One of the greatest gifts of making the move from city to country is finding- and embracing- a deeper awareness of our unique environment, our native plants, animals and birds. I have always been a great fan of the natural world, but looking at “Nature” through a city person’s eyes is completely different from the view I now see. There is a safeness about living in the city. Surrounded by busy human activity and human made forms city folk are separated from the “otherness” of the bush. In the country I feel my smallness and my vulnerability. I am awed and inspired by the beauty and power of nature, the common sense-ness of nature, from the miniscule to the mighty. In the country our human reliance on a balanced environment- on rainfall, on gentle weather and good earth- is an inescapable truth.
Our move from Bondi to Cloud Farm was made in part to find a more sustainable lifestyle. Growing vegies and having chooks is part of that. Having the space to build a studio from which to make our work, to teach and inspire others- is another. Having a wind turbine to harness some of the wind’s energy (currently blowing copiously) is definitely on the cards. On a deeper level, the environment we live within sustains us creatively. It inspires Stephen and I and it informs our work. A short walk down the mountain gives me a wealth of visual and textural material to work with. The Wonga sculptures happened after one such short walk.
Cloud Farm is situated near Robertson, a place now famous for potatoes but which was originally Gundungurra country, called Yarrawa. Because of the extraordinarily dense tangle of trees, vines and bushes the Yarrawa brush was avoided by white settlers long after other parts of the Southern Highlands were cleared. The Yarrawa Brush was estimated to have covered 2450 hectares but today exists only in remnant patches such as the eight or so acres at Cloud Farm. Thankfully unsuitable for farming, this south facing, steep and rocky piece of rainforest is an example of the original warm temperate rainforest that was mostly cleared for grazing and agriculture in the late nineteenth century. Since we have fenced it off from stock this remnant of precious rainforest continues to grow, marching up the mountain and down into the gullies below us.
I’m a great fan of birds. Not quite a Twitcher, but inspired and delighted by them- their sounds, flight, diversity, cleverness and colour. With the expanding rainforest has come a wealth of bird life. Lyre birds build their dancing platforms and dance undisturbed under vaulted coachwood ceilings. I hear the wheezing, mechanical throb of a Bower Bird in mid performance, his bower sheltered beneath a broad Lilly Pilly, a stone’s throw from where I write. Flashing coppery green plumage, Bronze Wings plunge through impossibly small gaps in the growing rainforest canopy. Dull of plumage but vocally brilliant full throated warblers, Grey Shrike Thrushes cruise the verandas and pergola, plucking insects from webbed cocoons. My special favourites, plump and handsome black, white and slate grey Wonga pigeons, promenade the shade dappled forest floor in stately pairs.
Wonga Wongas spend most of the time on the forest floor, well camouflaged in the dappled low light. I hear them more often than I see them- their insistent “woo woo woo” a monotonous advertisement of their presence on still, fog shrouded days. If I see them, it’s briefly, for they are extremely alert and startle easily. The first time I saw a Wonga pigeon I was taking a meditative morning stroll down our steep driveway. I’m not sure who was most surprised- I almost had a heart attack- as the Wonga flushed with a loud wing clap before sailing gracefully back into the low cover of the nearest rainforest thicket.
I made my first sculpture of a Wonga Pigeon not long after that first sighting. As usual for first works it was clumsy and not all that brilliant. It was so unsuccessful that it exploded in the firing. Part of it is still sitting not far from where my kiln used to be, and its disembodied head is still somewhere in the studio.
My latest Wonga’s are far more elegant. Without elaborate detail they embody the shape and feeling of a Wonga Pigeon, the fat breast and small head held at a tilt, the stillness of a Wonga before taking startled flight. The gently gleaming polished stoneware surface invites touch. They are quirky sculptures, owing something to the work of Miro and Arp.
Wonga Pigeons have declined due to the human propensity for clearing and shooting. They were once much prized as a game bird, for their flesh is abundant and cooks white. I have heard some say that Wonga’s should be farmed for their flesh, yet another boutique meat to thrill the palates of the punters. Although I know there’s a good case for eating indigenous meat, the thought of eating them fills me with horror. Far too often humans see the worth of something only if it can be quantified and consumed…bought and sold. I suspect that Real Estate and Eating, our two biggest entertainments, shall prove to be the downfall of our species.
Hold that cheery thought- I’m going for a walk.