Saturday, November 1, 2008


I got in trouble today. The principal from one of the local primary schools phoned to say he’d been approached by a concerned parent saying her son had been videoed by me without her permission and that’s just wrong.

You know the worst part? It was all true.

My son and I had gone to the footy ground with the kite, kite buggy, bike and camera, as we often do. My son videoed me trying to bust some moves on the buggy but the wind was unpredictable and it totally fizzed out when the groundsman started mowing. I turned the camera on my boy and his new bike. I caught him doing a series of lame stunts – no hands (for a total of one second), mono (for less than a second) and a wild downhill ride (over freshly mown grass down a slope of approximately three degrees). We were cacking ourselves at the stupidity of it all and my boy decided freerunning around the clubrooms would be cool.

Freerunning or parkour is a kind of mad mix between gymnastics and foot racing where participants use the elements of the (usually urban) landscape – poles, walls, fences, buildings, roofs, bridges – to bounce off. The opening scenes of the recent James Bond Casino Royale are an awesome example of extreme freerunning.

Anyway, continuing with our theme of lame stunts, the boy’s freerunning was more freewalking, jumping over lumps of grass, getting stuck on the bars while climbing through and leaping wildly from the bottom step. It was a great laugh and we were having a ball. Three other boys arrived across the oval from the tennis courts – mid- to upper-primary school age. They were up to mischief in a minute, carting around a fold of felt or something gleaned from the front of the clubrooms.

Here’s where I made my biggest mistake of the day: I saw what was going on and followed them when they ran off.

‘Hey! You guys want to join in? We’re doing stupid videos, lame stunts and that.’

When they realised I wasn’t about to chew them out about their mischief, they were smiling and only too keen to play freewalking follow-the-leader with my son while I filmed. One of the boys asked what we do with the films and my son explained that we’ve got a collection of silly stuff on You Tube. The boy’s eyes lit up – he was going to be a star! Explaining that I wouldn’t be using any video footage of him without a media release signed by his parents would have ruined the moment.

They hammed it up – totally natural over-actors who got right into it. We recorded some funny stuff. We were packing up ready to go home when a car arrived. One of the kids swore and started running. His mum had the window down.

‘Get in the car! Right now!’

That was when my adult brain should have engaged. That was when I should have gone running to the car and explained to the boy’s mum what we’d been doing, shown her the video. Another car arrived. More shouting. I didn’t think about it again until the principal phoned a couple of days later. It was a kick in the guts to realise he’d had to deal with the ‘situation’. He’s a good man, and that’s where the issue is for me. I felt sorry for the principal and I felt sorry for the mum but they’re familiar feelings. Blokes who work with kids are prone to looking over their shoulder at how their actions are being perceived. I should have been more sensitive to what those games would have looked like from the outside.

How was the mum to know that I spend half my year playing with other people’s kids? Just over twenty five thousand of them this year. I often have a video in my hand, or one of the kids does. Easy enough to assume the worst – that I was a perverted predator plying my trade. Her kid later mentions the Internet and You Tube and I’m the scourge of the earth. I don’t blame her – that confusion is a cultural thing and I should have been sensitive to that.

I wonder if it would have made any difference if it was a woman with the camera? I wonder if it would have made a difference if we were strangers kicking the footy with her son? Yeah, I think it’s the ‘bloke with a video camera’ that complicates the scenario.

I think I’ll get a t-shirt made – one that says ‘Kid Safe’ with a copy of my police check on the back. I’m not going to stop being innocent. I’m not going to stop playing spontaneously with kids. Contrary to what you might see on the news, there are good men in the world and the world and the kids in it need us.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


We went for a drive. 16,000 kilometres across to Perth and up the WA coast then home via Darwin and the reddest of centres. I was hunting for something. A slice of never never. Silence. Hard to say.

It was months of packing and unpacking, blown tyres and a trail of carbon footprints in the desert. I became conscious of the tension between working and living, consuming and being consumed and the brittleness of the human experience.

We don’t live long—a mere flash in the eye of a big old country like ours—a fact driven home by the fossil sea creatures in the Pilbara. We’re also very small—those nights of horizon to horizon stars ramming it home. They’re good things to be reminded of.

We drove out beyond the graffiti, to a place where nature is so much bigger than man. There was graffiti there, too. Old graffiti—layers of ochre-stencilled hands and images of lizards and turtles. Prehistoric tags and symbols with meaning. The artists were long gone but the evidence of their impermanence has lived on.

It clicked together in my head on the long road. We struggle to outlive our mortal years. We fight to make a mark on the world so we are remembered. Hunger for a salve against the futility and we express it in a million ways—the old people stencilled their feet and images of their food on the rocky walls, we build fat houses to store the trophies of our effectiveness in.

Living out of the car made me think about how little I really need to be comfortable. How, when I’m confronted by the temporary nature of being human, the whole struggle and toil of work and that grabbing need for stuff loses its hold. All that’s left are the good folk I call home and all those stars.

Friday, April 4, 2008


We're in New Zealand at the moment and we've been thinking of a few alternative - poetic - names. Yes, we get the Long White Cloud reference - some places we've been get more than five metres of rain a year and it has to come from somewhere.

The Land of the Long Green Hedge

Topiary is HOT in New Zealand. Especially the mammoth green cypress hedge, trimmed until it is a monolithic green brick bordering the paddock. They're so meticulous that they're works of art (Bob the Builder sort of art, like a nice flat slab of concrete or a neat stack of firewood - functional things of beauty.)

The Land of the Small Hairy Hobbit

No joke, LOTR has put NZ on the map (since the cricket fell over and the rugby and the netball went all green and gold). Every wayside stop has its little shrine to Peter Jackson. I've been humming the dark Mt Doom theme incessantly and looking for rings everywhere I go.

The Land of the Lanky White Sheep

About 4.3 million people and about 35 million sheep (that's not a joke). My mate Baz reckons they have the worst infestation of paddock maggots in the known world. I've seen them. I agree. But the country is so green and they all look so fat and happy. Sheep do better in NZ than Oz.

Land of the Cool Wet Air

Coming from our thirsty neck of the woods, it's pure heaven to be soaked to the bone with rain, see it cascading down the mountains and watch it shifting and forming huge glaciers. Come on, Australia! Where are your ancient ice rivers?? I hadn't seen a river until I came to NZ - I mean the Franklin is nice in Tassie and the Tully is awesome in Queensland but seriously, they're hobby rivers compared to the raging blue thunderous chasms that carve up the South Island.

Awestruck. Dumbfounded. Amazing country.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


When I get excited about a new project, I feel it in my guts. Deep in my guts. A romantic sort of excitement that burns brightly and if I sleep on it, by the morning all that’s left is a glow. The glow is a better test of the worth of an idea than the height of the romantic rush, but that’s probably true of most love; the romance is bright, heady, and narcotic but we weren’t meant to live on that stuff alone. The romance is there to pique our interest, titillate us and keep us around long enough for the love to mature into something of substance.

I’m thinking of flowers now. Fragrant to fill the shopping centre but the florist can’t tell you if they smell. She’s dead to their romance. The floral porn of gerberas is lost on the guy at the market as he drags a bunch from a bucket and shakes the water off them.

We all do it; fall head over heels for new ideas. Some of those new ideas are meant to live alone. Some of those ideas don’t have any desire to settle down and when you introduce them to your parents they seem awkward. Suddenly you’re asking yourself what you saw in them in the first place.

Sometimes I like to knock the romance out of a new idea. Take it bush for a weekend and see if it will survive the rigours of a long-term relationship. See if I can fart in its company. See if it loves me with bed hair and cheesy feet.

Every one of my big ideas has had its dark night of the soul. At some stage, if our worlds are held together long enough—the luscious world of the imaginary and the hard dry world of form—we’re bound to get on each other’s nerves. In the beginning, the dark night represented a bleak and scary time for me. The romance was gone and my inner critic could only see the shit things about the art we were creating. The doubts crept in and I felt like taking off this stupid ring/pen, slamming it on the desk storming out of the office and never coming back.

But if you’ve ever really been in love with an idea and tried to coax it into the world then you’ll know about this crisis of faith. You’d be familiar with the sharp-tongued turns of phrase your inner critic uses. Your confidence pales, you slide, and then, in a sub-conscious bulb-flash, you realise you’ve been here before and that the friction is really a good sign. It’s the pain of final labour. It’s coming to the end and the challenge (as always) is to ignore the bickering and just go about making breakfast for the thing, buying it flowers and sitting still and close with it until the warmth comes back and you can smile at each other again and get on with the job.

The thing that separates a practicing artist from a dreamer is the crisis of faith and what she does with it. Nothing that’s forced can ever be right, if it doesn’t come naturally, leave it. And the counter to that is the thought that anything worth anything is worth the work. The good things in the world have been forged at the place between those ideas. Artistic action is only possible while those things are in inertia.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Snakes are big symbols. One of my dream interpretation books says they symbolize friendship. My other dream interpretation book says that the snake represents people in your life who are callous, ruthless and not to be trusted. For the Pagans, snake represents wisdom, rebirth, initiation and resurrection. The serpent tempted Eve in the garden of eden.

I guess it's all a matter of perspective.

During summer in our neck of the woods, we see a few snakes. Snakes that are way up there on the list of the 'Worlds Most Dangerous'. Brown snakes, Tiger snakes, Red bellied black snakes and others. If they bite you and you don't get treatment quickly, you'll die. The key words there are 'bite you'. They are not (like falling from a building or a lung full of water) inherently dangerous. They can live along side you and you won't die. They can slide across your feet - and they have - and you won't die. You don't die by looking at them.

I love looking at them. I think they're cool. On top of their coolness, venomous snakes offer a nice animal kingdom experience of 'staring death in the face'. There aren't many of those left in my backyard. I guess I could swim with sharks or crocs, throw stones at elephants (not that I would, but hey), hand feed lions. If I scare the willies out of myself it helps me feel mortal and part of the world. I think it's the same thing that happens on the rides at theme parks and why some like them and others don't.

I've never been able to reconcile that human need to kill everything in the world that poses a threat. 'This one time ... at band camp ... a bear came ...' There are a lot of potential human-killers on the endangered species lists.

The snake in the picture is a Tiger. It turned up in the sink in the shed and I flipped it into an esky (cooler) and let it go in the bush. I was frightened. It was good.

My hope is that one day, snakes will symbolize our ability as humans to feel our fear and still respect every living thing.