The river in winter

This book began as a larger collection of essays called Undefinable Places In-between. The word ‘essay’ here, has been used with some licence. Two of them are only one sentence long. The river referred to is the Snowy, in southern New South Wales, Australia.

The line on page 105, ‘city you can learn like a musical instrument,’ refers to the text in an installation by Robert Montgomery:


The River in Winter
Author, photographer, GS, 2019
12 essays, 150 x 105 mm, 160 pages

Echoes of Voices in the High Towers, Robert Montgomery at the former Tempelhof Airport, Stattbad, Wedding and 20 billboards across Berlin, July-October 2012, presented by Neue Berliner Räume.


A bucket made from an agricultural chemicals container. You could lug house bricks in it and the wire handle would stay fixed through the holes in the heavy duty plastic. The tube around the wire makes it comfortable to hold and more swingable as you walk. I love the look of it — and the idea of it. It would be understandable to think that at least some of the original container, the bit that was cut off, went to landfill. No. It’s a dogs’ bowl.

I never saw a tree

‘I never saw a tree’, says Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, ‘that was no tree in particular’. On a tree scale of particularity, eucalypts, in the way they visually chronicle the hard knocks of living in a harsh landscape — all gnarled trunks, shredded bark and broken branches — must be somewhere near the top of that list.

What appeared on screen, however, were not the intended tree photos but pictures of landscape as texture: a less compositional view of landscape, and for someone who thinks about the visual arrangement of objects often, a fresh view with somehow fewer encumbrances.

Suddenly it becomes a place (tree included) of infinite forms and presences and particularities, and it reads as a woven thing, or to skip anything that sounds like creationism, a thing as if woven.


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning narrative
about living alongside a creek in Virginia, USA
Harper Collins



Your private sky

I have been told by an adviser, someone with a real sense of humanity, who helps people get along in this world and is good at it, that my LinkedIn page is close to useless, a lost opportunity. I don’t remember the exact words but I agree completely with the substance of his assessment, except that it wasn’t harsh enough. My LinkedIn page is crap. Less than crap. When crap is added to the earth it makes things grow, it nourishes people and animals and makes them happy, it feeds flowers that look beautiful in gardens and vases, and supports a vast community of life forms that are inexplicably profoundly wonderful. My LinkedIn page nourishes no one, it grows and supports nothing, and it’s ugly.

The problem is, although I know I need LinkedIn, I just can’t like it. I find it hard to go there.

I have found lots to not like about it; about the scorecard nature of this form of media; about being assessed by strangers; about its overtly transactional nature; about the glib language it seems to facilitate; about conservative, mid-corporate, neo-liberal, relentlessly hi-fiving American business culture; about the ra-ra-ra tone of everything that offends my closet lefty sensibilities; about the dumbed-downness of it and the culture of corporate happiness; about being an easy mark and a unit for data harvesting; about posts that are reposts of other peoples’ posts; and for a ‘visual person’, about the sheer ugliness of those pages.

Of course this list is incomplete. I omit my own shortcomings, that are, as I understand it, pretty average. The fear of being assessed and not shaping up; an obsessive need for privacy; the imposter syndrome that puts the brakes on self promotion, that no amount of success will assuage.

But now I have committed myself to a deadline. To at least make it useful if people look me up; to do myself a favour and fix it. My adviser says, just start, just chip away at it. So I start chipping.

He says the blue panel behind the portrait can be changed to something more interesting, particularly if you’re a designer, so this is where I begin.

I begin at a sort of real world equivalent of an opening page — my own front gate. I take a photograph of this vast volume of air and vapour I see when I look up towards the ridge of a flat topped hill to the east. It’s one of the things I like about where I live; its vast sense of space and the historical and language attachments to landscape: the indigenous place names, the conical hill where the Clarke brothers (local bushrangers in the 1800s) kept lookout for the cops, the (possibly bullshit) story from one of the cattlemen about the wind on the ridge being so strong one day it lifted the dogs up into the air (great mental image of half a dozen barking, airborne kelpies) and rolled them down the hill.

And then I ask myself: do I want to put this picture into a LinkedIn page? I think: no. It’s more at home in this blog, where I can say things about it that have nothing to do with winning the next job but a lot to do with who I am. I’ll fix those pages because it’s a worthwhile thing to do. LinkedIn has its uses, but it won’t be a private sky.


I borrowed the title. It’s one I have always loved. Your Private Sky is a book about R Buckminster Fuller. Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein (eds). Lars Müller Publishers.
In the middle of the next photo is a distant cone-shaped hill which is said to be one of the Clarke brothers’ lookouts.


Maffra Road


Another country

Bombala. Bobundara. Billilingra. Cootralantra. Gunningra. Jincumbilly. Murrumbucca. Murranumbla. Merriangaah. Myalla. Nimmitabel. Wullwye. Yarrandoo. The place where I live, like the whole continent, is overlayed with place-names in the languages of black Australia, or corruptions of those names, but most times I hardly hear them.

One day I’m driving through this place and a program I like called Word Up comes on the radio. Someone is reciting a string of Indigenous language words, and at the same time I’m looking out through the car window at grass and sky, treeless conical hills and rocks, and the whole landscape suddenly looks utterly foreign. Like another country. The strange thing is that this feels right. As if it were waiting to be made inexplicable.

ABC Radio: Word Up shares the diverse languages of black Australia from Anmatyerre to Arrernte, from Bidjara to Bundjalung, from Nyungar to Ngaanyatjarra, from Yankunytjatjara to Yorta Yorta—one word at a time.
(I think the language from my part of the world is called Ngarigu.)

Down to the wire

Looking at these beautiful objects makes me want to immediately build a 15 metre long wall to hold a few of them.
Down to the wire —
new work by Alison Coates
Shapiro, Sydney

Colour revisited

I must like these a lot because I can’t stop looking at them; at the original objects, I mean, not these flat, point-and-click photos that don’t capture the surface qualities, the shine of the silk and the subtle colour shifts as the light changes, the way the colours on the inside (the bits most people won’t see) sit so quietly with the rich colours that face the world outside.

Two silk zip-up bags (about 200mm x 150mm) and a scarf; all by Samorn Sanixay. They had me thinking about colour (so much of what I do is monochrome) and making a nostalgic visit (via web and memory) back to my old Windsor & Newton paintbox: alizarin crimson, cadmium red, pale cadmium yellow, light naples yellow neutralised with a bit of raw umber. The real life dyes are natural and often come from unexpected sources and things we walk past every day: mud and rust, for example. The pink is from the leaves of a tree in Samorn’s front yard.


Shades of Tanizaki

In the rooms of this grand house in the Clare Valley — deeply shaded and closed against the hot, dry summer of a South Australian Christmas — I was reminded of Junichiro Tanizaki’s book on traditional Japanese architecture and aesthetics: In Praise of Shadows; how lacquerware glowed so beautifully in those twilight interiors. Somehow, what we can’t see but know, suspect, intuit or guess is there, has a profound power over the senses.


Just up


A new site by Melbourne digital designer Lee Wong (The Mighty Wonton) and myself for RealTime: Australia’s critical guide to national and international contemporary arts. As a place to visit it’s easy to move through and explore, with lots of functionality and a massive archive.

Contemporary Performance & Live Art
Media Arts
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
Visual Art
Sound Art
Contemporary Classical & Experimental Music
Art Politics

RealTime Audio
RealTime Video
RealTime Traveller
RealTime Dance
Media Art Archive
Deep Archive

Among the compliments, this one from the Australian Dance Theatre: ‘Love the new site — very cool in a kind of organised distortion.’