Dark Mofo 2017

We all know about The Guggenheim Effect, and how an outstanding piece of architecture, housing an amazing array of art, managed to transform a once struggling industrial town in the Basque Country into an international tourist destination. Here in Australia we have the MONA Effect. The vision of David Walsh and his team of curators has managed to put Hobart front and centre on the cultural tourist map of every Mainlander. 

To spread the joy across the Year, we also have MONA FOMA (Museum of Old and New Art:Festival of Music and Art), held in summer – which has become more fondly known as MOFO – and Dark Mofo, which is the reason I find myself in Hobart this June.

Dark Mofo is Hobart and MONA’s celebration of the winter solstice and all things dark, and light. This is its fifth year, and its growing popularity is evident in the packed flight heading out of Melbourne, as why else would you be going to chilly Hobart in the middle of Winter?!

We are eight, eager to experience as much as we can over our 3 days. Our Airbnb house is perfectly located within easy walking distance to all the action. The only drawback being the fact that it sits right on Davey Street, the main drag in town – and even though this is a small city it would seem that the total population of Hobart likes to spend their time driving up Davey Street. The constant sound of traffic roaring past is not exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep.  But, this is only a small dampener on our enjoyment of the festivities.


We ease into our stay with a delicious dinner at Peacock & Jones, admiring the Dark Mofo red light theme as we walk along the harbourside.


Friday morning we wander down to Salamanca Place in search of breakfast, and settle on Tricycle Cafe in the Salamanca Arts Centre, blending in with the locals who favour this quaint little spot. Browsing in the shops and galleries that line the precinct finishes off the morning.

Come afternoon we toy with the idea of walking up Mt Wellington, but quickly banish the thought when we actually look at the mountain, and hop into the car instead. And wouldn’t you know it, the cloud descends just as we reach the top. We linger in the chill long enough for a brief parting, enough to get an idea of how magnificent the view could be.


We have a date that night with Paul Kelly and the very sexy Camille O’Sullivan in their show Ancient Rain, but first we must eat, so walk down to Princes Wharf, which has been transformed into the Winter Feast site. Shooting flames and a light forest beckon you into a wharf shed packed with food and drink stalls, and lots of very jolly people enjoying a veritable cornucopia of choice.



In fact, the people you encounter are one of the joys of Dark Mofo. Tasmanians are an extremely friendly bunch anyway.  Add into the mix visitors all there for the same reason, determined to enjoy themselves, and you have the right ingredients for goodwill to all. Strangers happily sit cheek by jowl, striking up conversations about all manner of things (next day we meet one young Sydneysider who had us in hysterics with her dating stories). It is at the Winter Feast that we meet a couple (who we find out met 7 years ago at the Melbourne Cup) who tell us about a fab little cafe, Small Fry,  that we visit later in our stay. The mood at Winter Feast is upbeat despite, and perhaps because of, the crowds. And the food on offer is terrific. 

The Federation Concert Hall is heaving with people. Ancient Rain does not appeal to all. Given it is based on Irish poems and letters, it is hardly surprising that the overall mood is fairly dour (let’s face it, they are not the cheeriest bunch), but Camille O’Sullivan sings like an angel and she draws me into her world – I emerge blinking in the light, slightly in love.

We devote Saturday to MONA, and the opening of its latest exhibition by the Museum of Everything but first a visit to the Salamanca Market, held every Saturday morning. We have great fun browsing the stalls, chatting to stall holders and shoppers alike. 


Catching the ferry to MONA is a great way to start an amazing visit – excitement and anticipation builds as you travel up the beautiful Derwent River.


To quote the MONA brochure: From June 2017, MONA will be crammed to the hilt with an astonishing assortment of artworks from The Museum of Everything: the world’s first and only wandering institution for the untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. It certainly was crammed – we spent about 2 hours just in the Museum of Everything, some of it wonderful, some of it not. But, it was fascinating, and I am intrigued as to how and where they discovered this stuff.



We were on the 11am ferry there and the 5pm ferry back – it is so easy to spend a whole day at MONA, particularly on opening day when there is a passing parade of entertainment thrown into the mix. We need a hot whisky punch to revive us before climbing aboard the Mona Roamer ferry back to Constitution Dock.



Straight off the ferry and into the Winter Feast shed, along with everyone else. Food, drink and a singalong round the fire. 


We could have lingered longer, but Dark Park beckons, so off we trot to admire the laser light show, and enjoy a whisky tasting in the shed.


Sunday morning we head off to the Farm Gate Market in Bathurst Street, via an excellent take away coffee at Small Fry – where we drooled over the menu, and admired the focus and care of the chef in the tiny kitchen.

The market was full of very yummy things – so, we bought most of our evening meal requirements: veggies, fruit pies, cheeses, cream.


Then, down to Consitution Dock to buy the fish:


And, a quick admire of the sculptures at the Dock:


before dumping our bounty to undertake a brisk walk, under grey skies, through Battery Point to the Wrest Point Casino and back. At the Casino we are delighted to see a seal doing a solo swim, just for us.


A quick change and off to the Theatre Royal to see Sleeping Beauty, a collaboration between Victoria Opera and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. I am definitely not an opera fan, but this production is lots of fun – telling the story of Sleeping Beauty via puppets, and singing of course. 


Home then, red wine and our wonderful home cooked meal of local Tassie produce. A very fitting way to end our Dark Mofo experience, as we fly home tomorrow (an experience marred by the Jetstar flight being delayed by 2 hours).

Thank you Hobart, Dark Mofo and MONA for a terrific long weekend. A bientôt.

Canberra Revisited

Late last year one of our Library Club gals had the bright idea of a group excursion to Canberra to see the Versailles exhibition. I joined in the affirmative chorus, whilst inwardly quaking. Canberra is the home of my youth – a place I fled from the minute I finished my Arts degree at the wonderful ANU. Canberra represented to me a boring, monochromatic township, full of public servants and absolutely nothing resembling a beating heart. But, in the interests of group solidarity I girded my loins and found myself boarding an early morning flight to our nation’s capital last Friday.

We had decided to stay at the renovated, and heritage listed, Hotel Kurrajong – walking distance to the lake, the Gallery and Parliament House (old & new). Given its proximity to Old Parliament House, it was not surprising to hear that in its heyday the hotel had a strong political association. Most notable being that it was the residence of Ben Chifley – in fact, he suffered his fatal heart attack in Room 205. The only thing that died during our visit was the wedding band on Saturday night, who for some reason thought that “I will Survive” was a suitable song with which to end the night! 




All eight finally assembled, our first act for the day was coffee and brunch. Local knowledge was thoroughly tapped as part of the pre trip research, so it was with confidence that we set off to the Kingston Foreshore development. This was my first hint that my Canberra of old might have changed, as here was something more akin to Melbourne’s Docklands – fancy apartments overlooking the lake; boat moorings; and a whole array of cafes and restaurants facing the water. Oh la la, very fancy, Canberra.


Our inside knowledge directed us to Local Press, a funky, waterside cafe serving good coffee and very yummy food. We settled into an outside table and enjoyed what remained of the morning. 


Refreshed and refuelled, we ambled beside the lake to the Australian National Gallery, admiring the views and trees along the way. There is certainly an abundance of greenery in Canberra, even if the roads are relatively deserted.



Whilst the Versailles exhibition was the trigger for our visit, it proved to be but a small part of our overall Canberra experience. All credit to the Gallery in trying to create some of the mood and feel of the palace, with the highlight being the recreation of the famous Latona fountain, complete with water sounds and cascading water imagery. So peaceful that one of our party actually fell asleep momentarily in the room. But, overall I am not a huge fan of Baroque art  – too fussy for me. In fact, the most fascinating aspect of the exhibition was the story of the engineering feats involved in getting water to the grounds to make all the fountains work. 


Emerging from the exhibition we did a quick tour around the rest of the Gallery, admiring the eclectic range of art on display.


Sensory overload and fatigue was taking its toll, so the vote was for a wander back to the hotel for some R & R, before heading out for drinks and dinner. Our original plan had been to wander around the Night Market near Hotel Realm before dinner, but to our dismay, we discovered the market had been cancelled – lack of interest maybe? No matter. We grabbed a table and a bottle of bubbles from the bar and toasted a successful first day in Canberra. And finished off the evening with a meal at the famous Ottoman Cuisine restaurant – all within easy walking distance of Hotel Kurrajong. It was a happy and tired group of women whose heads hit the pillow that night.


Day 2 arrived with overcast skies and the threat of rain. Our day started with a walk around the lake (or run for two of our hardier members). Even I, the great Canberra detractor, have to admit that the natural setting for our capital is beautiful – trees and parkland abound; and the varying blue hues of the surrounding Brindabella mountains make a glorious backdrop. The 6km walk around the water’s edge, looping over King’s Ave bridge and across to Commonwealth Ave bridge, provides a visual check list of Canberra’s major institutions: the Carillon, Captain Cook’s Memorial jet, the National Museum of Australia, the National Library, the High Court, Old & New Parliament House, and the National Gallery. Not to mention a sighting of Robert Menzies along the way.


Our walk had worked up an appetite, so we headed to another terrific café, Maple and Clove (http://www.mapleandclove.com.au), for a delicious brunch and truly excellent coffee. Happy ladies.


To give those unfamiliar with Canberra more of an understanding of the layout of the city we headed off to the National Arboretum, which was planted in 2005 after the devastating bushfires of 2001 and 2003 burnt out much of the forest and  radiata pine plantations in the area. The idea for an arboretum dates back to Walter Burley Griffin’s plans for Canberra – the fires provided the catalyst for turning the idea into a reality. The site covers some 250 hectares and the idea is to plant 100 forests and 100 gardens featuring endangered, rare and symbolic trees from around the world. Plus, it provides beautiful views across Canberra (well, it would have if the rain had not arrived just as we did).

Next stop was the ANU Drill Hall Gallery (http://dhg.anu.edu.au) , a gorgeous and little known space tucked away on campus beside Toad Hall. The building itself is beautiful, with its polished boards and sinuous curved brick walls.


The Gallery was showing a retrospective of Elisabeth Cummings, a graduate of the National Art School in Sydney in the 1950s and founding member of the Wedderburn, NSW group of artists. Now, this is more my sort of art – the colours are glorious, and make the heart sing.


The Drill Hall is also the permanent home of Sidney Nolan’s magnificent Riverbend series – a 9 panel work (1.5 x 10m overall) depicting the banks of a river in the Victorian bush, complete with outlaws and bushrangers. Beautiful.


It was then on to Art of a different nature – the art works and cocktails at the newish, and very funky, Hotel Hotel in New Acton (http://www.hotel-hotel.com.au/). A reviving drink was enjoyed whilst we admired the ambiance and tried to blend in with the hip and happening younger things of Canberra.


Exhausted yet? We almost were, but had one more stop to make before heading back to our hotel – the National Portrait Gallery. Boy, is that one impressive building, but the collection on display was smaller than the Gallery size suggests. However, an extra treat was in store for us as we stumbled into a recital by Clarion, a local vocal quartet. So calming and uplifting.


Then it was back to the hotel for a much needed rest, a cup of tea and a read of the Saturday paper before heading out into the night for dinner. We headed back to the Kingston Foreshore, and discovered where all the Canberrans were hiding. The place was teeming with people, and it was hand to hand combat in the parking lot. Luckily we had the foresight to have booked a table at Morks, a popular (and therefore noisy) Modern Thai restaurant. Day 2 was then done & dusted.


Our final morning we woke to clear blue skies and a predicted high of 28 degrees. We check out and leave the bags in the hotel’s care before walking across to the Kingston shops and breakfast at another recommended café (thank you Virginia), Penny University.

Again, an interesting and different menu. Boy, has the food scene in Canberra made a drastic change from my Uni days in the mid 70s – I still recall the dancing in the streets when Gus’ Cafe in Garema Place put tables outside! Now, Canberra is worth a visit just to eat.


Food and coffee needs satisfied, we amble down to the Foreshore yet again, but this time to wander through the Old Bus Depot market, which is largely a lot of tat if truth be known, but some cash was exchanged by our party of 8. Spotted this lovely old factory on the way:


Back to the hotel to collect the cars and a drive to the Botanic Gardens, where the rainforest gully provides a welcome respite from the heat before we venture into the Red Centre garden.


We drive to the airport via a stop off to visit groovy Lonsdale Street, Braddon where boutiques jostle with cafes, all in a street that used to be home to mechanics and car repair shops in my day. We discover Frugii Dessert Laboratory (  http://www.frugii.com ), selling some of the yummiest ice cream I’ve had in a long while. That took care of the heat exhaustion.


Our 3 days in Canberra have come to an end. Thank you to my lovely travelling companions who provided many a laugh.  I have been forced to reappraise my image of my old home town. I still wouldn’t want to live there, but would be happy to visit again. So, I’ll be seeing ya Canberra.

The Art of Banksy

Who would have thought that an English street artist would become a household name? A guerrilla artist with the intriguing allure of anonymity – the Elena Ferrante of the art world. An artist whose subversive wit drives his appeal. So, it was with great excitement that we awaited the arrival of The Art of Banksy exhibition in Melbourne.

Actually finding it is your first challenge as it is tucked away in a circus tent behind the car park at Federation Square. Walk along the Yarra until you get to the back of the car park and then follow the signs.

Once there you are greeted by a phalanx of t-shirted security guards, somewhat disconcerting. The works on display are mainly from the private collection of Steve Lazarides, Banky’s former agent and a pioneering champion of street art and street artists.  Lazarides and Banksy have famously fallen out, and this exhibition is brought to us without the artist’s sanction. Not that he is above displaying his works in galleries, nor is this the first time his “indoor” work has been exhibited gallery style. I guess it is just the blatant commercialism of this exhibition that sits uncomfortably with me.

From the security guards to the large indoor outdoor bar, this is obviously an ‘event’, where they are hoping you will linger longer, and spend more money. This may well appeal to the young people who were attending the exhibition at the same time as we Seniors (drastically skewing the average demographic I must admit), but leaves somewhat of a funny taste for us. And, is it irony on display that you exit via the (heavily stocked) gift shop?? Mind you, it is pretty good merch. Combine all this with the hefty entrance price of $30 (plus booking fee – don’t get me started on booking fees, bane of my life) and you can but look at Banksy’s images skewering commercialism and laugh.



Is it worth the price? Hmm, the jury is out on that one. There is no doubt that this is a seriously talented man with a ferocious sense of humour – some of the work makes you laugh out loud. And, it is good to be able to see so many of them on display. But, who is exploiting who here? 

Every Quilt Tells a Story

There are many ways to tell a story but one of the more beautiful, to my mind, is through a hand made quilt. The pattern, the fabrics, the stitches and most importantly, the stitcher, all combine to weave together a story of life as it was then. The current exhibition at the NGVAustralia, Making the Australian Quilt: 1800-1950 , is a beautiful example of the stories quilts hold within them.

We can see how fashion changed from rather dour colours to a greater vibrancy as we move further away from the days of Queen Victoria; from serviceable cottons to flouncy chintz and sultry silk. 


The shift away from the home country to a burgeoning pride in the new country is charted through the quilts. As is the increasing influence of American culture as our womenfolk became exposed, through travel and magazines, to the more intricate patterning used by American quilters.

The effects of deprivation, either through the War years or the Great Depression, are made tangible by the materials used in the quilts, especially the waggas – utilitarian rugs or quilts, made from the likes of suiting samples, or scraps from old clothes, and often lined with remnants from hessian bags.

Using whatever materials are at hand is gloriously shown in the quilt made from the golden slips of fabric that were used to wrap cigars, how ingenious was this sewer:


Quilts can show us snapshots of daily life, or a family’s personal story. Quilts often give a physical presence to a mother’s, grandmother’s or sister’s love. We can chart the trajectory of a life by reading the stories embroidered onto a quilt.


Nor is the art of quilting confined to women – the exhibition contains two stunning quilts made with care and skill by men, one a POW who used the quilt to tell the story of his war, the other a sailor with plenty of time on his hands and the skill of sailmaking as his launchpad into quilting.

One of the centrepieces of the exhibition is the beautiful Rajah Quilt, created in 1841 by the 180 female prisoners on board the Rajah. The quilt comes out of the initiatives undertaken by Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker who was concerned about the plight of female prisoners. She formed the British Ladies Society for the Reformation of Female Prisoners, which in turn provided sewing supplies to female prisoners, both incarcerated and being transported to the colonies. The sewing talents of the 180 prisoners varied but the outcome is beautiful.


There are more than 80 quilts in the exhibition, all of them asking you to stop and ponder their story. The exhibition finishes on Sunday, so hurry in to make sure you listen to what they have to tell us. 

Frida and Diego, Kitta and Deb.

The new Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW was our excuse to fly up to Sydney for a few days this week, but of course we had to do some shopping, eating and sightseeing as well to justify the trip.


The “we” in this instance is my good friend Kitta. We organise to meet at T4 (we were travelling Jetstar) on Monday morning, which we duly do. Chat, chat, chat until we hear the Gate announcement, at which point we wander off to the loo and then head towards the gate. I happened to glance up, only to see to my shock and horror that we had 7 minutes until Boarding closed!  Our speed picked up as we careened down what seemed like an endless empty concourse. I swear it must have been over a kilometre until we reached the gate, watching the minutes tick down on the boarding announcement. All I could think of was, how to explain to Pete I missed the flight despite having been at the airport for 1 hour and 40 minutes before departure (I caught the airport bus you see)! However, we arrived with 2 minutes to spare, out of breath and slightly embarrassed.

Our arrival at Sydney airport was much more civilised as our B&B, Tara Guesthouse (http://www.taraguesthouse.com.au), offers a free pick up service, and sure enough, there was the immaculately attired Julian to collect us and drive us the short distance to their charming guesthouse in Enmore.


Our hosts, Julian and Brom – and the gorgeous Oscar, a very cheeky and indulged border collie – welcome guests into their eclectically decorated home, and you are part of their daily life (so, this is not accommodation for shy and reclusive types).  Julian is an avid art collector, and delights in showing off his pieces – and, is determined to feed you an amazing breakfast that will leave you bursting at the seams. He considers he has failed at his task if you need to eat lunch.


The rooms are huge. Mine is at the front, looking into the jacaranda tree, with an extremely comfortable 4 poster bed that invites reclining – and on this occasion, snuggling, as it was freezing cold in Sydney for our arrival.


But, I resisted, and we hit Enmore Street for an explore. And, what a funky street it is, with an array of different architectural styles, places to eat and interesting shops. The Marie-Louise salon is in fact a restaurant, called stanbuli, but the facade is protected – fabulous. The next picture shows a hair salon – retro is definitely in in Enmore. And of course the deco Enmore Theatre (where the Rolling Stones once performed).


 However, a word of advice – do not visit on a Monday (or before 11 on any other day) as just about everything is closed. Quite a surprise for us Melburnites. So, all my Googling about where to eat and where to have coffee was all in vain – every single one of them was closed. You can imagine my sad face.

We eventually found the Shenkin Kitchen, which turned out to be a great little Israeli cafe. Yummy food, and warm greetings on a chilly day.


After lunch we kept walking, turning right down King Street. More interesting shops (some open, some not), like the fabulous button shop and the spectacles made from recycled plastic.


And, lots and lots of vibrant street art:


Back up King Street, heading into the Newtown part, we spot a huddle of people outside


So we wander over to investigate. In the interests of research we share a slice of Strawberry Watermelon cake, for which they are apparently famous. And rightly so as we discover.


Darkness is beginning to descend and the wind chill is increasing, so we grab a bottle of red and retire to the warmth  of the Guesthouse for refreshment before heading out for a bowl of pasta in one of the only places open on Monday (with me still looking mournfully at the tightly shut Stanbuli, Hartsyard, Osteria Di Russo and Russo, and The Stinking Bishop, all of which sound fabulous – we will have to come again).

Next morning the sun is shining, hurrah, although still quite chilly. We have a ticket for the 11.30 entrance into the exhibition, and there is a long queue waiting to enter when we get there (Frida is a very popular lass). I have to admit however to being somewhat disappointed, as we almost spent as long queuing as we did looking at the exhibition – it is smaller than either of us expected. Only 2 rooms, with 33 artworks done by both Frida and Diego, many of them drawings, plus photographs of the pair and some letters (which are not overly interesting). But, her self portraits are the highlights for me:


We spent some time checking out the rest of the exhibition spaces of the Gallery (which seems a lot smaller than NGVI or NGVA) before wandering out into the sunshine for a walk through the Botanic Gardens and heading around, past the Opera House, to Circular Quay. We decide to hop on a ferry, so choose the soon to depart ferry to Watsons Bay – staying on for the almost hour long round trip. It is a beautiful harbour.


Upon our return to Circular Quay we continue our cultural enlightenment with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art – mainly to use the loo, but we become captivated by a exhibition entitled “Telling Tales – Excursions in Narrative Form”, especially a piece that consists of maps projected onto a screen and a hand drawing the journey taken by the refugee, accompanied by their sub titled story. So very poignant. The museum closes before we are finished.

It is now 5pm, cold and darkening, so off we go to one of the bars in The Establishment hotel for a glass of bubbles to restore our tired spirits, before meeting Kitta’s nephew for dinner  at nearby Mr Wong.
Mr Wong is hopping, even at 6pm on a Tuesday night. It takes time to read through the impressive wine list before I even start on the food menu. Our selections finally made, and praised by the waiter!, we settle back to take in the venue. Very cool.


And duck is obviously a very popular menu item as their plucked carcasses are lined up in their dozens waiting for the treatment.


We are done and dusted and on the bus back ‘home’ by 8.30. Excellent!

Wednesday morning we again work our way through the formidable array of breakfast goodies before mooching down Enmore Road for an excellent coffee, in a beautiful cup, at Black Market Roasters, sitting soaking up the sun.


Julian then drives us to the airport, regaling us with stories on the way. It has been a delightful sojourn. Until next time.

Gorgeous Frocks, Hats and more

Back when the movie came out I said that the frocks were really the star of the film, and seeing them in the material confirms that opinion – they are indeed gorgeous, which you can see for yourself at The Dressmaker exhibition at Rippon Lea House (until 31 July).

The costumes were largely designed by Marion Boyce, who is also the costume designer for the Phyrne Fisher television series. As with those costumes, the joy is in the details – the swing of a jacket; the shape of a collar; the buttons and button holes; the contrasts of fabrics and colours; the marvellous use of colour. And then there are the accessories – the period jewellery; the glorious hats; the handbags. Marion must be the ultimate bower bird, collecting such beautiful things from around the world and hoarding them until the right ensemble emerges.

The other costume designer involved is Margot Wilson, whose credentials include a host of great movies – Bran Nue Dae, The Road, Jindabyne, The Proposition, Lantana to name a few. Margot designed the wonderfully seductive outfits worn by Tilly (Kate Winslet) – my favourite being this one:


The audience was 100% female, all oohing and aahing over these glorious creations. You could tell the dressmakers amongst them as they inspect each garment in minute detail and can be heard muttering to each other about the stitching, the drape of a skirt, the fabric.

If you love a good frock, and appreciate the transformative power of clothing, don’t miss this exhibition.