Category Archives: australia

The Edge of the Trees

Did you know that today is an official public holiday in Australia? It commemorates the day the British flag was first hoisted in the country. On January 26th, 1778 British Admiral Arthur Philip sailed into Sydney Cove with a fleet of ships filled mostly with convicts and planted the Union Jack.

An interactive exhibit created by artists Fiona Foley and Janet Laurence outside the Sydney Museum helps people imagine what that moment was like for both the newly arrived colonizers and the Indigenous people who watched them land.

Here I am exploring the work of art called Edge of the Trees outside the City of Sydney Museum in Australia

Edge of the Trees has twenty-nine huge pillars made of wood, steel and sandstone. They represent the twenty-nine original Indigenous clans in the Sydney area and create a kind of forest just outside the Sydney Museum.

Photo – Wikimedia Commons

The name of the artwork Edge of the Trees comes from a historical essay by Rhys Jones describing the moment the newly landed folks from England came ashore. ” the ‘discoverers’ struggling through the surf were met on the beaches by other people looking at them from the edge of the trees. Thus the same landscape perceived by the newcomers as alien, hostile, or having no coherent form, was to the indigenous people their home, a familiar place, the inspiration of dreams.……”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Organic materials like ashes, bones, hair, shells and feathers are installed in some of the wooden pillars in Edge of the Trees and can be observed through windows. They remind viewers of a prior way of life for Indigenous people.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

One pillar features the signatures of First Fleeters, the people who arrived on the original fleet of eleven ships that came to Australia. Most of them were prisoners convicted of petty crimes and sent to penal colonies that were established in Australia.

When we visited we were encouraged to walk among the pillars so we could hear Indigenous voices reciting the names of ancient communities in the Sydney region and run our fingers over the engraved names.

Janet Laurence one of the artists who created Edge of the Trees says it provides a glimpse of a moment when two cultures and communities looked at each other for the first time.

Would they eventually be able to weave a positive future together?

View of the sky from within the installation Edge of the Trees- photo Wikimedia Commons

Other posts………..

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

Christmas Down Under

The Animals of Australia

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My Own Personal Travel Agent

dave planning our day in australiaI’m sorting through my photo libraries deleting thousands of pictures and I came across this gem taken one morning on a trip to Australia in 2010. Dave is planning our route for the day, pouring over maps, guidebooks and brochures to figure out what we want to see and where we want to go.  On this trip as on all our other travel adventures he had made all the arrangements for accommodations, rental cars, flights, and excursions.  He had done his research so we would spend time in three very different parts of Australia during our two weeks there. 

I know how very lucky I am to have my own personal trip planner who has organized the adventures that have taken us all over the world.  

Other posts……..

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

Australian Inspiration

Christmas Down Under


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Preparing to Die

“I’m preparing to die. ”  I visited with a woman in her eighties who told me she is spending a fair bit of time reading, writing, learning, talking and thinking about death.  Even though she isn’t terminally ill she wants to be ready to die. She feels the more she can prepare herself for death and accept it as a natural part of life, the easier it will be for her and her family. 

summer of great grandmother l engleI just finished reading Madeleine L’ Engle’s book The Summer of the Great Grandmother where she describes the last summer of her mother’s life. L’ Engle says we experience a series of ‘letting go’ events or ‘deaths’ that can prepare us for the end of our life.  

Life-stages creative commons wiki mediaL’ Engle suggests we die to childhood and are born to adolescence. We die to adolescence and become adults.  We die to our single selves when we become someone’s partner or parent. When we move to a new place or a new career we experience a kind of death. She thinks these experiences can teach us things that will make the end of our lives easier. 

We spend much of our childhood and adolescence being educated and prepared for our adult lives. Many couples attend counseling sessions or retreats to prepare for marriage.  I took prenatal classes and read books to prepare for parenthood. Many people take seminars and visit a financial planner to prepare for retirement .  It makes sense that just as we prepare for these other deaths and rebirths during our lifetime we should also prepare for our final death and rebirth.  

Other posts…….

Teaching Our Children How To Die

Let’s Talk About Our Parents

My Grandmother’s Epitaph


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Filed under australia, Reflections

All Boarded Up at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

border-xThe Winnipeg Art Gallery is all boarded up these days. There are surfboards, skateboards and snowboards on view in our Boarder X exhibit. The works by indigenous artists get you thinking about our relationship to the environment and other people in new ways. The bright surfboards in the photo above come from Australia and were created by artist Vernon Ah Kee.  They have aboriginal rainforest designs on the front and use the colors from the Australian aboriginal flag. On the back of each surfboard are black and white portraits  of Vernon’s relatives. Only half of their faces are shown.  racism-quoteThe colorful surfboards are surrounded by texts that were chanted during race riots in Sydney Australia in 2005

surfing-videoand accompained by a provocative and at times jarring video.  

roger-craitYou can stand in front of this cityscape of Winnipeg for a long time finding new and interesting things in it. It was created by Roger Crait, who was a passionate skateboarder as a teen and young adult.  To me the wings on the planes and insects look like painted skateboards and there are skateboards hiding in other places too. Both skateboarding and painting are activities that require lots of practice if you want to become skilled at them.  

jordan-bennet-workThese cedar boards were designed by Jordan Bennet who is from Newfoundland.  They were inspired by stories he heard about the land and the history of his people. 

jordan-bennetI had some elementary school students in the art gallery this week and I gave them a whole variety of felt shapes to make designs of their own in Jordan Bennet’s style.  They came up with some pretty creative stuff. meghann o brienThere’s a fascinating trio of pieces related to snowboarding. First this digital photograph by Mason Mashon where the tiny snowboarder surveys the route ahead and…..


and then these two pieces Sky Blanket and Clouds by weaver Meghann O’Brien.

mark-igloliorteMark Igloliorte shows viewers the similarities between kayaking and skateboarding in his  video installation

Skateboard-Kayak- Flip- Roll. 

Boarder X brings together elements you might not think have lots in common but you’ll be excited to see how they do and you’ll find lots of personal connections of your own as you walk through the exhibit. 

Other posts…….

The Dakota Boat

Parfleches for the Last Supper

A Controversial Statue

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The Beginning and End of Life

ron mueck girlJaws drop, eyes widen, and voices exclaim when I take kids into the room at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where Australian born, London-based artist Ron Mueck’s enormous sculpture The Girl is on display. umbilical cord ron mueck's the girlThe little girl has just been born and her umbilical cord is still attached. Blood remains on her wrinkled and folded skin. ron mueck's the girl faceYou can see the glisten of saliva on the baby’s lips, the wet of mucus in her nose and her tiny eyelashes. ron mueck the girlYou need to walk slowly all around the figure and think about it. Mueck says that while he spends lots of time making the outer surface of his giant human beings it is really the life inside them he is trying to capture. ron mueck the girlAfter our older son was born my husband walked around the delivery room carrying him and talking to him. “I wonder what he is thinking,” he said to me. Mueck’s sculpture has that quizzical thinking look about it. mueck the girlMueck has created other life-size sculptures of babies. He made the first after the birth of his child. Mueck reflects on the strangeness and assertiveness of infants and the way a new baby tends to totally dominate our lives. old woman in bed mueckMueck’s Old Woman in Bed is on display just a few steps away from The Girl.  This art piece shows a dying, vulnerable woman in her hospital bed. She is as tiny as Mueck’s baby is big. old woman in bedOne high school girl in a group I toured through the exhibit had tears in her eyes. “My grandfather just died,” she said to me. “My mom is trying to connect with his soul.” Artist Ron Mueck made the Old Woman in Bed after visiting  his wife’s beloved grandmother in the hospital. mueck old woman in bedThe woman is curled in a fetal position, and her wrinkled skin, so like the wrinkled skin of the baby, links her clearly with the new born girl nearby.  This exhibit juxtapositions the beginning and end of a woman’s life beautifully and in such a moving and compassionate way.

The Girl and Old Woman in Bed are on loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery from the National Gallery in Ottawa till  October 4.  They are not to be missed!

This post has been updated here

Other posts……..

Portrait or Landscape

A Quick Dip into the AGO

Landscapes for the end of time


Filed under Art, australia, England, Winnipeg, winnipeg art gallery

Australian Inspiration

turtle in australiaLove makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. -Zora Neale Hurston

ship in the sydney harborIt is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage. – George William Curtis

man falling off surf board in australiaThe greatest accomplishment is not in never falling but in rising again after you fall.  – Vince Lombardi

sydney opera houseGreat buildings that move the spirit have always been rare. In every case they are unique, poetic, products of the heart.- Arthur Erickson

aboriginal art australiaMake a joyful noise-  Psalm 98:4flowers in sydneyThere are always flowers for those who want to see them.-  Henri Matisse

koala in taronga zoo Rest is not idleness- John Lubbock

sydney harbor bridgeI am where I am because of the bridges that I crossed.-  Oprah Winfrey

I took all the photos in this post on our trip to Australia in 2010. 

Other posts about Australia…...

Edge of the Trees- An Aboriginal Perspective

Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

A Curious and Troubling Nativity Scene


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A Curious and Troubling Nativity Scene

A Curiousity in Her Own Country by Phil MayI took a photo of this cartoon in 2010 when I visited the Museum of Sydney in Australia.  It shows an Indigenous mother and child dressed in European style clothing, seated on a city street. Non-indigenous onlookers are gathered around staring at them.  The cartoon called A Curiosity in Her Own Country is by Phil May and appeared in a Sydney newspaper called the Bulletin in March of 1888.  In 1888 Indigenous people in Australia lived in poverty on reserves or in camps on the fringes of cities. They were kept out of sight. Many people rarely saw them. So it is easy to imagine that when they did, they might have stared at them as if they were unusual or exotic.  Ironically in the 1800s, the word ‘curiosity’ meant a unique item worthy of a place in a collection. The cartoonist satirizes the fact that the woman is seen as a ‘curiosity’  in her own country. The woman and child are drawn realistically while the onlookers are caricatures. 

Australia by Martin SharpIn 2009 Australian artist Martin Sharp created a painting called Australia based on the 1888 cartoon.  It was also on display in the Museum of Sydney during our 2010 visit.  Sharp’s rendition reminds me of a nativity scene. The mother and child both have halos the way Mary and Jesus often did in Renaissance paintings.  The stars adorning Sharp’s painting remind me of the starry sky in Bethlehem that led curious onlookers like the shepherds and Magi to Jesus.  Was Jesus a ‘curiosity’ in his ancestral home?

Both May’s 1888 cartoon and Sharp’s 2009 painting make me wonder who we relegate to the status of ‘curiosity’ in 2014.   

Other posts about Mary ……….

She Was 13 Years Old

Only Five Star Hotels for the Holy Family

Thinking About Mary


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Filed under Art, australia, Holidays, Religion

The Rosie Project

the rosie project“This book would make a great movie,” I thought when I was only a few chapters into The Rosie Project. So I wasn’t surprised to discover that the author Graeme Simsion first wrote the story as a screenplay and that the movie rights to The Rosie Project have already been sold to Sony Pictures. 

Cath and my husband Dave

Cath and my husband Dave

My friend Cath was reading The Rosie Project when we shared a house in Minneapolis this summer and her brief description of the plot intrigued me so when I saw a copy on sale for half price recently I picked it up. 

There are really two projects going on in the book. The Wife Project created by an Australian college genetics professor Don Tillman is launched to help him find the perfect wife. Don who has Aspergers has created an exhaustive questionnaire to  seek out a woman who meets all his qualifications for a mate.

The second project in the book is The Father Project. It is the crusade of a young woman searching for her biological Dad. Don with his genetics background is the perfect person to help her. In the process he begins to like her even though she is woefully wanting when it comes to meeting any of his perfect wife criteria. 

Both Rosie and Don are changed as their projects proceed. And we are left wondering who in this world is really ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’ or ‘perfect for each other?’  Is anyone? 

This is the kind of book you can almost read in one sitting. Its light but interesting and funny and if it wasn’t fall I’d say it would make perfect beach reading. 

By the way a sequel The Rosie Effect will be released this month. 

I’d offer to let you read my copy of The Rosie Project but I’ve already decided I’m going to give it to my cousin and her husband.  Simsion has dedicated his book to Rod and Lynnette which just happen to be the first names of my cousin and her husband.I don’t think they know Graeme Simsion since he hails from Australia and they live in Winnipeg; still it’s kind of a cool coincidence.

 Other romances……..

The Language of Flowers

Chasing Windmills

The Aviators Wife

The Queen Who Wouldn’t Eat Gingerbread

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Edge of The Trees- An Aboriginal Perspective

Edge of Trees by

Edge of The Trees by Fiona Foley and Janet Laurence

Outside the city museum in Sydney Australia I stood behind one of the 29 pillars that symbolize the 29 aboriginal clans around Sydney in 1778 when the first convict settlers arrived. Edge of The Trees, the name of the artwork comes from a historical essay describing the event from the new arrivals perspective…. “struggling through the surf they were met on beaches by other people looking at them from the edge of the trees.

As you walk through the ‘forest’, voices in the Koori language speak the names of the 29 aboriginal clans and the places where they lived.

Some pillars have hair, shell, bone, feathers, ash and honey embedded in them and the names of native plants now extinct have been carved or burned into the wooden columns.

edge of trees sydney australiaBecause the piece is interactive you can stand among the pillars and try to imagine what it might have been like for the aboriginal people to watch the arrival of colonists who were about to change their lives forever.

I wish those of us whose families immigrated to countries and took over aboriginal lands, could go back in time and put ourselves for just a moment in the shoes of the people who saw us arrive in the places they’d called home for thousands of years. Would that change our present perspective and attitudes?

This post has been updated here. 

Other related posts…..

Residential Schools

What Do Mennonites and First Nations People Have in Common

The Orenda

Discovering Sacagawea

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Filed under australia, History

Four Reasons To Read The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans Feb 20143‘You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering the bad things.’ 

Last month I read M.L. Stedman’s book The Light Between Oceans. Here’ s four reasons why you should read it too.  

 1) You’ll learn lots about lighthouses. This book made me want to visit one.Tom Shelbourne the main character in the novel is a stoic, hardworking Australian lighthouse keeper trying to erase difficult memories from his family life as well as his service in the military during World War I. His life revolves around keeping the lighthouse light burning and loving his vivacious and passionate wife Isabel.  As Tom tends the light and teaches his wife and their young daughter Lucy about his job we learn about lighthouses- how they worked and their history and importance. Lucy whose name by the way means ‘light’ washes up on the lighthouse island shore as an infant in a boat with her dead father.  Tom and Isabel mourning three miscarried pregnancies decide to keep her. Should they have? 

the-light-between-oceans2) You’ll have to consider some tough moral questions. Much of the story takes place on an island called Janus. Janus is a two faced Roman god and this story emphasizes that there are always at least two sides to any moral dilemma. There are no easy answers to the question “What is the right thing to do?” The book also reminds us that when we make moral choices our choices effect many other people and can continue to do so for generations. One reviewer actually called the moral dilemmas in this story ‘exquisite’. This is how Ralph one of the characters in the novel describes making tough moral choices… “Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot ’em both, and then it’s too late.”

the light between oceans book cover3) You’ll become emotionally involved. Some reviewers claim the book unfairly manipulates you emotionally and others write if they knew how emotionally wrenching it would be to read the book they never would have started it. The characters haunted me while I was reading the story and continue to do so. They say in order for a novel to be good the characters in it must change and readers need to care about those changes. The characters in this book all deal with dramatic change and are dramatically changed themselves and sometimes you can hardly bear to turn the page to find out what will happen to them next.

4) You’ll realize that setting can become an actual character in a story. My fellow blogger Larry Verstraete recently wrote a post on our Vast Imaginations site about the different ways an author can make the setting of a story become a character and M.L. Stedman, the author of The Light Between Oceans does that in particular with her evocative descriptions of Janus Island but also of the town of Partageuse.

And if none of these four reasons grabs you let me just say the novel will interest star gazers, pianists, travelers who’ve been to Australia and people like me who enjoy novels with letters in them. 

Other posts about books……….

Anne of Green Gables- A Faith Perspective

Flight Behavior- I’m Back in the Kingsolver Fan Club

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of  Harold Fry

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