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