Saturday, 18 January 2020

Kipli Paywuta Lumi: Into the Tasmanian Bush with MONA FOMA

On this trip I’m being hosted by Tourism Tasmania and MONA FOMA.

I’m in Launceston, Tasmania, for a few days, taking part in the MONA FOMA festival and enjoying various arts and food highlights of the city and the region.

Last night I had one of the more interesting cultural experiences I’d ever experienced, taking part in the Kipli Paywuta Lumi event.

A celebration of the culture of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people - known as Palawa - it saw us first being transported in a bus up to the heights of the forest outside Launceston. Dropped off in a car park on the edge of the bush, we were asked to walk quietly through the trees, following the path marked by ochre-painted trunks.

It took about fifteen minutes up and down slopes to reach our destination. I suppose the point of walking in silence was to let the bush calm us down, to help us make the transition from city buzz to nature’s slower rhythms.

On arrival at the campsite we saw this - a ‘bush hut’ constructed in the tradition once used by the local Indigenous people, though this version was larger than those and employed modern materials.

Sitting within on wallaby and possum skins, we were given a Welcome to Country in the Palawa language, which has been undergoing a revival in recent years. With the lowering sun shining onto the outside of the hut, it was an atmospheric setting for the welcome.  

We moved to a nearby campfire where an interesting array of traditional foodstuffs was cooking - possum, muttonbird and wallaby among them. We were served oysters here as we heard more about the project, and from shells drank beverages flavoured with native herbs such as pepperberry.

Back in the tent, our food was served on bark onto beds of ferns, and we ate in the traditional way - using our fingers! First up was fish (pinungana in the local language), flathead in this case. Very tasty, with a hint of lemon from the spices used.

I’ll spare you the photos of what the fish and other food looked like when we had finished with it! It was a great experience sharing food this way; among our groups of five or six, it promoted discussion and the hut was soon filled with sociable talk. The event had promised “a moment of mid-festival calm”, and it delivered. 

As the event was delivered by Palawa people in partnership with others, and drew deeply on Tasmanian Aboriginal traditions, it helped keep that culture alive and reinterpreted for the present day. I was very pleased to be a part of it - at school as a kid I was told that Tasmania’s Indigenous people had died out, and I couldn’t be more delighted to experience the living contradiction of that lie.

Dropped back at the Festival Hub in Launceston, I stepped inside and partook of another drink involving Tasmanian native ingredients - proof that MONA FOMA can embrace all traditions.

The Kipli Paywuta Lumi event is sold out, but you can visit the campsite during the day; and find out more about this and other events at the MONA FOMA website  MONA FOMA continues to Monday 20 January 2020.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Review: Basquiat/Haring, Melbourne, Australia

I was hosted to this exhibition by the National Gallery of Victoria.

Image courtesy of the NGV

Melbourne's premier art gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria, has had some interesting exhibition mash-ups in recent years. From Warhol & Weiwei to Escher & Nendo, the NGV's curators have had fun contrasting different styles, techniques and eras.

Their latest big two-for-one exhibition, Basquiat/Haring: Crossing Lines is less about contrasting origins, since Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were friends and both arose from the street art scene of 1980s New York.

Image courtesy of the NGV

Their artistic styles, however, couldn't be more different. Basquiat was best known for his "primitivist" works, with raw lines and colours, often depicting black figures and painted on planks, doors, or canvas stretched across poles.

Haring's art ran more to tight cartoon-like frames featuring humanoid figures, interacting with vibrant backgrounds that commented on issues in the world around them.

Image courtesy of the NGV

The exhibition is roughly chronological - the visitor enters through a faux-alley on which is projected film of Haring being arrested in the NYC subway after drawing on a blank advertising space, then rolls through the 1980s as both artists grow in stature, style and technique.

Image courtesy of the NGV

Other than a darkened room filled with Day-Glo works once exhibited at a New York gallery, there's not much additional tinkering with the exhibition space - and that's all to the good. The artists' work is strong enough to speak for itself, and the contrasts and juxtapositions as you glance around the rooms are stimulating.

It's perhaps Haring's work that is easiest to relate to in 2020, because (as the NGV's wall text points out), it seems a precursor to the emojis we're so familiar with now.

Image courtesy of the NGV
I was fascinated by a mock Egyptian sarcophagus on which Haring had drawn dozens of figures - as the text points out, hieroglyphs attracted him in their ability to summarise an object in the minimum of lines.

Having said that, Basquiat's work has the edge in my eyes. I love its bold colours, its raw lines, the feeling of power shrouded in mystery that's exuded by the crowned figures he created. I could look at his larger works for hours, puzzling them out.

Neither artist is still with us - Basquiat died in 1988, Haring in 1990 - but their work lives boldly on.

Basquiat/Haring: Crossing Lines continues to 13 April 2020, at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Australia. Tickets $30 for adults, $25 concession. Make bookings here.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Dining in Dunkeld

On this trip I was hosted by the Royal Mail Hotel, though I paid for my own transport.

On the Friday before Christmas, Narrelle and I journeyed out to Dunkeld, a small town west of Melbourne at the southern tip of Grampians National Park.

I was there to review the Royal Mail Hotel, which has recently renovated its rooms... and in our own, a welcome gin & tonic awaited, the mint garnish to be plucked by us from a plant on the balcony:

(That accommodation review will appear in due course in Traveller.)

The town is pleasant enough; though home to only 600 or so people, it has a number of interesting heritage buildings, explained via recently installed signage:

And in the Memorial Park on the main street I found this plaque. Why have I never heard before about the Australian submarine at Gallipoli?

The supreme highlight of our trip, however, was food. The Royal Mail is famous for its restaurants, particularly the fine-dining Wickens. On the Saturday afternoon we joined the regular tour of the hotel's kitchen garden, a sprawling delight on the edge of town, guided by head chef Robin Wickens himself:

Then, at 6.30pm, we sat down at Wickens for a spectacular four-hour meal - eight courses (really 13 with the added amuse-bouches and palate cleansers), all using the produce we'd inspected and sampled earlier in the day.

We'd asked for our meal to be pescatarian, ie fish and vegetables, so this is the menu the Wickens team devised and served to us:

Could it be as impressive in reality as it seemed on paper? It could. what followed was a fascinating cascade of small dishes, expertly crafted and matched with wines. The flavours and textures were amazing; consumed to a view of native trees and Mount Sturgeon, it was by far our most memorable dining experience of 2019.

Here are some of the dishes we were served (see if you can match them to the menu, they're presented in order of serving):

And the view from here...

... was of this:

A perfect evening, much recommended.

Wickens is at the Royal Mail Hotel, 98 Parker St, Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia. Visit its website for more details.