” DETROIT D “

The offer of $8,000 to travel anywhere overseas to paint, draw, and more, was an irresistible offer. As VU training artists we were all eligible to apply. Much decision making ensued. Where to go, what to do and what to see. Easy right ? That decision was easy, but the writing of the grant application proved more problematic. Initially it involved detailed research, followed by a complex series of emails, to establish connections with a city to which you had never been, relying on the goodwill of people you had never met. Many questions were asked, solutions sought, and networking via cyber space was attempted. Favourable responses, were elicited from most parties, and with a swathe of references, a detailed series of proposals, and several further training prospects, the dreaded application was now to be written. Much procrastination, on my part resulted. I thrashed around ideas in my head,ad nauseam, and I became more than a little obsessive about the whole process. I slept ,thought,ate and workshopped travel grant, before I actually sat down to commence the writing process. My long suffering friends and family adopted pained looks when I started to gabble those three taboo words, travel grant application. Their eyes glazed over at the mention of the “D” word, and I’m not talking Denise

packard plant
packard plant
detroit
detroit

here, but that other “D” word, Detroit the place of my obsession, the holy grail of discarded and found objects, city of abandonment, my nirvana, and where I so desperately want to go, with $8,000 in my purse.

 
Several false starts were attempted before I got the nuance of writing clearly and concisely.It was a lengthy and difficult process. A lot of help from Robert, our VU teacher was invaluable, as he made me think about the themes I would be exploring, and how to articulate my reasoning. The dedication to the cause just had to be applied. It was too valuable an opportunity to let slip through my fingers. A harried Robert was seen darting in and out of the photo copy room and classrooms of the 16th floor, 300 Flinders St, VU HQ, all that long week as the deadline for the application grew steadily nearer.

It was a great struggle but I managed to pull it all together, and the last day saw me typing up my final draft, after multiple scrapped attempts. My piece was finally ready for submission, and I gratefully emailed it off with several hours to spare. I learnt a lot from the whole process, specifically how to articulate, who I am, what I do, what are the principles of my artistic practice, and how much I really wanted to win the grant.

But don’t we all?

Leaving

stk tram
stk tram

A vicious volley of words , slammed doors and hurled insults . It became obvious that the time to leave was imminent . Fleeing the family home with a clutch of possessions and a heart full of resentment , a lonely drive from inner urban madness , to semi rural tranquility , my oldest child has left home .

 

bub shoe
bub shoe

 

 

Illness had decimated the family home . Daily tasks presented monumental difficulties , happy faces were replaced with ones of foreboding , and personal space eaten up . A mother’s love , and sibling affection not enough to hold a young man to the family unit .

 

can
can

A kaleidoscope of emotions rage through my body as he arrives to pack up the remains of  a life  , shared with his family of 24 years . Collective memories of a firstborn ,   tinkling laughter , and the early shared adventures of a nervous parent and inspiring child  . Latterly , charting the child’s progression from boy , through gawky adolescence , to manhood. Harbouring a furtive pride in the genetic transference of same eye colour and wiry hair , of the compassionate and caring nature of  the man he has become .

 

street art
street art

He has left . A sense of desolation engulfs me in a sea of sadness , and unshed tears . I brace myself and know I must go forward , grateful for the life I have created and nurtured , ever mindful of  the lifelong journey of parenthood , the deep passion it evokes , and the unrepentant  task it employs .

 

Betty

Betty was my mum . Dimunitive in stature but feisty in nature she was born in 1926 in rural outer Melbourne .  She grew with an older sister and enjoyed a bucolic lifestyle in the period between two wars , a forerunner to the  Great Depression .It is a shared history of many older Australians  .

These events helped shape my mum’s early life , as did a bout of peritonitis when she was 14 , that required a 6 month stint in hospital , and precluded her further education . Betty went to work at 15 in the British Australian Tobacco company , Swanston st , Melbourne .  First sweeping the floors for discarded tobacco skeins , later graduatiing to the sorting bench . Lifelong friendships were forged and happy events shared , particularly when VP day was announced  . Dancing  in the streets and all out revellery was enjoyed as a young spirited nation could put the grim spectre of war behind them .

Mum married ,  moved , lost a baby  , and subsequently raised my brother and I in Colac , a country  town in the Western District of  Victoria . She was an astute baker , sewer and gardener and seamlessly re -adapted to rural life . Independence presented itself in the form of her tiny Morris Minor and a driving licence .  She was soon seen careering around country roads , only travelling marginally faster than the pedestrians , with us , and the corgi “Taffy ” firmly ensconced in the back .

 

Betty Ellen Kiernan
Betty Ellen Kiernan

 

A move to  Melbourne saw Betty take on the joint running of  a pub. The first in gritty industrial Port Melbourne circa 1969 . A subsequent move to a South Melbourne  pub , where she remained for 30 years followed . Betty nursed her partner through cancer and retired to the home she had made for herself . Some uneventful years followed . Mum travelled , gardened , entertained and viewed the world at a more leisurely pace .

Warning bells began to ring when phone calls became discordant  , words jumbled and sentences incomplete . Heating was unable to be turned on or off and letters were attempted to be posted at flinders st railway station.Taps were left on and keys were lost . Falls in the street , and further falls late at night alone in an empty house , indicators to Betty’s world slowly unravelling .Inoxerably Betty ‘s progress towards a nursing home was charted .

Comfortable , modern ,    great views and caring staff replaced her much loved home .  She mourned for and lamented with flickering anxiety her home . It was mirrored in her plaintive cry of ” I just want to go home ” . Betty survived for 4 years in the new regimented environment , daily submitting her will to greater indignites and submerging her independence . The slurred speech , unkempt appearance , wild hair , and muddy eyes , signified her gradual descent into madness . Her final act of rebellion , I believe administered by what remained of her addled brain was to stop eating . Betty peacefully slipped into oblivion on the 27 september . There is not a day goes by that I don’t miss her and rue her passing . Dementia is a cruel , remorseless disease .