Category Archives: Artists

The huge heart of horrible Hannay

HANNAY'S WAY David Hannay and Mary Moody.
HANNAY’S WAY David Hannay and Mary Moody.

A Writer remembers a great man.

The Hannay-Moodys first came into my family’s life because of human caring.

Our mum was an old-school nurse who ‘specialed’ Mary Moody and David Hannay’s youngest son Ethan at Katoomba Hospital when he was a very sick baby one night.

Soon after, mum was invited to their rambling home in Victoria Street, Leura, for a party, which she enthused about later as a wild thrill.

Mary was dressed as Dame Edna and there had been a cake in the shape of a funnel-web spider!

We were a family in the wake of divorce, which had left us a bit shamed in a country town, and the multi-generational, blended Hannay-Moody clan was a throng of fun and acceptance. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Blue Mountains was replete with such families, and usually one or both parents was a practising artist.

David was often away working, but in the mid-1980s he brought his filmmaking juggernaut to the Blue Mountains, which served as a backdrop for two period films.

I recall one afternoon when word got around about a film crew in an old house down the road in Wentworth Falls, and there was a film star in town.

We all got on our bikes and raced around to see what we could see. The crew was not remote or high-and-mighty. They let a bunch of enthusiastic local kids glimpse a bit of magic on our doorstep.

The film was one of Hannay’s rarely-seen classics, Emma’s War, and the star was about as Hollywood as it gets – Lee Remick – who our generation had all seen in the first Omen movie, rented from the brand new video shop in town.

040718050006_lWe didn’t get to see her, but we saw Hannay on the set, and we were sure that if we were standing in the wrong place he’d just start booming at us. Then, he waved. That was Hannay.

I went off to NIDA and trained in production design, and at the end of my third year I needed to find myself an internship. There were two films being shot in Sydney in late 1991. Strictly Ballroom already had a whole costume rack of design department interns, so I wrote to Hannay and asked if I could help on the crew of Shotgun Wedding.

It was no easy gig for me to land. I needed to apply for an interview with the production designer, state my case for inclusion, and wait for the call.

I didn’t see Hannay until we were on location in Warriewood in Sydney’s north, and he came by the production design office on the afternoon I was tasked with bottling and labelling crates of 1970s beer bottles for the shoot.

Seeing me hard at work on solid production detail, Hannay nodded, got on with his job, and left me to mine.

At the end of my first week, I was surprised to receive a pay cheque, which happened at the end of every week I was on the film. Payment wasn’t part of the deal, but I felt very valued by that gesture. That was Hannay.

Barely more than a month later our mum died at home in her own bed, as Hannay did this week. The Hannay-Moodys made good on their promise to her that they would bring a slab of beer to her wake.

I was sitting on the sidelines, in a state of shock, but the ripple of warmth and reality that arrived with that gesture was truly life enlarging.

They didn’t stop at that. I was booked on a flight to England to take up a scholarship at film school, but I had a burning secret: having taken two months to care for mum at home, I didn’t have quite enough money to go.

Mary and David went into action with a bunch of other locals and produced a fundraiser at Katoomba’s Clarendon Theatre, which served two purposes. Firstly, it raised me enough funds to complete the course, but it also provided a focus for a grieving community.

Hannay oversaw the night’s auction, the most memorable moment of which came when he held up a pair of white y-fronts and shook them around like an old-time music hall emcee, announcing they had been worn by Aden Young, “The New Mel Gibson!”.

Many of the guests choked on their dessert. That was Hannay.

By the time I got back to Australia, years later, I got to know Hannay as an adult.

Who can ever forget a conversation with the greatest raconteur who ever walked amongst us? All who survived one of his name-dropping, Hemingway-styled rants came away with new ideas walloped like capsules of truth into our consciousness.

He was a rabid conversationalist, David Hannay, and he knew his stuff.

A few weeks ago I spoke to him for what was to be the last time, and I was amazed at the robustness of his voice after months of chemotherapy, and told him so.

This, of course, led to all manner of topics, from his enduring bitter hatred of Whitlam over the Balibo Five (how on earth did we get onto that… that was Hannay!) to the state of the nation under Abbott. Then came a Hannayesque moment like no other.

He paused, and thanked me, open-heartedly, for speaking with him on the phone for so long. “You have made my day,” he said. I scoffed. “No, you really have. Here I was, feeling like shit, and you’ve come along and helped me forget my troubles.”

In the light of his very public, courage-redefining attempt to beat back death, this floored me, and I told him how glad I was to find a way to repay his emotional presence in my life.

When I was a kid, everyone seemed frightened of dads who boomed and railed, but, having escaped a sullen and remote father of my own, ‘horrible Hannay’ and his thundering presence was an education in how conversations are give and take. Despite all his bravado, he wanted us to answer back.

Injustice got Hannay’s attention, every time. It’s the thread which runs through his work. Years after one of your life’s unfair turns, Hannay would remind you he was still feeling the rage with you.

When I think about how much his heart was put to use on others’ behalf, it’s amazing that it kept him going for so long.

The silence, now, is going to be profound.

Thanks to Mary, Miriam, Tony, Aaron, Ethan, and all Hannay’s family for sharing him with the rest of us.

He will be impossible to forget. We’re just going to have to keep the conversation going regardless.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved. 

Meeting Mittigar

COUNTRY CUSTODIAN A man of the Darug Nation (Photo: David Walsh).
COUNTRY CUSTODIAN A man of the Darug Nation (Photo: Kevin Welsh).

A writer’s encounter with the Darug Nation.

Writing for Blue Mountains Life magazine brought plenty of insights into the region’s finest homes, yet whenever an early property’s history was explored, a constant theme arose – the indigenous heritage of the Hawkesbury and Penrith Valleys.

Ever since the area was earmarked for land grants and agriculture in the colony, European settlers and their descendants encountered the traditional owners of the lands adjacent to Deerubbin, the Darug name for the Hawkesbury River.

There’s also the matter of warfare between the settlers and the Darug, a subject rarely spoken or written of, yet an unavoidable part of the Hawkesbury’s history. This article was published in the Aug-Sep 2011 edition.

Custodians of country

Learning pathways at Muru Mittigar.

Researchers, community members and tourists are able to share a brilliant resource in Muru Mittigar. Meaning ‘pathway to friends’ in the Darug language, this cultural centre, adjacent to the Penrith Lakes, has reached out with a message of reconciliation and learning since its establishment in 1998.

The day I visit, Wayne Krause shows me through the newly renovated shop and the cultural centre itself, where a timeline, a map of Australia’s Aboriginal territories, and interpretive signage illustrate the journey of Australia’s Aboriginal people, with a focus on the place of the Darug Nation.

It becomes clear very quickly that this is not a museum in the European tradition – it comes to life only with the guides, who interpret Muru Mittigar’s displays for visitors.

“‘Art’ is European terminology,” Ngemba man Peter Williams explains, as he interprets a painting on Darug law. “This picture is telling the story in the old way, what you can and can’t do, where you can and can’t go, in relation to Darug Country”.

“The hands done in red are those of men who have done law. The hands in yellow are those of women who have done law. The black and white hands are those men and women who have not yet done law.”

Symbols of islands in the Hawkesbury-Nepean river, of land bridges, of nets for catching animals, of bush turkeys, quolls, possums and other food sources in the region are easier for me to interpret than the concentric circles – “They represent the law itself,” Peter says, also showing me the spirits figures in the work.

Peter and Wayne explain in turns how Darug culture fits into the whole of Australia’s Aboriginal landscape, often ribbing one another on points of learning and territory, yet it’s clear these men, despite being of different nations (Wayne is of the Kalara people of the Wiradjuri language group), are brothers.

“We’re all one,” Wayne says, “but there is a diversity of culture in New South Wales”.

I arrived with a basic understanding about who was a famous Darug warrior, and who was of a neighbouring nation, but both Peter and Wayne are quick to explain how warriors like Pemulwuy (featured in a near life-sized image at Muru Mittigar) are considered brothers of the many Aboriginal nations of Australia’s east coast.

“It’s not about skin colour,” Wayne says, “it’s about spirit. All the mobs have relations with others. Our dreaming coincides. Clan groups and skin groups travel, and you encounter the same stories, and the stories never stop.

“In this country, there are more sites – art sites and camp sites – than anywhere else in NSW. It’s been estimated that there are 27 sites per square kilometre.”

When I ask Wayne if it’s Muru Mittigar’s role to preserve these, he says: “It’s our job to ensure Aboriginal culture is practiced, not preserved. Aboriginal culture is alive. The challenge is now to make sure our Mother, our country, survives.”

“Muru was a necessity,” Peter adds, “to set up a permanent base for teaching. I needed to be taught Darug language, and now we have fluent speakers.”

“One of our dreams is to develop courses for people to learn about culture,” Wayne says, and Peter quickly adds: “It’s a slow process, bringing mobs together, teaching people to be one again. The law has been lost, and respect. The settlement turned everything topsy-turvy. The money system became greater than the law.”

“It’s time to come back, to take away the power struggle that money brings. It’s not ‘mine, mine, mine’, we are all custodians,” Wayne explains.

Looking over a map of Australia’s Aboriginal nations, Wayne and Peter demonstrate something about how Aboriginal interconnection works.

“If you know your clan, family, blood, animals (totems, or ‘meat’), your scarring and your teeth,” Wayne says, “you could travel across this country and the people will know where you fit into the system”.

“It’s not about which clan had which land,” Peter adds. “You can walk and sing your way through country”.

PROUD WARRIOR Peter Williams interprets a portrait of Pemulwuy.
PROUD WARRIOR Peter Williams interprets a portrait of Pemulwuy.

“Which you can’t do by flying across it in a plane,” Wayne is quick to point out.

When it comes time to ask about the wars between settlers and the Darug in the Hawkesbury, both men are clear that conflict was secondary to settlement.

“Many of the settlers were starving, and the indigenous people showed them how to survive, what to eat,” Wayne explains. “The wars happened when the indigenous peoples’ source of food was taken away. When Bennelong went to London, he saw what was coming and he knew there was no way it could be stopped, but by the time he came back, there was full-scale war.”

Looking again at Pemulwuy’s image, Peter explains how the warrior’s family scars are similar to his own: “But if you were at the same camp fire as him, you’d sit still and be respectful otherwise he’d be able to-” and he slaps a fist into himself.

Peter also notes how none of Pemulwuy’s teeth are missing, another symbol Aboriginal people look for to interpret another brother or sister’s place in the community.

I ask Peter and Wayne where they learnt about their country and their law, and they name the three uncles who, twenty years ago, ensured the next generation learned what they needed to.

“Learning breaks down barriers that don’t need to be there,” Wayne says. “It’s not about blame, it’s about teaching others to look after Mother Earth.”

“Muru encourages our people into higher education. Not just the training but employment too, in tourism, hospitality, woodwork and other industries. As an Aboriginal not-for-profit corporation, Muru Mittigar has a high amount of employees.”

“The Darug were pretty-much decimated,” Peter says. “There were diseases we had no resistance to, and we were blended into the community as a whole. We’re never going to know the full story until the law comes back, but people learn culture on many levels. and we teach what we know.”

The effects of the Hawkesbury’s settlement by Europeans is just one part of Muru Mittigar’s story – I leave with my preconceived ideas replaced by a growing understanding of the land that we share, and the feeling that the Darug nation is in very good hands.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Bill Moseley, Genevieve Carroll & the creative type

ARTISTS' END Genevieve Carroll and Bill Moseley of Hill End Press (Photo: Martyn Thompson, Vogue Living).
ARTISTS’ HILL Genevieve Carroll and Bill Moseley of Hill End Press.

A Writer’s encounter with Artists in residence.

ONE of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done involved a journey to Hill End, hub of the NSW Gold Rush, to meet a pair of artists who’d taken on an unwanted printing press and set up their own print floor.

Bill and Genevieve are a creative powerhouse, artists each in their own right and in collaboration. Their responses to the textures, cultural heritage and ‘feel’ of Hill End rank amongst the finest in the Hill End Artists in Residence program, because they not only ‘do’ art in Hill End, they live it.

Their devotion to an old printing press, furthering the distribution of the written word, makes these two honorary writers in my book.

This article was published in Blue Mountains Life magazine in October-November 2010.

Artist’s print

Bill Moseley and Genevieve Carroll on the ‘unlimited addition’ to their Hill End studio.

On the day Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister, I drove to Hill End, catching radio reports on the leadership change at various high points across the ranges, further from the reach of mass media with every bend in the road. It struck me that I might have an old-fashioned ‘scoop’ on my hands for Hill End.

I was indeed the one to break the news to Genevieve Carroll and Bill Moseley of Hill End Press, an arts destination which very recently acquired that vintage tool of the print media – a letterpress printer.

Art and artists have been the staple industry in Hill End for long enough to rival the town’s first boom: gold.

Bill and Genevieve have lived and worked here for the past six years, exploring a variety of media, which, as is the case with many artists, is hard to define. It’s obvious after only minutes that their art extends from photography and textiles through to making great coffee and cakes in a building which is at once a studio and a cafe.

Genevieve is a mixed-media practitioner whose work in textiles, painting, drawing and sculpture touch on the theatrical at every turn. Hers is an exploration of how texture, design and form dominate the fabric and tools of our entire lives.

She generously shows me a large textile work (in preparation for a Bathurst Regional Art Gallery Exhibition in 2011) laying like a map of fields on her work bench, golds and yellows achieved through her own dyeing process. “This will just keep growing until it’s as large as the wall behind me,” she says.

Bill’s black and white photographs grace the entire wall of another work room – surreal, often comic studies whose subjects range from unsettling horror to mesmerising beauty. Many are created using a pinhole camera, a time-consuming process requiring exposures of 45-minutes instead of a split second, a medium which will be employed in his own 2011 show at BRAG. In addition, he’s a shipwright, a training-ground which, “equipped me for life,” Bill says.

“Bill’s also our master printer,” Genevieve adds, leading us into the printing room inside a classic Hill End shopfront which once belonged to Bernard Holtermann, the man who discovered the world’s largest gold nugget nearby in 1872.

The room has an immediate feeling of industry – shelves of ink and trays of movable type dominate a work bench surrounded by a variety of printing presses.

FAST HANDS An operational platen printing press makes like work of print runs.
FAST HANDS: An operational platen printing press makes light work of print runs.

Genevieve and Bill are largely self-taught printers. “We’re very low tech,” Genevieve confirms. “You can’t learn to use a letterpress anymore, even at TAFE, mainly due to OHS concerns,” Bill adds, “but we’ve learnt a lot from other letterpress printers online.”

In the corner by the door is Bill and Genevieve’s Gordon Platen Press. Like a larger-than-life treadle sewing-machine it has the mechanical brilliance of an era long-gone, the kind of machinery transported in pieces to remote areas during the industrial revolution.

When no-one else wanted it, Bill and Genevieve were given this press by an auction house in Waterloo and transported it to Hill End in a box trailer. “It once belonged to Clement Meadmore,” Genevieve says. When I suggest the artist known for his large-scale metal work owned a printing press because it had a sculptural quality regardless of its use, Genevieve says: “that’s why we thought we’d accept it. We had no idea we’d eventually know how to use it,” she says, laughing.

“There would have been one of these presses in every town. In the old papers you see plenty of advertisements for ‘letter press feeders’,” Bill explains.

“They’d have to be someone very quick with their hands,” Genevieve adds. “My job is to stand in the background when Bill’s printing and say: ‘hand out, hand out’ at the right time. There’s an old saying about printers ‘coming-a-cropper’ which was to do with getting their hands caught in the presses.”

We choose some brightly coloured rubber ink and set about printing Hill End Press business cards. Bill uses a spatula to scrape a line of ink onto the large circular plate, and pumps the pedal to get the rollers spreading it evenly. The sound is a well-oiled melody akin to the pistons of a steam train. En masse on an old printing floor it must have been deafening.

Beautiful Italian ‘Fabriano’ stock made from 100 percent cotton is loaded and pressed against the inked ‘platen’. After only a moment Bill retrieves our first print, saying, “Gutenberg would have known how to use this,” of the man who invented the printing press in the 15th Century.

The impression on the paper is firm and sharp, and the satisfactory first sample is left on broad wire drying racks to the side. Achieved with little more speed than placing an original on a photocopier and pressing a button, the finished product has a three-dimensional quality which no photocopier seems capable of producing. “You can do a print run of 100 in a pretty quick time,” Bill adds.

MOVEABLE TYPE A plate of type prepared for print.
MOVEABLE TYPE: A plate of type prepared for print.

“There were pieces missing when we got it which you can’t buy anymore,” Bill outlines, “and certain tools which we needed to either make or have made, like the roller gauge which you use to ensure the rollers are at the right type-height. Without that you get furry or streaky print quality”.

“We had help from skilled friends to complete the press, but we also had to be quite self-sufficient, to persist and find ways to make it work. It took about 8 or 9 months to get it to print,” Bill adds.

Graduates of the National Art School, “we had an art-school romance”, Genevieve says of the life partnership which was a result of their meeting. Their individual art practices are startlingly different, but what they now have in common is the press.

“We’re inspired by Leonard and Virginia Woolf,” Genevieve relates. “They set up their own publishing house – Hogarth Press – and would have had a very similar press to ours. It gave them the ability to print and publish their own work, and that of others, and that’s what we want to do,” she explains.

PRESSED FOR TIME The Hill End Press rabbit is a recurring symbol of the place.
PRESSED FOR TIME: The Hill End Press rabbit is a recurring symbol of the place.

Hill End Press’ first venture into publishing has seen them create a range of gift cards which are available from Bathurst Regional Gallery and a number of Sydney outlets.

The cafe is open “whenever we’re here” Genevieve laughs. It’s the opposite of a cafe with art on the walls – the walls are art, and every inch is filled with expression.

Genevieve’s suspended papier-mâché creations get mistaken for gold nuggets, “they are wattle” she explains of the ‘clouds’.

When Holtermann got rich from his gold nugget, he poured his time and money into a unique photographic record of the goldfields of his day. That a building associated with him continues to thrive as a destination replete with art, photography and now printmaking seems quite apt.

And the Hill End Press symbol of the rabbit above the door? “That’s easy to answer” Bill says, smiling, “they’re like us and our press – all about mass reproduction.”

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.