Paintings: Before and with Freya

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Before Freya
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with Freya

Bloggers have a lot to say about having children, some of the best blog articles ever written are about the expectations and realities of having children.

Instead of thrashing all this out in words I created two artworks.

The first painting “before Freya” was created in a particularly stressful period of my life before the baby was born. Filled with anxiety and anticipation a small period of grace descended on us both before the baby was born. Like in the eye of a storm I took the time to document it with my first painting ‘Before Freya’.

A month or so after the baby had been born, things seemed much different, I was in a very different state of mind. Full of curiosity and confidence I was discovering something and learning things and full of love for the new baby. And so I painted ‘With Freya.

 

 

 

Why do we ask: are we alone?

Whilst camping recently I was staring up at the night sky and asked this: Are we alone? Fuelled partly by alcohol and due to the beauty and fascination of the universe of stars I could see. The question seemed to unravel for me in it’s complexity.

I came across a strain of thought that seemed to offer a faint hope of understanding.

Why do we ask, are we alone?

Why is it that so many minds have been dedicated to this idea of finding other life in the universe. The question itself seems a ‘Normative’ way to consider this problem. We are making a statement on how the universe ought to be. It is a consideration of one species without enough information.

What is it about the universe that we think it unfathomable that we might actually be alone? What is the thing that motivates us to WANT to have other life out there on other planets.

In the morning I observed a very small finch bouncing around exploring for food. The birds precise mathematical dance filled me with fascination. The bird took a second to stop very close to where I was sitting, for a long time it considered me and then darted off far into the distance looking for food in the bark of a tree. It was part of that creatures biology to search for food in new areas, to seek new foraging grounds to be curious, to look for mates to expand it’s world and survive and to be curious.

Humans are like this, we left Africa for new fertile lands in exploration to colonise every continent on this planet.  It is built within our psychology  to ask “Are we alone”  to explore the next valley, next river, next continent and eventually the next planet and again to be curious.

Humans have developed to be hugely social beings our co-dependency and collaboration is one stratagem for survival. It is most likely why the idea of being alone in the universe terrifies us. Simply because it threatens our views so ingrained to how we survived and survive as a species. Just think as a species one of our worst punishments is solitary confinement, essentially for one human to feel totally alone is a punishment close to death.

We seek to not be alone, however not being alone in the universe would imply that we are in reality looking for species very much like ourselves. What happens if we find sentient life and they are not like us? (A possibility). Or  finding that the only life out there are just micro-organisms?  Micro-organisms will only temporarily give us the impression we are less alone, after all we cannot communicate with a lump of goo. We may continue the search for sentient life regardless of results forever searching for it.

It is interesting to me this question ‘why do we ask, why are we alone’?  It supplied me with hours of contemplation while I sat around the campfire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throsby Bridge: Oil on Masonite

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I started this painting 5 years ago, I have never really painted a landscape in oils before this was my first.

The idea was to create something like a Jeffery Smart, Edward hopper or a Tony Peters…I wanted to see if I could paint like a landscape like those artists do.  I wasn’t interested in painting somewhere ‘nice’ or ‘beautiful’ I wanted an abandoned place a place nobody cares about…a place that is silent but dominated by man.

It is a iron built bridge spanning over a railway line that leads to a coal terminal near the old BHP works in Newcastle, it handles car traffic going over and underneath is usually coal trains going in and out every day and night 24 hours 7 days a week.

The bridge itself is very old, it looks like it was built in the 1940’s or even earlier. There is scattered garbage and weeds everywhere…nobody really goes on the road that goes underneath, not very often. When I took the photos the cars that came by looked at me like I was selling drugs or up to no good. It is that kind of place.

The painting wasn’t technically hard, it could realistically be completed in one or two weeks by a good painter, yet I struggled and was at pains with it. I left it untouched for so long just because I got caught on certain aspects and had no idea how to solve it. Painting never feels like a ‘hobby’ for me.

I started by painting a piece of Masonite with a couple of layers of white backing paint let it dry then rubbed in red oil to bring out red highlights while painting (that’s why the first panel is red) It was a trick that I found in an oil painting guide.

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I traced out my image from a photo, in charcoal then started to paint it in very lightly using lots of turps and just black, that first bit is always the fastest. I was constantly thinking what it could ‘mean’ I totally overthought the whole process.I painted and repainted whole sections, scrubbed out and redid parts over and over. Yesterday my wife asked me if I would ever finish it, it occurred to me then something that was supposed to be fun was turning out to be a symbolic burden of my life. Countless friends and relatives had asked when I would finish it over the years.

The truth is I really struggled,  maybe next painting will be easier. I am sort of happy with it..I am not sure what it means or what it is exactly to anyone.

But I completed it..that’s what is important.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914

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I remember when I was in primary school I was fascinated by a book my father gave me about the world wars, in the first chapters I would stare at the comic like pictures of the Kaiser taking a bite out of the globe, I remember the little picture of the car in which Franz Ferdinand was killed, the whole thing just seemed odd, just one person the killing of Franz Ferdinand lead to the events that kicked off a massive world war costing millions of lives, how?

The book starts with an excellent introduction, detailing why the book is worthy of some contemplation, with philosophical points raised by Clarke, namely “Is any war really inevitable”  in the conclusion Clarke also cleverly distances himFeatured imageself from pointing fingers at any one party and generates some philosophical contemplation about the broader problem:

The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in a conservatory with a smoking pistol. There is no smoking gun this story; or rather, there is one in the hands of every major character.

It is a curious way to think about things, that each party seemed to blame each other, hence mutually assuring its own destruction, a sort of ‘Mexican stand off’ of nations.

Yet standing back, from Clarkes rather ambivalent conclusions, I felt that he often set to point out something else entirely.

From the very beginning Clarke sets to outline how violent and turbulent the Serbians could be even to their own monarchy, how violent nationalist elements inside their own country were actively supported by the Serbian government, how the country never really attempted to hide its contempt for Austria for annexing Bosnia Herzegovina in 1908.

In today’s world, these kind of things are called terrorist activities and are looked on very dimly indeed. Entertain for a second that a nationalist element somewhere in the world assassinated Prince Charles, if a country was found to be clearly behind the actions there would be massive ramifications and investigations to who was behind it, if it was certain to be linked to a nation then there would be a proper independent investigation and then action taken against by the UN and then other nations.

But back in 1914 there seemed to be little interest in following up the links between the Black Hand and the Serbian nationalists.  Many knew they had links to senior military leaders and politicians but never really put any effort into proving it as true. If they had done this logical thing then the cause for the war would of been extinguished, or at least the alliance may have even sought to punish Serbia or let Austria just take its revenge and keep the dispute local. It was this simple following through that could of made so much difference.

Yet in the situation that unfolded, Russia, France and England all came in defending Serbia against an Austrian invasion. This was something of a revelation to me, I had never really thought that the so called ‘good guys’ of the war could of potentially been defending a country that had essentially poured petrol on and lit the fuse to start it.

During the slow lead up to the war the mind begins to boggle at the many possibilities for peace, it seems all parties, France, Germany, England and Austria all tried but failed to secure any effort at peace, individuals had a good go at it, but all seemed to sort of give up powerless at the bureaucratic mess that unfolded.

It is also confusing that histories nominated bad guy – Germany seemed to want to avoid the war altogether right up to the very last moments and clearly thought it could be localized to the Balkan region, this is not the history that we are taught in school.

As a history book, this was tedious but rewarding, there is no doubt I have a much deeper understanding of prewar conditions including a very detailed account of the assassination itself and the events leading up the court case afterwards which made fascinating reading.

This book was a mammoth undertaking just one page of the in depth analysis of pre-war European political landscape had the effect of setting me off to a good nights sleep. There were a few times I nearly gave up, but then out of the blue an astonishing episode in history that I was previously unaware of would keep me glued to the page.

As for understanding of why it happened, I think this is a task that historians and thinkers will have difficulty really understanding for a very long time, however I am glad this book exists because there are plenty of unexpected events that unfolded that just don’t fit into any nationalistic history of the war.

Morrissey Autobiography

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A thought bubble appeared in the hours after finishing the Morrissey autobiography.  ‘Is Morrissey the world’s best salesman?’

It’s not an obvious reaction to the book, nor have many other people come to anything close to this conclusion about Morrissey, and yet I still have that feeling as if I have been hoodwinked.

Morrissey’s autobiography is like Morrissey himself -in no way typical, I felt cautious while reading it, in that being a fan that I was being lured into forgetting that he is a superstar, forgetting that the book is now a Penguin classic.

I have always seen myself as a Morrissey, Smiths fan, his music has been a huge part of my life. I never have gotten sick of his music, it never becomes dated and has an uncanny property to transpire trends, he is a musician and a writer on the level of intellectual that many other popular artists never even come close to.

There are certain things that as a fan I just take for granted (and love) about Morrissey, and I found those things in his Autobiography, his narrative setting starting in Manchester was so masterfully written that I had to put the book down for a week or so, it had that sort of hard emotional impact. It was so intense that I had to go back reassess Morrissey and his music, I felt for years that much of his lyrics were him being…well lyrical. But it turns out in a song like ‘The Headmaster Ritual” it seems to actually worse than the song permits.

There is something powerful underpinning this Autobiography that kept my mind ticking over while reading this, here is someone who everyone thought would fail, who record companies failed to sign up, who’s personality did not play into the business model of the recording industry, who’s talent was underestimated by the press, who’s demeanour did not fit comfortably to what people class as a successful artist, yet he was a success…he overcame all odds.

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His years with the Smiths which recordings people still listen to every single day, he admits where short, and I was surprised how little detail we have about Marr or his friendship with him. In many ways Morrissey is a closed book, forever an enigma, always a labyrinth to navigate, this struck me as being odd as we are invited to learn everything in his autobiography.Many things where missing from his his narrative, like how his family reacted to him becoming a superstar for example, or about  his battles with depression which we know with all respect that he has had, or how success had changed him from that innocent Manchester kid who showed up backstage at Roxy music concerts,  to multi mega-star whisked away to the sounds of adoring fans.

In his modest way he seems to be amused by his success befuddled, surprised by it.

Morrissey, spends a huge amount of time clearing the decks and attempting to set the record straight, he takes myriad swipes at people never forgetting anything, it is one of his many indulgences that as fans we forgive him for. Yet in this format it does become very tiresome, especially when we encounter his trial with Mike Joyce that goes into the intimate legal details for many pages.

Morrissey has a terrific turn of phrase, some of his passages are pure poetry, yet it is fragmented, a hotch potch recalling of his career, he lingers far from things we want access to, the last quarter of the book reads more like his touring diary with notes rather than a sophisticated wrap up of his whole working career.

The autobiography was intoxicating at times yet I was left with my face pressed against the glass window watching him walk by from afar.

 

The standard doorbell

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Sometimes I have a sort of philosophical thought bubble, I spend weeks going over a certain subject that fascinates me, mostly the ideas thought of long before my time, covered by science or philosophy. However there is a joy in this process of personal discovery, Buckminster Fuller did this sort of thing in the 1960’s there is value in exploring old ideas, covering well trodden ground just for the sake of it from a modern perspective.

My journey starts with the humble doorbell, I was knocking doors for an upcoming by-election and I started to take note how many people have doorbells. There are a bewildering array of different doorbells, most had a simple functionality: – You pressed the button and the chime went off, that seemed to dictate the overall ‘look’ of a doorbell button. However the particulars of the doorbell seemed to wildly deviate; different colours, chimes, material and design.

The functional played a part for the position of the doorbell, it had to be available for the person at the door to simply press, it was common that people had their doorbell placed at exactly the same height and on the right hand side.  The electric doorbell was invented around 1831, before that people had all sorts of ornate and ingenious ways to tell the homeowner there was someone at the door, these are still around and used, the twisty ringer, the actual bell with a rope on it and the metal fixed knocker are some examples.

At first glance all this seems obvious, humans have a sort of standard for doorbells, I mean there isn’t a huge amount to think about there. But there also seemed a standard for where to ‘place’ the doorbell and a standard for the way the doorbell was actually presented. As I went to each house I started to realise there was a standard and functionality for everything on a house, for the letterbox, the gutters the driveway for the whole house even. Give a child a pen and paper and ask them to draw a house..they draw a roof to windows and a front garden our mental picture of a house is universally standardised from a very young age.

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In Bill Brysons book At Home, he covers briefly the history of many domestic objects, in the beginning of his book he discusses the salt and pepper shaker, Bryson asks an interesting question about the nature of the salt and pepper shaker: Why salt and pepper, why not say salt and cinnamon? What led to them being those particular spices becoming standardised? (He does in fact go into detail to explain the historical reasons why) but his original questioning fascinated me,  you could ask the same question for doorbells, why a door ‘bell’ and not a door ‘buzzer’, why a ‘button’ not a ‘switch’.

 

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Hand outlines found on a cave wall in Indonesia are at least 39,900 years old

I left my ideas about the doorbell for a few weeks until something in the media re-ignited my thinking on the door bell and the concept of standardisation. Some human cave paintings from the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi were dated to about 43, 000 years ago much earlier than any other human art, the striking thing about them is not just their age but their similarity in style and application to paintings from northern Australia from a much later date.

There seems to be a cultural and artistic standardisation going right back almost as far as we can find human artifacts, however the concept of standardisation itself, seems to be framed as a recent discovery mainly confined to the industrial revolution.

Historians and archaeologists sometimes point to a little earlier to weights, coins and measures as examples of standardisation. But here we have on this very ancient wall, painted so long ago signs people culturally had a very precise standard, a form that had to be taught and shared culturally through communication the look and feel of these hand paintings was to persist for thousands of years.

Back to the doorbell, the odd thing about the door bell is that in today’s world it is largely a mass manufactured item something that for 100 years or so people could purchase and place on their door, like in star wars with all the outdated robots hanging around to go to the incinerator there are just a stupid array of different makes and models of doorbells that exist however we can all identify them as standard doorbells.

Philosophy bubbles to the surface here, and I am reminded of the ‘idea’ we have of something, like a Platonic and objects we imagine a perfect doorbell in our minds and a perfect place to place or to think about the object or idea,  this is reinforced by seeing it in existence, in similar places on other houses making or forming a kind of standard of doorbells in our minds.

This standarisation, applies to literally everything we do and create, standardisation is only something we apply to the real world, the actual time and outcome of these material objects is not secured unless a similar idea is imposed on them for the whole duration of their existence, this is where the complexity of the longevity of the hand paintings comes into view.

Psychologically, we can apply standarisation to things like behavior, our behavior can be split up into ideas that require a certain level of standarisiation so it can be communicated, it is here that life itself is included, because like us many species communicate to survive.

Bee’s must standarise how they collect honey or a beaver must standardise how he builds a dam, life must also have the facitlity to create door bells.

I  am not sure how I got so far away from my original thinking about doorbells, but I feel we are linked to this mental formation of standarisiation and the more you look around, the more you start to see it, in objects we create, in our ideas we think about  and in people and their personalities,  even in animals and insects and their behavior.

Yet I can’t see a reason for it other than mere survival, there are objects on our planet like a volcano that are not crafted by standards, but by physical inhert interactions only, yet it is only our minds that form categories and standards for these things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newcastle, lot’s of ideas but what do do with them all?

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For those of you that are new to my blog, I am from a town called  Newcastle on the east coast of Australia 180km north of Sydney. The town is has a population of about 300 000 people, currently the city is going through a period of rapid change, to the outside the changes are small and not noteworthy, but for us novocastrians these are giant leaps forward.

A couple of weeks ago the Newcastle Herald had an article asking for people with ideas for ‘How to spend a billion on Newcastle’ set by the Newcastle institute

It wasn’t a challenge, Newcastle needs so many things, so I quickly and roughly scrambled together three that had been on my mind for a long time. Fast forward to a few weeks later after being selected from 40 people, me nervously shoving together a power-point presentation of my half formulated wacky ideas.

I wasn’t nervous at the presentation until I looked up and saw about 150 patient grey haired individuals all waiting for what I had to say, something happened I can’t explain and I didn’t deliver it how I wanted.

I learn’t a valuable lesson in putting forward an idea as a presentation, sometimes the way you address the audience your energy and your enthusiasm  rather than the actual nuts and bolts of the idea, can seriously sway people. The next day the article by the Newcastle Herald was poor, predictably listing the craziest ideas for Novocastrian’s to have a laugh at, and forgetting to list one of the most important ideas mentioned, that of making our city run totally on renewable energy, the idea (not my own) that really caught mine and the audiences imagination.

Someone asked at the end of the presentation about what will happen to these ideas, nobody seemed sure exactly and we left with an odd feeling of despondency.

Here was the idea I presented.

INSPIRATIONAL LIBRARY FOR NOVOCASTRIANS

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Surry Hills community centre
  • SUSTAINABLE DESIGN
  • INTERGATED WITH COMMUNITY
  • PLACES FOR ARTS ORGANISATIONS
  • PLACES FOR CLASSES
  • READING ROOMS
  • CHILDCARE FACILITIES
  • GENEALOGY CENTRE
  • NEW COMPUTERS AND TABLETS
  • CULTURAL COLLECTION DISPLAYS

Not long ago I was walking through Surry hills and I came upon the ‘Surry Hills public library and community centre’
 
I was totally blown away; the space is an inspirational temple to great architecture and design.

I just wanted to go in there and spend some time just reading, I urge people who haven’t seen it to pop in and have a look.

It was created by Architects: Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp

Why can’t Newcastle have something like this?

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Surry Hills community centre

The existing Newcastle library is not inspirational to visit, it has its charms but it really isn’t a functional modern space for learning.
  
A Library like Surry hills centre would be integrated with the community and provide resources for everyone not just students.

The library has facilities and areas that arts groups and festivals can utilise to organise events that make Newcastle an exciting place to live.

It’s a place for everyone.

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The Library site would be the existing site, and be built with plans to link into a new Art Gallery using the same architect

We should design the appearance of library to have some consistency in style with university and with a potential new Art Gallery.

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Morristown public library New Jersey

My idea also incorporates smaller but equally well designed modular libraries rolled out over all of Newcastle

With the billion dollars we can roll out gold plated Libraries for all of Newcastle, making us an intelligent and connected city

Smaller similar modular libraries for inner city and outer suburbs

Broadmeadows Farmers Markets Upgrade

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Findlay farmer’s Market, OHIO
  • PERMANENT FIXTURES – WELL DESIGNED SHELTERS
  • ENTERTAINMENT AREA OR AMPHITHEATRE
  • PLACES FOR EFTPOS MACHINES
  • DESIGNED AREAS FOR SELLING PERISHABLE GOODS
  • MODERN TOILETS AND SEATING
  • SUSTAINABLE DESIGN, SOLAR ENERGY
  • MORE BIKE RACKS AND BIKE PATHS
  • DRINK FOUNTAINS
  • SCULPTURES OR ARTWORKS

Broadmeadow farmers market is I believe the most popular markets in Newcastle, this has been the most successful place for markets in Newcastle.

If something is successful, support it!

However why does the infrastructure at the markets feel so run down and out-dated?

The markets are retrofitted to existing buildings that were constructed for the Newcastle Show years ago, something which is a once a year event.

The Markets is every weekend, rail hail and shine.

It’s time this place had a facelift.

The markets upgrade is not just a frivolous spend, this is an injection for the local economy.

These markets have already created multiple small business start-ups in Newcastle, people start with their idea at the markets and then expand.

This should be encouraged and even a special fund should be created to help these enterprising and creative marketeers

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Entertainment Quarter, Sydney
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Findlay farmer’s Market, OHIO

The markets upgrade is not just a frivolous spend, this is an injection for the local economy.

These markets have already created multiple small business start-ups in Newcastle, people start with their idea at the markets and then expand.

This should be encouraged and even a special fund should be created to help these enterprising and creative marketeers.

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Inspirational Green Spaces and Pocket parks

We have lots of parks in Newcastle but I think it is fair to say they are either in suburbs that don’t utilise them or are mainly for sports.

Our inner city could do with more inspirational green spaces or pocket parks.

Pocket parks are the solution to this common “lack-of-green-spaces” problem. Pocket parks, also known as vest-pocket parks or mini-parks, are just a smaller version of a regular park. All that is needed is a vacant lot.

London has over 100 pocket parks, Newcastle could do with just a few!

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My plan is to do an Audit of our parks in Newcastle and locate potential spaces and vacant lots in the inner city

When the best sites are located we will have a major a roll out of 20 or so well landscaped and designed pocket parks.

(WHAT I SHOULD OF ENDED WITH)

What my vision for Newcastle is of that of  well designed city, with more green spaces and for people to learn and meet.

The Penguin History of the World J.M Roberts

 

As you float down through the centuries very deep thoughts about humanity appear and then fade away, great images and civilizations pass briefly like falling leaves.

Individuals are part of something bigger, sometimes people loom larger than others, Jesus, Siddhartha, Confucius, Plato, Mohammad, Newton, Marx, Darwin, and Freud.

There is something surreal about reading about history like this, for me it brings comfort, joy, it reminds me of warm cups of and tea leather armchairs on rainy days.

The smell of the page and the enjoyment of a mental journey, that you alone are about to undertake…this is no small task this is ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY.

I have two other world histories recently completed that help me with this journey – IDEAS: A history from fire to Freud by Peter Watson, The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas 

I excitedly dived in to this project, savouring every page expecting images of Persians, Romans and sparkling clad soldiers headed into battle.

However as I began a disturbing set of thoughts started to take hold and have been slowly clouding my vision of history. The first cloud occurs in pre-history, there seems to be literally hundreds and thousands of years of pre-history missing, that is nothing really occurred not even a simple scratch on a cave wall.

Just think about that for a while, we live in an age where humanity has a serious case of attention deficit disorder, it simply can’t go anywhere without covering every blank space available with tags, posters and advertising, here are our very distant ancestors who shared identical grey matter and facilities living in a giant and what must of seemed like a very devoid world, with no graphic art or media for hundreds and thousands of years.

No matter how much thought I put into this subject I can’t fathom it, it is beyond my imagination.

As you move forward on your magical mystery tour of history the carnival throws up all sorts of questions, there are plenty of gaps and guesses at simple things that we ought to really know a great deal more about. The gaps and guesses pile up even right into recorded history by the time you reach the classical age the history reader is so burdened by the massive and apparent holes in our knowledge that you find yourself unable to stop thinking ‘Maybe that is in another book you haven’t read, just forget about it and move on’.

Take the curious case of the same technology (Agriculture, Iron smelting, Pottery, Writing)  arising independently sometimes simultaneously in supposedly totally isolated civilizations, or why some civilizations took eons to make any move forward while others seem to make huge strides in a relatively minuscule period of time, or major historical events within written history that have gone ‘missing’, or in some cases altered to suit later rulers or religions. Some of the writings and objects we have found that supply us with huge amounts of information like cuneiform tablets seem to come to us totally by accident a mere fluke of history that we have uncovered and deciphered them.

In Penguin History of the world, a small passage is spent wondering about how the peasants of ancient China actually spent their daily lives and slowly and finally it hit me, the reality of history

Why am I different to a peasant that lived 3000 years ago? or a normal Egyptian worker, A Greek farmhand or slave?

I had the same feeling when I visited the Louvre, it was not only the great number of beautiful artworks it was the scale of humanity that had to transpire to create them, the sweat the toil and oil and brushes, stone and marble, but more interestingly every now and then you passed a glimpse of an ordinary person who lived hundreds of years ago just like you living their lives that are now gone and that portrait is all we have.

Real history has this effect, it reminds you of the eons and eons of families and workers that have gone leaving nothing behind not a scratch. In history books whole civilizations are treated as people, that is millions of people and their lives come and go they wax and wane in a few passages, it just seems obscene when you consider the scale of it all.

In my own life I have been witness of six prime ministers of Australia, five presidents of the United States, a Bosnian war, two Gulf wars and an incursion in Afghanistan, a terrorist attack on New York and a global financial crisis and yet in all that time there has been only one monarch – Queen Elizabeth, she is on all our coins here in Australia and in the future people will look back at these coins and see her face, this is history.

It is therefore difficult to get any kind of scale here in Australia, a country relatively devoid of civilizations great achievements (Besides some remarkable early cave art by aboriginal people) In this relatively new country the past is the stuff of a short ABC documentary and a few scuffed sandstone blocks in Sydney, for us here it almost entirely abstract. We don’t live with the past here, history does not infiltrate our daily lives or our ideas it’s largely all a subconscious handing down of the western tradition and many people are only dimly aware of what that means.

The Penguin history is a monumental, yet as a history book it can only ever brush a little of the dust away from the vast and complex dialog of human history.

 

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