The Blue Tree in Lyons (this post discusses suicide prevention)

We gather after the short speeches, to paint the dead Yellow Box blue

The Blue Tree in Lyons

the Yellow Box rattles in the wind 

dead branches entwined with sky

trunk brushed in blue 

at the turnoff drivers ask

why’s that tree  

got a blue coat?

passengers wonder

strollers and joggers pause

   ask why is blue so sad 

         a silence


when it’s also sky and sea

why is it too hard to say

something’s really wrong?

socks paired face washed hair brushed 

we make ourselves look better than we are

so no one sees our shuddering shame

my thoughts are worried leaves

             in a storm 

my mind is bark eaten away

my job is too much I think I’m done

how will I make money to pay my rent

let alone my debt

my family was stolen and my land

my body doesn’t feel like me

thrashing limbs I can’t stop 

so scared I’ll be ripped away

I’m different to anyone I’ve ever met

they left me

I was hurt too much

where can I live

where can I be safe?

my love is not accepted

I asked for help but it’s too much

this pain has done me in

lopped branch after branch

the world has raced ahead of me

            I’m lonely

people will think 

why is that tree in Lyons blue?

ask have you seen that big blue tree?

people on the drive to work

to the shops to visit 

kids walking home from school

don’t know what to say

might make it worse?

ask why is that tree blue?

it’s a start to find a way to say

there’s something really wrong

this feeling it’s not leaving

or I am worried about our friend 

so why is that tree blue?

in the listening and speaking

here in Country

in Lyons right near Woden 

in the valley near the creek 

we might find a way to hear

to say

            yes I’ll  listen 

            we can try to talk 

            I’ll sit with you

            I’ll come    

Sarah St Vincent Welch © 2023

Sarah St Vincent Welch reading the poem ‘The Blue Tree in Lyons’

Last Monday I packed my blue plastic poncho and headed off to help paint a huge dead tree in Lyons a sky blue, and to read a poem I have been working on for over six months. The poem is about how the blue tree might affect our community. The Blue Tree Project began in Western Australia and was started by Kendall Whyte, whose brother, Jayden, took his own life. Please read the story of the project. It is gentle, organic, and has helped people find another place to put their grief and distress, and to communicate about it. As of today the blue tree count in Australia and around the world is 927.

Kendall Whyte CEO The Blue Tree Project

In 2021 I travelled with my husband, Dylan, around most of Australia, 25,000 kms, to talk to people to try to understand my country more, and to reflect on suicide, mental health and illness, and the desperation that leads people to make this decision. I continue to reflect on the stigma I have keenly felt around discussions of suicide, mental illness, and crises of distress all my life. It comes from trying to understand the silence around my father’s death and the circumstances around it that involved me as a child. Attitudes have changed; but not enough. I tried to turn away from it, but I recognised I just couldn’t anymore.

Sarah St Vincent Welch, Gabrielle Mulcahy, and Lydia George painting the Yellow Box blue

The first blue tree we saw was on the Mitchell Highway near Barcaldine. And yes we had a discussion about mental health when we found out just why that tree was blue. I, of course, wanted to speak to Kendall, but I missed her in Perth, so we chatted via zoom, me in the car parked on the main street of Coolgardie (we were on the way to Kalgoorlie) and again I experienced the kindness and generosity of people like Kendall in the community working in suicide prevention.

This is way too complex a subject to completely address here in this post. I am still on this journey to understand more and to find ways to contribute. And I am still talking to people and writing. But I wanted to share this poem now.

Kendall Whyte, Samantha Ning, and Gabrielle Mulcahy painting the tree blue
Dr Elizabeth Moore Coordinator General for Mental Health and Wellbeing ACT
Tim Daly of This is My Brave Australia, and Kendall and Gabrielle
Aunty Lidia George painting the tree blue

Samantha Ning from TCCS Directorate was a driving force behind the blue tree being painted in Lyons, working with ACT Health, and Kendall Whyte. It has been years in the organising; El Nino and a pandemic intervening. Kendall Whyte spoke at the painting ceremony, and I at last met her in person and we hugged. I was honoured to meet Aunty Lydia George. And I was blessed to meet all the gentle people from the community and from government in the Australian Capital Territory who have worked together to get a very big tree painted blue on Hindmarsh Drive where so many people can wonder over it, and maybe start a difficult conversation. It has to be better than silence. And to my astonishment I read, at the invitation of Gabrielle Mulcahy, my poem to Minister Emma Davidson, on the following Thursday when she got up in the ‘The Tower,’ a crane or bucket lift, to paint the upper branches, followed by the TCCS Tree Protection team who finished off the job by spraying those top limbs and twigs.

If you feel you don’t have anyone to talk to and this post makes you want to connect with a capable listener you can ring Standby or Canberra Lifeline and I will respond here as well.

Minister Emma Davidson painting upper branches of the tree
Sarah, surprised to be reading her poem to the Minister, with Sam, Gabrielle, Rachael Dawes, and Justin


The ACT Heritage Library is OPEN on a wintry Saturday in Canberra, very welcoming indeed.

I have been thinking a great deal about libraries lately, for one reason and another. They closed during the shutdown period of COVID-19 in Australia, and have opened again (though all the while librarians were working behind the scenes, like the rest of our workforce, to adapt to the new situation and to provide what services they could). (Victorian libraries have had to physically shut down again, but I read that the librarians called every member.) I have jaunted around libraries all my life; school libraries, local libraries, national libraries, even private libraries; and their importance in my experience of the world rises in my mind like a brimming book itself, full of wonder and anecdote and hilarity, hope and learning.

I remember holding my creased and crumbling library card at the Junior School library (the books teetering above my head in what I recall now must have been a small room in an old building with just a few bookcases). It was the Junior School Library! It was ours! It was mine! I remember coming home from uni on the bus with ridiculously heavy bags of books, taking up the room beneath my seat, the bags lumpy and precarious on my lap, and maybe even onto the person next to me! And making a mad dash over to Macquarie Uni to read from their shelves as all the books on reserve in Fisher Library at Sydney uni were already booked out. I remember touring the Bodliean in Oxford, siteseeing in the Morgan Library in New York City, and the experience of being the only woman reader when I visited my nearest public library to read the English language newspapers, in the city of Ahmedabad in India in the 1980s (though the librarians were women).

The libraries in Canberra, a newer sort of city (though it rests on ancient land) have been such a great part of my life too, a constant resource of information, entertainment, and community. This rainy weekend I popped into the ACT Heritage Library to check out its new location in Fyshwick (a light industrial suburb notorius for its legal brothels and sex-industry shops, but seriously everyone it is mostly light industry, hardware stores, car yards etc). It moved from Woden Library last year. I researched there for the project ‘The Pearly Griffin the history of the old Griffin Centre’ (co-edited by Lizz Murphy and funded by ACT Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services. I was delighted to be greeted by an inspiring exhibition about leadership, portraits by none of other than
Akka Ballinger Constantin of women leaders in our community, and their statements about leadership.  These included Justine Bamblett, Kerry Snell, Roma Lazio, Louise Bannister, Jenni Purkis, Sue Salthouse and Christina Ryan.

This all brings to mind the inclusion of my poem 821.3 in Old Civic Library published in my chapbook OPEN published by Rochford Press. It reflects the refuge of the library, what a library can provide on so many levels. A true story. It is set for me in 2002 the year before the 2003 fires. And since then, of course, we have known worse.

821.3 in old Civic Library

Look through the darkness
of light-sensitive glass
at the interchange
the missed connections,
takeaways and deals

hold your sweat wet
call-slip, and watch

while the infirm wait
for a kneeling bus,
the kids shove prams,
pull babies’ arms, out
in, like naughty dolls.
Police ask, ‘Where’s your Mum?’

Look down and turn the page.
Employment section rustles.

Look up. Outside a hand
hails a taxi and swollen
legs run for buses torn
from timetables. A boy
looks for coins in the gutter.
A woman and child sleep
they doze in the aisle
821.3 Australian poetry

under the blue fluoros
in the old Civic library
the air con sings
the librarian turns it up
the blades whirr and rattle
there’s fire in our skies
and a storm coming

A Maple Tree, a Diving-Bell, a Butterfly and Two Books



A book cover of Jenni Heckendorf's memoir Through the Years, a self portrait, her back with the title on it and the image is blurred slightly to depict her movements, a tasteful and sensuous image.

‘Through the Years’ a memoir by Jenni Heckendorf

There are two small and beautiful books in the world that are connected and I want to tell you how.

The first is The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly. After reading this slender memoir it was one of the few times I resolved to write to the author and tell them the impact it had on me. But as I handled the book reading all its background and detail I noticed that Jean-Dominique Bauby, the author, had died. I cried. I also felt the mixed and strange emotions around trying to understand and console myself about death, that Bauby may have found peace. And I was so glad he had managed to live and struggle that long and write the book.

Bauby wrote his memoir after a stroke, a stroke of the magnitude that in the past would have led very quickly to death. He survived for a while, but with Locked in Syndrome.His physicians and carers did not know his mind was right at first, that he perceived everything, that he just could not communicate, for quite some time. But eventually they did find out.

He wrote a book in his mind without the freedom many of us have to make notes, to refer back, to record and recast as we write. His was an act of memory, of practice and refining. (I can’t remember an edit I have made a few seconds after I have made the decision, so I am in awe.) He wrote with a scribe by his bed responding to an alphabet offered to him, blinking his left eyelid to indicate letters to spell out words.

His book is very worldly, he was an editor of Elle, he had many advantages in writing that book, his education, his work, his support, his connections, his culture, his medical care; but his determination and grappling with truth is compelling nonetheless. And as in much of great literature it gives the reader an idea of an experience most likely beyond their own, while we can also relate to it. It is an exquisite memoir. I regularly referred to it in lectures while teaching creative writing. Students would talk to me about it afterwards. It is a story about someone with a need to write and keep writing against great difficulties. But it is also just a story of a life.

I kept telling my friend and colleague Jenni Heckendorf (in my role as artist collaborator) as I read The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly out loud to her, this book has a twist. But I realised while reading it at her dining room/meeting table over many sessions that it didn’t really. In my earlier readings I was struck by the revelation of Bauby’s infidelity and that his wife and children stood by him after the stroke. Each re-reading of a book casts it differently. I can’t even tell you what version appeared to me as I read it to Jenni. I was anxious while reading it out loud that I stumbled over pronouncing French place names which had before  been quietly imagined by my inner reading voice. I was also desperately hoping this book connected with Jenni, that she enjoyed it, that it was worth her time. She seemed to enjoy it. We read it, for me, quite slowly. It was a pleasant Tuesday afternoon activity. Jenni kept her eye on the clock as her day is necessarily very organised. I imagine she was also keeping in touch with her energy levels.

Photo of Jenni Heckendorf today

Jenni Heckendorf (photo by Sarah St Vincent Welch)

She told me later that she thought her condition, Cerebral Palsy, the effect it has on her, is akin to Locked-In Syndrome in some ways. I love matching people with the right books. I felt chuffed. I think it showed Jenni that memoir though it contains much of a life can be short, and that there is nothing wrong with short chapters, in some ways the reader savours the words even more.

The second book is of course Jenni Heckendorf’s memoir Through the Years published this year by Ginninderra Press. Jenni wrote it with eye-gaze control technology, where a camera tracks eye movements to control a mouse on a computer screen. Through Belconnen Arts Centre (BAC) with the support of the Australia Council, Robin Davidson, Emily Beergah and I worked as artist collaborators with Jenni as editors and mentors to help bring her memoir to the next stage. Ann McMahon of BAC knew of Jenni’s memoir project through connecting with her over Jenni’s photographic work (which appears on the cover of her memoir). Jenni joined the IGNITE Creatives group co-ordinated by Ann McMahon and that is how I got involved.

So Jenni Heckendorf’s memoir is here. It is published (just before Christmas – hint hint.) Through the Years is being launched this Tuesday 3 December at Harry Hartog Bookseller at ANU 5.30pm. It is the International Day of the Disabled Person. Here is your invitation if you are in Canberra or nearby.

Professor Donna Lee Brien, Central Queensland University, writes ‘This beautifully written memoir by Jenni Heckendorf reveals a woman with firm opinions, a warm sense of family and a keen sense of her own value. She has also lived with cerebral palsy her whole life. A must-read for anyone who has ever doubted the indomitability of the human spirit.’

Jenni captures the innocence of growing up in Through the Years. She captures family and institutional life. But primarily, for me, it is a love story. It also provides a history of disability during her life from the point of view of a person living with a disability in Australia at that time.

Jenni and I are a similar age, and we both grew up in Sydney. We watched the same TV shows, played similar games, know similar places, and many of the patterns of family life of that time she so beautifully evokes I remember as well. And like Jenni I moved to Canberra and have lived a significant amount of time here. We connect. And you will too. To a life well lived.

In my mind The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly will always be entwined with Through the Years. I have seen Jenni’s Japanese Maple outside her office window that spoke to her of seasons and beauty and working beside her husband. I will imagine it while reading her  memoir again.

I think of the French man and the Australian woman connected through writing and literature and the determination of self reflection and what they have given us.

On a personal note, when I returned to the project after dissapearing from a debilitating episode of depression, Jenni, in her generosity just said to me, ‘Stuff happens.’ It meant so much. It always will.

Maple leaves

Stronger than Fiction is ‘Stronger than Strong’

Deborah Kingsland, Stronger than Fiction Director, introducing the festival (the image behind her is from ‘The Magical Life of V’)

Dendy Cinema Canberra
31 July to 18 August 2019

To borrow a line from one of my favourite anime’s theme songs (Gigantor) – the documentary film festival Stronger than Fiction is ‘stronger than strong’ this year. Canberra is home to a cinematic treasure – ‘Stronger than Fiction’ and has been since the Canberra Centenary in 2013. This year is its sixth. I have been to three festivals, and last year attended all the screenings, as I will this year. I am now a shameless groupie.

I can attest to its power. Beware. Last year after viewing ‘The Island of the Hungry Ghosts’ I could no longer just grieve and anger in my heart and mind about offshore detention of refugees that arrive by boat in Australia. Watching the trauma counsellor on that island explain to her young daughter about her clients (the people detained), the images of sand play in her clients’ therapy that reflect their trauma, and the migration of the crabs across Christmas Island (for which all the humans stop) that seems to echo the great human migration of our times, to the rituals for the hungry ghosts of Chinese labourers who never received a proper burial, so moved me that I had to act. It galvanised all my thought and feelings and reading about this dilemma to finally act. But that is another story.

The Co-Director, Hannah de Feyter, describes the curatorial approach of Stronger Than Fiction as having no brief but excellence, but themes and tendencies do tend to emerge each year. This year the festival depicts a number of strong older women, like Hatidze the beekeeper in Honeyland, Lea Tsemel human rights lawyer in Advocate, and photojournalist Letizia Battaglia in Shooting The Mafia. The environment, the value of persistence, and how we engage with the internet are themes that have also emerged. More than half of the films are directed by women (something I like).

A feature of Stronger Than Fiction is question and answer sessions with directors and the audience. This year In My Blood it Runs’ Maya Newell (and producer Larrissa Berendht) and Midnight Family’s Luke Loren will attend and audiences can quiz them with all those questions one has straight after viewing a doco. These sessions are riveting for film lovers. Another aspect of this festival is the audience vote, which I always find a little bit difficult because I want to rate all the films as number 1. The ten top films will have encore screenings over the two weekends following the festival.

In the festival preview we viewed Sea of Shadows and were immersed in the cradle of acquatic life that is the Sea of Cortez. This film is billed as an eco-thriller, and it really is. It follows a journalist researching the illegal fishing and trade in the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, ‘the cocaine of the sea’, which is so valuable that the trade involves the underworld of Mexican cartels, the government trying to control it, and scientists and conservation activists trying to protect the sea creatures, and the exploited locals being driven into debt. It is life or death for the fisher people, the journos, the endangered porpoise the vacquita, and the crews of the Sea Shepherd. The film unravels a net as complex and deadly as the illegal nets tangled through the Sea of Cortez.

I will leave you with a link to the program and trailers, and I may see some of you lucky Canberrans there. For others, watch out for these film when they are released down the track; Stronger Than Fiction always gets it right.







My City of Sydney – an invitation to a launch ‘OPEN’ and ‘thinking process’

When I took to watching late night TV in the 70s and 80s the broadcast would end at midnight with the song My City of Sydney and I remember the colour chart staring back at me from my parents TV (it was a solid box with a drawer underneath that contained a turntable – broken – by me playing with it many years earlier.) I felt I was leading the bohemian life being up so late, watching Debbie Reynolds and Jimmy Stewart in black and white on Bill Collins’ Golden Years of Hollywood. Sydney is still my city in many ways. Though the city centre changed physically very quickly soon after I left in the 80s, with Darling Harbour and the closing of main streets for pedestrians, it is the childhood city of my heart still, and many aspects of it are unchanging.


The water, the earth and stone, some places, and the friends and family I visit are like a continuing song (a bit better than My City of Sydney) inside my body and mind that rises up when I am here (there). Now I can eat Iraqi food in Auburn and catch a glimpse of people smoking bright green hookas on the footpath. Eastwood shops is abuzz with market garden veggie stalls and the pick of Asian cuisine. In the 70s and 80s it was Lebanese food in Surry Hills and Italian in Leichardt for me.

Sydney Uni from The Quadrangle with Rainbow Flag, it is Mardi Gras weekend

From the graffiti tunnel at Sydney uni – it was a tad more political in my day – but it was still fun

I am so honoured to be launching my first book of all my own work, a poetry chapbook called OPEN (Rochford Press) with Anna Couani’s thinking process (Owl Publishing) in The Shop Gallery (Anna and Hilik’s gallery) next Sunday 2pm March 10 at 112 Glebe Pt Rd Glebe (I used to live in Bridge St when I was at uni and worked at Sydney College of the Arts down the road in Personnel as a clerical assistant.) (I visited Anna on the way home from work, to home in Ashfield, the highlight of my day).  If you are in Sydney next weekend please join us and celebrate.

Open by Sarah St Vincent Welch

The Wedding Dress – Humans of Parramatta Road

The Wedding Dress

Today I am heading up the highway (past Lake George/Weerreewa,) through the Southern Highlands, to Sydney, and along Parramatta Rd. It is such a familiar place, but also astonishing in its life and noise. I live in a city where we joke about our traffic peak minute that arrives somewhere around 8.30am. It is all about contrast and memories for me.

I lived in Glebe when I was a student. Went to Sydney Uni. Lived in Camperdown and Ashfield a little later. I have set a novel in Summer Hill. Hung round in Leichardt and  Annandale. All these inner city suburbs cluster around Parramatta Road. I visit Sydney often, my family and many dear friends are there. I am going to a book launch today, The End of the Line Poems by Rae Desmond Jones, published by Rochford Press (formerly Rochford St Press).

The Marco Polo roof

The Marco Polo on Parramatta Road by night, including fake lawn and little fountain

I recall a time in 2016 when I was visiting my Mum in hospital in Sydney. It was around my birthday. My husband was taking a short course in lighting at AFTRS. I was aware of a callout for a project by Spineless Wonders for their Little Fictions series. We were staying in the Marco Polo Hotel, one of the cheapest hotels we could find. Aeroplanes rumbled overhead, the lights of cars streamed by as we leaned over the edge of the roof one night. A fellow guest sang loudly all into the early morning  on our last night there. After many hours and at about 4am the management kindly asked him to sit outside. He was trying to stay awake so he wouldn’t miss an early plane apparently. 

During that time I became aware of the wedding dress shops in Leichardt on Parramatta Road, the cluster of hope and glamour, in the grind and bump of the busy streetscape. I glimpsed them from the bus. Lingered as I walked past. Took photos. I wrote a piece for Little Fictions that was later performed at the Knox St Bar in Chippendale by Joel Douglas.

Here it is.





The Wedding Dress

When the shop door opens I hear the sea. The rumble of the waves rises to the sky. The sea must be close by. I dream of it. I wake to the sound of its swell, rising with the day. The beams of a lighthouse sweep across the floor at night.

The brides-to-be, the mothers-of-the bride, the bridesmaids, glide in with smiles and acumen, with flourishes and secrets. They know their measurements. I swim in their expectation, hope for their attention, their touch, to lead me to my day. 

I have heard whispers of a harbour, a bridge of fireworks, of gliding ferries and an Opera House with white sails. Is it a ship? Will I sail on it?  Will I clasp my bride, enfold her as we waltz, dance in the spray? I glimpse the blue of the sky through the shop window. I am white like the summer clouds, organza edged.

I wait for my day like a butterfly. My tulle is a wing. It flutters as she walks past, brushing my skirt, and she pauses before me. The groom waits outside, smoking. Ash falls on the pavement, sparks scatter.

She touches my bodice. Lifts me to the mirror and presses me to her heart, smooths me down, fluffs me out. She tries me on. Steps out of her shoes, unzips. I slip and rustle and slide and hold her tight. She adjusts herself into me. We look at ourselves in the mirror. Unsure.

The bridesmaid runs to the door. Shoo! Shoo! The groom strides off. Crosses the road. The bride-to-be wants to see us in the sun. Our wedding will be outdoors. Out west. By a river.

We stumble out the door. The waves crash around us. Parramatta Road surges, rolls. I am cream as pearl, as bright as molten gold. Whipped in the wind. I will fly. A truck blares its horn.

The Humans of Parramatta Road performance night was wonderful, and I experienced it with dear friends. Bronwyn Mehan is a publishing  genius.

Me with my then long black hair, and Anna Couani

Working the room (or finding the bar?) I can see Melissa Neidorf, Sara Dowse, Margaret Barbalet in this one, and is that Al and Marjo up the back?

Welch – reserved as ever

Joel Douglas and his wonderful performance

Tired but happy, with Joel

Ursula Dubosarsky and Anna

Sophia Platthy, Melissa and me

Humans of Parramatta Road  is now on a podcast. You can hear Joel’s resonant performance and all the other wonderful actors and stories. A casting coup, a male voice for a female subject for the The Wedding dress, I believe (thank you Bronwyn). Rozanna Lilley shared her incredible Parramatta Road project with me recently, check it out!

What will I find near Parramatta Road this time? I will tell you soon.

(Thanks to Dylan Jones for the beautiful photos of the event.)



Learning to hang an art exhibition: POSTCARDS FROM THE SKY


Lizz Murphy launching POSTCARDS FROM THE SKY Hazel Hall, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, Kathy Kituai, Sarah St Vincent Welch, Akka Constantine Bellinger and Clare Martin, and Jenni’s Kungkarungkara: Big Sister,  Music of the Spheres and Clare’s Tnorala/Gosses Buff


The beautiful crowd who turned up for this launch and that of Gaia Hypothesis

One of the dreams of my life has been to assist in hanging an art exhibition, and that dream was realised this last week at Belconnen Art Centre in Canberra, with the exhibition Postcards from the Sky. I have two pieces in it. As a writer and image maker, I am often working away creating, selecting and arranging words and images, but I have never exhibited visual work in this traditional context and never expected to.

Artwork arriving and being laid out, Clare Martin, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello and Akka Constantine Bellinger

I worked in Film Preservation for ten years at the National Film and Sound Archive, with physical film, mainly pre-1951, so I have a love and affinity for handling precious objects (and also honour their strength, fragility and physical qualities). I also get off on counting things, checking things, placing things, naming and numbering things, and caring for objects.

I have been fascinated by collections since childhood. (What makes a collection, what is left in and what is left out?) I loved natural museums as a child. And as an adult an art exhibition is great fun, is often moving, surprising, and an exhibition opening is a wonderful celebration. An art exhibition is a sort of collection to me, a special place and time that has been curated.

I often say I grew up in a house that was like a museum, my mother the curator of  objects collected by relatives who may have been borderline hoarders. She inherited the treasures of a father-in-law who died in the Spanish Flu pandemic just after World War 1, who had brought back from his time  in Egypt, Gallipoli and France, hundreds of objects. (Our door stoppers were shell casings, and we had cannon balls in the garage.) Some objects ended up in the Australian War Memorial, ( a collection of signs from the trenches and weapons and more) and recently the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney accepted a collection of Egyptian artefacts that we stored in a cabinet on top of a cupboard. It wasn’t opened for a hundred years. As children we were warned off it, though on occasion I climbed up and tried to peer into the darkness of the coffin-like cabinet. I could just see tiny amulets and statues. We were told there was a cat mummy in there. Poor Mum, we discovered also that her mother-in-law lived near a clearing house and her favourite pastime was to peruse the catalogues and warehouses for ‘finds,’ and Mum had those things to care for as well.

Akka’s concertina book ‘Colours of my skies’ and Lizz’s I am The Way of the White Cow laid out in place ready to be hung

So from such origins my relationship with things, with objects and collections developed, and the dream of helping hang an art exhibition arose. Now, I can’t claim too much. I held measuring tape. I stood with my arms above my head holding unframed paper against a wall, I sorted and handed pins, I held hammers. Lizz Murphy (powerhouse facilitator behind the living studio and exhibition that developed so quickly from it) and I thinking we knew what we were doing, measured up my piece As Above, So Below 1 – Where Are You? got it skewiff and I marked the wall. There we were with gumption scrubbing the wall, our hands way over our heads, a wee bit ageing, me at least feeling my aches. Ann McMahon let us have our way, then glided in after we cleaned up our mess, and kindly showed us how it worked. I love to learn.

Ann McMahon, and Melinda Smith’s ‘Orion as a Woman Unhelped by White Ribbon’, ‘Storm Sky Story’ and ‘Euridyce’s Last Sky’ and Michele Elliot and Lizz Murphy’s ‘Skylines’ laid out in the background

Ann on the go, with Kathy Kituai’s ‘All That Blue’ laid out in the background

Lizz cleaning up my mess, she has a habit of doing that 🙂 My As Above, So Below 2 In the bottom drawer is a star, everywhere – memories

It was a group effort of the artists in the exhibition, but the main people hanging the show were of course the staff of Belconnen Arts Centre, especially Ann McMahon, Dianne Libbke, Damien Hicks, and Skye Rutherford, overseen by co-CEO and Artistic Director Monika McInerney. We were overwhelmed at the generosity of being given the whole foyer for a start, the glorious space by Lake Ginninderra, with the views and light, and the interest of the construction site next door beginning the extension. To experience the space transforming into an exhibition was a gift.

Akka Constantin Bellinger and I unpacked the art that arrived during the first days and laid them out on tables. I observed Jenni Kemarre Martiniello’s keen visual and storytelling sense as she devised the layout of the exhibition, the eyelines, how pieces might talk to each other, and Ann, Damien, and Skye brought their own aesthetics and knowledge to the process, and also how to interpret Monika’s vision. ‘Clean eyelines are important.’ ‘Monika likes grids.’ But there was no rigidity, ideas were tested. We were all honoured and our work treated as precious expressions.

I love the physical cooperation of doing a task with another person or people. It is unusual to stand so close to a stranger arms above your head on tip toe in the summer heat, for me, usually a keyboard sort of worker these days. I love taking the physical instruction of another, ‘hold your hand this way then slide it down, I will do this, then you do that.’ The process. Lizz related Ann’s knowledge of knots and her clear instructions (a skill begun with fishing with her father), to hang mobiles. I love knots myself, from Girl Guide days, making gadgets out of sticks, instructed by my mother. And there is conversation. Wonderful conversation about art, family, observations, work, and laughter.

Thanks Di!

Also there is cleaning (cleaning is life is it not?) Kindness. Politeness. Care. Even emotion in all our body’s heat and fatigue. Everyone turning up. And turning up. As they could. Helping each other.

Moni co-CEO Artistic Director welcoming all to the launch of POSTCARDS and Gaia Hypothesis

Can I volunteer, Moni?

Postcards from the Sky Belconnen Arts Centre Foyer February 8-March 17 2019. Exhibition of words and images (new work and works in progress) by 10 artists and poets with an ongoing living studio.

I will be writing more soon about the experience of the Living Studio that developed this exhibition.

Jenni and Clare talking about installing Tnorala/Gosses Bluff



Three women in red arms raised in similar pose - screaming

An encounter with ‘Evangeline,’ the theatre art performance at Canberra Theatre Studio Courtyard, 3 December 2015

Evangeline (or, the grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart, and bids it break)

never did I ask if you were you

were one

as you are many as you are

many, a
room full of
people watching each other


in front

griefs of the body, bodies,
writhing (my shame)
twitch twitchy tic tic tic
hot leaky, of this

after we asked
after we asked
if you were one, again,
it was a way to understand
yes –
her fluid arms the past
of a dance, dances, dancers
anger and pain right upfront
who knew what?

how to stand with this
how to be with you
how to touch
how to respond
how to leave you
as one
as two
as us
as many

A smoky room, gulping a dacquiri, tongue wrenched with lemon, I waited and relaxed and chatted and listened to the music in the Canberra Theatre Centre Studio Courtyard, (train – oh oh oh train – I remember, I remember, take me b –ack, take me– back) knowing I was in Chenoeh Miller’s Theatre of Love, a place I didn’t entirely know I was entering until I was there, it was so familiar. I will just leave the images I took and my poem at the beginning of this post, to evoke the experience. And to also say, never miss Miller’s work, try to get there. I also wanted to honour the artists Peta Ward, Alicia Jones, Erica Field and Ruby Rowat, whose extraordinary performances of intense physicality joined with the audience in ways I have only experienced in Little Dove Theatre.

Smoky dark coloured lights room with female performer very close to audience

We sat for an hour with the performers before the ‘beginning’ of the show, talking, drinking, watching, as they moved, and we were joined in the space.

So close

So close

We are together, however hard that might be

We are together, however hard that might be

After Evangeline I realised my own grief has stirred, surprised, I carry it in me calling it something else, as it pops out like a small disturbed snarly animal, but it is calming down, healing a little, getting used to its new name. Time. Love and kindness. Being with. And expressions and experiences like Evangeline, help.

Evangeline was on for three nights. In my opinion, so far, reviews have reflected what I experienced and I am linking them here so you if you missed out you can feel a little connected, and watch out for Miller’s next production. I never want to miss a Little Dove Theatre Art performance since I saw ‘From this.

School colours

Two image of author around age 6, one dressed up as Batman in the backyard, with gap teeth, pointing the batman at the camera, one in full formal portrait with school uniform looking angelic

I have been thinking about all the school leavers, celebrating, beginning or continuing jobs, waiting for results, and how so many years later startlingly clear memories of early days at school still come back to me. I look at photos of me now, and I can still see that school child, as well as the middle-aged person I am now. I see this same double image of friends I know from school as well. This is an aspect of time and memory that is so beautiful and strange. Perhaps it is a little like living in that fast growing body of a child, and looking down on the pencil marks and dates on the back of a door that recorded your height so recently. Feeling transformed over and over again; outgrowing clothes that still seemed new. So I thought I would share School Colours, which was published in the Canberra Times many years ago.

I also remembered School Colours when I saw Kurzel’s Macbeth  (you will see why). I recalled sitting in the cinema with my class mates and English teachers watching Polanski’s Macbeth, and being taken out of my everyday life onto a cold beach with the three weird sisters. It remains one of my great film going memories, when I felt my world crack open, and I found myself somewhere new (and somewhere very old).

Jack Frost’s fingers reach around the blackboard, touching the letters and numbers. His ice crown drips, the chalk snowflakes stick to his long blue nose. Stalactites (pull up your tights) grow along the bottom of the board. Our Kindergarten teacher draws the seasons. The blackboard monitor, duster trembling, reaches on tiptoe to erase Winter. Chalk flowers bloom in Miss Heath’s hands.

Brush rasp on shiny paper, the hairs bend into the surface. Blue sky, green grass, I bend low so they are all I can see. A red drop falls into the picture and bleeds into the sky and grass. I wipe my nose on my hand and the colour is there too. The colour from myself.

All the junior girls sit cross legged, giggling, hands on heads, teachers clap, and a Television rolls in. Television at school? In the middle of the day? It’s because of that man in the moon. Tiny men bounce, stopping lessons. One small step for a man … The moon is blue. The teachers say to remember this day. I will remember the big TV in the wooden box.

A picture of a a space suit with the authors reflection in the face shield, taking the photo

Self portrait in space suit at Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

North Sydney Olympic Pool, chlorine blue and salt eyes. Luna Park leers over the wall, at speedo cut crotches, escaping pubes, and breasts sizes A to E. Changing underneath a towel, skidding on the slimy floor, why am I on the end of the highest diving board, with a ladderful of laughing girls behind? The sky, the water, the air, impact, and sudden pain like the humiliation of a twanged bra strap.

Nobody goes into the end toilet. In there is a smoking incinerator, its door ajar, waiting. Everybody watches. Napkins in brown paper bags stuffed in lockers. Red stains. The reticent group of girls who don’t go swimming that week. A smeared pad in the middle of the floor, kicked under the desks.

Leaning forward into the mirror, I check that the blue halter bikini top shows, and undo another button to make sure it does. A hint of beach weekends, and boyfriends with long blonde hair, (nobody knows the bikini is home made.) Silver star sign around my neck, vaseline lips and eyelashes, strands of bleached hair, I wait at the bus stop alone, gripping my pass.

The teacher lays the drama out for us, ambition, betrayal, murder, the natural order turned and the elements exploding. She prowls the class conjuring the story so its poetry will be ours. It begins with the witches, on a cold beach, digging in the sand. They pull from the pit a blue fleshed hand, and ask ‘When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?’ We think our teacher is a witch, with her thick lips and dark hair. Does she sway naked in a fire lit cavern like these witches? In the coven I see a girl, her woman’s body newly formed.

The apple is my breakfast, my lunch. Dinner I eat while Mum watches. But the apple, its red skin, white flesh, is my desire for the day, all I will allow my body.

Blue eyeshadow heavy on her sculpted lids, white lipstick, leather mini, long red hair, leaning forward we devour every aspect of her. The disapproval of the Canteen Mothers whispers across the playground, as she explains dialectical materialism, perched on the edge of a desk.

Perhaps there was a story, with a line drawing it through, a thread pulled from the weft for embroidery to embellish. I remember the finger prick, the red stain on the white cloth, my incomplete patterns held up for ridicule.

At the reunion school-day fables are retold, all those triumphs and subversions, characters and jokes. The teachers we hated. I don’t really remember. Incidents shatter as I grow older. I see myself now as the persecuted teacher. A woman earning a hard living.

The mirror turns on itself, corridors of reflections, and a crowd assembles. After ten years the girls are women, each with a life carefully held together. I see the plain girl is beautiful, the stupid girl accomplished, the bright girl dull. But we pretend to be the same for this night, and we are told into a story again.

Afterwards I hold my intensely coloured pictures, my only true memories, and find another, and another within myself, then shuffle them away again. My hands reach out empty and open, at last ready to receive and understand the teachers’ gifts.

Sarah St Vincent Welch attended SCEGGS Redlands, Cremorne (Sydney) from 1966-78. For those 12 years she wore blue, and at night all her dreams were set in school. She was in Roseby house, whose colours were red and white.



Their heart beats … from this

A woman a man a woman their shadows cast against the wall a shadow play what is this she tells him faces him but I can’t hear I can’t hear can anyone hear what is it I can’t hear her and he turns from us so we can’t see his face. Is this what I think it is, this separation?


dancers_facing   The woman and man's shadows are tall against the wall and cast across images on the gallery wall of a man and mirror with water in its frame

They dip dip in time is it work a factory line are they making something is it preparation sustenance exercise manufacturing is she at a sink a conveyor belt a bench she gazes out to us as if through a window and she must see us we are so close and I see us some of us in her eyes her wide wide open eyes I don’t know what to do I want the woman and man to stop to be still but if we are all still and they are still what will there be? And the woman on the side sitting on a stool facing the audience is she excluded do I do we presume this? I worry for them oh I worry at so much work how it continues. Dip squat stir place back and up again down.

A woman in in a bright orange dress, it seems she is making something with repetitive movements over and over

Is she working, dancing, making … what is she thinking … ?

A large shadow of the woman with her arm raised a if she is working, making something

A man holds a glass of water for her to drink water, and she drinks

A member of the audience quenches her thirst

An audience might be happiest on the other side as that is where they know how to be but some join in as I did I did last time not knowing what to do now one blows their breath on the sweaty skin at the nape of her neck and then her forehead another brings her a glass of water but she gestures he should hold the glass for her to drink so there must be rules are they made in the moment or before for us to find what can happen what has been decided what is possible here?

A member of the audience comes forward to cool down and care for the performer

A member of the audience comes forward to cool down and care for the performer

A member of the audience cools and soothes and gazes at the man

A member of the audience cools and soothes and gazes at the man

The child can disrupt her touch stops the working woman engages her response as there is no acting I believe here compassion in these moments for being and others want like I resolution being apart and then together again but this is is connection and a look is possible between the man and woman but not more any more not a touch only mirroring they stay apart face away only shadows touching the audience a bridge sometimes.

A child from the audience hugs the woman an makes her stop, the man till stands with his back to the audience

The child from the audience makes her pause and smile

The large shadows of a woman from the audience turning the woman and man's head so they look at each other


A woman from the audience danced with the man and they swayed together, I could see her smile and his possibly his smile reflected back to us through hers another made herself into a chair on hands and knees so he could sit with his back to us this balance held for a moment. One of the audience pleaded and we could hear what they said they seemed strange these words to me did they to others our words our want for their stillness our pleading and distress foreign and if they stopped if they stopped dipping working making even if it seems without meaning what could there be anymore? Voice in drum and wind shifting dipping with them working marrying us in space and song and violin holding us threading us, the still woman’s voice singing here I am here here I am … A woman in shadow with her head bowed down and eyes closed, singing Last time I stepped forward step after step and held the working woman opening my arms to see if I could and she stepped within them and I patted patted her back she was burning burning hot she and her heart beat beat beat fast in me fast and we swayed she like my child as her heart beat slowed slowed the drama of  uncertainty for me which is only mine it was her heart I felt in this and that I did not know her and I could still her her heart if she wanted was allowed to quiet to a resting beat and share relief it returned just then before I hesitated hesitant in how to leave.

I attended two performances of Little Dove Theatre Art’s ‘From This’ at the Canberra Museum and Gallery in association with their Pulse: Reflections on the Body exhibition. Very moved by the first performance, I was determined to return for the next one, and bring my family. Dylan Jones took the photos in this post. We were part of the rhizome of the audience, shadowy, close, subterranean, sprouting and blooming and connecting unexpectedly. I look forward to seeing or hearing how this project continues to develop and to Chenoah Miller‘s ‘Evangeline’ on soon in Canberra as part of Art Not Apart.