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Gang-gang. Scholars, governments, respecting graffiti ancient and modern

The power of the press! The awesome power and influence that this column wields has just been demonstrated yet again.

Only days after our passionate defence of street art and graffiti via discussion of a new book Medieval Graffiti, the ACT government has appointed a "street art co-ordinator" for Canberra.

Our passionately made point was that medieval graffiti scratched and carved into old English churches is being treasured now and is being celebrated in books like Matthew Champion's Medieval Graffiti: The Lost Voices of England's Churches.

Who is to say, then, that today's graffiti, reviled by fogeys ("Scrub this so-called art, this filth, off now!" they shrill from their homes in Red Hill and Yarralumla) might not one day be a godsend for historians trying to make sense of these times?

The government, persuaded by this and moving with admirable speed and decisiveness, has leapt to appoint Louise Emberson as our street art co-ordinator. She will work with artists, students, businesses and the general public to improve management of street art and graffiti in the ACT.

Readers loved the medieval graffiti picture from Champion's book that we published here. It was of a scary demon armed with a flesh hook. So, because you've been good, here today is yet another picture from the book. It is a late medieval scratching of a sailing ship into a wall at Norwich Cathedral. The artist would have seen vessels like this just across the meadows from the cathedral and plying the River Wensum. 


Some well-travelled readers who loved the demon and the item about ancient graffiti were reminded of visits to Maeshowe in the Orkneys. Maeshowe has a Stone Age chamber and once upon a time, about 1153, some Vikings sheltered there. They inscribed runic graffiti into the walls and of course that graffiti is treasured now.

What was on the Viking men's minds to inspire their graffiti? Yes, women and sex, and so it's said that tour guides have to give tourists euphemistic translations of what the men have said about their testosteroney feelings towards Ingebjork and Ingigerth.

​What lovely girls' names those are! When and if I am blessed with female grandchildren I will urge that they be given olde Nordic names like those.

"Tell us a story, grandad!" Ingebjork and Ingigerth will trill at bedtime.

And to please those two cherubs I may sometimes tell them one of their favourites, the one about God and Adam. The story tells how if you look very, very closely up at Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel you may on some days see (as in our picture today) God and Adam with bandages on their wrists.

The version I tell the twins will be full of fairytale fibs (hobgoblins will be brought into it). But the true version for this column's adult readers is that an article published this week by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests that Michelangelo suffered from osteoarthritis for the last 15 years of his life.

The researchers fancy that it was because of this that the Renaissance master could not write his own letters toward the end of his life. And yet, surely as an example to all of us (arthritis nibbles at this columnist and this column has many older, arthritis-prone devotees), Michelangelo determinedly painted and chiselled right up to within a week of his death.

Discussing the Royal Society of Medicine findings in a piece in Hyperallergic the online arts magazine,   author Benjamin Sutton illustrates his story with his own illustration of God and Adam. Sutton, touched by Michelangelo's plight, touchingly shows God and Adam suffering the same affliction as the great painter who has depicted them.

The research behind the Royal Society of Medicine piece depends in part on close analysis of three portraits of the elderly Michelangelo, with a particular focus on the rendering of what may be an arthritis-misshapen left hand. Michelangelo is popularly supposed to have been a leftie.

And mention of lefties brings us to the overwhelmingly "left-handed" cockatoos (both Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Gang-gang Cockatoos) much in evidence at the moment as they munch and nibble the fruits of the city's trees. The efficiency with which the white cockatoos (with a little help from our faunal emblem) have just finished (taking about eight days) stripping the row of Chinese pistachios at Garran shops of every pistachio is a reminder to city slickers of why horrified farmers can think of cockies as big white locusts.

Banjo Paterson got it right in his White Cockatoos. Was the Garran Shops onslaught, too, led by one cockatoo "scout"?

Now the autumn maize is growing,
Now the corn-cob fills,
Where the Little River flowing
Winds among the hills.
Over mountain peaks outlying
Clear against the blue
Comes a scout in silence flying,
One white cockatoo.
Back he goes to where the meeting
Waits among the trees.
Says, "The corn is fit for eating;
Hurry, if you please."
Skirmishers, their line extending,
Shout the joyful news;
Down they drop like snow descending,
Clouds of cockatoos."