Behind The Scenes: Roberta Bell’s Life in Painting, Design, Gallery, Community Work

Behind the Scenes
The Spirit of Roberta Bell’s Life in Painting, Design, Gallery and Community Work.

by Jules. C. McCue. Sept., 2016 – Phone 0406664181–

Artists dream of making works that force viewers to question their convictions and self-perceptions, but very few succeed in this aim. It’s especially difficult to find an image that bypasses the barriers of indifference and rationality and strikes the target.[1]


dance 3 picture and                             NEGATIVE                              rob sits

Three stages of Roberta Bell’s life.

Born in Sydney in 1924 to Robert Bell and Carrie Bell nee Hewitt, who were immigrants from the British Isles, Roberta lived and attended school in the inner city of Sydney. After high school Roberta attended East Sydney Technical College for several years, completing a Graduate Diploma in Design [Honours] in 1946. Her art teacher was Enid Cambridge, no doubt, facilitating the young artist/designer in following the creative path; not an easy one, especially for women. Whilst at high school, she was fortunate enough to attend still life classes at East Sydney Technical College, under the tutelage of Douglas Dundas and Dorothy Thornhill from 1939 till 1940. Roberta’s early design work was influenced by Loudon Sainthill, his Ballet Russes poster below, but more so, by the enchanting costumes and sets, designed by Diaghilev, Braque, Matisse and Picasso, upon which the young dancer feasted her eyes, when she was taken by her parents to every performance of the Ballet Russes in Sydney. Roberta will ‘bypass the barriers of indifference and rationality’, in her life of art.

Granos-de-cafe-300x170        GatitoPussycat-300x240               BalletRuses-232x300

Roberta’s mural designs and Loudon Sainthill’s Ballet Russes poster

At the end of school, Roberta enrolled as a full-time student at the same technical college and continued to be mentored by a host of highly talented tutors: G.K. Townsend, Herbert Badham, Edward Harvey, Phillis Shillito, Eric Roberts, Gunter and Herbert Gallop. Now 1946, Roberta is offered a part-time teaching position at the Design school, due to an increase in student numbers, owing to the returned servicemen training programme. The adage ‘Those who can, do: those who can’t, teach’, has been well-refuted. Thankfully, some of the best in their fields go on to pass on the baton and inspire students. Where would the arts and other schools be, if the experts did not contribute and pass on their skills and knowledge or at least give some guidance? Having a modest teaching salary also means that an artist does not have to compromise their work for food and shelter. I remember Elizabeth Cummings, a significant Australian artist, when teaching at East Sydney Technical College, inviting some of us to her new studio home in the bush, and the impact this had on us as young women artists. It was more than teaching, it was the life of the artist, their determination and sincerity of their work. The possibilities and inspiration were endless and exciting. Roberta, was also a mentor to many, young artists. Her example of hard work, enormous capacity for creativity, her style and presentation in the galleries, multi-tasking and generosity of spirit, were and are exemplary.

During this time, Roberta also completed a variety of design commissions: domestic plastic ware, metal jewellery, scarves, lino-cut prints, invitation designs for professional and commercial organisations, showrooms, logos, screens, murals and other interior and exterior designs. Like many other women, Roberta volunteered in the war effort assisting in rehabilitation craft programmes; also, working with young children and enlisting in the Australian Women’s National Service as a volunteer.

interior classics invite 1                                       bell

Invitation design for The Bell Gallery Berrima                                    The Bell Gallery logo

In 1953 Roberta resigned from her teaching post at East Sydney. Since 1950 she had been married, but sadly her husband John Osborne, died after one year in 1951, because of a congenital aneurysm, after 5 years in the air force during WW2. Roberta continued her design work, one commission being that of the showroom for Cornelius Furs in the city of Sydney, becoming a life-long friend of Stella Cornelius, [born 1919], who had come to Australia with her Jewish family escaping the Russian pogroms. Stella, although a business woman, also carried out intensive work in human rights and conflict resolution. Subsequently, Stella received many rewards and accolades for her work in the Peace Movement, none least of all, receiving personal recognition from Nelson Mandela in 2000.

Roberta also received several accolades and awards for her dedication to community and generally, her efforts to ameliorate, culturally and socially, every place in which she lived. In 1960, Roberta married Jack Howland, descended from an old, Wellington family in the Central West of NSW, a point at which she found herself on an adventure that was to dramatically change her artistic and social life. The inner-city girl is whisked off to what was originally called The Second Vale of Tempe, a lush river-rich, farming land. Wellington was hit by a bombshell of creative energy and good-will, ensuring that the artistic and social life of the sleepy town would change considerably. She with others, worked tirelessly to build an arts culture. A local history museum and gallery was set up, not long after her departure from Wellington, where she had worked on substantial art prizes, exhibitions and cultural events, designing, decorating and giving talks on Art Appreciation to various audiences. In fact, the very young Tim Storrier, who lived in the Central West, came to her asking for advice about pursuing an art career. No doubt, her sagacious words hit the mark and off he went. His choice had been to go to art school or remain a grazier on the large family property as his father had wished.

In 1961, Roberta was appointed the director of the first Wellington Art Prize. The judge being Roland Wakelin and the winner Margo Lewers. At that time, there were many talented artists living out in the central west, as are today, in the old gold-mining town of Hill End and the Bathurst and Orange Districts.

This vastly new, physical environment, the dynamic variations of the Australian landscape in all its uniqueness, charged up a new creative practice for Roberta.The antipodean phenomenon dug its way into the shade of her mind’s eye. Below is a compelling example of one of the pictures produced during this time of serious painting practice. Let us delve into what Roberta produced from now on and see if she hits the target as quoted above by John McDonald.

riverbedLeft, Riverbed: The Darling, mixed media, 1960, is “a little beauty”. For this time in the history of Australian landscape painting, the level of abstraction and almost transcendental reflection, found here, in comparison to what was happening at the time, is bold and daring. It is also unique in its timelessness, uncharacteristic of some art of the time that is dated, fitting into fashionable patterns and styles of the 1960s.

After seeing this painting for the first time and looking at the date, it becomes apparent that in terms of originality, it must have been striking at the time. Looking at other landscape pictures around 1960 and before, there are few to be considered in this light; that is, rendering of the intimate, the mind’s eye, the essence of place or as John Conway said of Roberta Bell’s landscapes, after seeing Through a Glass Darkly, a vision of Wollongong Harbour, a decade later:

an artist able to bring some secret inner landscape to enhance whatever her eye lights on. . . .To what extent can some of the ordinary bits of vision which continually move across the backs of our eyeballs suddenly take imaginative hold and become fixed as the basis for a painting?
The idea that a painting required certain picturesque ingredients like ruins, dense bushes in the lower corners, and a road running into the mountains where a white tree stands against a stormy sky, began to lose ground in the middle of the 19th century. [2]


Through a Glass Darkly, 1970, oil on board

These words, a straightforward explanation for the local audience, would also be acceptable in 1960, if Riverbed: The Darling, were critiqued for a regional newspaper in the Central West, much of the audience never having seen such an abstract expression of a river at this time. The artist has used minimal brushstroke, colour, shape, layering and pattern to depict her sense of place at the time. She said that her design work was influenced by Japanese art – perhaps elements of which have crept into her new, painterly renderings.

A year later, in 1961, John Olsen paints Journey into You Beaut Country No.1., similarly intimate or close-up, but much more calligraphic in the use of strong linear elements signatory of his work. Olsen, on the other hand alludes to a narrative of lurking creatures with loosely depicted beaks, paws, claws and eyes: frenetic and wild. There are however, in both paintings, areas of dappled grounds; Bell’s being strikingly dynamic in black and white like the magpie, the burnt tree next to the white ghost gum, clay and charcoal – the black and white element salient in the Australian landscape. However, most painting of this time was still quite structured and figurative. Bell’s picture is gentle, loose, reflective and emotive.
The broad expanse and depth of inky darkness of the central plains at night stirred deep emotions. [Roberta Bell]
At this stage, she has surfaced from the grief of losing her first husband but there is another reason that could add to the notion of her originality; that of her life-long quest in the search of a spiritual truth or unearthing. When Roberta Bell’s mother arrived in Sydney from England, she felt a sense of isolation not untypical for anyone who moves far from home to an alien environment. It was suggested to her by a Doctor, who obviously perceived her intellectual and spiritual predilections, to consider Christian Science, which she did, finding a way to settle in to her new life down-under. Consequently, Roberta attended the associated equivalent of Sunday School.

Roberta explained that one of the ideologies of Christian Science is to heal oneself naturally, using self-awareness, common sense and will, rather than taking pills, notwithstanding the need for surgery, should the case arise. Also, the Christian Scientists were open to the ongoing search for spiritual and philosophical truth and knowledge, which promotes a prevention rather than cure principle. Her mother immersed herself in this philosophy, both as cognitive study and mystical exploration thereby, even allowing herself to consider some elements of the occult and magic to enhance her quest for truth and enlightenment. This attitude, opened up for Roberta, an endless world of possibilities, enabling her as an artist, designer and business person to live a life with no limits to creative imagination, problem solving and new ideas. She also took this attitude into the huge contribution made in the community arena. Wherever Roberta went, she became the ‘Babette of the Feast’ or the ‘Chocolatier’ of a religiously rigid village, bringing the gifts of joy, love, creativity and innovation.

Her life of art, business and community had no room for Chauvinism, which continues to fester in the arts’ worlds today, an attitude not limited to either sex. Now she was in what Germaine Greer termed The Obstacle Race [3]; the life of art for most women artists.
From now on Roberta continues to play with her fascination in the landscape and employs her broad knowledge and skill from her rigorous technical training, in her arts practice, to explore sentient colour and tonal rendering, highly-textured surfaces and dynamic spatial composition. She never allowed herself to get “stuck” in a pleasing style or become a serial producer of limp but popular pictures for the sake of selling.

In 1963, she and her husband Jack Howland made a sea change, relocating to Wollongong in the beautiful Illawarra of the South Coast, N.S.W. The contrast of surroundings could hardly be greater from rolling hills, farms and bush to large expanses of deep, blue sea, long horizons and the background of a sharp, rocky escarpment carpeted in rainforest, and veils of mist. Fighting with the natural beauty herein, unmissable is the menacing, smoke- belching giant: the Port Kembla steel works. An icon much exploited by artists as a creative source and incongruously a much-loved part of the “Gong”.

A number of beautiful pictures unravel during this time, while continuing to create design work and becoming involved in the setting-up of a regional gallery.

RockPool-247x300Rock Pool, 1965, shellac and mixed media on watercolour board [left]

Sea Dream l, 1965 below, exhibited at the Bonython Gallery, and Rock Pool, 1965 [above] continue to evoke a spirit of place, almost with no figuration, but rather an essence of the sensation of phosphorescent mist, foaming movement and primeval life of the sea and rock. Soft compositional elements and a reduction of all pictorial elements as in Riverbed, 1960, are central to her practice. Amongst the work of known, contemporary artists there is little to compare with this work. Jon Molvig was experimenting with the dried-out carcasses of the desert, some of which he called Centralian Still Life, painted in the 1950s and 60s. These moved to and fro, between complete abstraction and the semi-figurative. Others of his, such as Nocturne Landscape, dating from 1958, were also attempts in experimenting with creative solutions or paths to express the exciting or menacing elements of this arcane, antipodean landscape.

Seadream-234x300Sea Dream I, 1965.  shellac and mixed media on watercolour board [left]

Needless to say, all the talk at the time was of Boyd, Nolan, Pugh and a little later Williams and Olsen, to name a few, and almost completely a list of male artists while Roberta Bell and other women were quietly working away exploring the new territory, unjustly ignored. Not to say, that many of the ‘blokes’ were not masters of their art. Olsen is a genius. In fact, he, Fred Williams and Elisabeth Cummings are three that come to mind, who have put the landscape onto a new plane in Visual Art. But one can only wonder what we miss in terms of talent and originality. Of course, no one is completely original, but how often do influences and inspiration go unmentioned or unnoticed?

This is not a history of women in art, but for many women, there are plenty of other duties which they are impelled to carry out – torn away from their arts practice, often losing momentum, or merely ignored and neglected. Roberta was certainly at the forefront of this new plane early in the piece, but life does not always give women a clear, unfettered path, made easy by spouses and other benefits. Perhaps, these other important duties and rich experiences lend to their work, a certain depth and breadth? Much can be said about the richness of experience for the writer, poet, composer and film maker. The visual arts ought not be an exception. The fact that Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington-Smith were forced to ‘stay home’ for several of family and other reasons at times, undoubtedly determined the content and inextricable stylistic choices and explorations, that made what became unique and ground-breaking contributions to the art world in Modernist Australia, through still life. In the light of background knowledge and experience, the content and meaning of art changes. Henry Matisse’s father had a fabric business and George Braque’s father and he for a while, were painters and decorators.

FitzroyFalls-300x210Sunset at Fitzroy Falls, 1967

Time in the Illawarra led to many more original paintings inspired by this stimulating environment: Sunset Fitzroy Falls, Coalcliff by the Sea, Cracker Night, Through a Glass Darkly, Steel Heat, Captured Sea Myth, Cascade, The Tunnel and the panel series: Waterfall, Ferns and Vines, to name a few. Sunset at Fitzroy Falls, 1967 [above], once again captures a mystical, magical display of wondrous nature. Probably Bell’s work is closer to that of Cossington-Smith in its raison d’etre. Behind and within, it is the psyche – highly-developed, finely-tuned and an alert, awareness of colliding worlds, the here and now materiality of the temporal and others beyond.

SteelHeat-240x300Steel Heat, 1970. water colour

Steel Heat, 1970, [above], introduces a new style, dictated by the medium of water-colour, wherein, the artist structures the composition with soft, flowing line which in this case evokes molten metal, smoke and the intense heat of this mighty – manufacturing – monster. Years later, after another re-location to Berrima, Roberta Bell takes this technique of layering soft veils of coloured washes combined with meandering line across into the landscape, producing Mangroves, 1974, [below], “a little masterpiece”: minimal, evocative, intimate, gentle.

Mangrove. jpgMangroves, c.1974. water colour.

Once again in 1978, Roberta is faced with the ultimate shock, the rapid demise and subsequent death of her second husband, Jack Howland. By this time, they had built The Barn Gallery at Berrima, and were in the process of buying antiques, art and other merchandise. Roberta was left with the daunting task of keeping it afloat, and more especially her own mind, body and spirit; these being notable, as Roberta had always practised self-development, a by-product of earlier years. This gave her strategies she employed in order to survive.


Scan_20160805 (31)snow robertaDSC00912

Somehow, Roberta was able to pull herself together and keep on going. From now on Roberta Bell-Howland would work to run the business, paint at night after close of shop, work tirelessly for the Berrima community, building the tourist destination brand of “Historic Berrima”, producing logo designs, Christmas and Tulip Festival paraphernalia, establishing with others a municipal gallery, and caring for hers and Jack’s elderly parents. Her energy was boundless, but naturally, there was a low time.

Nothing stopping her, in 1989-90 Roberta goes on to build The Bell Gallery, also at Berrima, whilst continuing to make art. At this time, Roberta Bell-Howland, continued to investigate the pictorial possibilities of her pre-occupation with religious themes and other mythical and mystical subject matter, creating much pictorial magic. The results of her explorations were entered in the Blake Prize succeeding as a Finalist in several of the exhibitions, often receiving Highly Commended. In 1962, Parable of the Sower, in 1972 Serpent in the Garden, 1973, Miraculous Bird of Medication,1975, God’s Promise to Noah, as well as numerous entries from The Horizon and Phoenix series, all succeeding as Finalists in the Sulman and Wynne Prizes.

During the eighties and nineties her work changes dynamically; colours becoming more intense, compositions more formalist with both form and colour vividly expressive. With regard to landscape, she produced over many years, The Horizon Series, a nomenclature poignant to Australian Art. Horizon 1 appears in 1971, shellac and mixed media continue to be her signatory vehicle of expression. This is evident in comparing Ebb and Flow, 1998, gouache on watercolour board with Through a Glass Darkly, of 1970, oil on board. [above] All pictorial elements are transformed, but the idea of capturing the essential fleeting image remains in these pictures from the Horizon Series.
Religious themes and another new series, The Phoenix, also appear initially in the seventies. The content of all four themes will continue to be thoroughly investigated well into the 21st century. The Phoenix theme transpired as a result of a comment made by her colleague, Phillis Shillito, Head of Design at East Sydney Technical College, when Roberta recovered from the death of her first husband in 1951, saying it was “phoenix-like”.

In the making of a visual image, there is a striving to encapsulate where the mind and feeling is in relation to the subject matter – it is a complex and time consuming task to bring together its complexities and to strive at a satisfactory resolution. . . Roberta’s work particularly demonstrates a most important principle in the creative process: that of discovery.[4]

The words of Margaret Woodward, written for Roberta’s retrospective in 1995, at the Southern Highlands Regional Gallery, another woman artist close to Roberta, who knew and cherished many woman artists, such as May Barry and Doreen Gadsby. Roberta also facilitated many younger women artists as well as her peers. This is rare in a competitive arts world. Artists are marketed like ordinary commodities and some competitors in art prizes make art that compliments the judge’s own work. Worse still, it is called the ‘art industry’. For many artists, their work is not an industry, which connotes ‘factory’ or ‘mass-production’, rather, it is essential to their existence. There is no ‘must do’ for material existence or fame, there is only ‘need to’ for psychic survival. Integrity and honesty are evident in the work that is significant.

Not being agnostic or atheist, Roberta Bell definitely has her ‘other world’ that pervades her physical and intellectual space.
It is a delight! It is somewhat akin to the ancient Irish in the landscape. Every tree and rock explains what is: angels and fairies all about. Roberta Bell-Allen, now married for a third time to Robert Allen, after thirty years of being single, has a blend of British Isles ancestry. One may believe that the Larkin branch manifests in Roberta the survivor, the fighter, the creative artist, the digger who seeks to know, the joyful craftsperson, the loving care of friends and family, the generosity and hospitality: adventurer and survivor.

Picture1Ebb and Flow, 1998. Gouache and water colour on board

Through her art over decades, she joins the temporal world and the spirit world – the O’ Larrikin, pre-Christian world is inherited epigenetically and feeds into the work, in the same way it did in the La Tene period, [5th Century BC – 1st Century AD] of Celtic crafting. Ebb and Flow, 1998 above, and all work from the Horizon Series contains the archetypal, circular form, which is juxtaposed with the horizon, forming a compositional tension. Carl Jung suggested that the circle in art and craft is symbolic of ‘soul’ or ‘psyche’. Something happens when artists go out into the Australian landscape, that awakens new vision. This is the bold, larrikin element, essentially Australian in nature. The landscape speaks to us, transforming into imaginative attributes, making a unique Australian art, especially evident in the iconic desert and outback works of Elizabeth Cummings and others, up till this time in the 21st Century.When Deborah Hart discusses the larrikin element and what was to become an iconic vision in John Olsen’s new landscapes of the early sixties she included this statement:

On these journeys of movements, flux and change the viewer is encouraged to be an active particpant, a fellow traveller into a world of the unexpected. ‘I’m inviting you to come with me on this journey of … strange and weird happenings …  ‘The You Beaut Country’ is a world of the irrational … we can never exactly premeditate where it is going to lead us … just like life.’ [5]

What can one explain about the mystery of art which contains much breadth and depth? After all, the essence of art that moves one is ineffable. Virginia Hooker, Emeritus Professor in Asian Studies, ANU, explains the relationship between art and “the mindfulness of Allah” in the work of Didin Sirojuddin AR, born Indonesia 1957, a master calligrapher:

The relationship between spiritual belief and artistic practice, he says, should be indivisible.
In his own works he hopes, like his senior friend, A.D. Pirous, to provide images which encourage spiritual reflection by viewers. [6]

CaptureSeaMyth-300x300 Captured Sea Myth, 1971. oil on board

coalcliff by the Sea and    Painting 5 (3) and

    Coalcliff by the Sea, 1964. oil on board                         Highway on a Hot Day, 1994. gouache and pastel on board                          ,

Influences from a strong design background, the Cubists and other Modernist movements, are evident in Roberta’s work, combined with very hard labour, adding layers then digging back down to reveal new, exciting textures and colours. More powerful is the exclusion of human form, rather, the artist conjures up the mystery of a presence in the cosmos, within the landscape or myth, portrayed. Sydney Long is recognised for his lyrical and iconic attempts in this quest, including figurative, mythical beings as in a dream: a very pleasant dream. Roberta sometimes refers to ‘dream’ in titles, but does not venture into sex or death, preferring joy and transformation, even celebration: no Prince of Darkness, no hallucinations.

Finale 2Finale 2012, gouache on watercolour board

Finale, 2012, [above], is imbued with intellectual substance but does not lose its visual, sentient power in conceptual thesis. Imagination and psyche embed and surface in the delivery, remaining outside the realms of contemporary serial production, or some conceptual art that requires viewers to read a tome in order to ‘get it’.

Bryan Robertson, after visiting the Venice Biennale in 1995 rediscovers Bellini of Renaissance Venice, comments in an exposée about the quality of much contemporary art:

The contrast between Bellini’s glowing world and the rackety side shows of the Biennale made the supremacy of painting as a revelation of the human condition and our expanding perception of human and physical nature seem even weightier and more consequential than ever before.[6]

Roberta’s most recent paintings include mythical figures as emblematic of her life triumphs and tribulations, such as the Splendid Return of the Phoenix, 2002 [below]. The powerful design reverts to the early murals rendered on panels. After striving on, through all that has been thrown at Roberta Bell-Allen, she emerges in her nineties with a sharp mind and continues with determination and defiance. The Endangered, 2012, shows her continuing ability to experiment with new themes, whilst blending old and new techniques.

rise again              Rob and May

Splendid Return of the Phoenix, 2002, enamel on board              May Barry [sculptor] and Roberta Bell, [1964]

There are many forms and functions of art. Here to contemplate, is Christopher Allen’s comment, which may be considered old-fashioned about an art form that was once primarily visual and sensual. Is not the basis of good art, the exceptional skill in seeing, feeling and drawing; all three fundamental elements evident in the art of Roberta Bell?

Art is a kind of thinking, but a more primitive and intuitive form than conceptual thinking, which is a late development of advanced civilizations. Art is an organon for thinking concretely about the world, by reshaping it and presenting it to be experienced by the senses and the imagination in the same way we experience the real world. [7]

sized salamandaThe Endangered, 2012, mixed media.


[1] John MacDonald, If Pain Persists, with reference to Linde Ivimey’s sculpture exhibition at University of QLD Art Museum, Brisbane. [SMH, Spectrum, Feb. 16-17, 2013].
[2] John Conroy, Painter’s Inner Landscapes, “Art with John Conway”. Illawarra Mercury, Wollongong, 1970.
[3] Germaine Greer, The Obstacle Race. [Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1979]. London.
[4] Margaret Woodward, A Critique for the Roberta Bell Retrospective Exhibition at the Southern Highlands Regional Gallery in 1994.

[5] Deborah Hart, John Olsen, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p. 58. [{22}, Olsen, interview with Hazel de Berg, 1964.]
[6] Virginia Hooker, Didin Sirojuddin AR, an essay in Making Connections: Southeast Asian Art @ANU, ed., David Williams and Caroline Turner [Union Offset Printers, Canberra]
[7] Bryan Robertson, The Modernity of Bellini in Modern Painters, Autumn, 1995, Vol.8., No. 3. [Fine Art Journals, Ltd, England.]
[8] Christopher Allen, Special Arrangement, [Weekend Australian. June 30 – July 1, 2012].

To see more about Roberta’s life and art visit:

The Local Parish Dance

The Local Parish Dance: Searching from the Edge.    Jules Mc Cue

 Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare current [“They change their sky but not their soul who cross the ocean.”] [1]

Today is the 20th October 2007: an otherwise unremarkable day but not for those of my family. Twenty years ago our mother Inez Patricia de Valera Connolly[born 1921] and her eight children [Carmel, Julianne, Christine, Mark, Paul, Mary Ellen, Gerard and Anne], buried our father Keven McCue on what would have been his sixty-sixth birthday. Unlike today at Bruny Island, an island off the island of Tasmania, an island off the island of Australia, where the sun shines and the cold, clean water beckons me, that was a dark, grey, wet day. This was a good thing, as Keven loved the rain and was often seen by my mother and me, playing golf on the Liverpool course in a downpour, as we hurtled past in the train. Keven, a man before his time in some ways, understood the need for water.


The McCue Family Campbelltown 1969

However, the 20th October twenty years ago was a remarkable day for some. Having been besieged by grief and the horror of our funny father’s diabolical and premature death, we were unaware that the stock market had also had a dark and dreary day. When speaking on the phone to my brother Gerard last evening, he said he hadn’t realised how much influence Keven had really had. He died at Campbelltown Hospital on the 17th October 1987, late into the evening. We suspect that he had just three days to get over to New York and do the deed, for he was disgusted by greed and man’s inhumanity to man, so much of which is driven by corporate culture. He was, except for a few truly spiritual persons I have encountered, the least materialistic of any I had known. Our Mother who art in Heaven ten years since, used to say that if it were up to him, we would be sitting on a fruit box and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. He was certainly eccentric and anachronistic. He detested the television which he called the “idiot box”, and foretold the tragic story of the demise of strongly bonded family and social life. He reminisced about sitting around the kitchen table in talk and surrounding the piano in harmony.


Photo: Keven McCue and Emily McCue [mother nee Coady], WW2

From that time on there would be no more boogie woogie, Old Man River, Goin’ Home, Deep River and Short’nin Bread on the rosewood piano that came to us as one of the great blessings from our maternal grandmother Mary Connolly née Joyce.

At the time of Keven’s death, I lived at Cawdor near Camden in New South Wales and was teaching Visual Arts and French at a local high school. Inez, our mother, perhaps through her sorrow, became seriously ill with a form of leukaemia and battled on for another eight years, just as she had every day of her life out at Campbelltown, rearing eight offspring. Up until then I was a prolific painter; I had never ceased to create but now I had lost my muses. I was in for a troubled time physically, mentally and spiritually. I was by this time, living in a small Wesleyan Chapel and a Sunday school hall at Picton in the foothills of the Southern Highlands of NSW, where I had hoped to set up an art school. This was never meant to be and when I realised that Picton was no longer the place for me I put the property on the market and after seven torturous years, I finally sold it and flew to Tasmania, where I believed I could at least live comfortably in a cool climate, surrounded by water, within a society of people who probably would not be racing around to acquire huge amounts of money and material possessions. Perhaps they would be possessed by the landscape.

EPSON MFP image                  2012-05-13_479

Photo: Joyce and Inez Connolly                                                     Keven and Inez McCue

I had always been restless about living in Australia that seemed so far from what? As soon as I was old enough I took leave from Art College and returned to Ireland in 1977. It was an imperative for me at the age of twenty to tread upon the land of my ancestral heritage; this was a sort of inner searching for truth that continues until this day. I may have been born at St Margaret’s Darlinghurst in Sydney where my mother had once been a midwife, but I am of ‘Irish Blood’. Was I fortunate to know who I was and where I came from? Does this knowledge when one is in exile, only create pain and longing or does it give one a sense of identity? I believe now that like anything, this awareness has both sides of the coin to offer. If you don’t know where you come from then you don’t long for it and wonder what if? On the other hand, if you don’t know where you come from in a young country that lacks a true cultural and spiritual anchor, then you are like a body without a soul or a head: whichever is relevant.

As expected, I felt very much at home in Ireland and saw there, reflected in the faces, many people I had always known.  Most Irish people at that time were struggling to survive and of course, “the troubles” in the north were at their zenith. Having grown up on a bounty of fresh red meat and vegetables, I was shocked to see the little piece of not-so-red meat in the butcher’s shop in Limerick. It was unnatural and disconnected though, to merely drop in to place so far away, out of the sky in an Aer Lingus jet. I immediately bought the recently published, A Terrible Beauty by Leon Uris in order to orientate myself in the Ireland of 1977. Back in Australia, we had lost touch with the truth of the situation and had never been taught the real history of the terror. From here on, I had to deconstruct, dig up or unravel, the untold history and search for a truth that had been buried by the distance of our exile.

I went to visit my only known relatives [at the time] in Clare Galway, taking the road to Tuam. My cousin Mary Kathleen McDonaugh née Joyce almost fainted when she saw me and two friends at the gate of the little mixed farm. Mary Kate brandished a work coat or dust jacket, as was the custom, and a cigarette in her mouth which she in her state of shock, ashed in her pocket. I believe she may never have seen the likes of three, big, aussie girls clad in blue denim jeans, the uniform of pop culture. The original white-washed farmhouse was still there in a moribund state. The windows and the red door were small in scale. It was impossible to get a thatcher to repair the roof, so it was later pulled down. I believe there were paintings all over the walls. I wish to this day that I had sighted them: fancy having great uncles of the Joyce family who painted pictures. I have now discovered another link to my chosen art form, as I have always been curious about the fact that there isn’t a great deal of visual art from the Irish that is noteworthy, other than the talismans of turning circles painstakingly engraved into rock from Druidic times. Music and writing have always been the creative and poetic media through which the Irish have expressed their joys and sorrows. Notably, the exception is the Book of Kells; those illuminations of the Christian scriptures that contain a most deft embellishment and dynamic, symbolic imagery.


Photo: Joyce Family home in Clare Galway 1977

So, today, it is in exile on foreign soil that I write; I have found another island with a soft sky, a cold wind, hulls afloat and sails that flutter in the roaring forties. It isn’t Eire but it almost seems like home: at least for the moment. In Hugo McCann’s paper on the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, Governing the Tongue, he ponders over the exile of language as metaphor for colonisation in one’s homeland, especially for the writer:

The Irish are speakers of a language which is not theirs. Its use comes to them through the faults, defaults and accidents of history. . . Heaney like Joyce and a long list of other writers in English, writes from a colonial subject’s perspective and Heaney returns to this subject matter a number of times as, of course, did the logomaniac Joyce with his immense capacity to rummage in the languages of Europe and forge new forms in which to explore everyone’s experience. [2]

So the Irish use English from the outside as onlookers, not from within the culture from which it comes. How does this affect the way we communicate here in the colony?

As I sit here writing I look out over the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, a capacious valley of water between the mainland and Bruny Island. Every time I visit my shack which is also a studio, I am reminded of the rapacious past of the colonial invaders and lament for Trugannini, who swam from here to there and dived for shell fish with her aboriginal sisters, in what would seem to have been an antipodean paradise.

He looks up at the colonial brickwork of the old pub. Now painted Irish green, and remembers the story Harry had told him about William Lane – King Billy Lane- the so-called last of the full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigines, a whaling man who worked the southern seas upon the Runnymede, who had died on the top storey of the pub in 1869. When his body had been taken to the hospital, a local surgeon by the name of Crowther snuck in and cut Lane’s neck up its nape and pulled Lane’s skull out and placed a white pauper’s skull in its place, then crudely stitched the mess back together. Later in the same evening another doctor, Stokell, turned up with the same aim, only to find to his dismay that he had been beaten, so he contented himself with chopping off and stealing Lane’s feet and hands for the Royal Society. The skull brought the surgeon scientific credibility, for there was much interest in Europe in the phrenology of supposed inferior and degenerate peoples. [3]

Richard Flanagan a native Tasmanian writer of ‘Irish Blood’ has thrashed out this story, writing as a post-colonial subject in a faraway land. He writes through a stream of consciousness, extracting the stories that were lurking in the bush and the water of the rivers and oceans, as he really did fight for his life in one of the wild rivers of the Tasmanian wilderness.  Like all great art, truth lies embedded in its beauty and throughout his first great novel, Death of a River Guide, Flanagan exposes, through beautiful and clever literature, the truth that is evident in the above exert. He meshes realism with imagination and expresses the ghastly story of oppression and murder with ferocity and explicit, historic detail, whilst retaining a poetic expression of the highest order. The grim and dreadful story of the most isolated penal colony of Sarah Island on the Tasmanian west coast is related to us in his third novel, Gould’s Book of Fish with hyperbolic, colonial drama, that through the poetry of magic realism is conveyed with a strong whiff of the blood and sweat of oppressive, British rule, more palpable than is the reality from which we still hide. Flanagan, himself, is halfway between home and exile. This extract from Gould’s Book of Fish is from the main protagonist’s narration, William Buelow Gould, the most unfortunate man on earth. From an unfortunate beginning he hurtles to the depths of a Van Diemonian penal colony: the worst of the worst. He becomes the illustrator of fish for the mad commandant:[William Buelow Gould is the narrator from the chapter The Porcupine Fish]

Our second meeting took place immediately after my entirely unexpected release, when I was trooped straight from my cell to Mr Lempriere’s quarters, a small, somewhat ramshackle whitewashed earth cottage. On the way we passed a flogging taking place in the muster yard. The flagellator was pausing between each stroke of the cat, running the tails between his fingers to squeeze out the excess blood . . .   [4]

As a man of ‘Irish Blood’ and one who derives from a family of kitchen-table-tale-telling, he is not afraid to speak out against avaricious mates of mendacious governance, here in the island state. The struggle to survive goes on here, as does the abuse of power in the form of blatant corruption: is that the inheritance of a penal colony?

I could not have known how such madness, this job of painting fish to further another man’s reputation in another country, would come to overwhelm my life to such an extent that it would become my life- that I would, as I am now, be seeking to tell a story of fish using fish to tell it in every which way, even down to the sharkbone quill & the very sepia ink with which I write these words, made from a cuttlefish that squirted me only a few hours ago. [5]

McCann says, “that for Heaney, politics is related to the personal” and that “The sense of anguish engendered by Heaney’s reflections on the world, his place and purpose in it, is a recurring one.”[6] Flanagan’s need to find truth also becomes his medium as the recurring theme of digging up the long line of injustices inflicted on all who stood in the way of the ever- expanding- empire, the essence of which, is found in each of his four, fine novels up to this day. Medium and message are inextricably linked. He like Heaney, poet-archaeologist digs up the dirt; McCann analogises Heaney’s finest work as does the poet himself with the act of digging as he comes from a long line of peat-bog-diggers who made it an art. Unlike his father the artful digger in the poem Digging, Heaney uses the pen to dig to the depths of his soul and all life embedded in the landscape, where he searches for the truth.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down. . . .

By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man. [7]

Having read McCann’s paper included in a publication of papers delivered at The Eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart July 1995, it occurred to me that there was a longitudinal link not only through the shovel but the pen and this great gift of words is flourishing throughout the world in the form of the Irish Diaspora. Even Heaney it seems, felt ontologically exiled in the land of his birth:

As his writing has developed and ranged more widely, the rural and nature poet has come to use the landscape in his life as landscapes of moral action and reflection – ‘un paysage moralisé’. The landscape of Derry[Mossbawn], of Wicklow[Glanmore], become the rich source of his figurative life; they become redolent with meanings which Heaney uses to offer his nuanced readings of himself, the world and interchange between the two. His travels, his journeys, his relocations become symbols of a fluctuating exile. [8]

Richard Flanagan born in Tasmania of ‘Irish Blood’ and indeed some convict blood has also been threatened to exile and told to “govern his tongue”. However, it seems, that he not only has a truly great gift, but he will not be stood over, he will not back down. He will not see the last old growth forest burn. He continues to write of the truth about Tasmania and continues to exploit his tremendous talent and the courage that he has running through his diasporic veins. As a young man he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and did his reading at Oxford. I believe he read Joyce, as did Heaney. As did Heaney, Flanagan allowed Joyce’s ‘shade’ into his work. He too, uses the history and the landscape of his locale to reflect the morality of the situations that are close to him and those of the world of fear, terror and divisiveness. Unlike Heaney who knew his Gaelic tongue, Flanagan has lost his Gaelic, but his masterful discipline of the English tongue is a deconstruction of a language that has one view from the arrogantry to a language that is deflected through a reflected view, as a post-colonial subject. Joyce told Heaney through Heaney’s reflexivity, wherein he speaks to Joyce’s “shade” [a person’s soul after death], that “The English language belongs to us”. [9] Heaney was living in Ireland in an exile due to his use of the ‘other’ language to express views through poetry of his own. Like Flanagan, it is the development of something new from something old. The baton continues to be passed down through generations and now across the lands into new nations. The bold and passionate Irish spirit will never die.

They intuited that the Celts are not a racial group but one bound together by language. To conquer, to dominate and exploit, it was essential to strike hard at that cultural core and destroy or enfeeble the mighty languages of the Celts. The war for Britain was as much a war of words as it was of blood and steel. [10] 

So it was that mighty language was at the heart of the Celtic people and so it is that these people must have a gift for beauty and truth, rising from somewhere deep within the psyche, as it continues to have a flowering in the language they were forced to speak. In the cultural flourishing of the diaspora, we come to realise that these people didn’t lose their hearts and souls when they lost their language. Sure, they lost rich meanings that were intertwined with the landscape, the sea and rural life, but they continue to express the riches from within and without, through their languages of exile. The spirit survives beyond linguistics.

The Celtic languages were laced with rhyme and rhythm. Before they could write, the Celts developed highly sophisticated versification that they learned by heart to aid their memory. Their use of symbol, metaphor and humour was impressive to many a foreign ruler and enemy. So they can be said ‘to have a way with words’. Much of their cultural life, of course, was influenced by the sea, by which they were surrounded. Is that why I must be near the sea, on the sea and in the sea?  That is what I can hear now and all through the night. Is there such a thing as inherited memory?

For those of you who are able, the Gaelic version by an anonymous poet has visible patterns, but these become sounds only, in the English version. The sea is all-important:

An ataireachd ard,

Cluinn fuaim na h-ataireachd ard,

Tha torunn a’ chuain,

Mar a chualas leums’ e nam phaisd,

Gun mhuthadh, gun truas,

A’ sluaisrwadh ganneimh na tragh’d,

An ataireachd bhuan

Cluinn fuaim na h’ataireachd ard. [11]

Or for we of the tongue of exile:

The high surge of the sea,

Listen to the high surge of the sea,

It is the sound of the ocean,

As I heard it when I was a child,

Without cease, without pity,

It washes back and forth on the sands of the beach.

The eternal surge of the sea,

Listen to the high surge of the sea.

In the year 2000, at the dawning of the new millennium I was fortunate to return to Ireland. This time I was determined to travel by sea wherever I could. I had also returned to France to visit the Celtic coast of Bretagne and travelled north to Normandie. I believe Joyce is a Norman name. I took a ferry from Ouistreham to Southern England making my voyage along the wake of the great conqueror, Guillaume in 1066. After a visit with friends in Herefordshire I sailed from Fishguard in Northern Wales to Rosslare in Wexford. Perhaps my Norman ancestors travelled from England through Wales and Ireland on the same path. I gained a more tangible sense of place and ambient, cultural shift by sailing to my ancestral home. I wept at my first sighting of the land: I know not why. A swift splash of silver – a Tasmanian built catamaran flew past us. I picked up my rental car and commenced my journey to all of the places that my great grandparents had fled from during the famine years. The band of merry gentlemen who had constructed my sewage systems at Picton had come from Wexford. Brave fighting men! My first port of call was Whitegate on Cobh Harbour where my father’s mother’s people had lived in a pretty, white house looking over the bay. The Coadys and Helems were school teachers and shoemakers. I know I could live there. Next I travelled up through Limerick and Kerry returning to Galway after twenty-three years. Ireland was a different place. The tractor had replaced the horse on the country roads. The main roads were full of cars and they were all shiny and new. I stayed in Galway City for the first evening and rang Mary Kate of my Joyce ancestry at Clare Galway. Her daughter-in-law Brida answered the phone and they welcomed me for an overnight visit the next day. I could definitely live in Galway. Mary Kate was now eighty-two and as smart as ever. She had just won a box of books: something to do with a quiz on the radio. Paddy her eldest son was the local doctor. Gerry who had maintained the farm, was subsidizing his income with other industrial work in the city. The one daughter Carmel, a nurse, was now living in New Zealand. When she left with her fiancée, work was scarce, unlike today where they need all the workers they can get. All of them seemed so relaxed and happy unlike our people in Australia. They had chosen suitable partners and had beautiful, contented children. They were living in their own land of culture and religion. They were still firmly faithful to the Catholic Church. They had no question of identity and never had. I envied them.

I was now almost forty-four years old: with no parents: no husband and no children. My closest friend had recently died of breast cancer. As far as I could see the future might only get worse. Who was I? Was I to remain on the edge of mainstream society? Was I always to remain vulnerable? Except for my fabulous education and my passion for painting, music, writing, sailing, swimming and travel, I hadn’t been blessed with the usual gifts any human being would expect to have. Perhaps Kathleen Behan is the sagacious old woman when she tells of her becoming married for a second time after her first husband Jack Furlong had died.

I was four years a widow. . .  As a widow I do whatever I liked – but then I met Stephen Behan. . . I loved him the very first time I saw him. Men don’t marry women, you know, it’s the women that marry the men – and we were married in no time. [12]

 My mother had never thought to pass on this wisdom to me, although I had a feeling that she had married my father who was probably like Stephen Behan who Kathleen believed would have drifted on happily without a wife, keeping himself busy with ‘the cause’. Like my own father, he didn’t take much notice of his children when they were little, too busy working long hours and the contemplating of ideologies. So, I asked my Irish cousins in Galway how they had come upon their partners. Brida and Gerry, Mary-Kate had all met “at the local parish dance”. By the time I was the age at which they had married, I had left my home-town, begun studying at the art school in Sydney, where my head was filled with new ideas and when I was twenty, I was in Ireland and Europe searching for the truth and my background. Until this age I had remained a practising Catholic, but I was slowly unwinding my faith. The travel and the historical investigation opened up my mind and I discovered that my knowledge was scant and had been controlled by various authorities. I attended St John the Evangelist Primary School and St Patrick’s College at Campbelltown in New South Wales. This was no different to any other catholic education and don’t get me wrong; I am extremely grateful for the brilliant education I received, especially at the high school level. By the time I had completed the NSW Higher School Certificate I was a competent writer in English and French, could play up to fifth grade piano, paint in oils and acrylics, write about Renaissance architecture and Impressionist painting, sing in the choir, swim a fast lap of a fifty metre pool and play lots sport. In short, I had received a well-rounded education that serves to enrich my life.

I then travelled through the waterlogged wonderland of Connemara country to Clare, Mayo and Sligo until I reached Donegal. Mary Kate said that Connemara would get me back to painting. When I told her that there were many Irish men in and around Sydney working in excavation, she replied in saying “that our boys, they just love digging up the dirt”. I stayed the next night at the small but important fishing village of Killybegs. Yes, I could live anywhere around the West Coast. I drove on up the Donegal coast until Bloody Foreland was in my sights. I had heard some wonderful but fictive stories about how this wind-swept outpost got its name. I could see ever so faintly in the distance, Tory Island from where my paternal, great grandfather hailed. His parents were McHugh and Gallagher. There are some relatives in Letterkenny but I didn’t have the time to fit the fragments of this archaeology together: next time.

147             Mary Joyce daughter of Ellen jpg

Owen Connolly, Great Grandfather                                    Mary Joyce, Grandmother

It was time to head off and return south to Monaghan.  This meant that I was to go through Derry from where my great grandmother’s father had come. Peter Crane was his name if I remember. My great, grandmother, Ellen Crane’s husband Stephen Joyce from Galway died in his early forties after planting pine trees around the church at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains and left her with five children. As there was no support in those days, she was forced to move to Balmain, where she took on washing and ironing. She lived right at the bottom of Darley Street and my mother Inez said that she read the Labour Daily every day. She brought up a few wild boys I believe. Anyway, I didn’t linger in Derry or the next towns, as all the flags were up. I sensed a hostile atmosphere and realised I’d been naïve to have gone there, as it was the day before marching day, 2000.

Eventually, I arrived in Monaghan where my mother’s paternal, great grandfather had come from. Owen Connolly was his name: he set up a couple of tanneries near Wallerawang and Piper’s Flat up near Lithgow in New South Wales. He had married Bridget Mc Donald from Dublin. At the time of my grandfather’s birth in Sofala, they were a maid and coach driver, respectively. Monaghan was an idyllic country town in a thriving, rural setting in 2000. I could live there, easily. Sofala was a new and bustling town out west in the heart of the nineteenth century gold rush.

Time was running out and I had to return the hire car that I had picked up in Rosslare, to Dublin.  From Dublin, which I didn’t see enough of, I went out to Delvin in County Westmeath to visit my father’s relatives, Jane Reilly and her two brothers, Christie and Wattie Colgin. They still grow much of their food and especially potatoes. I had a lovely meal and visited the farm where my great grandmother Annie Cassily had lived, before she came to Australia in the latter half of the nineteenth century, along with many others exiled from their home. Eventually, she meets James Mc Hugh as her second husband in Sydney. Her first husband, Michael McCue had died on board ship as they and James McHugh had previously lived in New York, being processed through Ellis Island and now on to Circular Quay. James changed the spelling of his name to make it easier for the sake of the children, of which they had many. Some years ago, I met up with a Kate McCue who was also a teacher in New South Wales. She was descended from the first McCue. One of James’ sons, Patrick McCue, was a star player in the first Wallabies team and one a gold medal in 1908 at the Olympic Games in London. [Against England!] Paddy collected his father James from the inner Sydney mental hospital, after a twenty-year incarceration. How did this dislocated man from Donegal who spoke Gaelic on his death-bed end up in such a place? That is another story, as I believe the Irish were over-represented in these institutions.

Unfortunately, my time in Ireland ended too soon and I pledged to myself to return as soon as possible. I would have loved to have spent some time with Christie and Wattie who had one night every week at their local. Wattie has passed away since then as he missed his wife too much. Christie was a contented single man. Jane their sister, also admitted that she had met her husband “at the local parish dance”. There were many of my great uncles and aunties who didn’t marry. Only four out of the eight in my family have married and had children. True romantics I believe: one must marry one’s true love or not at all. Home to Australia again, but it doesn’t feel like home. This island is too vast.

Eventually, at the end of 2003, self-appointed exile; off to Tasmania, taking the same journey as did Joseph John Therry, the priest from Cobh, through Yass to Melbourne on Port Phillip Bay, embarking for Hobart and travelling through the rusticated, stone-built towns of The Midlands of the “Apple Isle”. I expect that Therry sailed all the way to Hobart. I had departed from the same territory, Picton near Campbelltown in New South Wales. After a short stay in Melbourne, Therry left the mainland and began many harassing years of labour and disappointments in the island colony. . .

Because ships carrying Irish convicts did not call into Hobart, the number of Catholic converts there were not large, compared with that of the mainland. To his dismay, Therry found that Governor Franklin, unlike his counterpart in NSW at the time, and was using [even fomenting the feud between Conolly and his parishioners in order to bring discredit on the church. Therry’s efforts to settle the feud seem to have been very successful. . .

Thus Therry found himself in a sort of no-man’s-land once again. He had no jurisdiction in so far as Government House was concerned; so he couldn’t make appointments or exercise any kind of authority. Franklin was quite happy to let this state of affairs drag on for several months . . . In a way, it had just been a hiccup, one of the many that plagued Therry for most of his life. . . .

Therry’s early years [1838-1844] in Tasmania were fruitful and productive. Working harmoniously with his two assistants, the scattered flock was tended, the goals and the hospitals were visited, and the convicts and homeless were provided for. [13]

Father Therry had set up the church and schools that I attended in Campbelltown, New South Wales.

I have now been living in south-eastern Tasmania for exactly four years. Like Therry, it has been incredibly challenging. It is difficult to gain permanent, fulfilling and appropriate employment. I did arrive here by myself with no connection whatsoever. I am now fifty years old and, like my forefathers, I will not give up. I have made two beautiful gardens and continue to ‘dig up the dirt’. The Tasmanians have opened up their homes and lives to me. I am involved in ‘twilight’ racing in a fleet of fine, sailing boats on the stunningly beautiful Derwent River and have recently sailed from Port Huon at the base of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel back to Hobart. I am learning to play the cello and believe it or not my teacher is from Dublin. We recently discovered that her mother used to mind some of the members of the band U2. Albert Bradshaw, their high school teacher was her very close friend and still is. She and her husband are wonderful people, she being an Irish Presbyterian and her husband being an English Catholic, weaves a new story and tells of another deception. One of my sailing friends is Maggie Nally now Williams whose parents are from Offaly and Wicklow. There is an Irish Association, which meets at the New Sydney Hotel. They have a Craic every Saturday and some Wednesday evenings. The Fleadh Ceol, a wonderful Irish cultural event, the best I’ve been to, is celebrated every March.

I look up at the misty and sometimes snow-covered mountain in Hobart and down at ‘the rock’, [as one of my ex-students from Camden, NSW, calls Bruny Island]. I cast my eyes on that magnificent shipping channel and receive much joy observing the array of vessels on the constant parade path, as they navigate their voyages in and around the inlets and beaches.

Again I refer to Joseph John Therry who journeyed under another sky, one so far from his own. I, like him, have endured the challenges, explored the land around me and embraced it along the journeys and adventures and hope that I can stay here on the “isle”, punctuating my exile and enriching my future with visits to Ireland, my ancestral home.

The best potatoes I have ever eaten are the ‘pink eyes’ from Tasmania. I will be digging for these and perhaps I’ll dig for that hidden treasure that is supposed to be nearby on the island. I’ll be collecting my kayak soon and look forward to spending more time out on the water.




Julianne and Christine McCue 1966                              Carmel McCue 1966



[1]. Horace, found in the writings of Columbanus, quoted by Thomas Cahill p 193 in How the Irish Saved Civilisation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995.

[2]. McCann Hugo, Governing the Tongue: A celebration of the Poetry of Seamus Heaney. Irish-Australian Studies, p 200-211.Papers delivered at the Eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart. July 1995. Edited by Richard Davis, Jennifer Livett, Anne-Maree Whitaker and Peter Moore. Sydney: Crossing Press, 1996.

[3]. Flanagan, Richard, Death of a River Guide, p 255. Australia: Penguin Books 1994.

[4]. Flanagan, Richard, Gould’s Book of Fish: A Story in Fish, p 119. Sydney: Pan McMillan, Picador, 2001.

[5]. Ibid, p 127.

[6]. McCann, Hugo, Governing the Tongue.

[7]. Irish Poetry After Yeat, Edited by Maurice Harmon. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1997.

[8]. McCann, Hugo, Governing the Tongue.

[9]. Ibid.

[10]. Moffat, Alistair. The Sea Kingdoms: The History of Celtic Britain and Ireland, p 70-71London:Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.

[11]. Ibid, p 69-70.

[12]. Behan, Brian. Mother of All the Behans: The autobiography of Kathleen Behan as told to Brian Behan. London: Hutchinson & Co. [Publishers] Ltd, 1984.

[13]. McSweeney PE, John. A Meddling Priest – Joseph John Therry, Sydney, St Paul’s Publications, 2000.



Jules Mc Cue, October, 2007.

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Listen to Chris Hickey’s sensitive music and beautiful poetry by making this link – www.

Marfa: Texas Exhibition Catalogue

1. Adhocism

  1. Adhocism

Even the mountaineer came back from the mountain, from sand, sea, the mineral world, water, empty-handed,

 Aun aquel que volvió del monte, de la arena, del mar, del mineral, del agua, con las manos vacías, [1]



2. Adobe

2. Adobe

What can I say without touching the earth with my hands?

Que podia decir sin tocca sierra?  [2]




3. Ancona

3.     Ancona

even the bellringer moving the sky on a cord, fell from the church through the dark of the graveyard;

o aun el campanero que al mover en la cuerda el firmamentocayo de las iglesias hacia la oscuridad y el cementerio; [1]



4. Retablo

  1. Retablo

And I pray that my eyes never shut, even for death: I who need all my vision to learn,

 No me cierren los ojos aun después de muerto, los necesitare aun para aprender, [3]



5. Barbican

5. Barbican

Traveller, beware: keep a curious eye on the glooms of the highway, the mysteries crowding the walls.

Por eso, viajero, cuidado con las tristezas del camino, con los misterios en losmuros. [4]




 6. Predella


Ask me where have I been and I’ll tell you: “Things keep happening.”

 Si me preguntáis en donde he estado debodecir « Sucede». [5]



7. Caravanserai


I am glad to have come from such faraway country: . . . never dreaming of permanence, intent on my vagrant humanity, to live and unleaf like tree.

estoy elegre de venir de tan lejos, de tan tierra: . . .sin esperanza de permanecer, decidido al humano transitorio, destinado a vivir y deshojarse. [6]




8. Bozzetto


O fated to dark perpetuity, to singular being—imageless granite, matter made perfect, irreducible, cold.

Ah ese destino de la perpetuidad oscurecida, del propio ser —granito sin estatua, materia pura, irreductible, fría: [6]




9. Durbar


Among vanishing bodies, I alone sat down in the motionless train.

 Entre los cuerpos que partieron me senté solo en el tren inmóvil. [7]



10. Reliquary


At dawn, I stumbled inside, looking for secrets, things lost in the coaches,

Entre titubeando en la aurora: anduve buscando secretos, cosas  perdidas en los vagones, [7]



11. Enfilade


I am glad of the great obligations I imposed on myself.

 Estoy contento con tantos  deberes que me impuse, en mi vida [8]



12. Propylaeum

12. Propylaeum

In my life many strange and material things have crowded together—

 En mi vida se amasaron extraños materiales: [8]



13. Fictile

13. Fictile

the breaker of horses came back unhorsed, broken by death in a box;

 aun el domador que volvió del caballo en un cajón, quebrado y fallecido; [1]



14. Oubliette


because the hand’s work is a destiny and life shapes itself to their scars.

 porque hacer fue el destino de las manos y en cada cicatriz cabe la vida. [1]



15 Chantry


and I in the train, a dead smoke among improvident spirits, bent under the burden of so many deaths, felt lost in a journey in which nothing else moved but my own way-worn heart.

y yo en el tren como humo muerto con tantos inasibles seres,  por tantas muertes agobiado me sentí perdido en un viaje en el que nada si movió, sino mi corazón cansada. [7]



16. Rhyparos

16. Rhyparos

time writes in the ciphers of water and rock for no one at all,

 y que la edad escribe letras con agua y piedra para nadie, [4]



18. Pastose

17. Matiere

my penchant for loneliness—to keep to myself in the frailty of my personal whim,

mi inclinación a será solo yo mismo en la debilidad de mis placeres, [8]


17. Matiere


That is why— water on stone—my whole life has sung itself out between chance and austerity.

Por eso—agua en la piedra—fue mi vida cantando  entra la dicha y la dureza. [8]



19. Bodegone

19. Bodegone

How with my soul and my tears, I have cherished your obstinate soil, your destitute bread and your peoples;

Como, hasta el  llanto, hasta el alma amo tu duro suelo, tu pan pobre, tu pueblo pobre, [9]



20. Vanitas

20. Vanitas

Bone-dry and taut, day’s drum skin, a sounding opacity: that’s how Spain was: an eyrie for eagles, flat- landed a silence under the thong of the weathers.

Era España tirante y seca, diurno tambor de son opaco, llanura y nido deáguilas, silencio de azotada intemperie.