Monday, 29 April 2013

Back To Bush

I decided to say Yes to everything and still get it all done.That's been my motto for the last few weeks, and it's been non-stop...and I think it'll be alright in the end. It's got to be! The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of bouncing from one thing to another, barely having time to sit and think before there was something else I had to do, somewhere else I'd arranged to go, or someone else I'd arranged to meet. In fact, the people have become more important - I can still continue to make pots at home, but some people and friends I may not see for a very long time, or even ever see again. You've got to, haven't you? When will I get this chance again?  I'm now quite nostalgic, and at times emotional, and sometimes can't sleep for the replay of the last 12 weeks which keeps rewinding through my mind.

Tomorrow is the last bush walk I'll have on this trip. I feel upset just thinking about it. I can't describe how significant these walks have been and how supportive, friendly and welcoming my friendly bunch of fellow bush walkers have been. Every week they said I was a typical Pom - no hat! ( I've been on walks most weeks with the 'Tuesday Group' .When I arrived at Sturt, I realised that the quality of my experience here would be as much about my experiences outside of the workshop as those within. Otherwise what's the point of coming all this way? It's been truly inspirational!

 Cedar Vale private retreat in a rainforest on the way to Kangaroo Valley

Grapefruit trees!

If I'm honest, I found the bush very claustrophobic to start with. It's there, everywhere you look,  few roads, space everywhere, but no space at the same time, except for bush.  That's all changed - now I love it, and just feel drawn towards the amazing structures, textures, bark, and power of the bush. It's even beautiful on a rainy day in the Kangaroo Valley.

 Scribble gum bark

I could fill this post with even more photos of bush, but maybe save that for another time. A little variety is perhaps what you want to see. I had a real treat a couple of weeks ago when a student's husband took me up in his 2-seater light aircraft. I did say I was going to say Yes. Amazing! A couple of things - I did wonder where my parachute was, didn't dare wriggle in my seat, wondered why a red light kept going on and off, and hoped we wouldn't go over the sea. It was fantastic, and with a pilot with 20 years flying experience,  I knew I was in safe hands. We flew low over Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale, Robertson (where they filmed 'Babe'), the breathtaking gorge and over to Wollongong by the coast. It took about 3/4 hour.


 Kangaroo Valley

Back in the workshop, it's been like getting ready for a show - an imminent deadline looming and in full flow. I started this residency with a plan, whilst trying to stay open-minded at the same time. The aim was to see what effect the local environment/landscape would have on my pots whilst living and working here. I couldn't have anticipated how influential the bush has been. I kept working right to the last minute as far as drying time would allow. Last pots out of kiln this weekend. That's it - no more. These are some of the latest. I'm thrilled with them - what I think are the best pots I've ever made.

I went to Jervis Bay down the south coast last weekend. I saw some kangaroos (hoorah!) in a garden on a recent visit to Sanctuary Point community hall where a local ceramics group had their weekly class. 


Talking of animals , good old Geoff saved me a funnel web spider he'd found in his tool box in the garage. In this jam jar, it looks similar to those I find in my bath at home. Out of the jam jar, it's a killer, one of the deadliest. (The Huntsman still gives me the creeps, even though it's supposed to be harmless).
Only 4 more days at Sturt. 7 more days in Australia. Gulp!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Wakey! Wakey!

I had the strangest wake-up call this Thursday morning. 'Abide With Me' at 6.30am, full blast on a loud speaker from somewhere close, I assumed the school across the road. It was a very long version with ethereal female voices. Since I was fast asleep at the time, I thought I must have died and slipped to heaven. It was like being in some kind of bizarre David Lynch film. I don't quite understand it as the place was deserted - there was only me on the Sturt campus, and the school is still on Easter holidays.....

Today is Anzac Day. I think that may have had something to do with it. Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance across Australia and New Zealand to commemorate all who've served and died in war. It's a popular day for commemoration and involves a bank holiday for all - even the craft centre was closed. (I don't mean to be sound irreverent, but I really didn't know what was going on this morning).

But that's not the only wake-up call I've had recently. I've been bouncing from one thing to another these last 2 weeks as momentum gathers pace nearing the last few days of my residency. I've felt a sense of panic as the end draws closer - lots to do, wanting to keep making the most of it, savouring moments, farewells, visits, get-togethers - all collide at a time when I'm really getting somewhere. It's all been good fun I hasten to add, but at times has been a struggle to stay focussed and calm. I'll try and recap what I've been up to.

The wood firing went well. A mixed bag of results as is usually the case, but on the whole I think everyone was pleased.

Later that week, I had a trip with Ann and Irene (students at Sturt) to Goulbourn to see the exhibition of TAFE staff's work at the local regional gallery, and also called in at a lovely gallery, Gallery On Track (, which has recently set up in an empty railway station. There are so many enthusiastic makers in the area, these little galleries are great outlets to support the local creative community. 

 The Courthouse, Goulbourn

 At the Lookout, Goulbourn Memorial

Gallery On Track, Goulbourn

The great thing about Sturt is you meet so many people who are keen to learn and are interested in what you do. Movement between students and potters is very fluid and lively at times, so it seemed very strange when the end of the 10 week block suddenly arrived. The end of my residency loomed ever nearer on the horizon as, sadly, I knew I wouldn't see some of them again.

Autumn is here. It was only 6 degrees one day last week! Five blankets on the bed already! The bottlebrush just outside the workshop have been stunning.

More to follow soon. I have 7 days left at Sturt. If there is anything in particular you want to know, or see a photo of, drop me a message and let me know. Bye for now.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Thanks To Winifred West

A bit of background information for you. This weekend marked  the 100th anniversary since the visionary Winifred West set up Frensham school for girls in Mittagong ( She was headmistress there till 1941. Winie was aware of the significance of relationships between individuals and community, and the development of meaningful connections between the two. This philosophy, together with an appreciation of the value of arts and crafts for the holistic development and education of the girls, led to the start of Sturt Craft Centre (as it is now) where young people could develop specialised skills. She aimed to provide children and the community with additional resource and education in the areas of crafts, drama and music. In a nutshell, that vision led to the formation of workshops for wood, weaving, jewellery and ceramics as we know now. There's a real sense of history and creative significance here, far-reaching beyond the boundaries of New South Wales. I hope that original philosophy, in addition to individual academic achievement, continues to flourish.

This weekend also coincided with the opening of Adam Rish's exhibition  'Misanthropolgy' in the Sturt Gallery (www.adamrishcom). The unique Mr Rish and I will both be doing a talk at Sturt on April 23 at 5.30pm. I'm quite looking forward to it. As part of the residency, resident artists are required to this presentation to Friends of Sturt and supporters.

 I should mention there are also other artists on the Sturt site - they include Kay Faulkner, who is the resident weaver here (, and David Upfill-Brown, the resident woody,  as we say ( Kay and David are both here for a 1 year term, and oversee their workshop as well as teaching here,  and continuing their own practice. I'm certainly in good company. Wouldn't that be great to be here for a year! I feel like I'm just getting to everyone, and now with only 4 weeks to go, it feels like I'm on a countdown. But let's not talk about that right now...I'd also like to mention the lovely Julie Pennington who is also a resident potter here for 8 weeks (

Have to admit it's been quite hectic in the workshop this week as excitement grows as the anagama kiln is lit on Monday morning. It reached temperature Thursday morning. We all took a stint at stoking the kiln, with Simon and Alex at the helm. If I'm honest, my loyalties were split between the wood-firing and studio work, as I was just getting into the groove with  my new work, so felt a little disjointed. But it's always great to join in. The students loved it - their first taste of pyromania.

Wood preparation

Packing the kiln


I'll have some results for the next blog post. In the meantime, these pots came out of the electric kiln. As usual, I wasn't sure how I felt about them at first, but now I'm really pleased and excited by the results. I'll get some decent photos done of these. I like the way they hang together as a group, and lean slightly. I've been force drying the surface of the clay to create exaggerated cracks on the surface which the slips and glaze can then skim across. I've started making some larger versions (these are about 30cm high) and see where it leads.

Bush walk this week was in the Kangaroo Valley. This walk was on swampland and so the bush here is shorter and more open. Fantastic views of escarpments. Most of the path is on firetracks but we did do a spot of bushwacking on this prickly route. Never seen so many red bull ants.

Fitzroy Falls

Termite hill

On a recent walk on The Gib, I came across this fire precaution unit. You often see these trailers left on road sides for use in the event of bush fire. 

In fact, 2 weeks before I arrived, residents of Mittagong and Bowral were given catastrophic fire warning phone calls. This meant bush fire was a real threat and all residents were warned to leave their properties. It's a bit scary to think that fires can rage like trains through areas at 100km/hour and sparks can fly over 10km to set areas alight. The 2009 Victorian bushfires were the worst bushfires in Australia's history, and are often the topic of conversation when these threats are raised. I confess to having a couple of restless nights when I'd just arrived here. I'd heard frequent comments about Mittagong's catastrophic warning. I had no phone at the time and had visions of waking up one morning and wondering where everyone had gone to! Would anyone know I was still here? Hallo! Anyone at home? Conversations such as what would you take with you, were common - Alf said they'd leave wearing their best clothes; Geoff on the other hand said he'd be wearing only his scruffy clothes as he figured there'd be plenty of work to do if your house had burnt down. Graham said they'd just take relevant documents at hand. Not sure what I'd do. Can't imagine.

The spider's still here!