Tim the Yowie Man visits Gundaroo
Tim at the launch of his book at Old St Luke's Studio Gallery. Photo: Graham Tidy
'It's that sinking feeling that everyone dreads,'' Ian Jones of Gundaroo's Old St Luke's Studio Gallery says.
On Friday, May 13 (yes, Friday the 13th), Jones and his partner, Moraig McKenna, who are both well known for their wood-fired ceramics, returned from a night out to dinner to ''10 fire trucks lined up'' outside their historic property. The 1848 stone building was constructed as a school and church, which Jones bought in the early 1980s and subsequently converted into a gallery and home for the artistic duo.
The blaze was a triple whammy for the internationally-acclaimed potters. ''They managed to save our studio, but the gallery and our home were completely destroyed,'' says Jones, who also lost the irreplaceable practical component of his PhD thesis. ''Sure it was a stressful time, and Isobel [the couple's six-year-old daughter] still misses some of her toys but, in Australia, we are not alone, many others have lost their homes and businesses to fire.''
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Like many victims of fire, Jones and McKenna decided to rebuild and after almost two years of heartache, they moved back into their home earlier this year. Today marks the final chapter in their return to Old St Luke's - the grand re-opening of their much-loved gallery as part of the Fireside Festival.
The irony of the timing as part of a festival, which celebrates fire as a source of comfort is not lost on Jones and McKenna.
''We deal in fire, that's just the way it is,'' Jones says. ''The old adage that fire is a good servant and a bad master is certainly the case for us.''
I've visited Old St Luke's many times pre-fire to browse the gallery, sample some wood-fired pizza (Jones may even fire-up his pizza oven soon!) and I even staged my own book launch here in 2009. The book, which chronicled haunted places around the country, was launched around a fire pit on a cold August evening. After hearing of the 2011 fire, I've always felt a bit guilty that perhaps I offended a wayward spirit (there's a small adjoining cemetery with several unmarked graves) that may have somehow resulted in the fire. Sure it sounds far-fetched, but the fire was on Friday the 13th after all! Thankfully Jones dismisses my superstition-based concerns, saying ''it was more than likely the result of an electrical fault''.
As Jones leads me on a sneak preview of his revamped gallery, he points out a rafter over the main entrance, which somehow survived the inferno. Ironically, it's just next to a wooden pole that was singed during a 1979 grass fire. Although, during my visit, the gallery is sparse, by today it should be brimming with more than 300 pots fired this week in the nine-metre wood-fired kiln, into which Jones invites me to toss a token piece of pine. It's the first time he's fired-up the custom-made kiln since the fire. I say ''token'', however, because when the kiln reaches about 1300 degrees (it's only at 800 degrees during my visit), Jones and McKenna will be stoking it with ''at least a wheelbarrow-load of timber every five to 10 minutes''. And you think your log fire at home chews up the wood?
It is this extreme temperature, coupled with varying oxygen levels and the use of only pine that gives Jones' and McKenna's ceramics their unique colour and texture.
As with many disasters, there's often tales of what-ifs, and the May 13, 2011, fire at Old St Luke's is no exception. Taking pride of place on the gallery wall is a circa-1738 painting of a copy of Evening, by English artist William Hogarth. Jones says he was planning on bringing the painting, ''a family heirloom of significant historical - rather than financial - value'', out to the gallery on the weekend of the fire, but something came up and he didn't get around to it. As a result, the painting, which depicts a night-time scene in London's crowded Charing Cross, was spared and was the first work of art Jones hung on the wall of his rebuilt gallery. And you'll never guess what lies in the centrepiece of the 18th-century painting … a bonfire.
Whatever your penchant for ceramics, Jones and McKenna's story of rebuilding their dream is truly inspirational. And one definitely worth celebrating. See you there.
Old St Luke's Studio and Gallery: Grand re-opening today 10.30am-5pm (and subsequently open every Saturday and Sunday 10.30am-5pm, including tomorrow). Shingle Hill Way, Gundaroo (about 25 minutes drive north of the city). Official opening at 1pm today with a speech by Janet De Boos, former Head of Workshop and now Visiting Fellow ANU Ceramics. Phone 6236 8197 or see oldsaintlukesstudio.com.au.
Check it out: Near the entrance to the Old St Luke's Gallery are a number of unusual objects pock-marked with pen-sized holes. They are actually the remains of wasp nests discovered after the fire. While their insect inhabitants would have been vaporised, the nests, predominantly built from clay were naturally ''fired'' during the inferno, leaving artists Ian Jones and Moraig McKenna with a most unusual memento.
Fireside Festival: For a full list of activities on today - the last day of the month-long Fireside Festival - see thepoachersway.com.au.
The Case of the Disappearing Doughnut
Due to a production glitch, last week's photo of the doughnut cloud hovering over the Alpine Way in Kosciuszko National Park wasn't very clear in some readers' copies of Panorama. For those who missed out, I've uploaded the intriguing photo, snapped by Acacia Rose of Thredbo, to my blog, the address of which is at the end of today's column. Meanwhile, on Twitter, debate raged as to whether or not the cloud really did look like a doughnut. Robert Wiggins thought the cloud more closely resembled ''smoke rings from the mountain giants waking from their winter slumber'', while Maria Greene of Curtin ''reckons it definitely looks more like a Cheezel.''
Whatever your take on Rose's cloud, it prompted an avalanche of other curious cloud formations to lob into my inbox, the pick of which has to be this ''dragon'' photographed by Julie Macklin above a hill near Macarthur. ''I looked up and thought, 'Dragons are with us and living with the clouds.' LOL, as long as they don't land,'' Macklin wrote.
Tomorrow is National Wattle Day, and if you venture into just about any patch of bush around Canberra, you'll notice splashes of yellow almost everywhere you look, which seem more vibrant this season. My favourite wattle hot spots are the western side of the Tidbinbilla Valley (best viewed from the nature reserve's little-known lookout on its Loop Road), and the slopes of Red Hill.
Meanwhile, if you fancy a drive, Cootamundra (a couple of hours drive to the north-west of Canberra via the Olympic Highway) is celebrating their Wattle Time Parade today from noon. Although you might be tempted, make sure you don't bring back any cuttings of the ''Cootamundra Wattle'' (Acacia baileyana) made famous in John Williamson's 1986 song of the same name. It has spread so successfully that it crowds out other native vegetation beyond its original range and is now regarded as an invasive weed in many parts of the country, including the ACT.
A number of readers were surprised to hear that the Oaks Estate Flying Fox was used to suspend hydrologists over the middle of the Molonglo River when it was in flood, to measure the flow rates. ''Well I've learnt something new today,'' wrote Kevin Mulcahy of Tura Beach, who thought it was used solely ''to transport goods across the river when it was in flood''. Flow rates are now measured by more high-tech means, however - to satisfy the thirst for photographic evidence of the flying fox in use - I've dug up this photo from the archives of the ACT Heritage Library, which shows workers from ACTEW checking flood flow rates in 1989.
Hung out to dry
Parochial Queanbeyan Mayor, Tim Overall, took exception at my description of the Queanbeyan River as a ''shopping trolley-strewn stretch of water'' (Operation Platypus, August 3), suggesting that perhaps I was confused with ''somewhere across the border''. And it seems he has a point. While fossicking around the Lake Burley Griffin shoreline recently, keen geocacher John Green noticed a shopping trolley in a precarious position - dangling over the water from a rope tied to an overhanging branch. And, what's more, it was half-full of rocks.
While a rusting trolley is, sadly, not a rare sight in our waterways, one packed with a payload of brick-sized rocks and suspended over the lake definitely is. Intrigued, during the week I went and checked out the trolley just a few hundred metres west of the Canberra Yacht Club. I couldn't find evidence of any pulleys used to hoist what would be a heavy, rock-laden trolley high into the air, meaning the perpetrators probably tossed the rocks into the trolley after it was hung from the tree.
Is it the work of bored teenagers or the results of a covert training exercise by the Canberra Capitals basketball team? Someone must know.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick.