“Nexus” performance 1 of a duet score composed by Baden Johnson and Euan Graham 2006.

The first “tag team” score emerged in 2006. Baden and I sending 4 turns at a time by post until 4 complete scores were realised. The first of these was adapted to become a performance ready duet composition. Baden conducted a number of public performances around Melbourne of this score which marked the beginning of the “reunion” of Extended Vision.

Nexus by Baden
Baden Johnson’s original studio performance of Nexus 2006 Acrylic on canvas
Euan Graham’s First performance of Nexus 2009

“Nexus” was performed by Baden Johnson in a number of locations including the “Bannock Burn Show” in 2009 and in the “Off The Curb” Gallery Melbourne 2010.

Baden performing “Nexus” at the “Off The Curb Gallery” 2010


NEA composition, composed by Euan & Baden 2006. Painted by Baden, Tiahna & Sam



New Epoch Experience

Toward the end of my studies that year, I researched the Dada movement for a presentation for my tutorial group, which included a spirited rendition of a Kurt Schwitters ‘Sound poem’. I marvelled at the diverse nature of the events held at the Cabaret Voltaire, a Mecca for young artists in Zurich during the first world war, wishing to challenge the status quo and combine the exposition of new art with a political agenda. The Cabaret Voltaire proved to be pivotal in the propagation of those art ideas that served to challenge existing conventions. They presented themselves as a progressive zeitgeist as the world raged around them in murderous combat, featuring artists working across a diverse range, with an experimental spirit, many of whom went on to redefine the nature of their discipline. I envisioned our own happenings taking place, being uniquely inclusive events offering a smorgasbord of artistic enterprise and a holistic approach to art presentation. I had imagined the audience entering via a sonic web of ‘sound Extensions’ with strategic lighting inviting visual insights into a larger universe of invention.

I set about rallying Philip and Baden to the cause of emulating these ventures over the Christmas break. The idea was to facilitate a gathering of like minds and supporters, an ambition we had always sought to pursue, but in a more concentrated fashion under the banner of ‘A New Epoch Experience’, conducted on the 5th of December 1992. Our ambition flew us into action, picture rails with a rough bevel adorned the ‘Green room’ and the whole house was transformed into a suburban gallery for a time. No one could find fault with our energy and commitment, though our presentation was a far coo wee from polished and our exuberant ambition a malaise of the young. My rather difficult atonal audio experiments were eventually replaced by cool jazz, and the billed appearance of composer Sonny Chua replace by an apologetic absence. No such event would be complete without a manifesto, and the ceremony of its signing was then conducted by the light of the same orange lamp that had illuminated children’s skits beyond the French doors in a previous time. My main regret was not having the courage, or theatricality to launch into my own abstract poems assembled with random words cut from a newspaper.

We launched ourselves into a second large jazz canvas approaching the proportions of the Canterbury mural and taking its lead from that composition. This created a false wall between the kitchen and dining room. The Jazz painting was built around balancing diagonal tensions, which provided a structure upon which details clung like debris around a drain hole. The rhythmical, abstract composition continued to assert a Jackson Pollock influence, particularly the linear contours of his earlier totem paintings before the more overt architectural qualities of his work were replaced by the signature free-flowing ‘drip’ technique.

Philip’s contribution to the exhibition was a selection from his ‘yellow period’ paintings merging non objective exercises in thematic complexity with the emotive values belonging to the instrument yellow. These included a large canvas ‘Yellow Death’ which tried to resemble an imaginative idea of the form of a cancerous growth. It was aiming to depict a morbid subject using a colour traditionally perceived as bright and cheerful. This painting relates to a fine drawing of the same subject that had impressed me greatly which was worked on during the time immediately prior to our father’s passing. My display included one wall full of the garden pictures of the previous summer, and the other given to my ‘Soliloquy’ paintings that Philip dubbed naive figurative. Baden showed a number of canvases relating to his reversal art ideas that were the basis of his first one man show earlier in the year. When you look at a painting, all you see is the end result of a complex process. Reversal art involved the exploration of the whole visual experience of creating a work of art, from its beginning, to its end. With this in mind, Baden reversed the techniques of his painting in order to analyse that process. Of particular interest was his concept for a self-portrait, where the score allows characteristics of the performer to be incorporated, ensuring that the self portrait is always of the performer, rather than the composer.


“Bamboo” 1992 Oil on Canvas
"Gentle Night Rain 1991 Oil on canvas 160 x 100 cm
“Gentle Night Rain 1991 Oil on canvas 160 x 100 cm

We put together a second ‘Experience’ exhibition staged on February 13th 1993 buoyed by the reaction our first venture received. It was a smaller turn out which aided a truly interactive performance of “Life in the Garden”. We set up an easel in each main room of the house and completed single basic plain scores without shifting between turns. It was a good day resembling more a master class than a public performance.

We struggled to ignite the same enthusiasm for the exhibition in the following weeks, however I did manage to sell five works, ‘Bamboo’, a painting from my Garden series hung for the first ‘Experience’ exhibit, and four small drawings from a set that were based on a vivid dream sequence involving magical resistance fighters, strange transformations, courtship and romance. People in the dream had been transformed into colourful creatures, gardens into aggravated havens of ‘witchful’ danger, the sequence progressing rapidly and without clear explanation. Essential to the working of these images was keeping colour selection, and form creation, as spontaneous as the dream had been. At the conclusion of the exhibition, I swapped a small canvas ‘Forrest Glade’ for an electric guitar owned by Baden. This added another sound and texture to the recordings that followed, and coupled with a borrowed Dx9 Yamaha keyboard, I embarked on a new collection of musical experiments later titled ‘The Sculpture Garden’, initially intended as a sound track for a third “experience” exhibition, and achieving a more harmonious and ethereal quality.

“Forrest Glade” Oil on Canvas 1992
“Vision” 1992
“In the Gift Shop” 1992
“Somethings Happening to the Garden” 1992
"The Black Cat Princess" 1992
“The Black Cat Princess” 1992
"Tomorrow Never Knows" Oil on canvas 1992
“Tomorrow Never Knows” Oil on canvas 1992

We didn’t have huge crowds at these events, but we did have a core group who continued to support us by their reliable appearance, the most dedicated of these being Linton Mcfadzean. Linton represented a link to an earlier time, having been involved with a small set of recordings made of my father in 1978 talking in front of his retrospective exhibition at his Queensbury St Gallery. The small production company known as ‘Stringybark’ was headed by playwright Paul Davies and the grainy super 8 footage was intended as the beginning of a larger essay. Linton was a character wedded to the art opening, with a perennial wit caught between insight, irreverent fun and intoxication. Dark tragedies were hinted in his eyes and were temporarily resolved in the bustle of the party crowd. His arrival was always a welcome omen, as if festivities or commiserations could only then truly commence. I often wondered what part a frustrated artist had played in his making. His laughing voice seemed to uncover amusements in even the dowdiest of gatherings and greyest of weather. His unheard compositions and theories were in-turned and so forsaken in casual conversation sparkling with bubbly – the opulent music of the soul.

Mondo Showrooms – A new venue

First performance at Mondo Showrooms 4/6/1988
First performance at Mondo Showrooms 4/6/1988

In June 1988 we adopted a new venue for our performances. ‘Mondo Showrooms’ was owned by Bridget and Ian Sutherland, who had been long time family friends and used the place to promote their pre-fabricated furniture retail business. A space in the main room was partially cleared and our easel and drop sheets erected over the expanse of pristine flooring. It was a white, light and airy room with the sterile odour of plastic and new carpet that seemed more suited to a salesman’s pitch and glossy brochure than an art happening. With Joyce now replaced briefly by her cousin Betty, then by Andrew Angus, we commenced a series of demonstrations culminating in an exhibition in March 1989.

 Philip constructed a new "bi-easil" to cater for duet performances.
Philip constructed a new “bi-easil” to cater for duet performances.

Having put signage up at Theatre Place, we managed to attract a modest audience on a few occasions that supplemented our more reliable visitors. As a venue, Mondo provided an air of formality, which enhanced our performances at a time when studio rehearsal did not appeal. Upon the conclusion of the demonstrations and exhibition at Roar 2 Studios, there was a feeling of ‘what shall we do now?’. However at no point did we entertain the idea of stopping the performances, on the contrary we often indulged in the dream of making it ‘big!, and taking it further, but there was no specific plan, no systematic set of goals underpinning our progress. We just seemed to lurch from one project to the next when outside commitments did not clutter the schedule.

Performance of "landscape and still Life" at Mondo 19/6/1988.
Performance of “landscape and still Life” at Mondo 19/6/1988.

Andrew Angus who joined us at this time was befriended by my sister Michaela as a fellow student at the Victorian College of The Arts. His instrument being Oboe, he also harboured a passion for electronic composition and new age experimentation. He injected a greatly appreciated light heartedness into the room, which served as an arbitrator and inhibitor to domestic tensions. Andrew had no formal experience in painting, but his sensitivity was apparent, and the ensuing performances were memorable for their happiness and vigour. Andrew would then don his riding gear and take off into the night on his bicycle, as if the day’s painting were respite between legs of the Tour De France. One performance conducted at ‘The Hut Gallery’ in Ferntree Gully, saw a thin young man with dark mullet and pale complexion linger curiously for a considerable time. Baden Johnson was one of the first members of the audience to participate in a performance, and later became a member and devotee of our performance art group. Baden later commented that the experience had left a lasting impression, well beyond a handout eagerly taken to school to show his teachers.

the hut

With the new-year, colour returned to my own palette, and I embraced the medium of dry pastel, first introduced to me through the Jazz collaborations. Drawings of a more lyrical nature with titles suggestive of theatre and magic came to life. ‘Tiger Tiger Burning Bright’ with its plumes of brilliant red held in pause by a strong black presence of line was the first of a set of larger works. Philip later commented that he developed the symbol for diamond plain work based on observations of these drawings. ‘Wind shear’ with its visual rendering of dangerous wind currents, as if the breath of a higher being, and ‘Crystal Light’, a blue monument in motion hurtling through space with an intense inner burn ‘, were among these pastel drawings and I was ready for my first showing.

"Tiger Tiger Burning Bright" 1989 pastel on paper 75 x 90 cm
“Tiger Tiger Burning Bright” 1989 pastel on paper 75 x 90 cm
'wind Sheer" 1989 Pastel on paper 80 x 60 cm
‘wind Sheer” 1989 Pastel on paper 80 x 60 cm
"Crystal Light" 1989 80 x 60 cm Pastel on paper
“Crystal Light” 1989 80 x 60 cm Pastel on paper
"The Total Perspective Vortex" 1989 Pastel on paper 90 x 90 cm
“The Total Perspective Vortex” 1989 Pastel on paper 90 x 90 cm

The pictures arrived, each with a unique personality capturing my mood for that time. Jan Martin often referred to pictures in this fashion. To her they were like people, requiring sensitive attention in order for their true character to be revealed. With encouragement and an expert eye, Jan helped us select the works for the ‘Mondo’ show, on an afternoon that seemed reminiscent of the day she selected the works for my father’s Castlemaine exhibition.

19-3-1989 (4)

19-3-1989 (1)

19-3-1989 (2)

It was a low-key event, up for the day then packed away before nightfall. We struggled through ‘Prelude to Westernport’ a new score Philip had based on the large heroic canvases my father had executed as part of his ‘Westernport Garden’ series in the 1970’s. The composition required a crisp methodical elegance of line and gesture that was beyond our inexperienced unit, especially under scrutiny from a captive audience. Jan Martin also helped out by bringing some new clients to buy, one of whom was Biggibilla, a man who had apparently only recently discovered and embraced his Aboriginal heritage. Biggibilla, a large hirsute individual, purchased two of my pencil drawings for his children, the proceeds from which accounted for my first sable brush. A short time later he reciprocated the invitation, and we walked through an inner city mansion converted into a gallery (for this occasion), lined with his rather brash and expensive oils on linen. We lost contact shortly after and Jan turned her attention to representing indigenous artists from the North East Arnhem Land region, working in a more traditional manner.



The exhibition at Roar 2 studios was an ambitious attempt to capitalise on the success and interest shown in the earlier memorial exhibition. The venue was chosen carefully to allow for expansion and Jan again returned to Canterbury to select new works to add to those already shown in Castlemaine. The across the board approach was extended to incorporate major canvases from each distinct time frame. ‘The Convicts’ now the centre piece of the early figurative years; ‘Waters of Lethe’ and ‘The Clouds’ giving substance to the later abstract work.


In the middle of it all stood our Tri-Easel, and we came in each weekend to demonstrate New Epoch Art – Joyce, Philip and myself aided by Peter Bradley, an old school friend of Philip’s acting as craft assistant. The logistics presented a first hurdle, with the tri-easel requiring the back seat of our Ford station wagon to be lowered. I found an uncomfortable niche in which to insert by slight body, wedged between wooden easel uprights and a variety of painting accessories, my head resting on an old kit bag perilously close to a protruding 12 inch bolt. The journey was as much an adventure as the entire four weeks of the exhibition, propelled along, my eyes on the cars ceiling rather than back seat driving, mapping our position according to the number and frequency of turns, speed bumps and stops.

Philip and I performed ‘Dance of life’ on the opening night. It was a brief butterfly of fear like an extended squeal of tyres that held me up right. My imaginings collected around me projected in the paintings on the wall. So I pretended to be ‘Skinning the Kill’ rather than a lad on the precipice of the ‘big event’. Feeling nervous was a familiar experience. There were the stage appearances with violin tucked tightly between locked shoulder, red jaw and sweat – the latter helping my fingers glide to positions along the metal wound strings. In class also, I was tormented by a lack of participation, and I would crimson and boil when put on the spot. I was not designed for public speaking, yet here I was, at fifteen fielding the questions and interest of a ravenous audience coming to grips with something strange, something new. I guess it was the solitary aspect of painting that so appealed, time outside of judgement where I could find ways of navigating my inadequacies. So it was a strange choice, against my nature, that I became a performance artist. It was feelings, more than anything that drew me toward this creative agenda. Feelings and a calmness induced by quiet reflection. In the schoolyard I had a vision of Philip rolling his arm and calling out, ‘Come on, let’s do some painting’. I held this tight, it was something sacred, not to be bragged about for fear of having to prove myself. I could curl up in that idea place, inhabit it like a secret corner of the garden, where leaves strangled by wisteria threatened to torpedo and join lily pilly seeds in their helicopter descent. Where Cherished blue carved out the shape of clouds and the fern fronds unfurled with the drench of summer watering; everything existing for me to believe in and wonder, a private, parallel life in the garden where my imaginings were safely exposed.

23-3-1988 (1)23-3-1988 (3)

The exhibition was officially opened by Beatrice faust, an old friend of my mothers, their connection having recently been rekindled. On the first weekend performance at Roar, we performed the score for Leavings, wearing our ‘monoforms’, tabards painted with designs using the primary colours distinguishing each canvas; all except Peter Bradley, whose garment remained unpainted, resembling an enormous bib running the full length of his lanky body. At certain angles and in certain lights it was hard to determine where the floor ended and the person began, draped in the plain calico encumbrance appearing as if an absurd monolith, (in time we managed to modify the design of these, making them more elegant and functional). We proceeded with great confidence, our audience appearing in dribs and drabs, creeping around the walls with a squeak of sneakers, or the clump of hard heals and the sound of denim on denim rubbing then pausing as people took in the exhibition. I can still hear the under breath murmurs of people passively engaging with eyes moving around our substantial obstacle as if changing seats in the front row of a theatre in session – a very different reaction to what we were use to receiving in Theatre place where street traffic had begun to intrude with nonchalance.

On the final turn, where white paint is used to carve out and redefine the shapes and lines, I began bottom right corner moving up then across the painting’s surface. This was an opportunity to stamp your own style on the performance and could vary according to mood, approach and environment. This performance was distinguished by a particularly sensitive and impressive interpretation by Philip, who adopted a rather organic approach in shaping his lines and plains of colour. The dominant white planes and over theme are crucial to the final structural appearance of the paintings. Treated both rhythmically and in context with the colour, the fragmented non-geometric shapes represent the state of leaves in decay, but not in the figurative sense. In my father’s words taken from the original notes that accompanied the score,


“Leavings is about what is left. Derived from linear studies of foliage pattern, the actual themes are restructured in what could loosely be termed poetic association with the subject…The planes are colour corded by using a dominant instrument (colour) for each invention. The structure of the final shapes are secondary to the dominant white plane.”

The paintings evoke changes in the natural world at autumn time, with the wind picking up twigs and leaves and tossing them mercilessly in a rhythmical dance; and the way their skeleton is revealed as if a spindly fishbone, rummaged by bird tracks and the forces of nature. The performance begins with the themes starkly presented against a white ground, with a spidery creeping of blue, black and green forming the shapes of the paintings detail. A gradual crescendo of colour develops, with cording increasing the thickness of the lineal clumps and planes of colour that sing with harmony and dissonance until the white ground asserts itself once more, devouring and further fragmenting the shapes.

Peter Graham painting "Leavings" in the study at home in Canterbury April 1986
Peter Graham painting “Leavings” in the study at home in Canterbury April 1986

Leavings or Leafings as it is alternately called, came into existence at a time of great turmoil in my family in June 1986. My father’s illness although misdiagnosed at that stage was taking a toll and caused him enormous pain. This was not something that could be ignored and a serious pall of uncertainty hovered above our suburban shelter. My understanding of broader concepts and the fragility of existence was still forming, but at the same time as my own voice broke, so too did the illusion of unending boyhood. An important teacher at school at this time John McMillan, described to me the process as like gradually removing fence palings to reveal the great world. This image although evoking a peeping Tom has remained with me and to this day I still imagine splinters in my cheeks as I strain to bring a grand panorama into focus. I was indeed ‘leaving’ something behind, a part of myself that now belonged in photo albums and with pocket book memories.

Peter Graham's score for "Leavings 1986
Peter Graham’s score for “Leavings 1986

With the Leavings composition, my father had established the fundamental lay out of the score, but the language still lacked the ability to record complicated instructions. Most importantly, it was the vehicle through which he had finally resolved the basis of the colour language as it stands today, using simple geometric shapes to represent the main colour families. It was also around this time that the term ‘New Epoch Art’ came to be favoured over the earlier ‘Notation Painting’. For these reasons, the Leavings paintings represent a significant step forward from the experimental scores and pieces that came before. Although in his paintings, my father still relied on improvisation to construct detail to a degree, and so it was not a legitimate performance as such, it was the first serious piece where he tried to realise the separation of composer and performer using a score as mediator. All of his ‘Notation’ paintings can now be scored in retrospect, but Leavings was the first ‘composition’ specifically designed for performance. It was to this foundation that Philip added symbols that described what had taken place in the original paintings by my father. In reflection he wrote:

“The problems were daunting. He had been dead for six months, and the language at my disposal was largely the product of my own work. Would it meet the needs of this composition? I had to trust the paintings and my own judgement alone. After months of trial and error, I produced a draft score in about thirty hours over two days. At the end of it, I could not see straight, but it was worth it. Somehow the score works, and produces a performance that is very close to the original conception I was privileged to witness and participate in”.

The exhibition at Roar 2 Studios was again well received, though our perceptions were dampened by the weight of expectation. This time the press honed in on the idea of Notation Painting and ‘The Australian’ published an article announcing ‘Beyond the grave – a Painting Performed’.

Scan 1

A film crew headed by Sally Neighbour then came out to shoot a short piece for ‘Good Morning Australia”. Firstly Philip cast against a delicate leaf like pastel drawing in the workshop, then the Tri-easel in Theatre place as the crew moved around us with an efficiency born of the need to meet another, possibly more important commitment. It was an unusually cold May afternoon, threatened by the heavens, and we struggled on with our performance after the excitement had left by means of panel van. My painting of the final white cutting away in the last turn of Leavings was particularly severe that day, perhaps an omen, for we never got to see the segment aired on T.V. I set up our VCR every morning for months and recorded the show, and home from school, I would roll through the footage, always expecting to see ourselves in the grainy glory of a 22 inch screen. The disappointment cast a pall that shed the whole exhibition at Roar 2 Studios in dimmer light. Though sales were less than the exhibition at Castlemaine, they were still solid, but the decision not to drop the price of ‘The Clouds’ for a buyer was a blow to Jan Martin who remarked, ‘don’t ever do that again’. It was becoming harder to part with the paintings.

Jan Martin with my mother Cynthia Graham
Jan Martin with my mother Cynthia Graham

Jan also felt disappointed and a little disillusioned by the exhibition. She had expected a better turn out and exclaimed ‘where are all the Canterbury people?’ The hoards that had over run her little gallery in Castlemaine were now dwarfed by the large rooms of ‘Roar’, and those individuals of importance in the art world seemed to be conspicuous by their absence. Although she never fully disclosed the goings on behind the office door, it was clear that the first flush of excitement had somewhat mysteriously dissipated and her frustration was evident. When Philip was being overly dramatic during one performance where a score was misread and a structural error occurred, Jan, immersed in delicate dealings with a client, was prompted to contribute ‘shut up and paint’ in a martini-like hiss.

The Last Holiday

Phillip Island 1974 Peter Benjamin Graham pen and ink on paper 55 x 37 cm An image of the sandy track which lead the beech.
Phillip Island 1974 Peter Benjamin Graham pen and ink on paper 55 x 37 cm
An image of the sandy track over hung with Banksias and Ti-Tree which lead down to the beech.

There was a vague awareness that something momentous was approaching, beginning in the Christmas break straddling 1985 and 1986. We were once more heading down to Phillip Island, a journey this time heralded as our last holiday as a complete family unit. I took this news with suitably sombre consideration, my siblings were older, and it was my understanding that such a trip would soon no longer be either practicable or desirable. My family had been going down to the Island since the late 60’s, initially pitching a tent on the land owned by Grahame and Inge King, old artist friends of my fathers. It was soon discovered that two houses down was a holiday shack owned by John Swan, another old acquaintance and this modest fibro cement dwelling was to become my family’s regular holiday haunt. As a child, words could not express the momentous thrill of entering the undulating dirt road that was Woodlands Avenue in the area of Silver Leaves, a short walk from the protected beach looking across to French Island on the North side of the Island. The path was over hung at every point by the same tall silver beauty of the banksias and tee-tree that had inspired my father to produce a glorious suite of paintings and drawings in the 1970’s, and importantly became the subject that was to best illustrate his experimental art ideas then known as ‘Notation Painting’. These works were literally a flowering of his creative spirit, where foreshore danced across the waters of Westernport, and light touched the waves revealing sea music that spoke in colliding delineations tangling with filigree clouds in poetic movement across the sky. “Glimpses of the Sea”, one of three larger canvases from this series hung pride of place above the dining table at Canterbury for many years, a work that even my father admitted was aging well. Contained within its blueness were all the feelings I associated with the Island.

"Glimpses of the Sea" 1977 acrylic on canvas 200 x 240 cm
“Glimpses of the Sea” 1977 acrylic on canvas 200 x 240 cm

The summer of that last family holiday seemed to stretch for an eternity the days lingering lazily and emotions ebbing and flowing as if following the pattern of the tide. The rituals that lent structure to our lives were temporarily put aside and everybody seemed to visibly shed layers, leaving them to dry with a salty crust under dappled sunlight. Television was replaced by a pack of cards, dartboard and scrabble; water for hot chocolate; violin practice and homework for a cricket bat and pocket knife. I discovered a new independence, a new desire for exploration amidst the vines and ivy that strangled the under story of the foreshore. At the base of a slight ravine nestled half way between the beach and the Swan’s place, I poked about for an hour or so one morning among the remains of a campfire. It seemed impossibly lush to have been intentionally lit, and among the scraps I recognised an odd ensemble of tinnies, broken venetians, canvas backed chairs with beach stripes mangled into sculptural confusion, a few swollen paper backs and a collection of baby’s plush chew toys with partially melted plastic protrusions. The contrast of these forms against the surrounding glossy green was quite startling and it became a secret place I returned to for solitude over the weeks of the holiday, each time finding a new small treasure to collect.

rRain and Ti-Tree 1975 mixed media on paper
Rain and Ti-Tree 1975 mixed media on paper

Every time we visited the Island we encountered the rains. It wasn’t really a problem, as the little shack was comfortable, and despite the close proximity, everyone seemed to find their own space. My brother Philip spent one morning drawing with white chalk on the glass back door; a web like configuration that he explained was a thematic picture. I watched with puzzlement for some time, and eventually my curiosity about how easily it might rub off got the better of me. I also made some drawings, a fish representing a Toady transformed into a predator trapped in the shallow pools left behind by the receding tide, and a version of the mural above the top bunk that my sister occupied. It was an authentic hippie masterpiece with a central figure with long combed hair obscuring one side of her face and a ball and chain inscribed with free love and peace slogans. Other words and critters surrounded her intoxicated repose and it represented a whole world of discovery and interpretation. Another artwork at the foot of my bunk was made up of a series of colourful drips that had been allowed to find their own course from one end of the board to the other without human intervention apparently.

It didn’t matter that the mattresses were old and the bed springs noisy or that the fly screens had gaps that frequently allowed a hungry mosquito to escape the buzzing mob and take pot shots at limbs pulled out to escape the Furness of the sleeping bag. The mossies could have been the death of me, “because your blood is sweet” my mother explained. Just being there however was intoxication enough to forget the rudimentary nature of the place and its inconveniences. It was a part of its charm and mystery and waking up to the distant rumblings of waves and the languid scrape of slippers on lino was enough to bring a restorative calmness to the family. There was a visitor’s book bearing testament to the significance it held for all the families invited to stay, and it was part of the ritual to read through the entries before adding our own addition at the end of each visit. The house was made up of two main areas separated by curtains; the children’s bedroom with two bunk beds and a large maroon trunk that could have been pulled from a Spanish galleon containing bed linen; and the main room with a small annex with another bunk (for parents), dominated by the dining table and pot belly. I loved running my finger nails along the grooves of the yellow lining of the large table in the middle of the room at which we would happily consume fish ‘n chips washed down with lemonade. The laundry area was like a time capsule, with an antique wringer and a variety of receptacles and lanterns also bearing the shape of antiquity. By the glass windows and door at the back was another trunk designated for games and puzzles that contained a collection of red head match boxes, one for each change in design over preceding decades, and this over looked a bird bath that saw a staggering variety of brightly feathered visitors that always had us diving for the bird ‘book’, for purposes of identification. John’s wife Ailsa Swan was a keen bird watcher and was a prominent figure in nature conservation on the Island.

After a week of beach combing we headed for the Cows golf course, a sprawling few miles of lush green bordered by the traditional sliver grey of the coastal flora. Golf had been a long-standing passion for my father, and he took every opportunity to frequent local courses and instil his keenness in my brother and I, believing it to be of bonding benefit. In my case his enthusiasm definitely rubbed off, but for my brother Phillip, the exercise was carried out with reluctant angst. On the 8th tee, a par 4 with a prominent dog leg, Philip’s drive slew off the side edge striking my father in the chest with a thud that sent a nearby group of water birds sky rocketing. He remained doubled over for at least 15 minutes, but was reflective at how narrowly he had avoided a more serious injury. The shock of it was intense, and I heatedly reprimanded Philip for what had happened, though my father insisted that the fault was his own for not standing behind the line of the ball. The mood was burning through my cheeks, and for those minutes I hated the game, and what had happened. The sound of insects seemed to swell to fever pitch and drown out, or make absurd the sound of my voice dumbly asking, “are you ok”?

The idea of moving to the Island permanently was often mooted that summer. We were full of plans for getting away, for making a clean break in recognition of my father’s failing health. They were dreams that circled, sometimes stopping to perch on a hill to take in the Westernport Panorama, but Canterbury was still our home and the only place I had known as home. After one such conversation, my father read aloud the opening chapters of the Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol”. The evening unfolded in a manner resembling a classroom at attention. Then suddenly, my father choked reading through a poignant description of a poor child, his voice failed and he burst into tears quickly taking leave into the darkness outside. I could just make out his grey form through the window, the slope of his shoulder adding variation to the skyline in silhouette. I had never seen him cry before leaving me to secretly believe some things and disbelieve others. It was the first time I became aware of the mixture within him of stoic worldliness and this most fragile innocence. When he darkly emerged from the night an hour or so later, the house seemed to shrink in his presence, filled with words left unspoken, everyone tip toeing around the strangely muted living area, the hum of the gas light louder than ever. In the days that followed, my father embarked on a series of line drawings of each member of the family. It was a project undertaken with great seriousness and concentration. He had me pose for photos, my head against a halo of dartboard before commencing the portrait properly.

21 Phillip Isle xmas 1985

Every gesture every crease was placed with recognition of their character building importance. It was evident that these works held a special significance to him, a deeper insight into those in his family, and he was most perturbed when Michaela left early before he had a chance to draw her. I remember him saying that it was the first time he had really looked at us for years. The sadness I could detect in him, the weariness had been replaced by this complete absorption in the task at hand. This was the beginning of his last great artistic effort.

27 Phillip Isle xmas 1985

Euan 1986 pen on paper 60 x 40 cm
Euan 1986 pen on paper 60 x 40 cm