will all only lead me to where you are now.

I feel humble, but the strength it gives me is the knowledge that this life we breathe is the only wealth we have as humans. Eventually, all we have is our selves, and if we can live with ourselves and our choices, then we have lived well. You have lived the best of lives. You are a good woman. Congratulations. 

I love you and will never forget you.

This morning, Geoffrey was downstairs gathering tools for work when I heard him exclaim, 'Nana!' There she was! Back from the dead! The hawk must have flown off with just a clutch of feathers. There are small punctures on her back from its claws, but she was able to flee under the house and must have hid there all night, terrified to go our under the dangerous sky.

Or, maybe my remembering her namesake brought her back to life.

Lucky Nana.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

When I grow up,

      Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick, tick, tick. Ti    .  
      Not long now.

My mother is really grown up now - she's been boundless and infinite for at least 5 years. I remember being shocked when I first began to give her the mini mental tests they use to assess dementia.

The Alzheimer clock face flies apart like its whole logic has been flung out from an ever widening gyre, blowing apart like a puff of dandelion.

We were sitting at my veranda table. I was conscious of her enlarged sphere of concentration. She could not focus her attention on the task at hand because her mind was taken up by awareness. Here, in the swirling unfamiliar environment of my place, she feels lost. Although she pretends to be content, I can see her glance at heavy clouds looming. She startles when a shriek of greenies in flashing bright feathers, wheel out of the tree tops, then her eyes widen with the same wonder mine did at the kaleidascope she gave me to look thorough when when I was her little girl. 

I am the sum total of everything she filled me up with - her songs, her joy, her vast, bottomless chocolate-eyed adoring gaze. She never took her yes of me, after all that time waiting and longing for me. She poured so much of her energy into into me I was practically airborne. If she believed I could fly, I'd be a bird.

But here she is, with her exploded clock and a fist full of coins that may as well be buttons, for all they mean to her. She thinks she knows the lady's face, but can't quite remember her name. She knows the kangaroo is on the other side.

She sleeps a lot more now. She gets tired after the exertion of the tests and agrees she might be thirsty - whatever I think. I say she should come inside and lie down while I get her a glass of water and by the time I'm back she's sleeping heavy as child, toes outpointed, with a balled up hanky descrunching in her uncurled palm.

Faces look down from the paintings on the walls. All their eyes have followed her into this room and pinned her to the bed. Her grandson, six years old in his Lewis Miller portrait watches her from the depths of the too-big chair he is trapped in; a red face screams out of a Davida Allen Mother and Child from the mid 1980s, and directly above, monsters and ghosts lie just beneath the surface of a black, purple and red David Kirk.

She hasn't had much practice looking at paintings. She doesn't think the pictures hanging in my house are for decoration and I wonder what she makes of the dreamscape world of imagery I have walled myself into. She loved to watch me draw, I could draw anything I saw. Drawing attracted her attention, this thing l could already do. Like breath.

I hear her snore. She hasn't forgotten herself completely. She still knows all her favourite songs, but can only catch them once they are already in the air, in process. Once she hears the pattern, she's away, pitch perfect. If we are not singing, it is difficult to keep a conversation going. I try to remember to stay in the present and only talk about things we can both see; birds passing overhead or the ant she's been watching cross the table, feeling with the tip of her tongue for words that never arrive. Everything is only what it appears to be - pre-Adam, before it all got divided into names. Reading is pointless. But as she says, she's happy just sitting. 

Tomorrow, I am looking after my mother while my father has day surgery. She can't be left alone now. She knows who Dad is, but she's not 100 percent sure. I am a complete stranger, but she will believe me when I tell her he'll be home soon.

The drought has just broken. Its been raining hard on and off all day while the tilt of the Earth turns a notch closer to winter. I will make her banana on toast for breakfast and we will drink tea on the veranda. I'll draw some shapes for her to colour-in with the lovely Derwent pencils what turn to bright pools of pink and red - her favourites - under her wetted brush. While she paints, I'll watch the rain do the same to the land and try to imagine her story, her forgotten life, into a book.

rude food

It takes guts

It takes some considerable courage to plunge your hand into the abdominal cavity of an undressed creature, scoop your hand round a gloopy mass of giblets, find and snap the trachea and gullet and then and pry it all loose and gently but firmly pull it out all in one go to spill out under your palm.

It's rare these days to even find undressed poultry and it takes a couple of goes to get practiced enough not to burst the lower intestine and make a putrid mess all over the sink.

But I'm pretty good at it now and can get it all out without carnage. And there, glistening and amid the coil of gut is the prize - duck liver.

Until you have made your own, it is impossible to imagine the hard won pleasure of fresh duck liver pate.

Some duck sauces call for the giblets to be used to make rich demi-glassed conconctions to accompany roast duck, but bugger that, unless you specifically want the giblets, they are mine.

Here's how to transform your handful of quivering, satiny offal into a small taste of heaven.

I didn't have any bacon in the fridge, so just left it out and put in some extra salt. If'n yer a local, you can get chemical-free pineapple-juice cured bacon at Cooroy Meats (near the IGA) which is an excellent excuse to take a drive into the now greening Hinterland hills.

Duck Feet First

Kind of fiddly, but totally worth it
The first thing off the carcass is the feet. 16 of them. I am very fond of chicken feet in black bean sauce at the East Ocean in Chinatown in Sydney and have found the recipe, but never had enough chicken feet to bother trying it out. You can do it with duck feet too, of course. So - here goes…

So - the verdict is - completely worth all the trouble.

Duck Soup

A duck wing is not a small thing.
4 fresh duck wings
2 knuckles worth of fresh ginger sliced
1 half carrot
1 stick celery
4 pepper corns

Put all into a 4 litre saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer for a couple of hours till the meat is falling off the bone.

Remove the wings and set aside to drain.

Strain the stock and return to the saucepan.

Go out to the garden and pick 2 limes, a couple of Kafir lime leaves, a couple of sprigs of Thai basil, and a couple of young Bok Choy plants. and a long Thai Chilli.

Slice some spring onions and mushrooms

While the stock returns to the boil, put a little coconut oil into a wok and very lightly fry the wings and drain off oil.

Add a tbsp to taste of Tom Yum paste*, then mushrooms, sliced chilli, torn Kafir lime leaves, basil, greens and cook briefly till the greens wilt.

Lastly, squeeze the juice of a lime into each of two bowls, add fried duck wings and pour the soup over them.

*Tom Yum paste is smashed lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice and fish sauce. l

Duck Me

Cuddle Duck - not a table duck. 
I have a blister on my finger from plucking duck. The freezer is full and I have a mountain of cook books from the library, a duck soup in the belly, duck liver pate potted in the fridge and a pan of duck feet on the stove, bubbling in ginger and star anise, almost ready for their final sauce, and forty more of the beautiful creatures eating us out of house and home.


GD has decided that ducks are much more user friendly to farm than cows. A duck won't decide it doesn't like you and try to knock you over if it feels cornered. It might, but you're not going to feel it. He;s spent three days on the new duck run and a small fortress for them to sleep in - snakes up here are big and can get into just about anything, as poor Oscar Wilde Duck found out the hard way, along with about 4 siblings of the ducks in the freezer. There's 200 acres out there - they can get their own dinner.

Muscovies are a cross between a goose and a duck, are very prolific layers and dogged determined clucky mothers. They are easily domesticated, reluctant flyers and their offspring are just about the most adorable baby animals in the vertibrate realm.

Table Ducks - not for cuddling
The lot in the fridge are our first cull of birds with no names. They have been raised for the table since the last couple of old drakes we killed (what we really mean when we say cull) failed to produce any fat! WTF? The whole point of ducks is duck fat - but I have since found that this breed, though producing less fat than others, are prized for their culinary properties. Apparently, chefs like them for their dark, gamey appearance and taste.

I have hung them for three days, and on Saturday plucked and gutted them. My sister came over to help. Thats the deal - help pluck and you take nome your own duck dinner.

Not what you could call fast food - 16 weeks to mature - they are in staged clutches. I nurse hatchlings in a brooder in my stove room then when they are downey enough, they move to the run with their big brothers and sisters. I have a colour code so I can tell with are the eldest

So - from here in in, it's duck recipes all the way down. Geoff is going to have a go a smoking as well.
 For now though, it's raining - finally, and time to plant some snow peas and cabbage to go with braised duck feet in three months time.
The new duck run - very excellent use of a very steep spot

Friday 31 January 2014

White wall fever, indeed.

Goodness, 'who knows where the time goes'? Almost a whole year later, and here I am, back at my blog. I was reminded of it because my son has just begun his own here at blogspot.

Coincidentally, an art exhibition opened last Friday in my very own country town and my son is in it - actually, a picture of him and his father - the art dealers Evan and Ray Hughes. The image is by the Queensland painter Ian Smith, though at the time it was painted, only one of them was an art dealer, the other is only about two foot long, bald, and crawling around the gallery floor.

 Confusing? Time is like that, a tangle of coincidences. For me, to be in that gallery full of paintings was a time warp or artists and old friends I've not seen for ages. A visit to the foreign country of the past doesn't happen every week out here in the sticks.

It was the opening at the Cooroy Butter Factory of an exhibition of the McCrea Collections - Then and Now. Back in the late 70s-early 80s, the McCreas were part of the Ray Hughes Gallery inner sanctum of collectors, artists and lovers. Once a month, we would all come together at the Red Hill Gallery in Enoggera Terrace to launch a new exhibiton. The McCreas joined the scene in the early 80s. At 6pm we'd crack open the Coolibah casks and for a couple of hours we'd all be in thrall of Ray Hughes, the maverick bad-boy art dealer, feeling the full force of his fire and brimstone passion and faith in contemporary art.

Smithy (Ian Smith) was always there. He and Ray were firm, fast friends, and Davida Allen, my painting teacher, and a host of collectors who had learned that admission to Ray's salon only cost them the price of a picture. The McCreas were not alone - there was Athy Nye, the bikie who'd stacked his bike and spent his insurance pay out on art; Ben Peel, a tradie who put his purchases on lay-by and paid them off at $50 a week; Shane and Sally Thompson who made the effort to come up for the show have an equally excellent art collection, as do many others. Jim Baker, who opened the show had a spectacular passion for the art he saw in that terrace shop in Red Hill. He went on to become our biggest collector and was instrumental in brokering the finance for our move to Sydney in the mid-80s. He went on to set up the private Museum of Contemporary art in Brisbane and like David Walsh in Tasmania, put together a fantastic collection that he shared with the people of Brisbane.

As I looked out across the crowd, searching out familiar images - that's  Peter Powditch! Steve Killick! Gavin Chilcott! I realised that the scene in Brisbane back then was about the same size. Our mailing list was only about 500 people (I know, I hand addressed the envelopes). Today, people have more facebook friends than that. But what we had was real - real people would receive that monthly post card in the mail, put it on the fridge and plan their social life around it. The Ray Hughes Gallery was IT, edgy and interesting as all fuck. I feel deeply honoured to have been part of that circle of acquaintance.

So, while it was a weird blast from the past kind of a thing, it was also a fantastic testament to the love and faith John and Lyn McCrea placed in the possibility of where a work of art can take you and how it can change your life. Ray asked his collectors to dig into their pockets to support the artists in their midst - not only to buy the work, but to befriend them and continue to keep and care for their work, and thereby actively participate in its ongoing appreciation in value. By becomming the 'premiere' audience of the work, Ray's collectors were invited into the studio to be the first people in the world to see a new show, to be the front line curators of their own personal museums of art and ideas.

I am blessed to have my own collection of work from that time, my own personal visual diary of my life and times in relation to the great artistic minds of my generation. It is the diary of a large, exuberant love, the major product of which is our brilliant son, Evan - the baby in that picture by Smithy. He has the baton now and runs The Hughes Gallery.