On May 8th I took part in the 2015 Geelong After Dark at the Geelong Gallery, which consisted of readings by writers and poets inspired by works of art from the Geelong Gallery. They were Geraldine Moyle, Steve Singline, David McCooey and Jo Langdon.
Telling tales- Geelong Gallery (21 March 2015 to 10 May 2015 )
While narrative painting reached the height of its popularity in Britain in the Victorian era—with large-scale compositions illustrating stories from the bible, from classical mythology, as well as scenes from daily life—visual storytelling, historically and in a contemporary context, embraces many different styles and forms as this exhibition demonstrates. Telling tales includes paintings, prints and photographs from the collection by artists such as Thomas Faed, William Frith, Raymond Lindsay, Sally Smart, and Polixeni Papapetrou.
I responded to this photograph, ‘She saw two girls and a boy 1966’, from Melbourne photographer Polixeni Papapetrou, her own response to the 40th anniversary of the disappearance of the Beaumont children in Glenelg in Adelaide in 1966. I chose this picture both for its emotional simplicity and because of my family’s close connection to Glenelg.
SHE SAW TWO GIRLS AND A BOY 1966
(for my mother)
1. She saw two girls and a boy
While waiting for the tram at Glenelg beach.
She knew they were her own,
That’s the age they’d be by now.
The moment shimmered on pause
Until she saw the tram turning into Jetty road
And scrambled in her purse for change.
To strangers’ eyes they looked not real
Just Paper Mache models, expressions fixed.
Two girls and a boy, holding hands
2. As the tram rattled towards the city
She looked back towards the beach and saw
Her two girls and a boy staring at the flat grey water of the Gulf
Staring, not playing on the sand
Still holding hands, together,
Hovering in that other life, just out of reach.
The summer sun roasting the sand, gulls hiding in shady corners
At the going home time of day,
When mothers children- gather, shake sand off towels,
Call to their girls and boys, shading eyes against the glittery sun.
3. She’d left Glenelg years ago
But it would never abandon her.
She grew up here, she’d married here,
Her mother and her sister still living in Alison street
In the house crouching behind the cypress hedge, and morning glory,
Winding around the veranda like a promise,
With flowers like little blue trumpets she thought as a child.
This is where she’d always see her missing children, here and everywhere.
Two girls and a boy, she would see them,
Suddenly appearing in a crowd,
Outside David Jones in the Mall,
Or down by the Torrens feeding swans,
Not always holding hands but together at least.
Two girls and a boy, present yet absent too.
4. She’d lost them, not all at once, but one by one,
One girl at home in the garden,
Pain knocking her to the ground,
She fell into the poppy bed, their stalks snapping like dry bones.
A girl and a boy she lost at the hospital in North Terrace,
Where muscular roots of Moreton Bay Figs
Creep like invading troops from the Botanic Gardens, next door.
There her blood stained the white starched sheets,
Hot under lights,
That tortured with relentless questions ,
Where nurses’ voices murmured dove-like
And trolleys squeaked on scuffed lino.
5. She was never surprised to see them,
But shocked to see them growing – without her,
Looking calmly away from her, not needing her
As if her own memories of them growing inside her
Had been enough to sustain them forever.
And now as she returns to her river town beyond the hills
To her two boys
Everywhere she knows she’ll always see
Her two girls and a boy.