MonthMay 2020

Sophie Blackall – Hello Lighthouse

Orchard Books, an imprint of Hachette Children’s Group
England, 2019
Words and pictures by Sophie Blackall
Editor: Susan Rich
Designer: David Caplan and Nicole Brown
Shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards 2020, Picture Book of the Year category.

This book is also the winner of the 2019 Caldecott Medal, which annually recognises the preceding year’s most distinguished American picture book for children.

Everything about this book is beautiful from its singular shape reflecting the long tall lighthouse to its story and the glorious detailed pictures. I want to start at the end of the book with the author’s note. This author note is very much for parents to share with the children as or perhaps before they read the book together. It contains useful background information about lighthouses, the lives of their keepers and of the keepers’ families.

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Joanne Fluke – Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder

Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, USA, 2000

Having just knocked out a couple of batches of lunchbox baked goods for grandkids as they return to school post-Covid 19 schooling from home, I can but admire the baking sleuth from small town America who is the heroine of the Hannah Swensen mystery series. She ably churns out hundreds of cookies a day from her bakery-café for the populace of Lake Eden, whilst moonlighting as investigative assistant to her brother-in-law, the town cop.

 As you can see by the publication date of this book, I am a late comer to the delights of Joanne Fluke’s vast series of Hannah Swensen mysteries – all of them named for cakes, cookies and desserts.

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Fiona Harris and Mike McLeish – The Drop-off

Echo Publishing (an imprint of Bonnier), Australia, 2020

One of the great things about this book is its relatability. Almost everyone who reads this book will find something that will make them say,’Yep, that’s me.’ Who hasn’t, for example, in a period of respite from work taken to cleaning out the bathroom cupboards, finding boxes of long out of date bum creams?

The Drop-off centres on the separate and entangled lives of three people who find one another at the school drop off, united by their non-involvement with the in-groups at school and their desire to remain so.

Barbie speaks to Fiona Harris about The Drop-off
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Rick Held – Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem

Hachette, Australia, 2020

Perhaps it is a sense that we must not lose the stories of the survivors of the Holocaust that has prompted writers and publishers to bring out a new wave of WW 11 novels in 2020. Indeed, the generation of our elders who lived from the time of the first world war and through the twentieth century are dying and many of them have already taken their stories with them.

There are some readers who ask what else there is to tell about this horrific history of Nazism in the 20th century – I am not one of these. I believe all of these stories need to be heard, respected and received as a salutary lesson – genocide and racial hatred, the power of privilege to cause pain and suffering,  the capacity of those in political power to make unworthy and disastrous decisions, do not seem in short supply, as we make our way through the twenty first century. 

Barbie speaks with Rick Held about Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem
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Sara Freeman: No such thing as solid ground

Suki & Hugh Gallery, Bungendore
23 May 2020 to 28 June 2020
Paintings in egg tempera & beeswax
Gallery open (with social distancing) : 10am to 4pm Saturday 23 & Sunday 24 May
Also online from 22 May at https://www.sukihugh.com.au

Text courtesy Susan Foxlee

The making of No such thing as solid ground has been a purifying experience for Sara Freeman, a way of processing the events of the past six months.

For Sara, like many of us, the chaos of the pandemic compounded the anxiety of a Summer of fires. These events further exacerbated the trauma she was already suffering following the death of her father in October last year.

Barbie talks to Sara Freeman about No such thing as solid ground
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St Nicholas – The Street Canberra

Online via Vimeo
Friday 5 – Saturday 6 June 2020 8pm
Sunday 7 June 2020 3pm

A cynical and jaded theatre critic in his late fifties falls for a beautiful young actress. In pursuing her, he meets a group of modern-day vampires who offer him eternal life – his part of the bargain is to feed their bloodlust.

Actor Craig Alexander from St Nicholas
Shelly Higgs, Director of St Nicholas
  • Written by Conor McPherson
  • Starring Craig Alexander
  • Direction: Shelly Higgs
  • Musician: Den Hanrahan
  • Production Design: Imogen Keen

Tickets: Free, but bookings essential at: https://www.thestreet.org.au/shows/st-nicholas

Password will be provided prior to the performances.

Lauren Chater – Gulliver’s Wife

Simon & Schuster, Australia, 2020

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With this, her second novel, Lauren Chater cements her reputation, so deservedly won with The Lace Weaver, as a fine storyteller and a mistress of atmospherics.

The notion of a fiction arising from a fiction is an interesting one. Lauren Chater has crafted her story with inspiration from Jonathan Swift’s 18th century  tale, Gulliver’s Travels, first published as a prose satire: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon , and then a Captain of Several Ships.

Barbie talks to Lauren Chater about Gulliver’s Wife
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Transference | A Common Thread

Craft ACT
Online until 27 June 2020 at https://craftact.org.au/

Transference is a collaborative exhibition by ceramic and glass artist Robyn Campbell (ACT) and ceramicist Jo Victoria (NSW) which expresses their fascination with light and surface, and the potential of glass and porcelain to convey fragility and transience.

Barbie speaks with ACT ceramic and glass artist Robyn Campbell
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Suzanne Leal – The Deceptions

Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2020 

This is Suzanne Leal’s third novel. Like her earlier work, Border Street, it is inspired by her long and dear friendship with Fred and Eva Perger, both Czech Jews, both Holocaust survivors.

While Border Street takes its cues from Fred’s story, The Deceptions draws on Eva’s experiences from 1943 Prague in the Theresienstadt Ghetto to the April 1945 British liberation of Bergen-Belsen, via Auschwitz, Kurzbach and Gross-Rosen, as the Nazi forces retreated and transported train loads of Jews in horrific conditions to hellish camps. And this story is indeed horrific because it is true, inexplicably true in our memory and the stories we have from our parents and grandparents.

Barbie talks to Suzanne Leal about The Deceptions
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AMEB offers free courses and copyright clearance for teachers

Online at https://ameb.edu.au/breaktheisolation

The Australian Music Examinations Board has developed a series of webinars, called Break The Isolation., featuring interviews with musicians, teachers and other experts in their field.

The webinars cover topics such as strategies for teaching online, teaching speech and drama, and wellbeing and connection in social isolation. The webinars are recorded and available free on YouTube and Facebook to help the AMEB community stay connected.

Richard spoke with Bernard Depasquale, CEO of Federal office of the AMEB
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Nigel Featherstone – The Story of the Oars

Friday 15 May 2020 at 5pm
The Street – public showing via Zoom
Register online at https://www.thestreet.org.au/shows/first-seen-story-oars-nigel-featherstone

Top picture credit: Barbie Robinson

You are invited to join an online in-progress showing of this new stage work, a play with songs,  which is part of the First Seen initiative of The Street Canberra.

  • Playwright: Nigel Featherstone
  • Dramaturg: Anne-Louise Rentell
  • Director: Zsuzsi Sobolsay
  • Cast; Tracy Bourne, Tom Byrne, Sally Marett, PJ Williams
  • Duration: 120 minutes
Barbie speake with Nigel Featherstone about The Story of the Oars
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Ellis Hutch and Nicci Haynes: Self as Subject

Curated by Jas Hugonnet
Online at
M16 Artspace

Self as Subject showcases video works by Nicci Haynes and Ellis Hutch. Bringing these two works together highlights the phenomenon of artists making themselves the subject. 

It also says something about the artist being the generator of content and the one ultimately in control of the actions and ideas.

Jas Hugonnet talks about the exhibition Self as Subject

Top image: Ellis Hutch, Lake polish, Parilanjärvi, January 2016, digital image of performance. Photo Credit: Annika Harding

Nicci Haynes, Drawing and Me,2017, Digital Video, still.


Erica Bauermeister – House Lessons/Renovating a Life

Sasquatch Books, Seattle, USA, 2020
Illustrations by Elizabeth Person

I will not for a moment pretend to be an impartial reviewer of Erica Bauermeister’s work. Since reading her first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients (Harper Collins, 2009), I have been a rusted-on fan, eagerly awaiting the next story as soon as I have finished the current.

House Lessons is a memoir, slightly fictionalised – the story of the finding, purchase and renovation of a run-down house in Port Townsend, that was eventually to become home for Erica Bauermeister. The house renovation, as indicated by the sub-title, is a metaphor for the more personal renovation of her life, the one by one epiphanies about relationships, self and place.

It is exquisite.

Barbie talks to Erica Bauermeister about House Lessons
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Wyndham Art Prize winner announced

Online at https://kuula.co/share/7Xfvx/collection/7ldms until 28 June 2020

The winner of the $12,000 prize, based at the Wyndham Art Gallery in Werribee, Victoria, is Wiradjuri conceptual artist Amala Groom, for her sculptural work Copy Wrong, featuring a fake boomerang on a stack of $2 coins.

Former Canberra artist Robyn Kinsela was a finalist, and her work features in a the gallery’s virtual exhibition at https://kuula.co/share/7Xfvx/collection/7ldms

Now in its sixth year, the Wyndham Art Prize, attracts entries from some of the best artists across Australia. It is a curated show which profiles exceptional local artists, emerging artists, and outstanding established artists. The winner was announced in a video at the opening of the exhibition on 7 May.

wāni Le Frere, a Congolese/New Zealand trans-disciplinary artist, writer, visual storyteller, performance artist and poet, won the a $5,000 acquisitive Local Emerging Artist Prize for The Final Solution, which combined video footage of an immigrant family in a suburban kitchen with audio from a speech by former senator Fraser Anning.

Image credit and artist statement: Robyn Kinsela – What a summer!

Bushfires, smoke, more bushfires, more smoke. Packing, unpacking, repacking, unpacking. Drought, rain, floods, more rain.

My thoughts and therefore my work in the past year, particularly since December, have been underscored by bush fires, evacuations, smoke and many friends’ losses, stresses and survival.

The recent bush fire season and its ramifications keep creeping into my work at the moment.

My pictures have their roots in the real world, but are by no means images in the conventional sense. I don’t copy my subjects but interpret them. Sound, smell and touch play an important role.

Using collage and mixed media, I create rapidly at first, keeping up with my thoughts. Then I let the work rest for an hour, a day, a year or a decade, as if it needs an incubation period. I then re-see what has been created and finish the work.’