Mother Nature as an Architect

Prompt:   Lens and Pens – i phoneography challenge – architecture

A million years ago rivers of red hot lava flowed across the country I now call home.  Now the river runs with water and the cooled stacks of lava stone are a waterfall.

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In the spirit of Ansel  Adams I have given the image below a slight greenish tinge – personally I think it creates a better depth of field.2014-10-18 13.45.43

- and here is a  colour image lately.  We haven’t had much rain lately so the water flow is reduced – the way the lava is stacked like huge building bricks is clearly visible.2014-10-18 13.45.34

All photos taken with my mobile phone and processed in Windows Live Photos

Morwellian Dystopia

Prompts: ”Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood.
Friedrich Nietzsche

For nearly a decade I lived within sight of the huge brown coal open cut mines that generate the electricity for the state of Victoria, Australia – an area known by all who lived there as The Valley.  The main town in the area is called Morwell.

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Waiting at the Morwell bus shelter I slump in my seat. It’s been a long day at work and my feet are tired. My skin is clammy in the sticky heat of late summer.  A guy with long brown hair and glittering eyes sidles up to me on the pretext of asking when the bus is due. I sense he’s high and just wants to talk – and talk – and talk.  He launches into a  long winded story about how when he went to get his Methadone some chick came up and sold him a vial of  morph. Intrigued, I ask him how this came about. He tells me the pharmacy where he went is a known place to score. Dealers hang around outside. He was so far gone he even produces the vial and flashes it before my eyes.

The aboriginals behind the shelter are partying on – it’s Friday afternoon and it sounds like they’re building up to a weekend session. When the bus arrives a handful of them stagger over and get on board. They sit up the back.

The smell of grog is strong so I find a seat closer to the front and place my bag on the other one so the drugged out guy won’t sit next to me. Undeterred he sits across the aisle from me and leans over to tell me bizarre details of his personal life. It seems he got addicted to morphine when his girlfriend was prescribed it after getting badly smashed up in a motor bike accident. He used to take the morph with her to keep her company. Now she’s off the stuff but he can’t get enough of it.

The bus rumbles through town and up the hill to the latter day ghetto where we all live. Just past the KFC and Aldi supermarket ‘Bye bye American Pie’ comes on the bus radio. The driver, a woman sitting at the front with her baby in a stroller, one of the aboriginals and some old woman clutching a shopping trolley all start singing along. They don’t look at each other but stare out the windows at the sun bleached Australian landscape. The drugged out guy sinks back in his chair and smiles blissfully. Outside the window the tumble down houses with their weed infested yards frame a sweeping view of the power station on the horizon. The sun sets behind the cooling towers turning them a blushing pink. The billowing clouds of steam issuing from them are peach coloured in the gentle light.

When I get off the bus and walk down the laneway to my home a flock of ibis fly by so close I can hear the swish of their wings. The light is fading and I gaze across the hilltop to a landscape of layered greys – cooling towers, smoke stacks and the voluptuous curves of piled clouds. The ibis are a darker grey as they spiral upwards, higher and higher – postmodern beauty.

coal face

The Valley


I’ve been thinking about this prompt all week but nothing emerged until I read Hamish Gunn’s brilliant haibun A Northern Town.   My haibun is directly inspired by his.


I have not lived in a northern coal town but I have lived in a southern one. For nearly a decade I lived within sight of the huge brown coal open cut mines that generate the electricity for the state of Victoria, Australia – an area known by all who lived there as The Valley.

For most of that time I lived in a rental house high on a hill. From my bedroom I could see two power stations. From the crest of the hill I could see the third. Much of the art and writing I did at the time reflected the environment around me:-

(from 2007) The land opposite falls away sharply. Houses straggle down the hillside to dark trees that line the creek. Beyond them the plain stretches out grey under an overcast sky. On the horizon the cooling towers of the power plant rear up a shade lighter than the surrounding earth. They appear to be part of the earth – to have grown out of it – a strange hybrid creature – part machine, part geological.

There is a beauty to the voluptuous curves of the towers and the swirling, broiling masses of steam that billow up to merge with the clouds but it is a beauty that takes its roots in ugliness, a beauty that disturbs.


Behind the towers, the tall chimneys of the coal burning part of the operation release a stream of dark smoke that spreads out and stains the sky.

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One of the power stations in The Valley is so old and decrepit Greenpeace has been advocating its closure for years.    Last summer when wild fires raged through the surrounding grasslands the coal in the open cut mine caught fire.   It burned for a month.   People in the nearby town became ill as thick brown smoke sat in a pall over their homes.   The State Government did little to help but did a fine job of spreading misinformation through the  media.

This blatant disregard of the people who live in The Valley is typical.  The place is a dumping ground where State run welfare agencies send the mentally ill, refugees and people just released from prison.  They quickly find their place among the alcoholics, the misfits, the long term unemployed, the sick and the down and out.  Those of aboriginal descent either join the drinkers round the railway station or find solace and inspiration among the  artists who are attracted the strange, hard core beauty/ugliness that lies at the heart of The Valley.


Making a drum–a haibun

Yesterday I went to a workshop and made a Medicine Drum.  A woman schooled in contemporary shamanism led a small group of women through an intense process that involved ritual, meditation and self examination.

By sunset we each held the drum we had created from the hide of a fallow deer.

Holding my finished drum in my hands felt unexpectedly empowering. It had been a strange day. There were long moments where I hadn’t wanted to be there at all. At other times the drum making process felt so harmonious and natural it was as if I had made such a drum before,  in some other place and in some other life. 

I chose to make my drum in an alcove away from the most of the group who had clustered together yet by the end of the day the other woman were equally immersed in their own  experience. One wept, another laughed joyously, yet another found it hard to cut the cords that bound the hide to the wooden frame that gave the drum its shape. The group leader talked about how these cords represented an umbilical cord and how, through cutting them we metaphorically gave birth to our drum.

The Healing Centre where we made our drums sits high on a hill overlooking the Southern Ocean. Early in the morning a mother whale and her baby swam into shallow water directly in front of the Centre. When we started the drum making process they disappeared and did not return until the moment when the last woman cut the cords of her drum. At that late hour the sea shone silver in the setting sun. The black bodies of the Southern Right Whales gleamed in the shallow water for a  moment then, as the group leader closed the sacred circle, they disappeared the surface of the sea once again.

My drum rests now in a dark corner in my bedroom. It will take a week to dry. I have yet to make the beater. First I must find the right stick – a piece of drift wood is the obvious choice. Once I have chosen the stick I will bind it with leather and decorate it with emu feathers I have been collecting for this purpose. Only then will I hear the sound my drum makes.