Category Archives: Out And About

Sculptures by the Sea

Cairn
by Alessandra Rossi, Italy/WA
Cairn
by Alessandra Rossi, Italy/WA
Cairn
by Alessandra Rossi, Italy/WA
Entwined
by Ben Fasham, VIC

Rolling the earth
by Tae-Geun Yang, South Korea
Rolling the earth
by Tae-Geun Yang, South Korea
Rolling the earth
by Tae-Geun Yang, South Korea
Rolling the earth
by Tae-Geun Yang, South Korea
Life Support
by Karl Meyer, SA

Estripagecs
by Pere Moles, Andorra
Celest
by David Ball, NSW
Thoughts of Pinocchio
by Bongsoo Kim, South Korea
She sells sea shells
by Anne Neil, WA
Sky is the limit
by Evi Savvaidi, Greece
Shifting horizons
by April Pine, England/WA
Circle – “Yakibame” (shrink fit)
by Tetsuro Yamasaki, Japan
Women in bronze
by Sonia Payes, VIC

Beary Graduates at Winthrop Hall

What do you think?

Little Puffles and Jay are at the top of Whitfeld Court admiring Winthrop Hall, the most impressive building on the campus of the University of Western Australia.

Winthrop Hall

Built between 1929 and 1932, the architectural style has been described as ‘Inter-War Romanesque’, ‘Mediterranean’, ‘Renaissance’, ‘Western Australian Renaissance’ and more recently as ‘Twentieth Century Referential Architecture’. This vagueness of terminology is the result of its being a mixture of different elements. Winthrop Hall with its Italian style campanile resembles Stockholm City Hall, completed in 1923. It is where the Nobel Prize banquet is held after the award ceremony.

Winthrop Hall, like the other Hackett buildings, is constructed in reinforced concrete and brick and the walls are 2.7 metres thick. It is dressed over most of its exterior with local stone quarried from various sites, sometimes cut smooth and sometimes rusticated.

Sandstone from Donnybrook was used for the columns of the porticoes, Tamala limestone (coastal limestone) was used to face the external walls. Surviving documents indicate that the principal source of stone used for the Hackett Memorial Buildings was Coogee, south of Fremantle.

The building is roofed with orange coloured Cordova tiles (so-called because the shape of them is associated with the Spanish city of Cordoba). Although more expensive than the flatter Marseilles tiles commonly used for building in Western Australia, their curved shape gives them the capacity to shed rain water more reliably. The original tiles were replaced in 2000.

Winthrop Hall – north side

At first floor level on the north and south sides, the exterior of Winthrop Hall is decorated with a balcony which has a colonnade with pairs of columns supporting round arches. These were inspired by the arrangement of columns surrounding the cloister which forms part of a monastery attached to the cathedral at Monreale in Sicily, built on a hill outside Palermo. The columns of the walkways along Winthrop Hall and the Hackett Memorial Buildings are Tuscan in style.

The windows of the hall are glazed with stained glass in various colours. When work began on this part of the building, the architect had the idea of recycling beer and medicine bottles in order to produce panes of light brown colour, one of the costs saving exercises asked for by the Senate.

The architect left no clue in his writing to explain the glazed terracotta gryphon’s frieze that circles the walls of Winthrop Hall just under the roof eaves, except to allude to a ‘Greek’ influence. It consists of alternating motifs of two-winged lions facing a musical instrument resembling a lyre. The tails of the lions differ slightly from each other so that the overall effect is not one of exact repetition.

The frieze appears to be inspired by a frieze surviving at an ancient Greek temple at Didyma near Ephesus in Turkey. It contained temples for the twins Apollo and Artemis. In Greek, Didyma means twin. Lions have often been used as symbols of protection; the significance of the lyre is uncertain, but in ancient art it was a symbol of Apollo, patron god of poetry and music. In Greek mythology, Apollo is the inventor of string-music and string instruments such as the kithara and the lyre.

Winthrop Hall Tower

At its highest point, the Winthrop Hall tower measures 46 meters. With 360 degrees views, it offers the best views of the campus. There are 184 steps to the top. As well as the clock, it has six rooms that originally accommodated staff and research students.

Architects Rodney Alsop and Conrad Sayce had a falling out over the design of the tower roof. Sayce wanted a style of roof similar to Sydney’s Queen Victoria building dome, whereas Alsop preferred an angular Italianate style. As Alsop was the leading architect on the project his Italian style was chosen and as the disagreement grew, Sayce withdrew from the project and subsequently emigrated to South Africa. They never spoke again.

It was originally intended that the tower should have four clock faces, but the number was reduced to one to reduce costs. A Melbourne company, Messrs Ingran Bros, installed the first clock in 1929. The dial was made of ‘opus sectile’, an enamel finish on tile, to match the rondels above the windows on the Arts & Administration Building. After 1945 Ennis and Sons rebuilt the master clock. The dial was replaced in 1953 with one made of terracotta, due to weathering. In 1964 Mr Ron Ennis installed a new electric master clock.

At first floor level, the tower is decorated with an ornamental balconette which was inspired by the early 16th century Belém Tower in Lisbon, Portugal. The Belém Tower is a strong example of the Portuguese Manueline style, but it also incorporates hints of other architectural styles, such as Moorish architecture in the form of delicate decorations, arched windows and balconies. The ornamental balconette was constructed of Donnybrook stone. The capitals of the columns are decorated with representations of the Australian banksia plant. The balustrading features the Cross of the Templars.

The architect Rodney Alsop stated that the design “arose as the natural outcome of the planning, combined with the study of the architecture of older countries, with climate and other conditions not unlike those in Western Australia. […] While the ancestry of the style used is undoubtedly Italian, it has been anglicised and adapted to the local conditions, and cannot be called Italian, Spanish, or any other foreign style. It is my conception of architecture suitable for the University of Western Australia.”

Puffles and Jay stand on the Whitfeld Memorial Seat with the Great Gate visible behind

The Great Gate joins Winthrop Hall to the old Arts & Administration Building. The flanking towers of the Gate are square at the base and octagonal at the top, which was supposed to liken it to the Tudor gateways of Oxford and Cambridge colleges.

The first major art work to be commissioned for Winthrop Hall with funds from the Hackett Bequest, The Five Lamps of Learning (or the Five Lamps of Knowledge) mosaic is set in the lunette above the five windows to the Senate Room. The University commissioned artist Mervyn Napier Waller to design and produce the mosaic in 1931. The mosaic is Byzantine in style, with standing figures elongated to compensate for the angle from which they are viewed from below.

The mosaic features five figures who represent five of the seven virtues of wisdom taken from Isaiah (XI.2): Sapientia (wisdom), Intellectus (understanding), Consilium (counsel), Fortitudo (courage) and Scientia (knowledge). Their names appear in the arches at the top of the five windows to the Senate Room. The five figures hold lighted lamps and reflect the University’s motto, ‘Seek Wisdom’. These figures are contrasted with the five unwise figures in the background with unlit lamps, bowed in poses that express the idea of dejection.

Napier Waller wrote the following in a letter, dated 12 January 1959, to Vice-Chancellor Prescott:

“As you see there are seven gifts of the Spirit; but in my design I have excluded Piety and Fear (of God.) The five windows below also suggested to me that the five gifts of the Spirit could become the five lamps of the wise virgins of Jesus’ parable, with each lighted lamp being one of the expressions of complete wisdom, as read on the soffits of the window below.”

UWA Senate Room

Beneath the mosaic is the Senate Room where the governing body of the university meets. The stained-glass window was commissioned in memory of William Hancock, pioneer radiologist and former member of the University Senate.

UWA Senate Room

The Senate is the governing authority of the University and in the words of The University of Western Australia Act 1911 has “the entire control and management of the affairs of the University and may act in all matters concerning the University in such manner as appears to it best calculated to promote the interests of the University”.

Winthrop Hall Foyer

The foyer features a marble mosaic designed by Napier Waller and constructed from marbles brought from Carrara, Verona, Rome, Belgium and England. Australian marble found to that date was too soft for this purpose. The concrete columns that support the ceiling of the foyer are painted in a manner that was inspired by the coloured columns that were a part of some ancient Egyptian buildings. The C. R. Caslake company of Melbourne undertook the wrought iron work, which comprised the wrought-iron gates leading into the foyer, handrails, balustrades and wall lanterns.

On the left hand side in the foyer there is a bronze bust of Mary Raine (1877-1960) who bequeathed her estate (one million pounds) to the University to support medical research. It was created by renowned West Australian sculptor Robert Hitchcock from a black and white photograph of Mary Raine.

On the right hand side in the foyer there is a bronze bust of General Sir John Hackett (1910-1997), the son of University founder John Winthrop Hackett. The bust was created by John Dowie, who also sculpted the Whitfeld bust from Whitfeld Court.

The windows on the north side of the foyer are glazed in the same manner as most of the other windows in the building, but on the south side two of the windows have been turned into memorial windows.

Memorial window for William John Hancock (1863-1931)

The memorial window for William John Hancock (1863-1931) was proposed by the University’s Engineers Club and installed in 1934. It was paid for by contributions from members of the engineering and medical professions in Perth as well as from the students. The window was created by the Melbourne firm of Brooks Robinson & Co.

Memorial window to Sir Alfred Langler (1865-1928)

The memorial window to Sir Alfred Langler (1865-1928) was designed and executed by Napier Waller. It honours Sir Alfred Langler, the administrator of the Hackett estate under whose stewardship the Hackett bequest grew significantly between 1916 and 1926. The theme was provided by the Parable of Talents, that also inspired the mosaic above the Senate Room windows.

The staircase leading up to the main hall

What do you think now?

Little Puffles and Jay are at the top of the Great Hall in Winthrop Hall.

The main hall

Winthrop Hall measures 41 meters long by 18 meters wide with a height from floor to ceiling of 15 meters. Today, the hall is dominated by the McGillivray organ and the rose window.

The pipe organ had been proposed in 1927 by Professor Ross who combined his position as Foundation Professor of Physics with being Chair of the Music Advisory Board. Funding for the building and installation of the pipe organ only became available when the University received a bequest in 1959 by Dr W. S. McGillivray.

The renowned English firm of J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd was commissioned to make the organ, a quality three manual and pedal instrument, which required sixty craftsmen. The installation ceremony was in 1965.

Situated in the east wall of Winthrop Hall above the pipe organ, the rose window, with a central flower motif of two concentric rings and petal shapes, appears to have been modelled on a window from the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Italy; Rodney Alsop took a photograph of the window during his travels there in 1925.

If the ceiling appears to sit rather tightly over the top of the window, it is because the height of the building was reduced slightly in order to prevent the cost exceeding the preliminary estimate by even more than it eventually did.

Originally the east wall beneath the rose window was filled with a flat dais, which was modified in the 1960s by the installation of the sloping row of seats and the organ.

At the same time as the McGillivray organ was originally installed, the lower third of the interior walls received a wainscoting of timber panels. This had been in the original plan for the hall, but had not been carried out for lack of funding. The walls had originally been constructed using over-fired bricks (‘clinkers’) which often ended up on a rubbish tip because they were discoloured and slightly misshapen. This was because it was assumed that they would not be visible when the building was finished. In the 1960s, however, ‘clinkers’ had become a trendy design feature and there was some resistance to hiding them. The jarrah panelling that was in the end installed helps to provide good acoustics for the hall.

The walls bear the Coat of Arms of other Australian and some overseas universities.

The architectural design features, including layered walls and the use of sound absorbing materials, particularly Australian Coogee stone, were used to ensure the best sound quality in the hall. The specially designed ceiling allowed sound waves to escape and not reflect back into the building. This was achieved through the use of strips of matting placed between the ceiling beams to allow the sound waves to escape.

Ceiling in Winthrop Hall

The beams of the Great Hall have been decorated in true Renaissance tradition. However, the theme for the decoration is uniquely Australian. Melbourne artist George Benson was commissioned by architect Rodney Alsop to paint the ceiling of Winthrop Hall. Alsop had been in correspondence with the Lord Abbot of New Norcia and Daisy Bates regarding suitable Aboriginal designs. Bates suggested the art of the North-West should be used. Benson, however, selected from a range of designs from across the country. His concern was for colour and pattern rather than accuracy and he based his motifs on symbolic and totemic Aboriginal designs representing them in earth tones such as red, yellow ochre, black from charcoal and pipe clay. The ceiling became the first major artwork in Australia based on Indigenous art. Benson also included ten caricatures (two unfinished) of various local dignitaries, of which only four have been identified: Dr James Battye, Sir Walter James, Judge John Northmore and Dr William Somerville.

Ceiling in Winthrop Hall – detail

The soffits of the main beams are alternately a series of diamonds and squares copied from a shield of a south-western tribesman, while on the others is a running pattern of lines derived from the shield of a local West Australian tribesman. On the longitudinal beams there is an alternating pattern of circles from a chilara, and an unfinished drawing by a south-eastern tribesman.

That was beary interesting, don’t you think so?

The Amazing Artistry of Shaun Tan

Hours to Sunset and Sculpture Garden
UWA Crawley Campus

With the UWA Club opening in 2005, there was a large west-facing on campus begging for a sundial to be created!

Susan Marie, then Director of UWA Extension, had worked with Shaun Tan at Subiaco Library in 2002.

The Tea Party, by Shaun Tan, 2002
Acrylics, oil, collage
Subiaco Library

Shaun’s concept was that the large T-shaped area in the children’s section of the library would depict a flowing landscape with whimsical creatures strolling, swimming, flying and rowing through it, some having conversations and reading books, others breathing fire and stormy oceans, with many drinking cups of tea, made by towering tea pots. Hence the title The Tea Party which nods towards Lewis Carroll, as well as being an alternative, or extended version, of the strange world that was briefly glimpsed in his picture book The Lost Thing.

The entire project took about 3 months, painted using acrylic and oils with some collage of printed materials, fabric, coloured paper and gold leaf. Shaun painted the work in parts, in his backyard, relying heavily on detailed sketches to ensure continuity between the different parts. Once the work was installed in the library, he spent a week on a large ladder joining everything up as a fluid composition.

The Tea Party, by Shaun Tan, 2002, detail
Acrylics, oil, collage
Subiaco Library

On the other side of the wall, at Subiaco Library, is Shaun’s painting The 100 Year Picnic.

The 100 Year Picnic, by Shaun Tan, 2002
Mixed media – collage, acrylic, oils
Subiaco Library

The painting is based on a photograph from the early 1900s, found in the archives of the Subiaco Museum: a group portrait of Subiaco men, women and children (largely anonymous) enjoying a picnic. While the photograph was the main basis for the painted image, it is not reproduced with documentary accuracy – it is a point of departure, rather than a reference, for an imaginary painting. Elements were edited and transformed, abstracted and stylised to some extent and colour used lyrically to create a certain mood.

Photograph from the early 1900s, featuring a group portrait of Subiaco men, women and children (largely anonymous) enjoying a picnic.

It would be another eight years before Hours to Sunset, the sundial on the west-facing wall of the Club would come into being. The design casts the sun as an all-seeing bird, with luminous representations of the sky and heavenly bodies recalling the medieval Book of Hours.

Hours to Sunset, 2013

This type of digitised mosaic image is new and has only become commercially available relatively recently. The mosaic suppliers Bisazza have combined their art selection of premium glass mosaic tiles with mathematical accuracy to translate the beautiful Shaun Tan painting into a mosaic masterpiece.

The image was scanned and reproduced as a pixilated map. Colours were then selected in collaboration with the Bisazza artistic team in Italy and Shaun Tan. These were used to establish 375 sheets of images containing 900 individual tesserae to make up the whole picture.

Artisan tiler Iain H. Middleton from V-vo Architectural Mosaics, with Ankit Gakhar, Darren Hay and Brody Osborne formed the core team for the actual creation of the mosaic. Their job was to ‘stitch’ together an image that is delivered chopped up, by using a technique that appears invisible, yet brings out the true character of this type of glass, its brightness, colour and shape. This then allows the artist’s work to speak to the viewer, not the mechanical interpretation of it.

There are 725 seams in this mosaic, which equate to over 227 meters. To make the work look seamless, a special translucent epoxy grout was incorporated to enhance the image and add robustness and longevity to the piece.

The final unveiling took place on 22 January 2013 and the sundial was officially launched on 8 February 2013, for UWA’s Centenary year.

A sundial indicates time by measuring the angle of the sun in the sky, which moves by 15 degrees each hour. Normally we measure time relative to midday, the time when the sun is highest in the sky. This sundial is different, as it measures time relative to sunset and indicates how many hours of daylight remain in the day.

The sundial is mounted vertically on a wall facing west. A gnomon, projecting horizontally from the top centre point of the sundial, casts a shadow on the wall. During the afternoon the tip of the gnomon’s shadow will move from the bottom of the wall up to the top until, at sunset, it is level with the gnomon. The left-hand curve of the sundial’s markings plots the path of the Sun’s shadow during the summer solstice, the middle line is the path during the equinox, and the curve on the right shows its path at the winter solstice. The hour lines are angled to account for the different length of day between summer and winter.

This way of measuring time is related to ‘Italian Hours’ whereby hours are measured relative to the last sunset. This was commonly used in parts of Europe between the 14th and 18th centuries. You always knew how much time you had left to get your day’s work done before sunset.

Beneath the sundial is a sculpture garden which Shaun designed in collaboration with Susan Marie and landscape architect Helen Whitbread, with a cluster of mosaicked organic shapes and espaliered mandarin trees, nestling in beds of white stones and gravel amidst an imposing setting of stern sandstone.

Shaun wanted to create a friendly and accessible installation and would invite people to move around, to touch and feel the garden elements.

Sitting is touching, isn’t it?

Once more it was over to artisan Iain Middleton, this time for the more difficult task of covering smooth, rounded surfaces with flat, rigid glass tiles.

The freeform shapes at one end evoke big smooth river stones, all three superbly cloaked in the same Venetian glass tiles that make up the sundial. Off to the other side, a gleaming golden egg sits alone at the other end of the small courtyard. Shaun said the golden egg has a suggestion of wisdom, which relates to the University setting.

Shaun described the design as a response to the spare and angular sandstone forms of the site, in which he wanted elements to break the tension of those lines with simple curved organic forms.

“The design also needed to relate to the large sundial above … the vertical image carries a sense of air, light and celestial objects; something on the ground needed to be about the earth, solid mass and gravity,” he wrote.

Shaun Tan, the son of a Malaysian-Chinese father and an Anglo-Irish mother, is a multi-award winning artist and writer who was born in Perth and now lives and works in Melbourne.

As a child growing up in Perth, Shaun enjoyed reading, writing and illustrating poems and stories; and spent a lot of time drawing dinosaurs, robots and space ships. He was impressed by a book of horror poems called The Headless Horseman Rides Tonight, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated “in these creepy but also amusing pen and ink drawings by Arnold Lobel. I can still recall the images quite vividly, and borrowed that book many times from the library.” He was attracted by anything about monsters, outer space or robots. He also remembers Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick which he still admires as an adult as an ideal picture book experiment – a whole series of fragmentary sentences and singular strange drawings never fully explained. He also liked Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs, but only discovered many of his other books (and acknowledges their influence) as an adult. Quentin Blake and Roald Dahl were also ‘favourites’.

Some of his earliest works appeared in science fiction magazines (including Eidolon and Interzone) where he illustrated the work of authors such as Greg Egan, Karen Attard, Sean Williams, and Leanne Frahm.

In 1992, he won the International Illustrators of the Future Contest, the first Australian to achieve this award. His unique style translates well into film, and Shaun Tan provided concept artwork for the movie WALL-E. He also wrote and directed the short film The Lost Thing, from his book of the same name. The Lost Thing won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. In the same year, he received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, a prestigious international prize for children’s and young adult literature.

His work has won or been nominated for nearly 100 awards. His international awards include Locus Awards, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, Hugo Awards, and a World Fantasy Award. In Australia, his work has repeatedly won Ditmar and Aurealis Awards, as well as Premier’s Awards across the country, multiple Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, and more.

There aren’t many artists who have the ability to both write and illustrate their own work; but Shaun Tan is an exception. His books include The Playground (1997), The Lost Thing (2000), The Red Tree (2001), The Arrival (2006), Tales from Outer Suburbia (2008), The Bird King and other sketches (2011), The Oopsatoreum: inventions of Henry A. Mintox, with the Powerhouse Museum (2012), Rules of Summer (2013), Cicada (2018), Tales from the Inner City (2018). One of his early picture books, The Rabbits, with words by John Marsden, is now an opera.

Cicada is the subject of an exhibition at the State Library of WA.

Cicada exhibition at the State Library of WA

It is an exhibition of his original artwork and creative process, including a small sculpture of Cicada. Dramatic oil paintings are displayed along with sketches and photographs to provide a window into the making of this picture book.

Cicada exhibition at the State Library of WA

In the picture book, Shaun Tan explores the ponderous themes of migrant workers and workplace bullying through the voice of a hardworking insect who has toiled away, unappreciated and without promotion, alongside humans in a grey office block for 17 years.

Cicada is the story of a scorned insect who works in a sterile office with hostile coworkers. With shadowy illustrations and sparse narration, it examines workplace bullying in a story that is ‘for anyone who has ever felt unappreciated, overlooked or overworked’.
Cicada exhibition at State Library of WA
Tan says the character of the cicada reminds him of his own father, Bing, who moved to Australia from Malaysia to study when he was in his early 20s. He was hardworking but had poor English, the author says. ‘[He] was an architect who worked in a few different offices throughout his life. I often got the impression that his skills were underappreciated in some of these places.’

For Cicada, Tan researched the life cycle of cicadas, which can spend more than a decade underground before shedding their exoskeletons and revealing new wings. There are clear parallels between the life cycle of the cicada and Tan’s story of corporate drudgery. But the author says the meaning of his book is unclear, even to him. It’s an ambiguity he actively strives for.

While Cicada is a picture book, it’s not necessarily written for an audience of children. It talks about things that adults understand — data entry, and human resources departments — and it’s almost completely devoid of colour.

The story is told in monochromatic shades of green and grey for the majority of its 32 pages — familiar territory for Tan, whose book The Arrival was illustrated solely in sepia tones.

‘Belonging’ is a recurring theme in Tan’s work. In Cicada, the protagonist is a data entry clerk who works tirelessly for 17 years alongside humans who never accept him. ‘A lot of my stories are about animals invading human spaces,’ Tan told the Australian. ‘I think it serves as a sort of distorted mirror for ourselves, making us step outside of the narcissistic self-absorption of our species.’
In creating the character of the cicada, Tan says he felt compelled to show ‘the overlooked aspects of ordinary life, almost to try and redress some imbalance in the way that we look at things. To counteract some of those views of the world that might be fairly destructive, even though they may be mainstream and accepted’.
A model (left) and painting (right) of the central character living in the ‘office wallspace’. Tan describes the creation process thus: ‘I made a sculpture of the central cicada character with moveable limbs – basically an action figure – and built simple miniature office spaces out of paper and board. I could then arrange and light these elements on a table top, photograph them, and use the resulting images as “sketches” for both structuring the story and as reference for final paintings. In some cases, the finished illustrations are nearly identical to the photographs.’
Tan made models of the characters and scenes, which he subsequently photographed and then painted. This is an early sculpture of the office-bound protagonist.
The cicada morphs into his insect form in this clay sculpture created by the artist.
The storyboarding for Cicada. Tan says the book was initially much longer, but he pared it back to generate ‘mystery’, creating what he says is the ‘simplest’ book he’s ever done.

Little Puffles and Jay went exploring behind the scenes at the library.

State Library pictorial stack on the third floor

They discovered The Singing Bones, Shaun Tan’s interpretation of 75 fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm.

The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

His sculpted figures, inspired by ancient carvings and figurines, evince each tale. Many of them are squat and elemental, as though evolved from earth, rock or clay. Many have the pointed or rounded shapes identifiable as his unique style. They are constructed from papier-mache and clay, some with wire, paper, string, nails or gold leaf. The clay has been carved and painted with acrylics, oxidised metal powder and even shoe polish. Some surfaces look bronzed. Other sculptures feature some of Tan’s signature colours of red and orange.

Shaun Tan has sold most of the sculptures, keeping only keeping only Hans My Hedgehog and Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house.

In The Singing Bones, Shaun Tan reimagines the Brothers Grimm fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel with small, hauntingly macabre sculptures.
Hans My Hedgehog

The State Library owns two of the sculpted figures, Little Brother and Little Sister and Little Red Riding Hood.

Sculpted figures from The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan
Little Brother and Little Sister (L)
Little Red Riding Hood (R)
Economical with materials and words, Tan’s take on Little Red Riding Hood condenses it to a conversation between the girl and the wolf

Rules of Summer is a predominantly visual and unnerving exploration of what two boys learnt one summer.

Rules of Summer, by Shaun Tan

Rules of Summer is a collection of 26 oil paintings, vignettes loosely tethered to an instructional narrative; a set of seemingly arbitrary directives intended to help a young boy understand his vast, capricious world and his place in it: A Rough Guide to Terror Incognita – “Never drop your jar”, “Never leave a red sock on the clothesline”, “Never leave the back door open overnight”, “Always bring bolt cutters”, or “Always know the way home”. Almost all vignettes feature two brothers (one a couple of years older than the other) and a raven.

We must find a jar so we don’t drop it!

True to its fairy tale form, the younger boy’s rites of passage grow progressively darker when his older, know-all brother takes things too far and their one-sided relationship erupts in violence, estrangement and eventually reconciliation … at least until next summer.

As with Tan’s other books, nothing is what it seems and the path to enlightenment is rarely straightforward. The hapless newcomer unwittingly breaks every rule, triggering absurd repercussions: being stalked by a monstrous hare for leaving a red sock on a clothes line, intimidated by a party of formally dressed falcons for taking the last olive, invaded by a primordial back yard for having left a door open overnight, threatened by a tornado for stepping on a snail and thwarted from entering paradise without a password.

Never step on a snail

Rules of Summer enables Tan to indulge in his first love, oil painting, which brings a lush, palpable sense of place to his imaginary landscapes. The vibrant palette and broad canvasses capture the immense skies and parched flatlands of his childhood in suburban Perth and the secret laneways of his present inner-city Melbourne home, with detours through Manhattan, Tuscany and Mordor. It’s a sweeping perspective that similarly informs his visual style.

The Cicada exhibition is on at the State Library of WA until Wednesday 24 April. If you are beary lucky, you might be able to go behind the scenes.

The Octagon Theatre Is 50

On Friday, the Octagon Theatre turned 50.

In the mid-1960s, the need for a 650-seat theatre to accommodate large lecture classes at UWA provided a wonderful opportunity to create a new theatrical venue at the same time.

The Octagon Theatre was completed in late 1968 and opened on 1 February 1969 by then Chancellor Sir Lawrence Jackson. It was the Festival of Perth presentation of Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s King Henry IV Part One, directed by John Sumner.

The Octagon Theatre is the most versatile of the several venues managed by University Theatres. The thrust stage theatre was designed by Perth architect Peter Parkinson, with acoustics by Warwick Mehaffey, based on advice from renowned theatre architect and director, Sir Tyrone Guthrie. The greatest advantage of the thrust stage design is the semi-circular seating plan that provides excellent sightlines and an intimate environment, despite its 658 seat capacity. Adaptable staging allows the thrust to be extended for dance productions or removed to accommodate 100 extra seats in proscenium arch mode. An orchestra pit is revealed when the stage floor is removed. It is the only venue of its type in Perth.

The building committee had the foresight to invite Sir Tyrone Guthrie to Perth to advise on design and Professor Fred Alexander (who established the Festival of Perth in 1953) recalled that he brushed aside local plans for a multi-purpose theatre, insisting on a large open thrust stage. From Guthrie’s sketches grew the Octagon Theatre, the opening of which in 1969 generate enormous interest and caused the University to rethink its theatre policies.

The Octagon was also conceived as a lecture theatre, meaning it was specifically designed for the acoustics of the voice – no matter which seat you sit in, you should be able to hear every word.

Peter Parkinson (1925-2014)

Born in London, Peter Parkinson (1925-2014) graduated from the Architectural Association in 1950, moved to Perth in 1952 and joined FGB Hawkins and Desmond Sands Architects. He founded the architectural practice Hill and Parkinson, later Hill, Parkinson and Harris, in 1965. Lex Hill was also a Sands alumnus. Together they developed Sands’ economy of architecture and line to an extreme in their own work, seeking to derive very clear rules and points of engagement for the architect, the builder and the building.

Parkinson’s architecture was lean and direct, and the Octagon Theatre is a masterwork of clean economy in architecture and construction, striving to an economy driven not only by budget but also through philosophy. Famously, Parkinson designed both the Octagon and the Dolphin (1976) theatres from concrete block. The documents were virtually devoid of dimensions, relying almost entirely on block coursing and a relentless efficiency of design that embraced the traditional construction technique of blockwork, only slightly modifying it to become elegant enough for a university theatre. Doors and windows were consistent to enable the elimination of a schedule, and the entire specification was reputedly only one A3 sheet of notes.

In Parkinson’s theatrical agenda this level of parsimony allowed the mute box to take on the distinction and romance of the theatre production; the architecture forming simply the enclosure for the particularity of program.

The theatre has the red terracotta roof characteristic of UWA buildings. Despite the modernist design of the theatre, Parkinson contextualised the building within the UWA campus architecture. The Hackett Memorial Buildings (1932) had established a distinctive design repertoire of pitched terracotta roofs, limestone walls, buff-hued local stone, colonnades and porches that was reinterpreted by later generations.

The Octagon Theatre in 1969
Aerial image of UWA Crawley campus

The Institute of Architects, WA Chapter, awarded Hill & Parkinson a Bronze Medal in 1969 for the Octagon Theatre in the category of Public Building Cultural. Apparently, Parkinson was so smitten with the project that he built himself a tiny ‘Rectangle Theatre’ in his backyard!

His other works include Churchlands Teachers College (1972), Hayman Theatre (Curtin University, 1977), major restorations to His Majesty’s Theatre (1977-1982), The Hole in the Wall Theatre (1984) in Subiaco and many other commercial and residential properties.

Initially the policy remained that the University theatres were intended primarily of internal use (ie, University use) but eventually they were opened for use to outsiders.

Since opening in 1969, the Octagon has been a major venue for the annual Festival of Perth (now Perth International Arts Festival) and has staged major works of drama and music by some of the world’s leading companies. Artists that have played the venue include Steven Berkoff, Kerry Armstrong, Paco Pena, Michael Kieran Harvey, Marianne Faithful, Bob Geldof, Henry Rollins, Eddie Izzard, Sean Hughes and Sir David Attenborough.

The Octagon was the third theatre to be built with the famous Guthrie thrust stage and bowl-shaped auditorium. The first two were the Canadian Shakespeare Festival Theatre (now Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada) in 1953 and the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis (Minnesota, US) in 1963, replaced in 2006 with a new theatre complex designed by Jean Nouvel which maintained the thrust stage.

Sir Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971)

English director Sir Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971) brought the thrust stage to its greatest prominence. In 1936 after an outdoor performance at Elsinore of the Old Vic Company’s Hamlet was “rained-off” and quickly restaged in a ballroom, Guthrie began to realise that the thrust stage had a dynamic of thrilling potential. After the war, his work at the Edinburgh Festival was followed by the creation of the “Guthrie” thrust stages at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and in Sheffield, England. His influence was to be profound, although his original vision was almost inevitably modified and compromised.

Puffles and Honey at the Guthrie Theatre in 2016

Guthrie had an aversion to excessive scenic or lighting effects – he believed in text, actor and costume taking the stage. But few of his followers held such a puritanical view. And Guthrie, too, was a man of his time. He was influenced by the then-current antipathy to multiple balconies. His theatres either had a single balcony around their perimeter or (in his final return to his “ideal” form in Sheffield) no balcony at all. Years were to pass before the rediscovery of the multi-level courtyard form, in the Young Vic and the Cottesloe (the National’s third space), that proved that vertical encirclement has a powerful role to play in creating theatricality and intimacy.

In February 1971, the Festival of Perth re-staged Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s Old Tote production of Sophocles’ play, King Oedipus (with Ronald Falk and Ron Haddrick) and of William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well (with Patricia Kennedy, Malcolm Phillips and Robin Ramsay).

Dinner @ Bennelong Restaurant

Little bears are in Sydney to see, and hear, Daniel Barenboim and his legendary orchestra, Staatskapelle. The renowned maestro and his orchestra will celebrate the Romantic greats in three Australian exclusive performances at Sydney Opera House. We have tickets to two performances, having decided that one night of Brahms was enough. Besides, Brahms is no competition for a cherry jam lamington!

On the night of the first performance, little bears were under the same roof as the legendary orchestra, but at Bennelong restaurant to eat Peter Gilmore’s famous cherry jam lamington.

It was four years ago that Peter Gilmore took over the Bennelong site at Sydney Opera House. Apparently it was a Hollywood-style happy ending to what had been a drama-packed 12 months for Bennelong and Sydney Opera House. The controversy began with former tenant Guillaume’s Brahimi’s decision not to re-bid for the tender at the end of his lease in January 2014 following a Sydney Opera House decree for a more casual operation in the space.

The the three-level space was given a multi-million dollar makeover, and it opened mid 2015 with a signature Peter Gilmore dining room on the lower level, quick bites and drinks in the middle, and a casual restaurant/bar on the upper level.

Little bears couldn’t be happier with the change! The result is a beary friendly restaurant! 🙂

Princess Charlotte Bay bug dumpling
hispi cabbage, finger lime
nori, brown butter
Roast wagyu rump cap
cipollini & buckwheat pudding
horseradish emulsion
with broccolini and asparagus as a side dish

Peter Gilmore is famous for his desserts. Quay’s snow egg was a bucket list dining item for everyone in Sydney, and the lamington at Bennelong is starting to reach equal heights. When he took over Bennelong, Gilmore was inspired to create something as iconic as his new venue.

Cherry jam lamington

This is the Rolls Royce of lamingtons. Peter Gilmore’s take on the classic lamington is an ode to Australian nostalgia, elevated to the point of cult-dish status. On the plate: a square of cherry jam coconut ice-cream and sponge cake, coated in a glossy chocolate ganache, all surrounded by a halo of liquid nitrogen coconut milk parfait that acts as desiccated coconut. Amazing!

Cherry jam lamington

If you feel brave enough to tackle the nearly 50 separate steps needed to create the dessert, here is the recipe.

Content little bears 🙂

The Wildflowers Behind the Adorable Florables

Little bears are on a mission to Kings Park to find the wildflowers behind the Adorable Florables.

The vibrant floral costumes and dazzling personalities of the popular Adorable Florables have been on display in Kings Park every September since 2007. Through the flamboyant costumes and make-up, the Adorable Florables transform themselves into real-life representations of WA native species.

Little bears with Thinnid Wasp, Granny Bonnet, Kangaroo Paw, Silver Princess, Golden Wattle and Eva Everlasting

Before a WA native species is chosen to join the mischievous larger-than-life wildflower characters, each with a personality to match their bloom, quite a bit of research is done. The proposed character has to be distinctively West Australian and easily recognisable to the public, and its personality traits of the wildflower character have to reflect the real-life adaptations and characteristics of the native plant. A detailed character brief is created for each performer, so the actor can apply appropriate verbal and non-verbal techniques to the flower’s personality.

The Australian Everlasting is recognised as a symbol of the Kings Park Festival held in Perth each spring. Hundreds of thousands of people gather at the Festival every year to see the spectacle of more than 30,000 Everlastings in full bloom.

Pink Everlasting (Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea)
Eva Everlasting

The pink everlasting daisy is a pretty, pink delicate flower with a sweet scent, so the character of Eva Everlasting is also sweet and slightly preening in personality, with a gentle, happy voice, light and floaty body gestures and a pretty pink costume.

The gift of winter rain to Western Australia’s harsh desert fringe brings a carpet of colourful and showy everlastings to life in early spring. Similar natural displays of floral colour, on a large scale, can be seen only in California and South Africa.

Pink Everlasting (Rhodanthe chlorocephala subsp. rosea)

The Red and Green Kangaroo Paw was proclaimed the floral emblem of Western Australia on 9 November 1960. It is one twelve species of the genus Anigozanthos which is restricted to the south-west of Western Australia.

Red and Green Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii)
The majestic Red and Green Kangaroo Paw surrounded by Adorable Florables

The majestic Red and Green Kangaroo Paw is an international ambassador of Australian flora and as such the character walks around with the dignity required by the role. Fresh and dried cut flowers are exported across the world with western Europe and Japan being the largest markets.

The Kangaroo Paw is a favourite with nectar feeding birds which often feed from the spectacular flowers. In its natural habitat Red and Green Kangaroo Paw flowers between August and October.

Little bears liked the pink Kangaroo Paw 🙂 It’s beary size!

Anigozanthos Pure Pink Kangaroo Paw

The Golden Wattle is the floral emblem of Australia. Although wattles, and in particular the golden wattle, have been the informal floral emblem of Australia for many years (for instance, it represented Australia on the Coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953), it was not until Australia’s bicentenary in 1988 that the golden wattle was formally adopted as the floral emblem of Australia. In 1992, 1 September was formally declared National Wattle Day.

The Australian Coat of Arms includes a wreath of wattle; but it does not accurately represent a golden wattle. Similarly, the green and gold colours used by Australian international sporting teams were inspired by the colours of wattles in general, rather than the golden wattle specifically.

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha)
Golden Wattle

The Golden Wattle is a shrub or small tree about 4 to 8 metres tall. After the seedling stage, true leaves are absent, their function being performed by phyllodes which are modified flattened leaf stalks lacking leaf blades. The leathery phyllodes are 6 to 20 cm long, broadly lance or sickle-shaped and bright green in colour. In spring large fluffy golden-yellow flower-heads with up to eighty minute sweetly scented flowers provide a vivid contrast with the foliage. While flowering can take place from July to November (late winter to early summer), flowering peaks over July and August. Each inflorescence is a ball-like structure that is covered by 40 to 100 small flowers that have five tiny petals (pentamerous) and long erect stamens, which give the flower head a fluffy appearance. The dark brown mature fruit, 7 to 12 cm long, splits along one side to release the seeds.

Orange Wattle or WA Golden Wattle (Acacia saligna)
Orange Wattle or WA Golden Wattle (Acacia saligna)

The Golden Wattle requires cross-pollination between plants to set seed. Birds facilitate this. Nectaries are located on phyllodes; those near open flowers become active, producing nectar that birds feed upon just before or during flowering. While feeding, birds brush against the flower heads and dislodge pollen and often visit multiple trees.

Several species of honeyeater have been observed foraging, including the Western Spinebill.

Male Western Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus superciliosus)
Female Western Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus superciliosus)
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2014 – The Western Spinebill, second from left, is holding Honey

The Western Spinebill occurs only in south-western Australia, mainly in the area north to Eneabba and east to Israelite Bay. It has a distinctive long, slender, down-curved bill. The male has an olive-grey crown with a white eye-brow and a black facial mask which is bordered below with a white stripe. The throat and upper breast are rufous, extending over the back of the neck as a collar; the lower breast has a white and a black band. The rest of the upperbody is olive-grey and the rest of underbody is cream. The female is duller, largely olive-grey above and cream below, with a diffuse pale eyebrow and a diffuse rufous collar, but lacks the black-and-white markings of the male.

Nectar is the main food of the Western Spinebill, obtained by probing flowers with its long, narrow beak. The species also takes insects, mostly caught while sallying in the air, or occasionally by pecking them from the surfaces of plants. Apart from the Golden Wattle, The Western Spinebill also feeds on Banksia, Grevillea, Adenanthos and featherflowers.

Eucalypts are another defining feature of Australia. To the uninitiated, most eucalypt species tend to look the same, and that can be excused, there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus and most are native to Australia. Apparently there are good features and clear characteristics to use in identification, mostly to do with leaf morphology. Unlike many flowers, the gum blossom doesn’t consist of petals. The colourful bloom is provided by the stamens, which attract pollinators such as insects or nectar-feeding birds. The petals are fused into the operculum, or cap (except in Angophora). While many gum blossoms are white, they come in a kaleidoscope of other colours, including sulphur, orange, vermilion, red, lime, purple and pink! Here is a link to an illustrated guide to some of the gum blossoms.

The Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia) is a mallee (woody plant that is multistemmed from ground level and seldom taller than 10 meters) of the Eucalyptus genus that is endemic to Western Australia. The name “silver” refers to the white powder that covers the branches, flower buds and fruit.

Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia subsp magna)
Silver Princess

The Silver Princess is an elegant and brilliant ornamental tree. It is a graceful, weeping tree with powdery blue-green foliage, a fascinating bark and unique pink or red flowers with yellow anthers. Flower buds hang on the tree for months and then flower from May through to September, soon followed by fruit (the gumnuts). The pendular, bell-shaped, silver coloured gumnuts extend the beauty and appeal of this very special tree through the summer.

Silver Princess (Eucalyptus caesia subsp magna)
Silver Princess gumnuts

Silver Princess is iconic West Australian flora, very sweet, loves herself and thinks everyone else loves her too!

There are 173 Banksia species, and all but one occur naturally only in Australia. South western Australia contains the greatest diversity of banksias, with 60 species recorded. There are no species which are common to eastern and western Australia except Tropical Banksia (Banksia dentata). The Scarlet Banksia occurs close to the south coast of Western Australia.

Scarlet Banksia (Banksia coccinea)
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2013 (before clothes and before Jay!) – Thynnid Wasp, Banksia, Queen of Sheba Orchid and Silver Princess

The Scarlet Banksia is widely considered one of the most attractive Banksia species.

The flower heads are made up of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of tiny individual flowers grouped together in pairs. The colour of the flower heads usually ranges from yellow to red. Many species flower over autumn and winter. The fruits of banksias (called follicles) are hard and woody and are often grouped together to resemble cones (which they are not, true cones are produced only by conifers).

A Western Spinebill resting on Scarlet Banksia (Banksia coccinea)

There are 283 known species of cycad (tree) worldwide with 76 species in Australia, seven species in Western Australia. The Zamia cycad is endemic to Western Australia. This plant is slow growing and the trunk of older plants can be up to one metre high, but are more often trunkless.

Zamia (Macrozamia fraseri)

One of the fascinating things about Cycads is the way they reproduce. They’re dioecious, which means that male (pollen) and female (seed) cones are born on separate plants. Once fertilised, the female cone of the Zamia cycad produces vibrant red seeds which are poisonous to humans, as Dutch explorers found to their cost when they first set foot on Perth soil in 1697.

Female cone of the Macrozamia fraseri
Zamia (Macrozamia fraseri) – male plant
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2014 – The Zamia Cycad Warrior, in the middle, is holding Puffles

Cycads are a great substitute for palms, where you want a good crown without the height of the trunk. In fact they’re often mistaken for palms or tree ferns.

Ancestors of the cycad existed 250 million years ago, before the age of the dinosaurs. It’s tough sharply pointed and leathery fronds protected the plant from grazing dinosaurs. Often these plants bear the blackened marks of a fire on their trunks – a testament to their hardy nature. A warrior plant indeed!

The Granny Bonnet is a short lived plant that is very common after bushfires, but usually quickly overwhelmed by hot dry weather or taller vegetation, leaving only odd plants in later years to germinate in open locations. They are a very pretty small plant with large (around 2 cm) brightly coloured flowers, which stand erect on long stems (5-30cm). The shape of the flower gives it the common name of Granny Bonnets, but it is also known as Lamb Poison and may contain poisonous toxins in order to discourage grazing animals.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)
Granny Bonnet

Granny Bonnets are distinguished from other Isotropis species by their long tapering cuneate leaves and the single flower on a long stem. As the plant grows it sets new flowers, so the flowering period can run for several months usually beginning in July and continuing until November, or the start of hot weather.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)

The veins on the back of the flower are very striking – it must be one of the very few plants which have evolved to have flowers which look even better (to humans) from the back than the front.

Granny Bonnets (Isotropis cuneifolia)

She is regarded as royalty, her hideouts are closely-guarded secrets and in August each year, her fans roam far and wide in the hope of catching a glimpse of her. It’s usually a two week window from the day that it flowers. She’s the elusive Queen of Sheba orchid.

There are three regional sub species of the orchid: thelymitra pulcherrima, thelymitra variegate and thelymitra speciosa, all occurring in Western Australia. They are distinguished mainly by flower colour and distribution, but there is considerable variation on colour in all three species. In the wild, sites are shrouded in secrecy to protect the Queen, and other native orchids, from being trampled or stolen. However, habitat clearing and degradation, from slashing, herbicide use and fire, are bigger threats to orchid populations than theft.

Queen of Sheba (Thelymitra variegata)

The orchid, which is characterised by its spiral leaves, takes between seven and ten years to flower. The Queen of Sheba grows leaf by leaf, year by year, and needs the perfect conditions to fully form, a lucky combination of perfect timing, perfect soil and perfect pollination. All orchids start their first years as small protocorms, basically a leaf attached to a very small tuber. Each summer they go dormant, to a tuber, then each year they grow back again, putting up little curly leaves. After seven to ten years, they might put up a flower spike. Hopefully, one day soon they will be in display in Kings Park.

They are known as “Sun Orchids” because the colourful flowers of most Thelymitra species only open fully on warm, sunny days. The rest of the time they stay closed. This encourages pollinators to visit in large numbers during one event, increasing the likelihood of depositing pollen from a neighbouring Queen of Sheba.

Queen of Sheba Orchid (Thelymtra speciosa)
Queen of Sheba
Little bears with the Adorable Florables in 2013 (before clothes and before Jay!) – Thynnid Wasp, Banksia, Queen of Sheba Orchid and Silver Princess

Orchids are more intricate in terms of their interaction with their ecosystem than any other plants. They have relationships with below-ground fungi, to get nutrients and to germinate. Above-ground they form relationships with their pollinators. The Thynnid Wasp!

Most orchids are pollinated in the traditional way; they produce attractive flowers to advertise the presence of nectar, and when insects visit to drink the offering, they brush up against the pollen and transfer it.

About 30 per cent of orchids produce stunning flowers but then don’t go to the trouble of producing nectar, so visiting insects complete the pollination job without any reward. A few have taken the level of deception to an extreme, employing sophisticated sexual trickery – and Australian orchids are the queens of seduction.

About 250 species in some 10 genera of orchids are deceiving male insects – mostly wasps – into believing that they’ve found an elusive female. Hammer orchids, spider orchids, flying duck orchids and elbow orchids all use the same devious approach.

Most Australian orchids that hoodwink hapless males in this way are pollinated by a group of wasps known as thynnines. The female wasps are dumpy, flightless creatures that spend much of their adult lives underground, laying eggs on beetle larvae in the soil. The males are fast-flying and large, with a wingspan of up to 5cm. Many thynnine wasps are black, but others are spectacularly coloured, with combinations of black, yellow, red and orange markings.

When a female thynnine is ready to mate, she crawls out of the ground and releases a pheromone to attract males. There aren’t many females around at any one time, so when one does come up, the males descend upon her in this massive scramble of wrestling wasps. The same happens with an orchid. A lone wasp picks up on an exciting scent. Instantly he zigzags, following the pheromone trail until he glimpses his target, 30cm away. Its allure is overwhelming. He flies straight at it and grasps it. But five other males have picked up the same scent, and they push and shove each other, competing to mate. With an orchid!

Once an orchid has lured a pollinator close, the colour of the petals and ultraviolet spots can make the flower hard to resist. When a male lands on the flower, its shape ensures he grips it in the right position to make contact with the pollen. Some orchids make absolutely certain the wasp does the job. The main lip of the flower of a hammer orchid is an insect-shaped blob hinged partway along. When the wasp grabs the flower, the momentum flips him upside down and whacks him into the pollen. Must be hillarious to watch! 🙂

Thynnid Wasp
Thynnid Wasp