Chip off the old block

Before his Christmas holiday, I accidentally told Eden he could start an Instagram account

On his return, he asked if I wanted to see the meme he’d made.

It was a picture of Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the text “How good is climate change?”

Despite the poor contrast of the lettering. pride surged through me.

How good is the chip off the old block?

Film of the decade

Funny thing happened when I was prompted to list my favourite movies of the last decade

My friend Ben is a Movie Nerd and he posted a list of the top ten movies of the last ten years.

I agreed with Inception (2010) and Arrival (2016) and maybe even Fury Road (2015) but, as I looked over lists and considered my own selection, I soon realised my tastes had shifted.

The movies that were most meaningful to me were those I'd watched over and over with my children.

When I saw Scott Pilgrim... (2010), for example, I couldn't wait to share it my son because he would recognise the way it works to include the visual language from videogames and comics.

Even Arrival has recently become elevated because my daughter asks to see it, although I also like the way it incorporates the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as that influenced me in first-year university.

And Whiplash (2014) has gone from being a film that's inventive in the way it presents music, to being a film I'd admire for the influence it had on my son -- who now plays drums after watching it a dozen times or more.

So I realised that, where I'd once been a film critic and would work to objectively justify the films I liked, I now subjectively like films I've come to appreciate after repeated viewings to meet the demands of my children.

As a result, I think the best movie of the decade is Chef (2014).

I've lost track of how many times I've watched this small film made by an actor, writer and director who has shaped many blockbusters, Jon Favreau.

One of the things I've come to enjoy is the way the titular chef rediscovers the joy in his craft through leaving restaurants to start a food truck.

I can't help but wonder if that's also true of Favreau, who has handled films with intimidatingly large budgets but brings his celebrity friends in to play minor parts in this wholesome family film.

My kids, I think, love how the character of the son helps the chef with social media.

I love that I get to put my arms around them on the couch when we watch it.

Better than Jesus

Mexican lexicon

Can imagine something like this on the border between NSW, SA and Vic, where arguments regularly start about whether they're sharing a potato cake, scallop or fritter while wearing togs, bathers or swimmers

Culture vulture

Oscar has always enjoyed music

Back when he was a baby, I was going through one of my Duke Ellington phases and he'd make those bubbly baby noises while listening to the melodies.

In recent years he's introduced me to music that I had no idea existed. Newer stuff like vaporwave (which I like) and also older artists like Oingo Boingo (which I like seeing the confused looks on the staff at record shops when he asks for it and they invariably don't have it).

Last weekend we walked into JB Hi-fi and I was impressed that Oscar walked out with three albums that demonstrate his broad taste in music.

One was "Holy Diver" by Dio, which was one of the first metal albums I heard after my cousin Chris was attracted by the cover art. (It also tickles my sentimentality that the shop where I heard it was near the one where Oscar shopped.)

Another was "Station to Station" by Bowie, who I only started to appreciate when I was about twice as old as my son is now.

The last was an album of country ballads by someone I can't remember and tell myself I don't care to hear, but I feel I should ask to listen to next time we're driving somewhere.

It's interesting to consider that, given the entire of history of recorded music is now largely available, kids these days have a very different experience of being introduced to culture.

I know Oscar has found some music via JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, yet even that seems a weird leap in another direction.

He's got discerning taste and I appreciate learning from him. Even when it seems rubbish to me, he's able to articulate a context in which to understand his latest enthusiasm.

Fruit Ninja

Pic of my son playing motion sensor-controlled Fruit Ninja, as part of the Game Masters exhibition that's currently at the National Film and Sound Archive

Retail detail

'Tis the season for consumption and I've been thinking about the changing nature of retail after my trip to Canberra

Went to Woden Plaza and noticed it's now run by Westfield. Clearly they're trying to make the place into somewhere people want to spend time. There was an indoor playground in one court and live music on Friday night in the other, where they were selling sparkling wine.

Went to Costco and, using my brother’s membership card, I bought the cheapest fuel and Heinz baked beans I’d seen anywhere in recent weeks (at 138.7c/litre and 0.26/100g respectively). However, the warehouse-style environment on the outskirts of town encouraged the kind of hit-and-run-style shopping one used to do at shopping malls like the Plaza. The Woolworths built next door might advertise them as an alternative but there was nothing to encourage my entry.

Also went to Kambah's suburban shops, where I witnessed Woolies literally having a hit-and-run as I saw two blokes dash from the bottleshop and into a waiting car with their shoplifted alcohol.

Then I went around the corner to a games shop that used both the trends from the mall and the warehouse. Half the shop was a library of games with tables to play them and membership allowed one to borrow games to play at home.

I know I'm probably late with this observation but I found it interesting to see how the internet is forcing shops to find new ways to compete.

Broken tokens

This tweet prompted a lot of thought

I found myself confronted by the sexism and aghast that one might evaluate music on something other than its intrinsic value; then resigned that 'the personal is political' and consumers should vote with their purses.

Still wondering whether my efforts to balance the music I write about for Cyclic Defrost are token.

A kick in the arts

The decision of the Morrison Government to remove the word “art” from a department title has drawn widespread concern from the cultural sector, yet for years artists seem to have been avoiding the term

In 2014 I heard a panel at the Dream Big conference acknowledge that art wasn’t a word they used to describe their activities.
Casey Jenkins opted for the term craft and Katherine McLean said her organisation CuriousWorks makes digtal media. "Males, from our experience, don't see art as something they can engage with," said Narrandera-based artist Vic McEwan. "Sometimes we hide the word" he added, acknowledging that sometimes they felt they had overstated art on their posters.

Earlier this year I found myself relieved to be described as a “culture-maker” as Griffith Regional Art Gallery promoted my exhibition.

Sure it sounded like I made yoghurt, but it still seemed like I had something to offer!

The label art seems past its use-by date and I wonder if it’s the connotation with the artefacts created by people now deceased that often appear in galleries, rather than describing a process of creating.

As a result art has become something kinda out of reach, either because one can’t afford to own it or your own creations aren’t sought by cultural institutions.

Artist and commentator Grayson Perry has observed that art has alienated itself:
"There’s a section [of the art world] that has somehow over the years equated performative seriousness with worth. Gradually they’ve upped the obscurity of the language [used to describe art] and the difficulty of the art."

However, there are a few reasons why I think art should be embraced.

For a start, it’s difficult to think of another term than can encompass a wide variety of activities and products and still function as a superlative.

Then, when you think about it, art promotes nuance, particularly through the use of metaphor.

As former Commonwealth Bank director Harrison Young observed:
…metaphor is where one thing means another, it is saying two things at once. And this to my mind is like reality, there are often two aspects. Or more.

Art audiences also gain skills in developing empathy, as they must learn to see artwork through the eyes of the artist if they hope to understand its meaning.

And, finally, art can be what you want it to be.

The line "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" captures a sense of the individual relationship an audience creates when they consider an artwork.

That speaks to the stimulation we find in the diverse activities recognised as art.

This goes some way to explain why, as journalist Michaela Boland has reported, 98% of Australians engage with the arts, through ”regularly going to gigs, seeing plays, reading novels, attending festivals and listening to music.”

Or, to quote Andy Warhol, “Art is what you can get away with.”

(Un)Usual activity in Lismore

Recently I had a week in Lismore to collaborate with my friends at RealArtWorks on events that formed their festival

I've been working with the renowned heroes of postdisability arts for around five years and been part of their exhibitions as a result of being invited to join them on excursions in the Northern Rivers and Riverina.

When I arrived we discussed some possibilities, including developing art for their vending machine and recording Spinks Park for the Trail of Light and Sound and curating sandwiches.

There was also an instrument they hoped contact microphones would make possible to play live.

Within a day we'd expanded ideas to collage posters for display in the Lismore CBD, which gave me the opportunity to work with Matthew Daymond.

I've been a fan of Matt's surreal collages and it was awesome to be part of a frenzied process of unrolling advertising and identifying potential material.

It took me a draft to loosen up my designs and embrace the ridiculous.

"Fresh germy fabulousness" was my third attempt.

I recorded Spinks Park twice, then had a few attempts at revealing the music that resides within the play equipment.

Their vending machine gained digest versions of my book Earthwords, complete with covers made from repurposed firehose.

And I was stoked when I friend shared this picture from the networking event that I was unable to attend.

You can see that RealArtWorks identified a variety of ways for me to contribute and it's an interesting process to reflect on, as I feel I've learned something about my own creative practises.

200 Junto videos

Small milestone on the weekend as I uploaded my 200th video for the Disquiet Junto.

The (Un)Usual

Short video I've made to promote Real Art Works' event in Lismore.

Scars Have the Strange Power to Remind Us that Our Past Is Real

"Scars Have the Strange Power to Remind Us that Our Past Is Real" by Kader Attia


One of the highlights of Burning Seed this year was seeing Red Earth Ecology establish itself on the paddock

Jo’s been developing this project for years, undertaking activities around Matong and introducing Burners to the local ecology.

I’ve seen the crowds for her bush walks grow and in that time she’s been joined by a number of people with expertise — particularly Brian Jones, Ash Blackwell, Diego Bonetto and Peter Ingram.

There’s a good level of interest from visitors wanting to know more about the environment in Matong State Forest and many years have seen additional walks added to the program.

This year we were awed to see around 60 people show up for the walk.

It was also exciting to see Jo’s art project start to take shape this year, after she struggled last year before being taken off site in an ambulance.

GEO//GRAPHOLOGY uses the Cut-up Technique to reveal hidden meaning from local histories and, as someone who has worked as a curator at a local museum, I feel there is a need for a fresh perspective in this area.

Orwell famously wrote that “history is written by the winners” and it’s increasingly clear to me that reconciliation in Australia will require a truth-telling, much like the hearings that took place in post-apartheid South Africa.

It’s desperately overdue as more Australians identify as Aboriginal.

Jo has been using the Cut-up Technique in local exhibitions for a number of years and it suits her conceptual approach to art-making.

It’s a great way to review and reinterpret historical narratives, hopefully prompting a reevaluation of meanings drawn from records — which at times used euphemisms to hide the extent of the Frontier Wars in the Riverina.

That’s a small part of a much bigger picture but an important one given the Wiradjuri drove almost all the Europeans out of the area west of Ganmain in the mid 19th Century.

Jo's activity of selecting fragments from histories and pasting them together is a social one.

Really enjoyed being part of the conversations and making art with friends.

Looking forward to seeing Red Earth Ecology continue to develop on and off the paddock.


Spotted this coolamon-shaped scar on a tree outside Coolamon

Banned again

I posted this image of a hand resembling Hitler and was banned from using Facebook for a week

Apparently it constitutes "hate speech," which led me to wonder if Mel Brooks has a Facebook profile.

The situation is ridiculous.

Posting an image of a hand resembling a Nazi does not seem to infer support for the extreme views propagated by right-wing organisations.

However, blocking that image does seem to protect Nazis from ridicule.

Sunday nights

On Sunday nights I force my family to sit together in front of a single screen

We share turns picking a film to watch and sometimes I bribe my kids to sit with me by buying snacks.

It’s not always easy but it’s great sometimes.

The film has quickly become secondary to sitting together.

It’s good to throw my arms around the kids.

And it’s magic when I lock eyes with Jo and feel surrounded by love.

Considering musicals

Two of my kids saw a production of Legally Blonde at Griffith Regional Theatre earlier this year as part of their high school excursion

My son has been involved in a number of large musical productions and didn’t say much more than “it was okay.”

I didn't really pick up at the time that my daughter Neve said it was her first musical.

If I had I might’ve been prompted to remember seeing Pirates of Penzance while in primary school and adoring the songs.

By year seven I was acting in a high school musical in Canberra, which won a peace prize and was attended by the Governor General.

Anyway, last week I noticed Neve was watching Legally Blonde on Youtube and it turns out she's been watching it a lot.

This led me to realise how little opportunity local kids have to see a variety of arts in regional NSW and appreciate that Griffith City Council are creating opportunities for students outside of their shire boundary.

Neve and I have been talking over the weekend about musicals and last night she asked “What does it mean when people break into song in a musical?”

The magic realism of those moments — music realism? — led me to remember the wonderful musical episode of Buffy, in which a curse means the characters can’t help but to express their innermost thoughts through song.

Within the musical genre music is a method of exposition that is part of a tradition going back to the choruses of ancient Greece.

I wonder if musicals also illustrate the creative expression that people often describe as a benefit of the arts.

This leads me to remember this wonderful observation about poetry from Harrison Young:
Poetry is full of metaphor, and metaphor is where one thing means another, it is saying two things at once. And this to my mind is like reality, there are often two aspects. Or more.

The role of the arts seems to be diminishing in contemporary society and I worry it will be to the detriment of our abilities to hold a range of views and see issues from other perspectives.

Art has an important role in building empathy as the viewer assumes the perspective of the artist.

Holding the front page

Years ago I was excited when they ran my photos on the front page, so I was stoked to find myself on the cover this week

You can read their story about the Big Guitar recordings here.

Another good piece on that project was on this German website.

Fathers Day

Another year as a parent and I'm prompted to reflect on my role as Fathers Day passes

Many years ago I learned that to be a father was more than donating biological material to a child.

I'd had this idea to write a sensational article about the opportunity to donate sperm and even pitched it to the editor of the student newspaper as important because educated donors could raise the IQ in the general population.

She wasn't impressed, telling me that was eugenics, but encouraged me to write the article.

It was interesting experience and a little unsettling when the hospital told me my sperm count wasn't high enough for them to accept my donation.

Then years later when I fell in love with my partner, I convinced her that we should have children.

The results have been amazing but I won't dwell here on our offspring, because I am convinced that it is an important step in personal development.

There's a shift in one's thinking to accommodate others, that leads to letting go of some ego and opening the heart.

There is also a profound shift in revisiting experiences of the child-parent relationship but this time as the parent.

For me that has involved shifting a lot of resentment that developed in my teenage years.

Those experiences where I felt slighted and even neglected took on a scale proportionate to my self-centred young mind.

In more recent years I've been able to look back and reconsider what might have been going on for my parents at those times.

They were separated and doing what they could.

I can see that my father's emotional distance might have reflected his own relationship to his father.

And now I find myself kinda marvelling at how calmly he managed various situations.

Goatse for yourself

Couldn't help but see goatse in this drawing

from Circe by Madeline Miller

Loved this writing, so I made this meme:

“If my childhood had given me anything, it was endurance. Little by little I began to listen better: to the sap moving in the plants, the blood in my veins. I learned to understand my own intention, to prune and to add, to feel where the power gathered and speak the right words to draw it to its height. That was the moment I lived for, when it all came clear at last and the spell could sing with its pure note, for me and me alone.” 

Ansell condoms still suck

Made the mistake of buying Lifestyle brand condoms

Some time ago I posted about buying a bad batch, which mostly seemed to break.

A few weeks ago I missed the detail that these "fun" condoms "might" be flavoured.

Seems the whole pack is flavoured and my partner is not willing to consider having that within her.

You'd think they could print it on the front of the packaging, rather than use some sort of semiotic code in the colours.

High Coup

For my exhibition I'm thinking about self-publishing poetry

Sometimes there's a snobbish attitude about self-publishing poetry but I've got an idea that needs to be realised.

While reading back over more than 1000 haiku, I found myself annoyed at the opportunities that had passed each day.

I'm looking for 60 or so poems for the book and there's a lot to choose from.

However, while considering my challenge to write a haiku each day, I found myself remembering the observation that it'll often take a second poem to feel like I've warmed up.

Usually if I spend the time writing a second draft, I'll get a much better result.

So, while looking back over the results of around three years of daily haiku, I started wondering about missed opportunities.

Wet weather

It's been raining today, which stirs a satisfying feeling

Rainfall has been below average in recent years, so I feel there's a deep longing for it.

The smell is an improvement but I think the sound of it conveys much of the pleasure too.

I commented "Good rain" to my partner today and reflected on how it's an expression I've learned since living in the country.

Country people like agreeing on the weather, whether it's good or bad.

Would watch Rob the robotanker

Twitter redesign

I've been dipping into Twitter for about 10 years but in recent years I began to consider closing my account

I almost stopped using it, then started again when I began a role that used that service.

Now the Twitter redesign has left me feeling I can stop tweeting.

It brings to mind the confected outrage when Facebook would change features.

I'd guess that FB learned to make only small cosmetic changes and it's a lesson that Twitter could heed.

The redesign of Twitter is drastic, with a new dark colour and changes to the content of a user's timeline.

Part of me knows I can adjust, but another part welcomes the feeling of alienation as a way to kick the habit.

It was good for a while.

I've enjoyed the opportunity to converse with people who I don't know and meet some too.

And, when my kids wanted to join social media, Twitter was a good option as it'd send me an email when certain things happened with their accounts.

Now my kids have ditched Twitter and I feel the news and entertainment it offers are distractions that I no longer need too.

Mugwort smudge stick

A friend shared this graphic about the role of different smudge sticks

I hadn't seen mugwort mentioned before and, since it hasn't died back yet in the garden, thought I'd try making my own.

Blue-ringed octopus

Haikubot writes

As someone who writes a haiku each day, I couldn't help but be amused by the poem that accompanied an email for an online order

And, on the subject of haiku-bots, it's been interesting the read the poems generated with Talk To Transformer for Naviar Records recent projects.

Planting natives in Matong

Matong was the site of a working-bee on the June long weekend, as local residents were joined by visitors to plant around 1200 native seedlings

Around two dozen people worked to develop the landscape at the park in town and surrounding properties, with a number travelling from Melbourne to lend a hand.

The initiative was a partnership between the Matong Community Group and Red Earth Ecology that was assisted by Coolamon Shire Council.

"This was the fifth event we've held in the Matong area since 2014," said Jo Roberts of Red Earth Ecology.

"Our landcare group started at Burning Seed, where I've run tours in the State Forest to help visitors recognise features in the local environment."

"Locals had knowledge to share, particularly the late Brian Jones, and we've revegetated paddocks, as well as undertaking weed removal at the Burning Seed site."

Sonya Spencer and Dave Currie's property has gained a number of treelots in previous years and Ms Roberts worked with them to coordinate the recent plantings.

"In recent years I've met a number of residents in Matong," said Jo Roberts.

"I was able to meet with them at their homes and identify native plants for their gardens and properties."

Locals were pleased to receive the plants from Red Earth Ecology.

"The enthusiasm of the community was demonstrated in their hard work and it will be exciting for visitors to see when they return for Burning Seed in spring," said Ms Roberts.

It was the first of a number of urban revegetation activities planned by the Matong Community Group and Red Earth Ecology.

Photos by Mal Evans and Sonya Spencer

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Started reading Ocean Vuong's great American novel and didn't get far before I paused to ponder

I'd first heard Vuong's poetry when a Junto project stirred a response by Detritus Tabu, a member of that online community.

He recorded an interpretation of a poem, using it as lyrics for a guitar part accompanying the sound of my fridge.

So it seemed natural for me to recognise Vuong's paragraph as belonging within these lyrics I'd recently written.

I've recorded them today and hope to incorporate them within my song.

Open the door to democracy


The way the hashtag #Notallmen quickly became a joke shows how much gender divides communities

Earlier this year Clementine Ford wrote “Men of Australia, it's time to pick your side” and called for action to address “the very real, ever present, issue of men’s violence against [women].“

I found myself feeling frustrated because men are more likely than women to be violently assaulted.

While around eighty percent of reported violence is the result of male perpetrators, it is a fraction of men responsible for these crimes.

If you accept Ford’s argument, then you would likely agree that Muslims need to stop terrorism.

Yet anyone with a basic understanding of Islam would recognise that it is a small section of extremists who engage in terrorism.

Many terrorists seem to be radicalised through being marginalised.

I wonder if there’s a need to address radical masculinity in our society?

Perhaps we could look at how traditionally male roles have quickly changed and ponder whether marginalised men are becoming fanatics?

Maybe there is a role for some men to help change the attitudes of other men, but I feel it is everyone’s role to address sexism.

As a man who has been assaulted, I found there was no support.

I want to stop violence but I don’t feel it can be done by trying to correct the attitudes of those who could abuse me.

I hate seeing myself lumped in with my bullies.

The influence I have on other males, particularly my sons, is to model a masculinity that values non-violent expression.

Men of Australia, it's time to pick your outlet and to make a practise of reflecting on what triggers your emotional responses.

Passage of time

Revisiting old songs and found lyrics I hadn't recorded

Here's the original recording, which didn't include the singing as I wasn't confident my voice could carry the melody.

Yesterday I rewrote the verses after the chorus and created a new backing track, so that I can include the song on my next album: SING.

Someone once said that time is like a river
because even if you stand in the flow
you just can’t go
back to that sliver of river again

My father likes to say that time is the fourth dimension
as everything exists in at least four ways
height, width, depth and when
then again

I think everything exists in history
whether it’s the thoughts of you or me while we all breathe
it’s context bringing us together
and then

it’s times like these that we share more than the air
because no one really cares how much you know
until they know how much you care
so share

Light fades from day
Time runs away
These words are past their date to use
even if I could choose
to stay with you

Don’t think I recognised the window in your chest
now there’s a tightness in my throat
describing letters that you wrote
and the beating of my heart is on my breath

It’s not like we’re alike in not liking
the same kind of times
as though they were different lives
our stars will align to glow in their sign again

The moral of the story is it’s a moral story
that’s now cliched and boring
put to music I’m performing
filling the air that we share with my care

Knowing the movement of the stars feels like a kind of curse
but when the power comes along
I can right this minor wrong
let’s put the universe into reverse with song

Day forms from light
shadows hiding night
intentions on new moon
taking form in verse and tune
our time passed too soon

Songlines everywhere

Pic by Ajita Cannings

Art by Libby Harward


Carved from a piece of sweet chestnut burr by artist Bill Prickett

Milkshake brings RoboCop to my blog

Milkshaking continues to amuse

Or, as I recently read, the activity can be described as "lactosing the intolerant"!

Image by Happy Toast

Guitar gent

How is that 'cat lady' is a thing but 'guitar gent' isn't?

Milkshakes as a statement

Entertained by the trend for throwing milkshakes at right-wing politicians

Gives me an idea for a story about a radical scientist who uses time-travel to throw a chocolate thickshake at a certain younger Liberal in Engadine Maccas during 1997.

Image by HappyToast

Relationship advice

Democracy sausage at stake

This Federal election has seen a record number of pre-poll votes

Currently around 10% of the population has cast their ballot ahead of polling day this Saturday.

The trend threatens an Australian institution: the democracy sausage.

Barbecues at school hall-based polling stations have been a method for P&C committees to raise funds.

If electorates aren't visiting the schools to vote, then they won't be buying snags.

This Yellow Box rocks

Short video about a magnificent Eucalyptus melliodora outside Wagga

It's surprising what you can learn climbing a tree.

This Yellow Box offers a fun climb and a great view of the landscape.

Addressing Leeton's doctor shortage

The Leeton-based Campaigners for Regional Equality is using the Federal election to spark conversation around the issue of the town's shortage of doctors.

Breaking news

Narrandera's newspaper wrote a story about the project I'll be launching next month

My aim is to make Australia's largest playable guitar the most-played guitar in the country by offering a free sample set of the instrument for use in productions.

Read more about the recording session with Narrandera's big guitar here.