Das weitgereiste Fernglas

Swarovski CAG Dienstglas 6 x 30 45037 H-6400

Gleich vor dem Kriegsende gingen viele amerikanische Soldaten über den Rhein und landeten in Sandhofen in der Nähe von Mannheim, Deutschland. Dieses erreichten sie nur mit Booten, weil es damals keine Brücke über dem Rhein gab. Für zwei Tage vorher hörte die fünfzehnjahrige junge Frau Maria, wie sie von der anderen Seite des Rheins auf ihre Seite mit Artillerie schossen. „Zwei kamen wohl vom Rhein über das Weizenfeld zu uns, wo sie sich hinter dem Haus eingruben“, sagte Maria. Dieses entdeckte sie durchs Fenster. „Sie mussten zwei der ersten gewesen sein“, ahnte Maria.

Nachdem der Vater vom Waldhof zurückkam war, erzählte Maria ihm, was passierte und wo sie waren. Der Vater ging mit seinem Gewehr zu den Soldaten und sprach mit ihnen. Danach brachte er sie nach Waldhof mit. Bevor sie aber weggingen, gaben die Beiden dem Vater das Fernglas, das der deutschen Wehrmacht gehörten, sowie einen silberen Löffel. Das Fernglas war wohl ein Souvenir. Damals war es üblich, dass Objekte von toten feindlichen Soldaten behalten wurden.

Interessanteweise hat Maria 1951 das Fernglas nach Australien mitgeschleppt. „Ich weiß nicht warum das Ding in meinem Koffer landeten“, sagte die jetztige neunzigjahrige Maria. „Vielleicht dachte ich damals, es könnte während der langen Schifffahrt nützlich sein“.

Das weitgereiste Fernglas hat neulich seinen Ehrenplatz auf dem Schrank im Arbeitszimmer ihres Sohns gefunden.

Becoming globally competent: Understanding the Cultural Iceberg and what lies beneath the waterline

Berliner Donuts Hadough

In Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men two jurors had a heated exchange:

11th Juror: “I beg pardon, In discussing……”

10th Juror: “I beg pardon. What are you so goddam polite about?”

11th Juror: “For the same reason you’re not. It’s the way I was brought up.”

This reminded me of an intercultural encounter in Germany just after I had arrived to live in the country. I had walked into a bakery and while I was carefully gathering the correct vocabulary and syntax to ask for my German doughnut (Berliner), a local reminded me that I had pushed in and told me to go to the end of the queue. After going red in the face, I apologised and did as I was told. Although I knew she had every right to remind me of my seemingly rudeness, her direct style of communication had left me cold. I was ready to leave the store, but if you’ve ever stood in front of a showcase of German cakes, you’re not going anywhere, so I swallowed my pride, requested my light and powdery jam-filled Berliner and left the store.

As I walked home with jam between my teeth and icing up my nostrils, I felt the stereotypical view of German unfriendliness, had just been affirmed and I carried this with me for some time. I had not been aware at the time, but this early intercultural encounter and my reaction to it had been borne out of a lack of intercultural understanding. As a newcomer to Germany, I was unaware of the direct communication style of the German speaking community.  In contrast, my less direct style had left me feeling culturally shocked. As time went on and my linguistic and intercultural competencies developed, I caught onto the unwritten rules of the social game expected in Germany; I always went to the end of the queue and I used my words more efficiently; often omitting the cushioning devices so often used in Australian discourse so as not to cause offence or to seem too direct.  

I’ve just completed my AFS Global Competence Certificate Facilitator training and now know what I had done was to bridge my culture with that of the German speaking community. I had shifted towards a more direct style of communicating. According to Edward Hall’s metaphorical cultural iceberg, only 10% of culture sits above the water line. This is the visible behaviour, such as the language we speak. What is more interesting is the 90% that lies beneath the water, including communication styles. Do we rely less on context and spell things out explicitly through words or do we consider context and let others read between the lines of our nonverbal cues?

According to Craig Storti, Northern European and North American speakers have a low context style of communication in which speakers tend towards using words to convey meaning and these words need to be clear, precise and explicit. In contrast, high context speakers tend to be indirect, in which nonverbal cues are preferred and harmony is prioritised over disharmony. Although the UK is in general not considered to be a high context style compared with many other cultures, it is generally less direct than Northern European or North American. Australia, being culturally close to Britain, may mean that we also sit somewhere close to this along the direct-indirect continuum.

The 11th juror’s politeness was probably more in line with mine at the beginning of my journey into German culture, in which harmony is foremost. In contrast, for the 10th juror and the German speaker in the bakery store, communication should be clear, precise and explicit. What was needed on both parts was the suspension of judgement, recognition of the other’s cultural norms and a bridging or shifting towards the other.

As the world becomes more and more economically interdependent and we seek solutions to complex problems such as climate change and global pandemics, it is increasingly important that we dive beneath the water or into the jam centre of the cultures with which we need to negotiate. We need to become interculturally aware and more globally competent. If you are a teacher, global team leader or anyone interested in developing your intercultural awareness and global competencies, please reach out to me to hear more.  Let’s start the conversation…

A Journey of Remote Teaching and Learning

Olivia Numbers

When I started my remote teaching journey six weeks ago, I felt somewhat daunted: how would I navigate my way around this beast called google classroom, create engaging interactive worksheets and conduct a virtual lesson? I was concerned for good reason; born on the heels of the baby-boomers, I am a cyber-immigrant not a native like my students or even many of my colleagues.

Fortunately, I had the support of my millennial colleagues who quickly showed me the full google suite of applications. In no time, I had created classes and sent invitations to my students. I waited patiently as each student jumped on board by accepting my invite. Suddenly, I had to produce something and quickly created my first google doc assignment. My topic for Year 7 German was die Schule (school) so I quickly created an interactive task comprising all the features of a regular worksheet but with extra stimulus material: a short video of the German school system. This would create the hook to pull my students in, ignite their curiosity and get them thinking. I quickly scheduled the lesson, hit send and hoped for the best.

Surprisingly, most students not only submitted the worksheet but had also taken the additional step of photographing the numbers they had written in their exercise book. The images were sitting in my inbox. I suddenly realized that the remote teaching environment had not only allowed for more student initiative but also a deeper level of cooperation than classroom teaching. In the classroom, it is predominantly the teacher’s role to keep students on task, ensure notes are taken and that new knowledge is applied. Here, in this more distant environment, students were taking the lead, showing autonomy and doing the reminding themselves.

The assignment had also included a listening and pronunciation task. This same google doc had allowed me to embed an audio file, which students could access easily. The worksheet also allowed me to mark the lesson and give my students timely feedback with areas for improvement. This lesson had achieved most aspects of a face-to-face lesson but without the busyness and sometimes disruption of a regular classroom lesson. This had conveniently fallen away to reveal a more targeted approach to teaching.

A few days later, I sent the invitation to our first virtual lesson and before long; I was in regular communication with Tim the red Ferrari, Gemma the French bulldog and Lana the furry feline. I grew accustomed to the icons that represented my students during these virtual lessons. Some icons spoke, these were the more social students while others preferred to type their questions and answers into the chat-box. They were my more reserved students, some on the spectrum, who during classroom teaching were also reserved. Often for these students, the typical busyness and at times loudness of the classroom is a negative influence on their learning. Through the chat function, these students had found their voice. As the weeks progressed, these students not only survived but also thrived in this space.

Sadly, my remote teaching and learning journey came to an end last week and on Tuesday, many students and teachers headed back into the classroom to recommence face-to-face teaching. Undoubtedly, the majority of teachers and students were looking forward to the return to face-to-face teaching; explicit instruction is easier, student attendance and progress easier to monitor and students are connected socially.

However, before we contract back around our old pedagogy, I do feel there is much to learn from this expansion of ideas. I am sure I am not the only teacher who will approach classroom teaching with fresh eyes and am equally sure there are more students in more schools who will look to a more autonomous and inclusive learning environment.



Lucy in the Sky

Lucy in the sky 1

Tower crane operator Lucy Balta is one woman who has proven she’s capable of doing the heavy lifting.

It’s 7 am and Lucy Balta is ready to commence work. But she won’t be taking a lift to the 46th floor of a Melbourne skyscraper. Instead she is kitted out in her high-visibility vest, steel-capped boots and hard cap and will take the steep 30m climb to where she will sit high above Melbourne’s skyline.

On this day, Balta’s office is the control room at the top of the Built tower crane high above the building site of the Epworth Freemasons Hospital development on the fringe of the city.

“The view is one of the advantages of the job,” Balta says. “Today’s is of the east end of the CBD, including Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens and St Patrick’s Cathedral.”

This is a small, seven floor build. “The tallest I’ve worked on was the Scape Apartments which has 48 floors,” Balta says of the building at the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets.

But Balta hasn’t always been at the top of the building and trades sector of the construction industry. In 2005, she began as labourer and traffic controller.

“I was green back then,” she says. “Like precast concrete that’s still green and not yet ready for the build, I had a limited skill set.”

But she wasn’t green for long; she soon had her dogman and rigger tickets and began hooking up loads for crane transport around the construction site. She also began directing crane operations and offloading precast concrete panels for the build.

Balta didn’t stop there. “I’ve been crane operator for six years now…..I’m the only female tower crane operator in Melbourne,” she says.

Lifting different loads is a challenge she loves. “Today I’ll be lifting around 2 tonne,” she says. When the steel and concrete panels arrive on site, Balta lifts around 9 tonnes of weight.

“Most tower crane operations are done 80% blind,” says Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Victorian Branch high-risk trainer and assessor Tony Minchin. The operator can see the wire on the end of the load but cannot see the landing spot. The operator is relying on the directions given from the dogman on the ground.

“Lucy’s challenge is to pick up a load, sometimes 40 floors below her and land it safely on a spot the size of a postage stamp and that requires great skill,” Minchin says.

Balta has had a linear career path from traffic controller to tower crane operator, but her experience is unique.

Although there were 5% more women who trained in the traffic sector of the Victorian Branch of the CFMEU in 2018 compared with 2008, few women progressed to the more skilful work of dogman, rigger or crane operator.

In 2018, there were 1.3 per cent more women trained in these areas than there were in 2008.

CFMEU Victorian Branch women’s Officer Lisa Zanatta says there are a number of reasons for this with casualisation of the workforce one of the biggest factors.

Zanatta is working with the Andrews state government as part of its $585,000 funding initiative to boost the representation of women in the construction industry.

The lion’s share of the funding will be spent on addressing the issues affecting the low numbers of women in our sector,” Zanatta says.

It will predominantly go towards recruitment. “We need to talk to building companies, contractors and sub-contractors to explore ways they can employ women in more secure work so they remain in the industry,” Zanatta says.

“Lucy’s skills can match any bloke in her sector…she is held in very high regard and we want more women to experience similar success.”

While the CFMEU, government and other stakeholders work on improving the number of women in the construction industry, Balta will continue to enjoy the view and perform the job she has set out to do.

“It’s hard work as the build goes up, but when it’s complete, it’s hugely rewarding,” Balta says.


A Gift from the Heart

“My they are cold,” said Sisto Malaspina as he grabbed my hands on that brisk winter morning back in June this year.

I had come into the Espresso Bar not only because my hands were indeed cold but also as I was in need of a coffee. I had just launched my writing career and was also on the hunt for a story. I knew Pellegrini’s was synonymous with Melbourne and its co-owner, the much revered scarf wearing barista Sisto, whose hospitality and charisma had warmed the hands and minds of Melbournians for decades, would be a gem of a subject should he be thinking of retirement. Maybe he had a story to tell.

“This is the drink I’ve been making for 80-year-old Averil, who has been coming to Pellegrini’s for years now,” Sisto said. “Drink it, it will do you good!” Sisto had handed me a tea with a good squeeze of lemon and a teaspoon full of honey.

“What are you reading?” he asked.  I had just bought a copy of Patti Smith’s M Train. “She turned 72 this year,” I said. “Oh almost as old as me,” Sisto chuckled. “I’ve been working here for over forty years and hardly missed a day’s work, but when you enjoy what you do, well that’s not work.” he added.

Sisto passed me a piece of marble cake – the sort of no fuss number my grandmother used to make.  It was accompanied by a good squirt of aerated cream.

As I sat perched on one of the red iconic vinyl bar stools, the ebb and flow of Pellegrini’s custom began. Two men entered and sat either side of me. One was suited up Collins street style. The other wore jeans and a T-Shirt. He was a tourist from Perth yet knew Sisto well. “I’ve been visiting Pellegrinis for years….you don’t get this sort of service anymore,” he said.

They had both popped in for one of Paul’s coffees. Paul Panetta, the long-time barista at Pellegrini’s, has been working at the eatery for forty one years now. “I was just a boy when I started to work with Sisto”, Paul said.

Paul placed the coffees on the bar. No fancy motifs here. When you order a Latte at the establishment that brought Melbourne its first coffee machine, you take your coffee the way Paul serves it: strong with a good shot of gusto.  Motifs are for the smashed-avo set.

It’s not easy writing about nothing.  That’s what a cowpoke was saying as I entered the frame of a dream. Vaguely handsome, intensely laconic, he was balancing on a folding chair, leaning backwards, his Stetson brushing the edge of the dun-coloured exterior of a lone Café. 

I had always loved Patti Smith’s prose. As I looked up the men had gone and there was a woman sitting beside me tapping on her phone while savouring a bowl of Pellegrini’s spaghetti. “Do you come here for the food?” I asked? “The bolognese is good, but I mainly come here for my daily dose of happiness,” the woman said. “I’ve had a horror day and now I’ve got a smile on my face……that’s why I come here and will keep coming back here,” the woman said.

Finally, the custom ebbed so I could explore the possibility of a story. There had been many articles written about this iconic Melbournian eatery so I knew it would need a unique angle.  “Are you thinking of retiring?” I asked. “No, not yet,” Sisto rebuked. We agreed to leave it for now.

On that note and without thinking, I left the Café. I was already 20 metres down Bourke Street when I realised I had left without paying. Shocked, I turned around and belted back up to the eatery. When I entered, Sisto gestured for me to hold out my hands: “Oh that’s good, your hands are warm now, warm hands mean the soul is nourished,”he said.

When I asked him how much I owed him for the cake and tea with honey, he said.  “You cannot pay for a gift from the heart my dear”.


Monty Rudov’s Flinders Lane store marks last steps on a long journey

When I entered Schumacher Shoes in Flinders Lane, I was not expecting to leave with anything more than a sigh of relief that my sister’s hard-to-fit feet had finally found their glass slipper.

One look at the elderly gentleman whose feet shuffled over the showroom floor, however, and I knew this was not your average retailer.

The huge reductions and antiquated Make a Lay-By-Sign seemed to suggest the closure of the store and with it the end of an era in the city’s retail life.

Fortunately, there was another assistant to attend to my sister’s feet, so I could find out why this octogenarian was serving customers instead of rolling a ball down a bowling green.

It was not long into my conversation with the softly spoken 83-year-old – who was in fact the proprietor of the shop – that his words began to walk off the page of a W.G. Sebald novel.

“It all began in 1926, when mum and dad arrived fresh off the boat from Poland,” Monty Rudov said.

Monty’s parents – Abraham or Jack as he called himself in Australia, and his wife Esther – were Jews from the Polish city of Lodz.

“Both my parents had lived through World War I, and with rising anti-Semitism they came to Australia to start a new life and have a family in safe surrounds.”

Monty recalled his parents’ warm welcome in their new country: “Mum and dad were fresh off the boat and had just arrived at their accommodation opposite the Exhibition Building in Carlton when mum wanted some meat to eat.

“Dad found Watkins Butcher at the top of Russell Street where he bought six T-bones for sixpence each.”

Monty said the butcher had thrown in an ox tongue – considered a luxury in Poland – and he chuckled lightly as he recalled his mother saying: “An ox tongue! Well, now I know we are welcome.”

Schumacher Shoes reflects a long retail history. As I looked around the store, I saw a Meritus Lighting Award presented to the Rudov family in 1960 by the Victorian Branch of the Illuminating Engineering Society of Australia for their innovative showroom and window display lighting.

In the showcase, I saw a display of miniature moccasins given to the family by the German shoe company Sioux in the 1950s.

tiny mocassins
miniature moccasins given to the family by the German Shoe Company: Sioux in the 50s

The Sioux shoe company, established in 1954 and named after the Sioux Native Americans, is a leading German company which specialises in the making of comfortable footwear, including moccasins.

Experienced in the rag trade, Monty’s parents began tailoring suits and ensembles made from wool and Thai silk in Fitzroy and later Flinders Lane.

Without a retail outlet, they visited hotels and businesses to sell their garments but also took to the road and sold their clothes out of a suitcase.

Abraham in Albury
Abraham (Jack) Rudov in Albury NSW

This took them to Albury in NSW, where they quickly learnt that even during the Great Depression, there was money on the land.

In 1930 they opened their first retail clothing store: Rudov Modes in Dean Street, Albury, where they specialised in selling women’s formal wear to graziers and townsfolk.

In the workroom above they also manufactured maternity wear made from a combination of wool and washable terylene which they sold downstairs.

In 1939, the family moved back to Melbourne to open the Christine Bradley Boutique in Collins Street. Here Abraham and Esther engaged a local French designer to design women’s evening gowns and wedding attire which they would tailor and sell out of the store.

Monty remembers that year well, not only for the move back to Melbourne but also for his mother’s brother boarding a ship for Germany, never to be seen again.

One evening, four-year-old-Monty overheard his parents arguing with his uncle, who wanted to return to Poland to fetch his wife and two daughters.

Esther said: “Don’t go back, we’ll bring them out where they’ll be safe.”

She knew the danger as she had gone back to Poland and Germany the year before to settle her father’s estate. She had also gone to Paris to buy dresses for the Albury store.

She was in Berlin during the Night of Broken Glass, Kristallnacht, when Jewish shops were smashed and plundered on November 9 and 10, 1938.

In spite of this, Monty’s uncle boarded the ship and was in passage when World War II broke out. Monty said: “Uncle reached Germany but disappeared, never to be seen again.”

Monty’s cousin Selina shortly after she was liberated from Auschwitz-Birkenau

Monty spoke with deep pride and affection about his mother: “Mum went back to Germany not once but twice: once in 1938 and again in 1945, just after the war had ended.”

In 1945 Esther was on a quest to find her brother and his family. After months of going through displaced persons’ lists which took her from Germany to France, she finally found her 18-year-old niece Selina, known as Tsesha, in Paris.

This is when she learnt of the family’s fate.

In 1940, her sister-in-law and two nieces had been rounded up with the other 160,000 Lodz Jews by German officials and kept in a barbed-wire camp called the Lodz ghetto.

Lodz was the second-largest industrial city in Poland at that time and became a major production centre under the German occupation.

As early as May 1940, the Germans established factories in the ghetto and used Jewish residents as forced labour. In 1944, the ghetto was liquidated and all but a few hundred of the remaining Jews, including Esther’s sister-in-law and nieces, were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Monty said: “The only one to survive was my cousin, Selina, whom mum brought back to Australia. In total, mum and dad repatriated 12 family members as well as many non-family members to Australia both before and after the war, and all of these people have contributed greatly to Australian society.”

In 1959 Abraham and Esther opened Schumacher Shoes, originally in Collins Street but moving to the current store in Flinders Lane in 1975.

Monty chuckled as he noted that it had all started in Flinders Lane with the tailoring business and this is where it will all finish, before the end of the financial year.

“My brother and I were still tailoring and selling garments to boutiques and Myer when we established the shoe shop,” he said. “Dad intended retiring, so we hired a store manager.”

Monty chuckled again as he recalled his father’s three-week retirement.

“Mum and dad argued for three weeks straight,” he said. “He was out of bed and ready for work on the Monday morning of what would have been his fourth week with his feet up.”

“Jack” Rudov spent the last 11 years of his life at Schumacher Shoes, dying in 1970. That is when Monty and his brother took over, and Monty has been at the store serving customers with hard-to-fit feet for some 48 years.

shoe display
Schuhmacher Shoes in Flinders Lane Melbourne

Suddenly Monty had to excuse himself from our conversation – one of his faithful customers, a woman from Queensland with a need for large and wide shoes, had made her purchase and was ready to leave with three new pairs.

“I’ve been coming here for the past 25 years to buy shoes from this gentleman,”, she said.” I will miss him and the store when it closes.”

My sister too had done well. With her feet the size of a child’s, finding a stylish and quirky pair of shoes has always presented her with a huge challenge, normally ending in disappointment.

I had learnt to avoid accompanying her on shoe shopping trips, as I too came away feeling the frustration of having spent hours of my time to no avail.

On this occasion, however, we could both leave in high spirits; my sister had scored five pairs of chic shoes and I had discovered a tale worth telling.




Bringing a Region’s Pulse back

When I headed out of Melbourne along the A79, I wasn’t expecting to discover anything more than the town that gave birth to the artist and musician, Nick Cave.

The further I headed along the Calder and then the Mallee Highway, I saw there was more to this region than a flat and dry trail punctuated by train tracks and concrete silos.

This is the wheat-belt where times can be hard but determination is always strong.

This is the face on the Patchewollock silo, at the most northern point of the Yarriambiack Council Shire’s Silo Art Trail.

Noodle at Patchewollock
Nick Holland (Noodle) works from dawn till dusk but still finds time to play in the local footy team

Nick Hulland, or Noodle as he is known in the Mallee, whose wiry yet imposing figure towers above the mallee bush in this sparsely populated town, is a wheat and sheep farmer with a determined gaze.

Noodle, with the physique of a strand of spaghetti, works from dawn to dusk on his wheat and sheep station, yet still finds time to play footy with the local team. “He’s highly regarded around the Mallee”, a local said.

Welcome to Warracknebeal sign
Warracknabeal quietly announces itself as Cave’s birth place

As I drove into Warracknebeal, I noticed a sign quietly announcing it as Nick Cave’s birth place.

The Arts Council and the Yarriambiack Shire Council have recognised the value of the musician’s fame to the quiet town on the wheat-belt. They put the signs up in 2016.

“The most people who visit the town are Cave fans, they come in all ages from 15 to 80 years of age”, the volunteer at the Tourist Centre, said.

Judy Drage, President of the Arts Council, said “Cave was appreciative of the town’s acknowledgement of him and even rang to express his gratitude”.

Unfortunately, Arts Council member Margaret Dart, had missed the call, but was ecstatic when her granddaughter announced during a later visit, that the 89-year-old had three messages from Nick Cave in her voice mail inbox.

Once in the Centre, I was directed to a noticeboard which hung on the back wall displaying the artist’s photo. There were also newspaper articles about Cave and his family.

I read a snippet out of the local paper saying that Cave was born in Warracknebeal in 1957 and that his father was the English teacher at the local school and president of the Warracknebeal Dramatic Society.

His mother had also been a contributor to the local arts community.

Arts council member Margaret Dart, president of the Music Club at the time, told me, Cave’s mother, Dawn, had played violin for the club.

“They were lovely people, who made a valuable contribution to the Arts in the town”, she said.

For others, the jury is still out on the artist. “I don’t know why they bother, he’s been invited to come back but he’s never come”, a local said.

Cave and his band, the Bad Seeds, performed to a crowd of 5,000 revellers in Ballarat during their 2017 Australian Tour.

Warren Ellis, the band’s violinist and Cave’s writing collaborator, was born and grew up in the town.

Cave did not venture onto the Wimmera.

“Don’t forget to sign the Nick Cave visitor’s book, the more signatures, the more likely the council will erect some form of tribute!”, the volunteer at the tourist centre said.

The council has been considering a tribute for some years now. In 2008, Cave offered to erect a large bronze statue of him in the town. The design apparently exists which shows Cave scantily dressed and posed on a rearing stallion.

I made the suggestion of a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ tribute in the form of a Warracknebeal four stack silo: “Good seeds on the inside, Bad seeds on the out”. “Yeah we’ll give it some thought” the volunteer said.

Margaret Dart was most enthused. “Great idea, we’ve got some silos on the Minyip approach to the town”, she said.

The Sheep Hills silos’ bold use of colour was striking against the dry landscape.

The imposing six stack mural’s four strong Indigenous faces look out onto Wotjobaluk Land.

“The two children, Savannah Marks and Curtly McDonald, both go to our school”, two women from nearby Horsham said.

They also knew the two elders: Uncle Ron Marks and Aunty Regina Hood, “They are highly respected elders of their communities”.

Uncle Ron Marks Sheep Hills
Elder Uncle Ron Marks is a highly respected elder in the Wimmera Mallee

Uncle Ron, as he is known in the area, is a Wotjubaluk Elder.

I grew up in Dimboola in the Wimmera. This was the time of The Stolen Generation; my mum was constantly on the run dodging the authorities, she brought me up”. Ron said.

Aunty Regina whose sun-soaked yet gentle face appears to emerge from its concrete canvas is also a Wotjobaluk elder.

Aunty Regina is a member of the Goolum Goolum Cooperative which works to improve Indigenous life expectancy.

She also works as a Community Developer in the Horsham Area.

“Tok, as Ron referred to her, is family orientated, she cares about country and our people”. ‘Tok encourages our people to stop smoking and drinking and to exercise; to close the gap in Indigenous life expectancy”, Ron said.

Ron is also a strong advocate for change: “Our mob needs to get its act together and unite. ‘It’s not courses for horses but horses for courses. We need to find the right people to do the right job”. “It’s all about breaking down the Barriers” Ron said.

In contrast to the concrete silos, the faces of the two Rapunyup teenagers, Ebony Baker and Jordan Weideman, are monotone and painted on short, squat metal grain silos.

Jordan is wearing his local Panthers’ Football Club Guernsey. His love of AFL is in his blood. Murray Weiderman, the Collingwood Football team legend, is cousin to Jordan’s grandfather, Noel Wiederman.

Jordan has a strong connection with the Rapunyup area.  His great, great grandfather, Charles Henry Weiderman, settled in the area after buying a grain farm after WWI.

Today Jordan lives and works on his father’s nearby farm which his father inherited from Jordan’s grandfather Noel.  The farm has seen crop expansion over the years.

In this area, the grain silos that pepper the dry, semi-arid landscape house not only wheat, barley and oats but also pulses including legumes, beans, chickpeas and lentils.

They are suited to the semi-arid soil and dry climate. “The crop rotation provides a profitable and sustainable way of farming”, Sonny Johns, President of the Rapunyup Historical Society, said.

Ebony also has a strong connection with the Mallee. Her heritage goes back five generations; her great, great, great Grandfather, Matthew Baker, was an early settler in the area.

Ebony is also wearing her Panthers’ Club attire; hers is a netball Guernsey.

Russian Artist, Julia Volchkova, simply went to training one afternoon to pick her subjects without any input from the community, Sonny told me.

Ebony Baker Rapunyup silo
Ebony Baker features on the Rapunyup Silos

As I looked up one last time, I wondered if it was strength of character and vitality Volchkova saw in the faces of the two Rapunyup teenagers that afternoon.

‘We’re all mad here’ was written on the door of Boydy’s Café just around from the silos. Judith Heeps, the Cafés proprietor, had her windows decorated by local artist Julia Hill-Smith in the theme of the Alice in Wonderland.

The theme of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is also obvious inside the Café. Judith has a passion for teapots and can boast over 250 vessels of all shapes and sizes.

Judith sells a variety of hot and cold food and drinks. She also bakes and sells her peanut butter and coconut cookies made from lentil flour.

‘We call Rapunyuk a town with Pulse”, “I bake these cookies to show people that you can do more with lentils than a salad”. “Next week I am going to try choc chip also” Judith added.

Judith loves the silo trail which is easy to see by the many posters and newspaper articles she has on display.

Judith Heeps Rapunyup Store
Judith Heep’s at Boydy’s Cafe

“The art trail has saved my business; I have people from all over Australia as well as abroad in here”. “I even had a woman from Singapore who had seen the Master Chef Series in which the silos appeared”. “She just had to see them during her holiday here”, Judith said.

Judith knows the Silo Art trail well. “Don’t forget to visit the bathroom before setting off, there aren’t any toilets at the Sheep Hills Silo”, she warned a customer before leaving the Café.

“Then I had better wait a while; I’ve just taken a fluid tablet”, the woman replied.

As I left the Silo Art Trail and the Wimmera, with a smile on my face and Cave’s latest ballad in my ear, I felt inspired. I had not only learnt a little about Cave the artist, but had also discovered an area whose vision to use grain silos as modern canvases and grow ancient grains from arid soil, is bringing the pulse back into The Wimmera-Mallee.



Nick Cave’s Homecoming

When the baby-faced 21- year-old musician and ‘The Boys next Door’, front man, Nick Cave, sang ‘These Boots are made for walking’ in 1978, I wonder if he intended walking over most artists in terms of breadth and depth of genre and artistic longevity.

Forty years later, the sexagenarian’s stately yet worn face shows the strain of four decades’ grind in the music industry and the emotional trauma of losing a son, yet his gaze is equally determined.

Cave can boast a career of multidimensional talent from singer-song writer, script writer and composer to the author of books and numerous screen scores and his artistry is unwavering. He also has an ever-expanding fan-base with supporters across continents ranging from 15 to 80 years of age.

Last week, Cave walked onto the stage of London’s Victoria Park to a capacity crowd of 35,000. Three days later, he performed at the IMMA Royal Hospital Kilmainham, in Dublin, Ireland with reviews claiming the artist’s popularity to be at an all-time high in the country.

In 1980, Cave put on his boots and walked out of Australia to London. His band, ‘The Birthday Party’, previously known as ‘The Boys next Door’, became an edgy maverick project which experimented with punk, free jazz, rockabilly and raw blues in the largely conservative capital.

Cave moved to Berlin in 1982 where he became a cult figure as he threw himself about on stage in the divided city. He even featured in Wim Wenders 1987 film epic: Wings of Desire in which a frenzied Cave belts out From Her to Eternity in a smoke filled Bar of head-banging Germans. Wender said that to make a film about Berlin in the 80s without Cave would have been a travesty.

Cave led a hedonistic lifestyle in West Berlin often oblivious to the politics surrounding him. When his German guitarist and Einstürzende Neubauten front man, Blixa Bargeld, interrupted a vocal take in November 1989, to say: ‘The Wall is coming Down’ Cave replied: ‘Fuck off, I’m trying to sing’. ‘I was immersed in my own sordid little world’, Cave ruminated at a Q&A Session with fans at the Abbey Theatre, in Dublin last week.

Cave’s boots have walked many miles over the years and his style has changed from ‘The Birthday Party’s’ screaming Berlin scene to its more uplifting ballads when the band, under the new name of ‘Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’, released ‘The Good Son’ album in 1990. This album was released when Cave lived in St Paulo in Brazil from 1990 to 1993; a lighter period in the artist’s life.

The band returned to darkness when it released ‘Murder Ballads’ in London in 1996. This album saw Cave appear as the murderous ‘Stagger Lee’, one of The Bad Seeds seminal tracks, and one Cave returned to in his recent film: ‘Distant Sky’, released in April this year.

The album also includes, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’, which Cave wrote as a duet to perform with fellow Australian, Kylie Minogue. The artist’s crime of passion ballad quickly became Cave’s first main stream hit.

His latest and sixteenth album release, ‘Skeleton Tree’, was released in September 2016 the year after the artist lost his son in a tragic accident. Although Cave claims most songs were finished before he lost his 15-year-old-son Arthur, it is hard not to connect the sobering album with the tragic event.

Cave’s hedonism has waned over the years.  He has become nostalgic and even appreciative. In his film ‘20,000 Days on Earth’, he converses with people who have been pivotal in his life. ‘The ghosts of the past are crowding in vying for space and recognition, have I remembered them enough, have I honored them sufficiently?’ Cave asks.

Although Cave has walked many miles, he remains intrinsically Australian from his love of the expletive and occasional outburst to his keen sense of irony.

The artist was born to Dawn and Colin Cave in 1957 in the Victorian town of Warracknabeal. The small town on the wheat-belt has recognized the value of the musician’s fame; it put signs up stating it as the artist’s birthplace in 2016.

Although Cave often travels to Australia to visit family as well as to perform, he is yet to make the trek up the Mallee Highway to visit his birthplace. Well, that is about to change, at least in representational form.

In 2008, the artist proposed an imposing bronze statue of him for the town. The idea sprang from my novel: And the Ass saw the Angel’ Cave said. ‘The idea is to turn up in Warracknabeal with this statue, a wonderful gift of sublime generosity and if they wanted it, well good, but if they didn’t, well, I’d drive it into the desert and dump it there’ the artist said.

The Warracknabeal community has warmed to the idea over the years and ten years later the fable statue or ‘The Homecoming’, which until now, was seen as a myth and often dismissed by some locals as a fanciful idea, will proceed.

The Warracknabeal Arts Council in partnership with community organisations has decided to take on the project. ‘The statue will be an amazing tribute to Nick Cave. It is a bold, exciting and even bizarre concept that should attract attention from all quarters’, said Peter Loy from the Warracknabeal Arts Council.

The artist commissioned to create the statue of Cave is England’s Corin Johnson. Cave met the sculptor in 1995; Johnson was working on a woodcarving of Cave at the time. Johnson was also working on two limestone sculptures for Westminster Abbey; the two modern martyrs: ‘Esther John’ and ‘Janani Luwum’ stand proudly on the West Front of Westminster Abbey.

‘Nick and I devised the statue during the time I was working on ‘The Lady Diana Memorial’, Johnson said. ‘I had been working on a relief sculpture commissioned by Lady Diana’s brother, Charles Spenser’. Johnson’s cameo in black on white marble appears on The Lady Diana Memorial in Althorpe, England.

the gold marquette and statue prototype
Corin Johnson’s gold Marquette

‘We discussed the proposal over a period of two years until we finally came up with the design of a rearing horse’, Johnson said. Shortly after, Johnson made a 300mm Marquette of a bare-chested Cave riding high on a rearing horse. The artist is holding a torch of eternal light.

‘My original design depicted a more muscular figure, however, Nick insisted on its modification’, ‘I have a more feminine physic’, Cave said.

There are three Marquette’s; one is owned by the sculptor from which Johnson has taken a cast for ‘the Homecoming’, a second, silver model stands in the Arts Centre, Melbourne. The Marquette was bought by the Arts Centre as part of the Nick Cave Exhibition held by Cave and the Arts Centre in 2007. The silver Marquette also travelled to Sydney and Canberra for the exhibition. The third, Cave’s personal gold model, stands in Cave’s office in his home in Brighton, England.

The Suppliant Thomas Clarkson Memorial
The Suppliant on the Thomas Clarkson Memorial, Wisbach, Cambridgeshire, England

A further stone commissioning is ‘The Suppliant’ which the sculptor completed in 2011. Johnson’s stone carved panel of a kneeling slave with outstretched arms features on the Thomas Clarkson Memorial in Wisbach, Cambridgeshire in England. Clarkson was instrumental in persuading William Wilberforce to take up the anti-slavery cause in parliament which saw the passage of the Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill of 1807 and subsequent end to British trade in slaves.

For Warracknabeal’s ‘The Homecoming’, Johnson will create a bronze sculpture for which the rubber moulds will be produced in his studio outside London. These will later be transported to Australia. ‘The casting for the statue will be done in regional Victoria, hopefully in a foundry in Castlemaine’, Peter Loy said.

In order to oversee the project’s final bronze casting and installation, Johnson will travel to Australia and take up residence in regional Victoria for the duration of the project.

The sculptor hopes to start work on ‘The Homecoming’ in the near future, which at its completion will be around 2.5 metres in length and could stand as high as 4.5 metres (including plinth), Johnson estimates.

‘The costs of the project will be found through a crowd funding effort that will be launched later this year once the total costing has been calculated’, Loy said.

‘We are all hugely excited about the project’. ‘The Homecoming’ will become part of an expanding Arts Trail already bringing tourism to the Wimmera-Mallee through its Silos Art Project’, Loy said.

The statue will also be linked to the establishment of a Youth Arts Foundation that will provide support for youth in the Yarriambiack Shire who wish to pursue a career in the Arts. The Warracknabeal Art’s Council has already started to plan for an Artist in Residence to work with interested and talented youth in the region.

Johnson will be invited to visit schools and speak with community groups during his time in the region and he is well qualified to do so; Johnson is also on the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, a selection panel which award grants to promising artists in England.

We believe the ‘Nick Cave Statue and Youth Arts Foundation Project’ are both realistic and exciting projects with amazing potential and worthy of community support’, the Warracknabeal Art’s council announced.

Since the original concept, ‘Cave has had no involvement with the project, but we are certain he will have more than a passing interest in its progress’, Loy added.

‘When asked if Warracknabeal’s birth son will don his boots once more and travel to his birth town for the unveiling of ‘The Homecoming’, Loy said, ‘We have no idea, but I believe, it was Cave’s idea to call it The Homecoming, after all’.