A home among the gum trees

This week, along with a group of 40 Holdfast Bay residents, I travelled up to the German village, Hahndorf,  in the Adelaide hills, specifically to visit The Cedars, the family home of two of Australia’s more well-known artists—Sir Hans Heysen, and his daughter Nora.

Surprisingly, it was the first visit to The Cedars for at least two-thirds of this group of people who have travelled the world and interstate on sight-seeing holidays throughout the years.

We had  an enthralling visit to The Cedars and left me wondering …Why are we always so reluctant to explore and celebrate what is in our own back yards? Why had people never bothered to explore this fascinating site, which is a popular Adelaide destination for our international tourists, but not it  seems (if our group is any indication) with Adelaide locals?

Most South Australians know that Hans Heysen was a famous artist and painted gum trees, but know little else about him. Less still is known about his daughter Nora who was the first woman to win the  prestigious Archibald Prize, and the first woman to be appointed as a war artist.

It highlights a sad fact of life, people get forgotten when they die, unless there is someone actively marketing the legacy they leave behind.

Sir Hans came to Australia as a seven year old with his family in 1884.

He grew up in  and around Norwood and then as a young man he was encouraged by four Adelaide businessmen who appreciated his talent and supported Heysen financially to undertake a study tour in Europe. In return Heysen promised to send them all the work he produced during his years overseas.

He returned to Adelaide, married, and started an art school.

Heysen’s first interstate solo exhibition, held in Melbourne, was opened by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin! This brought his work to the attention of prominent buyers, including Nellie Melba.

He purchased the Cedars in 1912, on the back of a second art exhibition in Melbourne. He lived on the Hahndorf Property for the rest of his life, raising a big family and significantly leaving us with a picture of rural life and of the men and animals toiling in the fields around the town of Hahndorf  in the Adelaide Hills, in addition to his wonderful landscapes, still-lifes and other activities in the art world. He also became a ‘greenie’ conservationist before his time, buying up surrounding land parcels only because he wanted to save the gum trees and habitat corridors for birds and animals. The original 40 acres he bought in 1912 expanded to 150 acres in 1938, and remains that size today.

Visitors are welcome to walk the grounds and follow Heysen’s footsteps to 11 of his favoured painting locations, with interpretive signs that match his paintings to the real life gum trees on the property.

Sir Hans was well travelled and well-connected and despite being in this country since the age of seven, he was subjected to the local prejudices of being of German  origin during wartime. He had financial success in Melbourne and overseas, yet he chose to still remain in Adelaide as his home. He was famous for his landscapes and his still-lifes – including one he famously refused to  Russian ballerina, Anna Pavolva, when she saw it, because it had been specifically painted for his wife, Sallie. (Pavlova subsequently famously refused a replacement painting he did for her, because it wasn’t the one she wanted!)  You can see the painting Pavlova wanted still hanging in the house today and it is exquisite, almost giving the effect of three dimensional flowers, when viewed in the light Heysen intended for it. However, when his daughter Nora began having success with her still life painting, Heysen graciously stopped doing them, because he thought his daughter’s technique was better.

Today, the home and studio are pretty much as the artist  left them, when he died at the age of 90 in 1968. In the home, you immediately feel that this has been a happy, warm and welcoming home, even before the guide tells you the stories of a happy marriage and visits by Dame Nellie Melba, Pavlova, Vivian Leigh, Lionel Lindsay and Harold Cazneaux, among others. A bedroom with its double bed and wooden cradle and a formal dining room complete with raised stage and piano give insight to a simpler, but somehow more genteel, yet sophisticated, time of life that has probably been lost for today’s generations and beyond.

The formal sitting room with its beautiful Bay window looking out to the familiar Heysen landscape against a backdrop of bookshelves laden with the books of Hans and Sallie Heysen and family photos are further proof of a life well loved, and lived.

A short distance from the house is the Heysen studio, famously photographed by Harold Cazneaux. You enter this building, again, just as Sir Hans left it, and he is everywhere – his art supplies, his travels, his quirks, his personality—you don’t need interpretive museum signage to explain this man. The windows in this studio are specially treated to ensure the right levels of light for the artist through imported glass that Heysen shipped from Europe in barrels of molasses, so that the glass did not break.

Our host for our visit was Glenelg resident, Peter Heysen, the eldest son of the eldest son of Sir Hans. It is largely his love for his grandfather, and his desire to pay tribute to the achievements of Sir Hans and his wonderfully talented aunt, Nora Heysen, that has ensured this family estate has been preserved after their deaths as a tourism landmark.

It has been a struggle that is increasingly difficult to maintain  as a family enterprise in modern times and generational change.

Peter Heysen is now attempting to create public ownership through a Foundation to ensure the long-term future of this property for the enjoyment of art and history lovers. Let’s hope that this is a hugely successful venture and that our children’s children will still be able to experience this wonderful era of Adelaide’s art and culture in times gone by and the Heysen legacy will live on.

In the meantime, if you have not been there…now is the time to visit!
Details about getting to The Cedars are on this link www.hansheysen.com.au .

Jan Smith

Who knows only his own generation remains always a child

I live in a wonderful seaside village that dates back to the beginnings of my State’s history. The government of the new Province of South Australia was inaugurated in 1836 on Glenelg soil. The State’s first Governor arrived at Holdfast Bay on the Buffalo, and our first European colonist mainland settlers arrived here before expanding their reach to all parts of our State and beyond.

We have a rich memory of local residents representing  our state’s and our country’s former ‘movers and shakers’ in politics, sports,  and business throughout  Australian history living in Glenelg, or nearby Brighton… names like Henry Ayers (Premier), Thomas Elder (pastoralist/philanthropist), Lionel Logue (King’s speech), Jimmy Melrose (aviator), Henry Sparks (Adelaide oval), Alf Roberts ( Adelaide stock exchange, golf, professional tennis) George Soward (architect of Adelaide’s Beehive Corner), Douglas Mawson (explorer), and Adam Lindsay Gordon (poet) to name just a few. Horse Trainer Bart Cummings was born on Farrell Street, and Sir Mark Oliphant romanced his future bride here at her home in Glenelg. As well as residents there are all the travellers that our famous Red Rattler trams have brought to Glenelg… even the legendary Racehorse, Pharlap. James Stobie,  inventor of the Stobie Pole, attended our Glenelg Primary School. We had the first licensed cinema in Adelaide, we had the tallest residential building in the 1970s, we have the only Ring Bowl club in the country, we are the home of Bay Sheffield footrace, and the traditional finish line for the City-Bay fun run. And rumour has it that our most recent, historically famous, resident is our country’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

So with all this rich and lasting  cultural history, I was bemused to recently read this paragraph from our Council’s CEO as a welcoming message on the Council website:

Yes, we’re a little biased down here at the Bay. Holdfast Bay is the proud birthplace of the State of South Australia where Governor Hindmarsh arrived in The Buffalo back in 1836, but there’s more to The Bay than just history.        http://www.holdfast.sa.gov.au/ceo

It’s that little word, just, that rankles and left me bemused.

 Who knows only his own generation remains always a child  is a quote from George Norlin (1871-1942) inscribed on the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado. Those readers who enjoy history might like to explore the story of this interesting man.   The writings of Cicero (106BC-43BC) are said to have inspired Norlin’s quote above.  http://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/about/norlin.htm

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it , from the pen of George Santayana, is also said to be influenced by Cicero.                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santayana

We have had a classic example of Santayana’s quote at our local Council. Within weeks , they have made two decisions that explain perfectly what he was talking about!

Two Councils ago, (about 6 years ago), we had a fragmented dysfunctional Council that was at war with itself and had factions that sided with the then CEO, or the Mayor. There is an accepted caretaker convention during Council elections that no major decisions are made until the newly elected Council concurs, however that was disregarded and the then CEO pushed through a beachside kiosk development decision with the help of Councillors who opposed the Mayor, who was himself against the decision being made. The current Council has now bought its way out of a bad contract  as part of that rushed  development decision six or so years ago, at the 11th hour of a new Council election.

Our tweeting councillor is proudly noting that the new decision to buy out of a bad deal represents a 12% return to ratepayers. He conveniently, or ignorantly, disregards all the lost income to the community of a bad leasing arrangement of the years of the initial contract and that the return is going to the Administration coffers, not necessarily as a dividend to ratepayers. It represents a 12% return to the Council Administration finances  (if the Councillor’s facts are correct, there’s been no public announcement to ratepayers about this) . The Council does not pay tax and, with this latest decision, is now a landlord to a commercial enterprise competing with other rate paying and tax-paying commercial enterprises in our community… is that now what ‘good’ local government is all about? Profiteering at the expense of the taxpayer?

At the same time, in a sort of ‘déjà vu’ for residents, our council was rushing through a plan to hand over air title, and revoking community land  beneath it , in agreeing to an unsolicited proposal from a  private developer, where the public details were sketchy, the traffic management had not even been considered, and local businesses directly affected were not even consulted. The Council ignored its own policy to tender, on the magnitude of the proposed development, and ensured it was a Category 2 development which our tweeting councillor then boastfully reminded us meant ‘no appeal rights’. And most interestingly, again, the Mayor was against this proposal, on procedural and financial grounds, not emotional grounds, yet it was again a rushed decision based on factions, ego, and spite. What is going to happen in years to come with this latest decision? Will a new Council have to buy back the air titles it has currently given away and again say it was a bad decision by a bad Council?

Why is it that 13 elected adults sitting around a Council table become more like a schoolyard of immature warring and mischievous adolescents, than a forum for good decision-making? Is it because they are only interested in themselves and their own generation of Council, as per George Norlin’s wise words.

There are several instances on this Council where petty personal disputes and arrogance are resulting in playing with people’s lives and livelihoods. This happens, I am sure, on other Councils, too.

Interestingly, those Councils that have a rich sense of their history, seem to be better at decision-making.


Children Learn What They Live

Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a classic poem on child-rearing ‘children learn what they live’ in the 1950s that was distributed to millions of families by a different form of social media for those days, advertising for a baby formula!

In the 1970s Nolte copyrighted her famous words and they live on today in a range of posters, cards, bookmarks  and also expanded into a wonderful little book, co-authored with Rachel Harris, that should be given to every new parent.

Nolte’s wise words came to mind when I read the newspaper front page the other day reporting that free- to- air TV stations now want to screen adults-only shows 24/7, and end the current ban on adult-only programming until children’s bedtimes at 8.30pm.

The TV industry argument was rational, but sad. They claim the ban is now irrelevant because parents have access to DVDs, parental locks, and can simply focus the kids’ eyes on the two dedicated children’s programming channels provided by the ABC.

I agree with Australian Council on Children and the Media chief executive, Barbara Biggins blasting this proposal as ‘outrageous’. As she points out, not all children grow up in families where parents are vigilantly watching over what their kids are seeing on tv.

And where is our society’s preoccupation with sex, violence and violent sex coming from, anyway?

Yesterday, on World Suicide Prevention Day, I found myself watching one of the formula forensic medicine crime programmes that was all about a doctor being forced to operate and remove people’s spleens and replace them with a bomb, so that an ex-soldier could be a suicide bomber on a plane as payback for all his countrymen who did not give a damn about his now broken life, and the sacrifice he and his fellow soldiers had made in Iraq. The doctor’s daughter was a diabetic being withheld her medication to force the doctor to comply as a subplot and the broken people behind this plot had decided to let her die, too, because after killing the first person, the second one becomes easier.

I  began to ask myself  why was I watching this stuff… was it really enjoyable entertainment? On one level it raises an awareness of the pain and suffering that leads to mental derangement, it resolves an horrific circumstance with a happy ending and presumably there is the emotional creativity of the actors to appreciate… but does life have to be that gory and graphic for this message and artistic engagement?

Contrast this with that wonderful programme Compass on the ABC, which recently featured a story about people’s resilience when bad things happen to them. The story traced the personal journeys of two quite different people… a woman who had been severely burned in a bushfire in the 1970s , and a young man who has recently broken his neck in an accident. The stories of how these two people fought the personal horror of what had happened and tapped into an inner strength were remarkable and inspiring in equal measure.

We have a lot of depressed, angry, violent and unhappy souls in our society if the tv, newspaper, and social media are any indication.

Closer to home, I was dumbfounded to see ‘twitters’ last week from a Local Government councillor in my community commenting that:

1960’s copper wires do not provide enough speed to make porn interesting. I need NBN.

And also,

 ‘Real Solutions’ can be achieved by electing a Liberal Government or masturbating. I suspect some promises are the latter.


This man is often mentioning the school children he counsels as part of his employment, so I question his maturity in thinking that writing on social media about downloading porn and masturbating is at all humorous, or being a good role model to young people, or reflective of his community position as an elected Local Government councillor.

Children do learn what they live, and the onus is on our adult society to set the values for the kinds of adults we want them to grow up to be.

It’s also never too late to have a happy childhood… and set some new examples for ourselves to follow.

Tomorrow is RU OK? Day — a reminder to regularly ask ‘are you ok?’ of family and friends who might be going through a tough time.

Bad things are always going to happen to good people, no one escapes, but if we instill the right values in our children they’ll have a better chance of having that confidence, courage and resilience they’ll need to weather life’s storms, without becoming angry, violent, jealous, or spiteful.

If anything, I think we should be putting more family-friendly programming on our free-to-air TV.

Jan Smith

Noisy Minorities

It is one of those statistics one can neither conclusively prove nor disprove, but indications are that less than 3% of the Australian public are homosexual.

So why is Gay Marriage such a contentious issue in our country? Is it really only about the rights of two same sex individuals to have legal ‘wedded bliss’?

Somehow, amazingly, it has become a make-or-break issue for candidates in some quarters of the Federal election and the church-going Kevin Rudd has, in this election year, even reversed his stance to now become a strong advocate of gay marriage to the point of bullying on national TV (Q&A, ABC) a church minister for having a contrary point of view.

We seem to have a new political force in our country… a minority cleverly dictating the popular agenda. Examples are plentiful:

The bike lobby… millions are being spent on bikeways, pedestrians must now share footpaths with speeding cyclists, drivers must endure those ‘master of the universe’ cyclists who weave in and out of traffic and spoil it for all concerned. The cyclists get every consideration but the motorists pay the license fees and road taxes.

Smokers…Sit down in an outside café and who rules the roost? Smokers. I was recently at an outdoor café and three tables surrounding me had people eating meals. The fourth had a couple chatting away, with a woman oblivious to her lighted cigarette that was burning away in an ashtray as she chatted, making the air reek of her smoke as we ate.

Dogs… dog owners don’t seem to realise that their dog is not always the brightest beacon on the block! If a person went up to a stranger and started chattering away and giving him a nudge and a pat on the back, one may take offence, yet we’re supposed to say ‘how cute’ when someone’s out of control dog invades our space. More importantly, if said dog frightens our children, or attacks our own pet, or knocks over granny, then we are the ones with the problem children or pets… and  what are we thinking letting granny out for a walk, anyway?

In all of the above examples, gays, bikes, smokers, dogs, if you have a different point of view about one of these minority lobby groups and try to stick up for your viewpoint, expect to be attacked as sexist, anti-social, anti-exercise, anti-environment, anti-animal liberation, etc. Kevin Rudd’s attack on the church man was a classic example and hugely applauded on social media.

So back to the minority of Gay Marriage.

Do gay activists actually want to change the Marriage Act?

The Marriage Act defines a union between a man and a woman, so if you change that to include same sex unions, what happens to the definition of marriage for heterosexual people? Gay people have the right to call themselves ‘Gay’ , but by insisting on this change to the Marriage Act, they are taking away the right of heterosexual people to define themselves as ‘heterosexual’, and  also disregarding the strong religious beliefs of some members of our community … is that fair?

I certainly agree same sex relationships should enjoy the same legal and wedded rights as heterosexual unions, but let’s keep the detail intact. Why not take a hint from Shakespeare… a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and come up with another name for specific legislation that defines and  makes same-sex unions legal and accepted throughout our community.

What about calling it a Homage Ceremony, where two same sex people pay homage to each other through their legal union?

At the moment, this issue seems to be about taking away credence from one group to give credence to another…surely there is a better win/win solution.

Jan Smith

Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House

In the scheme of world issues, what’s happening at Holdfast Bay is small potatoes, indeed.

However, the Council meeting I attended this week provided a great incentive to campaign for amalgamations of local government councils into a centralized metropolitan body, along the lines of what they have in Brisbane.

Councils have clearly outgrown the ‘parish pump’ nature of their business, and the people who are elected to Council these days are generally not equipped to be making the decisions they are making.

This circumstance is compounded by politics now entering into the fray… at Holdfast Bay we have a strong Labor faction that manipulates the vote, and I am sure there are similar cases of Liberal and Labor factions on other Councils. If local government is going to be overtaken by political factional voting, we might as well merge it into State government and remove this costly third tier of government that many have argued is unnecessary.

Holdfast Bay currently has at least three fiascos on its plate… the Brighton Caravan Park, the joint venture with Taplin Group, and the Broadway Kiosk all illustrating in one way or another that the elected Council seems to be operating beyond its capabilities.

The Council approved a heads of agreement for a development with the Taplin Group at its meeting this week with a vote of 7 to 4. The Council revoked community land status over its land to allow for this cinema development, it will now charge local shoppers for car parking that was previously free in Glenelg, it has given the developer carte blanche to close two centrally located car parks for up to 18 months during construction, and the developer gets two air titles (both of which he is free to on sell) and complimentary parking for his cinema patrons, and a council maintained car park for perpetuity as part of this deal. He, of course, covers his own building costs and business risks.  The developer will contribute about $2m to build a car park, to which the Council also contributes $2.5m from the Jetty Road traders car park existing fund.  (Most of this fund has been contributed over many years from traders at the other end of Jetty Road.)

Four councillors argued that the numbers and details did not add up to this being a ‘good deal’ for the community and advised the Council to go back to the drawing board and think again, rather than rush into approving the motion to revoke the community land status and  sign the existing heads of agreement.

But the seven had already made up their minds… influenced greatly by the Labor faction on Council and also by, I suspect, the Developer, since one councillor alluded, speaking to the motion at the Council meeting about  her dealings with  the Developer’s representatives, and confirming they addressed her concerns to secure her vote.

Now I want to state my bias here.

I think Andrew Taplin is terrific. I think he has done a brilliant job of snowing the Council’s Administration and his consortium has been clever, he has paid attention to detail, and done a great job of playing a councillor or two for their weaknesses and ambitions, to bulldoze his project through the elected Council.

I also think Justin Lynch, the Council’s CEO, has done his job the way he interprets it. He has enabled a huge development for his city, a big tick on his cv, and he secured the expertise to say it is all ‘legal’. From his standpoint, I suspect, it was up to the Councillors, the elected representatives of the community, to make the moral decisions, and ensure that their constituents understood the game plan. However, this is a very smart man and he also knew the calibre of the Councillors sitting around the table and the aforementioned councillors’  weaknesses and played them for the desired result. In this scenario, I don’t admire Justin Lynch as much as I admire Andrew Taplin because I reckon Justin has gotten so excited with the machinery of government that he perhaps forgot our local community, in his eagerness to deliver.

And now to the elected Council. These people are elected to Council as representatives of their community, yet as soon as they’ve attended a few meetings the game changes and many become agents of the Council Administration, or under the influence of the aforementioned political factions.

Do the research and you’ll find this is a common complaint with local government.

At Holdfast Bay, the councillor who is the most verbose bully was elected on a mere 477 votes at the last election. In the example of this cinema development proposal he has manipulated the facts, spread untruths, and tried to claim that any opposition to the plan is  a case of old fogeys against development.

What nonsense! This divide and conquer strategy (also employed by the Labor Party ) has no place in our city of Holdfast Bay. Interestingly, the residents are switched on and have formed a City of Holdfast Bay Residents Alliance covering the whole of Holdfast Bay… the community is uniting itself, tired of waiting for the Council and its Administration to stop this them and us division. This, too, is a common phenomenon.

In this proposed development people wanting to park in Cowper or Partridge Street car parks will now have to pay (no more free time!) while Taplin cinema patrons will have 4 free hours of parking. Interesting, too, that there is no paid car parking in Brighton, so the other Glenelg businesses and traders (not the cinema) are charged as well, with  providing Council’s paid parking revenue, on top of their already high rents.

Kudos to (young) Councillor Stephen Patterson for his passionate plea to Councillors to go back to the drawing board and ensure the details are the best deal for our community… I’m sorry his older colleagues on Council couldn’t listen to his wise words.

Kudos also to Crs Mikki Bouchee, Karen Donaldson and Bob Fisk… these people read the documents and listened to both sides of the argument. They didn’t say throw the plan out… they said let’s get a better deal for our community.

Shame on all those Glenelg ward councillors who did not even bother to consult with the businesses that will be affected by the closure of both car parks, potentially for up to 18 months.  Shame on those councillors who got excited by the glamour over the due diligence. Shame on those councillors who said ‘near enough is good enough, we’ll let someone else work out the fine details’. You don’t deserve to represent the community of Holdfast Bay.

In the meantime, I think these 7 Councillors should offer the free air title to their own backyards to those businesses that are now under threat due to the car park closures of this development.

Line them all up.