The faces and fibre of our communities

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Invisible threads are the strongest ties.  

                                         Fredrich Nietzsche

It shouldn’t but it still  surprises me when the universe delivers synchronistically interwoven gossamer threads that tie a thought or an idea to another with seamless perfection.

I recently wrote about the joys of being a tourist in your own country.  Last weekend I visited the Museum of Brisbane, the city I call home, to engage with a new and exciting exhibition called 100% Brisbane. The exhibition uniquely draws together the stories of 100 residents and examines what it is about their city that they love. It goes deeper than that, it shapes for the viewer through touch, sound, smell, film and text the heart of the city, the human community with its complexities of origin, sexuality, race, gender, age, defining life experiences and so on.  It delivers an impressive and captivating self-portrait of a city and its people; a provocative self portrait of a community. I felt both a tourist and a sense of belonging and connection.

Looking in on something I take for granted and have neglected to examine closely (in this way) gave me a sense of being a bystander or a visitor learning about this place. It was fascinating to take a helicopter view of my city and examine it differently. 100% Brisbane is provocative on so any levels.  Too many thoughts surfaced, eddied and flowed to share them all, though I’ve walked away with a sense of pride, with a deeper level of understanding and with questions too. Questions about myself and my place here. Questions that will tick over in my mind as I interact with this city and it’s people, looking for answers, insights and elaborations. These questions percolated as a result of a series of questions I answered while there.

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A feature of the exhibition is an interactive survey that gathers information about visitors to the exhibition and provides statistics that inform you of your likeness and difference to those who have previously visited and to those 100 people, who each represent a 1% slice of Brisbane, on whom the exhibition is based.  As I submitted my results I got to see which of the 100 I was most like in each of three sections. I answered a range of questions from basic demographics to my attitudes and beliefs on key social issues and I discovered that I am not as unique as I’d imagined nor am I quite as conventional either.  In part one I was like only 1% of my fellow citizens and in sections 2 and 3 I was like  9% of my fellow Brisbaneites. That’s pretty interesting data to walk away with.  You can see why I might now have a few questions whirling away in my mind.

Have you ever considered the face of your city or  how similar you are to the community you live in? Can you see the elements that link you to those who live around you? Do you recognise those points of difference that make you unique?  This exhibition has made me realise that while we might think of ourselves as ‘just one face in a crowd’ we are each representatives of the place we live. We are each the face of our community; our individual voices, stories and perspectives interlace to create the fabric that swathes us and weaves the shape and spirit of where we live.

 

 

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Stories of yesteryear

Joe McSweeney

What a mug a man be
to go fighting in the war over the sea
Half starved, the pay was low
a man was mad to even go.  

Joseph McSweeny

There is an exhibition coming to town – The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience. It sounds like a big event. It is a free exhibition that showcases the story of Australia’s involvement in the First World War. From what I’ve read, there will be a good many stories  as well as photos of Australians who served our country during the war. It’s timely and synchronistic, for me, that this event should be coming to my city.

I have been pouring over some writings and photographs of my great-grandfather, Joe’s recently.  He was a character.  I wish I had known him better, though I am getting a sense of him through his musings. I met him several times when he was old and sick and in no mood for silly noisy little girls. My grandmother and my father have both shared stories of him that have intrigued and me. I knew he was an artist and sign writer. I knew too that he had fought in the first world war. My great-grandfather captured some of his life in poetry. Some of it is long and prose like, some short and snappy, some of it is good, a lot is not.  However, I have learnt much about his life through these handwritten notes.  I have discovered he was a swagman and wandered out west looking for work on various stations, orchards and farms when times were tough. He worked in shearing sheds and in a butcher shop; anything to make a quid.

His writing paints a picture of what it was like to be a soldier in the first world war. He doesn’t go into depth or detail. In fact, he seems to skirt around the edges of the atrocities of war. Often I find the greatest messages lay in the gaps and silences. There are many postcards he collected while abroad and a few he sent home to his wife, my great-grandmother and his daughter, my Nana.  These were short notes but very touching. Among his effects are a pile of vintage postcards with beautifully painted images of women clad in their undergarments. Oh, they are very tame by today’s standards but I imagine they were outrageously risqué in some circles way back when. They are exquisite reminders of a time long ago. A time not forgotten. A time of heroes and ordinary men and women who left these shores not knowing what horrors awaited them. A time when these same ordinary men and women, the lucky ones, returned home to carve out lives for themselves when their whole view of the world and life had been irrevocably changed.

I would dearly love to share some of Joe’s writing about the war with you though I realise now, so many years after it was written, that much of it is politically incorrect and may offend some readers. His poems were written in a different time, when feelings about the enemy were raw. Some things, I guess, are best kept private. Below I have included a short ode he wrote, it gives you an idea of the larrikin he was.

Have you heard the story about sign writer Joe?
He fell on the floor with a heavy sound
It took some time to bring him round.

The butcher rubbed his ribs with greasy hand
and sat him in a chair, he could not stand.
The butcher grinned and laughed outright
Poor old Joe, looked an awful fright.

Back to the job he went once more
His ribs was aching and arm was sore.
Down he got and gave a grunt
Through the door and out the front.

Now dear readers, this is no lie
The poor old bugger
Went home to die.

The Spirit of ANZAC Centenary Experience will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from the 17th until the 30th June. You can book tickets online at http://www.spiritofanzac.gov.au

The world is pressing in on me

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I hope that, by looking at my photographs, people will develop a better understanding of the world around them and more empathy with the people in it. – Lucian Perkins

I feel decidedly unsettled after visiting the World Press Photo Exhibition.  I realise the images are meant to affect the viewer but I wasn’t expecting to walk away so heavy hearted.

Many of the images shone a light on human tragedy, on life around the globe, on the pointless nonsensical nature of war, terror, hatred and force.  In the past I have walked away having been moved by the resilience of the human spirit, triumph against the odds, and the rawness of human emotion.  This year I found myself contemplating the role of the photo journalist and the personal lines they  cross to deliver to us news from around the world in an effort to inform and move us.

I couldn’t help but shudder.  What must it be like to photograph human bodies having fallen from aeroplanes, been slaughtered at play or left to die in fields? I contemplated the range of emotions that would surface when confronted with evil, hatred and violence such as that portrayed in a great majority of this year’s images. I cannot imagine how one keeps perspective, how one is not strongly impacted by the terror and horror of being present at such scenes.

I do not condemn.  I am agog. Startled into contemplation.  I cannot begin to place myself in their shoes to even get a glimpse of the courage and strength needed to shoot these images. Nor can I fathom the unrelenting turmoil, destruction and deprivation suffered by so many around the globe.

This year I was overwhelmed by the heaviness of the exhibition. Oh, there was variety, I know that as I sit here and reflect. I guess that’s why art is so subjective. I interacted with the images and those that stood out for me were the ones that burdened my heart.

I am haunted by Mark Metcalfe’s image of 25 year old cricketer Phillip Hughes being cradled by his mates after being struck on the head by a cricket ball.  This story made headlines in Australia. The country was shaken by the subsequent death of this young man several days later.  The tenderness with which these men attended to their friend was moving. Tears well even now as I recall the scene portrayed by Metcalfe.

Photographer Arash Khamooshi investigated public hangings in Iran. In one of his images an old woman, given permission to kick the chair from under the condemned man and send him to his death, chooses instead to slap him. The slap is a public declaration of forgiveness, thus saving the life of the man who took the life of her son. I am speechless.

An oasis amid the horror was Michele Palazzi’s photograph of a Mongolian mother and child at rest, in their tent. There was a gentleness to this photo that softened the blow the others had landed. I felt myself draw breath, not realising I’d been holding it as I moved from image to image.

The intent of the World Press Exhibition is to confront and provoke the viewer through visual story telling. This year I walked away feeling raw rather than uplifted. I can’t shake the images or the depths of depravity, sadness, and the heinous reality in which many of my fellow humans live.

Is it naive of me to give thanks for my life and the hand I’ve been dealt in the wake of what I’ve just viewed? Perhaps. But I am grateful and I thank God for my many, many blessings.

Is there more I can do to raise awareness, aide and improve the lives of those faced with tragedy and violence and circumstance? Perhaps there is. And so the exhibition has succeeded in moving me to tears, to think and to take action.

I congratulate the photojournalists for their moving, emotive and thought provoking work, the organisers of the exhibition for 60 years of insight and the Brisbane Powerhouse for hosting the display.