A Little Gypsy in my Soul: Maria Vantsos

VANTSOSdesign Jodhpur  Rajasthan, India

 

To epitomise the spirit of January’s Embark edition we bring you an interview with Australian travel photographer Maria Vantsos whose flair for bright colour and bold images caught our eye at the Kiribilli Markets in Sydney earlier this month.

 

A Little Gypsy In My Soul is Maria’s collection of fine-art photography featuring far-off lands, exotic streetscapes and bold portraiture that celebrate the raw essence and aesthetic beauty of colour and culture around the world. Her range of display options allows you to choose a single stand-out canvas print or, our favourite, create a wall display of signature block-mounted tiles.

Maria talks to us about her process, her inspiration and the uniqueness of Australian travel culture.

 

We’ll start at the beginning. What brought you into this line of work?

When I was 22, I decided to take a year off from my studies to travel through South America with my older sister. I was studying graphic design at the time majoring in black and white photography. ‪‪Landing in Mexico to kick off our adventure changed that very quickly. Early one morning as we were travelling out of the city and down a dirt road our bus pulled over to pick up some locals and as the fog was lifting and I was awakening to a new day, I looked out of my window seat to see a line of native women in fluorescent pink ponchos and brightly coloured yellow bows tied around their long plaits, zigzagging down a lush green mountainside. I was in awe! I saw art, I saw the boldest of colours playing themselves out within a moment in everyday life. I remember thinking how beautiful it was to ‘see’ the world in colour. After many more trips overseas and friends complimenting me on my photography, I haven’t looked back. I started with several cafe exhibitions where my passion for combining travel, photography, and colour & culture into wall art has grown from there.

 

Your use of colour to evoke the soul of a place is remarkable. Can you describe your artistic process?

Thanks!

‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪’A Little Gypsy In My Soul’ now creates bold, rich fine art photography which celebrates colour and culture around the world! My passion and the challenge is to ‘see’ what can so often be missed‪‪‪‪… weathering paint, a hanging water urn, a passing moment. My body of work is an artistic approach to the celebration of colour but more than that it is also a documentation of tradition, culture, religion, tribe, and an identity unique to that country…. through people and place so much of what is disappearing due to globalisation can be frozen in time due to the power of photography.

‪‪‪‪My photos are featured onto our signature wooden tiles and as fine art canvas prints.

 

VANTSOSdesign Rajasthan, IndiaYou seem to have genuine passion for the places you visit. How do you decide where to travel and what to photograph?

It’s really inspired by how colourful a country is,‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ where that character of culture and spirit is still predominant in everyday life. Mexico, Morocco, Cuba and India are some of the most fascinating and visually stimulating countries to explore. I also enjoy returning to countries I have previously travelled to years before. As I grow and change over the years my vision of what I’m inspired to capture also matures.

 

In your experience, do you think Australians have a particular interest in travel culture?

Absolutely! Particularly‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ because we have grown up within a highly multi-cultural society and that exposure to so many different faces and facets influences many to want to explore further. Being so isolated from the rest of the world when we adventurous Aussies travel, we really like to spread our wings‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪!

 

As an artist do you work with anyone else or have you collaborated before?

No, I’m a one woman band, just me and my camera and the wide open road!

 

It seems you have visited some truly exotic places. What’s on the cards for 2015?

Returning to India to photograph the holi festival which marks the end of winter in early March. They welcome in the spring with throwing colour bombs at each other, so I can’t wait to be within the thick of it all to live and capture this amazing experience. ‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪I hope to travel through Vietnam towards the end of the year. I will also be spending the year designing new products featuring my photos so stay tuned.

 

VANTSOSdesign Yellow Rajasthan, IndiaCan you tell us about your current range and maybe highlight some favourite images?

I am currently in the process of working on my new collection for 2015 which I am looking forward to sharing soon.

There will be a feature range of photos from Morocco and the Greek Islands,‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪ showcasing my work from the last trip I did to these countries. It will also feature a new selection of photos from all around the world from previous trips. One of the highlights of my previous catalogue was featuring a beautiful sequence of different coloured turbans and saris I shot through India (pictured).

 

We met at the Kirribilli markets but you display at other retail venues throughout Sydney. Where can people get hold of your work?

I retail at Paddington/Bondi beach markets in Sydney every weekend and around Australia through various homeware and online stores such as Temple & Webster. ‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪‪My work can also be purchased from my website at www.vantsosdesign.com.au

Elise Janes

Sir P Speaks: A few of my least favourite things

regular_3110350_0001Hello bloggards,

Since my debut last month, the Cringe’s cyber mailroom has been overwhelmed by pleas for guidance. The following is but one:

Sir Partridge

I can’t decide who to hate. I want cyclists banned from dual walking/cycling tracks because of the sarcastic comments they make as they zip past me. I also want drivers of grey or silver cars sent to re-education camps on the excellent basis that their vehicles are invisible in bad weather. Nor do I like iPhones for reasons I’m a bit unclear about; it’s more an instinctual thing, I think. These are just three examples of the kind of people who would be first against the wall in an ideal world. Oh, and people who get into social media too much, which is everyone, basically.

Also, I would like to see more human-animal hybrids about.

Oh, and why haven’t I been awarded the Order of Australia when I am so inherently decent?

You might like to know that I have invented Birthday Bellows, which children can use to blow out their candles without contaminating the birthday cake with their virulent spittle. Why is the Patent Office so indifferent? I have also invented the human nosebag for people who are too busy to use their hands while eating lunch and so on.

Yours in rage and adoration

Finbarr S

Frankly, Finbarr, I am worried about your brain. And yet the epistolary dead mouse you have laid on my doorstep isn’t entirely devoid of life. In fact, your veritable slew of pet hates perfectly mirrors my own.

What I call hate management is a delicate art. There are so many hateful things in the world that one has to choose carefully where to direct one’s ire. One mustn’t overdo these things …

Humans’ dislike for cyclists, iPhoners and social media nutters is well-worn territory but I think you’re onto something when you ramble on about grey cars on overcast days. They do seem to wilfully lurk in your blindspot, headlights off, blending in perfectly with leaden sky and asphalt like some foul wraith or secret government stealth vehicle. I’m sure I’ve seen a study somewhere showing that they’re slightly more likely to be involved in an accident. I for one drive a canary yellow MG for just that reason and I can safely say that of all the many, many accidents I’ve been involved in, not one of them was because I couldn’t be seen.

I can well sympathise with your views on the Order of Australia. Were it not for Australia’s harsh libel laws I would only too willingly list an easy 100 undeserving recipients. I’m sure you are decent, Figmarr, but that is not enough. It is about being seen to ‘contribute’ to society, however you choose to interpret that word. Most people think I have a knighthood but I don’t. I am but a baronet, a title passed down the Gormley line for generations after it was bestowed on my ancestor by James IV as a sop for sleeping with his wife.

Animal-human hybrids are rare, Figment, because we don’t live on the Island of Dr Moreau. If we did, then it might be fun to have antlers, like those of a moose. You might want to lacquer them, or better still employ someone to lacquer them for you. You might also festoon them with ribbons and so forth.

As for your inventions, they are ludicrous. Except the Birthday Bellows (pure genius). And the human nosebag – in fact, I’m wearing a prototype right now! It is remarkably convenient and dignified. Why the Patent Office hates you and singles you out for special treatment is beyond me. Perhaps they ought to get their hate management procedures in order too.

Sir P

 

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

 

2015 Guide to Australian Literary Festivals

 

Australia boasts some of the world’s largest and most diverse literary festivals, offering everything from general interest to genre-specific favourites such as Swancon and Supanova. Get your diary out, the literary year starts here.

 

Byron Bay Writers Festival 2014, courtesy of bangalowguesthouse.com.au

 

General Interest

Perth Writers Festival
Perth, WA
February 20-23
What to expect: A program paying ‘homage to the vintage objects of print culture such as books, maps and letters, and [embracing] the new storytelling media’.

Adelaide Writers Week
Adelaide, SA
February 28 – March 5
What to expect: ‘Australia’s largest and oldest literary festival, offering both writers and readers a unique opportunity to spend time sharing ideas and literary explorations’.

Festival of Golden Words
Beaconsfield, TAS
March TBA
What to expect: ‘Covering literary fiction, popular fiction, biography, comedy, current affairs, history, military, sport, poetry, wine and food, stage and screen, and self-publishing, with a strong concurrent children’s and young adults programme.’

Eye of the Storm
Alice Springs, NT
April 23-26
What to expect: ‘[T]he 2015 Eye of the Storm writers festival is shaping up to be an extraordinary event that touches on universal themes that are close to the heart of Central Australian communities.’

Sydney Writers Festival
Sydney, NSW
May 18-24
What to expect: ‘Australia’s largest annual celebration of literature and ideas…the third largest event of its kind in the world’.

Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival
Margaret River, WA
May 29-31
What to expect: ‘Celebrating literature and promoting Margaret River and surrounds as destinations.’ This year’s theme is Seasons.

Yamba Writers Festival
Yamba, NSW
May 29-31
What to expect: ‘The Clarence region has an abundance of writers, poets and thinkers and some, along with the featured writers at the Festival, have published works over many years in both Australia as well as internationally.’

Noosa Long Weekend
Noosa, QLD
July 14-26
What to expect: ‘An arts festival with a strong strand of literature – in a beautiful environment’.

Byron Bay Writers Festival
Byron Bay, NSW
August 7-9
What to expect: ‘Australian writing, with recognition of Australia’s geographical location through the inclusion of Indonesian and Asian authors.’

Melbourne Writers Festival
Melbourne, VIC
August 20-30
What to expect: Celebrating 30 years in 2015, the festival ‘will take audiences on a literary tour of Australia and all corners of the globe’.

Brisbane Writers Festival
Brisbane, QLD
September 2-6
What to expect: ‘Energy and “casual intellect”’ bringing together ‘readers, writers, innovators and provocateurs’.

 

Tailored

Digital Writers Festival
Online
February 11-22
What to expect: Run by the team behind Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival, expect some similar faces from young local authors and online journals.

Australian Romance Readers Convention
Canberra, ACT
March 6-8
What to expect: The festival ‘will bring together romance readers, authors and publishers and provide an opportunity to talk about all things related to romance fiction.’

Somerset Celebration of Literature
Gold Coast, QLD
March 18-20
What to expect: ‘Over 30 acclaimed authors from around Australia hold interactive sessions and workshops for both children and adults.’ YA and schools focus.

Historical Novel Society of Australia
Sydney, NSW
March 20-22
What to expect: ‘Both the imagination and dedication of historical novelists present an authentic world which can enrich a reader’s understanding of real historical personages, eras and events.’

Swancon
Perth, WA
April 2-6
What to expect: ‘A speculative fiction convention that is invested in all kinds of media’ with ‘panels and discussion about games, film, literature, and graphic novels.’

Write Edit Index
Canberra, ACT
May 6-9
What to expect: ‘Australian conference for editors, indexers and publishing professionals.’

Emerging Writers Festival
Melbourne, VIC
May 26 – June 5
What to expect: ‘[A] place where creativity and innovation are celebrated, where new talent is nurtured and where diverse voices from across Australia are represented.’

Continuum
Melbourne, VIC
June 6-8
What to expect: ‘[S]peculative fiction and pop culture fan convention celebrating creativity across genre and media. From hard-edge science fiction to high-flown fantasy, comic books to film noir, high culture to sub-culture.’

Voices on the Coast
Sunshine Coast, QLD
July 16-17
What to expect: ‘Leading Australian and International authors, illustrators, poets and performers’ talking and workshopping with students and adults.

National Play Festival
Adelaide, SA
July 22-25
What to expect: ‘[F]our days of new Australian plays, artist talks, masterclasses and industry discussions’ as well as a partnership with State Theatre Company SA.

Romance Writers of Australia Conference
Melbourne, VIC
August 21-23
What to expect: ‘[P]rovides unique networking opportunities for writers, editors, agents and other publishing industry professionals with a keen focus on romance publishing.’

Book Week
National
August 22-28
What to expect: National school-based events hosted by Children’s Book Council of Australia. This year’s theme: Books Light Up Our World.

National Young Writers Festival
Newcastle, NSW
October 1-4
What to expect: ‘[T]he country’s largest gathering of young and innovative writers working in both new and traditional forms’.

GenreCon
Brisbane, QLD
October 30 – November 1
What to expect: ‘GenreCon provides an opportunity for writers, editors, agents and other genre fiction professionals to come together for three days of networking, seminars, workshops, and more.’

Crime and Justice Festival
Melbourne, VIC
November 13-15
What to expect: ‘There is no other festival that combines the crime fiction genre with discussions on the law, social justice, human rights and general social commentary.’

Supanova
Melbourne: April 10-12
Gold Coast: April 17-19
Sydney: June 19-21
Perth: June 26-28
Adelaide: November 20-22
Brisbane: November 27-29
What to expect: ‘[C]omic books, animation/cartoons, science-fiction, pulp TV/movies, toys, console gaming, trading cards, fantasy, entertainment technology, books, internet sites and fan-clubs’ and the Madman National Cosplay Championship.

Oz Comic-Con
Perth: April 11-12
Adelaide: April 18-19
Melbourne: June 27-28
Brisbane: September 19-20
Sydney: September 26-27
What to expect: ‘Oz Comic-Con boasts a show floor packed with exhibitors, autograph and photograph sessions with the hottest celebrities and one-of-a-kind panel events’.

 

More Information

The above list represents only a snapshot of the many literary festivals held throughout Australia, with some major centres still yet to release dates. Keep checking festival websites for the most current details, and find further information at the following sites.

A comprehensive and up-to-date list on author Jason Nahrung’s website:
jasonnahrung.com/2015-australian-literary-festival-calendar/

An extensive searchable inventory on the Literary Festivals site:
www.literaryfestivals.com.au/index.html

A narrower list but more specific detail on the Australian Government site:
www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/writers-festivals

Elise Janes

Bubbles From the Bottom of the Seabed

At times last year I felt myself in the clouds.

As a writer I was soaring. I was above the world I inhabited looking down upon everything and everybody.
The air was thin and clean, rushing hard in my face and yet pliable, responsive to every thought, movement and action I perceived.
My novel Born Under Punches was becoming.
It was emerging from the malaise of unformed ideas into a burgeoning behemoth – the development of the novel paralleling the realisations of the story’s main character Roy Carle.
Myself as a writer becoming increasingly adept in the learning of my craft.

77795_solnce_voda_podvodnyj-mir_puzyrki_1920x1200_(www.GdeFon.ru)And then…
And then awareness.
Awareness that I wasn’t flying up on high, soaring above the world, looking down.
That I was in fact underneath it and what I had perceived was inverted, refracted at an odd angle.
I found myself lying on the seabed looking up, with it all above me.

Next to me, in a shattered heap, the wreckage of my novel, a rotting and crumbling hulk, its ability to be salvaged unknown.

Ahead of me, the challenge was clear: do I rise or do I tie myself to this deteriorating carcass in the grave?

And so I began the slow, slow ascent back to the surface, the middle; the place where ability, desire, expectation and hope all mesh together.

Each metre I climb from off the seabed is done so by application to a basic concept…

…That I want to write and that I will write.

Even if it’s only for my own benefit and enjoyment.

And that means a new slate, a new idea, a new opportunity to create a world and characters that will live their lives upon the stage I offer up for them.

Some days I even forget to look up to see the great distance between me and the surface; I get so lost in creation, the intricacies and complexities of fictional lives.

Some days I remember what it is to fly, and realise swimming is much the same.

Ken Ward

My World Through Stories

free-antique-style-world-map-computer-pictures_2269047

An imagined world

Montreal, Canada

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
Peter Pan, J.M. Barry

I studied part of my literature major in a fall semester at McGill University. We arrived in the summer, after a month travelling west coast USA, and the musical city was intoxicating, ringing with Quebecois French, wild celebrations, strange experiences and layers of history. I had four lit subjects, each requiring a text a week. My book/play/poetry collection was too heavy to ship home so I sold most of it to a Canadian friend one snowy night before Christmas. He gave me his personal copy of Meditations in return, to this day one of my most treasured literary items. Of all the wonderful texts I read throughout the shockingly beautiful fall several stand out to me, but for some reason none more so than the original Peter Pan, which I studied along with Romeo & Juliet and My Own Private Idaho for a comparative essay on boy gang culture.

 

Calgary, Canada

Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw, Will Ferguson

Obtained from a hostel bookshelf in Calgary on a solitary trip to the Canadian Rockies, one of many expeditions out from Montreal. I read this at the start of my Canadian residency and the quirky anecdotes and bizarre historic detail established in me a new respect for the cultural diversity of the great maple-leaf nation.

 

Paris Eurail Trip

The English Assassin, Daniel Silva

Purchased in a second-hand bookshop in Montmartre for three euro it was one of few English-language books on offer and elicited a patronising smirk from the bearded shop-guy. Not my usual fare, it turned out to be a fantastic scenic parallel to our trans-European journey. And the heroine was a violinist convalescing in Portugal.

 

Sola Voce European Tour

An Equal Music, Vikram Seth

The tomb of Monteverdi is in Basilica di Santa Maria dei Frari, Venice

The tomb of Monteverdi is in Basilica di Santa Maria dei Frari, Venice

One of my all-time favourite books, as much for the time of life in which I discovered it as for the story itself. I bought a second copy from a bookshop in Montreal and reread this during a tour of Europe with a chamber choir from the University of Queensland. Violin was my major degree study so I felt an intimate connection with the protagonist and the way music, both craft and passion, was an inseparable part of his identity. His string quartet performed in Vienna and Venice and our choir toured to these places and more, the pieces we sang becoming a soundtrack to our incredible experiences just as the music Michael plays parallels his doomed love affair. The writing is astonishingly beautiful and full of melancholic depth and I’ve never read another author who has such a nuanced understanding of the intricacies of Art music practise and the lesser-performed masterpieces of the Western canon.

 

Oahu, USA

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

On my second trip to Hawaii I had just finished Kerouac’s famously meandering roman á clef. Though it had little connection to Oahu it nevertheless leant a deeper magnificence to the Pacific sunsets.

 

Penang & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers

I have a thing for pirates and so does Malaysia, whose history is drenched in nautical mishaps and adventure. A perfect book for resort poolsides, a Singapore sling in one hand and a view of the Straits of Malacca before you.

 

Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy

Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy

Siena, Italy

Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, Frances Mayes

As part of an extensive overseas trip we spent a week in a villa in the Sienese countryside. It was as exquisite as it sounds, made all the more so by Mayes’s portraits of Tuscan life and epicurean recommendations. Thanks to her we discovered an antiques fair at the top of Arezzo hill and the pure delight of fava beans with pecorino fresco and local sangiovese.

 

Paris, France

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

Having read The Sun Also Rises for my lit studies, invoking an endless love of Hemingway, it comes as no surprise that one of the greatest moments of my life was purchasing A Moveable Feast from Shakespeare & Company before walking in the rain along Rue Mouffetard.

 

Vernazza, Italy

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

I found this book while revisiting a little apartment in Vernazza, Italy, on the last leg of a world trip. This was before it became a hyper-marketed movie so I had no idea what to expect. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but the novel reads a bit like a travel narrative touching on various parts of the globe and traversing huge spans of time. For me it evoked a similar feeling to travelling around the world, that anchorless, ageless sensation. The musical tale of Robert Frobisher was a special gem for me, as was the seafarer’s bookending narrative.

 

New York City, USA

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jnr, & E.B. White

On my third trip to NYC my husband and I spent one week in the East Village and another in Green Point, Brooklyn. Every minute was perfect, and littered with literary memories. The shelves of our East Village apartment were full of contemporary sociology books, and I spent a glorious morning in the JP Morgan Library & Museum, and an equally glorious afternoon wandering the hallowed halls of the Public Library. Not to mention McNally Jackson in Soho, the Met rare book collection and the gorgeous bookshop attached to the MoMA. I bought Auster’s trilogy in the gift shop of the Whitney Museum and reading it later was amazed at the true New York-ness of his hyper-realistic style. Another grand life-moment was purchasing the latest edition of Strunk & White’s style bible from The Strand.

 

Pool deck of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel

Georgetown, Malaysia

The Quiet American, Graham Greene

It’s fair to say Penang has stolen my heart, in a manner on par with New York City and Rome, due in no small part to its 20th century literary heritage. It’s one of few places in South East Asia that bring together many extreme historic influences because of its unique geographic location: sitting at the heart of the shipping lanes that bore the lifeblood of world culture for more than 3000 years. Penang counts in its history an ancient Austronesian settlement, a Persian dynasty, the oldest Sultanate in the world, a port for the Dutch East India Company, a British colonial fortress, Chinese opium wars, and Japanese occupation in WW2. Greene’s book is set in Vietnam but finds its place alongside many authors of that era who were fascinated by the South China Seas, such as Anthony Burgess, Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Noel Coward. I read this book with my mother on the pool deck of the Eastern & Oriental where Maugham himself penned several novels.

Elise Janes

On Travelling Alone

Charlotte Walking by Tom Kemp copy

The media and the travel industry sell us the idea that the best sort of travel is with someone else, preferably your partner. The posters in travel agencies show couples lying together on tropical beaches, or holding hands on the Great Wall of China. To an extent, they’re right — travelling with a partner is a terrific way to strengthen your relationship. It also means there’s someone to hold your bulging backpack when you go to the loo in a crowded train station in a developing country — a benefit not to be underestimated.

But there is something magical about travelling alone. Something that the travel agencies and media don’t tell us, and the security warnings try to scare us away from. The people who get closest to explaining the magic of solo travel are writers, such as Emma Ayres, whose book Cadence describes her bicycle adventure from England to Hong Kong with a violin, and Robyn Davidson, whose book Tracks tells of her travels across the Australian desert with a dog and four camels.

I came to solo travel in a slightly different way. In year twelve, I read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, and loved it so much I decided to travel to India. I got my opportunity a year later, when a university scholarship gave me the funds. My parents were worried that their eighteen year-old daughter was about to go schlepping around the subcontinent for three months, but now that I had the money, I couldn’t be stopped.

My first weeks in South Asia made me wonder if my parents were right. In Sri Lanka, after signing up spontaneously for some sort of alternative medicine treatment, I found myself shut up in a wooden box like a coffin with small holes at the bottom. Someone I couldn’t see started putting hot, aromatic substances under the coffin, presumably so they could be absorbed through my skin. With no language skills to figure out what was happening, I lay there and wondered if I was going to end up steamed to death in the name of a medical procedure I didn’t understand.

On my first day in Delhi, my backpack caught on the back of a rickshaw in the narrow streets of the old city. Still attached to my backpack, I found myself dragged fifteen metres down the street, through laughing and pointing crowds, before the driver realised he’d attracted an unpaying hitchhiker.

At that point, I found a payphone and rang my mum, close to tears. I was thinking about going back to Australia. But instead, I got on the first train out of Delhi. ‘Amritsar’, said the sign.

And it was on that train to Amritsar that I began to understand the beauty of solo travel. I met a group of university students who were travelling back to their home in Amritsar, and they decided I should visit them. So I spent a few days staying with a young Muslim woman at the university’s Girls Hostel. (No males allowed — not even baby brothers.) She told me about her secret relationship with a boy. They’d been in love for years, but they hadn’t even kissed, or told their families about their relationship. As I told her about my friends and our own views of relationships, I began to question aspects of my own culture that I’d taken for granted.

She was the first of many wonderful people who invited me into their lives in India. Each of them shared different perspectives on the world. A young lesbian told me how she couldn’t bring herself to explain to her parents why she kept rejecting the male suitors they brought her. An older trade unionist forced me to question the ethics of being a young, white middle class person traipsing around looking at the developing world.

I often think about many of these people, and their ideas and experiences have informed many of the decisions I’ve made about my own life and career. If I’d been travelling with another person, I doubt I’d have met them — one person is more likely to meet other people than a self-contained duo.

Later, after I’d finished university, I had my first major solo trip in Australia. Lacking the money to go overseas, and with a month to go before I started at my new graduate job, I decided to take my Mazda 121 bubble car from Canberra to Alice Springs and back. It was January and scorching, which was wonderful, because the roads were clear and I had campsites to myself, from the Grampians, to the Flinders Ranges, all the way to the West MacDonnell Ranges. I spent hours each day walking and sweating and thinking, and in my evenings I read. I had never had so long to spend inside my head, nor had I ever had the opportunity to see the Australian desert, with its red earth stretching for miles until it met the bright blue sky.

I didn’t meet so many people on this trip, but one man sticks in my mind. I was camping — alone, as usual — in the West MacDonnell Ranges, when I got caught in sudden, torrential rain. It beat down, soaking me in seconds and flooding my tent. I was taking down my tent, and trying to figure out if it would be safe to sleep in my car, when an Indigenous ranger showed up. He invited me to stay at his place. As a respectful man, aware of the strangeness of inviting an unknown woman to sleep in his house, he didn’t talk much. I went to bed early, and slept gratefully in his child’s Sesame Street-themed sheets. In the morning, he was gone, having left just a note encouraging me to eat as many eggs on toast as I needed.

I know that solo travel is more dangerous than group travel. You’re more likely to meet nasty people and get caught in threatening situations. But you also have the sorts of experiences that just aren’t possible if you’re travelling with your partner, let alone a busload of tourists. You notice things more, and you meet more people.

Now, more often than not, I travel with my partner. But I do still go off on trips of my own — admittedly with a few more safety precautions than in my younger days. I’m aware of the dangers, but I think they’re worth the risk. Solo travel has made me who I am, and it continues to introduce me to new places, people and ideas, and make me question aspects of my life and culture I’d otherwise take as given.

Penny Jones

This essay was first published on Penny Jones’ blog: www.pennyalicejones.com 

On “Wide Open Road”

The idea of an Australian music as recognisably Australian as Italian Opera or American Jazz is a difficult sell. Before the composer Peter Sculthorpe began exploring instruments and sounds that reflected the landscape in which he lived, Australian music was pretty much variations on a European theme. It lacked the bone dry greys and harsh yellows of the interior. Its desolate unforgivingness. Its space.

In the ‘70s, The Bushwhackers fused American Country with Anglo-Celtic Folk into an Australian bush music and took it overseas to some acclaim, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that bands began singing about where they lived. The Go-Betweens, Paul Kelly, even Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel, turned the urban experience of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney into lyrics that spoke of people’s homes, their streets, bus trips up and down the east coast and pubs. Bands in pubs. Working class venues for working class songs. It was a kind of cockney, an unashamedly parochial song-line that didn’t speak for everyone but said it in a distinctively Australian way. And part of that white song-line addressing what it meant to be Australian but a little off to the side of the mainstream was The Triffids.

TheTriffids_Belgium1985The Triffids formed in Perth in the late ‘70s. On the surface, they were just another group of fashionably melancholy and disenfranchised malcontents on the literary fringe of rock. Post Punk. But their music had a kind of landscape: big without being anthemic, vast without being too long. There was a heat to their music, a dryness; a space between the chords that gave it a height and distance more profoundly haunting than the guitar based rock of their contemporaries.

“Wide Open Road” was the first single from The Triffids’ 1986 album Born Sandy Devotional. It’s a perfect example of how the band evoked the brutal reality of place, of Australia, and the interminable endlessness of country and its impact on the soul. “Wide Open Road” is a state of mind. It is the search for love, home, hope, but perhaps condemned, like Sisyphus, to the wide open road of futility and disappointment. When The Triffids’ chief vocalist and songwriter David McComb asks how it feels:

Sleeping by yourself

When the one you love

The one you love

Is with someone else

The answer is simply:

It’s a wide open

A wide open road

triffids_bestofThere’s nothing else. Going on for miles with no enforceable speed limit and flanked as it is by spectral eucalypts and road kill; embodied by the zero desolation of Peter Weir’s The Cars That Ate Paris or Nic Roeg’s Walkabout; the word DIG carved into the hide of a coolabah tree by Burke and Wills on Cooper Creek; a dingo ate my baby. There’s nothing back to nature about this Australia. It’s too bleak and forbidding to be sound tracked by violins or middle eights or the tight vocal arrangements of pop or rock. It’s a mirage, where the very stuff of identity is consumed by the ever-shifting horizon promising a connection but:

I reach out just to touch you

Then I realise

It’s a wide open road

David McComb’s vision as a songwriter was a constant grappling with a vernacular for the journey we’re on in this strange and semi-mythical place called Australia. It’s a vernacular of identity. And one could argue this grappling for identity is the very job of the artist, both on an individual and a larger socio-political scale, and that finding a music for this journey is as fundamental to a nation’s character as its architecture, its stories, its coat of arms or flag. “Advance Australia Fair” might rouse us to our feet to open major sporting events, but a people needs a music that scratches beneath the surface of jingoistic nationalism and through the murky interiors of what defines us. That acknowledging the cultural and historical relevance of Gallipoli while viewing the violent liberation of Aboriginal peoples from their families and land as a thing of the past might not be as Australian as we’d like to think.

the-triffids-born-sandy-devotionalThe Triffids’ unique take on the relationship between place and music was as much a lament as it was a love song, a yearning for something lost or for something never there to begin with but remembered on some deep cellular level as our home. Like American Jazz, maybe this pining for a home we’ve never known is the beginning of a white Australian music, a music of displacement, searching, a music that truly encapsulates the wide open roadness of our place in this place.

 Sean Macgillicuddy

McComb, David. “Wide Open Road”. Born Sandy Devotional. Mushroom, 1986. LP