Light and Shadow

Kumi Yamashita is a sculptor who uses light and shadow. She constructs single or multiple objects and places them in relation to a single light source to project unexpected and amazing shadows. The complete artwork is therefore comprised of both the material (the solid objects) and the immaterial (the light and the shadow).

She was born in Takasaki, Japan and now lives and works in New York City. I saw her art at the Seatle Art Museum in 1997, in what turned out to be her first solo exhibition. I was so impressed, 18 years later I still remember it vividly.

Here are some examples of her art.

“Fragments” is made up of colored resin tiles onto which is cast the light of one single source. The shadows projected onto the surface are the unique profiled faces of 40 residents of New Mexico whom Yamashita encountered in her travels in the state. “It is both testament and celebration of the people whose names may never make it into the history books or history museums, but who definitely make up the rich fabric of life in a pueblo, city, county, and state,” she writes.

Fragments
Fragments

In “City View”, the figure of a woman’s body stands straight, hands perched on a railing — but the silhouette is created entirely in shadows formed by aluminum numbers adhered at varying angles to the wall.

City View
City View
City View
City View

The captivating but mindboggling “Lovers” depicts a couple in motion, their hands nearly, but not quite, intertwined, their shadows separated by the cut aluminum plates that form them.

Lovers
Lovers

Origami 25 creates the profiles of 25 local residents from Grand Rapids in shadow using a single light bulb and 25 sheets of origami paper.

Origami 25
Origami 25
Origami
Origami

Art on the windows, creating shapes with magnets and recreating a cherry blossom tree using paper (Satoshi Watanabe and Kumi Yamashita).

Sakura - Pigmented paper on glass Temporary installation at Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh UK, 2007
Sakura – Pigmented paper on glass, Temporary installation at Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh UK, 2007

The National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. has chosen Kumi Yamashita’s entry, Constellation – Mana, as a finalist in their Outwin Boochever Portrait Competiton in 2012.

The competition, which is held triennially and is the first national portrait competition to be held in the United States, asks artists to create a “portrait” from a living individual with whom they have had direct contact. Artists may use any medium. Kumi Yamashita’s winning entry is a portrait of her niece comprised of a wooden panel painted a solid white, approximately 10,000 small galvanized nails, and a single, unbroken, common sewing thread.

Portraits Made with a Single Sewing Thread Wrapped through Nails by Kumi Yamashita. incredible.
Constellation – Mana
Constellation - Mana - Detail
Constellation – Mana – Detail

This work consists of national flags from every country in the world sewn together geographically. The celestial symbols remain in the foreground while the other designs within the flags have been darkened to recede into the background.

Sunny Days and Stary Nights
Sunny Days and Stary Nights

Two current exhibitions that display works by Kumi Yamashita are ‘Less = More’ at the Honolulu Museum of Art and ‘Cosmos: Imagining the Universe’ at the Annemarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Centre, Dowell, Maryland. Less = More brings to the surface the mathematical concepts in the process and presentation of art. The artworks make tangible the principles of addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication and illustrate how they can be used to transform the simple into the complex. The Cosmos exhibit explores the mysteries of the universe, both scientific and fantastical, theoretical and fictional, real and imagined. How do artists render the work of scientists, authors, explorers, astronomers, cartoonists, Trekkers, LARPers, astrologers, and philosophers? This exhibit embraces not only what science has revealed about space, but what humans have imagined about the cosmos. As part of the Cosmos exhibit, a 15″ model of the Space Shuttle Endeavor will be on exhibit courtesy of the new Spaceflight America Museum and Science Center from now until May 2. Better not let Isabelle see this or we’ll have to be on the first flight out to see the exhibition!

You can find out more about Kumi Yamashita on her website:

http://www.kumiyamashita.com

Big Hero Day

Big Hero Day

Big Hero Day

Big Hero Day

Big Hero Day

All the beary heroes are spellbound…

Big Hero Day

… by the new Disney/Marvel superhero team Big Hero 6.

Big Hero Day

The new heroes are: Wasabi No Ginger, Honey Lemon, Baymax, Hiro, Fredzilla and Go Go Tomago. I can foresee new hero costumes coming the bears way… I can practically be an oracle 🙂

Big Hero Day

Big Hero Day

With all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, “Big Hero 6” is an action-packed comedy-adventure about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who learns to harness his genius—thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends: adrenaline junkie Go Go Tamago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion—a robot named Baymax—and transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery. Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, and featuring comic-book style action, “Big Hero 6” is directed by Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”) and Chris Williams (“Bolt”), and produced by Roy Conli (“Tangled”).

Big Hero 6 was the indisputable breakout animated film of 2014 and it took the Oscar last month. It hit all the right targets – action, adventure, comedy and most importantly, the token adorable sidekick, this time in the form of a compassionate robot.

If you haven’t already seen it, what are you even doing?!

As a bonus for the enlightened, who have seen it, Big Hero 6 is the first animated Marvel film to be theatrically released by the Walt Disney studios, meaning that it’s property of both Marvel and Disney. And that can only mean one thing – double the hidden-in jokes, or easter eggs, as they’re sometimes called.

Stan Lee’s cameo – For those not in the know, Marvel comics creator Stan Lee has a contractual agreement with Marvel films to appear in all of the films in some kind of cameo role. From the oblivious librarian in The Amazing Spiderman to the Hugh Hefner-lookalike in Iron Man, there’s no doubt that you’ve noticed him in the background of at least one Marvel movie.

Big Hero 6 is no exception – Stan Lee makes an animated appearance as Fred’s often-absent father, first in the family portrait on the wall and then in the post-credits tag scene with Fred (yes, there is one and make sure you check it out because it contains all of the feels).

The Tangled filmmakers’ cameo – In a blink-and-you’ll-miss it cameo, Tangled and Bolt filmmakers Nathan Greno and Byron Howard appear as wanted men in a flyer on the bulletin board behind the police officer in the police station scene.

Big Hero Day

Prince Hans’ cameo – You have to pay really close attention to catch this one, but in the scene where Baymax is demonstrating his new suit for the rest of the Big Hero 6 team, the statue which his rocket-powered glove destroys is actually one of Prince Hans from Frozen.

Big Hero Day

And it seems that Prince Hans is a favourite with the Big Hero 6 filmmakers, because that’s not the only appearance he makes. Prince Hans also appears as a wanted man in a flyer on the bulletin board in the police station. After Frozen, we’re pretty sure he’s on everybody’s wanted lists.

Big Hero Day

Big Hero Day

Chicken Little and Wreck-it-Ralph billboards – If you take a close look during the shot of the San Fransokyo skyline, you’ll notice some billboards advertising both Wreck-it-Ralph and Chicken Little on top of some skyscrapers.

Big Hero Day

Big Hero Day

It’s a great movie! This is the third viewing this weekend 🙂 and it’s so captivating, we forgot the cupcakes…

Big Hero Day

Paintings Made of Light…

One more story from Canberra…

We visited a monumental new art installation celebrating light and nature at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). James Turrell: A Retrospective is at the NGA until June. From his early Projection Pieces (simple light projections that give the illusion of three-dimensional form) to his more recent, state-of-the-art Ganzfelds (specially designed rooms flooded with colour-infused light, which can induce a loss of depth perception), the 35-work exhibition explores the full gamut of Turrell’s preoccupations.

James Turrell 'Raemar pink white' 1969 Shallow space construction: fluorescent light Kayne Griffin
James Turrell ‘Raemar pink white’ 1969 Shallow space construction: fluorescent light Kayne Griffin
James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view
James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view

Visitors to the National Gallery will be familiar with one of his site-specific Skyspaces, Within Without, built adjacent to the gallery in 2010. Taking the form of a grass-covered pyramid surrounded by water and accessed through a sunken walkway, the work is further revealed inside the open-topped structure as a stupa of basalt, itself surrounded by water that seems to glow with an aquamarine intensity. Inside the stupa is a viewing chamber with a knife-edged oculus in the domed ceiling. Here, at dawn and dusk, a subtle LED light cycle is played out, mixing with the protean light of the sky to produce a range of hues, from peachy pink to duck-egg blue. Turrell’s knowledge of optics and perception is so sophisticated, it’s common for viewers to assume the oculus isn’t an opening so much as a screen.

Within without 2010. Skyspace: lighting installation, concrete and basalt stupa, water, earth, landscaping
Within without 2010. Skyspace: lighting installation, concrete and basalt stupa, water, earth, landscaping
Within without 2010. Skyspace: lighting installation, concrete and basalt stupa, water, earth, landscaping
Within without 2010. Skyspace: lighting installation, concrete and basalt stupa, water, earth, landscaping

The skyspace is the biggest artwork in the National Gallery’s collection. Turrell has built more than 20 of his signature skyspace structures around the world, but this one is the largest work he’s constructed so far and its the only one in the southern hemisphere.

Born in LA in 1943 to an aeronautical engineer (father) and a doctor (mother), Turrell acquired his pilot’s licence at 16 and studied perceptual psychology, art, maths and astronomy at university. He began working out of a former hotel in Santa Monica, experimenting with light from a slide projector and different light-bulb types to create coloured shapes that appeared to hover in space. From there, he turned to manipulating external light sources, cutting holes in the studio’s walls and ceiling, and etching lines in the paint he’d used to black out the windows. “I began to open things and let light in, and then began to make a piece out of the whole space.”

After Turrell’s building modifications got him evicted in 1974, he took to the skies in his aeroplane to search for a site he could turn into one giant art work. He wanted it to have a certain elevation so that it would be possible to experience ‘celestial vaulting’, or the perception – common among pilots when flying – that the horizon is concave and the sky is forming a globe. After seven months, he found what he was looking for in Arizona: Roden Crater, an extinct volcano in the Painted Desert. In order to take ownership of the crater, with the help of an art foundation, Turrell had to purchase the ranches around it.

James Turrell at Roden Crater
James Turrell at Roden Crater

He has spent the past 35 years transforming the crater’s interior into the apotheosis of his art, and the exhibition at the National Gallery includes photographs and scale models of the project. Although only about 30 per cent completed, according to his master plan, the precisely excavated tunnels and viewing chambers within have bewitched those lucky enough to have had a guided tour.

The New York Times described them as being “as perfectly finished as the most elegant Midtown hotel” and noted that they are orientated towards the direction of the rising sun at summer solstice and the moonset “at its southernmost point in the lunar cycle”. Clearly, Turrell knows his way around a sextant. But the artist hasn’t focused exclusively on celestial matters. He now owns about 58ha and 2500 cattle. The project was funded by his skills as a pilot and aircraft restorer, now ranching helps to sustain it.

Roden Crater currently contains two Skyspaces. When it’s finished, the work will have the full range of Turrell’s oeuvre included in the space, from Projection Pieces to Wedgeworks. Wedgeworks are Turrell’s most complex installations, using fibre optic, LED and neon light to create what looks like a wall or barrier made of light.

Apparently the light conditions in Canberra are similar to those at Roden Crater, so Turrell was very excited to do the exhibition in Canberra.

Making something out of nothing can have its disadvantages. In 1980, several visitors to a Turrell exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York mistook one of Turrell’s “walls” for the real thing, injured themselves by trying to lean on it, and subsequently sued. In Vienna, another visitor ran into a Ganzfeld room and collided with a wall. At the National Gallery you enter the Ganzfeld room slowly, with a security guard who then ensures you don’t get close to any wall, real or imaginary.

“Ganzfeld” is German for “entire [visual] field”, and it’s a concept central to the art of James Turrell. “Ganzfeld” describes the experience of snowblind arctic explorers or pilots navigating dense fog. When everything in the visual field is the same color and brightness, the visual system shuts down. White is black is nothing is everything. When this occurs for an extended period, the person is subject to phantasmagoric hallucinations: the “prisoner’s cinema” experienced in isolation cells or collapsed mines.

Turrell has lately adopted the word “ganzfeld” for a series of light installations. They are spacious rooms, suited to several visitors at once, specially designed to be flooded with colour-infused light, which can induce a loss of depth perception. Hence the need for a security guard to keep an eye on people as they move around. The light, modulated by digital and LED technology, cycles seamlessly. This is experiential art and while still an assault on your photoreceptors, you don’t have to sign a disclaimer to enter a ganzfeld room.

James Turrell 'Sight unseen' 2013 Ganzfeld: LED light Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese (Italy)
James Turrell ‘Sight unseen’ 2013 Ganzfeld: LED light Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese (Italy)
James Turrell 'Sight unseen' 2013 Ganzfeld: LED light Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese (Italy)
James Turrell ‘Sight unseen’ 2013 Ganzfeld: LED light Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese (Italy)
James Turrell 'Sight unseen' 2013 Ganzfeld: LED light Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese (Italy)
James Turrell ‘Sight unseen’ 2013 Ganzfeld: LED light Villa e Collezione Panza, Varese (Italy)

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Bindu shards, which viewers with a premium ticket can experience from the inside of the artwork – if they sign a waiver.

Bindu shards 2010. Perceptual cell: fiberglass and metal. Light program 420.8 x 653.1 x 607.1 cm (sphere). National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2014. By James Turrell.
Bindu shards 2010. Perceptual cell: fiberglass and metal. Light program 420.8 x 653.1 x 607.1 cm (sphere). National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2014. By James Turrell.

In experiencing the work, the viewer is entirely enclosed inside a white dome filled with what the artist describes as “behind the eyes light”. Due to the nature of the artwork, which utilises flashing lights, those who enter the viewing chamber must fill out a form indicating whether they suffer from epilepsy, have a pacemaker or suffer from a fear of confined spaces.

Gallery-goers have been keen to secure a spot, and tickets to the experience have sold out until January next year! So we couldn’t get a ticket.

Turrell hopes viewers are able to experience the sensations and emotions that flowed from his art, without being distracted by the technical nature of the medium. Some viewers reported feeling disoriented and confused, while others found the experience quite spiritual.

Here is UK Guardian’s Jonathan Jones on Bindu Shards (experienced at the London Gagosian Gallery in 2010):

I am placed on a sliding medical bed, counselled some more and locked in the sphere. And it begins. A relaxed ambient expanse of blue is shattered by high-speed flashing that rapidly becomes an ever-changing pattern of flowers, crystals, galaxies, quasars and nebulae.

Then I see a cityscape of vertiginous skyscrapers, with no earth below. All these forms and volumes that pulse and metamorphose are defined by colours that change convulsively – the most intensely saturated greens and reds you can imagine, colours that seem solid, then burst into microscopic patterns of oranges, blacks, gold and misty white; all these colours bubble and whir at breakneck speed, as if you were in a particle accelerator.

But the most important part of the experience is that you do not know what is inside and outside your head. I saw a space, or rather an ever-changing succession of spaces, but these were independent of any actual material reality – they existed only in my head.

One critic has already claimed he had a mental orgasm in the chamber. It would be nice to scoff but I feel that downplays the power of this mind-expanding work of art. Sessions are fully booked, which means we critics are just fuelling the already large numbers of disappointed visitors. The other works in the exhibition, free for all, are almost equally revelatory. Turrell is the mad scientist of postminimalism, and he’s on a roll.

Manipulating light – and the viewer’s perception – with a blend of creativity and science, James Turrell creates art on a large scale and uses elemental materials to experiential ends. He is not using light to illuminate other things, he wants light itself to be the revelation. It is contemporary art like you’ve never seen before. His sensory environments, projections and constructions exist in a wide range of forms and locations, but their objective is the same: to embody light in order to enhance viewers’ awareness of their own perceptual faculties. His installations, pulsating with fields of colour so intense they all but penetrate the skin, are a definite assault on your photoreceptors, perceptions and interpretation of them.

The Women Treasures at the Treasures Gallery

National Library of Australia
National Library of Australia

Many of the National Library of Australia’s greatest treasures, from James Cook’s Endeavour Journal to a letter written by Jane Austen, are now on permanent display in the Treasures Gallery of the National Library of Australia.

Treasures Gallery at the National Library
Treasures Gallery at the National Library

The Treasures Gallery highlights the extraordinary holdings of the National Library of Australia. From ephemera to oral histories, from rare books to handwritten manuscripts, photographs, oil paintings, watercolours and maps, the gallery is where you will find the most significant items in the Library. From May 22 to August 9, it will also host the Rothschild Prayerbook acquired last year by Kerry Stokes. You will be intrigued, surprised, challenged and amazed by the stories these rare treasures tell, especially through the voice of the wonderful volunteers, like Jenny.

Captain James Cook Endeavour Journal
Captain James Cook Endeavour Journal

The jewel in the Library’s crown, manuscript number one in the Manuscripts Collection, is the original copy of Lieutenant James Cook’s (1728–1779) handwritten journal documenting the voyage of HMB Endeavour from 1768 to 1771.

Cook’s journal is 753-pages long and full of fascinating detail and information. In keeping the journal, Cook wrote regularly of shipboard life, of the weather and conditions in which he sailed and of the places and people that he encountered. He had unbelievably neat handwriting!

In sailing on official business for the British navy, officers were required to keep and copy meticulous records. Cook’s Endeavour journal was copied three times during the voyage. Other records, such as surveys and coastal profiles, were kept and copied as well. As a result, in returning to England after these voyages of discovery, there was always a large amount of material ready for publication. Cook’s journal was published several times in different editions. The public were eager for stories of exploration and discovery and journals, such as Cook’s and Banks’, were bought and read by a willing audience.

The Endeavour journal covers the entire period of the voyage from 27 May 1768 to 12 July 1771, when Cook charted the east coast of Australia and circumnavigated New Zealand. On a voyage of such length and of such importance, it was essential that the commander have a level head and a strong will. Cook was responsible for the safety of his crew and he worked hard to ensure that they remained in good health throughout the voyage. Some of the most interesting information in the Endeavour journal for a modern audience relates to Cook’s efforts to ensure that his crew’s diet was adequate to their needs.

Despite Cook’s efforts, he described the ship that sailed back to England in 1771 as a ‘hospital ship’. Much of the crew had been affected by tropical diseases which they caught while repairing the Endeavour in Java and there were many deaths on the voyage home.

Cook went on to sail a further two voyages of discovery before his own death in Hawai’i in 1778. The journal that he kept on board the Endeavour was lost from view for many decades until it was purchased by the Australian Government in 1923 for £5000. It is now regarded as the Library’s foundation treasure.

Moses Griffith, Rainbow lorikeet, 1772 (detail), gouache on vellum
Moses Griffith, Rainbow lorikeet, 1772 (detail), gouache on vellum

This is the first European painting of an Australian bird. The rainbow lorikeet is said to have been captured at Botany Bay in 1770 and kept as a pet by Tupaia the Polynesian navigator on the Endeavour. It was painted by Griffith soon after the return of Cook’s voyage.

In 2010, the National Library acquired a seminal atlas by the first British Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, of particular significance for Australia and the Pacific. James Cook is known to have had a copy of the atlas on board the Endeavour for use in the Transit of Venus and Southern Hemisphere explorations.

John Flamsteed, Cetus in Atlas coelestis, London: 1729, engraving and letterpress
John Flamsteed, Cetus in Atlas coelestis, London: 1729, engraving and letterpress

When it appeared, the Atlas Coelestis, or Atlas of the Heavens, set a new standard in accuracy. It contained more stars than previous atlases, it utilised a very precise grid and its star positions were based on telescopic observations which Flamsteed had painstakingly checked and re-checked over the course of his 43-year career as the First Astronomer Royal of England.

The Atlas Coelestis is one of the ‘big four’ star atlases to come out of Europe’s Golden Age of celestial cartography, a period which spanned roughly 1600 to 1800 and which coincided with the European discovery, charting and early settlement of Australia.

The National Library also has a first edition of the Uranometria by Johann Bayer, published in 1603, the first star atlas to show southern hemisphere constellations. This first edition of Johann Bayer’s atlas includes 48 maps of individual Ptolemaic constellations; the 49th displays twelve newly observed southern constellations derived from expeditions into the southern hemisphere, including that of Vespucci, Corsali, Keyser and Houtman. Discussion of the various names of constellations, and a list of stars including Ptolemaic number, Bayer’s letter, position within constellation figure, magnitude and astrological association is printed on the back of each map. Bayer’s atlas includes many innovations such as his revolutionary classification system and the use of a grid for accurately determining the position of each star to fractions of a degree. The basis for this atlas was the catalog of 1,005 stars recorded by Tycho Brahe, although Bayer revised some of the magnitudes and added an additional 1,000 stars.

Portrait of Abel Tasman, His Wife and Daughter c.1637
Portrait of Abel Tasman, His Wife and Daughter c.1637

The Treasures Gallery includes a portrait of Abel Janszoon Tasman and his family. Abel Tasman was a Dutch seafarer, explorer, and merchant, best known for his voyages of 1642 and 1644 in the service of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He was the first known European explorer to reach the islands of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and New Zealand. We found a monument to him in Dunalley, on our Tasmanian adventure. The Abel Tasman monument records the explorer’s planting of his nation’s flag across the bay on 3 December 1642 and claiming this land for the Netherlands. A claim which, of course, the English ignored. But the land Tasman claimed was a small island he thought was part of the mainland.

Best get to the subject at hand, the women treasures that surprised and amazed us.

Fanny Durack (left) and Mina Wylie at 1912 Olympics
Fanny Durack (left) and Mina Wylie at 1912 Stockholm Olympics

Sarah ‘Fanny’ Durack became the first female swimmer to win Olympic gold when she beat teammate Wilhelmina ‘Mina’ Wylie in the 100m freestyle. The 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games were the first Olympics to have swimming events for women, with an individual event, the 100 metre freestyle, and a team event, the 400 metre relay, taking place.

Sarah Frances “Fanny” Durack was born in Sydney, New South Wales in 1889. From 1910 until 1918 she was the world’s greatest female swimmer of all distances from freestyle sprints to the mile marathon. In the late 1910s, she held every women’s swimming world record from 100 metres to a mile and she broke 11 records between 1912 and 1918.

She learned to swim in Sydney’s Coogee Baths using breaststroke, the only style for which there was a championship for women at that time. In 1906 she won her first title, and over the next few years, dominated the Australian swimming scene. In the 1910-11 swimming season, Mina Wylie beat Durack in the 100-yard breaststroke and the 100- and 220-yard freestyle at the Australian Swimming Championships at Rose Bay. The two went on to become close friends.

Durack and Wylie were initially refused permission to compete in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. The New South Wales Ladies Swimming Association later allowed them to go provided they bore their own expenses. I wonder if they got reimbursed when they came home with the gold and silver. Durack set a new world record in the heats of the 100-metre freestyle. She won the final, becoming the first Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a swimming event. Until 1932 (when Clare Dennis won the 200-metre backstroke in Los Angeles) she was the only such woman; and until 1956 she and Dennis were the only two such women.

Fanny won gold at a time when female swimmers in Australia competed under the most difficult of circumstances. She swam at a time when women were not allowed to race at meets if male spectators were present. In fact, large signs were displayed outside baths forbidding men to enter when the women were swimming.

Fanny was also hampered by the restrictions on the costumes women could wear at the time. And of course, women swimmers were prohibited from travelling without women chaperones. Twenty seven women contested the Olympic 100 metre freestyle in Stockholm, including six from Great Britain and four from Germany. There were a variety of swimsuits used by the swimmers. Many reached down to the mid-thigh while some were sleeveless. Fanny wore the heaviest costume of all – a woollen sleeveless garment with a skirt!

The pool in 1912 had been built in an inlet of Stockholm Harbour. Competitors swam without lane ropes and started from the wooden deck. There was no suggestion of starting blocks, swimmers simply took off from the deck.

Fanny won her heat, semi-final and eventually the final of the 100 metre freestyle. Her time in the final was 1:22.02 seconds. On her way to the gold medal she broke the world record twice which wasn’t broken for another eight or nine years until American Ethelda Bleibtrey caught up with her as much by age as by talent.

Following their success at the Games, the fame of the two Australian girls spread around the world. Fanny and Mina toured America three times over the next few years and helped to break down many of the taboos which prevented their ‘sisters’ from taking part in elite competitions. These world tours along with fellow Australian Annette Kellerman did more to promote swimming than any other woman. On a US tour in 1912, Fanny was recognised as “holding all championships for deep diving and for staying under water continuously”.

World War I deprived Fanny of more medals when the 1916 Berlin Games were cancelled. As the Antwerp Games of 1920 approached, she trained hard. It was her intention to defend her Olympic title but a week before the Australians were to go overseas, she had to have her appendix removed. Complications followed and she was forced to retire at the age of 29.

In 1967 she was inducted, posthumously, into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Portrait of Christina Macpherson, ca. 1900
Portrait of Christina Macpherson, ca. 1900

Christina Rutherford Macpherson (1864-1936) is credited with having re-played a tune she’d heard circa 1895 which the Australian poet A.B. Patterson (Banjo Paterson) then set to words.

Fame came early to Christina MacPherson. In April 1865, Mad Dan Morgan, one of Australia’s most notorious and sadistic bushrangers and a man who had a reward of £1000 on his head, rode up to the MacPherson property of Peechelba in Northern Victoria, introduced himself and ordered the family into the homestead dining room. After having eaten well, he became relaxed and drowsy enough to let his guard down. When baby Christina cried, the nursemaid, Alice MacDonald, was allowed to go to her in the nursery. Alice immediately slipped from the house and ran to a nearby home to get help. At daylight, as Dan, still in drowsy good-humour, slipped out of the house, he was ambushed, shot and killed.

The MacPherson family had come to Victoria from Scotland in 1854 and had taken up land in northern Victoria and New South Wales before moving to Dagworth Station near Winton in Queensland. The family however spent a lot of time in Victoria. It was while visiting her married sister at Camperdown that Christina attended the Warrnambool races, in April 1894. Here Christina heard for the first time the old Scottish ballad “Thou Bonnie Wood O’Craigielea”, which the town band had arranged as a march. Later that same year, Christina journeyed north to Dagworth, the family’s property. Her old school friend Sarah Riley and Sarah’s fiancée, Banjo Patterson, came to visit her.

There was no piano at Dagworth, but an autoharp (a zither-like instrument) on which Christina continually played the tune she had heard at the Warrnambool races. Banjo Patterson began thinking about putting words to this tune and when he did, the song became ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The existence of an original musical manuscript by Christina Macpherson came to public notice in 1971, together with an undated letter by Christina to Thomas Wood recalling the events surrounding the creation of the song Waltzing Matilda. This led to Christina being accredited as the first ‘creator’ of the music. The origins of the melody have been subject of much debate. Christina openly acknowledged she adapted the tune from an existing folk song which she had heard played as a march by a brass band.

Original manuscript Waltzing Matilda music and lyrics
Original manuscript Waltzing Matilda music and lyrics

Macpherson returned south to live in relative obscurity in Malvern. A report in the Melbourne Sun on 14 April 1941, said ‘When she died in 1936, her papers were taken charge of by her younger sister, Lady McArthur, and among them were found some letters that had passed between herself and Banjo Paterson relative to the musical setting of the poem ‘Waltzing Matilda’.’ One of two original manuscripts of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was presented to the National Library of Australia by Christina’s grandniece, Joanna Macrae, with the undated letter from Christina to Thomas Wood, explaining how the song came into being.

Portrait of Dorothea Mackellar
Portrait of Dorothea Mackellar

Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar (better known as Dorothea Mackellar) was an Australian poet and fiction writer. Her poem My Country is perhaps the best known Australian poem, especially its second stanza. She wrote My Country at age 19 while homesick in England. It was first published in the London Spectator in 1908 under the title Core of My Heart. Although she was raised in a professional urban family, Mackellar’s poetry is usually regarded as quintessential bush poetry, inspired by her experience on her brothers’ farms near Gunnedah, in the north-west of New South Wales.

My Country by Dorothea Mackellar – 1885-1968, written in 1904

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die –
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold –
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

In the New Year’s Day Honours of 1968, Dorothea Mackellar was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to Australian literature. She died two weeks later in Paddington, New South Wales after a fall.

Thea Beatrice May Astley
Thea Beatrice May Astley

With the death in 2004 of the novelist Thea Astley at the age of 79, readers have lost a great Australian-English stylist and our most sardonic observer of Australian life, especially life in small country towns in Queensland.

Thea Astley is a distinguished writer in Australian literature who has received many awards for her fourteen novels and two collections of short stories. She has emerged as the most prominent woman writer in Australia in spite of the fact that she never received noteworthy attention. Astley has been awarded Miles Franklin Award – the most prestigious award for fiction in Australia – four times. Astley won her first Miles Franklin in 1962 for The Well Dressed Explorer, about a country boy turned obnoxious Sydney journalist and executive. After her third win in 1972 for The Acolyte, her editor at Angus & Robertson, Beatrice Davis, asked her to stop submitting her books for the prize. She happily withheld several novels. She won her fourth Miles Franklin in 2000 with Drylands, her last book. Astley has also earned the most outstanding Patrick White Award for the ‘Life time Achievement in Literature’ in the year 1989.

She always set her fiction in the tropics and mostly her heartland of North Queensland. Her reputation as a social critic is established; she is renowned for her sharp yet compassionate portrayal of social outsiders and the mordant irony of her gaze on Australian society.

Astley has a significant place in Australian letters as she was the only woman novelist of her generation to have won early success and published consistently throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when the literary world was heavily male-dominated. In her personal life, she was renowned for her dry wit, eccentricity and compassion. A visitor to Astley’s office at Macquarie University found her chatting to a student, whom she introduced: “This is John. He’s just had sex for the first time so I bought him a meat pie.” Totally Thea.

Two weeks before her death in 2004, Astley appeared at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival and gave a brilliantly comic reading of ‘Why I Wrote a Story Called the Diesel Epiphany’, a short story about one of her many journeys by bus with all its annoyances. The next year, in 2005, the Thea Astley lecture was instituted at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, with Kate Grenville delivering the inaugural one.

Karen Lamb has written a biography of Thea Astley, Thea Astley:Inventing Her Own Weather, which will be launched at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May this year. The biography covers Astley’s brush with timely advice on “the rackety career of novel writing”, an inside look at the relationship between Astley and other writers, with a focus on a particularly unsparing letter from Patrick White: ‘If you’re going to write about a shit, Thea, you have to make him a really big shit.‘

Judy Horacek
Judy Horacek

http://horacek.com.au

Judy Horacek is a well-known Australian cartoonist and children’s book writer.

Treasures Gallery

Horacek grew up in Melbourne, studied fine arts and English literature at Melbourne University, and lived in Canberra for 13 years, working and studying at the ANU School of Art, where she majored in printmaking and drawing, before moving back to Melbourne.

Her work has been exhibited widely and appeared in national newspapers and magazines. In 2005, a selection of her work was acquired by the National Library of Australia for its collection. She said at the time that “I really like being recognised for having done work that is part of the social discourse. And it’s always nice to see cartoons get another lease on life – now they represent a particular time and context and become part of the portrait of who we [Australians] are”.

She has also written and illustrated her own children’s books and worked with author Mem Fox. Their collaboration “Where is the Green Sheep?” won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Gold Medal for Early Childhood in 2005.

Mem Fox approached Judy in 2002, having seen a drawing of a green sheep that she felt would be a fabulous children’s book character. The two worked on the book together by telephone and email, bouncing ideas back and forward and Judy described it as a very exciting and enjoyable time.

All the original artwork for “Where is the Green Sheep?” is in the collection of the National Library of Australia, as well as lots of drafts, mistakes 🙂 , the original little mockup of the book, and the green sheep etching. That image is quite small – about 8 cm x 8 cm – very modest given the phenomenon that it provoked.

Treasures Gallery

Judy’s cartoons have strong, sassy female characters… and remind us that for all the progress we have made, we still have a looooong way to go…

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

Treasures Gallery

A Week of Amazing Auroras

Aurora borealis: NASA astronaut Terry Virts captures northern lights from International Space Station.

Catching a glimpse of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, is one of the experiences the bears want to have, but it’s a bit difficult when they live in the southern hemisphere!

Aurora borealis lights up the sky over Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, England
Aurora borealis lights up the sky over Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, England

This week has seen a spectacular display of auroras!

The story begins in the early hours of March 15, when a magnetically active region of the Sun’s surface crackled and erupted, hurling billions of tonnes of the solar atmosphere out into the solar system. Unless you have a keen interest in our local star, you were probably unaware this had happened. It didn’t make the news. But for scientists studying how solar activity affects the space environment surrounding our planet, it was the start of an interesting couple of days.

Next stop: planet Earth
Next stop: planet Earth

Within hours, the trajectory of this magnetised outpouring of subatomic particles had been modelled. The cloud, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), was heading in our direction at about 1.6 million kilometers an hour. It looked like it would deliver a glancing blow to planet Earth some time on March 17, but what would happen if it did? Space weather forecasters the world over set to work.

A likely outcome in this scenario is that the arrival of the CME will trigger a geomagnetic storm. This occurs when the magnetic field within the CME couples with the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing energy and matter to transfer from the CME to the near-Earth space environment.

The most obvious symptom of a geomagnetic storm is more intense aurora borealis due to the increased inflow of electrically-charged particles to the Earth’s upper atmosphere. But less attractive side-effects include disruption to hi-tech navigation and communications systems, and the risk of damage to satellites and power grids. Space weather forecasting, while still in its infancy, is a serious business.

By March 16, forecasters at the US Space Weather Prediction Center were predicting the CME would trigger a geomagnetic storm in the days that followed. Then, at around 4am UK time on March 17, it engulfed NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite, the space weather monitor that constantly samples the solar wind upstream of the Earth.

For the first time since it left the Sun, it was possible to measure the orientation of the magnetic field inside the CME. The orientation of this field, the remnants of the Sun’s magnetic field torn away when the CME was launched, is crucial. It controls the coupling between the CME and the Earth’s own magnetic field. Although it can take almost any orientation, if the field inside the CME points southwards, it will oppose the Earth’s magnetic field (which, as any compass shows, points north) and these opposite polarity fields interact strongly. If the CME’s field points northward, the interaction is much weaker.

The satellite revealed that the field inside the incoming CME was strong, and as it streamed past the Earth over the course of the morning, it fluctuated between northward and southward orientations, triggering mild geomagnetic disturbances. Then around noon, the CME’s magnetic field turned southward and stayed southward for the next 12 hours. The strong and sustained coupling poured energy into the magnetosphere, the region of space normally dominated by the Earth’s magnetic field, triggering the strongest and longest geomagnetic storm of the Sun’s current 11-year cycle of activity.

Excited aurora-spotters all over the globe weren’t disappointed. As night fell, the northern lights, and their southern counterpart the aurora australis, lit the skies with dancing displays of green and red light. Normally concentrated in ring-like ovals that circle our planet’s magnetic poles, the auroral zones expanded equatorward, pushing auroral displays as far south as Kansas and Virginia in the northern hemisphere, and as far north as New Zealand and Australia in the southern hemisphere.

Spectacular lights were visible as far south as Germany
Spectacular lights were visible as far south as Germany
Churchill, Manitoba
Churchill, Manitoba
Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland
Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland
Winnipeg, Canada
Winnipeg, Canada

A Week of Auroras

Not to be outdone, the southern lights, or aurora australis, put on a show as well… which the bears missed since they were too busy partying 🙂

A Week of Auroras

Kiama, Australia
Kiama, Australia
The Aurora Australis on the south coast of Western Australia
The Aurora Australis on the south coast of Western Australia
The spectacular aurora australis captured from Casey Station in the Antarctic
The spectacular aurora australis captured from Casey Station in the Antarctic

A Week of Auroras

The bright dancing lights of the aurora are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Variations in colour are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 100 kilometers above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 300 kilometers. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.

The lights of the aurora generally extend from 80 kilometres to as high as 640 kilometres above the earth’s surface.

Mars had its own unexpected aurora, in December last year.

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft using its UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) to observe the December 2014 "Christmas Lights
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft using its UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) to observe the December 2014 “Christmas Lights Aurora”
on the red planet. The aurora is similar to Earth’s Northern Lights

In a very interesting week for sky-watchers, the week finished yesterday with a total eclipse of the sun, with residents of the Danish-owned Faroe Islands and the sparsely inhabited Norwegian island group of Svalbard the only lucky ones to see the full spectacle.

Total Eclipse of the Sun
Total Eclipse of the Sun
Total Eclipse of the Sun
Total Eclipse of the Sun

A partial solar eclipse was visible across all of Europe, northern Africa and much of northern Asia.

But wait, there was so much more! Yesterday was also a supermoon… But before you say, damn I missed this too! this supermooon was during a new moon, so it was not visible but it blocked out the sun during the solar eclipse.

The Supermoon is a full or new moon that occurs during the moon’s closest approach to Earth on its elliptical orbit. What makes it super? It’s when a full or new moon coincides with perigee — the moon’s closest point to Earth in its orbit. Basically, the Supermoon, when full, appears a bit bigger and brighter than usual in the night sky. We don’t know how many more auroras will put on a show this year, but we do know that there will be three more supermoons, all full moons (ie you can see them) on August 29, September 28 and October 27. The full moon on September 28 will present the closest supermoon of the year (356,896 kilometers). What’s more, this September 28 full moon will stage a total lunar eclipse, concluding a series of Blood Moon eclipses that started with the total lunar eclipse of April 15, 2014.

What is a blood moon, we hear you ask? Excellent hearing! Possibly hallucinatory 🙂

The full moon nearly always appears coppery red during a total lunar eclipse. That’s because the dispersed light from all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets falls on the face of the moon at mid-eclipse. Thus the term blood moon can be and probably is applied to any and all total lunar eclipses. It’s only in years where volcanic activity is pronounced that the moon’s face during a total lunar eclipse might appear more brownish or gray in color. Usually, the moon looks red. Astronomy writers often say it looks blood red, because it sounds dramatic, and a lunar eclipse is a dramatic natural event.

Both astronomers and followers of certain Christian pastors are presently talking about the lunar tetrad of 2014-2015. What is a tetrad? So many questions! It’s four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons).

Apparently two Christian pastors, Mark Blitz and John Hagee, use the term Blood Moon to apply to the full moons of the ongoing tetrad in 2014 and 2015. John Hagee appears to have popularized the term in his 2013 book Four Blood Moons: Something is About to Change. Yeah, his income!

The lunar tetrad began on April 15, 2014. The last total lunar eclipse happened on October 8, 2014, the next will take place on April 4, just two weeks away, and the last one on September 28. The total eclipse of the full moon on April 4, will last less than five minutes, making it the shortest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. It’s perfect for short attention spans! The total lunar eclipse will be visible from western North America, eastern Asia, the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand. At North American time zones, that means the greatest eclipse happens before sunrise on April 4 – the morning of April 4, not the evening. From the world’s eastern hemisphere – eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia – the greatest eclipse takes place after sunset April 4.

Blood Moon
Blood Moon

Back to yesterday, it was a very rare event, with a solar eclipse, a supermoon and the spring equinox (northern hemisphere spring) all at the same time. While individually these events are not rare, all three events at the same time happens very rarely; it will not happen again until 2053, and then in 2072.

South Perth Burrows

All the way from Tasmania and fresh from Vivid Festival in Sydney, artist Amanda Parer has brought her unique outdoor installation, ‘Intrude’ to South Perth. At 7m tall and illuminated in white, her oversized giant rabbits aim to transform the South Perth foreshore as they nestle into their new burrows.

Intrude in Sydney
Intrude in Sydney

Originally from Sydney and currently living in Tasmania, Amanda Parer is an artist who creates ethereal works in a variety of forms, including installations, sculptures and paintings. Her work aims to explore the natural world and its fragility. You can see more of Amanda’s amazing work here: http://www.amandaparer.com.au/

Intrude in Perth
Intrude in Perth
Once again, because they can :smile:
Once again, because they can 🙂

South Perth Burrows

South Perth Burrows

South Perth Burrows

South Perth Burrows

South Perth Burrows

From Perth, the giant rabbits will travel to France, the UK and US.

South Perth Burrows

Sending Some Luck Your Way…

…For a Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Are we Irish today?

Happy St Patrick's Day!

We don’t have to be Irish, St Patrick wasn’t Irish either…

Happy St Patrick's Day!

The man we now today as Ireland’s patron saint was actually born into a wealthy family in Britain around 400 AD (when it was still part of the Roman empire). While his family was Christian, he’s said to have become an atheist at a young age.

Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was 16 and taken to Ireland, where he was sold into slavery. After about seven years, he managed to escape, something no one had ever done before. Following a short stint back home, Patrick decided to return to Ireland as a missionary. He later became a priest and a bishop and spent the rest of his life in Ireland, before passing away on March 17, 461.

He was largely forgotten for a couple centuries until the church in northern Ireland began to celebrate him as a saint in the 7th century and his following spread from there.

Little is known about him, though, apart from two very short but revealing letters in Latin that he wrote about his life and work in the late 5th century. What comes out in both of his letters is how concerned he was about enslaved women in Ireland. He also talked about his insecurities, his struggles, about fighting against depression. The letters reveal a man who worked incredibly hard, who was full of self-doubt, and yet who kept going year after year. He is inspirational, whatever religious background a person may have.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

The first St Patrick’s Day parade took place in the United States, not in Ireland, on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City. It was the Irish immigrants to North America who invented St. Patrick’s Day as we know it. St. Patrick’s Day traditions evolved in North America when Irish immigrants went to Canada and the United States following the potato famine of the 1840s.

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day started as a small, religious holiday. And for the first nearly six decades, bars had to stay closed because the holiday falls during Lent! The law was lifted in 1961; and now, 13 million pints of Guinness are sold around the world on March 17th.

Are we drinking Guinness?

Happy St Patrick's Day!

We only drink cherry beer, we coloured it green just for today!

Happy St Patrick's Day!

According to National Geographic top ten lists, out of the top ten St Patrick’s Day celebrations, only one is in Ireland:

1. New York City, New York
http://www.nycstpatricksparade.org/
The granddaddy of all St. Patrick’s Day parades is also the world’s largest, attracting more than two million spectators annually. Led by a military unit, the foot-powered procession (no cars or floats allowed) begins at 44th Street and marches on up Fifth Avenue for nearly six hours.

2. Boston, Massachusetts
http://www.southbostonparade.org
In the nation’s most Irish state (nearly a quarter of Massachusetts’ residents claim Irish ancestry), South Boston is St. Patrick’s Day central. Since 1901, “Southie” has hosted the city’s colossal parade (held on the Sunday closest to March 17) as thousands of marchers and revelers celebrate all things Emerald. Listen for the mournful wail of bagpipes calling marchers to the Broadway T station starting point.

3. Chicago, Illinois
http://www.chicagostpatsparade.com
Parade day (always a Saturday) begins with a wee bit of Irish magic (and 18 kg of EPA-approved dye) to color the downtown Chicago River the perfect kelly green. The St. Patrick’s procession begins at noon, with bagpipers, horses, and high-stepping colleens leading the way north on Columbus Drive through Grant Park.

4. Savannah, Georgia
http://www.savannahsaintpatricksday.com
Georgia’s first city has been hosting a St. Patrick’s Day parade since 1813. It’s a three-hour rolling street party held on March 17 (a day earlier if the 17th falls on a Sunday). Book several months in advance to score a Historic District hotel room facing the parade route.

5. Montserrat, West Indies
http://www.visitmontserrat.com/St_Patricks_Festival
The first Irish on this “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” were former indentured servants fleeing religious persecution from neighboring islands in the 1600s. Shamrock passport stamps pay tribute to Montserrat’s Hibernian roots, celebrated to a calypso beat during a weeklong St. Patrick’s Festival. The Afro-Irish event also commemorates an attempted slave revolt on March 17, 1768.

6. Montreal, Quebec, Canada
http://www.montrealirishparade.com
Neither rain nor snow has ever canceled the Montreal St. Patrick’s Parade. Run consecutively since 1824, the three-hour cavalcade of floats, bands, and costumed characters is traditionally held on the Sunday closest to March 17. Post-parade, the party continues at McKibbin’s, Hurley’s, the Sir Winston Churchill Complex, and other downtown pubs.

7. Dublin, Ireland
http://www.stpatricksfestival.ie
Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Festival is a four-day celebration of Irish culture and craic (good fun). The signature March 17 parade kicks off at noon from Parnell Square, continuing past Trinity College to the end point near St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A half million revelers line the 2.7 kilometer route, so for a view other than the back of someone’s head, splurge for reserved grandstand seating.

8. Birmingham, England
http://www.stpatricksbirmingham.com
On the Sunday closest to St. Patrick’s Day, the United Kingdom’s largest St. Patrick’s parade hums and high-steps through Digbeth, Birmingham’s postindustrial Irish Quarter. Packed pubs line the route and the dress code trends emerald green, but the passing floats, dancers, and drum corps increasingly reflect the city’s cultural diversity.

9. Cabo Roig, Spain
http://www.spain-holiday.com/Cabo-Roig
Irish holidaymaker hot spot Cabo Roig hosts Spain’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade. Spend the morning at one of the town’s white-sand Mediterranean beaches, and then snag a café table along the strip to cheer on the passing marching bands, motorbikes, and Irish dignitaries. A Guinness-fueled fiesta continues under the stars with karaoke, contests, fireworks, flamenco dancers, and more.

10. Auckland, New Zealand
http://www.stpatrick.co.nz
New Zealand’s largest city hosts the world’s first St. Patrick’s Day party each year. Since Ireland-to-Auckland emigration began in the 1840s and continues today, there’s palpable pride in the city’s Irish heritage. Celebrations include a parade, a fleadh (dance and music fest), and lighting the 328 meter Sky Tower green.

Some people retrace St Patrick’s steps in Ireland in a serious spiritual, and physical, exercise.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Wouldn’t they rather eat cake? We do! It’s yummy!

Happy St Patrick's Day!

We always have yummy cakes…

Happy St Patrick's Day!

If you would rather exercise 🙂 you can undertake an austere retreat on the island of Lough Derg, or you can climb, barefoot is the painful custom, Croagh Patrick. Overlooking Clew Bay in County Mayo, Croagh Patrick is considered the holiest mountain in Ireland. It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 and the custom has been faithfully handed down from generation to generation.

Do they eat cake after that?

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Each year, on the last Sunday in July, thousands of devotees from all around the world visit the mountain for what is known as “Reek Sunday”, a day of worship in honour of Ireland’s patron saint. Outdoor masses are held throughout the day, along with confessions at St. Patrick’s Chapel. This is one place in rural Ireland where you can meet and speak with people from around the globe.

The tradition of pilgrimage to this holy mountain stretches back over 5,000 years from the Stone Age to the present day without interruption. Its religious significance dates back to the time of the pagans, when people are thought to have gathered here to celebrate the beginning of harvest season.

The first stop on the pilgrimage is Saint Patrick’s statue erected in 1928 by Reverend Father Patterson with money he collected in America towards the rebuilding of Saint Mary’s Church in Westport.

If that is too much effort and you are not into penance, other sites associated with St Patrick require less effort to visit, such as the Northern Irish town of Downpatrick, with his grave, near the ancient Down Cathedral, and a museum with an exhibition dedicated to the saint.

Or Lough Derg, the sacred Sanctuary of St Patrick, an island for prayer and meditation, which has been calling pilgrims for over a thousand years. Set in calm lake waters, the island offers no distraction, no artificialities and no interruptions. The island provides a safe haven for rest, reflection and renewal to all who wish to ‘Come away to a quiet place and rest a while’, Mark 6:31.

We can go to scented rose gardens to rest a while, they have cake there!

Happy St Patrick's Day!