Admittedly my first thoughts of flying to King Island, the tiny island situated in Bass Strait, equidistant between the coastline of Victoria and the north western coast of Tasmania were apprehensive ones.
After all we were flying there to bury our Dad, who had requested this to be his final resting place. Who in their right mind would want to be ‘rested’ in such a remote place, thousand of kilometres from the rest of his family, unable to easily pay respect and ask for wise council.
Dad was always different though. Although there was always great thought behind his decisions, he had failed to share this one with his three adult children.
So it was with heavy hearts we flew across Bass Strait to come upon what looked like a neat patchwork of farming land, rugged and wild coastlines and dottings of dwellings across an island just 64kms long and 26 kms wide. This was a surprise.
It looked beautiful from the air and as we dropped closer to land, I immediately noticed the quirky leaning, wind-blown trees along the runway, with messy mop tops that reminded me of a drawing from a Dr Seuss Story. They made me smile.
Gathering our hearts and our bags from the tiny King Island Airport, we travelled through to Currie, the main town to gather some supplies, (mostly of the liquid kind) spending the evening with some locals who knew our Dad, listening to their fond and outrageous stories, some about our Dad and the affect he had on the people of King Island whom he had quietly helped along the way.
My sister and I left them to it, hoping sleep would wash away the deep sadness we were feeling, knowing that the next day we would be saying our final goodbyes to our Dad in body, but never in spirit.
The next day we had some time to wander before we needed to be at Currie Cemetery.
Across the road from our accommodation was the King Island Public Golf Course, sitting right on the edge of the rugged western coast of the island.
Although the course did have the typical rolling green fairways, it was also interrupted by the beautiful natural landscape typical of this rugged coastline; saltmarsh, heath, bracken, rocky outcrops laden with moss and pieces of seaweed, coral and kelp blown in by the winds.
We walked across the course towards the sea, and I started to look down at the ground beneath me, brushing my hand across its surface and pausing to take random photos of the myriad of coastal textures below.
I didn’t really think much of these photos at the time, as I was more in a state of suspended reflection than aware of any creative process that may have started, but it was comforting to observe this wild place.
The rest of the day was complete in its sadness.
I can’t even remember leaving King Island and returning to life in Sydney.
What preserves you when you are grieving a great loss is the unconditional love of the others that you treasure. Thank goodness we returned to the delightful, warm hugs of our two children, as well as one of the furry kind!
I forgot about those photos. It’s so normal now to click through our everyday lives, documenting everything we see. Hundreds of images uploaded every second. Poignant at the time, something
to work on but later forgotten.
Dad was a unique mixture of talents and gifts. He was a quiet achiever and became top of his field in Medicine. He was also a gifted artist. He sketched and took photographs his whole life.
Before he chose to study Medicine, he aspired to become a professional cartoonist. His sketches and comics were masterfully drawn and often satirical in nature. He had a fine wit and loved to play with words.
As children, we marvelled at his many pen drawings of scary monsters, which he drew with great affection using his special Lamy pens and tongue to guide the lines!
He could start a line in any part of a figure, like the tip of a finger and produce the whole image in perfect proportion, with careful shading and fine lettering for commentary.
This talent came in handy at Medical school, where in those days students were required to draw detailed anatomical sketches of anything from the cellular structure of a blood cell to the human skull. My family still have all of his precious artworks.
Like my Dad, I have always loved to draw and paint, with my favourite imagery being the lines and curves of nature and the sensuality of landscape coming together to form an intricate network of stories.
When someone important leaves your life and you are in the midst of grieving, you have no choice but to take a different direction.
This can happen in a multitude of ways. You may come unstuck, fight, rage and choose to take a rocky road back. You may take to quietly folding away the memories like a perfect white handkerchief and gently store them away in a safe place, to be neatly forgotten.
But for me, memories create connection and they live with you for as long as you need them. They have a purpose to re-energize you and take you somewhere fresh and exciting.
I happened across those photos from King Island some months later in a reflective moment, flicking through each image on my phone. I decided to upload the photos to my computer to see what they looked like in a larger scale.
It was at that moment that I realised the power of these miniature landscapes. They were all the elements I loved in an image. The subtle colours of greens, greys, earthen browns, bright yellows and pinks. Thick lines weaving through bold sensual shapes, light flooding across what looked like miniature hills and fast running streams of silver lines. The curve of a woman’s back against the gentle softness of a field of mottled green leaves and sun-bleached coral.
There was a story to tell in these landscapes. But the photographs were only the starting point.
After creating some small pieces, the idea came to use those photos from King Island as a basis for a series of works. I went back to the photos and began looking at sections of the images to draw from for the final miniature landscapes. I realised that I still had my skills after so many years of not being practised.
This was an incredibly exciting personal moment. Many people talk about ‘being in the flow’. This applies to all areas of life, not just artistic ones. A good friend of ours only told us recently that he feels that flow when he is transversing across some challenging wilderness on his mountain bike.
I have been lucky to find my flow as an artist. Although I have transversed through difficult emotions and deep sadness to get to this point, the real heart of the matter is that I am on my way and sharing this story with others.
It was my Uncle who some months later after Dad’s death told me why Dad had chosen King Island as his place to return. He told me Dad felt at peace to be exactly who he was and not as others knew him in his professional life. King Island was where he could rest his mind, slow down his journey and take time to reflect.
Dad’s final words of wisdom were; “life is meaningless without death.”
Thanks Dad for sending me in a new and wonderful direction.