What life do we choose?


p2290-Cait-&-KerrieTwo former Central Australian residents, Cait Wait and Kerrie Nelson, have come back to show a collaborative art and poetry exhibition as a homage to their homeground of 20 years ago.  Their three-decade friendship was formed here and both have returned to work and visit since that time.  Appropriately, a grant from Heritage Alice Springs helped make their modest but celebratory collaboration a possibility. It opened at The Residency last Friday night, as did Noel Ferry’s photographic exhibition, ‘What is Given Back’. Both will run until 30 November.
Cait and Kerrie (at right, photo by Aksana Hugo Anastas) have an art and poetry workshop planned for this Saturday, 24 October, exploring ekphratic responses to a loved object or work of art.  Put simply ekphrasis is one art form informing another. Contact Tara Leckey at The Residency to enrol.
CRAIG SAN ROQUE‘s opening speech, which we publish below, calls on all of us to nurture whatever creative spirit is moved by the country we live in here in Central Australia and celebrates the artistic and poetic responses in A Chosen Life.
“Our purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind. You divine powers, since you are responsible for these changes, look favourably on our attempts, as we spin an unbroken thread of verse, of line, of colour from the earliest beginnings of the world right down to our own times …”
(From Ovid’s opening lines to his ‘Metamorphoses’).
p2290-Cait-Wait-first-time-As I recall it some of the most distinctive projects in this place, Alice Springs, first began spinning in playgroups, at ‘mothers’ clubs’, around kitchens and in the yards of houses backing onto lanes that give access to the flow and spin of neighbourhood.
Kerrie will recall, from the old photographs she has tonight in her handbag, memories from when she too once was a mother in local backyards (back in the 1990s). Teapot talk while babies babble.
Some of the people at this exhibition opening once were young mothers with Kerrie. I recite some names of those women whose nourishing minds have spun the life of this place; among them, Jane Lloyd, Vicki Gillick, Anne Davis, Kieran Finnane, Jan Mackay…
This kitchen gathering line continues right up to the present time – teapot talk in community yards in town and out bush become the first Afghan Traders, the first Beanie Festival, the first Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame, the first Keringke Arts and right here now in this Residency kitchen – Mel Darr’s family bakery.
Kerrie Nelson’s paid work was in Indigenous affairs and governance. And there she has contributed in ways often hidden from public view, wrapped up like a caterpillar in the root systems of bureaucracy – that nest of Babel that attempts to govern the ungovernable with a language indecipherable – except that Kerrie worked hard to make the language of governance clear and manageable.
And then Kerrie’s language turned to the matter of beauty.
p2290-Cait-Wait-rust-bucketAnd it is here, in Alice Springs, that she met Miss Wait – observations of light, clarity of vision, precision of line, memory.
For Cait Wait the yards and the life she chose are seen here in her 1980s drawing of women, children and herself sitting in Kintore – the Pintubi kitchen, the Pintubi back yard that goes on for a very long way …
Cait Wait’s connection with these women and one of the sons seen here in prison for the first time, woven in long threads through endless mornings and tea serving the conception of the Indigenous art movement… Santa Teresa, the Wallace and Abbott families… the silk paintings, the mural transformations of time and place – Jerusalem, Golgotha – soaked into the luminous fabric of Santa Teresa church.   I remember Cait, after all that arduous, selfless service, seeking respite in the studio of the Waterford/ Dutton yard, choosing, as she had to choose, a new life for her own artistry, her own imagination.
The Cait Wait collaborative work for Darwin St Mary’s cathedral windows – the Pacific island blue light and pattern. Her release from servitude and the quiet windblown ruins of Beltana, South Australia… bits of old lace, the rusty bucket family, solitude…
p2290-Cait-Wait-Under-BrookThese two women – roughened and sharp like rusted buckets – like a mirror in the mirror of each other. Da Vinci texture recalled by Cait, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, Dante’s metred line and vision remembered by Kerrie – Florence, Kintore, Alekarenge, Valley of the Winds, Willowra, windblown yards, kitchens, playgroups, where children first learn their language – those women and those sites are a part of the unbroken thread that comes down through us.
Why do we choose the life we make, how do we choose the people? God alone knows but here we are together in this quiet, this modest showing, and behind it there hovers homage to experience of two great cultures, the European and the Indigenous and where they end up – perhaps abandoned and broken – like a grand piano under the Brooklyn Bridge (at left, photo by Aksana Hugo Anastas).
It is essential that we who live here continue to think and write and paint in a manner attuned to a poetic sense as this is a most poetic country.
I am made cheerful by the example of Cait Wait and Kerrie Nelson, learning to speak with it in language that reflects its beauty, its fierce primary emotions – the mental states – its wind and the washing strung on the songlines.   It is the beauty and the poetic of this country that must be nurtured by the many of us lest it fall into forgetfulness…
Lest we forget.
This poem of Kerrie’s goes with Cait’s painting of the rust bucket. It is in the voice of her mum, Eth.
In my long rehabilitation I have plateaued, like the country
On which I was born – the Central West slopes and plains.
You need to be thrown back into your life or you will regress
said the nurse in charge. Compliant for weeks, I am ready to go:
thrown back into my home – perhaps sixty years of memories
will return – perhaps I’ll recall where I have hidden the whiskey
thrown back into my social circle, that wide pool of friendships
old and new, take ‘em or leave them, those eddies warm and cool
thrown back into my own left frontal lobe that bled in on itself
making me mute but not mutable, searching for lost words
thrown back on my children’s concern – all in their forgetting
years themselves – more dangerous than being thrown back
on my own devices. They have hidden the keys to my car . . .
at home in my eighty-sixth year, I am still my own woman.
I am cashed up, dressed up, my pink lipstick is on straight.
With luck I will walk upright to my grave.
I am not afraid of death, but I am wary of forgetful children
Who do not recall learning their independence from me.
Note: Kerrie performed several of her poems on opening night. Her awards include Overland’s Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets (2010) and the NT Writers Centre Poetry Prize (2014).  She has been published in the Canberra Times and a recent anthology of Canberra poets.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here