Things built

For “better or worse”, the house I designed has 126 windows. Forty eight of these double paned windows are in the six floor-to-ceiling French doors that line the north and west sides of the house.


“Better” in the sense that even on the most overcast day there is sufficient light within the house to keep the light bulbs turned off, thereby, saving on the storage of electricity in the house’s batteries. This electricity being gained through roof top solar panels on sunny days. And, also, who doesn’t like the viewed expanse of nature to be so present within one’s home?

“Worse” in the sense that these windows have to be hand washed twice a year. Counting both sides of these windows, the total is 252 panes of glass that have to be cleaned of accumulated grit, salt spray and greasy fingerprints from tiny hands that just love pressing into glass.


Last week, over three days, I got stuck into doing 80 of the windows.

What never fails to impress me is this: Looking out of these windows before washing them, everything seems okay because the clouding up of the windows is such a gradual dimming of the view, that I don’t notice the change. But after the washing, wow. Such clarity. Such intensity. The fine detail of life that was hidden now pops out — once again.

I say, “once again” because it happens every year, twice a year, this re-enchantment of clarity that comes only after one takes the time to clean up the fine layer of film clouding one’s vision.

As it happened, yesterday a group of Buddhist’s came to visit me with the intention of walking slowly — with focus and intention — Windgrove’s 2 kilometer Peace Path.

Before the walk and after the walk, these ten people were in the house sharing small talk and large talk.


As I sat with them around the dining table, I couldn’t help but see within the window washing an analogy to life: Slow down, walk with radical presence, observe the minutia of life. This will clear the mind of all those little bits of gritty stress that can slowly build up and dull the intense beauty that is so readily available to all of us. It takes a little bit of elbow grease, but the results will astound.


This morning, with its clear blue sky, the completed addition of four new galvanized raised beds stand finished and ready for planting out with spring potatoes. They join another eighteen put in place in another lifetime (it seems).



The installation required placing the beds in place, filling them with dirt (by hand), sinking five upright posts with attached rafters, and lastly, removing the old wire netting and stretching new wire to cover the lot and, thereby, possum proof the garden once again.


It took three working days. The trick was not to undo the old wire netting until everything was in place. To have started and not finished before night fall would have allowed the possums access to the inner sanctuary and they would have run amuck and feasted on all the winter vegetables growing there.

Three days hard work, plus expenses, for just a few extra potatoes? Why am I not in my studio doing the “real” work of being an artist? Perplexing question as to what work is really important. Perhaps, all work?

Lately, I have been spending more of my time around the property on maintenance and other projects than I have in my studio. Also, last week from Tuesday till Friday I had between seven and nine overnight guests. (Went to bed for two days with a 103 degree fever when they all left.)


This doesn’t mean that I am not trying to get to my studio. The above photo shows — with the new garden enclosure in the background — an upright model standing just behind a nine foot long hunk of wood being carved to its shape. With time, it will become ten rounded abdomens with belly buttons in bas relief stacked five on a side. A sort of honouring of all placental mammals.

Some considerable technical issues regarding tensile strength, but fingers crossed. I’ll probably be eating the potatoes before the sculpture gets finished. The “artistic” world will just have to wait until “my” world catches up with all its chores and multiple other passions.

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Visitors to Windgrove love walking around the property hoping for a chance encounter with some of the local fauna. Along with the spiky ant eating echidna, a favorite, never-to-fail excitement, ring all the happy bells experience, is coming across a wombat.


To any “first time visitor” to Windgrove, a casual downward glance near the front gate to the house would only show a few wooden stakes of random heights protruding from the ground, slightly above the garden mulch.


A “second time visitor”, before venturing off on a walk would have been told (during their first visit) the story of the rampaging wombat. They would then see with their mind’s eye what lies beneath the garden mulch in a (not always successful) attempt to prevent one rather large male wombat from burrowing under, through and around all defensive structures in order to gain access to an area of lawn he considers his domain.


It is a complicated network of wire netting, stones and metal star pickets.

Why go through all this trouble?

DSC_3962Basically, once a wombat establishes territory, it is extremely difficult to stop any further digging of interconnected tunnels in and out of his/her den. Under a house built on stumps such as mine, there would be the real possibility of extensive structural damage.

So, despite really liking this stocky, neighbour hooligan with his insistent determination, I have spent many hours — weeks in fact — building up a several types of barriers to keep wombats from the inner sanctum of the home. Also wallabies, but that is another story.

Love has to have some boundaries.



When dreams re-surface

March 17, 2014

We all need a dream to grasp.

Over thirty years ago while doing an artist residency on the Caribbean island of Barbados, I met a retired German couple who would spend three months of each year on this idyllic isle solely to play a gentle game of non-competitive tennis — with friends — in the morning and another in the late afternoon before gin & tonics were served up at the resort’s beachfront pavilion (where I hung out). I never played tennis with them, but the intrigue of doing so during my “own” future retirement bored itself deep into the back of my mind. And, was forgotten.

Despite kidney stones, severe chronic back injury, prostrate surgery, an arthroscopy on one knee plus worsening osteoarthritis in both knees, the physical shortcomings of my life never diminished the power of this dream to someday re-emerge.


When I turned 65 two years ago, I looked at a small patch of open landscape and felt this crazy urge to mow down the bracken and stake out a tentative beginning to a tennis court. Crazy because it made no “rational” sense on any number of factors; especially, my inability to play given the condition of my knees.

But I had lived long enough with my inner muse to know when she was calling me to action. So I began.


This, despite the fact that I had not played tennis in 20 years. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I had listened to the medical “experts” who had told me not to play unless I wanted to end up in a wheelchair.

What kept me going through some fairly tough times during the construction phase was the constant belief that this facility could be a Roaring Beach “community” tennis court, not just “my” court. Here, I could serve up a few coffees of enjoyment for my neighbours even if playing the fool.


Why did the dream resurface into my consciousness after being buried for twenty years?

No easy answer. But what I can say is this: Whether large or small, it is The Dream we create for ourselves that opens the door to the intensified magic of this world’s reality.

Dreams are the “dark matter” that hold us in a universal moist cocoon of “joie de vivre” whilst all around the banal and viciousness of greed try to drain us dry.

Most of our well-meaning friends will see our dreams as fanciful deceptions not worthy of pursuit. Don Quixote flailing at windmills as we are chase our dream; a dream viewed as slightly batty, a simple wasting time, energy and money.


After two years of determined physical and mental effort — of over 1,200 hours of my own labour and over 700 hours worked by friends — this past weekend I had my first game of tennis in 22 years on the newly finished Windgrove tennis court.

I’m of the opinion that dreams, no matter how seemingly unattainable or dormant, are necessary for the development of and the sanity of our souls.

Our hearts need the vulnerabilities and mistakes and healthy humiliations associated with chasing vapor.


As I journey into my sunset years, I can’t wait for the gatherings of friends either in the Coffee-Pourium club house or on the court. With whites or without.


Where does beauty reside?

March 11, 2014

Is it the little boy in me that sees “fun” while looking at piles of dirt, sand and gravel? Is it the ‘“older” inner adventurer that conjures up mountains to climb? Or, is it the mature artist that simply sees a simple elegance of form.

Regardless of whomever was in control, when the truck and trailer finally departed after depositing over 90 tonnes of rock, I stood astounded and saw — above all else — beauty created in the awkward heaviness of the construction process.


During the past month, various grades of base were delivered to the tennis court. After the 40mm crushed road base was spread out, levelled and rolled, the resultant surface was — not only a level playing field — but a wonderful grey canvas for the depositing of the remaining two grades: 20mm and 5mm.


There was a moment when I felt like pulling the tail on academic art critics and thought of publishing an article in some prestigious art journal stating how these were not just randomly placed piles on a tennis court, but deliberately placed, pre-mediated, mathematically determined mounds of graded aggregate on a horizontal plane where their separate textures, slopes, folds, and vertical protrusions through a horizontal plane registering 7.5 on the Howel grey scale, represented, in an abstract, stylised format, how the human animal mind can differentiate spatial relationships within the confines of the enclosed parameters of a volumetric expanse juxtaposed with, and in contextual partnership with a foreground, middle ground and distant viewpoint as seen by, first, the static observer and, secondly, the moving observer as she/he moves around and in-between each pile, all the while drawing unconscious and intentional comparisons between one’s ancestral mythos of landscape and one’s current social-economic-spiritual-cultural indoctrination and their separate, yet perhaps, joint influence on one’s acceptance or not of climate change.


Yet, in the end, like all inquisitive children everywhere, I clapped my hands when the tractor driver smashed into each pile and destroyed whatever it was that needed destroying.


And in the process creating a new beauty.


“You’re either on the bus or off the bus.”

In January 1993 when I was 46; when most people are settled into a comfortable life of urban living with spouse, children and established career, I attempted to drive my newly purchased 1959 Bedford bus onto my 100 acre block of land at Roaring Beach — but didn’t make it. Rather, it got stuck in the mud of the recently bulldozed two kilometer long driveway.

A portent of things to come? Who was I to know, but the word Peace on the front of the bus gave a hint at the direction my life and art practice would take.


I parked the bus in what I thought was a secluded area beneath some trees, but within a day some local surfers came for a visit and politely, yet firmly, said “We can see the bus from the water.”

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Not wanting to be seen as the typical, “individual’s rights” American who stubbornly feels he can do as he pleases with his property, I purchased two shades of green and gave the bus a nice camouflage. It worked. A win/win for all, and, for the next eight years the bus was my home.

Thus began my slow dissolve into becoming feral.

Candles were all I had to read by for the first four years. No phone or TV or radio; not even running water or a basic moon-on-the-door outhouse. Later years saw me move into a bigger home with all the fixings, yet the Peace Bus has remained a symbol of the time when I searched for a deeper, more sacred meaning to life and how I might, with what skills I possessed, start to make a difference to the planet even if small.

Wind, rain, sun and salt laden air have taken its toll. With peeling paint and rusting metal, the body of the bus was definitely showing the ravages of time. Last week I put on a fresh coat of paint.



But before any of the external paint went on, the whole of the inside over a period of several months was refurbished and repainted with the help of neighbour Steve Watson. At first, a new door, two new windows and a roof over the deck were installed.


Following this, a new fridge, new stove, new dining table with suede upholstery, new front day bed, new queen mattress for the rear bed, three new interior colours on the ceiling and walls and all remaining wood re-sanded and varnished.


It’s more than just having projects to keep myself busy. As much as I enjoy the making of a space, there is also an inner calling to create something of beautiful usage; a place where other people can come and work on their work in comfort and beauty in nurturing surrounds. This week artist Aviva Reed flies in from Melbourne to continue working on the panels for the Gaia Walk. In the years ahead, other artists/writers/musicians will enjoy camping here.


Ever since I drove the Peace Bus onto the land, I’ve been following a thread I don’t always understand. Along with moments of pure joy, there are equally moments of, not so much of despair at my situation, but that I have done nearly all of this alone without a partner. This twangs the heart, for sure.

My fidelity to following the thread continues, however, as it has for most of my life. Have I ever understood the reasoning behind my motives to build what I have been building at Windgrove over the past 21 years. Or, even coming and staying in Tasmania for 29 years? Not really.

I don’t so much live the dream as try to live the life given me.