EARLY in winter I took the Hume Highway to Canberra to see an exhibition of James Turrell’s work in the National Gallery. Moved by his work, I tried to write down my thoughts, but they meandered. Those thoughts rambled through the memories of a lifetime of travelling about, and they circled around and around, looking for a place to rest.
I am not sure whether James Turrell is the start or the finish of this, but he certainly has made a stir. An American artist who has worked with light for 40 years, who understands the flow of colour and light and the beauty of dawn and dusk, he reminds me of the English romantics Wordsworth and Coleridge who went looking for nature’s wonders. He understands that night is the messenger of the day, and that day is the communion of the heavens and earth.
Turrell’s work hit a nerve. I have never been comfortable in the dark or confined spaces, and I find I am best in the open, under big skies. I never stopped to ponder this – it is just the way things are – but Turrell set me thinking.
I recalled my childhood waiting for the roosters’ call to end the night and my fear of the dark. This was in Colonel Light’s Adelaide, a city of open spaces planned in harmony with the sky on a wide plain which separates hills from coast, surrounded by gentle gulf waters and arid plains. Over the back fence was the house of William Rasp, the boundary rider who discovered silver at Broken Hill, which was just a name then, a dot somewhere north.
It was strange to be digging deep, wondering how familiarity grows, following random recollections over decades, and finding that this was comforting, like remembering lost friends. One thing leading to another with no particular path to follow except for a feeling …
… a road trip to Broken Hill which was my first experience of the vastness of the interior spreading under its great sky … standing at the edge of Lake Frome looking across a dazzling salt plain that stretched to the horizon under a pure blue sky while the space was filled with the gentle sound of the wind … arriving at China’s Yellow Mountains in the night mist, climbing higher and higher, and at dawn seeing the sun rise above the clouds, and the sky clearing to reveal a display of golden granite shards touching the heavens …
These and other recollections were about the experiences of grand space, light, and great natural beauty, and in this rambling my mind found its way to Grossard Point.
I have been exploring Phillip Island for 30 years. The walk along the beach from Red Rocks to Grossard Point is as pleasurable as any I can recall. Rocky points linked by sandy coves and reefs, a backdrop of various cliffs and dunes covered in coastal shrubs and trees, and the ever-changing waters of the Western Arm stretching to Mornington Peninsula. All enjoyed with sunsets under a big sky being reflected in the waters of Western Port.
Arriving at Grossard Point is always different, thanks to the seasons, weather, tides, wind, sky, sun, and moon. There is the moment when the view beyond the Point opens up to the west, and when intimate mysteries are revealed as the receding tide leaves fine patterns in the sand and sparkling pools and rocks. On a still summer evening with just a few people remaining on the beach, a new moon rises in the east as the sun falls in the west, and the motionless tidal pools reflect their images in silver and gold.
Travelling to Grossard Point by road is a very different affair, arriving on top of the headland and looking out to sea. McHaffie, the original squatter, reaching the shore by boat, would have climbed the lookout and seen this perfect place where he would build Phillip Island’s first house, and where his unfortunate guest Captain Grossard would want to be laid to rest forever. Since then, the continuing desire for possession of this place has seen it become a barren show case crammed with trophy houses, a tragic victim of beauty’s lure for heroes and villains. Reflecting on this, I say “thank you” to James Turrell for stirring my thoughts.