Monthly Archives: September 2019

She was only Nineteen

Her name was Jane Gordon. I like Gordons – they’re some of the best people I know and there’s no reason to think she wasn’t amongst them either back then. It was the name that drew my eye to her out of those listed. She was from County Cork. She had stolen a pair of scissors – supposedly. She was only nineteen.


I’ve lived in ignorance of this story of my island for all these years. Others haven’t. A book has been written about it, several artists have constructed works in commemoration of it – but they have passed me by. Imagine what the repercussions would be if an event of its nature occurred today on our shores. Two hundred and forty one souls perished, of which 157 were women and 55 were children. It was that figure that shocked – all those women and kids. The horror of it. And it is also sobering to think that, in terms of loss of life due to a maritime catastrophe, this has not been the worst one in our history. It occurred ten years later, tellingly in the same area. I was aware of the sad story of the barque Cataraqui.

The bare bones of this story came to me via my friend Steph, a traveller to places near and far. From her adventures I usually receive generous mementos in the mail. A recent excursion had been to a near place – King Island. Among the material that arrived, in my resulting package, was a pamphlet entitled ‘The Wrecks of King Island’. In it I read something of the Cataraqui, but also of the one that was news to me – the floundering of the Neva. All those poor women and children! I took to the ether to find out, as much that source would allow me, as to exactly what happened to the vessel; to try in fill in those bare bones of the pamphlet.

In the 1830s most Irish were living a hardscrabble life, to say the least, even in that era before the potato famines; the Great Hunger commencing in 1845. I have no idea how tough it would have been for Jane Gordon, but it was very dire for many parents. So dire that they concocted crimes themselves for their children to be charged with once they reached an age where, in normal circumstances, it could be reasonably assumed they could stand on their own two feet. There was no future for young people in Ireland, so parents dobbed them into the authorities for crimes they may have or may not have committed. Get it right and they would be transported, to a potentially better future, for seven or fourteen years. Why, they’d all heard tales of felons shipped off to New South Wales, or some such place, who’d received their pardons and went on to make fortunes. It did happen, of course, in rare cases, but anything was better than the desperation of life on the Emerald Isle. Imagine that. Imagine that Jane’s parents presented her to the local authorities in their county with a purloined pair of scissors, a crime for which she could reasonably expect to escape the death penalty. The wretched girl, in reality or otherwise, had to be taught a lesson – or at least that would be their excuse. Perhaps, in their own misery, they welcomed the chance of some hope of betterment for Jane. Perhaps they only aspired to one less mouth to feed. Surely, though, there was the possibility of some escape from the existence that would befall her if she remained. If she became an enforced part of the Irish diaspora, who knew? In reality, unfortunately, they signed her death warrant.

On board the Neva, as it sailed from the Cobh of Cork, under the sure hands of Captain Peck and a crew of twenty-six, would be a range of women. A few would have committed despicable crimes and have escaped the hangman’s noose by a hairsbreadth for a variety of reasons. Others would be there as they had stolen from a toff, or from their masters, items to onsell, so as to put food on the table. Many were prostitutes. Also afloat would be their children as well, mostly babes in arms or wee toddlers. There were also a few free ladies, sailing to join their felon husbands in and around Sydney Town, the destination of the boat. I wonder, on the eighth day of the new year of 1835, if many truly waved farewell to Ireland with bountiful hope in their hearts. Did Jane?


The Neva

In the wash up of the events that were to follow, in the wake of the calamity that occurred in fifth month of the ship’s voyage, an inquest was held in Launceston into what happened. Captain Peck was exonerated of all blame and he returned to England. In most accounts he is paraded as a hero, bravely attempting to save as many as possible – but there is also one that portrays him as a coward, only concerned with his own survival.

Some say that he, as well as those other crew members who survived, attempted to cover up the true goings-on on board the Neva on that fateful date, 13.05.1835, to protect their own skins. Most accounts state all was as it should be as the vessel, unawares, approached its doom. Some, though, give a version that revolves around the same excesses of grog and debauchery that occurred on many ‘floating brothels’ at the time. Why should the Neva be any different? Was there a party, of sorts, going on, distracting the crew from navigating through some of the world’s most treacherous waters?

There has also been conjecture in the past as to which of the reefs, off the island, the Neva floundered on. Was it the Navarine or the Harbingers; the latter being the latest thinking. The foul weather; the women, most likely already addled by breaking into the grog store, as well as the distance from shore, made survival for the convicted on board most unlikely. This notion was enhanced when several of the life boats, under the control of the captain, swamped immediately on launching. Imagine the scenes of horror on deck, before it disintegrated, as those trapped by the swirling sea, took stock and realised their fate. Perhaps it was lucky that many were so exceedingly inebriated before their bodies were flung into the maelstrom, as has been recorded. Consider, for a moment, the pitiful wailing of the children. Many of the survivors, those few who did make it to shore, died due to exposure, during that first night in the thin bush of that part of King Island. Seven skeletons have been found since the wreck; ninety-five bodies, washed up, were buried in shallow graves. Eventually the fourteen souls remaining – eight men and six women (not including Jane Gordon), under the leadership of Peck, set about making the next night and the ones to follow more conducive for enduring the ordeal that they all knew was coming. They constructed a tent of sorts, fortified by a keg of rum washed up on the beach. Scouting parties were dispatched regularly to seek habitation. After a fortnight’s subsistence on salt pork their luck turned.

neva wreck

Two survivors of another wreck further south, the Tartar, were encountered. They led the Neva’s victims to the hut of sealer John Scott and his native wives. They were fed on wallaby meat and soon felt sustained enough to join Scott and his kangaroo dogs in hunting and a spot of fishing. Eventually a small boat, searching for the Tartar, came across them and Peck sailed off to raise the alarm and seek rescue. He returned and began the process of getting them all back to Launceston. This was not aided by some being away hunting, requiring another trip. One woman, Rose Hyland, terrified of the sea, claimed she would not board and raised a pistol to emphasise her determination to be left to the comforts of the barren coast. She was overpowered, so off they sailed to their futures.

Fast forward to Catherine Stringer, a Hobart psychiatrist. On a trip to the island at the western entrance to Bass Strait, she, too, came across the tale of the Neva. The loss of all those women affected her deeply. Catherine was particularly stung when she counted that twenty-eight of her namesakes had perished; 28 Catherines. One, Catherine Brooks, was only six years old. She resolved to make the woeful historical event wider known.

On several excursions back to King Island she started to collect seaweed from the beaches where those, whom the sea had given up up 175 years ago, were found. Transporting her gatherings home she converted the algae into a thin paper. From this product she cut the makings of 42 dresses. One, her gown for Catherine Reilly, a little baby, stunning in its simple beauty, can be viewed on-line. They were framed and exhibited at the Moonah Arts Centre back in 2016. She succeeded in alerting this true story to the attention of many.


Tasmania’s is, these days, a tranquil place, but in the past it has been shattered by terrible events – the genocide of the first islanders during the Frontier Wars, the incarcerations on Sarah Island, Port Arthur, bushfires – to name just a few. Surely the wreck of the Neva should be held up as another and not lost to the past. I’ll remember it now – and continue to think on Jane Gordon. She was only nineteen.

The Irish Times Looks Back at the Story of the Neva =

ABC News item on Catherine Stringer’s exhibition =

Douglas’ Big Books

Douglas Kennedy – ‘The Moment’, ‘The Great Wide Open’

Before Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins there was Douglas Kennedy, the original maestro of of ‘family noir’. For the past two decades Kennedy has been entertaining readers with barrelling novels in which a parent, sibling or spouse is often the devil in disguise.’ (Christian House ‘The Guardian’)

As I scribe this the first steps are being taken to impeach Trump. Towards the end of Kennedy’s ‘The Great Wide Open’ our heroine, Alice Burns, by now building a glittering career in NYC publishing, encounters the 1980’s version of the Great Buffoon. ‘I’m a writer too,’ Trump told Peter, then shifted his gaze toward me, looking me up and down, rating me on his Babe Meter (which I took to be a compliment). ‘In fact I’m writing a book that’s gonna make a ton of money – because everyone’s gonna want to read how I’ve made a ton of money. You should offer me a contract on the spot.’ At the end of the conversation that follows he boasts ‘I’m gonna be president one day.’ Let’s just see how long he lasts in that position now. We can only hope.

The Great Wide Open’ is a big canvas, big enough for Trump even. Approaching some 600 pages it sure took some reading. Big doesn’t make for better, but it doesn’t necessarily make for bad either.

Before I tackled this opus, as a prelude I made my way through the author’s 2011 effort, ‘The Moment’. It had been sitting on my shelves for a while. In truth this was better written, albeit a less ambitious product. Instead of family noir here we have a writer receiving a blast from the past in the form of a package arriving at his remote Maine hideaway. This takes Thomas Nesbitt back to his days in Cold War Berlin where, as a journalist, he was attempting to get a handle on life over on the other side of the Wall. Aiding him in this is his mysterious translator Petra, a refugee from the East with a shocking past, trying to rebuild her life in the West. But is she all she seems as Thomas quickly becomes smitten? Soon he’s headlong into the world of the Stasi on one side and his own spooks on the other. Kennedy handles the convoluted events that follow with aplomb, although he’s no Le Carré.


Was DK attempting to write ‘…nothing less than a fictional overview of our times; a statement of what it means to be American in the postwar world’? Alice’s brother, Peter, after his first taste of literary success, offers these pretentious words – they are as bombastic as most of the language in this, well, I guess, sloppy novel from Kennedy. ‘The Great Wide Open’ is a far cry from the tomes that first bought him notice earlier in his career; books I thoroughly enjoyed.

There’s no doubt that this could have been so much better and as it was, I had no problem ploughing through it. I always wanted to see what came next. It remains a readable yarn. But it’s almost wrecked with his breathless, ‘Days of Our Lives’, overheated prose. He’s certainly no TC Boyle in his command of language – he works too hard to impress with his linguistic wordsmithery. The story can speak for itself with a less frenetic, fraught approach. It’s as if he’s trying to win gold at the linguistic Olympics.


Ms Burns takes us, initially, to the coast of Connecticut and her college days, highlighted by homophobia and the disappearance of one of her bosom buddies. That’s followed by some time in Dublin, dodging IRA bombs, not entirely successfully. Meanwhile, her father and two brothers have become involved in the business in Chile, on either side of Augusto Pinochet’s regime, after the coup. Alice, fleeing the trauma of Ireland, spends some time in a backwater teaching. Of course she is fabulous at that – so empowering of her students. Then she falls into publishing in the ‘Greed is Good’ era. Inevitably she’s a godsend with that too. In between there’s several lovers and estrangements with family members, each of whom seem to have a love/hate relationship with the other. There’s always much, much angst. ‘Days of Our Lives’ indeed.


Hopefully the Great American Novel is now out of Douglas’ system and he is in a place where he can go back to a smaller scale, recapturing the tone of earlier successes such as ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, ‘The Job’ and ‘The Big Picture’, Far, far worthier places to commence for a reader than either of these titles.

More about Douglas Kennedy =


It seemed, perhaps, just home-spun common sense; maybe even a tad facile and simplistic. Not me at all. Then I spotted something and had a closer examination.

My beautiful daughter gives me books. Birthdays, Fathers Day, Christmas she gives me books. She loves books, as do I. I love her for it. Sometimes, just occasionally, with them I don’t see it, but by now I should know better. She sees something of me in each and every one but just once in a blue moon she gifts me a tome that I would normally just pass on by without a second glance. Ninety-nine per-cent from her are recognisably spot on, but with ‘Heart Talk’, well, it took me a while to get it.


As for its author, Cleo Wade, I’d never heard of her. It seems, though, that in the US she’s huge. She’s an influencer, an Oprah for the next generation. As the blurb goes, ‘With ‘Heart Talk’ she’s poured her spirituality and poetically infused wisdom into an accessible book you don’t want to be without.’ She’s mates with Katy Perry, Reese Witherspoon and numerous other notables; features too in all the best magazines. She promotes herself and her message around the country and is also an artist. She had her start on Instagram.

A few nights ago, waiting for my lovely lady to get ready to go out for the evening, I started to flip through her book again. For a time nothing I landed on changed my impression that it was rather naive psycho-babble. That sort of advice that may be helpful to some. Good luck to Ms Wade for hitting on something that obviously resonated for many; a sort of, I thought, manual on female self-empowerment. But could it change the world for someone struggling with issues of their place in society and self worth? As an old fellow, who is quite contently ambivalent about himself – neither self-loving nor self-loathing – at first nothing connected. And then I read –



don’t tomorrow your life away

It stopped me in my tracks. I read other bits and pieces in the book more carefully then, but I kept coming back to those words. I thought about them all the way to our destination that twilight. Maybe don’t tomorrow your life away. I’m still thinking about it.


do you think

Mother Nature


that any of her

beautiful flowers

grow in an array

of shades and sizes?

or that one grows

in this direction

and one grows

in that direction?


she puts all of them in her

magnificent garden

so they may

be together






Of course in this country we’d substitute root for another word, but isn’t this a lovely way of putting it so it sticks?


and then I realized

that to be more alive

I had to be

less afraid


I did it

I lost my


and gained

my whole life

I realised (s not z) that, yep, I did that way back in my first year of teaching when I was drowning – drew that line and stepped over it and I was away to a vocation that gave me forty years of pleasure and reward. I also did it again one Saturday morning when I set out to meet a woman who was to become my life’s companion and love. By losing my fear I gained so much. Good advice Cleo.



Hmmmmm. I thought about that one for a while too. For me that’d be better rephased – Surround yourself with people who are magic. That’d be it for me. That’s what I’ve done – and I’m so blessed because of it.

There’s probably more in the words of Cleo Wade than I’ve sussed out so far – more diamonds in the dust to be had. But that’ll do for the time being. So, after all, it was more than a worthwhile gift. I found stuff that applied, stuff to cogitate on where perhaps I expected paucity. As always, thank you Katie.

Cleo Wade’s website =


A guy named Kinsey made quite the splash — built lasting infamy, in fact — with his research in the late 1940s revealing how often men and women supposedly thought about sex. It was groundbreaking stuff. And in 2019? Who knows? At my age, who cares? But based on no research whatsoever beyond a keen sense of my fellow males’ desires and a finger on the collective pulse, I reckon men spend more time thinking about different, more nutritious sins of the flesh than the carnal. If there is a hardy perennial in the masculine thought forest, surely it is the right way to cook a steak.‘

I recall, many beautiful moons ago, when I was courting my lovely Leigh, I knew pretty soon that she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And that was well before, Mr Lethlean, she cooked me a steak. Now she is not overly fond, herself, of great slabs of red meat on a plate, but when she did present me with that first rump, well, there was the decided bonus; the icing on the cake. I already had realised she was a wonder in the kitchen, but that evening, feasting on her tender, juicy, charred to perfection piece of beef, I was in gastronomic heaven. She seemed to know all about the heat required initially, how long on each side to grill it and that it is necessary to rest it afterwards. But, for all her expertise, it is a rare occurrence that we do steak at home. We usually head out for that – or at least that is my aim. Leigh will usually order something else from the menu, but once in a blue moon will have a small eye-fillet or something akin. I invariably put my hand up for the rump, although my expectation is it will never match that piece of meat I was tempted with way back when. But occasionally I’m surprised.

More often that not it’s the Claremont we head to. There the steaks are basic – large enough but of a thin cut. Tasty, certainly – and filling. Relatively inexpensive they are for, after all, this is a working-class venue. We’ll call the rumps there working class too, shall we? But we like the feel of the place, Great Northern and Furphies are on tap and it’s fairly close to home.


We go further afield when we up the ante to middle class. I can cite Burnie’s Mallee Grill and East Devonport’s The Argosy as the epitome of knowing how to consistently produce a solid product when it comes to the steaks they turn out. I’ve eaten at each oodles of times and they’re great value for your dollar, never stinting on size or quality.

I am not an upper class person by nature and not at all into fine dining, but for top notch steaks, in my experience, NoHo’s The Roaring Grill is the place to head. They have proven, on the rare – get it, rare (I usually order medium) – occasions we have been there that they have the art to transform top quality cuts into the culinary nirvana close to what was produced that night at Leigh’s Lane Street abode.


But then, earlier this week, I struck it at, some would say, the unlikeliest of locations. And after having broken my rule, too, about only ordering rumps. A piece of beef to match. The venue didn’t offer that usual choice of cut so I opted for the porterhouse. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the portion that arrived on my plate and, my lordy, was it succulent. The generous, thickly hewn slice was just singed enough for my taste and gorgeously pink in the middle. Divine. Where was this, you may want to know? The once humble Risdon Brook Hotel, now recently and pleasantly tarted up. It is conveniently placed around halfway between Eastlands and our home on the river, so it’s ideal to linger there for a counter meal after a late afternoon movie or shopping. I know I’m already hankering for a repeat.


But the change in the habit had me thinking, later on, as to the etymology of the word ‘porterhouse’ in reference to steak. In my mind it conjured up Nineteenth Century Thames-side London of smoggy mist and foul pungent aromas off the river. I had a vision of a bustling, smoky, none-too-savoury very common inn (house) full of porters drinking, well, porter and feasting on steak and oysters out of trenchers. But, taking to Wikipedia, I found, disappointingly, it had its origins on the other side of the Atlantic. The exact provenance is still in dispute but most seem to think the name originated from a Mr Zachariah B Porter who ran Porter’s Hotel on, appropriately, Porter Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s in his memory that the piece of muscle, cut away from the T-bone and then cooked up, is named after. I like my imagined version better.

Of course that porterhouse at the Risdon may have been a one off – the chef lucking in catching it at just the right time to remove it from the griddle and causing me, in turn, to luck in as well. So we’ll just have to try it there a few more times, won’t we? Just to make sure.

(Oh, and we did send our compliments to said chef.)

John Lethlen’s Steak article =

The Risdon Brook Hotel’s web-site =

The Manly Sisters

There’s frustration. It’s not overwhelming, just niggling in the background. Events in 2019 have made my usual trips to the mainland not possible. It doesn’t weigh heavily, although there’s people there I’d love to see. Hobart provides ample attraction – but up, up and awaying has been a constant in recent years.

To Melbourne and Sydney, I love those journeys, especially if accompanied by my lovely lady. But this year they just haven’t happened.

In each city I have my favourite galleries. Naturally there are the biggies – the two NGVs and the Art Gallery of NSW. The winter mega-shows at each have been highlights of my forays over time, but I have discovered some lesser venues, in each, that also offer very fine viewings of prominent, if not great, practitioners. It is my habit to wander around these, notebook in hand, to jot down the names of those who catch my eye; that are perhaps worth an excursion to the ether for further investigation.

One of these locations, in Harbour City, is the Manly Art Gallery and Museum. On a sunny day – for a sunny day gives this place extra allure with panoramas from it out across the harbour back to the towers of CBD – it is a joy. The bonus that a trip to there is that it means a crossing on the iconic ferry to the suburb behind North Head – always an adventure, especially if there’s a little roll in the waves. Of course, the whole shebang may well involve a meander up the Corso as well, a beer in a beach side pub and maybe some time watching the passing parade on the golden strand rimming the Pacific. On weekends there are markets too. But I divert. To get to the Gallery involves a turn left as one exits the ferry terminal. Then it’s just simple. Follow the little cove around and the destination will soon be spotted. Usually there are several exhibitions on at any given time to peruse, many featuring members of the art community of the Northern Beaches.

annie day kity-and-klimt-29073362annie day

An example, last year, was the ‘Natural Collection’, featuring the efforts of many print makers from the Warringah Shire. The two names I jotted down from this were Annie Day and Robin Ezra. Their product obviously stood out from the rest for me. To my surprise, when later I went on-line to garner more gen about them, I found out they were sisters. Now I’m not up with printmaking techniques, but maybe some reading this may have a notion as to what waterless lithography entails. The duo are experts in it. It certainly gives stunning results. Both – and they often exhibit together – conduct workshops in the process around the country and further afield.

robin ezrarobin ezra-birdrobin ezra-boobook-owl

Annie has been involved in art since her graduation from the National Art School in Sydney in 1974. She has mostly engaged in portraiture and she’s captured such luminaries as Nancy Wake and Max Dupain in the art form. Bob and Blanche had her on the walls of their former harbour side home. Robin’s lovely stuff tends to focus on the natural world. She delves into painting and graphite drawing as well as her printmaking. Ms Ezra, as opposed to Ms Day, began her career much later and is self taught. Together the two travel to the UK and Italy most years to teach and enhance their skills.


Take a journey through the ether yourself to the sister’s joint website. There are reminders, I think, in their work of some of our local artists here in Tassie. Perhaps that’s another reason my eye was drawn to them that Manly day.

The sisters’ website –

A Thing of True Beauty

You could tell by the slight tremor in his voice, a hint of extra gleam in his eyes that he was excited to be showing me; see how much pride he took in his thing of true beauty. As a whole it was gorgeous; individual items exquisite. It was obviously put together with the utmost of care and respect for each post-carded image. I was gobsmacked and felt very privileged that he took each display panel out of its protective wrapping to show me. I was so entranced by his thing of true beauty that I couldn’t complete the viewing during my first visit. I had to come back another day to see the last couple of captivating sections.

He, like me, is a collector – turning his passions into a business. But with what he showed me my efforts paled into insignificance. Whereas I’m all over the shop, he, in this instance, is specific, narrow and specialised. Therefore his knowledge of the subject is, on the other hand, broad.

I’ve been visiting David’s premises now for several years and it is, as I’ve told him many times, a cornucopia of delights. Philately is my interest but my approach is scatter gun. Nowadays I receive my joy by buying for grandchildren in the hope of encouraging their interest. So far, to my delight, it seems to be working. Over this period of time I have gradually realised that David and I share some interests. He too thrives on beauty in art, relishes an historical tale, particularly involving our island, one often semi-lost with the passage of time. He’s widely read and enthuses about his recent tomes. He’s always up for a chat about my latest interest and confides his to me.

Not sure, though, if the subject matter of David’s thing of true beauty fits the category of being lost in the mists of time. For Raphael Kirchner has left the globe with a lasting legacy. He is well known to collectors with his best, or rarest, fetching a goodly price – and justly so. His product was sublime, appealing to the senses and to one’s notion of muted sensuality. In the Golden Age of Postcards he designed over a thousand of them. His Art Nouveau works, featuring charmingly clad women, were slightly risqué certainly, but tasteful to our eyes. They radiate emphasis on beauty rather than sexuality. Some reflected the Japanese influence on the period in Europe leading up to World War 1. There were representations of women at leisure or engaged in the joys of Parisian life, Kirchner moving to the city after a period in his native-born Vienna. Many of his cards featured, or were based on, the looks of his muse, wife Nina.


Born in 1876, Raphael Kirchner was reportedly influenced by Beardsley as he trained for his future work. He moved to the City of Light around 1900, illustrating for magazine La Vie Parisienne, leading to a lucrative side-earner in postcards.

In 1914 he decided that the Continent was not the place to be for a German speaker and he moved to the USA, quickly establishing himself as a source for the little rectangles soldiers took to war, reminding them of just what they were fighting for, particularly once America entered the bloodshed in 1917. For the purpose Kirchner amped up the eroticism a tad, but sadly he passed away before the guns fell silent, the death having a devastating lasting effect on Nina.


But he’s left us a legacy – and so has she as his inspiration. The term ‘a Kirchner girl’ has been, ever since his demise, a reference for feminine beauty and subtle allurement. As well, his influence on the development of the art of the pin-up was and still is immense. And it’s those wonderful postcards that David at some stage decided garner. Now that his collection is extensive enough he has put together a compilation of panels representing all the stages of Kirchner’s career. These are for exhibition around the country. Viewing them piece by piece in his shop was perhaps not the best way of getting the overall effect, but they still had impact. Putting it together; taking time and patience, would have no doubt been a labour of love. The little he couldn’t do himself he outsourced.


I visit David and wife Kim every couple of weeks at ‘The Coin and Stamp Place’ (Trafalgar on Collins, 110 Collins), often toting in a list of postage items. Rarely does he not have at hand what he needs to service my wishes. I thoroughly enjoy my engagement with what he sells; my engagement with the man himself. I was blessed to see his thing of true beauty. See you soon David.

And you can view his thing of beauty here :-

Bras that Tie

I’ve always loved the ritual of a man liberating me from a bra. The sexiest of them didn’t fumble; the best had confidence and that holiest of grails, tenderness. They did it with reverence, as if opening up a treasure chest;…Bras, an instrument of the male gaze and wonderment, oh, didn’t we know that.’

Oh, how hard was it trying not to fumble – but the release, when it came, was worth all the nervousness, even if there may have been a little embarrassment if the front-loading variety was encountered.

There is that reverence to it, certainly, but it’s a thing of beauty, as well as a thrill, to unencumber a woman’s breasts, especially if that unencumbering is privately for your wonderment alone. What warming memories it creates. To a lesser – much lesser – degree, if this occurs on a screen, small or large, there’s still an element of all that as well. It’s all something time can never diminish.

Of course, from a male’s perspective – this male’s perspective – there’s also something to be said for completely freeing the breast as well. I hark back to my 1970s days when I was at uni and later, in the workforce – days that coincided with the cheesecloth era. In my early teaching career there was a liberated young lass, a colleague, who did not include a bra as an item of her clothing when she fronted a classroom. It was too much for our otherwise quite tolerant principal the occasion a cheesecloth blouse was worn, leaving little to the imagination of her pupils (it was a secondary school) or her fellow teachers as she strutted around the corridors. It had to be a case of bra-up or think about another career. Those were the days.

Is there an equivalent for the male? No, not exactly – but there is one item that once featured in my wardrobe but now, for comfort’s sake, is never disported by this anything but fashionista in the here and now. I can safely say I haven’t worn one this century, nor for a few decades preceding. And unlike Ms Gemmell’s prognosis for the bra, I doubt, though, whether this strip of material will ever disappear for good. It is entrenched as de rigueur for many professions and workplaces in the public eye. I did wear them, back in the 70s, along with my paisley shirts, flares and platform shoes. Then they were wide and funky, there being a sort of competition between the male staff as to who could get away with the most outrageous and bad taste design – although I do not think that same principal had to threaten anybody to tone them down. But trends fade away and perhaps that was also the death knell for this guy wearing ties. Ties became conservative, I went for more casual. Thankfully, by the 80s, fewer and fewer of my teaching pals wore them. There were a couple throwbacks to the 50s then, but a tie in a public school today is as scarce as a hen’s tooth.

Does a tie equate with a bra? I could be wrong, but sensually removing a tie would not have the same effect for the female of the species than if the role were reversed – if she was doing the same with that undergarment, or any garment for that matter. But then, I’m not qualified to answer. Ties have little functionality, unlike the bra, given that they were initially seen as a better option than the corset. Ties, to put it bluntly, are simply just a pain in, or around, the neck. I can only but remain in agreement with NG – a bra being removed is truly ‘…exhilarating’ in contrast.


Nikki Gemmel’s column –

Fernande of her Time

She’s a bit of an enigma – there’s so much we do not know. But transport Dita von Teese back to that era and that’ll give you a hint of her. It is difficult carrying her life story through in the ether. We are not even certain that what you, hopefully, are about to read is of the one woman, so lost in time are the facts. But below is what I’ve pieced together about Miss Fernande/Fernande Barrey from what there is on-line. She does intrigue and she had a profound effect on the men of her era. As Miss Fernande she tantalised the troops in the trenches during World War One. Then, an erotic postcard of her gave many a soldier a certain kind of warmth as the Hun’s bombs rained down from above. Each picture they surreptitiously passed from one to the other as they fixed bayonets and prepared to go over the top may have been the last glimpse of beauty these guys would see before they headed into the teeth of German machine guns. They probably would not have noted the JA signature in the bottom corner of the card, but JA gave the girl her start. Later, as Fernande Barrey, she rubbed shoulders with the greats of Paris when it ruled the artistic planet. Of course these days access to acres of bare flesh can be garnered with just a few clicks on the laptop, but before the digital age it was not so readily available. One had to go into a newsagent to attain a Playboy or Penthouse. Anything more extreme would be housed in a plastic bag. For something that actually moved on a home screen one had to send away to Canberra or the Northern Territory. But before Hefner, Guccione and the rest, what was the go?

Agelou25 frenande

The advent of the camera in the C19th changed the world of erotica forever. Illustrated likenesses gave way to real women in poses. It was quickly deduced that some real money could be made if a photographer could persuade a young maiden to dispense of her clothing. The likenesses could be printed off in their dozens and sold on the street. It was initially thought that it was mainly prostitutes who posed, but research has shown it was usually the ordinary working class girl who was being cajoled to make some easy money on the side. Then came the post card – and the industry boomed. And the French, including Fernand’s capturer JA, were marvels at it. They turned it into an art form that today’s collectors, with a taste for exotica, are prepared to pay far more than the few centimes the punters of the first decade or two of the century before last forked out for them.

So who was JA? It took a while for us to find out, from what I read, but eventually he emerged from obscurity. JA was Jean Agélou, whom we now know had already established himself in a studio on the Rue Armand Gauthier by 1908. Now that was the same year that the French Government, somewhat taken aback by the proliferation of images of naked female bodies openly available on the streets of France in postcard form, yielded even their reasonably liberal views on the subject and made life a little tougher for those engaged in selling that product. This is despite the fact that it was still legal for girls as young as fourteen to pose in the nude. Many photographers, just to be on the safe side, kept their identities closely guarded by signing just their initials to their work. This now became commonplace because of the new law. And it was the same year, or thereabouts, that Fernande, we presume Barrey, moved from Picady to the capital. If she was the Fernande of later in the story she may have been in dire straits on her arrival as it is recorded she quickly moved into prostitution to get by.

By the end of that year the girl of the night, aged 15, and the photographer, just turned 30, were lovers. It is not known how they came into contact – on the street as she pedalled her wares, in a house of ill-repute or in one of the many cafés for the bohemian set in which working girls circulated, attempting to find a ‘gentleman’ to attach themselves to as some form of security. Whatever, she was soon his bed partner and willing model. Those in the know state that she was with him long enough for them to chart the changes in her body as she moved from youthfulness to a fulsome, mature woman in the years leading up to the Great War.

Agélou had already made a name for himself with his pictures of beautiful women, tastefully arranged in the nude, with his photographs for the periodical ‘L’Étude académique’. Designed initially for artists, with a subscription of over 20,000, it obviously appealed to many more in the community.

But the laws of 1908 saw more explicit material, even if tastefully presented, go beneath the covers – akin to the plastic bags of our lifetimes. Magazines couldn’t carry nude depictions and genitalia had to be erased or covered.


By the war’s end the photographer had moved on to landscapes. His brother, formerly behind the scenes doing the accounts as Jean recruited the girls and photographed them, took over behind the lens. It had all changed. Why? Was there greater money to be made in more family-friendly fare? Did Jean have a change of heart about the nudes now that distribution was effectively underground? Or was there a marked change in his personal life? Fernande continued to step out of her garments for brother George’s camera, so JA was replaced by GA – or was this just another cover? We can speculate, but it’s doubtful we’ll ever know. The brothers did not last long after the armistice in any case. They died, together, in a road accident in 1921.

But we do know that, assuming Miss Fernande is indeed Miss Barrey, that in 1917 she took a new lover. It was a whirlwind romance. She and he met in one those aforementioned boho cafés and married after thirteen days of infatuation. As we are now coming at it from this new fellow’s angle, we do not seem to be certain that this was the same woman who posed for the brothers.

But we’ll assume that it is. Fernande and her lover were decidedly out of step with their times, but certainly not with their clique. Europe of La Belle Époque was most taken by Japan. It was opening up to the West and the West was definitely besotted with it. That is reflected in the art and popular culture of the time. So what could be more with-it than to take a Japanese lover? And Tsuguharu Foujita could paint as well. He was not one who achieved fame after his death. He was no archetype living in a garret. He had it all then and there. His forte of applying Japanese techniques to Western style works caught on – so much so that he could afford to bankroll trips to the South of France for all his mates. There they could paint and earn a pretty centime or two from the burgeoning tourist trade. He associated with all the to be greats – Modigliani, Soutine, Gris, Picasso, Léger and Matisse. Isadora Duncan taught him how to dance. He’d painted Man Ray’s lover, Kiki, in the nude – posing brazenly for him in his courtyard in Montparnasse. The result was a sensation. He was made. Why, he could even afford to install a bath with hot running water, so no wonder lesser lights flocked to be around him. With such largess, he was a catch.


Initially, at that café, she didn’t see much in him. She, on the other hand, left such an impression that he asked for her address. She obviously gave it as he was there on her doorstep the next morning bearing flowers. Fernande invited him in for tea – and in the bat of an eye they were hitched.

But convention wasn’t their thing. The Tokyo-trained dauber and his new muse had what we would term today an open marriage. Both were free to cuckold the other. And they did.

She was still posing for the artists in her set. She did so for Amedeo Modigliani and became close to the Italian’s wife, Jeanne Hébuterne. When her common law husband died prematurely Jeanne was distraught. It was Fernande who did the most to try and comfort her; to attempt to get her through her grief. She was shattered when the young woman committed suicide soon after.


Shadows were gathering over her own relationship. Fernande overstepped the mark when she commenced an affair with her hubby’s cousin, Koyanahi. Taking an unknown new bed partner was one thing, family was another. Foujita fled from her in response like the wind to his own current squeeze, Youki. Knowing nothing of this and fearing the worst, his wife scoured the morgues of Paris for his body. His body was in another not-so-cold place entirely. When he re-emerged, both parties realised it was over. She shacked up with her new Japanese beau; one who turned out to be a stayer, supporting her for the rest of her life. She, too, began dabbling in artistic pursuits, even doing a little exhibiting. Her former husband went on to more fame and adventures around the world, best known these days for his ‘Book of Cats’. Check it out. It’s one of the world’s most expensive tomes to own. A copy will set you back around $80,000.

For the later years with Miss Barrey we draw a blank. We can only assume, perhaps with her looks fading, that she withdrew to a quieter, less flamboyant existence. Her days of posing nude were over, but for her time she was the epitome of the liberated free spirit..

She gloriously lives on in the paintings and the Brothers Agélou images of her. Just as those WW1 soldiers secreted the latter away close to their hearts, we too can view them, if we desire, with a simple Google search. They are charming and of their time – but delectable all the same. With the other women, like Kiki (Alice Prin) and Youki (Lucie Badoul); ones who moved in her orb, there are probably other fascinating stories to be had of lives well led; lives refusing to conform. Then along came wars, power-crazed dictators and hard times to blow it all away.


Juliet at Fifty-five

Breasts. Beautiful, proud, fulsome and unfettered. These weren’t the bosoms of some perky young starlet willing to expose her pert assets for the furtherment of her carer. These were breasts that were well lived and you’d expect, well loved. These were breasts more than half way through their life journey, exposed in the opening sequence to ‘Let the Sunshine In’. They were startling and gorgeous. I will admit, they were bewitching and magnetic to this viewer. But sadly, they were by far the best thing about this very French 2017 offering from director Claire Denis. Their possessor is Isabelle, supposedly an artist who spends much of her time scouring Paris for love.


She’s played by a true icon of the silver screens of her country and world wide. She, today, at 55, remains as dazzling as she ever was in such films as ‘Chocolat’, ‘The English Patient’ and most memorably, 1988’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. Seeing her in that, one is infatuated for life. She can play any role, taking it in her stride. Obviously, as well, she likes to stretch herself. She’s certainly no shrinking violet. She’s strong and womanly.

Although ‘Let the Sunshine In’ received praise in some quarters with the star receiving a César Award (French Oscars) nomination for her performance, I really struggled to remain with it. Her initial lover is bullish and repugnant. Another, far more youthful, is full of himself. Yet another is her ex whom she picks a silly argument with over his performance in the sack. It’s obvious she’s looking for love in all the wrong places. Eventually her poor judgement and lack of success starts playing with her mind. The movie becomes ridiculous when the venerable Depardieu enters to sprout some psycho-babble at her in a monologue that well and truly outstays its welcome. Of course Juliet Binoche is always wonderful, but my tip for you is to seek out, instead of the above (which is on Netflix), ‘Who You Think I Am’ which is, like those aforementioned breasts, just magnificent.


Who You Think I Am’ has similarities to the above in that Binoche’s role here is Claire, an academic from the City of Light, reeling from a divorce and also seeking a new partner in life and love. Ex hubby (played by another French notable in Charles Berling) has had a dose of the Peter Pans and leaves his perfectly stunning wife for a younger model. Claire figures what’s good for the goose and at movie’s start she’s shacked up with the much younger Ludo. To him she’s simply a cougar. Claire’s beginning to feel it’s something more permanent. When he susses this she finds she’s again ditched, so in response she turns her attention to Ludo’s sensitive, still much younger, room mate in Alex (François Civil). Now what could be more harmless than a little on-line ‘cat-fishing’? (If you’re unaware of this procedure, look it up. I did.) Her attempt to become who she is not provides, at first, an outlet for her lovelessness, but then becomes something with quite catastrophic implications. Or does it? This will keep you guessing till the end, with several ‘I didn’t see that coming’ twists thrown in. It’s very, very clever and has much to say about the pitfalls for any of us who try to fight the invisibility that comes with the ageing process. See it on any platform you can.


What I know about JB is that she’s ageing gloriously. There’s certainly no invisibility with her.

Trailer ‘Let the Sunshine In’ =

Trailer ”’Who You Think I Am’ =