Archive for the ‘Good Friday’ Category


April 18, 2019

A nun once caused quite a commotion
When she played, weeping tears of emotion,
The “Moonlight” Sonata
Whilst suffering stigmata
At the Good Friday three hours’ devotion.


Boorowa Creek

March 27, 2016


Down in Canberra visiting my father for Easter, we took a drive to Binalong and Boorowa on a Good Friday which started overcast and then came good.


Good Friday, driving southwards

April 11, 2010

Over Easter, I went to Canberra to see my father.

It had been my aim to leave early on Maundy Thursday, but an impending directions hearing in a vexed matter with a very difficult opponent the next Wednesday and a rude letter from their young solicitor full of false issues and accusations which was nicely calculated to wind me into a fury (so difficult to avoid being drawn into this sort of thing!) put paid to that. So, despite vestigial religious scruples, I found myself driving south to Canberra on Good Friday.

The traffic was heavy though fortunately devoid of commercial vehicles and after some protracted crawling at 20-30 kmh past Campbelltown, conditions eventually returned to normal somewhere a bit before the Mittagong turn-off.

“Normal,” these days, really means everyone burling along at close to if not above the speed limit. Except for the very biggest hills or the odd caravan or learner driver, there are very few vehicles now on the road not capable of that: there can certainly be no particular cachet in being able to keep up a good speed. Aside from improvements to vehicles, we have the dual carriageway and the completion of bypasses round every town to thank for that.

I’m grateful for the ease and speed of the trip, but it does make for rather bland driving.

From time to time one sees evidence of the old highway, and even the odd sign leading to it. On previous trips down, not far north of Marulan, I had noticed another sign leading to the old Hume Highway, which then emerged at a subsequent somebody-else-VC picnic spot. [There is an article in the latest Quadrant (browsed in a newsagents: I refuse to give them money) in purported defence of ANZAC and denying that there has been a militarisation of Australian history: I disagree. It and the hijacking of the rest areas for such purposes are symptoms of a revival of military “heritage” which I find decidedly irksome.]

This time, I explored the turn-off. The old road survives as the access to a number of properties. Stoutly constructed (experts could presumably date its construction by the use of concrete in this way, which I think of as a 1940s mode) it is now more than adequate for its present purpose, even as it shows signs of returning to nature.

There are other similar (though less overgrown) stretches of the old Federal Highway between Canberra and Lake George, including some which I distinctly remember from close encounter in long weekend traffic jams as I desperately sought, in the years of my youthful Canberran exile, to escape whenever possible to Sydney.

Then I loathed such winding delays. Now, nostalgia and the lack of necessity, lend a certain charm.

Tenebrae III

April 14, 2009


I didn’t go down to Melbourne for the Opera Australia Annual General Meeting on Thursday (short report here). Instead, I found myself at an afternoon callover in the District Court before the Judicial Registrar – the sort of job you find yourself doing when others have gone away for Easter. After, on the way home, I dropped into the Fish Markets, by then practically closed, and picked up a dozen scallops on the shell and a nice looking “Sashimi Snapper,” whatever that exactly is.

Being involved in religious ceremony as a chorister rather destroys your sense of mystery: you see too much of the stage machinery, and become impatient as a mere member of the congregation. The last time I went to church other than for a funeral was to Saint James King Street on Good Friday three years ago. I found I could hardly bear it. That was when I definitively realised that I had become post-religious.

Despite that, Good Friday is one of my favourite days. I like its quietness and its sombreness – a bit of a piece with my preference for slow movements, I suppose. And of course, it is a big day for religious art, especially choral music. For some years in the later 80s and early 90s, I liked to have a fishy feast followed by evening attendance at the Sydney [then, Sydney University] Chamber Choir’s Good Friday concerts at the Great Hall at the University of Sydney. In those days this was almost literally the only show in town, and there was even something rather austere about queueing up out the front of the hall beforehand on the darkened campus. Even then, my motives were primarily aesthetic: I deeply disapproved when Etienne Chin, a Sydney music student who had got religion, yelled out “Alleluia!” in the pause before the applause after the last chorale of Bach’s St John Passion.

At some point, the Chamber Choir discontinued its Great Hall concerts – possibly because of fire regulations, which were always an encumbrance. If so, that is pretty ridiculous since graduation ceremonies and other non public entertainments continue unabated. They also stopped performing on Good Friday (maybe because of overtime issues at other venues) and, for that matter, my own allegiance faded.

So, this Good Friday, after a pre-concert penitential repast of half a dozen scallops each (cooked in a manner faintly resembling Coquilles Saint Jaques), D and I set off for Carriageworks in Wilson Street, Darlington, for the Song Company’s Tenebrae III. I missed the first two installments of this project at the Sydney Town Hall in 2005 and 2006 (some clips of that here and here), and the projected completion and performance of all three parts in 2007 never occurred. I’m not sure why that is but there are muted allusions to disruptions at the Song Company itself and in the meantime the collaboration with Force Majeure (the original dance contributors) seems to have dissolved.

The concept of the Tenebrae series, loosely stated, is a performance of the Gesualdo settings of the responsories for the Tenebrae services (offices in Holy Week where the lights are, traditionally, extinguished) as well as the associated plainchant settings of the lamentations of Jeremiah by singers, moving (in singer-friendly ways) together with three dancers, who obviously are allowed rather more extremity of movement, as well as a discreet amount of soundscape and some lighting effects. There are three Tenebrae services: Tenebrae III used the responsories for the final, Holy Saturday, service.

The space used was the quite vast foyerish area of Carriageworks. A single row of chairs was set up round the perimeter (there were two rows at one end). There was some delay before we were allowed in as the concrete floor apparently needed conditioning in some way. As we entered, the singers were already leaning against various industrial pillars, and shortly after that the three dancers (two men and a woman) started a kind of running bungee jump – the woman running between the two men and swinging around them and returning, running faster and faster between them as they moved further apart along the long axis of the space, finally collapsing on an spot at one end which was lit from beneath the floor. There was a roar of soundscape. Then, entering from from “offstage” one of the singers (call him the lector) started singing the plainchant. The acoustic was luxuriously bathroomish. The lector was finally joined by the other three men. Then, (beginning with the lector, who sang the opening line) the responsory, now polyphonic with the women also singing, started. The dancers started moving. We were off.

At this point, my patience to give a detailed account is exhausted, and even then has probably outlasted my skill. The singers moved around the space (important in order to fill it and to reach all the audience) and certain key gestures (such as the rushing one-by-one of the dancers to the under-floor-lit spot) were repeated.

I’m not sure what, if anything, many of the dance movements were supposed to mean, other than vaguely stylised grief. That is my only grudge with the presentation: the program notes referred rather learnedly to the various responsories, but nowhere was there a list of them, let alone a text. Some of them were familiar to me through the Latin, but not all of them. I understand why they didn’t want an audience peering into their program notes, but perhaps some information could have been provided outside beforehand as more of a guide. As it was, I was reminded a little of the furniture and other objects at the end of the film Summer Hours – stuck in a museum and passed only half-comprehendingly by the multitudes. Ironically, as I’ve already suggested, the museum is probably where I am happiest to meet religion – and I expect in the audience present I was far from alone in this. So you can see I am having it both ways: the abstraction may have meant that I was less moved than I otherwise would have been, but it is also possible that it spared me embarrassment, a bit like the way some (not all) opera in a foreign language frees you from the silliness the words if sung in English.

That last paragraph has come out sounding like a complaint, which it isn’t really, because I found the experience absolutely compelling. Part of it was the shared concentration of the (my guess) 250 people seated round the perimeter of the space in shared engrossment (not a cough or snuffle), and also the effect of the singers moving together and liberated from behind their music. It is a while since I have heard the Song Company in the flesh, and I have forgotten how good they can be. In fact, I think they have got better. And the Gesualdo is musically very striking.

We sat near a door, which though closed, let in through the cracks the occasional waft of woodfire smoked air. Unfortunately, it also let in the intermittent chugging of a refrigerator van tethered to a power pole in anticipation of the next day’s Eveleigh produce markets, but I overcame this.

Our neighbours were traditionalists. They thought the choreography boringly repetitive and much preferred the Tenebrae when the Song Company had sung them in the Rose Bay chapel, extinguishing the candles one by one. They said that was more moving. I am sure I would also have liked this, but I’m not sure I would have gone all the way to Rose Bay to see it. I’m relatively indifferent to dance, but I thought the repetition served some function, as did the dance itself. The whole piece is unlikely to have been nearly as effective if we simply had singers walking and moving around that vast space.

The dancers certainly helped D, who is not so keen on Renaissance polyphony, and likes to tell the tale of the two elderly ladies he sat next to at a Tallis Consort concert, who told him “We love this music” only to promptly fall asleep. The Tenebrae program and publicity featured a rather eroticised naked upper torso shot of one of the male dancers. D gave me an appreciative nudge when the men (rather belatedly, in his view, I think) finally got round to taking their shirts off.

The whole thing was over in about 50 minutes. I wished it could have gone on longer.

I was moved – not so much by any particular moment, but by the whole as a kind of meditative experience. The after-effects of this persisted as we went out (past the annoyingly chugging van) into the dark and wood-smoke scented Wilson Street. Back home, we continued our seasonal observance by having the fish for dinner.

I returned on Saturday night for the final performance.

As can happen when you do this, I didn’t quite manage to recapture that first fine careless etc. The audience was much smaller (I was told it was an additional performance) which inevitably diminished the sense of occasion. Thankfully, the refrigeration van was gone, though there were a couple of coughers. I’m not sure if the singing was quite as good as on Friday. More likely, knowing what was coming, I was more calculating in my own response – more able to see through the striking first impressions to how they were actually achieved: instead of the singers bursting spontaneously and at moments seemingly miraculously into song, I heard the quietly hummed note given in preparation.

Perhaps I’m just too resistant to mysteries.

Holy Saturday, looking westwards (after the performance)

Holy Saturday, looking westwards (after the performance)

Bailey Street, Newtown

November 11, 2008


In 1986, I moved to Bailey Street, Newtown. This is a little one-way street which runs off Enmore Road just a block back from King Street. The shops fronting King Street roughly opposite the Greek church were over the back fence. I can’t be sure now what the rent was, though at one stage I think it was $150 and then $165 per week.  I lived there for just on three years.

Here is another picture which gives slightly fuller context of the row of terraces:


By way of comparison, below is a shot from 1988 or thereabouts.


After a few months, Hx moved in as my sub-tenant.  “Sub-tenant” suggests something rather hierarchical about our relationship, though of course, so far as ultimate responsibility under the lease was concerned, it was rather the other way around. I knew Hx through her [I had misremembered: see comment below] brotherboyfriend, Fx. Fx moved into the house in Crown Street, Surry Hills which I first moved out of home to, though after I had moved out.  (Are you following me here?)

Hx was involved in running “Poetry in the Pub” at the Harold Park Hotel. The poet, John Forbes, whom I also knew through Chris Burns (they worked together for China Bear Removals, which operated out of the Wheat Silos now turned into apartments at the end of Station Street) used to hang around a bit. Correction: by comment below in 2013 I am informed that “China Bear Removals never operated from the Wheat Silos. We operated from Paddington, Centennial Park, Mascot and Botany”

I thought Forbes was coming round to see me, but in retrospect I suspect he was trying to crack on to Hx. This didn’t stop him borrowing $300 from me – a proposition which astounded me at the time. More luckily than I then knew, he paid me back. I don’t know how many Sudafeds or how much cough mixture you could buy with that.

My bedroom was upstairs at the front. Hx’s was the very tiny rear bedroom.

Downstairs the house had a terrible smell, which I intermittently attempted to mask with drops from a product misleadingly called “Nilodor.”   The wall had been knocked out between the corridor and the downstairs front room, but this was the room where the odour was probably the worst, so was scarcely used.

Inside and on the ground floor externally, in a misconceived act of 1970s decoration, the paint had been removed from the bricks, which constantly shed sandstock on the floor.  I’ve sometimes wondered if this wasn’t also the origin of the terrible smell.  There was a very groovy wall-paper mural of an autumnal forest scene in the back room which gave quite a trompe-l’œil effect. The effect is compromised in these photos by the Advent calendar, but you can get the general picture:

Bayley St Xmas 86 2

Bailey St Xmas 86 1

The toilet and bathroom were out the back. It was when lying in the bath, with my head resting against the cold, wet tiles, that I first came face-to-face (or rather, cranium-to-tile) with the fact that I was losing my hair. That was a sad moment.

At some point, Hx moved on and Sx, who was doing philosophy honours [Trad & Mod, for the cognoscenti] at the time, moved in. I brewed my own beer using a home-brew kit and the Coopers cans which you can still see in the supermarkets. The empty bottles were stored outside in the corridor leading to to the back yard and bathroom. There was an elaborate ritual required to clean and sterilize the bottles. Sx joined me in this.  He had a particular fear of being poisoned by a snail in a bottle by reason of his exposure to Torts and the famous Snail in the Ginger Beer Bottle case. If I had only known, I could have told him that although the plaintiff in that case succeeded in the House of Lords in maintaining her claim, the jury remains out, or rather, never even retired as to whether there actually was a snail, because the case was settled. But I suppose we were wise to be vigilant all the same.

Later, Sx and I were at law school together, and we still see each other. Hx went overseas at some stage, and I have lost touch with her.

Later still, before I finally moved out, my sister KR came to stay and was joined by her then boyfriend, Gg.  Their love was forged when they were working together at Coorow just south of Geraldton in WA at a native nursery.  For some years I had a Sony walkman whose plastic outer case had been fused together on the memorable occasion when their shared bunkhouse caught fire on account of romantically lit candles. KR arrived from the West on Good Friday, 1989. Gg turned up a month or so later.  He rode his Harley across the Nullarbor to follow her – I think this was a little test of love she imposed on him.

KR and Gg lived with me for some months while they got the money together to leave Australia together. On Gg’s part his critically entailed selling the Harley.  This was a long and rather involved saga as it was not a perfect specimen and took a bit of shifting.  Ultimately it was sold on consignment at a not entirely satisfactory price.  I got the impression that this was phase 2 of the test of love.  Greater love hath no man than this, as they say.

Most of my time in Bailey Street coincided with my turbulent years as a high school English teacher, but by this time I had started at law school.   The prospect of intervals without housemates prompted me to consider moving somewhere cheaper where I could be sure of being able to meet the rent on my own. When the chance came to house-sit a friends’ (much larger) house in Marrickville for six months  in exchange for keeping up their mortgage (which was less than the rent on Bailey Street) I took it up and KR, Gg and I moved there together.  In due course KR and Gg took flight to see the world.  My friends returned from overseas and I found a single bedroom flat in Brighton Street Petersham.

Riding westwards

January 13, 2008

Coolah Tops road

The title is a bit of a half-truth, since in the end we “rode” eastwards at least as much as we travelled westwards, though it is an echo of a (to me) memorable trip over the divide which I undertook one Good Friday some years ago.

Starting on Wednesday, D and I travelled west (as you will have guessed).  We first drove to spend two nights at one of the the Goulburn River Stone Cottages, about 3 km off the Ulan road, about 10 km past Ulan, which in turn is about 40 km past Mudgee.  I have previously been twice to The Drip, a scenic spot about 2 km up the river from this cottage.  Now seemed a good time to stay at the Stone Cottages, because the commencement of mining on the Mooraben mineral lease this year threatens the ground water and ecosystem of this area, or so opponents of that mine say.  The cottages are a number of “huts” (or so the map described the one where we stayed) in a property, Gleniston, which adjoins the Goulburn River National Park.

We stayed two nights.  On the day in between, we took a little drive up to Cassilis (not really much to see there, really) and then came back for a skinny-dip (sorry if that is TMI) at a spot in the Goulburn River just upstream from “our” cottage.  The cottage itself is a single room hut with a kitchen at one end and sleeping and sitting quarters at the other.  The lights are powered by a 12 v solar panel (so no TV or other electrical modern conveniences, which is part of the point); the hot water and fridge (two useful mod-cons) are gas powered.  There is a rustically constructed bathroom at the back, for which the water is pumped from the river, so we didn’t need to feel too guilty about bathing, although we were urged to water the surrounding plants with our grey water.  We saw some wildlife, though not as much as some others have, judging by the visitors’ books kept at the cottage.  The deep quiet and dark (no moon on either night) also vouchsafed us many many stars.  One oddity about this is that I found it almost impossible amongst so many to make out the Southern Cross!

On Friday to Gulgong, of which I have written before and where a friend owns a house.  Here, too, we stayed two nights.  On the day in between, we drove again, this time even further, to Coolah and then to Coolah Tops National Park.  This is apparently the south-eastern extreme of the Warrumbungles, where they meet the Dividing and Liverpool Ranges.  Until 1996, the park was a state forest, and it shows signs of this, but it is still a magical place.  The approach, and especially the last 10 or so km up a ridge-top “gravel” (but actually more just extremely stony) road is an adventure in itself.

Once there, we took three short walks.

The first involved a steep descent to a waterfall and ascent in return. We convinced ourselves that our shortness of breath was owing to the altitude.

The second was to a very striking stand of giant grass trees.  If this hadn’t been level, I would not have been able to persuade D to make it.

grass treesgrass trees

The third, at the end of the road, was to a lookout known as “The Pinnacle.”  This is a narrow basaltic ridge jutting out from a line of cliffs, from which you can look north over the plains.  It was an amazing feeling and well worth the journey.  I recommend this.  One bizarre feature of this walk is that, all of a sudden, miles from the last encountered fence, there is a fence with  a little gate (oddly, higher than the fence itself) which everybody apparently opens and then shuts again by means of one of those toggles on a chain which you then slip on to a post with a knob on the end.  (If anyone can work out what I mean by this and what the proper term is, I would be indebted.)  It reminded me of the lamp-post in Narnia.

The most perilous part of the road was not the gravel part up to and in the park, but the bitumen section on the valley floor from Coolah.  The road, though paved, had been scarcely made at all, with the result that at some points on one side or other of the road it had simply subsided in a deep rut, leaving a relatively high ridge in the middle of the road.  This ridge scraped most alarmingly on the undercarriage of our (admittedly low-set) city car on the one occasion when I imprudently allowed the car to straddle it.  After that, I was alert to the problem.

On the way to Coolah we drove through Leadville.  There was a hall with a sign which advertised that it was for hire and (at first glance) that it was “Suitable for occasions.”  As we flashed past it on the way back, it only a little more prosaically (or less prosaically, from one point of view) appeared to state that it was “suitable for all occasions.”

On Sunday, back to Sydney, including through enormous ex-hailstone raindrops from about Leura to Penrith.