I keep having to redraft this first paragraph as what I originally wrote is now years old, and time marches on from the day I visited the place I’m about to describe. This minute and for the ones preceding, it has been a golden afternoon in May. The autumnal sunshine is magicking up the world over this long afternoon (at home) that is now extending into what will be a chilly twilight and colder night.
However, it is not May 2020, I wanted to tell you about. Because frankly there has only been home and working from home because of COVID19.
No, I am trying to write about a particular afternoon at The Heide Museum of Modern Art, otherwise known as Heide. Currently, it is closed. On this day, more than a year ago, I wrote notes describing my visit, and I wanted to try to tell you about the time I went to see the art, but stayed for the outdoors.
But time moved on, and I lost the notes I scribbled down. I have what I can recollect, and photos, but it isn’t quite the same. Today, different visits are conflated, and twist in my memory, like the river turns around the sculpture park, defining the land by its limits. The point is, after a long time of not writing, I still wanted to write, and this will have to do.
Heide is a bucolic pocket of rolling greenery amid endless stretches of what is now Melbourne’s eastern suburbia. It was and remains sacred ground, marked by Yingabeal, the scarred tree, which means Song (Yinga) Tree (Beal – Red Gum) in the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri People. It is the largest tree you’ll see when you park and look around. Then, you’ll spy a collapsing building, an old milking shed from when the land was a dairy farm, and then dedicated to art. Who knows what it will be in the future?
From the top of the hill the ground slopes towards the art galleries, known as Heide I and Heide II, and sculptures across the hill, and below them, further down, the kitchen garden.
Further away, the long distance electrical transformer towers and high tension wires lend the park a sense of the urban monolithic, but all around, there are the whispers of the wind through the leaves and creaking branches of stands of eucalypts, oaks, and huge silver birches. And at the bottom of the incline, the slow moving, yet sinuous Yarra River.
It is lonely and busy at the same time. At one point between the river and the buildings, the only sound is the clatter of seed pods in tall, bare trees opposite the hawthorn lining the avenue of bricks art installation. Elsewhere, amid the oaks, the melodic warbling of magpie families, while underneath, groups of sulphur crested cockatoos graze and caw to themselves. In the distance, the hum of traffic, and echoing across the grounds, the calls and squeals of children.
There is innumerable greens, bright and soft to soothe the senses, as well as moving air through leaves, through the wires, and around the statues, and lengthening shadows to sink into.
There is water, and the signs of water. A cut off, and usually dry, tributary of the river is lined with exotic trees, like an European vision, except too bright under this southern sky and I linger to look, before making my way down carefully to the river to watch the soft rain dimple the eddies, ripples and waves lapping the edges before making their slow way to the bay. In looking back at photos taken in 2018 from my spot right by the water, the lens makes the river small and the day dark, almost gloomy. Nothing felt small or gloomy then.
That day, from a higher vantage point close to the river, I sat and watched where the river goes its own way and vanishes. I turned to marvel at the riot of colour that is the autumn leaves and the fallen giant of a tree, still thriving where it lies.
Wherever I looked, my views were framed, some deliberately, some naturally, and I was (am always) drawn to seeing through them. But I remain wary of only seeing through them. I reminded myself to observe the scene and the little details, as I watch visitors exercise their dog, and eventually I got to throw a wayward ball for him to chase.
I am yet to return. I am wary of the crowds I know will visit on fine days. But the time will come, once again. It will feel like it will be like summer wasn’t so distant. Red-gold light will glint off city window panes and filter through the stark branches of the elms and plane trees lining the windy CBD lanes on afternoons as I wander once more from work to the train station, and home, and out to see art and sculpture parks.
But not yet.
Not quite yet.