Sunday, 26 April 2015

'Remembering Australia's Forgotten Mothers' - Art Manifesto

In the Anzac Day commemorations, it is fitting to also think about the women and mothers who were forgotten during the twentieth century in the years of mass adoption. This manifesto first posted on this blog has since been quoted in an essay by Ruth Skilbeck "Remembering Australia's Forgotten Mothers" published in the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative.

Skilbeck, Ruth (2012), 'Remembering Australia's Forgotten Mothers: Reclaiming Lost Identity in Colonial History', Journal of the Motherhood Initiative, Vol. 3, Issue 2. 163-177

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Three Grandfathers- Quiet Heros of the Western Front

Reposting an article from April last year.

by Ruth Skilbeck

Grandfather was an officer and a gentleman. He returned from World War 1, a young hero, who had been awarded the Military Cross, and many other medals, for his bravery at Ypres, Passchendaele, leading his battalion, the 38th Battalion, for weeks on end after the Commander had been killed and he, as the Adjutant took over. After the War, he was, in acknowledgment of his extraordinary service, offered a parliamentary position, as Clerk of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. He was offered a position in Canberra, in the Federal parliament, so my mother told us, but Grandmother did not want to leave Sydney. He took up the position in the NSW parliament and every day for all of his working life he travelled to and from the city to their house overlooking a gully (valley) on Sydney’s leafy north shore.

     Grandfather was a trim dapper man,  five foot eleven, he had a square, calm, pale face, with intelligent eyes, and a quiet good humoured manner of speaking, he dressed immaculately in three piece suits, bespoke leather shoes that were always well polished, and he never went into the city without his hat, a trilby, and in the inclement season his cream coloured raincoat, and of course always his mahogany-coloured leather briefcase.
     With his highly capable modest ways and scrupulous attention to detail, his selfless devotion to duty, he was a highly respected public servant, who was highly thought of by all, as the booklet that was printed to commemorate his life, when he passed away, twenty years after his retirement shows. Over 15 members of parliament stood up and give speeches in his memory, which are recorded in the book that was given to my mother, and that I keep along with other documents of the family history.

But there was another man, who fought bravely in the war. There was another family. Of the man, who fought bravely and lost an eye, in the same battalion. He was the Sergeant in the same Battalion where Grandfather was the Adjutant. Uncle Jack and Grandfather were good friends. All the Anzacs who went through such hell as the trench warfare on the western front were mates for life, but as Sergeant and Adjutant they had a bond of holding the line together through the hells of Ypres and Passchendaele, that went much deeper than words could ever say.

Chateau Wood Ypres, 1917 Photo: Frank Hurley
 Grandfather and Uncle Jack fought here

     This was a family of three girls and a mother. Three girls, and the eldest was just a couple of years younger than my mother. Three sisters; the middle one, looked quite like my mother, with her black wavy hair, green eyes and high cheekbones. This family lived only a few streets away from Grandmother and Grandfather and my mother when she was growing up. They all went to the same private girl’s school, in spacious grounds not far from the Pacific Highway.

Every Christmas we went to Uncle Jack’s, mother told us, as we were growing up in England. And we had to spend a few hours at their house every Christmas day.  Her voice tended to falter and come to a halt there. What did you do we asked prompting her to continue, helping her to go on.
     Oh we all just sat around the living room. We gave each other presents, she said. There was Aunty K. and the three girls…

Pa, my father’s father also fought in WW1. He was a boy of 16 in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, when the war broke out and he lied about his age, said he was 18 so he could go and fight for his country. After the war was over, instead of returning to England, he went back to Australia with his ANZAC mates, who he met in the trenches. At least that was never hidden; we knew his story, although his willingness to go off and fight at age 16 was a source of wonder and awe that was somewhat beyond our comprehension as children.  We knew about it, nothing was hidden.
     It was on the colonial Australian family side of my mother's family that the long silence fell.

Those quiet heroes, kept very quiet, and that was probably no doubt to do with the trauma they had suffered in those terrible years.
     There was much that they did not want to talk about or remember, and that included the truth of my mother’s origin, and her own mother who had been eradicated from the records and official history. Yes, there was much else that got swept up into the waves and walls of silence that fell and formed the uneasy muffled backdrop of our colonial families’ lives.

Nobody talked about those things then, and that we, grandchildren, were not allowed to know. It would be many years until I would ever know about the real significance and identity of the mystery man my mother talked about as “Uncle Jack”, and that other family.

Uncle Jack and Grandfather were good friends. All the Anzacs who went through such hell as the trench warfare on the western front were mates for life, but as Sergeant and Adjutant of the 38th Battalion they had a bond of holding the line together.

Ruth Skilbeck.     
From notes for a novel in progress to be published by Postmistress Press.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Whatever happened to "Afghan coats"?

I was a child of the 60s and 70s. I remember when everything one heard about the middle east was cool.
Who remembers Afghan coats? Persian rugs?  Once upon a time in the west in the 70s these were the indicators of cool and hipness. Every self respecting right-on academic would have one or two.

So fast forward to the boring "control and surveillance" society of the 20-teens.
These items would now have you put on a list for potential terrorist activity.

Who is wearing an Afghan coat now? who is proudly displaying a persian rug?

The main question to ask here is: how is this linked to the profits of the shareholders in the companies and corporations that profit from the wars on the Middle East?

To what extent is fashion as depicted in mainstream media tied to and dictated by the "market" which is led by Wall Street?
And here in Australia by the Australian Stock Exchange.

So, in conclusion we can say once they were so cool. Whatever happened to the Retro revival of Afghan coats? It got lost in the PR for the wars on the Middle East.

"The musicalization of fiction." - Aldous Huxley

"after, beautiful one- those gruesomely bloodless crocodile's gums and palate. The musicalization of fiction. Not in the symbolist way, by subordinating sense to sound...but on a larger scale, in the construction."
Aldous Huxley,1928, Point Counter Point, US: Dalkey Archive Press, 2001

I am very drawn to the address of the interlocutor of 1920s English fiction. Gide in the 1890s was a master at this (Fruits of the Earth).

The intimacy and distance, yet unlike now on facebook and other surveilled sites, this was in the imagination of the author.

Were authors then anticipating and prefiguring this connection that is now? The connection with "friends" on facebook that one has never met and never will? Let alone the ever-present eyes of the 'surveillance machinery" the 'secret police' that accompany us everywhere we go online?

Was this what they anticipated?

I think not.

The words are addressed to the writer's inner self, to a muse, a projected addressee who is of the author's own self.

And yet it is this which I can relate to. Not the intimidating public realm of contemporary surveillance society.


PostMistress Press

PostMistress Press: creative inspiration for author-publishers in literary arts publishing

Dear readers,

Since last I wrote much has happened which has consumed my attention, and taken me away from this blog, whilst I have started-up an online literary arts publishing house, which is now officially named PostMistress Press. FuguEditions, which I have already written about on this blog is an imprint of the press, which is based in the nineteenth century weatherboard cottage where I live, which happens to have been the first Post Office in Adamstown, an inner city suburb of Newcastle, Australia. 
When first I saw the house years ago, in 1995, I was drawn to it, even though it looked rundown and dilapidated. There were no trees in its overgrown garden, and the house was in need of repairs. The real estate agents tried to dissuade me, with their 'worst house in the best street' comments. But I was drawn to the tumbledown cottage. I had no idea then of its past, its history as the post and telegraphy office, in the historic regional area in which I live. I was to find out about this, over the coming years, when I was living in the small cottage with my young family. My ex-husband found the stories in the local heritage column in the Newcastle Herald, and we recognized photographs of our house. 
Now more years later, I have started up a publishing house, in a house which from the late 19th century, was for decades the local hub of communications, of postal mail, the forerunner of online posting, and telegraphy, which is the predecessor to tweeting. 
It seems to be serendipitous that I should have started to design courses and lecture in Arts Media, and Communications, when I was living in this cottage years ago.  I began teaching and designing my own courses as Adult Education community classes at the Workers Educational Alliance (WEA). I wrote and ran adult education community courses in Freelance Journalism (which was my profession in Dublin, Ireland, and in London) and I designed and named and for two years taught the course: Find Your Voice- Creative Writing Workshop (which was my passion, creative writing). From that basis, I was asked if I would lecture in Business Communications courses at the WEA, and from that experience it was not long before I got a casual lecturing position, teaching Business Communications and Fine Arts Communications in several Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges in the Hunter region. I moved from the Old Post and Telegraphy Office, when I went to Sydney (my two young children with me) to pursue my career as an Art writer and at the same time, I took my PhD.
I founded and ran Arts Features International, an art writing business, which I started up in 2003, from my home. 
After publishing many essays and long features on prominent international and Australian contemporary artists, it was circumstance (not choice as such) that was to bring me back to Newcastle and the Old Post Office, almost four years ago. I told some of the story of why these events occurred and what happened when I returned, on this blog, which I began when I found myself alone here, with no company other than the small black kitten that I found almost starved to death and dehydrated in the overgrown garden when I was compelled to move back to the cottage. Shadow is now asleep, on my laptop case as I write, he is a companionable and well cared for adult cat, four years old.    
And I have just started up Postmistress Press, the first author-publishing house in Australia that will publish e-Books and printed books, literary fiction and other writings.

PostMistress Press:
This is the first author-publishing house in Australia to publish e-Book and printed books, of literary fiction and cultural theory books.
It is an author-publisher house and will start-up by publishing books by Ruth Skilbeck, her literary novels. Australian Fugue series, and a book from her research, The Writer’s Fugue. She will also publish collections of her essays published in international academic peer-reviewed books and journals. She will publish a book of her photographic works, and long essay of critical theory on single lens digital reflex photography and discussing her projects as a photographic artist. (Some of these works have appeared on this blog).
The Antipode Room is the first novel in the Australian Fugue series, of five novels. It is now published  a print book and in Kindle edition. 
Ruth is also an experienced editor and book designer.
After she has published her own books, and if this proves sustainable, Ruth plans to publish literary fiction and other works by Australian and international authors. 

About the Author:
Ruth Skilbeck has worked as an academic, arts writer and broadcaster, and run an international media arts writing business Arts Features International that she founded in Sydney. London-born, she has lived and worked in Dublin, London, and Sydney. She has recently started up an author-publisher publishing house, at The Old Post Office, a 19th century weatherboard cottage in Newcastle, NSW. She has published extensively as an arts writer, and her research writing also appears in leading scholarly journals such as Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, and book collections by Routledge and Taylor and Francis, and Demeter Press. Her research is in the field of Arts journalism reflective practice, art writing in global contexts of social, economic and technological change, mother art movements (MAM), and cultural history. She writes and publishes fiction, poetry, photography and essays. The Antipode Room is her first novel, and the first in her Australian Fugue series, with the second novel in the series to be published soon.  R has a first honours degree in Philosophy from Bikbeck, London, and a PhD, as well as professional qualifications in university teaching; and small business management. She has two children and lives in Newcastle, Australia.

Note: This was first written in 2013 and has been updated to reflect new publications.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Blanchot and the Salvation of Nothingness

Maurice Blanchot:

"The writer plunged into dread is himself painfully aware that art is not a ruinous operation; he is trying to lose himself (and to lose himself as a writer), and yet sees that by writing he increases the credit to humanity, and thus his own, since he is still a man; he gives art new hopes and riches that return to weigh him down; he transforms into forces of consolation the hopeless orders he receives; he saves with nothingness."

From The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Literary Essays

Discussed in Skilbeck, R, The Writer's Fugue, Newcastle: Postmistress Press 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Einstein and the Gift of Fantasy

Albert Einstein:
"When I examine myself and my methods of thought I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me that my talent for absorbing positive knowledge."

Monday, 6 April 2015

Soul Sisters in Art: Leonora Carrington

Story by Ruth Skilbeck

“I painted for myself… I never believed anyone would buy or exhibit my work” Leonora Carrington *

Surrealist artist and novelist Leonora Carrington born today, 6 April 1917, passed away aged 94 in 2011. Her father was British, wealthy new money industrialist, her mother was Irish. She was branded as a rebel at an early age expelled from Catholic schools, and just out of her teens eloped with the leading Surrealist Max Ernst, a move that permanently severed contact with her family, and began her independent life as an artist.
In Paris she was part of the Surrealist group. When war broke out after Ernst (who was German) was interned by the Nazis for his art, she fled to Spain where she had a breakdown and was “treated” by convulsive drugs including Cordiazol an anxiogenic (causes anxiety and seizures) now banned by the US Food and Drug Administration and Luminal a barbiturate to counter effects of former (predecessors to electro-convulsive shock treatment, adding further trauma to the anxious and ill) which had a very damaging effect on her, which she wrote about in her novella now out of print Down Below.
Her parents sent her Irish nanny on a submarine to take her to another psychiatric hospital in South Africa, as she was waiting in Lisbon for the boat with her nanny, she excused herself to go to the lavatory in a cafe and escaped out of another door in the cafe, she caught a taxi to the Mexican Embassy where she knew a diplomat whom she met in Paris with the surrealists, after a few drinks and telling him her story he suggested a solution, that she marry him and move to Mexico.
She married the Mexican diplomat, and escaped by boat to New York with him, as Ernst who had been freed from internment also escaped by marrying Peggy Guggenheim, but Leonora left her marriage after a few months; not long afterwards she married a Hungarian exile artist Imre Weisz, and lived in Mexico City for the rest of her life, working as an artist and bringing up their two sons in her house surrounded by animals, and with the tree she planted in her garden. She was cut off from all her family, her inheritance had been disallowed, but she followed her beliefs and inner drive to be an artist, and produced some of surrealism’s most interesting and valuable dreamscapes of the inner world. She supported left wing causes and was a co-founder of the Women's Liberation Movement in Mexico in the 70s.
It is only in the last five years, after her death in 2011 that she has become widely known in Britain and Ireland, through major retrospectives of her work since her death, in Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art “Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist” 2013, and currently at the Tate in England. She was regarded as a leading artist in Mexico for decades, but ironically, and as is the case with so many significant women, in the twentieth century, she remained relatively little known outside Mexico during her lifetime.
 This is now changing, with the commemoration of her birthday around the world on the search engine google today indicating this belated recognition.
An essay by Joanna Moorehead her cousin, who spent five years tracing the journeys of her long lost cousin who at an early age rebelled against her aristocratic family and eloped with Max Ernst, was recently published in the Independent newspaper.

Leonora Carrington is on at the TATE in Liverpool now (6 March- 31 May 2015).

View her works here, on Artsy:

Ruth Skilbeck is the author of a novel Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room, Newcastle: PostMistress Press, 2015. 
The print book and kindle ebook are both available globally:
Australian Fugue: The Antipode Room

* Chadwick, Whitney, 1986, “Leonora Carrington: Evolution of a Feminist Consciousness”, Women’s Art Journal, Spring-Summer, 37-42

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Newcastle Mayor and Three Liberal MPs Stood Down- ICAC Inquiries 2014

Update on: Newcastle Mayor Liberal Jeff McCloy and Ten NSW Liberal MPs Stood Down Due to Corruption - ICAC Inquiries 2014

Newcastle swung back to Labor with increased Greens votes (Labor preferences) in the NSW State elections last weekend after eight months of political turmoil, and by-elections following the resignations in 2014 of three Liberal MPS and the Newcastle Mayor on charges of corruption over political donations and slush funds, in Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiries in the Hunter and Newcastle areas. Overall ten Liberal MPS have resigned over the course of the inquiry into political donations and links to mining and property development. In contrast, during the same term of the NSW Liberal government there were cuts of $1.7 billion to education introduced by the Government, resulting in the axing of fine art courses in the Hunter TAFE.

August 2014: Then Newcastle Mayor and property developer Jeff McCloy stood down following an inquiry into corruption by the ICAC for his history of political donations- it is illegal for property developers to make political donations in NSW. This was the charge that all ten MPs faced and were found guilty of and stood down over.
August 2014: Three Liberal MPs for the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area, Tim Owen (Newcastle), Andrew Cornwell (Charlestown) and Garry Edwards (Swansea) stood down on the same charges of corruption accepting illegal political donations from Jeff McCloy, who argued that he was not a corrupt property developer in this capacity when he donated as he said not all his companies are in property development, which was rejected in his defence by the ICAC.

"Mr McCloy said he'd given Mr Edwards [Swansea Liberal MP] about $1,500 in cash during the last state election campaign. That's on top of the bundles of $10,000 he'd given to two other candidates: the former member for Newcastle, Tim Owen, and the former member for Charlestown, Andrew Cornwell." (ABC news transcript 8.14.2014).

This is now well documented in the media, but for several years corruption over development coal loader plans for the former steelworks in Newcastle was implicated in the 'dirty tricks' against former Labor Newcastle MP Jodi McKay who lost her Labor seat after an insider Labor driven campaign against her (Labor's) plans for a container terminal project at the former BHP steelworks site at Mayfield - which a widely distributed leaflet falsely claimed would see "1000 trucks a day in the suburban streets'.
 An ICAC inquiry in September 2014 found that former Labor powerbroker Joe Tripodi was the anonymous face behind the leafletting and that he had designed and organised its distribution to households across Newcastle. The ICAC inquiry found that Tripodi was interested in employment by Buildev owned by Nathan Trinkler mining magnate which planned to use the Mayfield site for a fourth coal terminal, in conflict with Jodi McKay's Labor plans. The health implications of a fourth coal terminal in Newcastle are dire, and have been researched as such.
This was evidence of dirty tricks in the NSW Labor party, which lost the 2011 election, and which showed that Labor were not immune to the corruption of property development and mining interests.
The Australian Greens party remains the only party in Newcastle that avoids corrupt dealings over the future of the city and its development in transition from a former major steel city.
Newcastle, New South Wales, needs the Greens Party to counter the corrupting influences, and hold the major parties to account and can play a vital and socially necessary role, in enabling artists to have a place in society and supporting arts education in TAFE again.  The Greens are the only political party in Newcastle and the Hunter that has not been subject to an ICAC inquiry, and has not had party members involved in corrupt dealings. This and the political opposition to big mining and coal seam gas mining and opposition to ruthless roadway development plans in Sydney, has resulted in a big swing to the Greens in NSW gaining three so far counted, and perhaps four, seats in the Lower House.

Ruth Skilbeck