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Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
– The Beatles, 1967

“I KNEW IT!” Miss K shrieked. I held the phone away from my ear. “THE FREAKIN’ VALLEY!”

That’s the response I got when I told her we were driving to Tuggeranong.

By a superb alignment of the planets, Miss J (now a resident of Toowoomba) and Miss K (mostly based in Darwin) were both in Canberra last weekend. It’s the first time we’ve all been together since Tamworse, where we bonded over work, dinners and knitting classes some 4 or more years ago. We were looking forward to a reunion. Miss J had her small toddler in tow, so enquired as to whether we’d be happy to head out to where she was staying. Sure. Where?

‘Where’ turned out to be Tuggeranong. Known to Berran locals as ‘Tuggers’, it’s the outermost suburb in the city’s southern growth corridor. Tuggeranong is the notional and emotional equivalent of Dandenong, I thought as I drove the 20 minutes down the Tuggeranong Parkway. Tuggernong – Dandenong: they even sound the same. (The Parkway is actually an oddly-named highway; in fact, ‘Parkway’ would be a better descriptor for the South Eastern Freeway, an arterial which if ever you used it to get to Dandenong at peak hour you’d appreciate is grievously misnamed. But I digress.) I could understand Miss K’s distress – a Berran by birth, she has an instinctive horror of what used to be known as Nappy Valley back in the 80s. But the howling – you’d think Miss J had asked her to travel across the universe, not across town.

I had actually been to Tuggeranong once before, to have the Good Guys extort me for a fridge, but as it was dark I didn’t notice much about the area. I certainly had no idea the place had a lake. But it turned out to be quite picturesque. Miss J was staying right opposite Lake Tuggernong, so we went for a walk in the bright spring afternoon onto the lush green lawn areas at the water’s edge. And there we noticed a revolting outer suburban failing: no-one picks up their dogshit. No-one. The grass was rigid with it. Every step was a hazard. If I had not seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it; be thankful I decided not to post a photo here. No wonder, despite it being a lovely place on a gorgeous day, there were no families picnicing on the foreshore and letting their rugrats loose. Filthy.

The National Museum foyer, looking out onto Lake Curly-Gherkin

The National Museum foyer, looking out onto Lake Curly-Gherkin

You’ll be pleased to know that I got back on the bike and rode the 14km to the National Museum and home on Sunday. The Berra has some marvellous bike paths which are independent of the road system and therefore take you through areas you’d never see by car. The target was Utopia: the genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye. The exhibition is remarkable for being a major retrospective of one of Australia’s great artists that may never have been staged – but for Japan. A Japanese art professor, viewing Emily’s work at a Brisbane exhibition, was captivated; cutting a very long story short, after years of wrangling Utopia was featured at Japan’s two premier art spaces in Tokyo and Osaka to rave reviews and mass audiences. They literally went wild for her work. And on viewing this exhibition it’s easy to see why. Emily’s works, impressive in concept and scale, have enormous power. Not all the works featured in Japan were on show here; the Museum space simply wasn’t big enough.

I was very interested in the discussion about how Emily viewed her paintings, and how Japanese and Australian and international art audiences do. I’m sure I don’t understand it fully. For example: if Emily was painting her Dreaming, is what she painted figurative or literal? Is it an illustration, or a narrative? If Emily lived in the desert and remained largely unaware of western or eastern art traditions and history, is it valid to compare her work to other masters, or indeed to give it labels such as abstract or impressionist? One interesting footnote I heard from more than one noted art critic was the belief that at least one of the featured paintings was a fake. But that also begs the question, what is fake? If Emily started the painting, outlined the idea to a relative to do the bulk of the work and then finished it off, is this work now a ‘fake Emily’? Did the use of apprentices render Michelagelo’s frescos ‘fakes’? As I pondered these questions, I considered which work had upset the critics. I think I guessed the one.

This exhibition won’t be travelling, so I humbly recommend you see Emily’s work wherever you can; in particular, next time you’re in Melbourne take the time to visit the National Gallery of Victoria to see Big Yam Dreaming, a painting of overwhelming depth as well as size. And keep an eye out for the Ronin Films doco, working title Emily In Japan, due to air on the ABC later this year. Bald Man and I saw some preview footage at one of the free lectures reflecting on the journey of Emily’s work, and it looks like a good yarn.

The National Museum itself is a very impressive building, designed by Howard Raggart, the bloke who ripped down the old Building 12* at RMIT to make way for the strange green redevelopment of Storey Hall. I like the Museum better; it has a cathedral-like foyer with great pod-shaped glass windows letting in abundant natural light, as well as an enormous loop sculpture several storeys high (part of the Uluru Line), and even giant braille saying all sorts of Australian words and phrases such as “mate” and “she’ll be right”, (plus some unAustralian ones like “Sorry” and “forgive us our genocide”, which have been obscured) on the walls. There’s a lot of very good bike racks outside the main entrances. Even more impressive were the friendly museum staff, who joked with us visitors as well as amongst themselves – hats off to you.

Just goes to show the Berra isn’t all (dog) shit.

* home of excellent student media organisations then known as SRA and RMITV.

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Fat bottomed girls, they’ll be riding today

– Queen, 1978

I did not go to hospital.

Let’s be clear about that at the outset. It’s important that you don’t suffer undue stress when you read the Berra Circular. And now, here’s what did happen.

The other week, I finally expanded my modes of transport. I bought a new bike.

This was no simple matter, you understand. I had every intention of refurbishing the midget Giant, which I’ve  dragged through countless residences in three states and which has served me well. You may remember those halcyon days back when we lived a hand-to-mouth existence and the old girl was my principle mode of transport – never mind a car, I got it before I even earned a car license. She’s been in mothballs these past few years, getting very little workout in the New England and not at all on the punishing hills of Slobart. So It was with great sadness I received the news that her repairs would cost me halfway towards a new model.

the new two-wheeled beast

the new two-wheeled beast

The Jimmeny Cricket-like conspiracy theorist who sits on my left shoulder whispered in my ear that it was all a marketing ploy cooked up between the bicycle saleswoman and the Bald Man to coerce me into an upgrade (yes, he arrived in the Berra a fortnight ago, and has commenced employ deep in the bowels of Hollowmen country). However, on reflection I had to admit that a bike acquired 14 years ago that was ridden very hard for the first few years of her life might be just a little tired. So I donated her to the ANU bike club’s spare parts division, and moved on. Meet the new vehicle:

So far she’s been on a couple of trips to the Saturday Farmers’ Market. I’m easing into things, okay?

This weekend just past was glorious, with spring exploding across the Berra in a burst of sunshine and warmth. I burst into spring with a crippling dose of hayfever. How nice it is to be inland again.

Now, what does someone sensible do on a glorious, hayfevery weekend? I’ve no idea. I went to work – at an outdoor broadcast at the opening of Floriade, one of the nation’s biggest flower festivals. Not only was I at the salt mines on my own time, I sneezed and wept my way through it all.

After a few hours of this, I might well have retired to spend the afternoon in a darkened house armed with the weekend newspapers and a box of tissues. But noooo, the Bald Man is here and he pointed out it was perfect weather for a bike ride. It was too. So we had a nice little pedal to Civic and then the Gorman House markets for lunch and a wander. Lovely.

It all came unstuck, or at least I did, on the way home. I pressed the bike a bit too hard, changing down gears while turning a corner and pedalling hard uphill, and the chain came off; suddenly I found myself furiously pedalling air. Now, if I had simply put my feet on the ground at this point, all would have been fine. But I couldn’t. Because they were laced into cleated shoes which were clipped to the pedals. I tried repeatedly, vainly, to unclip my right foot even as my sorry carcass tipped inexorably to the asphalt.

It was the shouts of pain and rage that drew the Bald Man back to the tangle of limbs and metal smeared on the road. I was absolutely furious – I can’t remember the last time I’ve fallen from a bike. As I roundly abused the Bald Man for insisting I buy the cleats, he noticed the blood seeping through my pants. I gingerly rolled up the leg and we were greeted by the sight of mangled meat. I had gouged my right thigh quite thoroughly, and could barely walk. I could, however, ride – and so I did. Cursing and weeping, all the way home.

a full-colour galaxy of a bruise

Several days after the fall: a full-colour galaxy of a bruise

My leg is swollen and turning a marvellous shade of purple around the gouge, which still bleeds intermittedly. I have to take care it doesn’t turn septic. But apart from a few other bruises, a scraped knee and terriby wounded pride, I think I’m okay. At least I didn’t end up in hospital.

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