Saturday, June 5, 2010

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, #18; June/July/August, 2010

[photograph of Vali Myers by Eva Collins, 2001, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.]



Whoosh! And there she is, full on, this Gypsy from Hell : defiant, enchanting, cajoling. Knowing you’re dying to find out who she is, she draws you in. But only so far. Her inner boundaries are fiercely protected. Kohl ringed, her eyes sparkle amidst a lacework of facial tattoos; her smile flashes golden teeth, worn with pride like a Gypsy’s dowry.
Everything about her swirls : her flowing robes, her pagan tattoos, her writing, her art. One interweaves with the other, and Vali, with a mane of screaming red hair, embodies them all. How did she get to be like that?
Born in 1930, Vali was brought up in the bush. Her father was a marine wireless operator. Her mother, a violinist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra gave up her promising career to raise the family and in time her nerves ‘went to bits’. Vali saw her mother’s frustration and felt deeply for her. This had spurred her to develop her own creativity with fierce determination. Freedom is paramount to her. She won’t let men dominate her life and there has been no shortage of them. “Men always have women backing them up. But show me the bloke who back up his woman if she is an artist. They don’t like doing that, makes them feel like they’re sitting in the back seat. If a man is a real man, why does he need a woman to clean for him? He should look after himself, otherwise he should go back to his Mummy!”
She hated school, couldn’t learn how to read and write and preferred the company of animals to people. No barriers there. She still loves animals and gets angry when people make ignorant assumptions about them. She is passionate about brumbies, dingoes and foxes. “Foxes don’t attack people, they kill chickens, but then how many chickens do people kill? Humans are the biggest killers on the face of the earth. It’s people who are greedy and feral. They are the break-aways who lost the connection. The animals were here before us and the world was not made only for humans, but for all creatures. We should move over and make room for them.” Are there animals she fears? She answers that naturally she would be careful of taipans, but then again, “…you have to be careful of some people in the city too.”
Vali left home at fourteen and moved to Melbourne, working in factories to support herself. What irked her in those days was that “…as a young girl living alone, even if you paid your way you got called a ‘tramp’. You were supposed to do this ‘icky-bicky’ thing, like get married and settle down. No bloody way! I knew I was born an artist and needed to be free.” She loved dancing and became the leading dancer with the Melbourne Modern Ballet Company. “I’d jump in the air and stay there,” she chuckles. She was wild, dancing with the marines at St.Kilda’s Coconut Grove. “I could put away the drink, love. I’ve been drinking since the age of twelve, wearing make-up and running the streets like a dog.” Nobody was to ever tell her what to do. “I couldn’t have been weak. Even at school, if someone annoyed me I kicked them in the teeth! I have a spine like steel, mate. Inherited it from my father.”
She was certainly considered unconventional (especially after tattooing her face in affinity to some of her Maori ancestors), although she didn’t see it that way. “What I do is my own bloody business. I don’t put my nose into anybody else’s. Sometimes I come across a group of guys on the street who look at me and say: ‘Look at that Halloween’ and I say, ‘OK cocksucker, come and say that to my face’ and they back off so fast!…They know I’m a good street fighter.”
Melbourne was very conservative at the time, so in 1949 at the age of nineteen, Vali sailed to Paris, seeking recognition as a dancer.
“Paris was a bombed-out mess because of the war,” she recalls. ”I had no money and didn’t know a soul. There was no work.” She danced in cafes for tips and soon became a part of the bohemian, avant-garde scene. She met Jean Paul Sartre, mixed with Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet. She danced with the Gypsies (befriending the famous guitarist, Django Reinhart) and with the talented black American musicians (including Roy Aldrich who accompanied Billy Holliday) who were there at the time. “Those were wild days,” she remembers. “ I had many lovers”. But they were also dark days. For three years she lived on the streets of Paris with street kids, many of whom were the orphaned survivors of the WW II concentration camps. “Most of them didn’t make it. They lost the will to live.”
Her life at the time was captured by Dutch photographer, Ed van der Elsken, in a book, ‘Love on the Left Bank’ (1958). She also met George Plimpton, a well known New York writer and editor who became her patron. He published her work to critical acclaim in his literary journal, ‘Paris Review’. He portrayed her as an erotic dancer, a member of the opium-smoking fast- lane set, a life which led many to self destruction. What helped Vali survive was her pride as an artist and her need to draw. 

She was arrested and imprisoned several times for being a vagabond and later for criminal association. Cocteau helped to release her, but she was put on an Interpol file, classified as ‘Undesirable’ and expelled from France in 1952.
In Vienna, she met and married a half Hungarian Gypsy architect, Rudi Rappold, with whom she spent the next fifteen years until his death. He was an intelligent, gentle man who knew she was wild but never ‘closed his hand’ on her. They travelled through Europe and eventually settled near the resort town of Positano on south Italy’s Amalfi coast. There in a great ravine called Il Porto, Rudi and Vali found an abandoned little cottage, once a nobleman’s pleasure garden, perched in a canyon below 300 meter high cliffs. She still lives there for part of the year. With the mayor’s permission, the couple moved in, but the locals were hostile to these weird foreigners. Once during their absence, some of Vali’s dogs were poisoned. She was devastated and had their names tattooed on her feet. “The moment I started to fight that’s when I came back to being Vali Myers again. I’m a street fighter, baby!” She clenches her fists. For thirty years she fought many battles to save the valley from speculators. The matter ended up in the Senate of Rome and Vali and Rudi won. Finally her wildlife sanctuary where she still keeps a hundred animals (dogs, donkeys, foxes, goats) and which boasts the largest owl population in southern Italy, was endorsed by the World Wildlife Foundation At last, Vali got to stay in her valley.
She often drew throughout the night, sitting in a cage which Rudi had built for her at a time when she needed to withdraw and recover from stress. Here she felt safe, cocooned, “like a heart beating in a rib cage”. Her soul mate, a vixen companion of fourteen years, kept her company in the wee small hours. “A fox is like a good woman - you never dominate her, you meet her half way,” says Vali.
In 1994, The Age critic, Dr.Christopher Heathcote, described Vali’s work as unconventional ‘Outsider Art’. She had no formal training, but drew from an early age. Her pictures often depict a ghostly, thin, naked woman surrounded by cameos of animals. She uses the best English ink, water colours and pure gold leaf . Her work is fine and meticulously executed, using a nib set in a feather so it’s light in the hand. She may spent up to two years on a drawing, but “like a leaf growing on a tree” you can not hurry this process.
“The centre of life is female. We all come from our mothers,” she explains. There is much darkness in her drawings. “It’s the confrontation between women’s intuition and the force of men’s intellect. Women understand men, but it’s not always so the other way around.” She adds, “ Men always want to know, but you can not know. You must respect the mystery. You can be curious. Animals are curious, but they don’t go over the border.”
Though she loves dancing, it was her drawing which kept her going through the tough times . “When I feel joyous, I dance, and when I don’t, I draw,” she says. “ The feeling to draw is so strong, that if I had to go to prison, I’d see it as an opportunity to sit and create without any distraction.” After a moment, she adds, “I’ve been through a lot, but I’m not afraid of anything”.
In 1970, to support herself and the sanctuary, like ‘‘a good fox which hunts far from the burrow’’, Vali went to New York. Staying at the famed Chelsea Hotel, Vali set about selling her own work for the first time, fetching high prices. The money she made went to support the animals in the valley . Commuting to and from Italy, she lived in New York for twenty years where she met many celebrities. Salvador Dali admired her work, Andy Warhol offered her business advice and Tennessee Williams became a personal friend.
She wasn’t impressed with New York City. People often asked her if she liked the sky scrapers and she would retort, “You should see the cliffs in my valley!”
She didn’t like the gallery scene because the art people were pretentious and commanded exorbitant commissions. They said her work wouldn’t sell because it was too personal. But within a very short time she sold to Leo Castelli, the owner of Camel cigarettes company. Other high profile purchasers followed. 

In 1992, Vali suffered a triple aneurism. After a long convalescence, learning again how to walk and talk, Vali decided to return to Melbourne after 44 years’ absence. Arriving in 1993, she was delighted to see the changes to the city in which she had once lived. “Melbourne had done a flip-flop, it’s no longer conservative, but diverse and tolerant.. The people are easy going, but they’re not a push-over.”
Since her return, she has had three art exhibitions. Previous documentaries made about her life were screened at the Valhalla Cinema and on television : Ruth Cullen’s “Vali The Tightrope Dancer"(1990) and Ed Van der Elsken’s “Death in Port Jackson Hotel" (1980). The first documentary, Sheldon Rochlin’s "Vali" (1965) was awarded First Prize by Italian director, Bernardo Bertolucci at the 1965 Mannheim Film Festival in Germany. In January 2002, Ruth Cullen’s latest documentary will be screened on ABC TV.
What keeps this 71 year old spirit so young? “I feel totally alive and have no respect for death. There is no insurance on living. I know what it is to die and resurrect. I’m an artist, I know all about Hell and it doesn’t scare me at all. I feel more scared sleeping between white sheets like a corpse!” Instead, she prefers to sleep on a blanket on a floor, often in her clothes which are like fur to her.
“I’m happy when I wake up in the morning because with the damage to my brain, I could be gone in the night. But if I had to die, I would not have any regrets because I’ve lived right up to the hilt”.
She hates pity. “ The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. People think life should be easy and there should be no pain. What happened to courage and pride?”
She is not religious but on her studio door there is a plaque of Madonna del Arco, a pre-Christian, black Madonna of Naples. “This is a real Madonna, not the soap and water Madonna of the Roman Catholic Church. She is not related to Christ and she’s certainly no fucking virgin!” If the Vatican tried to remove her, the whole of Naples would probably revolt. “The Mafia, the whores, the Gypsies and the poor go to her. She is enormously respected. The Mafia do a lot of business in front of her. She has authority more so than if it were put on paper. It’s a binding agreement and if you don’t keep your promise, you die. In tribute to her power, women and children are respected by the Mafia there. Anyone who touches a child or a woman is dead within 12 hours, they don’t bother to go to the police.”
She speaks with contempt about Christianity. “The Roman Catholic Church has a lot to answer for. They have a past which is very bloody. Why did they come down on Jews? Jesus wasn’t a blue eyed golden boy. He was probably dark with a hooked nose. He was a prophet but most prophets get killed. There is so much hypocrisy in Christianity. In the old days, if you were a bit unusual they burnt you to death. They even took away Mary’s sexuality. She was pregnant when she met Joseph. There was a custom that if men were impotent, their women would make love with the most perfect priests; that’s why their children were called the children of God. Jesus was not the only one!”
How is it that some women see themselves as victims? I asked. “Because they are sitting ducks,” Vali answers, “You don’t need a man to look after you. When I walk down the street I feel I have every right to be there and if someone corners me I’ll come out fighting.” The last thing she wanted to be was a doormat for her man. “People come to me because they know I’ve been somewhere they haven’t been. I’m courageous. I love diving down with the giant octopuses.” It’s the same with her art. She didn’t chase anyone. People knew about her because she danced wherever she went. “You couldn’t miss me. I wore more make-up than any one else. I had the dirtiest mouth in town and used it deliberately because I had to be strong.”
She was old enough at 14 to leave home and is young enough at 71 to dance, laugh and fight. With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, Vali has music wherever she goes.

[first published in Oyster magazine, 2002.]


DOUBLE ON THE MAIN GAME : musings on the history of Australian Bohemianism

You know how you are reading about an evening's entertainment that you could kick yourself for having missed? That is how I feel after reading Cathy Bray's account of 'An Evening of Darlinghurst Nights', a multi-media celebration of the work of my favourite Australian poet Kenneth Slessor. Five Bells spring edition should be easy enough to obtain, and it's a beauty! The article by Peter Goldsworthy called 'Poetry and Song' manages to say new things in an interesting way, as well as referencing Manfred Mann's "Do wah Diddy Diddy'' and Noam Chomsky on the same page. Geoffrey Side's interview about poetry and song-writing draws some energising words from Kate Fagan. In short, for those of us with a hankering to examine both poetry and music et al it will be a rewarding read.

Slessor's is of the highest calibre. So to him. I have just finished reading Peter Kirkpatrick's well-researched The Sea Coast of Bohemia: Literary Life in Sydney's Roaring Twenties. Many of us with a scholarly lovelit take on 'Bohemia' know about the Americans (di Prima, Smith, Ginsberg etc.) or those across the pond, yet there are Australian lives and Australian poems to rival for interest, courage, skill and authenticity anything produced off shore. Sea Coast shines a fine light. Yes, one thinks of the extraordinary Slessor but also of the Lindsays, Dulcie Deamer, Geoffrey Cumine, Zora Cross, Anne Brennan, Christopher Brennan and many others. One has to understand how boring and powerful was the dominant culture to appreciate the single-mindedness and self-belief needed to embrace any truly alternative way of life, even in the environs of King's Cross or inner Melbourne up and into the 1960s -- black & white years. Yet there was, in the 1920s, a fascination with Bohemia which was ritualised each year with the annual Artists Ball, the first of which occurred in 1922 and was a boozy costumed affair covered by the Daily Mail. It seems that the idea was (to quote Kirkpatrick) that "life itself increasingly became the most important art". That 'Boho' life was blokey, boozy and uncertain about its intentions but it was comparatively liberated and liberating. Art was lauded and the past was well and truly done with: World War One had seen to that.

Geoffrey Cumine who had lost his left arm following a motorbike accident and dressed somewhat like a mad pirate must have unsettled fellow bus travellers with his tattoo of a tiny Bluebird on either side of his forehead and the words "To let" across the middle of his brow. He was both a committed poet of the left and a sometimes brilliant comic versifier. He wrote:

Melba stormed up to heaven, what do you think she said?
"How very droll to think that I am dead.
Remove the fishermen about the throne --
I wish to see the manager, alone."

This pacifist ended his days in an old soldiers home but he had nowhere else to go. Bohemia doesn't always suit the elderly.

This is Sydney stuff. Fair enough. It would be helpful to know more about the poets of Queensland prior to the sixties. Michael Dransfield almost single-handedly broadened the appeal of poetry (and that of the literary outsider). Dransfield talks about Pip Proud, a genuine national treasure who bloomed contemporaneously being 'thrashed' for the way he looked and spoke back then. The sixties were not all about love and peace. Whatever is said about Michael Dransfield he was serious in his intent to be a poet, possessing enough resilience, irony and social insight to appreciate the difficulty of the mission. Strangely, it is recorded that Slessor told him "to get a haircut". Perhaps it obscured his pool game. And so now we have "Darlinghurst Nights", music, music and voice, rap, the sublime human voice caught by cadence and rhythm. Speaking of the ability to engage audiences with the human voice, Leonard Cohen's recent series of Australian concerts reminded us of the power of language when used by an outstanding poet.

In my opinion, Cohen's concert was brilliant, and the most sublime moment came without 'backing' in "A Thousand Kisses Deep". Note, for example, the confessional:

I ran with Diz, I sang with Ray
I didn't have their sweep
But once or twice they let me play
A thousand kisses deep.

It was one of the many tender, iconic moments when a person's spirit, in this case an iconic word-smith who continues to inspire interest and devotion for things past and present, reveals itself. It was like seeing his heart. To be in an audience like that and "hanging on every word" is a memory I won't forget. Cohen is always a "poet" first (and probably secondly), an internationalist and a septuagenarian with a child's skip. Poets work in many ways but as the Lindsays understood all those decades ago, you must have a "vision". Probably that means imitation which eventually bestows individuality. Individual vision seemed a calling to them hence the name of their magazine, Vision.

It is not often that I come upon a writer who has an authentic literate vision, a clear insider's take on his everyday world. Singer Perry Keyes is one such voice and has been described as "one of Australia's premier songwriters". He is a keen observer of inner suburban Sydney life, following in the tradition of a young Frank Clune, Slessor and others. His observation of Newtown, his take on ritual shindigs like the Easter Show and visits to Luna Park are disarmingly incisive. Like he's been there. Of Luna Park he reminisces:

I took a girl there once
We rode the big dipper
Thought she was Cinderella
She couldn't fit the slipper

Then he opens up, and a big heart beats regular as romance:

I want to lay in the arms of the ones that I love
forever and ever.

He explores the possibilities of "love" in an urban fool's paradise. A former taxi driver, his vista is heavy with take-away joints, dispossession, the inner-city under class of losers and addicts and former sports heroes. Keyes chronicles the inner-city underworld with sensitivity and dry humour. You can imagine him, pen in hand, getting it all down in his notebook as he waits for a fare. His "people" play pool, smoke, fix motor cycles, back horses, fight with others and themselves. As he says:

Homeless men wear no belts with their pants
Drunken girls always fall when they dance.

In "In Ancient Rome" (his Sydney) he explores a place familiar to Dante, a shiver in stone. In their hedonists market people go on, as when he tells us, scoring a wordy hit:

All the punks are lighting fires
Drinking long necks in the park
Some girls swimming in the fountain
Singin' Buzzcocks in the dark

Keyes reminds me of a young Paul Kelly circa The Dots and "Cherry", disarming, beauteous and essentially as Australian as Holden. His two CDs* (Meter and The Last Ghost Train Home) are real poetry. Put the lights down, prepare for a late night with the neon. And to say goodbye it's over to Perry Keyes who, it will be said, got it pretty right in his kindly examination of this time and this place.
Roll the Ruby round
taste the nicotine
wash its taste down
don't waste the kerosene
and in every flicker
All your years are shown.
When the ash falls
let it burn you to the bone.

(Matthew Talbot's Blanket)
*Since this was written Keyes has released a third collection, Johnny Ray's Downtown (on Laughing Outlaw).



“A Flash Of Lighting In A Summer Cloud” for Alison.

House On The Hill

Terry Is it really 1971 since I last saw you?
often I thought of you


your wife Alison was one of my oldest friends
from art college and Sth Yarra party days

aah - to be face to face
to talk to you
maybe about nothing

anyway its all too much now like ships passing
in the darkness of dream briefly lit up
growing dimmer - lost at sea

On The Stairs

Terry was the last time we were face to face
that shitty night when I was fetched to the big house
in that old money suburb? - - so - - long - - ago

we stood so close our bodies touched
our eyes inches apart
on a landing at the top of the stairs
at an open window

for a moment I looked INTO you
unexpectedly - taken aback

we talked briefly before I went out on the rooftop
where a woman sat hunched at the far end
on the edge
thirty feet above a brick courtyard
my oldest friends from art college days

I hunched down beside her and talked
of who knows what
for what seemed like an hour
and I listened and I listened
then she smiled

aaah - what does it matter now anyway?

its nothing more than a dream - this life
nothing more than a phantom reality

“a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream
a flash of lighting in a summer cloud
a flickering lamp, a dream”

within months it all went mad for me
the days crumbled like thin ice mid stream
friends suddenly disappeared
as if the inner city Melbourne streets
had become chasms
suddenly opening and closing

I was taken away from the culture scene
poems and paintings and Big Pink - those things
had to be set aside awhile as the playthings of children
bigger demands were asked of me
older loyalties and friends needed me
a different season fated for me

I moved among the densest shadows
right there on the midday Carlton streets
in front of everyone’s eyes
amidst everyday appearances
the disappearances
the treacheries the fear the courageous acts
the mad-houses the prisons the killing
the living dead the dead living
who could tell one from the other
everyday reality melted into dream
blended as effortlessly as sugar in tea
some awesome shift in consciousness had occurred

I came out the other end of that decade alive
but broken like a clay doll - unfixable
entered the eighties a crazy drunken loon
talking gibberish
standing at some bar around town
a ghost town
rubbing shoulders with the phantoms
of friends - deep in conversation with them

“life is no more than a dream a phantom substance”
my grandmother told me sixty years ago

so - what does it matter now anyway
when I last saw you





I came to Melbourne in January 1968, a refugee from the deep north. I’d come to Brisbane some six months earlier on the assisted passage scheme and the city had been a bit of a culture shock. I was 17 and it was the summer of love; I’d imagined that since it was nice and warm and had surf beaches, Queensland would be rather like California. It wasn’t. I was getting all sorts of hassle from my new fellow citizens - my hair was longish, I wore bleached jeans and I had leftish views. It was worse than Portsmouth, the town I’d spent all of my life in, and ‘Pompey’ had a reputation for being a tough place. Nobody seemed to have heard of the music I was into, there was no soccer worth watching and I was now too young to go into a pub. I was used to going to live music venues like Pompey’s legendary Birdcage Club – in my new city the only places that seemed to open their doors to teenagers were ‘Police Boys’ Clubs’. An early encounter with the local coppers dissuaded me from making a visit. And although I found a lot of the male natives very witty, I couldn’t get a girlfriend. So, I fled southwards – a bloke I’d met on the plane coming over had said that Melbourne was very, very different from Brisbane.

I needed work pretty quick, as funds were running short. I tried a number of places – I got an interview at the Post Office, but was turned down because I was ‘over-educated’. The Tram Company said they’d give me a go if I got a haircut. I wasn’t prepared to do this, and fondly recall one of the interviewers saying, as I left the room, ‘Good on you, mate, stick up for your principles’. A couple of weeks passed and I was nearly broke. I found this a liberating experience. I could well be reduced to sleeping rough and maybe stealing food, and it didn’t bother me. I even wondered what sort of crime I could commit that would get me deported.

One of the places I’d checked out for work was Cheshire’s Bookshop in Little Collins Street. I had a chat with one of the managers, Rodney Fisher, who was friendly enough but quite perceptive, asking me if I was planning to go back to England at the earliest opportunity. I lied, saying that Australia was now my home and I had experience of working in a library and second-hand bookshops in England (another fib). He took my address and said he’d be in touch if anything came up. As I hadn’t heard anything, I took a chance and went back. This time I got lucky, since it was the other manager, Richard Lee, that I spoke to. He hired me on the spot.

Cheshire’s was great, for a number of reasons. You went down the stairs into the building’s basement, where you discovered a badly ventilated magic world. The thing that first caught your eye was the system of cables that connected the different parts of the shop with the cashier. If you bought a book, you’d give your money to one of the assistants, who would then put it into a small bucket that would then be attached to a wire above his head. A lever would be pulled and the bucket would whizz across the room to the cashier, who sat in a type of raised stockade in the middle of the room. She would then put the shop’s copy of the receipt and any change into the bucket, which would begin its journey back to the point of purchase. The female cashiers looked down on the world below. One of them, Jenny, had a look of permanent boredom while there was another, Joan, who was blonde and lovely. The cables weren’t really that high, so if you were tall you were in danger of being hit by a flying bucket. There were tales that a number of lofty customers had received direct hits; the most famous incident was with a local wrestler known as ‘Killer’ Kowalski, who had angrily chased a previous manager around the shop. The bruiser’s professional name was later bestowed on a member of staff who had frogmarched a drunk up the stairs and into Little Collins Street – Ian Kinnane, who was a big guy and, although mild-mannered, probably Cheshire’s toughest employee, became known (not to his face) as ‘Killer Kinnane’.

My new colleagues were a great lot – the most interesting bunch of people I’ve worked with in my life, although this might have been because I was at a very impressionable age - I was probably the youngest person working there, apart from Steve Jones, whose father was an British diplomat. The first surprising thing was that there were so many English voices. And posh English voices. Mike Duffy, with whom I worked in the education section, had been to a public school and I found his voice and manner every bit as intimidating as any of the non-state school kids I’d met when playing cricket back in the UK. However, the most cutglass English accents belonged to some of the Australians. I just couldn’t believe that Rodney Fisher had not grown up in the Home Counties. The fruitiest, plummiest voice of all belonged to Weston Morehouse, son of Melbourne University’s Professor of Physics. Weston was a joy to listen to; witty, generous, eloquent. Terry Marriott (somebody told me he’d later had his own bookshop in St Kilda), commenting on Morehouse’s magniloquence, said that Weston would never describe himself as being ‘hungy’ – he would have to say he was ‘a trifle peckish’ [This doesn’t look very funny in print – you have to imagine Weston saying it].

Richard Lee, the manager, was a great boss: energetic, empathetic and kind. I gather that he later started up his own bookshop and went into publishing. He seemed to be very tolerant of his bohemian workforce. I felt rather sorry for him on one occasion. He’d made a remark about the fact that some of us (don’t know who) were sometimes a bit scruffy. The next day a poster was put up in the rest room, with a drawing of Richard in an SS uniform, cracking a whip. The caption read ‘Look Alike, Think Alike – in other words - DIE!!!’. There was also a poem circulated that referred to Dick Lee as being a fascist, one who could have taught Hitler a thing or two. These were the work of Michael York, a very witty artist originally from Godalming in Surrey. I think it was Michael who once told me that I had to ring back a customer called Dick Payne – on dialling I found myself talking to the Melbourne VD clinic.

Two other people who really made me laugh were John Dennithorne and Ian McCarthy – I think they later worked for Penguin.

James Shaw was an actor from Ireland. I used to eagerly watch the TV series called ‘Stingers’, when it was shown on Norwegian TV, in the hope of getting some meaningful glimpses of Melbourne. The only time this ever happened was when the actor playing a drunk looked vaguely familiar. A check of the credits showed that this was the former Cheshire’s man.

James Crouch was in charge of the Art section, which was situated in an alcove. I remember him as a very gentle, dreamy, unworldly person who never seemed to leave his part of the shop. I always imagined this was because he was immersed in the world of art, but when I tried to get him to talk about his favourite painters he replied that he had no interest in the subject whatsoever.

There was a delightful girl from Norwich called Mary Holmes. I think my first conversation with her was when she came into my part of the shop looking rather flustered asking me if I was the new man and then wondering if I had any mints since another member of staff had been drinking rather heavily at lunchtime. Mary kept me informed about the world of Cheshire’s for a while, but we lost touch.

In charge of what I think was the Penguin section was Paul Smith, the poet and later owner of the Whole Earth bookshop. Paul exuded a peace and integrity that made a huge impression on me. I don’t know whether it was due to an accident of ‘being born to sweet delight’ or if it was that he was a devotee of Meher Baba. Whatever he had, I wanted to know how to get some of it! And I’m still looking.

And I finally got a girlfriend –Wendy, who worked in the Cheshire’s telephone exchange. My first serious physical relationship – short, sweet and unforgettable. I told her a pack of lies about my being more experienced than the fumbling amateur I was, and still wish I’d told her the truth; things might have lasted a little bit longer.

Some other people .. Bruce Allardyce was my immediate superior in the education section – friendly, dynamic, very fit. Terry Marriot was also really kind, taking me under his wing and introducing me to his family. Another person I remember very well was Faye Ross, who worked in the office. Michael Brogden was a recent arrival from England – he’d had a lot of experience in British bookshops and found Cheshire’s an absolute shambles – he had a huge row with Rodney Fisher because he wanted more ‘professional’ displays. Greg Hocking was a historian, specializing in the US who probably went on to be an academic. Phil Hutchinson was a sculptor. Miriam Mann (a member of the Mann family that owned the record store) was quite a sophisticated person who had lived in Paris. There was a gorgeous Dusty Springfield-like woman called Libby who worked in accounts. A kindly elderly Scottish couple, Mr and Mrs Dick, worked in the packaging section.

I left Cheshire’s, Melbourne and Australia in August, ’68. I was getting worried about being called up and maybe being sent to Vietnam, so I had written a series of thinly disguised begging letters back to family members in the UK. Monies were made available for my repatriation and thus I handed in my notice. Rodney Fisher remarked that he had rather expected I’d be legging it. Weston Morehouse threw a riotous party at his parents’ house as a farewell to myself and Steve Jones, who was also about to leave. I think that most of the staff turned up.

Six weeks later I was back in the UK, sailing into Southampton after crossing the Pacific and Atlantic on an Italian immigrant ship. Good to be back, but not really that good. A nostalgia for Cheshire’s and my time in Melbourne came – and has never left me. I’d love to hear from anyone who might be reading this and has any info on the people I’ve mentioned.


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Dear Kris,

Just read your piece on David [see IN MEMORIUM, David Chaloner, 1944- May 10, 2010, previously posted here; index = David Chaloner] and I so enjoyed it.
I met David in 2005 and always wondered how his life was in those days.
The image is brilliant too. I am from '56, but still cherish my bleached and faded images, later polaroids, with stains and curled corners. The quality of the image represents that time so much. And look at all those beards.

David and I talked about writing. In my opinion he was a writer and I write. But we also talked about design, as that was what we were involved mostly.
Reading the old correspondence (I am not a native speaker and don't pick up certain nuances) I am enthralled by his love for poetry which (for me) exudes from his writing. There is this young man, with such passion for words and music, for space and rhythm and balance.
What fascinates me is that I never heard him talk about design like he writes about poetry.
He was first and foremost a poet, then a designer.
Again: I so enjoyed myself reading your piece.

I will try to copy/paste it and print it off, as I would like to read it again. And again and probably many more times.
On that sad Thursday at the church I also met John Hall and Colin Still. I am very grateful I did.
Perhaps we will meet one day.
If you ever plan to come over to Holland, please let me know.

Many thanks for this wonderful piece. It shows you were such great friends.

Warm regards,




(....) thank you very much for the nudge towards your extended blog, prompted by news of David’s death. That photograph! It all does feel a long time ago but we shall probably feel more and more the need to go back to these various histories.

On a detail, the Totnes Arts Festival ended with Mike Westbrook, and not John Dankworth with Cleo Laine. If there was a singer with the band it would have been Norma Winstone, but I don’t remember that there was. A saxophone player called – if I remember – George Kahn, was the nearest to the role.

Andrew Duncan and Charles Bainbridge are planning to make the next issue of Angel Exhaust a special on David.




3rd July '10
My brother dave mycue, 17 months older than me, died today. we were great friends.


K. H.

July 5th '10
dear ed, sad news... i know what you mean 'great friends'... as my aunt Lydia sd of me & bernard, two peas in a pod... but you wd have seen & been with yr brother helluv a lot more than me & bernard... separated always by oceans... you will be in midst of grieving & funeral arrangements... lots of strength to you & yours.. all best wishes from Down Under,


E. M.
thank you kris. v much. here is a poem i wrote. Dave wd have been 75 oct 4 and we had planned to head to both austin tx (where his son alfredo and wife sheri and 3 kids live) and then down to mcallen on the rio grande for time there. we were also to celebrate the oldest sister margot who will be 70 on sept 28 and youngest sister gerarda's birthday on sept 22 --we are seven. 3 boys then 4 girls. David the eldest, me 17 months later, and peter who died at 60 eleven ys ago 17 months younger than me. then margo 1940, agnes 1942, jane 1946, and gerarda 1947. (i wrote a poem abt that that i will try to send also.) it's kind of overload to send all these family poems but of my friends and poets you I think will be tolerantly understanding. love and lovingly, ed.



We were 9, mom and dad and we 7 kids.. That
and having an older brother who taught you
things (separating and binding paper and card-
board, soaking-off labels, removing bottom /lids
and flattening cans (as we did during World War
II) is like having a project manager. Dave was he
(born 1935, me 1937), and he used to sing a ditty
"Blood on my shoulder / lasting ever longer..."
with a fake-sinister boy soprano's lilt. He and I
had little sailor outfits (he with Mom's black
hair, me a towhead) and sang "Bell-bottom
trousers / coat of navy blue, / I love a sailor / And
he loves me too..." We taught it to Pete (1938),
Margo (1940), Cookie (1942), Janey (1946) and
Arda (1947) next to us in our small fleet. We
lost him when he shipped off to school; and,
while I followed him the next year (St. Mary's
Gradeschool, Niagara Falls, New York)), he had
already gone into a new population's higher
echelon, another command. As adults unable to
change our pulses/rhythms, stuttering to our
cooling points, we drift in through each other's
orbits like embers of moonstone and fire opal.
Forgetting and remembering our small company.


David Mycue 1931-2010 ACE
Niagara Falls, NY-McAllen, TX

St. John Chrystosom, 347-407 AD

"He whom we loved
is no longer where he was before.
He is now
wherever we are."



EVA COLLINS, "In 1958, I left Poland with my family and came to Australia.
I graduated from Melbourne University with a BA degree (Philosophy and Psychology) and a Secondary Teacher’s Certificate. Many years later I completed a Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing and Editing). I find that the disciplines of Psychology, Philosophy, Poetry and Photography are linked in that they promote critical thought and are conduits to help one delve into the mysterious essence of things."

ROB MORRIS, edits Small Packages (po box 606, Carina, Queensland, 4152); several books & chapbooks including (expanded edition) The Cloudland Funicular Cha-cha (PostPressed, Qld.,4560, 2009), Too Much Weather (Small Change Press, '07), [Counting Stars on] Thangool Road (two editions, '02, 03), & others.

KARL GALLAGHER, artist & poet, continues to publish/post his archive/magazine/site on Recent issues feature Melbourne poets Dave Ellison & David Shepherd; Richard Krech, Hugh Fox, Charles Plymell; interspersed with Karl's own poems, pictures & poignant & enlivening memoir.

DAVID GLASS, My e-mail is – I’m also on Facebook.

JOYCE HUISMAN lives in Amsterdam, a partner of the ChalonerHuisman Studio. She is the creative manager of the Jopie Huisman Studio, "dedicated to the work of the late autodidact painter".

JOHN HALL, English poet, see his website,

ED MYCUE, San Francisco poet, see for profile & bibliography.

Posted this day, 5th August, 2010
Melbourne, Oz


snodgrass said...

Vali is just magnificent! I've seen some of the films mentioned - bloody good dancer and not to be sneezed at as a painter either(any chance of some?). I love how she digs ferals and I'm glad she didn't like N.Y.C. She's a national treasure. However she errs - Joseph DID duff Mary and WAS a priest but he just went there too soon. Hence Jesus' claim to the House of David. Ask Simon Magus.

Anonymous said...

i wonder if anyone remembers the Source Bookstore
towards the top end of Collins midish 70's??
pete spence

Anonymous said...

it was Cheshires bookstore where
i got the 2 volume poems of
e.e. cummings i was around 18
at the time all the early poems
were ash out the backyard...
pete spence

Anonymous said...

oh yah, i remember 'the source' bookstore (american paperbacks)- i painted the sign above the doorway. it opened in 1970.karl gallagher

Anonymous said...

those days i'd trot into town go to
Discurio where Peter Mann would
have a pile of LPs waiting for me to
listen to i'd usually end up taking
half of the pile he knew what i was
on the lookout for!!! then it would
be up to the source and i'd be
trotting home after that with
a few N.Y.School books of
poetry....then go on a learning
curve reading 'em!!!! still
on the learning curve these years
pete spence