Monday, June 27, 2011

Road to Flinders

Painting Australia's desert regions was very much ignored for the first hundred years of settlement , only in the early years of the 20th cent did artists start to take any interest. The early settlers wanted views of their new estates to send back to their families in Britain and hang in their own homes as a mark of their success in the new colony.

"Bridel Gap ,Wilpenia Pound"  Peter Kreet. [sold] $2400.

Hans Heysen's Flinders' Ranges painting during the late 1920s were the first. At the time they were not greeted with great enthusiasm when exhibited in Melbourne. People were not drawn to the harsh images of this other Australia and it was to take a long time before the settlers were to accept that the country amounted to more than the fertile areas around early settlements and along the river courses. Many were to follow Nolan, Drysdale, Williams to name just a few until today the Australian outback and central desert are considered by many as quintessential Australia.

Peter Kreet  "Flinders' Encounter"
acrylic on board  1265x920   $2400
In 2005 I drove along the Great Ocean Road [ one of the great Australian drives] to South Australia before heading north up into the Flinders Ranges. All these paintings were developed in the studio from sketches and water colours executed during the trip. Like Heysen before me it proved very difficult to paint on the spot apart from the scale of the work, you have to confront flies, mosquitoes and various slender insect of all kinds intent on dinner.

Peter Kreet  "Flinders Gorge" 
acrylic on board  910x650  $950

Peter Kreet  "Corridor through Time"
acrylic on board   1265x920    $2400
Peter Kreet  "On the Road to Hawkes"
acrylic on board    $1500

acrylic on board  1265x920   $1900
The first few works are of the pound itself which in the early days was used as a cattle property. As a extent volcanic core it possessed ready made walls to keep livestock  from wandering off. There are very few ways in and the "Bridal Gap" painting was the entrance for an early bride of a squatter. The Pound as it is called has in recent years been a national park. Within the park are several roads often subjected to flooding in winter and inevitable we were caught and had to spend a couple of nights cut off by swollen creeks. On the plus side we had plenty of fresh water. "Flinders Encounter" was a sharp turn in the road were the water tended to flow across at normal times,but at least I had plenty of time to observe the cliff  faces.

While driving out of the pound after the flood, my wife and I discovered  what was called a Feral Restaurant. This establishment situated in the middle of nowhere and exists on a vast flat plain running away as far as the eye can see. The only company being a watering tank used  by steam trains and a few odd out  houses rented out to itinerant workers. I tried to buy the morning paper on the bar but was told that it was not for sale as the paper took a week to arrive. The menue was something people would die for kangaroo of course, but then lizard, camel, snake, buffalo and some sort of desert rat. I settled for the camel that in fact was quite sweet. People seem to fly here from all over the country as it would be hard to find another restaurant like it.

The famous rain line ran through here some where, this was what was then considered the far est limit to which farming was considered profitable. Beyond which settlement was discouraged, not that stopped settlers as abandon rusty farm machine left scattered across the country testified.

Peter Kreet"The Grotto on the Ocean Road"
acrylic on board  1265x920  $2400.

The Grotto is one of the many beautiful stops on the Great Ocean road.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Olive Harvest and the search for Odysseus' Cave

View of our olive grove
Picking olives has never been a popular sport, unlike a grape harvest with all that perceived romance and thoughts of the end product, olive oil simply can't compete. The harvest already four weeks late, olives the size of peas the yield is not looking good. While pulling my rake through the trees my thoughts turned to another harvest on the Greek Island of Ithaca, a journey I made a few  years ago while on a quest to try and find the cave where Odysseus was put ashore by the Phaeacian in the Odyssey.

On arrival from Kafalonia we discovered a charming fishing village were a local seaman on leave arranged for a taxi to come from Stavros a few kl ms up the road. Our driver turned out to be a very reluctant olive harvester. He offered to drive us from the far end of the island to Vathy by what turned out to be a very circular route. He had just left the family annual harvest and seemed intent to undertake as many diversions as possible. Stavros is currently the centre of much archaeological interest as the possibly the site of Odyssey's palace. Our drive proved to be highly entertaining and after taking us to lunch and a glass of very good local wine [chemical free] we continued on to Vathy via the long route.We drove up over mountains examined an old monastery and Church on the way. The Church contained some very old icon frescoes still in tack after five hundred years of Ottoman occupation that I had wanted to see.The drive turned out to be quite beautiful and every bit as good as our recent experiences on Kafalonia , but this time the countryside  was alive with people gathering in the olive harvest.

The following morning we set off to walk to the Fountain of Arethusa, the well from which the swine herder drew water for his pigs in Homer's Odyssey. He would drive them  here to for water before traveling to the palace to feed the suitors who had taken up residence there, in order to woe Penelope during Odysseus long ten year absence away fighting at Troy. Our road took us through more olive groves, everyone seemed to be harvesting olives and it is not hard to see how olive oil is the life blood of Ithaca. Many of the groves are owned by Athenians who make this annual pilgrimage each year to the island. The island lost most of its population after the 1953 earthquake with only half its citizens left. I was surprised as we walked along by the serve pruning of the olive trees during harvest with a good 2/3rds of last year's growth being removed, The olives were then removed on the ground by holding the branch up against a chicken type feather plucker.
This was a  revolving drum with rubber fingers poking out, it seemed to be pretty effective. This type of pruning is carried out every second year, with the centres thinned on alternate years. Everyone seemed to be very happy and always called out to us offering us something to drink.

The road slowly turned into an unsealed strip  through heath and scrub, eventually becoming little more than a goat track.The countryside became very mountainous and  rough but offered spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea, several of the steep gullies had been terraced in the past for cropping, but now abandoned. The land looked very unproductive and I wondered what dreams and fortitude must have driven people to try and stay alive in such harsh an environment.

After two hours walk we finally arrived at the spring which turned out to be a well inside a small cave. The water was crystal clear with a small bucket supplied to draw water for lunch. It is hard to imagine the magic such locations have on any romantic soul, your mind can travel back thousands of years,  here you are waiting for the return of the Greek Fleet  from Troy. Oddyssus' Cave will have to wait another day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Final Break with Seafaring

December 1958, I arrived at the Samarai Hospital in Papua as I had been diagnosed with an inflamed appendicitis by the Third Mate on the ship I was serving on. Such a diagnosis was quite common at the time as the general philosophy among the medical profession was to remove anything considered unnecessary. Whether our Third Mate had the required knowledge remains questionable.

My admission was rather bizarre, as apparently a tribal battle with stone axes had just taken place a few miles up the road over the ownership of some pigs.Wounded Papuans were all over the place awaiting treatment. This was quite a normal event the nurse assured me as she lead me to my room to be prepared for the operation. Readers must remember that the Cargo Cult was still very much in favour, tribes would build marking platforms in the jungle in the hope passing aircraft would drop cargo by parachute.This was a hang over from the second world war.All sorts of unlikely events could take place at any time.

After the operation and  a day or so in bed I resolved to leave the sea. Only three months early I had missed my 21st birthday , time doesn't seem to exist at sea all you are aware of is dawn and dusk and the vast ocean. The constant travel, the climbing in and out of my bunk at midnight to stand watch, staring into the distance in the pitch dark for hours on end had taking their toil. Many people view life at sea through romantic eyes, not with eyes watering from starring  for hours on end into a fierce wind at a distance horizon.

After flying back to Sydney I decided to undertake a aptitude test as I had no idea where my future lay. I was told that I had both a strong sense of social justice as well as an artistic disposition and most likely would make a good art teacher. This didn't sound too bad and I resolved enrol at The National Art School. Unfortunately my lack of secondary education raised its head again and I was denied entry unless I returned to school to complete my education. Such a course would take several years and I was still supporting my mother plus her mother, who was looking after her as old Jack had died, so I was going to have to work and could not afford such a course of action.,

A little lateral thinking was required and I decided to enrol at the Julian Ashton Art School and then complete my art education in Italy later on. I was aware that the Italian Government offered free university education to foreigners as part of their war apology to the world. This however is another story.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In Search of Utopia.

People travel for many reasons, some as a means of escape, others to experience the other or perhaps learn something, while many simply  fill in the time as they can afford too. But what ever the reason they are generally changed in  some way for the experience. Post-war Greece both civil and the second world war was very much a location alive to its past, even today in this age of mass tourism it is possible to find a forgotten island or village still living the dream of a simple life.

Greece of the fifties attracted a whole generation of artists, writers and searching dreamers, seeking a world at peace with itself. A world were friendship and a resigned endurance towards hardship went hand in hand. Many thinking people felt  at loss as to direction the world was taking after the cruel recent past. Greece was a magnet for the young and many others who had experienced the magic of Greek life even during the war.In my travels in the early sixties I meet many ex-servicemen  who on their discharge from the armed forces were now living in hidden villages in the Peloponnese.

When I first visited in the the early sixties although life was still very hard for the local population, there was still a great sense of community, people took care of each other. Some Canadian friends of mine had been staying on Lesvos and while sitting around an open fire one evening their young daughter had fall into the fire receiving severe burns on her face. The local women immediately rubbed a blue solution over the girls face so as to preserve her beauty, to keep away the evil eye, a thousand year old remedy handed down from antiquity. This obligation to take care of strangers penetrated every aspect of life. When walking along a hot country road locals would come out to offer you oranges to quench your thirst. Villagers would meet you on the road and offer you free accommodation.. Travellers and strangers were sacred, who knows one many be a god returning to world to check on the living. The accommodation, a white washed cottage maintained for this purpose was always embellished with local craft. The only drawback would be when you were preparing for bed you would  unknowing provide entrainment to the villagers through the pane less window.

Two Australian authors, Charmian Clift and George Johnston lived for ten years on Hydra, were Clift wrote several novels ,"Mermaid Singing,"  "Peel Me a Lotus "and "Walk to the Paradise" among the better known.Their life became a proto type for the free love adventures of the late sixties. They were not alone as the period ushered in a general period of rebelliousness. Another great lover of Greece from this period was Paddy Fermor whose death last week at age 96 sadden many lovers of Greece. Fermor wrote the forward for the extraordinary "Ill Met by Moonlight", a true story about the kidnapping of a German general on Crete during the war. Recently the Folio Society Published George Psychoundakis' story from the Cretan viewpoint in "The Cretan Runner". Patrick Feror carried out the translation and wrote the introduction. All these books are worth reading by anyone interested in Crete and Greece in general.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mikonos Zorba Dance

quick sketch  for ready to sail

Mikonos today with its' tourist hotels bears little resemblance to the old Mikonos of the late fifties early sixties. A time when the Greek Islands were seen as a paradise on earth, a place of escape from the ongoing crises of the cold war. Greeks in general felt that with the bloody civil war behind them things were looking up. Kazantzakis had just published his novel "Zorba the Greek", and the sixties generation were to take his approach to heart. Greek rebeticia music had hit the airways with its' sense of zest for life .quite infectious. For those of my readers who know nothing of this music and its individual beat it originated in Asia Minor where entertainer sung and played the music in the hashish dens and brothels of Smyrna's nightclubs. If you still have never read Kazantzakis let me recommend him, he is by far the major Greek writer of the 20th cent.

Standard accommodation then was the little whitewash cottage with hand woven rugs scattered on the floor or sometimes used as wall hangings. You often had to fetch water from a well in the courtyard , while the toilet facilities were at best primitive. Heather and I after spending a day in the port decided to walk across the sand dunes to a little cafe over on a beach a short distance away. This proved to be a real hideaway ,built right on the beach with a basic awning for shade over the outside tables. During our walk we pasted a fisherman pounding an octopus on the rocks, little did we realise that was dinner. We watch him for a while tenderising the meal which with cheap wine would make a wonderful repast.

During the meal a small band of musicians played traditional folk music while we sat back to enjoy the evening entertainment. To our surprise our fisherman suddenly appeared and started to dance, then the band played the Zorba dance and our dancer moved over to a table and while still dancing to the beat, bent his knees ,back straight and took hold of a dinner table between his teeth. Keeping a table leg in front of his chest , still laden with plates, he stood up hands above his head and proceeded to dance around the cafe. The customers went wild with excitement, it was as if Zorba himself had appeared Poseidon like out of the sea. Incredibly he did not tire, but kept a vice like grip on the table with his teeth for what seemed an eternity. The electricity and energy filled everyone, the dance seemed to continue for every and a day. It was one of those moments that even today fifty years later seems as vivid and as wonderful as though it was yesterday.

quick sketch for fishing boats on the beach

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Shore Leave

Whenever a ship returned to it's home port the crew would sign off and new crews employed, sometimes the existing crew would be reengaged but not always. As a ordinary seaman  I often found myself out of work for several weeks, sometimes months. The marinetime employment centre was located in a shed under the Sydney  Harbour Bridge at the time and we would be required to attend each morning at 9am. We would line up for any job on offer for which we were qualified, while the first mate of what ever ship requiring men would walk up and down several times deciding on  who he liked the look of. The only thing we were not required to do was open our mouths so he could check our teeth! The whole process was very 19th cent. You might say seamen were not held in very high regard.

In the evening I would visit my mother, on some nights I would go out with old Jack to sell  his painted silk scarves. He would spend the day copying various flowers pictures out of the Women's Weekly  for this purpose, Jack was quited a talented painter and had been doing this type of work for many years at sea. In some way this first aroused my interest in art. On other evenings we would go to different migrant clubs and run a little tattoo business out of the men's toilets, another skill Jack possessed. The equipment was fairly primitive and frankly I never could warm to all the blood, but lonely single men seemed to gain some satisfaction from tattooing their loves name on their arms. We always used the toilets as this gave us access to a power point to run the machine. My main job was to keep a look out as this sort of activity was not encouraged by the authorities.

While ashore on these occasion I first became acquainted with the varied kitchens of Australia's new migrant class. A favorite of mine was a Greek club in George Street, Sydney were I was  introduced to eggplant and feta cheese, it was the only eatery that I can remember at that time were a big chunk of bread would arrive in a cane basket on the table free of charge. This was the start of my love affair with the Greek Islands not the bread but Greece in general. A country were I was to spend many wonder full months in the future. My readers must remember that Wiener Schnitzel was consider quite exotic at this time and sauerkraut only fit for Germans. There was no such thing as an express machine. I can still recall going into a shop to purchase sour cream only too be told that Australian shops only sold fresh cream and would never sell anything that was off! In many ways this was the twilight days of the old Australia, the new Australians as migrants were then called were  about to change everything.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

From the Coalface

"Alice's Cupboard"
Construction by Peter Kreet from the Salvaged Show  590x630  $500

Alice's cupboard down which she had ran to arrive at wonderland and experience a new world.
Constructed out of found objects and used without modification.
I realise I must resist the temptation of allowing these postings  to become too serious. On a lighter note last
week was a pain. Firstly there has been the weather, more or less very Irish ,showers followed by heavy rain, wind up to 100kh per hour along with a temperature of around 8 to 10 degrees. On the bright side the rain drops gathering around the olive leaves shining like stars in a night sky all very lovely. When the fruit will ripen only the gods know, for the moment the only company they have is the mist slowly drifting through the grove. It is all very romantic and spiritual. Some varieties are starting to show colour, I have covered the trees with shining things like a Christmas tree to ward off the birds. Not that they eat the fruit they simply pick  causing them to drop to the ground, unprocessed olives are unpalatable but no one has told the birds so the ground becomes covered in fruit like confetti at a wedding.

In between showers I have been rushing out pruning the odd grape vine here and there so I have finished four rows, then into the studio to put a few more dabs of paint on the portrait I'm painting. This painting is developing in an entirely new style for me and I am quite pleased with the direction for now. Against this backdrop I have been trying to get work to two exhibitions, one called Salvaged, work made from discarded objects, two of these works accompany this blog. The other is a landscape show up at Swansea on the east coast. I had intended driving up myself but the weather was so bad I had to run around looking for a carrier. It was just as well for water was running over the road in places and there was enough firewood on the highway to keep the average household going for a year.

On my way back from negotiating the freighting of the paintings, I was surprised to come across an old man feeding a large flock roosters on the highway. There was certainly a large selection to meet every taste, white, brown and everything in between. I assume they are all the discards from various suburban back yards , the owners of which have fallen foul of there neighbours. No doubt they could not bring themselves to put the roosters into the pot.

Finally I had to collect the work from the Salvaged Show, much to my surprise over nine hundred people passed through over the few days the exhibition was on. Just goes to show how creative activity at all levels has a great commercial potential every one concerned seemed pleased.

"Honey  Bouquet"
Construction made from fencing timber old , a bee honey frame and timber off cuts.

Black Armband View of History.

Julie Gough's current exhibition "The Missing" in Hobart is another journey down memories lane. Gough's obsession with her past always seems to deal with the negative. In all her shows I am yet to experience any positive feelings for a brighter future for our indigenous peoples. No one of the present  Australian generation denies past injustices , but to continually force feed the public with suggested guilt  becomes counter productive. If the Australian population is ever to move forward to a fully integrated future then we need to put this continual negativity behind us.

I feel as person of Armenian descent I could very easily have spent my life portraying the Turkish  atrocities towards the Armenian population after the First World War,events that took some one and half million lives. Events that even today require some form of acknowledgement, But life is not like that, nearly every country on this planet has experienced invasion, occupation or persecution at some point in their history. Most have had to pick themselves up and move on.

There are of course people with long memories who refuse to forgive. One only needs to look at Yugoslavia to see such hard line attitudes in action were they refuse to bury past wrongs but to what avail. Humanity for all it's faults needs to embrace each other and not spend their life reliving past grievances. Alexander the Great was right to require his troops to take foreign brides and create a new world that is were the future lies.

Inter Island Trading

Some of the pacific islands we had to visit had no infrastructure for loading and discharging cargo, many were not much more than coral  reefs. In such cases we would anchor off shore and rig up a make shift raft by lashing two life boats together and placing hatch covers across them and tow them to the beach. Burns Philp kept a tight control of all the movement of primary crops from out lying islands ,copra, rubber and later coffee. They had a monopoly on all the major shipping  movements, so growers were obliged to do business. If various plantations wanted their crop transported they would sell to the company it was as simply as that.

Many of these plantations were managed by young Dutch boys or older German ones ,both left overs from the wars of the 20th cent. At times they were the only Europeans on their island resulting on a high reliance on the bottle.Inevitably they would take their frustrations out on the native labour and it was not uncommon for them to use a cane to assist the labour to lift heavy objects. Loading cargo onto a makeshift rafts in a surf was a difficult task at the best of times.

The standard wage for these islanders was around two pounds a month if my memory serves me correctly. Plus a weekly ration of rice and spam, then they would also receive a lap lap ever six months. Ever now and then we were obliged to return them to their respective islands after their two year contract expired. This was done simply by rigging up a tarpaulin on deck for shade , they would just camp there for the few days it took us to get them home. Then we would pick up a fresh group for the return home. In many ways the whole procedure was not far removed from 19th cent. black birding were so many axes were traded for so many boys with the tribal chiefs.

The plus side however was that many of the returnees were very happy with the wrist watch or bicycle and the few pounds they had saved to buy a bride. In their village they were considered comparatively wealthy men and would strut their stuff for all it was worth. even today I find it very hard to believe that these events were really not all that long ago for the year was1957/8.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Language and Colonial attitudes

I first became aware of language as a political tool while sailing around the Papua-New Guinea as a young man.I became aware that when ever an Australian official or local Europeans in general addressed a Papuan ,they always spoke in Pidgin English even though the Papuan replied in perfectly good English. It reminds me now of Orwell's comments that the best way to control people is to restrict their vocalibility. If they are unable to express themselves their life is reduced to good or bad without any shades of gray. Pidgin for those readers unfamiliar with the language is an abridged form of English comprising approximately five hundred words.

British and Australian colonial attitudes always seemed in my experience to be in marked contrast to the French at least in the Pacific region. In the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), New Caledonia and Tahiti all the native people spoke French there did not seem to be any restriction in language usage. They owned watches, bicycles and what have you items generally not in the possession of Papuans. France of course claimed their colonies where part of metropolitan France and therefor sent deputies to the French Parliament. All this was in marked contract to Australian attitudes where the White Australia policy was still in force. A Chinese resident in the  old German territories could not operate a business in Papau, so New Guinea and Papua (Australian)
 had different laws concerning race.

Personally during my time in New Guinea I found the  Ex German  territory a lot more pleasant, the towns such as Madang had wide tree lined avenues and a far more interesting commercial life. Port Moresby reminded me of Western Sydney at the time, treeless ,hot without any amenities, sound familiar lets just put it down to lack of vision.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Political Direction

Peter Kreet
"Looking for the big Picture"
                                            650 x 550    Acrylic on board      $750.

Due to the lack of any apparent
political direction currently in Australia ,rumour has it that major political parties have hit the road in search of directions. These two scouts were looking for the big picture when I was fortunate enough to catch up with them at an intersection and dash off a quick sketch. Both were travelling light due to the amount of hot air currently prevailing in Canberra. They appear to feel they have discovered what they want, but the picture's size doesn't engender much confidence.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Life's random qualities can be beautiful, the unknown, the unexpected event or result often engenders excitement and wonder. A random approach to problems will often give new insight onto to the world. It offers a different viewpoint by creating new formats and possibilities. The changing shadows of the day ,beautiful stains on old walls ,Leonardo DA Vinci writes glowing about unexpected encounters with the walls of Rome. Have you ever watched the never ending dance of willie-age tails as twitter here and there in the morning sunlight, or looked expectantly towards the taste of an unknown future meal.

I have never been afraid of exploring the new direction in my creative work ,otherwise how could one discover the unknown possibilities of things. Some of my engineering friends will disagree for they must always have a plan a strategy before they start. This type of structure never allows for free lateral thinking and new solutions. I often feel my best work is produced from the starting point of an open mind. Looking back over the years it seems that no matter how many directions one investigates the same spirit always comes through. One should never be afraid of the unknown, who knows around the next bend in the road there may be a field of wild mushrooms.