This land has been engulfed in bushfires. And washed in tears. A bushfire, in the year before Black Saturday, almost destroyed the cottage that seemed to have been hewn from the stony land. But such was the family’s long and loving relationship with this place, this piece of earth, that the cottage was rebuilt and extended. It is beautiful in its attention to space, materials and how it sits comfortably and without fanfare in the land. It is a workspace, haven, weekender, restorative healing place, art studio and no doubt much, much more. Another fire passed through this year, coming close to the cottage but leaving without too much destroyed in its wake.
For me, it is a glorious haven surrounded by nature, where I can walk, create and remember my much love friend Pip Stokes, who was once a custodian. I remember her saying she “knows every inch of that land”.
My first visit to the cottage was late in 2011 when Pip was dying. I went with her dog Ollie to tend her garden, to bring back flowers, photos and recordings of the bird calls – screeches and tweets that I hoped would soothe and bring her comfort. She and I had been friends for almost ten years. We met at the VCA where we were both doing our Masters Degree, we travelled together through Europe as well as Cambodia, did our PhDs at the same time and researched similar themes of loss and grief – and how the artist offers sanctuary and care to those who suffer. We loved to collect and work with bones, and to visit cemeteries to examine how people express (or not) the loss of a loved one. We both strove, in our own way, to offer our service as artists to care, and the expression of the deepest human emotions.
I first visited not that long after the fire and the rebuilding of the cottage; now after years have passed (already it is two and half years since my friend died) the most miraculous new life is emerging from what seemed to be the deadest of dead trees. It reminds me of the need for patience, to be unhurried in declaring trees dead and unviable too soon after a bushfire. I think we can bring the same approach to humans.
After the fire, the garden was lovingly replanted with drought resistant and hardy plants, A vegetable garden and many abundant fruit trees described the nature of their life here. In the November 2011, the garden was alive with flowers and blossom.
Pip loved to use and create words that sounded grand in their Latin-ness and I love to take photos. Over the period of her illness, I created chapters of a photo book for her which I named Magnolius: a word she used to describe something magnificent. In our family we use the term Magnolia. As I do not know much Latin, I had to create a Latin sounding name for each chapter that would describe its contents. One was named Circulus. I created and gave her Visitus about this visit to the cottage, and she described all the photos and the specialness of plant, seat or view. I never finished Silkus and Fabricus because she died – but I had taken the photos of the silk curtains, hand woven rugs, the saris, and cushions that made this place a home.
On this recent visit the whole area was green and lush; the atmosphere heavy with rain clouds yet tempered by the unusual mildness of this winter. The Australian sun can be brutal to the garden, but right now, it was gentle – soft, the mornings cold, frosty and wonderful. A landscape full of the cries from the tree tops that without consciousness, took me immediately back to the first visit and the recordings I made then, and the foreboding I felt knowing her time here was nearly over.
Her ashes are now part of this earth – which feels so perfect. I wander through the burnt out tracts of land and fallen trees; the charcoal and ash remains, as well as remnants of buildings, objects and creatures and wonder aloud “where are you?” I feel both comforted and saddened by her presence and her absence.