Caravanning with Wep – Sunday, 11th July 1937, Queensland, near Warwick, a philosophy on the art of nature

Derelict Cart, Queensland

11th July, Sunday

Queensland, near Warwick

Am camped alongside road, beneath still and flawless sky. The new moon sinking, leaves the world to starlight and quiet wonder. I clean my teeth beneath the aloof light of the thousand stars and am of the sudden impressed with their utter remoteness and unconcern with the fate of man, their unwinking & uncurious gaze. Am abased with feelings of pellucid beauty and my own futility. The remote crystalline beauty of the starry night as a model of beauty, the work of art (for me) as akin. The same detachment, the sufficiency of the thing in itself. The clarity, the utter remoteness; indifference towards the reaction of the beholder.  The essence of the thing, ART which remains in work after all extraneous matter has been subtracted. Remote, clear, cold architectural FORM. How I’d like to express that remoteness, indifference which is nature. Express the very stillness. The apparent impassive immobility of mountains, windless trees and placid sky. And yet the knowledge of the life beneath it all, sleeping, awaiting a call to action. Sensed as though the eyes are attuned to the vision of time. The art that gives me this sense of beauty I call great. Its characteristics are monumental. The appearance of complete repose, yet implying (and possessing) life that is strength. A product of infinite understanding & subtlety without denoting a simplicity of mind and vision. Simplicity as kinship with nature, life, being a part of it. Can it be produced when man lacks inner conviction, a way of life, a credo, an identification with the credo of his civilisation, a belief, a will-to-something which is inherent in the growth of a culture? When national will-to-something has disappeared & has left men bereft of point in life?

Caravanning with Wep – Monday, 21st June 1937, Time to leave Jindabyne

Monday 21st June

Vague stirrings for a return to home. A home which we haven’t got. Having made up our minds to depart at earliest convenience are experience the yearning to achieve the objective. Am missing that vague contentment one enjoys on possession of a settled spot from which all actions radiate and return centreing. Jindabyne has for 5 weeks now been our focal point and accepting such have been resigned. But now its drifting and our petty path will soon be circumscribing a new focal point with its attendant fresh enthusiasm.

If only this b— weather would clear up and grant me just a few more days of placid sunlit warmth I could finish those paintings and depart with well satisfied heart. So little I have accomplished, so little I have still to do. The rain is even now pattering above us, each drop a period halting the rhythm of my painting. I am appalled at the meagreness of my accomplishment. I am so mortally lazy, so dismally lacking in creative force, so blarsted impatient with my inability to achieve quickly, or what? Or just groping in the dark. How can I achieve anything when as yet I have no definite eye to the realities that exist. Or arte the realities I perceive so diverse as to stay my fumbly hand. Each painting I attempt has a different technique, as following upon the different essence of the scene I find before me. My outlook so utterly in confusion, so adolescent, so many faceted! God, but it makes me slow. But has its compensations in the sheer joy of perception of beauty, nature’s prodigality of loveliness which many eyes are untrained to see – and to humbly wonder at. This break of mine, even if it accomplishes in production of paintings, next to nothing shall, I think, have served to have smoothed my corrugated soul and mellowed my mind and outlook with a simpler truer vision than that tortured, jangled outlook with which I left the city. The whisperings of nature and the very silences themselves conspire to heal the mind and have allegiance and yet city-bred, I need the stimulus of heightened tempo. Of congenial and intellectual intercourse so rarely met with among those bound to the earth from whence their living is torn. The land seems so exacting, seems to absorb the luxuriances of mind as it does the rain, leaving but a dried intelligence, shedding the withered intellect.

Capitalistic strife seems remote and foreign intrigue and war the evil machinations of inhuman and predatory maddened beasts. Nature, as above good or evil, inculcates simplicity.

The even tenor of our way has been such as a week has flown smoothly past and nothing has happened neither has it been noted.

Have been to Kos. Twice. Tuesday & Sunday. Made our farewell appearance yesterday and were god-speeded by pa Speet. (Apparently well pleased with the prospect of the Pidgeons with family.)

From 2 till 5 skied without stopping. Gave up only when my legs began to jelly and had almost ploughed my head through a trunk. Douglas at top of hill had to attend to cold and miserable Freddie embroidered with the loviest crisp and auburn locks. Am still jerky in my movements and using only will power in my left handed christs with dire results. Tore my skis to bits. Poor old Dawn a model child – sat without complaint, in car until 10 o’c. Jess tells her to have a good look for she’ll never see it again.

Gloomy word ‘never’, threw me into despondency with visions of death, and shortening life. These sudden panics no amount of philosophising can over ride. Maybe it is the fear of not getting anything done, not fulfilling my life, when there is so much to be done.

Did caricatures of Teddie and Donnie Speet today. Johnny Weston returned on Sat. from 3 day trip after grass, of which he found none. Very sorry for himself. Doesn’t know whether to blame the fall he had off a horse or the gin he drank with Straw last week. I’d say the gin.

Gloomy day. Gloomy me.

Caravanning with Wep – Friday, 11th June 1937, near Jindabyne

11th June

Time passing most uneventfully i.e.superficially. Ah, but I forget. Tuesday acted the good (or not so good) housewife to my poor missus as she lay stricken upon her sick bed waiting for a blessed minor event. Did all the housework with almost feminine skill and busied myself greatly with this and that.

Wednesday the blessed event came off. Jess rose and is looking up.

Porridge now is the order of the day. Rolled oats, sticky like clay, appearance seems to guarantee constipation of the direst severity. I don’t know whether to really lay the blame there or elsewhere, but something’s happened and I was doing so well too! Damn near had filled the Snowy Valley. Went up to Kos. At 12:00 on the strength of dirty weather during Mon & Tues and was b—- well duped. Nearest slushy water snow at Daner’s. Drove car up and mucked about half heartedly. Anyway Dawnie enjoyed it. Returned to Hotel and took it out in front of fire. Afternoon tea in the lap of luxury. Local gossip supplied by Charlie Krist.  Returning were amazed by the extraordinarily vivid cloud colourings during sunset. Such slashing oranges! The Alps afford us an unique collection of skies, both in quality and quantity. Such linear patterns as one’s imagination would scarcely credit. Bold sweeping curves circling the whole of the heavens. Staight lined shafts slicing off great areas of massed colour. Sinuous rhythms, green vaulting heavens, driving lead mists only feet above, vapours from out the valley, snow capped peaks lost in straggling lines. Forms vortexing towards the earth, their heavy lines tracing the wind currents set in motion by the enormous masses of the hills, an eerie suggestion of upside down solid reality. And all ever changing rapidly, assuming new forms in the very moment the eye peers from shape to shape.

Friday occupied in practically finishing painting of leafless forest. The tortured rhythm of tree form having driven me unconsciously into semblance of Van Gogh technique: can’t see how else I could have done it. I don’t suppose it matters much.

Had yarn to Johnny Weston about the poverty of the soil up here, and was informed his old lady had snavelled the sketch I did of him kicking the calf & is having it framed. Quite a decent scout, not like his grouchy brother pub keeper “Straw”.

Big hop on tonight at the Hall. All the girls getting round today in Kirby grips & setting pins. Whoops!

Caravanning with Wep – Monday, 7th June 1937; Dawn playing at Daner’s Gap, dinner at Hotel Kosciusko & frustrating caricatures

7th June

(Our first wet day)

(Jess very crook – 3 days)

 Went up to Kos. Again yesterday the third time within the week. Visited there on the Thursday & afternoon tead & took Dawnie up to Daner’s Gap. How she revelled in the snow, belly deep and leg embracing. How she scooped and chewed & pranced & SNIFFED. Too bad I didn’t have the camera to get a picture of her eating the blooming stuff. Hear her clicking galloping down the road after me. Seemed to be nowhere but under the points of my skis. Turned much better. Snow, what there was of it, delightful, powdery over a frozen surface. Fool proof. Would run out of petrol 2 miles from home, and of course would leave the tinfull at the camp. OF COURSE!

Three of us tramped drearily in great boots soon to feel like leaden boots of divers. Tramp back. Two cars passed going the wrong way, OF COURSE! Got back after an hours walking. No darn wonder my legs are getting fatter. Friday, another lousy strip. Wednesday, much excitement, PAY DAY, Whoops!

Saturday gave the old girl up in the hills a neck and did feel most disconsolate at night. Sunday, Kos. Did ourselves regally and had dinner at the Hotel. Sat by fire and listened or appeared to listen to Miss Happ telling dirty jokes. God! What a boresome business that all is. Met Arthur Hill who gave me a lift up to Daner’s in his car. Three others. Lent myself to help photograph’s appearance. Crowd from Cooma up there. What a joke the old boy with his sons were. And how he skied like riding a horse and with the bottom of his pyjamas showing beneath the leg of his trousers. A riot. In an old lorry – Christeson or something Swedish like. All swarming on the slope like maggots over a corpse.

Teddy took me into the Speet Holy of Holies where photos were duly inspected. Will I ever forget that old man Speet in his days of early marriage. Ma-Teddy & Pa & someone else. Ma-in-la I suppose. But Pa’s mustachios! Better than anything ever seen in the pictures or in musical comedy. Gendarmerie style – a la Kaiser avec splayed out ends. Classics of their kind. A real loss to posterity that he didn’t clip them off holus-bolus and mount them under glass. I could dream about their rhythm, their poetry, their fire! And I’ll bet he thought he was a wow!

Pretty near wasted a whole day trying to paint Ernst Skadarasy. Having gone wrong on him before I sadly think I’ll never get it right. What evil genius prompts me to tell people I’ll do them a caricature. I never can. A curious form of self flagellation. Just a waste of time & paper to say nothing of the havoc wrought amongst nerves & temper. IDIOT!

Did my own butchery today. Butch has cut his hand.

Been drawing cows this week.

What crazy visions of a life time’s art in 6 months I’ve entertained. How much I thought I’d do and learn and how little I have accomplished. A couple of paltry paintings and a realization of the immensity of the task. A realization of how little can be done in a few weeks – of how short the days are in which to endeavour. And of how hard it is to be resigned, to realise that it all doesn’t matter and that the number of paintings is not so important at the moment as learning to see. The time I spend in seeing. At least I’m learning that. A groundwork, a new outlook, a basis upon which I can build when the tempo of the mind is not so agitated, wanting to do all things, knowing it lacks the time. And yet, I think I’m learning.

Caravanning with Wep – Saturday, 5th June 1937; Jindabyne and philosophical thoughts about commercial advertising on radio

5th June

Tired, cold and melancholy. Lack concentration to attempt any mental effort. Am more than ever becoming imbued with the country man’s restful release of mental vacuity spawned by daily open air labour. Have just turned radio off – too restlessly impatient to tolerate the fatuous declamations as to why I should buy so & so’s blarsted silk stockings. Who cares anyway & why should I have to listen to someone trying to ram down my ears something I don’t want. It all seems so stupid. The stinking commercialism, its attendant crudities, & garnishnesses. Life’s too unhealthily involved downtown too difficult to maintain a simplicity of outlook and vision. There is such to be said for the slow and leisurely tempo of rustic life. Where the sun rises and sets, and is noticed. Where the quietness of trees and grass leisurely growing breathes something of their quietude into troubled consciousness and the wearied mind may drink its fill of rest. Where the mountains lie motionless, caressed noiselessly and lovingly by the slow drifting clouds bespeaking a repose that is almost beyond life. Where the only noise is that of the chopper clip-clopping a wooden figure into semblance of form. The only noise which fails to irritate – self made noise, a hackneyed, much written about subject, but new to me, at least.

Where one wanders aimlessly, idly watching feet alternating below the eyes, indifferent as to the where and why of their motion. Or where one glimpses the tiny star shaped blood red leaf of some insignificant plant blushing unnoticed and one stops to look. Where one stops to pick up a spent gum leaf and wonders slowly and lazily at the iridescent sheen on hardened opal surface, where one is halted and beckoned by the sinuous wavy figurations on a dead & prostrate tree, and contemplates absently the forms contained within. Where one takes mental time exposures of hoof prints and considers the patterns their jumblings have made. Where one just wanders, and looks and rests. Where there is no immediate objective in life, nagging like an abscessed tooth. Peace.

Caravanning with Wep – Tuesday, 1st June 1937; Jindabyne and the excitement of first snow fall.

Campsite covered in snow

1st June

Patience rewarded. A biting wind all yesterday. Later, drizzle the noise of which ceased about 8 o’clock and a quiet murmurous warmth pervades the air. Jess goes out into the night for something or other, yells excitedly “Snow”. Instant excitement replaces sleepy boredom of work-doing. The “W. Weekly” strip pushed brusquely aside while I goggle & stare at the fat and sloshy falling snow. Great wet flakes defy expectations by falling noiselessly instead of splodging plunklyly. We run out with the lantern dancing in the whiteness. The alive quietness broken only by the sharp hiss of melting flake against the lamp. A curious velvety warmth replaces the chillness of the day. The heavens cloak the naked earth. We hasten to sleep so as to wake wide eyed upon an accomplished fact. 5 o’clock comes but the snow has been replaced by rain washing off the clinging whiteness. By 6:30 2 inches of snow still covers the land & has within the hours changed all colour. The country is hardly recognisable. Trees and fences are etched sharply against the paper white. Bewildered cattle and sheep nose in the damp seeking the grass that is hidden now from view. Three weeks calves, damp hided and amazed, bawl lustily for their parent’s comfort.

Dawn surveys the morning scene

We try to ski round the confined & grade less vicinity of the caravan. Hopeless endeavour. Dawnie stands in the caravan desolate & shivering. It is beyond her cognisance. We inveigle her out. She scampers & slips and bites the points of our skis. My low feeling disperses and we decide on Kosciusko. An early feed of soup and away. Chains are needed along the road & much to my rising annoyance are too big and flap madly against the mud guards. After two attempts I more or less remedy the trouble and re-enter the car with half the road on my arms and face.

Did a spot of skiing up near the Koscy on a down trodden practice ground. Elsewhere unreliable snow crusted over dangerous softness. Afternoon tea & home to sausages and eggs. The sky surprisingly variegated against the paling whiteness of the snow, blue then salmon then orange, reverting again to blue. Livid clouds smear the horizon. Cold! Return to snow less caravan. Feels like a hearty frost tonight.

George Longmuir came out over the week end & a good time was had by all. Took him up to snow less Kosciusko. Boiled twice on the way. Ate hearty on mixed grill. Billy of milk floated leisurely downstream during our absence.

(Margin note: Carl & Red dressed in everything but the hotel eiderdown.)

Caravanning with Wep – Wednesday, 26th May 1937; Settling in at Jindabyne & scouting locations to paint.

 26th May.

Been here a week now. Liking it much better. Fine painting here. Could stay months. Have become acclimatised to the colour so to speak. Personally prefer the washed out hues to those multitudinous greens of Kurrajong. Went wrong over a painting of the River. Guess it’s not nearly what I wanted. Am getting along better with a sketch of a drab road, drab fence and drab rocks – and the persistent intense blue of the sky. Hope it turns out alright.

Paid a visit to Hotel Kosciusko & passed time of day with the Speets. Had afternoon tea of all things! Not a bit of blarsted snow within miles – which is a nice kettle of fish! Can even get to the Chalet per car! How horrible! But, by Heavens, I’ll get some skiing before we go – or else!

Brought firewood back with us. Dawnie got two pieces bless her little heart.

Pretty cold here the first few days but summered up beautifully over the week end when the Cooma crowd paid us a visit. Sunk quite a few empties with gun fire.

Unsuccessfully attempted to wade the river but saw a TROUT.

Knocked the b….. lamp on the floor and smashed it.  Smashed 2 mugs, all the glasses and 1 cup and 2 saucers and 1 plate.  So got rid of that damned Crown piece I was keeping for luck. Haven’t had any since we got it.

What a town!  Can’t get this, can’t get that! Half the time the butcher’s shut. You can’t get eggs, or vegetables. Live on dried peas, potatoes, pumpkin, and Swedes. Fruit 1½d a piece, tomatoes 10d lb! Beans happened once at 9d lb.

Get raffle tickets though for a fat sheep & supper cloth. But then what the heck’s the good of a fat sheep to me? As for getting milk! May as well ask for Manna! However found out at Koscy that could get milk over the road from where we are staying. At Johnny Weston’s. Simple. Just trudge a mile or so up hills, through a creek, etc. But get about ½ gallon for 6d. And drink the bloody lot!

Am getting quite blubbery. Have never seen a place with so many bones and gizzards splodged about. Huge belly bags full of grass, dismembered cattle feet, decapitated heads skin tripped and closed-eyed. Cow bones, sheep bones, skulls, hooves, horns, & bowels. And buckets of blood for the geese & things.  All garnished with the rusted up sided skeletons of two cars. A veritable Golgotha. Motherly cows attending two weeks calves. Poor Johnny, to keep his beef cows milk up to scratch bought 5 jerseys & all are lousy teated. Too this & too that. No can milk much.

Cold enough to freeze the —— off a brass monkey this morning. Be better off sleeping in a Frigidaire. And the make shift double bed would collapse – of course! And we shiver and shake at 4am fixing it. UGH!

Have morning tea with 1 lump of sugar and 2 lumps of milk. Everything in the caravan frozen. Ice in the billy & solid milk in the jug. The roof and windows inside hoary with frost. Nose, near frozen off. Kept the bald spot warm though, by cripes. Outside all was white as though snow covered. The edges & pools alongside the river iced over. Briars icy –stubbed. Dawnie frozen, shivers. Much action, excitement eating, drinking & yodelling from me.

But I’m dressing up to go to bed tonight. No more half-sleep from 2:30am onwards. Me for warmth even if I have to put the over coat, long underpants & skiing socks on.

Days are too short for work here. By the time I thaw out its 11 o’clock. Get in 2 hours & it’s lunch. Supplied with food until 2:30. Thence till sundown – 5 o’clock. & the wind gives us the works. Marrow-freezing. BR-R-R!

Went back to Weston’s today. Struck the best gloom spot yet. A dull raw day. An aged wood fence surrounds a tired grey sheep shed whose stone foundations drip tiredly away from buttered joists. Great gaps show desolate as a front toothless mouth. Close packed, winter wind tortured trees, long since bereft of life twist their melancholy limbs into shapes now sinuous, now harshly jagged, speaking both of living pain and aching death. Throughout the grey and blackened twig lacery crows craa harshly and incessantly and wing blackly against the liquid tear eyed sun.

Uplifting limbs protest their doom and the scavengers flap dismally through the dropping bones. Harsh and discordant they sing a requiem CRAA – CRAA – CRAA.

But beauty yet transcends their death and frames for us a pattern of their once proud vitality and rhythm. Their bones, patterned individually upon their life reveals them us and leaves a fading concretisation of a will to live.

A fine spot and the day to meet it, cold, blue, pregnant with negation & death.

Found a standing trunk 6’ high from out of which an incipient adolescent human form spring. I returned with axe & chisel and with endeavour to help it escape the bonds of surplus wood. This place of frozen souls. Reincarnations. Every tree a mirror of some human soul. No dead place this but a spot full of hope – full of supplication for release. Ground tied awaiting the artist to seek their inner being, their essential themselves, and free them of their own redundancies. The life that’s in those bones! I have found a temple.

Caravanning with Wep – Saturday, 22nd May 1937; Collector to Jindabyne via Lake George, Canberra, Bredbo and Cooma

22nd May Sat.

Have been at Jindabyne since Wed. Met Jess’s ex-boss & party at Collector & received warmth per favour Rum. Country incredibly dry – rolling copper earthed hills crust broken exposing tired & dreary patina-ed rocks. Lake George, like all grass & colour “has-been”. Disordered litter of dead and near dead trees all jumbled in second-hand dealer profusion along the slopes resting down towards the flat reclining comfort of waterless, fenced & cattled George.

Drove straight through Canberra with nary an error. Am becoming really hot stuff on direction. Looked eagerly for snow on distance mountains – could still be looking. Bought villainous yellow pies at Queanbeyan and did eat & drink cold tea, the Thermos having departed this vale of tears between Collector & Q.

Once more over the road which I have sworn never to drive again. Still the same rocked, rutted, frozen, chopped river of land threaded through the hills. The same treeless dumpish hills. Hills which seen from the road, rear stark-edged discordantly against the unbelievably blue and hollow sky. Hills whose edges hold no promise of world beyond. Their ochreish scorched bodies stretched in never ending length. And all quite bald.

And out back homes! Cheerless scattered sheds. Rigid raiment cast on the face of the land higgldy-piggldy by the weary pioneer in utter exhaustion. Tired – utterly jaded – wilting houses of cards. Bare necessities – the sullen bitter exacting earth sucking all human substance – leaving him no surcease in which to adorn his body’s shell. Succubus!

Gave lift to a fellow at Bredbo. Wanted transport to Cooma, hating wait for train until 6a.m. following morning. Turned out to be licensee of Cooma Hotel.  Well! Well! Had rums on the house. Called on George Longmuir at Com. B. of Sydney. Had more rums & dinner at Dodd’s – more rum. Went with him and cos. Small a local chemist & erstwhile Kosciusko contemporary & John co-bank worker, to church bop. Met Vicar’s daughter. She was only the Vicar’s daughter but —! Repaired again to Dodd’s, thence to Greek or what have you café & supped. Left, 2:30am & slept on top of hill. Scrapped about a foot of frost off next morning. A bleeding cold morning. Left after thawing out.

Road something terrible. Like riding on one continuous strip of corrugated iron. Shook everything to bits. Wireless hasn’t worked since. The bloody …….!

Surveying a possible campsite

Arrived Jindabyne about 12. Have never realised what a cheerless place it was. Have always seen it through the roseate eyes of holiday merry making. Couldn’t find a blade of grass within a mile of the official centre. Finally wedged way onto only square of grass in district. Alongside Snowy River and amidst countless wild briars, all red-berried and leafless. Designated parking ground seems to be the local football area bordered with shallow creeks full of tins and broken crockery. No grass, colour key of this place is grey, endless and monotonous.

Houses scattered willy nilly on both sides of the river, fenceless, innocent of all grass. Briar strewn and poultry infested. Rubbish, garbage, broken fences, all manner of diverse junk, all however having one thing in common. Cheerless grey, not even gloomy, just a tired dirt tone – dust to dust.

And the romance of Man from Snowy River! Just grey and grey and grey. I’ve gone and made myself god-damned grey. Tired. Long past bed-time. Now 8:45 P.M.  Oho!

Caravanning with Wep – Monday, 17th May 1937; Kurrajong to Collector

17th May Monday

Somewhere in the Arctic Circle north of Collector.

Left Kurrajong on Coronation Day May 12. (Wed) after ‘orrid Tuesday at pub. Spent time conversing with two hot-water engineers, one named Fitch, and disputing bosomy woman’s dissertation on the modern girl, her manifold sins and wickedness. Later alleged her to be a ‘bloody old fowl’ – not to her of course. Frank drove me home. Had a shaky trip home – fortified by two orange drinks. Struck Hassel & Co – caravan at spot opposite P.O. Kurrajong. He had a long talk at me and Jess. Couldn’t stand another prospect of public holiday peeping. – of bovine staring stupid eye dull-boring through the door & walls of Jenny. Myriad blunted gimlets drilling holes throughout our privacy. In the PUBLIC EYE!, came home.

Stayed at Brighton till Monday. Made fresh start – it had better be! What lousy painting I did at Kurrajong. Maybe I wanted something hotter, more acrid than those cool harmonies of blues & green. I’ve seen more of what I’m after today. Pungent bilious orange once-green, desiccated leaf colours, grey, symphonies of lilies, & spewed landscapes. And the dullest red I’ve ever seen hung to the bottoms of leaden clouds. Acid.

Gave lift to young fellow with huge Gladstone bag. Was walking to Sydney, but didn’t care which way he went. So returned with us to Goulburn whence he came 12 miles ago. Said he was aiming to get to the Tamworth Cup meeting tomorrow. God knows what for, I didn’t ask. Looked cold & had a red nose my shape but longer. Gave him good luck & 2/-. Said he could do with a feed. Believe him.

Am parked alongside the road, north of Collector, and boy, is it cold!