Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: Summer in Romania

Republica Populara Romina BUCURESTI – B-dul Nicolae Balcescu

SUMMER IN ROMANIA

by

W.E. Pidgeon
P. O’Shaughnessy
F. Hardy

“Being the impressions of three Australians visiting Romania”.

 

[Transcribed from a draft of a proposed book in three parts by artist, William Edwin Pidgeon; writer, Frank Hardy; and actor, Pat O’Shaughnessy who were the three invitees to Romania and who were subsequently spied upon by ASIO for possible subversive activities. Wep’s archives contain several letters between himself and Frank Hardy in an attempt to get Frank to complete his section. In the end, Frank failed to live up to his end of the agreement and in 1958, Wep approached Clem Christesen, editor of Meanjin journal who himself had visited Romania in 1957. Clem advised he would like to publish it as a small book and urged to proceed without Hardy; perhaps even an article in Meanjin as well. Wep was reluctant feeling it was unfinsihed without Hardy’s contribution. Funding was also a problem and it is not yet determined whether it ever did get published.]

 

PART ONE – AN ARTIST’S IMPRESSIONS

Two girls who met me at the airport said it was a Romanian “Indian Summer”.

The airfield boundaries simmered and jingled in a brown haze of Australian like heat, and apart from the presence of the fancy buildings and the strange rapid speech, I could have been back home.

A re-emergence of summer had stretched right back over Europe-perhaps had heated the Hungarians into their disastrous autumn.

Beneath the photographically watchful eyes of Stalin and Gheorghiu Dej, my hostesses introduced themselves with the ease and grace which, I found later, was part of the charm of the Rumanians. Somehow they reflected this smoothness of the boulevarded approach of the city to come.

It was a nice city from the air-not over big-ringed by lakes and an easy countryside. Comfortable looking too.

But what can one see from 1000 m of the lives, aspirations, frustrations and despairs of a million people below?

Sleek, efficient Mrs Suteu, responsible for the care of English-speaking visitors, and young Stefanie Rotaru, with Italian Madonna eyes, did their best to explain.

Bucharest, founded on the site of a Roman Fortress, has had a long and chequered history, overrun often by Turkish, Austrian, German and Russian invaders.

Many armies, sweeping into Romania, carrying off the produce of its soil; but the people remaining; proud of their distant Roman connections; speaking a Latin language; maintaining their distinctive quality; an isolated group now associated with others of alien tongue in a common endeavour to achieve some measure of the theoretically perfect state of socialist welfare.

Down the broad tree-lined streets, through the swelling autumn leaves, past the showpiece parks, past the patient women sweepers, and squashing over the mongrel chestnuts which an occasional stooping figure is gathering for pig food. Past the Russian Memorial, its beds ablaze with red salvia, threading through the once ritzy embassy quarters, and down a long and narrow shopping street to the Athenee Palace Hotel which sits on the end of the square that fronts the ex-royal palace. The Athenee, main accommodating house for foreign visitors; in prewar days the stomping ground of elegant women, diplomats, officers and big commercial men; now a bedlam of tongues, skilfully unscrambled by the young interpreters. It is as though one were living under the clock in the Central Railway Station. It is all talk, meetings and appointments-interminable comings and goings. Rough red wines, beer, the inevitable tzuica (plum brandy) and the favourite dry white wine-a hock drunk with mineral water-and food! Mountains of food, at prices well beyond the average pocket. Tiny national flags brighten the tables, identifying this group as Bulgarians, that as Koreans, another as Swedes, there are Italians, and here Australians. Footballers, union delegates, poets, marksmen, painters and agriculturalists, anything you like, some on goodwill missions, others on jours of critical investigation, some merely competitive sportsmen from neighbouring Communist states, but all guests of the Romanian government which seeks to extend its relations with foreign countries.

I never had time to see the inside Bucharest. What lay behind the diverse facades, those plastered fillers that sat so discreetly behind the fading leaves. Many must have been built since 1918, for the population was then only 350,000. French culture dominated the city, influencing much of the domestic architecture with its delegates. The hierarchy appear to reside in the more well kept of these homes, while others with a tired look, are rumoured out to those of more humble status. No one seems interested in the maintenance of these often charming lodgings, for revolutionaries societies are inordinately proud of, and busy with, their latest and greatest projects. Over occupied mansions are falling apart at the corners, while the interiors of full of inhabitants who are seething with dialectical ideas on how to build the future.

Their enthusiasm is tremendous, and is apparently projected completely outward in terms of bigger and better edifices for the glory of the socialist state. The visitor is whisked off to the barren acres, whereon more and more monotonously designed workers’ flats in varying states of construction rise out of the ground like an overnight crop of our own seaside flats. But the new amenities are there-more light, better plumbing, more playgrounds, more space.

Whole suburb-the 23rd August suburb, brought into being as a celebration of the National Liberation Day (August 23 is the national holiday of the Rumanians. On that date the whole country celebrates the anniversary of the day in 1944, when the Romanian Communist Party led the outbreak of insurrection against the Germans). Everything is new and wonderful and breathtaking for the people, because it has been built by the people for the people.

The 23rd August Open-Air Theatre, which I would have liked to have seen in operation, but did not-a beautiful concrete shell, with a neo-Grecian concrete stage beneath a lovely autumn night. It is in projects like this that one senses the urge for the full life. People with scarcely a pants to their suit clamouring for, and getting, riches in the simplicities of art. Occupying considerably less space than a Drive in Movie, the theatre is quite elemental ineffective design (see illustration).

Copy of Wep's Part One: An Artist's Impressions; 25 foolscap pag

In a large recreation ground in front of the entrance to the theatre the more active and intrepid of the 23rd of Augustians can devote themselves to soccer, high jumps and sundry other death-defying sports. A steel tower 80 metres high caters for those who are too rugged for the Greek chorus. Just for fun one can climb up this glorious symbol and leap therefrom to the ground-with the aid of a small parachute, if you are so inclined. Fortunately, my interpreter Stefanie, was not an enthusiast. Behind all this the 23rd August Steelworks belches fourth flame for the future.

Also included in this terribly healthy suburb is the 23rd August Stadium. An enormous bowl, bulldozed out of the ground; a concrete saucer seating 100,000 people around a standard Olympic field.

Combinatul Poligrafic Casa Scînteii "I.V.Stalin" now known as Casa Presei Libere (House of the Free Press), Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956. Construction began in 1952 and was completed in 1956. The building was named Combinatul Poligrafic Casa Scînteii "I.V.Stalin" and later Casa Scînteii (Scînteia was the name of the Romanian Communist Party's official newspaper). It was designed by the architect Horia Maicu, in the style of Soviet Socialist realism, resembling the main building of the Moscow State University, and was intended to house all of Bucharest's printing presses, the newsrooms and their staff. - http://www.flickr.com/photos/cristina_/336794051/ viewed 4 Jul 2011
Combinatul Poligrafic Casa Scînteii “I.V.Stalin” now known as Casa Presei Libere (House of the Free Press), Bucharest, Romania; 5 October 1956.

But Bucharest’s real pride and joy is the Scinteia House Printing Centre, situated by the lovely Lake Herastrau at the edge of the city. Set in 98 acres of formally laid out parkland, this huge building, designed in typically Russian neoclassical style, is 220 yards in length and depth, and culminates in a tower 327 feet high. The central block accommodates the Cultural Administration offices and the literary workers. The wings, stretching to each side and behind, how’s the machinery which produces practically all Rumania’s newspapers, educational publications and cultural and scientific books. Begun in 1950, Scinteia had one rotary newspaper press in operation by 1951. By 1953 twelve presses were producing, on the average 2,500,000 newspapers a day. The building was completely finished 23rd August Day 1956. Daily production also includes 50,000 magazines and 80,000 to 100,000 books. The floorspace is vast, allowing more than ample clearance for all machines and the whole place is extremely clean; in fact, the working conditions could not be bettered. There is a concert hall, library, club, canteen and so on.

When you leave you sign the Visitors Book saying how fine it is (which it is), you feel that it’s all happened before; this tagging round on some Good Fellowship excursion, through a new steelworks or the latest in synthetic biscuit factories.

Massive buildings, showpieces, impressive portents of the future they may be-but I liked better to wander alone early in the morning round the more ordinary parts of the city and to watch its life begin.

Down past the ex-Royal Palace, unimpressive and dead looking in the cool autumn mist, yet alive within, for it houses now the capital’s Art Gallery, with its superb El Grecos and carefully roped off Rembrandts.

Down to the bottom end of the town, passing some womenfolk queued up for short supplies. Round by the old massive Palace of Justice, a turn to bring you down by the river, the Domboditza, of which it is said, “he who drinks of the waters comes to drink again”. Not that one can imagine accepting any part of this now scruffy stream which seems to disappear beneath the bustling square, perhaps to re-appear somewhere further on in an even sadder state. Up the ancient hill to arrive at the heart of the old civic centre, and a short way on, the barracks alongside as your footsteps clatter over the cobbled streets, through which the laden tram cars run down to the city and a new day.

Back over the river, dawdling to watch the little stands offering their freshly cooked pastries and sweets. Through a fine park its drives and footways circling the lake, the skiffs quietly moored and the statues gleaming in the early light. Through a market square to which the outside peasants have brought, in their quaint carts, the daily offering of vegetables and fowl.

A cold snap has stampeded the proletariat into doing up their shirt collars, and an amazing collection of headwear comforts the hitherto hatless heads. Caps, berets, battered felts, and occasional homberg, and assorted styles in strakan bob up and down the streets. Now looming up a railway station to dole and dreary to be associated with the romance, fictional and otherwise of the Orient Express. It IS Bucharest Station and London is a whole continent off.

Later you realise you have got yourself bushed, for maps of the city seem to be unobtainable, and in the quiet residential area no recognisable landmark is in sight. It is impossible to ask where you are, or the way back. Nothing for it but to follow a tramline and hope it leads you to, and not from, the city itself. It is a lucky day and a couple of miles more place you nicely on the spot and just in time for breakfast at the pub. Such pleasant and completely unrestricted wandering sets you up in the receptive mood for the conducted round that starts at nine.

Museums, art galleries, Pioneers palaces, Houses of Creation-everything that is visible and tangible evidence of economic emergence. The sensing of it all as a national possession, makes the people feel that the construction, or whatever it is, is in itself unique, whereas it is the relationship of the thing to society, that is unique. Rumanians are building big-but so is every other country in the world. What is of real interest is the hearts and minds of the men and women; strange ways, remaining strange, because there is no easy communication with them; for even the most willing interpreter, as I had, leaves you with but half a tongue. You are seated down to a great deal of bones from which the meaty subtleties are gone before you start.

But you can sense the enthusiasm. Bookshops jammed with paper backed volumes on every cultural and technical subject. Foreign language books in English, French, German and Russian-above all Russian-the secondary educational language-all the scientific works copied straight from the Soviet presses. It is somehow moving to see these, until recently, comparative illiterate people taking such huge gulps of knowledge-it is a banquet, and all are feasting.

Wep's interpreter, Stefania Rotaru, and possibly their driver, Ute, at a rest stop outside the Hotel Cota 1400, Sinaia whilst crossing the Carpathian Mountains on the way to Orasul Stalin (Brasov), Romania; 12 October 1956
Wep’s interpreter, Stefania Rotaru, and possibly their driver, Ute, at a rest stop outside the Hotel Cota 1400, Sinaia whilst crossing the Carpathian Mountains on the way to Orasul Stalin (Brasov), Romania; 12 October 1956

It was very pleasant to be driven 200 miles or more up country. Ute, the chauffeur, was twenty-three, Stefania twenty-one, so in good spirits, I stripped a few years and the picnic atmosphere was not altogether extinguished. At my least request we would pull up, either to paddle in the oil wells of Ploesti, contemplate the tobacco crops near Sibui, take a photo of Aiud, or scramble off the road near Sebes to gather the wild small pears which a passing peasant couple happily observed were, “Pere padurete pentru soacre” (wild pears for the mother in law). How right they were. But the chicken and ham and beer by a stream in the Carpathians had more than made up for that. In the night the high shrill notes of the locomotives bounced back and forth between the mountains until they slowly echo off and join the silence of the snow and pines.

In Orasul Stalin dear Ute, in our absence, had squeezed a mudguard, God knows against what other car. For cars were few and far between as the girl and I found out when we looked for him as we passed down the long dark street that had neither turning nor offshoot for a mile and whose houses were shuttered against the night and the dark silhouettes which moved in and file down the highway and who were the lifeblood and hope of the radiant town of Stalin to come. From the hills came this sweep of the chill winds bearing with them from the railway yards the grunts of the socialist pigs on the way to the proletarian ham. And still no Ute. But he turned up later, car and all, not a bump to be seen.

My mica mamitza (little mother-I had to call her that because I could hardly eat or drink without her help) was somewhat sour-but, being young, she forgot quickly when dear old Ute later at the Hotel dinner offered her his latest in the dancing line. Greatly emboldened, I asked a Hungarian lass for a dance. Beyond the marble floor, in the more reticent cubicles, sat the English ambassador, ginger-ish and impenetrable. I enjoyed my dance but neither of us could make any sense of my execrable pidgin German. But it made her laugh.

Transylvania-I suppose everybody has licked their lips in Ruritanian contemplation of princes and swarthy knights, of Draculas, werewolves, vampires and crosses of oak.

Transylvania-musical comedy-“the Gypsy Baron” and all that, perhaps true in the far off; but on to Cluj the road cuts through a plateau as commonplace as the Monaro complacently rolling its brown ancient plains against the Australian Alps.

And not a fence to be seen. All the land so carefully gone over and worked through the centuries that each square foot is recognisable, and forever placed in its relationship with its neighbour stop whole families of peasants stop of their timeless four wheeled carts, drawn by a pair of oxen, or more expensive horses, streaming out of the frequent hamlets, towards their known and inviolate plot, marked only by the mutually recognised boundaries invisible in the waiting soil. Here the cart rests, and the oxen go to the plough, the man to his furrows and the women to their cutting and sowing. All day in the fields with a break for the midday meal and a pull at the painted clay water pitchers calling in the shade of the wagon. At dusk, a heel to toe stream back to the village, the younger people exchanging carts-holding hands.

Compactly built villages reflect the native love of colour. Long continuous plastered walls, broken by the courtyard entrances arching over the sturdy wooden doors, are reminders of the days of fortification was more than a picturesque design. The individual residences gaily painted in pinks, ochres, greys, whites and ultramarine.

And the shepherds; older than revolution and war, dressed as you fondly hoped they would be. In tight white trousers, white aprons, embroidered waistcoats and sheepskin cloaks, they shout and batter the sheep (so many of them the black and long-haired dreams of fairy tales), off the road before the approach of the imperious car.

The small flock of bleating animals, three belonging to one of the peasants in the village, five belonging to another, to others, one, four, two or six, all slowly eating their way to the higher pastures with the community shepherd their guide and protector as in Biblical days. In the fenceless pastures they must be watched, in the mountains there are wolves, so their shepherd is always with them, and with him his flute and his folksongs.

TWO

The Rumanians are energetic in keeping their folk music vital and alive. Everything possible is being done to record and print extent tunes from every province in the country, and much encouragement is given to the emergence of new themes of folk song. Ballads like “The Song of the Tractor” or “The Light (electric) Has Come” extoll the symbols of the new life in the same way as other generations honoured the images significant to them.

The music which is collected by the Folklore Institute could nominally be divided into three categories:

  1. Cantice Batrineste — historical or legendary ballads
  2. Doine — love songs and elegies
  3. Hore — lively lyrics and dances

The three principal dance forms being:

  1. Batuta — an ancient national dance performed by men only
  2. Pe-Picior — in which each man has from 2 to 5 partners
  3. Hora — a round dance with swaying rhythmic movement embodying varying steps and tempo.

From Leon Feraru’s “Development of Romanian Poetry”, we learn that the doina is the lyric poetry of the Romanian peasantry, and expressed almost all emotions, but is usually offered as a song of longing, or sorrow. By some strange convention, perhaps derived from the peasant’s love of nature, or some primitive form of nature worship, the doina usually begins with the words “A green lead of a … (Rose, oak, or some other flour or tree)”.

“The doina tells of need, grief, textile and death. It takes the shape of threat against oppression, it celebrates wine and carousel, contemplates and worships the Creation. And persistently it intones love. The doina follows the peasant, step-by-step, from infancy until his end — from lullaby to elegy”.

Longing is the grand theme. An unknown author says, “Longing is the invention of the Devil. Longing torments the soul, clings to the soul like a rambler and puts the heart on fire.” The sign is equally disturbing: “I have side so much,” laments one doina, “I have side so hard, that my heart pains me, my soul burns. I have side so much that the Lord became angry, and not it no longer snows, it no longer rains and no longer falls the dew.”

There now exists a considerable number of popular folk music orchestras, the most famous being the Barbu Lautaru ensemble (lautari meaning village fiddlers). This group was formed some years ago for the purpose of experimenting with the further progression of folk music, which to these people, is a living art, capable of greater expression and expansion. These groups present airs from the most remote areas and generally help to keep the Rumanians keenly aware of their own rich musical heritage, as against the pop and bepop of overseas infiltration. The peasants are being taught to make their flutes and suchlike instruments in a standard pitch-they are taught ensemble work, and the tutors in turn, learn from the peasants who are often extremely individualistic in their musicianship. It is, in fact, a two scheme of education.

In the Athenee Concert Hall I heard the Barbu Lautaru group give a most exciting two hours concert, playing the whole time with seemingly inexhaustible vehemence. Forty-five musicians-tarragots-all playing in ruthless fury. The emotion flowing in controlled and canalised perfection-faster and faster and faster to an atomic cessation. The great seething vibrance cut dead, with the precision of a guillotine, by the downbeat of conductor Budisteanu’s baton. Soloists were many who had been proclaimed laureates of their craft at different musical festivals, the most popular being Maria Tanase, a slender good-looking girl who sang Gypsy songs with passion. The great cries of “Bis! Bis! Bis!” (which means encore) were ignored only by sheer physical exhaustion.

This is not intellectual music. The innumerable dances and laments that poor fourth from all the provinces of Romania come from the heart the erstwhile illiterate peasant. His grief, his Geordie, his dancing, and his history are all put to music, and passed on in the most indelible way father to son, and from mother to daughter. Music without the complications of intellectually constructed form. As elemental as the earth, and the people who grew and died on it.

More serious music is not neglected. At the concert Hall I heard a visiting Yugoslav conductor give a combined classical and modern performance; and a few days later, a chamber music recital led by a leading Italian artist.

Apart from the two hot months August and September, the opera houses in Bucharest and the bigger provincial towns are open every night to full houses. Prices are not low, although there are concession nights for youth and factory worker groups. The Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Romanian People’s Republic in Bucharest was built in a few months for the World Youth Festival of 1953. Much involuntary labour was incorporated in the building. The interior is most comfortable, and largely elegant with its sweeping stairways and marbled paved foyers and bars.

THREE

Being largely of Latin descent the Rumanians are quite at home with the emotionalism of the Italian Opera. I had the good fortune to see performances of Aida and Rigoletto, but missed seeing any of the works of the Russian composers.

Presentation of both these works was on spectacular and traditional lines. There was none of that portable stage ware one associates with touring opera companies. Egyptian gods (albeit papier-mâché), so tall their heads were lost in the heights of the stage, really moulded gates, columns, stairways and triumphal arches, and lavish costuming contribute to the sumptuousness of the production. I am not qualified to add that the music and singing was on the same plane. Possibly not. And almost nightly change of program over ten months of the year would, I imagine tax the resources of the greatest of artists.

As most of these operas and concerts begin about 7:30 p.m., and you cannot have your dinner at the hotel before 8:30 p.m., you are often distracted by the thoughts of food. But at 10:30 p.m. the artistry is over and the eating begins. The Athenee Palace Hotel Orchestra plays tirelessly-folk songs, Viennese waltzes, German Polkas, English ballads, and even an occasional American hit-sad to say the musicians confessed complete ignorance of Waltzing Matilda-but if I could have hummed the tune with any assurance at all, I am sure they would have played it.

Confronted with a lavish menu, and surrounded by gargantuan eaters, you give due consideration to the right dish. There is no hurry, for the dining room will not be closed until 2:30 a.m.. Lots of people are fond of your interpreter, and you are not altogether isolated because of your linguistic disabilities.

I have long wondered at the curious differences in prices on the menu. Not that it matters much anyway, because it is all on the house so to speak, and if you and your interpreter invite guests to join you, they too, are on the house. It is months now since I started to marvel at this menu, and I have not yet ceased.

Before me is a copy which quotes (as part of the cold buffet preceding the main courses) Sardines a L’huille Jugoslave — 22.50 Lei-the dearest dish in the place. Sardines, mark you!

Taking the Lei as a unit we get the following comparisons:

Salade cavaire carpe is only 5.40, and you get more than you can eat-very good too, even if it is not the high and mighty sturgeon.

3.50 for 100 grams of lemon when it is only 5.85 for the best part of ½ pound of ham. And 5.40 for a great plateful of wonderful smoked pork. 7.50 for an omelette aux fines herbes, and for a mere 9.40 a whacking huge plate of roast pork, or 11.80 for half a chicken; 11.40 for vol-au-vent financiere.

Only 1.55 for pickled whole capsicums, 1.25 for cucumber with a dressing: that 7.40 four filtered coffee. But then coffee is a distant import and is paid for in a hard currency market.

So you can see not too many Rumanians eat out of their own purse in this establishment-especially when they know that one meal will set them back the best part of a week’s wages. But it is no worse than eating at the Ritz.

Speaking of prices, I suppose everyone likes to know what people behind the Iron Curtain can buy with the money they earn. It is extremely difficult for a stranger to form any idea of what the standards of living are. By and large the Rumanians are not well dressed. They spend a lot of money on food because they have the great appetite. Their rents are fixed at a low normal rate of 5 – 6% of their weekly income. With the unskilled worker’s wage at 600 Lei a month, the figures I quote from shop windows in the provincial town of Cluj may give you some idea of what he can do with his earnings.

Men’s Lei Women’s Lei
Suit 500 – 1000 ready-made frock 120 – 230
Overcoat 400 – 800 Costume 400
Shirt 80 high-heeled shoes 380
Tie 20 – 60 flat shoes 140
Hat 60 costume jewellery 20 – 90
Pyjamas 120
Shoes 140 – 400
Potatoes (kilogram) 0.65 Lei
Cabbage (about 2 pounds) 1 Lei
Butter (kilo) 18 Lei
Pork (kilo) 10 Lei
Cognac (bot) 90 Lei
Vodka (bot) 22 Lei
Tzuica (bot) 31 Lei
Beer (bot) 8 Lei

Bicycle 860 Lei

Motorbike (imported) 16,000 Lei

(FOOTNOTE – on the foreign exchange market the Lei is held at about ¼ to 1/6 Australian this may not be a real value rate for no foreigner could exist for a week paying on this basis)

FOUR

As an artist I was primarily interested in the conditions and functions of the artist in a socialist state.

It is apparent that given the necessary ability, and the willingness to accept theory of socialist art, he is very well off indeed. In fact, he enjoys, relative to his society a much more exalted position in the social scale than does his counterpart in the Western world.

As a unit of promulgation of socialist consciousness he has special privileges and responsibilities of which I will speak later. Like all other workers, he belongs to the Union, in his case, The Plastic Arts Union, which looks after his social welfare, supervisors and commissions his work.

The youth who desire to become artists are selected from the final school grade, and are admitted to the Institute of Plastic Arts where they are given an allowance during thorough six-year course of training which lies ahead.

The Institute in Bucharest, which teaches hundreds of students (among them some Chinese and English), places a great emphasis on draughtsmanship in the academic manner. This is understandable, as art as officially conceived in Romania, as a tutorial aim, and is to be clearly understood by the populace. Drawing is emphasised in pencil and charcoal, pen and ink, in lithography, wood engraving and etching.

Sculpture, or more precisely, modelling in clay, dominates the final year of the course. Ceramics and allied arts are taught to a high standard. The quality of painting was generally disappointing. During the sixth year the student is fully supported before his examination for graduation into the Artists’ Union. After graduation he is under no direction for two or three months, during which time he may go where ever he chooses (still under full allowance) to gather material and ideas for the commencement of his career.

Those students whose aptitude is not considered worthy of continual encouragement by the Union may apply to some other union admission to its particular craft. Failures at graduation may apply for enrolment in allied artistic cooperatives in which a measure of artistic feeling is combined with craftsmanship-the Artisan trades, such as stonemasonry, woodcarving, decoration, etc.

To get back to our young artist.

If he has an idea for a painting, or a series of sketches he approaches the Artists’ Union suggests his ideas and is well received, obtains a loan from the Union to enable him to complete his project.

Having completed his work, he submits it to a committee appointed by the Union, and if approved of, is purchased, and a deduction is made in respect of the loan advanced.

If he should happen to sell his work to an individual, or some unattached co-operative, he still repays the Artists’ Union the sum advanced

If he is on the ball, our artist is now established.

Usually sells his work through the Union, and its local committees; much as if he were to sell through, the commission by, the various selection boards of societies of artists which exist in Australia of course there is nothing to stop him selling his work to individuals, from what little I could see, I doubt whether any individuals were either willing, or economically capable of doing so.

The fundamental patron is the State-or, if you like, the Unions, and other bodies associated with the apparatus collective management. From here we move into the consideration of what all this works out in terms of the living wage.

In Romania, all major buildings and projects, in, or under planned, production are obliged to allocate a certain percentage (I was informed by a sculptor it was equivalent to a minimum of 10 shillings per £1000) of the total cost to the Plastic Arts Fund, which discusses the artistic problems involved, how they should be distributed, and to which artist or artists. Unfortunately I neglected to ask whether these allocations were made on a competitive, or roster basis.

This is undoubtedly constant and practical support from artists from governmental levels.

The Plastic Union also stages exhibitions (the works in which are for sale), encourages discussions between artists and laymen, and generally makes every attempt to synthesise their often opposed points of view.

To give a better idea of how successful artists may become, I quote a few figures from Mr Maxy, Director of the Bucharest Art Gallery, and well-established artist.

As the average wage for an unskilled labourer would be the vicinity of 600 Lei a month, and for a skilled worker, such as a typesetter, 1000 Lei a month, Mr Maxy’s figures seemed to me to suggest the height of affluence. Nevertheless, they received corroboration in other parts of the country so I suppose it does apply to the top man, at least.

An established artist, having made an approved suggestion to the Artists’ Union, will receive 2000 – 3000 Lei a month during the period of his idea’s incubation and appearance.

If his production is satisfactory to the Artists’ Union (which virtually means that it will be accepted by the State), he will be paid anything from 15,000 – 20,000 Lei for and heroic historical picture or 8,000 – 15,00 for a significant landscape.

It is possible for him to earn as much as 40,000 Lei for a grandiose project, or even to name his own fee for what he submits. Mr Virgil Fulicea of Cluj, is one of those who reap the benefits of these arrangements. A sculptor strong, fluent and acceptable concepts, he had in his studio a major work of three peasant girls from the Fagaras region wearing costumes that survive from the Daccian (Roman) days vigourous and optimistic in design, this over life-size work was worth, in the plaster cast, 35,000 Lei to him. It represented six months work and the State pays for and arranges the bronze casting of it. One could hardly grumble at that.

He told me that for the big works it was usually he, one day or month, so to speak, and someone else, the next.

Of course, he does not get this fee all the time. I understand there are certain fixed prices-minimum, average and maximum and that juries consider the necessity, appropriateness and value of the ideas submitted.

On top of all this the living and creative conditions of the artist are given special consideration, for it is the accepted thing in this society that the artist should be spared all possible distractions.

If the artist’s work and ideas are well received he may be allocated special quarters in one of the numerous Houses of Creation, which resemble private hotels housing a community of interests. He is given accommodation, congenial working quarters, and dining and assembly facilities.

I visited two such establishments in Bucharest.

Firstly, the Magosoaia Palace which had been taken over for sculptors, although at the time I saw it, it was not completely ready for occupation. The beautiful palace, built byBrancoveanu in 1724, is small gracefully designed and overlooks formal gardens which lead down to the river lined with rushes alive with the sunlight and the wind.

The architecture with its warm bricks and slender pillars has a Muslim touch, probably influenced by the Turks who dominated the country from many generations. Byzantine gold mosaics paves the main foyer where now the proletarian artist treads and meditates.

House of Creation number two was a much more modest affair, set in a nice clump of trees in the best residential area of the town itself, and is the workplace of painters and top sculptors, Medres and Baraski. Monstera Deliciosa was set in pots around the veranda facing the lawns.

Heroes of Romanian history were lying dismembered in the studios. A plaster head of Balcescu, two feet six from the neck up, lies alongside an equally gargantuan shin and foot of Eminescu. All these bits and pieces awaiting dispatch to the foundry, from whence, assembled and in bronze, they will brave the elements in noble and optimistic city squares.

Newspaper artists working for the daily press get 500 – 600 Lei for each cartoon that appears. They are not on the staff, and are a body of freelance men who make themselves available at extra short notice, like their colleagues anywhere else in the world. So we see that even three or four drawings of week puts these men in the upper crust bracket.

I did not have time to find out how the Artisans, like ceramic workers, woodcarvers, wrought iron workers, embroiderers and the like were paid, but their productions had the technical excellence, and were quite as skilful in design as those of the traditional folklore masters.

I attended the opening of the Biennial Exhibition of Romanian Decorative Art in a new modern Gallery in Bucharest. 280 artists had sent in over 2000 exhibits, most of which were on show, and extremely well done in a form of modernised traditionalism.

The exhibition’s sponsors were the Ministry for Culture, the Union of Plastic Arts, the Ministry for Light Industry, and the Artisan’s Cooperatives. In his official speech Mr Mac Constantinescu sculptor, and Professor of Decorative Art, made the following points.

“Romanian art faces now social aspects of life, and if there are many difficulties to be contended with, it is for us to find a way to surmount them.

There is no doubt there are still great problems, but if all creative forces are stimulated, the artist, or Artisan, knows that in overcoming them he will be able to do something for society, and will be aware of the importance of his work in the decorative ensemble.

If we fight for the development of artistic personality and creative imagination, our decorative arts will be a great success in our days.

Experiments and innovations in the technical and conceptual points of view, which are presented at this exhibition are, and must be, welcome. The task of the exhibition is to submit the exhibits to the critical appreciation of the public. Only thus are we able to choose or select the most worthy from the exhibition, and only thus can we progress.”

I think that within these few remarks one finds the central problem of social start. Or, to be more explicit, the essential contradiction in Socialist realism which has not yet been synthesised. On the one hand we have the demand for “experiments and innovations from the technical and conceptual points of view,” on the other, that these experiments and innovations the only worthy when accepted by the public.

This is a fine and forward-looking thought inferring the best of all possible publics. But no one could seriously dispute the insufficiency of the general public as the final arbiters of what is, and what is not, valid in art at the immediate time of its production. The public has always been a generation behind in the appreciation of the great revolutionaries in any of the arts. Can one imagine how a Cézanne would fare under the critical direction of the masses? Genius is inevitably ahead of contemporary thought and cannot be conditioned by. That genius is rare, so it doesn’t matter, is beside the point. Even the talented artist must have the right to experiment in terms of vision beyond the immediate comprehension of the public.

No doubt a free Socialist art is possible. But there is little evidence that socialism has yet brought forth anything of universal significance in the plastic arts. It is possible to sympathise with the aspirations of socialism yet be completely unmoved by its artistic lecturings. I feel that the Rumanians, and artistic race, are somewhat ware of this, although at the present stage of their social development they are overburdened with official Soviet dogma on such matters. In theory the Rumanians are free to paint in any manner they choose so long as they are sincere and passionate in their interpretation of life (Mr Mircea Deac, who is Director of the Fine Arts Department, a member of The Plastic Arts Union, and art critic, informs me that there is nothing to stop an artist painting in any style whatever, that official recognition is given to those who are sincere, and present the socialistically conceived realities of life. The artist is expected to describe life passionately, and the form in which the artist elects to do so is left to him.) But who was the adjudicator of passion and sincerity?

In practice, the artists reflect the official directives of the optimistic and heroic socialism in terms of naturalism that is to be understood by the dullest of wits. Art is used as an instrument in the education of the masses, and in this respect much of it is scarcely different in essence (although it is in aim) from the insinuative commercial artwork produced in the West.

It is interesting to note a few remarks in “The Literary Gazette” (Romanian) by art critic Petru Comarnescu. Speaking of world-famous abstract sculptor Brancusi, a Romanian, long resident in France, Cormarnescu says; inter-alia…

  • That Brancusi enriched universal culture by his works which had their roots in the primitive forms of his own country’s folk wood carvings
  • that although he worked abroad he never forgot his formative background Gorj, where he was born; and always maintained relationships with his homeland although he is now 80 and lives in Paris.
  • that he went to Paris in 1904 and followed the classical sculptors from Michelangelo to especially Rodin will stop in 1915 became influenced by Romanian folklore and woodcarving, and while he was now placing less stress on naturalistic human form, the abstractions which were emerging Web-based, not on cubist theory, but on Romanian folk art and symbolism.
  • That his work was not empty of human content, and that his imitators followed only the abstract and decorative surface elements of his work, and that their work is null and void, because they missed the inner convictions of Brancusi’s art;
  • that he was striving to seek for the essence of the subject and that it was not easy to understand the abstract portraits which pretend to express human form;
  • that he was mainly influenced by Romanian peasant and Byzantine art which is not concerned with human form;
  • that present art critics (I presume Comarnescu means Romanian critics) say Brancusi is presenting reality in an archaic way, insofar as he maintains geometric form rather than humanistic appearance;
  • that Brancusi, well appreciated in the West and in India, is universally discussed, and should be discussed in Romania because his work is inspired by Romanian folk art-art which is polished by the hand of a great contemporary sculptor;
  • that we (Rumanians) must observe that Brancusi’s art not only expresses the old primitive times, but is an example for our own young artists to find new ways of expression appropriate to their feelings, and with the new demands of their contemporary life.

There it is. Partly a nationalistic claim, partly an acknowledgement of the greatness of his art. And while appreciation of such formers admitted, one, casually at least, finds little tolerance of this style in practice.

However, the artistic Rumanians may yet find room for another innovator, such as Brancusi, one who, while not immediately intelligible to the public, will not be constrained by official thinking.

I excuse myself quoting Russian sources, but I think they indicate generally the socialist idea.

In Bucharest I read in the “Soviet News” (Oct. 16. 1956) an article entitled “Granting Indulgence to Modernism?” by Mattias Sokolsky. Speaking of musicians, which we can equate with artists, he says; “As for dodecafonia, it was never prohibited in this country and is not prohibited now. Even if the idea should it ever occur to anyone to do so, the fact remains there is nothing to prohibit. Dodecafonia has never presented any temptation to Soviet composers. Dodecafonia is something alien to their aesthetic tastes, their ethical views and their creative aspirations.

Soviet musicians write for the people-that is their credo, the force that unites them. In this they strive to carry on the traditions of the classics. Dodecafonial music, on the other hand is egoistic. It is music not even for a chosen few that at best for a single person. The platform of the dodecafonists can hardly hope to unite musicians, for by its very nature it estranges the musician from life, turns him into an egocentric. And it is not a question of the individual inclinations or good intentions of the dodecafonist. It is a question of a whole system of views, the very essence of dodecafonia, which is divorced from the life and interests of the people.

Slonimsky is therefore wrong in thinking that the indulgence will be granted to Modernism.”

NOTE: (“today Modernism in music means dodecafonia. True, this tendency dates back to Arnold Schenberg, is 12 tone system is usually considered the beginning of dodecafonia.” Same article).

Earlier I. Moskvin has said, “The prime maxim of Socialist Realism is that Art shall be true to life. We learned to see life in its movement, in its development, in its endless variety. In the USSR new human relations are developing on the basis of a totally new socialist attitude towards labour, property and the home country. It is its mission to reflect this new outlook. Its fulfilment requires a deep insight into human psychology, emotional power and monumental form.”

Also Karl Radek said, “Socialist Realism means not only knowing reality, as it is that whether it is moving. It is moving towards socialism, it is moving towards the international proletariat. And a work of art created by a socialist realist is one which shows wither that conflict of contradicts is leading which the artist has seen in life and reflected in his work.”

Soviet author Yuri Clesha, thus, “When we speak of art, we sometimes forget that there are in the world to irreconcilable social systems… That the difference between our country and Europe is immense, not only in the economic and political system but in spirit, in ideas-that is to say in the very things which are expresses. We forget that the artist of the West and the artist of this socialist land of ours expresses different ideas and that there is more essential difference between them than between economists and soldiers because the artist not only defines what has taken place but also conjectures what will occur, foretells the future.”

This Socialist Realism is an emotional concept not easy to define-and because of my inability to read the Romanian literature about it-and the inadequacy of non-specialist translation-I feel at a considerable disadvantage in attempting to explain convincingly the attitudes involved.

Suffice it to say that what appeared to be the most acceptable artistic subjects almost invariably spring from an illustrative idea. Pictures of modern and ancient protagonists in the drama of struggle against oppression-genre pictures of workers building and making a new society, and peasants in various rural occupations.

In sculpture, much the same story, although done with more conviction; the heroic figure lending itself more aptly to the massive and elemental forms unadulterated by the atmospheric detains which weaken the impact of the paintings.

An element of expressionism appears and within certain realistic limits is well handled will stop abstraction and the incidental ‘isms’ seem to be completely absent. Art becomes the somewhat bread-and-buttery diet of the many rather than the marijuana of the few.

For a well balanced and simplified outside viewpoint on socialist realism, the words of Professor Radhakamal Mukerjee, eminent Indian sociologist, could scarcely be bettered. I quote at length:

“all authors, painters, sculptors, actors and playwrights receive an encouragement unknown in any other country in the modern world. The State gives regular orders to painters and sculptors for the purpose of decorating public institutions, parks and factories, and also arranges for the cheap supply of materials they use. Artists are relieved once for all of the anxiety lest the products of their art should find no sale-so wide has become the demand for works of art. There are also special cooperatives for authors, painters, sculptors and other artists which also help them on a new and lavish scale. On the other hand the artists must be true to the proletarian ideal, and view life as the proletariat view it. In the first place the artists and public are readily brought into intimate touch with one another. Thus a painter, a sculptor, the novelist or a dramatist are expected and encouraged to meet their audience and to discuss with them the principles of artistic production and obtain their criticisms and suggestions. If the artists do not follow the generally prescribed path of Socialistic Realism, the ruling party in Soviet Russia is strong and resolute enough to discourage any individualistic deviations. Ideological opposition as well as the withholding of orders and ostracism are enough to check the erring spirit. In painting, for instance the object of proletariat art is to give pleasure and regard life with optimism, and the dominant themes are modern life with its fresh possibilities and strong wave of optimism as well as neutral subjects. Landscapes, still-lifes, interiors and above all portraits, are still permissible themes for Soviet painters. But strenuous resistance is offered to ‘painting which distorts the lines of reality and pictures chaotic fragments in place of landscape and people; which shows humdrum and insipid themes instead of joy and heroic reality.’ The majority of good Russian painting is a revolution of the new landscape the new people expressing the sincerity, joy and aspirations of a people working towards a higher social integration and harmony. It is also significant that many of the master artists are coming from the working class. At the same time the danger of the working class, who have not obtained adequate artistic education in such a short period of emancipation, suppressing stylistic distinctiveness of individual artists is not small. If new styles of mass art cannot obtain free expression due to the verdict of the proletariat which is apt to develop standardised artistic outlook and tastes, Soviet art may degenerate into a mere pictorial representation of the environment without any profound implications in emotional experience and form of expression.

Yet there is no doubt that there has been a gain to art to the world in that at least in one country art is a social inspiration, is far removed from a filling in the abstract that subsists on the support of a small coterie, but expresses the emotional experience of the community at large whose restrictions to it have an immediate effect on the attitude and style of the artist…

No state in any other country has been so active in both the encouragement of artists and the diffusion of artistic education and culture among the people. Only where art ceases to be an individual experience and a luxury for the few, but represents a mass experience for the enjoyment of all can it play its due role in the organisation of society. (The Social Function of Art — Radhakamal Mukherjee. Hind Kitabs Ltd. Bombay 1948).

Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 28-30 Sep; Venice and Munich – inspirational artworks

Fri 28-Sep-56: Got lost all day but managed to see the Tintorettos at Scuola di S. Rocco. Cashed £5
Sat 29-Sep-56: Cashed £2 Left 10:30am for Münich. Had a wonderful flight over the Alps. No room. Am in guesthouse 13kms from München. Grünwald quite full. Cashed £5 in Marks.
Sun 30-Sep-56: Went by train to city. Saw Alte Pinakothek Old Masters – magnificent show. Many people at Grünwald – had dinner with Dittmar & family.

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0015

Hotel Regina, Venice
Venezia Friday
[28 Sep 1956]
8pm before dinner

Little Sweetie,

I’m not very happy about bringing you back anything in the woolly line from Italy. It’s nothing but thick woolly cardigans because of the approaching winter I suppose and as far as shopping via window there is little to be seen. Really few of the attendants understand English & you can’t get anywhere much. Once or twice, I’ve managed to ask about a thingummy I liked but in a different colour. But as it happens they haven’t got it. Then again I didn’t want to go too high because 34” doesn’t mean much of a thing here. From what I can gather you are a 46 Italiano. That is at it may be. You’d better send me care of the Rumanian address your measurements in centimetres. That metal flexible ruler of mine is calibrated in centimetres under the ins. mark. Let me know other measurements. It’s sad, but it hasn’t been a lack of trying. I do hope to get you something nice somewhere. To tell the truth nothing I have seen has been a patch on that one of yours with the crossed over neck line. I miss you very much.

I managed to get someone’s cancellation flight to Munich & leave at 8.30-am in the morning. So that I am still keeping up to schedule. It doesn’t look like I can stay overnight in Budapest because I don’t think I can get any Hungarian currency. The dopey coots in Sydney endorsed the Travellers Cheques for Rumania only. This was purely an oversight because my passport OKs me for Hungary as well. So there, perhaps on the way back I may stay one day with Rumanian currency.

Anyway I’ve had the dutiful tramping around, being the best poor quarter finder in the world. I don’t know how it is but as soon as I start walking I finish up in the poorest area. How is this? I do know that I haven’t got a clue as to direction in the Northern hemisphere. Naturally down south you walk away from the sun to go south. Up here you have to face it. Plus the fact that there is a different velocity influence on the human balance. As in the South pole, people lost, always walk to the right & in the North pole area to the left (or vice versa, if I must be corrected). Christ I got soured this afternoon. Three times I finished up in the same end of the island, and it was not until I told myself my instinct for direction was arsy-boo that I got anywhere. I told myself (just like you would, in any emergency) to walk towards the sun. And do you know it worked! After one hour I was back to tors.

But thank God for big blessings. As I was lost in the morning I stumbled across the Scuola di S. Rocco (or something) [Scuola Grande di San Rocco], the church or palace in which are housed the finest Tintorettos paintings. They were on the heroic Italian scale – enormous & hard to see because of the light coming through the windows alongside them. Oh but what pictures. No reproduction could do justice to the wonderful subdued luminosity & grandiose virility of these really wonderful paintings. It is unbelievable that a human, one human could have conceived & carried through these huge and moving works. Everything was in them – humanity, wonderful abstraction. Lines of movement, colour & attitude, all the source from which El Greco got his thing. (By the way I saw two El Greks in Rome & Holbein & one Titian). I could if I was full, & alone, & without the TV, go on for hours about the Tintorettos. When I see that book of mine again together with the pamphlet I bought at the gallery (which cost me the same as my theoretical cheap lunch), I shall know what I know.

Enough for now. The last letter – must have been on awful heavy paper cost 4/9 to post, 480 lire to you. I shall see you (i.e. write to you), my dear, in Munich. I really missed you and needed you with me when I sat down in St Mark’s Square & had a beer. All Venice seemed to be walking around and the deepening blue of the night was showing up the red & white topped Campanile. Behind it a wedding cake joint of a church with gilt facings, pigeons flying around, lights under each of the hundreds of marble arches – people in chairs – people walking, & bowings & God knows what – with 3 different top class 5 pieces Restaurant orchestras playing to their clients in the open square. And the blue getting deeper and deeper as the white marble cake got greener & the great spire smouldered strong like a Fred. I can never tell you how I felt about it. Pictures won’t – what will. Perhaps one night with the help of a 25 lire postcard I may give you some idea. But then these vicarious jaunts can be boring.

I’m finished – for the second time I’m seeing everything. The first time in Italian – Charlie’s Aunt on television – I am looking at now – Goodnight darling.

Panorama and Rialto Bridge, Venice
Panorama and Rialto Bridge, Venice
St Mark Square and Dock from the aeroplane, Venice
St Mark Square and Dock from the aeroplane, Venice
Palazzo Ducale, Venice
Palazzo Ducale, Venice
Chiese della Satute, Venezia
Chiese della Satute, Venezia
Hotel Regina marked out on back by Wep where he stayed
Hotel Regina marked out on back by Wep where he stayed
Hotel Regina marked out on back by Wep where he stayed
Hotel Regina marked out on back by Wep where he stayed

8.30pm Saturday [29 Sep 1956]

I am in Munich or to be more truthful 13 kilometres out of it. There was no hotel booking & to cut a very hard luck story short, I am where I am.

Tannenhof Guesthouse, Marktplatz, Grünwald; 30 September 1956
Tannenhof, Marktplatz, Grünwald; 30 September 1956
View of Marktplatz from Tannenhof Guesthouse, Grünwald; 30 September 1956

Dearest darling don’t hammer me! For the first time in my life, I’m full in Germany. As you always say – things turn out for the best? When I arrived in Munich – München – I wandered up & down two blocks carrying all the garbage I possess, finally ran aground the C.I.T. agent. Of course he had never heard of me, & it was impossible (with a capital IMPOSSIBLE) to get accommodation in München. He had never heard of me or anything connected with Australia. However, he very kindly drove me (and his son) all the way out to a guesthouse – which is beautifully appointed & which I seem to have the bridal suite. Two nice loving single beds tight alongside each other with the sheets short sheeted on the sneaking-in side. Very nice, but I am 13,000 long miles off….

P.S. at this stage I went to sleep.

Dorothy darling,

Don’t take too much notice of the preceding page. Anyway it gave me the best & longest sleep I’ve had since leaving Australia. It is Sunday evening at 6.30pm and I have spent 4 hours of my one day in Munich in the Haus der Kunst (or Art Gallery). Can you imagine seeing 30 odd Rubens in one blow, about 10 Rembrandts, some Tintoretto, Velasquez, Titian, Goya, Giotto, Van der Weyden – the works. Wore me out it did – no eats or beer all day. Travelled all across Munich in the trams & spoke German like you imagine I would – Anyway, I got there & back. 3 different trams each way. I’ll tell you later about the wonderful pictures. From Vienna I am sending by book post some odds & ends of travel folders & things plus the catalogue of this show. I don’t want to build up my weight on plane travelling. It is possible I will be home before them – It seems so long ago since I left that time is unaccountable.

Looking southwest along the Isarwerkkanal near the Schlosshotel Grünwald; 30 September 1956
Schloß Grünwald built in 1293, Grünwald, Germany; 30 September 1956
Schlosshotel Grünwald, Zeillerstraße 1, 82031, Grünwald, Germany just a short walk down the road from where Wep was staying at the Tannenhof Guesthouse; 30 September 1956

I don’t care much for Munich. It gives me the feeling of a grey stone prison. Despite the fact you always say things turns out for the best – they have here. This morning at 6.30 I went for a walk around Grünwald where I am staying. It means ‘Green Forest’ and is very lovely spot with silver beeches, & pines & plane trees thick & tall around the river Isar. Green & fresh & lovely. With a castle – and church bells (It is Sunday) and beautifully quiet then – restful. When I came home (every room you have is that important) there were thousands of people in Grunewald. There are a lot of beer gardens around here and they were all full of people, well behaved and drinking enormous things of beer. Grunwald must be something like Manly, everyone comes out here for a day in the forest & a beer & a bite before getting back to the barrack like city. Really choice here. Don’t take any notice of any illiteracy or lack of polish in these letters. All I want to do is talk to you. Not going too well am I, after only a week? I guess it’s the complete absence of conversation, It should be a lesson to me.

I leave here in the morning and will be on the way to Vienna where I know I’ll have more bloody trouble! I’ll have to alter the flight plan, because of that currency bother. And I suppose there will be no accom. & mod cons. I don’t know whether I mentioned that this fortnight in Munich is the annual Sep-Oct Autumn Festival – a very big affair – because this is the best & most reliable weather op the year. There’s no accommodation available. Things are like Sydney at Show time except this is mostly culture. Ballet, opera, concerts, art, etc, etc. Sport too. Included in the pile of trash I am sending back is the Festival programme which I can interpret well enough. I love you. I am going out again to get myself a beer & a bite. This seven dwarfs like darling establishment serves no meals. Last night I had a schnitzel in batter & potato salad & about a schooner of superb beer for less than 10/-. This Sunday afternoon before I came up to the room I had a big beer. Must have been more than a bottle & half for 3/-. It was served in a glass about as tall as a bottle & half again as wide. Lovely. Cheers me up no end and what is more, makes me very fond of you, you old dragon.

It has got a bit cold and I have put your dear woolly jumper on.

I don’t know what to write to Graham – fob him off with the information in these letters please. I did want to buy him a funny postcard here but the shop is shut. Give him my love and keep me in mind yourself.

Lots of love from your Bill.

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0025

P.S. The CIT agent who drove me here turned up after I had finished this letter. He, and family, apparently live here. He asked me to be his guest at a Brau Haus or Wirt haus (means beer house – but they serve very good food & plenty of it.) So I accept. He and his family were very gracious. His son is learning English at school. They had just returned from a 400 mile trip to the Austrian Alps. When I asked him on Sat what the charge was likely to be he said about 20 marks which I thought was cheap. Now I find they want 40. That means I have to cash more Travellers Cheques. I would rather spend them on the way home – I don’t know what is ahead of me. If I have my fare back fixed up, I know where I am. I think I am being clipped. I tell you if I had a month in Europe nobody would do me more than the next. It is not that I don’t want to spend the damn money – I want to get you & Graham something for it! Oh, pull your big head in. This extra page is not for you – I’m just having a good honest to God whinge about anything that is around. And if you feel tough too, I will never sleep with you again.

How are you? How are your poor old limbs? Auf wiedersehen.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” as they say in the classics & fonder & fonder & fonder.

And so to Vienna.

WW2 bomb damaged Bayerische Staatsregierung, home of the Bavarian Government, Munich; 30 September 1956
Munich; 30 September 1956
Munich; 30 September 1956
Munich; 30 September 1956
Sankt Lukas Kirche in the distance on Mariannenplatz, taken from Maximilliansbrucke, Munich; 30 September 1956

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Wep’s 1956 Romanian adventure: 26 Sep; Rome – I am in anything but a state of Splendor!

on 24-Sep-56: Took off 8:30am through Bangkok, Calcutta and Karachi, flew all day & night, arrived Cairo 3:55am.
Tue 25-Sep-56: Landed Rome 10am. Found suitcase had been left at Karachi. After lot of bother settled in Splendor Hotel. Cashed £10
Wed 26-Sep-56: Walked miles saw Vatican & Colosseum

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0003

[Roma, Italy, Splendor Hotel via Luigi Luzzatti N. 20.A]

Wed 27th 9.45pm [26 Sep 1956]

To My dear little wife & Graham,

I am in anything but a state of Splendor! I’m done in, I’m finished, I’m in bed, and I miss you both very much. I’ve walked Rome down to its original foundations and have had no one to whom to speak of it. Haven’t spoken to an Englisher since I arrived on Tues morning at 10.30am with the exception of tonight at dinner when one of the passengers of the plane turned up at the Hotel.

Things have got off to a bad start for the fool Qantas crowd left my baggage behind at Karachi. I hope to get it off the first available plane, which arrives tomorrow morning at 9am or so. I had to change my booking for Venice as that plane leaves at 8.45am. However a plane leaves at 2.55pm and have booked that. God knows what I’ll do if the bloody bag doesn’t arrive, or is half missing. It has been awkward without the gear. I have to walk everywhere because I can’t understand the gabling lingo, am ignorant of the destinations of trams & buses and don’t trust myself on finding a way out of the predicament. I must have cyclometered 20 miles, & the old dogs are killing me.

Had a very smooth trip on the plane but saw little of the land before we got to Singapore, as we were flying at 16,500 ft (i.e. about 3 miles up). After Bangkok we flew over thick cloud all the way to Rome. Ian Hamilton met me at the airport and drove me to Raffles where I had a shower & we had a look at the city on Sunday afternoon. It is a fantastic place with myriads of people milling around like ants of all conceivable shape & color, and in all stages of dress & undress. I haven’t the energy to elaborate much on the curiosities of Singapore but must mention that Ian, his wife, two other wives (not his) and myself went to a fantastic joint called Happy World, which is a collection of everything like the side shows & display stalls of the RAS and then some. But, my dear, the people! Polygot!

Sinseng Restaurant, Singapore; 23 September 1956

We had a Chinese meal there sitting in the open amongst the passers by. The chop shop had all its uncooked wares on display & as we pointed out what we wanted they would chop it up & cook it. Very good & very light. How Bill P Jones’ eyes would have stuck out, etc, etc.

Outside the Sinseng Restaurant, Singapore; 23 September 1956
Outside the Sinseng Restaurant, Singapore; 23 September 1956

I’m half asleep writing this in bed.

I wouldn’t care much to lose myself in Singapore. Even for the wonderful  chinese dolls.

Bill has highlighted in red on the map all the areas he walked. His descriptions are captured in his letters home "Carrani Burea de Voyages, Rome - Via Delle Terme, 95 (vis-à-vis le Grand Hotel) Autor. Ente Provinciale per il Turismo n. 359/F1 del 24 gennaio 1956 Autor. Della Questura di Roma dell'8 febbraio 1956 De Rossi, Tivoli"01-Feb-56
Wep highlighted in red on the map all the areas he walked around Rome.

You’d love Rome and I think I could now show you round a bit if you were with me. Sheer exhaustion is taking the edge off it for me. It is full of contrast & movement. Great slabs of it are like very much better done Kings X & Macleay St. Huge open places alternate with old past centuries dwellings flanking narrow streets. The city proper is built in the old area. Streets not much wider than Rowe St, down which busses, cars & motor scooters by the million whiz down with breakneck speed in a truly terrifying way. I really am frightened of the traffic here, it’s unbelievably fast & seemingly chaotic but strangely I haven’t seen an accident or a bent car. Every mobile thing is used, bicycles with box carriers in front, horse drawn phaetons, motor bike trucks, etc, all with practically open exhausts, and horns blowing & blasting ad nauseum. To make matters worse it runs in the opposite way to ours, which is what makes it dangerous for me because I am fixed on looking for oncoming cars where they aint. Only my increasing old womanishness has kept me in tack.

St Peter’s Square, Vatican City; 26 September 1956
IMG_0052
St Peter’s Square, Vatican City; 7 December 2013
St Peter’s Square, Vatican City; 26 September 1956
IMG_3704
St Peter’s Square, Vatican City; 7 December 2013

A few tired words couldn’t give you any idea of what the Vatican is like. Stupendous – and not in the Hollywood use of the term although most of the interior is Hollywood. In the conception & execution this general headquarters of the R.C.’s is gigantic.

Sorry I can’t write any more dear.

Ian Hamilton asked to be remembered.

Don’t be too misstressful with the young bloke. Tell him postcard sending will be in abeyance for a while as Airmail fee is pretty high. ¾ for one letter.

Lots & lots of love for you both.

Bill

1956 MM-DD WEP Romania_0007 copy

Last page included an illustration “Me exercising in Roma”

Rome, 26 September 1956
Rome, 26 September 1956

Lots of love sweetie. Am feeling stronger. Have dashed this off before breakfast or colazione to you. The whole town reeks of Expresso coffee & no one seems to wear a hat – male or female.

Tell P Jones I’ve heard everything. Tell him to tell Bert Gardiner I came over from Singapore with a young Chinese student who attends the University of Belfast – and talks like Bert Gardiner.

P.S. Just got word to say my bag has turned up. Thank Heavens. I hope nothing is missing/it was not locked.

Via della Conciliazione, Rome; 26 September 1956
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Via della Conciliazione, Rome; 7 December 2013
Via della Conciliazione, Rome looking towards St Peter’s Square; 26 September 1956
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Via della Conciliazione, Rome, looking towards St Peter’s Square; 7 December 2013
St Peter’s Square, Vatican City; 26 September 1956
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St Peter’s Square, Vatican City; 7 December 2013
The Colosseum, Rome; 26 September 1956
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The Colosseum, Rome; 9 December 2013
The Colosseum, Rome; 26 September 1956
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The Colosseum, Rome; 9 December 2013
The Colosseum, Rome; 26 September 1956
The Colosseum, Rome; 26 September 1956
Rome; 26 September 1956
Via di Tor di Nona, Rome; 26 September 1956
Looking towards Trajan’s Column from via Quattro Novembre, Rome; 26 September 1956
Monument to Victor Emanuel, Rome
Monument to Victor Emanuel, Rome
Trajan markets, Rome
Trajan markets, Rome
Trajan markets, Rome
Trajan markets, Rome
Venice palace, Rome
Venice palace, Rome

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War Letters – Morotai: 21 Jan 1945, Hollandia; In transit at a US Air Force Camp

Hollandia
Sunday 21st Jan [1945]
6 am

Darling,

Just a short note asking you to do something for me.  I forgot about it when writing yesterday.  You will have found an illustration in the hall – will you ring Jack Santry and ask him if he would be good enough to take it in to Miss Mellion in the office?  I couldn’t manage it on my last trip in.

Interior, Transport Plane Evacuating Wounded
Interior, Transport Plane Evacuating Wounded
Awarded First Prize, Australia At War Exhibition, War
in the Air Section 1944-45
The plane is a Hudson bomber.

Also on the verandah is a painting of wounded in a plane interior – you know, the very green thing.  I think it is leaning against the cupboard out on the verandah.  Will you send me up the size in inches of the original – and also ask Jack Santry to take it into Ron Bennett whom I shall write respecting it?  How are you getting along without me to worry you?  I do hope you and the little man are doing well & eating all you should.  We are leaving early this morning for an island further along the coast.  Should get there about 3 hours after we leave.  This American camp is a huge place.  Thousands of Yanks swarm the hills.  They’ve even got between 100 & 200 service women with them.  I dare say that dame Staunton who came home is somewhere about.  French letters & prophylastic (sic) stations abound.

It is very quiet at the moment – no one up in the PR camp – no sound of birds in the jungle just beside the hill.  The silence is broken only by the roaring farting of the jeeps grinding up the hill on the right.  We eat at an officers mess about a mile & a half up the mountain which overlooks a magnificent lake curving round the foothills for miles upon miles.  It really is a beautiful spot.  That is more than you can say for the food.  Christ the Americans are sweet toothed eaters!  Expensive too – and little enough of it.  Jack Hickson gets around in a start of chronic hunger pain. 1/- for a breakfast of a sweet kind of egg bread soaked in syrup.  Coffee of course.  3/6 for lunch consisting of an indifferent vegetable ball covered with a thin sauce, slice of beetroot & frizzled dehydrated potatoes. No coffee but water with lemon, and flat cakes.  Dinner was a salad of pears & peaches with a near horse radish sauce – then tomatoe soup – roast beef & a slawish sort of cabbage & a substance which none could identify & none could eat – all topped off with a slopingly sweet chocolate pie.  Humm-mm!

War Correspondnet Jack Hickson taking shelter from the rain at H
War Correspondent Jack Hickson taking shelter from the rain at Hollandia airfield.
US Army Douglas C47 transport planes at what is believed to be H
US Army Douglas C47 transport planes at what is believed to be Hollandia airfield. The plane in foreground has serial number 100726.
21 x 11 cm
US Army Douglas C47 transport plane

It has just started to rain but I don’t think it will amount to much – the mountain this foothill is part of runs to 5800 ft & has been shrouded by clouds ever since our arrival so I guess one can expect a certain dampness to be our lot..

The boys are alright but I’d still prefer to be alone I think.  However we shall see what we shall see.  Haven’t done any work yet as we haven’t contacted RAAF stations.  Will be staying with one today.  Somewhere in the Schoeten Islands just off NG.

After being very short on cigarettes all yesterday & being unable to buy any off the yanks we managed to get a dozen cartons off an Australian canteen.  Whacko!  12 Guilders for the dozen! 1 Guilder is 3/4 to you mug – of course we intrepid newsmen are in Dutch Territory & now shiny guilders about where pounds fluttered before.

Lots of love sweetheart.  A big squiggle & tickle for little wep & regards to mum.

I’ll be seeing you.

Dear Willie.

1 Guilder note sent by Wep to Jess in his letter of 21 Jan 1945

1 Guilder note sent by Wep to Jess in his letter of 21 Jan 1945

That’s a guilder, little woman!

War Letters – NW Australia: 12 Aug 1943, Coomalie Creek; with the boys of a Beaufighter squadron

W.E. Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
A.P.O. Darwin
Thursday
[12 Aug 1943]

Darling,

How’s my little pet today?  Listening to Janie?  Going to the pub?  Reading to the Watsos? Or just thinking of Willie?

Am at another camp where I stayed last night.  Am moving up the road this afternoon where I shall pass the evening with the Sydney fellows from the Auto Club.

Beaufighter, possibly at Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory, 194
Beaufighter, possibly at Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory, 1943

The crowd of pilots fly Beaufighters, a twin engined job used for strafing the nips on islands 300 to 400 miles from here.  They are somewhat older than the Spitfire boys but are all in early twenties.  The Commanding officer is youngish tall, dark & could easily pass for a brother of Good-O.  Something about his face is remarkably like her.  The air force COs are much more friendly than their counterparts in the army.  I suppose this is so because they are much younger.

An Army Liaison officer attached to this unit came up to me last night and asked if I was wep. Said he thought he recognised me.  Asked if I recollected trying to cook sausages with a blow lamp in the main street of Tamworth.  He was at the dance at Tamworth Golf Club.  Fancy coming 2,000 miles to have that brought up!  Wep, my girl, is a name to be contended with! – A young chap of 23 took me in tow last night & fed me with a few whiskies.  At ten o’clock we suppered on toast, asparagus and SARDINES!  Sorry I can’t bring you any down but I am not supposed to buy anything from their mess store.  In case you get the wrong idea that I am wallowing in epicurean luxury I might add that the usual mess meal is only too often blasted tinned bully beef – (tasteless goddamn stuff) & margarine which no one I have so far struck is inclined to eat.  Dry Bread is the standing order now.  It’s 3 weeks since the troops have had any butter.  You can imagine my sufferings.

Possibly near Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory
Possibly near Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory
Possibly near Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory
Possibly near Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory

This is the best camp I have been in.  Situated on the slopes of one of the few hills around this country it is sprinkled amongst delightful open forest.  Beautifully green trees, plenty of palms – and birds galore.  Dawn is a rare pleasure – you wake to the low and penetrating calls of the birds, and the air is as soft & cool as a whisper.

The shower is the coldest I’ve had up here – dispersed my crumbiness in a trice.

Gave the old sand fly bites their necessary scratchings & offed to breakfast of bully beef rissoles and tinned bacon.  For heavens sake get some sucker down there to eat ours.  I’ve completely had it.  Practically every morning since I arrived.  I never want to see it again.  It dished up like limp ham boiled in washing up water.

I’m afraid you and I will have a few guests when I return.  So many of the lads have been very kind to me.  I have asked them all to give us a ring if & when they are in Sydney.

Hope to see you soon sweetheart.  Better get all beautified for you birfday & little Will.  Lots of kisses.  Wish I was at Darwin in case I get a letter.

Bye, bye darling

Bill.

(Note – Jess’s birthday is 5th September)

Beaufighter EH-Y, A19-70, 31 Squadron, RAAF
Beaufighter EH-Y, A19-70, 31 Squadron, RAAF
Beaufighter, warming up
Beaufighter, warming up
Beaufighter
Beaufighter
Beaufighter
Beaufighter
Beaufighter
Beaufighter
Beaufighter
Beaufighter

War Letters – NW Australia: 2 Aug 1943, Darwin; Barber’s shop in a forward area.

W.E.Pidgeon
C/O DPR Unit
Army Post Office
Darwin
Monday Aug. 1 or something
[2 Aug 1943]

 

Darling,

Sorry I growled about there being no letters from you.  Very little mail arrived for anyone last week.  Must have been some hitch.  Happily I received two this morning and was thereby much delighted.

What - No Letters Blokes

You seem pretty lonely poor darling – it is obviously sickening to have to either stay home alone or still see the same faces & the same chatter.  It’s lonely here as a rule when I’m not working.  That is why I like to get out each week to some camp down the road and settle in to steady effort.  There is  a great deal round about here I want to get on to, moreover the general atmosphere of this mess is slow.  At the moment all the correspondents are spine bashing.  Apparently there is bugger all for them to find in the way of news with the exception of raids.  Now that would be exciting if I didn’t catch a bomb.  And the food up here is bloody awful.  Margarine, dried eggs, macaroni pudding, stewed tea & leathered meat.  That wouldn’t be so bad if the cook thought of something besides going on leave.  Believe you me, I’ve been criminally spoilt.

On the beach again yesterday.  Water really wonderful – the sunshine and Freds bountiful.  I’m losing the lolly pink – changing chameleon like into tiger stripes owing to a little semi spine bashing of my own the other day.  Curled up in a deck chair & came to with pink bands across my belly skin where the creases between folds of fat had been retained it lily white line.  Got sunburnt on the flat yesterday – result – pink & brown now instead of original barber’s pole style.  Nerves not much better – worry a bit about the job as I don’t know how I can remember all the different colour & tones of the scenes I have ideas of portraying.  Most of the stuff I want to get down is of the rapid impression type –Much too quick even to get the drawing let alone tone, etc. The only painting I do is to note down appropriate backgrounds & incidentals to the job.  Have written these blue lines while waiting for a haircut in a military camp.

Barber's Shop In A Forward Area
Barber’s Shop In A Forward Area

He’s a hell of a little barber about as short & thick as a fart.  An ex-ladies’ hairdresser from Farmers, or, some say Borrowmans – anyway he cuts a pretty hair.  The charge is 1/- of which he gets 6d & his unit comforts fund 6d.  You sit on a sawn off log in a parlour of the most delicate hessian.  Whilst outside in the ante-room grim faced & spare witted troops purse lips and pen handle heads in the agonising concentration of writing the dear ones at home.  I draw.  Somebody asks how to spell Americans.  I oblige.

 Have returned to Happy Messy.  This mail is due to go off in 10 minutes.  So lots of love dear & keep on writing even if it kills you.  Won’t be very long before I see you again.  Thanks for the lipstick – tasted good.  Love

Bill.

AWW 1944 Jul-29 BARBER'S SHOP IN A FORWARD AREA
The Australian Women’s Weekly, 29 July 1944
Barber Shop
Barber Shop
Barber Shop
Barber Shop
Reading and writing letters whilst waiting for a haircut
Reading and writing letters whilst waiting for a haircut
Reading and writing letters whilst waiting for a haircut
Reading and writing letters whilst waiting for a haircut
Reading and writing letters whilst waiting for a haircut
Reading and writing letters whilst waiting for a haircut
Reading and writing letters whilst waiting for a haircut
Reading and writing letters whilst waiting for a haircut

Caravanning with Wep – Mon., 9th Aug 1937; painting in Bylong Wep defines his artistic style

Bylong

Monday 9th Aug.

Got a letter from Geoff, I mean, Mickey Blunden yesterday. Seem to be enjoying themselves. Hope none of the wicked Frenchmen grabbed a bit of Mickie’s buttocks. South of France – I too would like to see it, the country of Van Gogh & Cézanne. Be interesting to see the actual scenes they had painted. Be very illuminating as regards their conceptions of nature.

Letter dated 30th June. I suppose they’re pretty near back by this. Strange that they should have seen so much of the world while I have been busy prying & poking into odd corners, gullies and old trees.  If only one could take such a leisurely trip on such a vast scale.

Had our first guest yesterday. Farm hand from homestead up yonder, on property of which we are camped. Spoke to me whilst doing my ‘masterpiece.’ Treated him to a cup of tea and was rewarded with vision of him balancing said cup on lap and trying to avoid getting crumbs on his lips, all in very best drawing room style.

Did a spot of bush carpentry today. Made a lean-to table against the tree. Have also constructed sunken brick fireplace. Stay here much longer I’d better buy the acre and, so conserve my activities. My! But I’m proud of that table. Jerky writing here the results of most powerful hiccups. Potent rissoles I make!

Have got 4 paintings on the go. Only 1 any good I’m afraid. Still, having great old experiments on others. All mistakes duly covered over with tempura white (home made). How I loathe painting over dried & mistakenly applied colour! Seem to be discovering, after 6 months, the method of painting I prefer to employ. Essentially all a prima, which gives freshness, but unless greatly interested in the subject and it well within one’s capabilities is difficult of execution. However, all mussy paintings can, I suppose, serve as a basis for subsequent, more considered attempt. The difficulties will probably have managed to resolve themselves in the messy soup of paint.

Caravanning with Wep – Sat., 7th Aug 1937; camped in Bylong Valley, trying to get water and provisions

Bylong - Caravan 21

7th August Sat.

Finally rooted after vain seekings for roadside spot further up the road. Laid our foundations cunningly close to tiny local school with water tank attached and windmill well across the road. In desperate plights for water. The creek having dried up in consequence of 7 months drought here. Did blessedly rain on the Monday and granted us 4 gallons of water & hail dutifully drained off the fly erected over front of home. Water for sundries extracted from sleep through. Green, slimy, thick. Ugh!

Milk unobtainable – Nobody here knows where I can get it. Bloody stingy liars!

Tuesday tripped up to Bylong Post Office for cash & stores. 21 miles away! From the G.P.O. to Hornsby for shopping! God, don’t know we’re alive down town! Spent largely at Gertie Wilson’s store & waited upon butcher & baker to appear from Wollar just a bare 17 miles further on. As a reaction to our prison fare of Monday rather overdid the eating of biscuits, lollies, etc & the drinking of lemonade. One needs must, I ‘spose, in times of plenty.

This morning went to Rylstone, a brisk walk of 16 miles, which we did in the car, & repaired damages suffered by our larder. Demand and supply of cakes & pastry was terrific. Dawn causing great neck twisting & eye swivelling amongst locals. Anyone’d think I had a blarsted tame tiger in the car. They make me sick! Kids down here panicky, climb over barb wire to avoid passing here. Poor soul, she made her first kill yesterday. A baby rabbit. Guess it must have been half dead with shock when I got it & broke its neck. Stupid couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t play any more. She’s never been told about the facts of life – and death.

Could only rustle up a quart of milk at Rylstone. “Too late,” they told me at the dairy. “If you’d come about 3:30 a.m. when we start milking……” Told them about “Gentleman” Johnny Weston of Jindabyne who started milking at 9:30. Too much for them – I left.

Caravanning with Wep – Thurs., 5th Aug 1937; Ginghi, Bylong Valley & adventures at the Telegraph Office

5th August Thursday

Ginghi, Bylong Valley.

Thank God for a quiet life. A welcome relief after tiresome, tensed up driving.  Seem to have a positive genius for picking lonely unfrequented roads. A lonely plugging uninteresting trip from Wauchope up the Oxley highway. Miles and miles of intolerable hill and forest. A worrying run beset with overheating troubles & fears of petrol shortage. Miles and miles of dense sub-tropic forest atop the range, a sudden glimpse of busy human ant like activity in the shape of timber mill, tucked securely in a corner of the hills, manifesting its existence with harsh whine of the saws & the blowing hiss of steam. More miles of dark and darkening green & ever present frost in the gullies. At night fall a petrol pump is discovered, to our eyes, orchid like, aside the road. A lone house attends it. We fill up and enquire the locality. Yarrowitch. And it is on the map!

Time our arrival at Tamworth perfectly to coincide with lunch at the Holes. How delightful after days of dining on sad, aged meat(!) pies, and soggy mullet, & lemonade. Lemonade at 11d a bottle!! Enough to send a man to drink. Had pleasant lunch & even more important, the first decent water for weeks. Water, without weeds, mud and slimy dressings! Sat around till 3 o’clock & were regaled with choice scandal.

Slept on top of Murrurundi that night & wakening waited on 10 o’clock for the bank to rescue us from 1/10½.

Entered the Bylong Valley after lunch. Saw Daddy, Mummy & Baby kangaroo dash startled through the cypress covered slopes. How remote from the world this valley seems cupped by hills and traversed by the near dry Goulburn River. Fenceless & houseless & motionless the senses suggest that even time itself has stopped down here. We turn a corner expecting to emerge upon some great lost Atlantis but grey & still, the grass still mats the earth. Bladeless, red & rocked, the hills. Cypress mournfully aid the pervading melancholic suggestions of desolation & despair. A twenty mile suspension of recollected life. We are in the grave awaiting resurrection or disintegration.  We climb around the spine cracking curves of Kerrabee Mountain & descend into the ragged head of Bylong proper. Finally arrive at a 2×4 store. A telegraph and telephone office, not yet dignified with the title Post Office. I get out & buy cigarettes & am beset with daffy looking people. The general excitement over the caravan and Dawn is intense. Their photos are taken and Jess is duly informed of the viciousness & untrustworthiness of the breed. “Tell me the old story.”

Black bushy eyebrows & moustache are cock quizzically as a Scotch terrier beneath my abstracted gaze. A simple youth rolls his head and his face floats silently gaping & guffing at my dissertations on said Alsatian’s food. I wish to send a telegram. Immediately great comings & goings & fumblings & seekings & behold, from beneath a pile of rhubarb & papers a hand emerges triumphantly clutching a dog eared telegraph form. The memory expert has saved the day. 4 of us telephone the wire to Denman. I leave in a daze, my mind remote.

Am settled beneath the shadow of encircling cliff faces. At sun down, gold lit with Rembrandtesque effulgence, glowing orange above the bluing shadowed trees.

Caravanning with Wep – Sunday, 23rd July 1937, Skyring Creek, Qld., description of painting surrounding area and of local friendliness

23rd July Friday

Still at Skyring, but all ready for marching orders. Have been detained here a week now waiting on news from home. From civilization – which strange to say appears to be getting along quite well without us. Wrote down to Sydney on Monday, begging for information as to amount earned for past year and for official billet douxs on which to mail said remembrance. Expect to hear from city tomorrow or is the wish fother to the thought?

Have, in a way, been quite busy this week, wasting paint. 4 oil sketches on the worst canvasses I had. Choice examples of my manufacturing craft – genuine antique within a fortnight, complete with glue worms, dirt and dents. However think I have the substance for some future painting embodied in said sketches. One turned out quite well, one – bloody awful, & two, fair reference. Have re-experienced my Kurrajong troubles (the scale of greens & blues) but have managed a trifle better. The extraordinary luminosity of the rolling green slopes along the Skyring Creek! A darkish yellow green almost discordant in itself, clashing stridently with the intense yet lighter blue of the sky. The subtleties of golds & pinks that weave their patterns in the shafts of grass! Gorgeous, Gilded! Dark, sombre, & well packed, trees line the waterway, their edges crotched with shimmering light.

Damned if I can paint the totality of impression I receive by setting up my easel before the particular and transcribing it. Nature forces extraneous considerations upon my outlook and I cannot synthesise. Only possibility is to make a mental analysis & vague remembrance in paint from which to synthesise the whole. Away from the sheer immediacy of the scene I may be able to comprehensively combine the sum of impressions within one vision, a paraphrase of nature. Force my design upon the canvas rather than have nature force her riotous fecundity (indifference) upon me.

The light changes – a full moon rises beyond the opalescent ridge & clear cold rays percolate through gaunt yellow grayed limbs of the dead trees marshalled stiffly in great bayonet masses behind the dank rich foliage that lines the creek, a hundred yards across the field. The pale magic lantern of the moon hangs lemony on the bars of pink & blue which stripe the sky.

Visited Pomona about 8 miles off the main road, twice this week and were amazed at the friendliness and cordiality of the people. A pleasant cheerful crowd, spawned of warm and sunny hills.

Have been getting milk free from the folk up the road. The typical bush hospitality we have read about. And lettuce too!  Guess I’ve just about earned it all though listening to Miss Mackay & her experiences & views on an art or Edwardian, slag at dawn, vintage. Still, they went out of their way to be decent. Would choose to set my easel up on a main road & so incur the combined amazement & mirth of myriad school children, who daily arrived in two parties. First the bloody plutocrats on bikes and horses, would stare stolidly while their bloody ponies breathed down my neck, second, the proletariat arrive on foot, mostly girls, and twitter like a bunch of sparrows while I lose all concentration & think only of how hot my ears are getting. Finally they all disappear, twinkling colour dots vanishing far up along the pink and dusty road. That painting never did get a chance.