Sunday, December 20, 2009

traditions (part two)

Warning warning warning - I'm about to tell you a rather sweet personal Christmas story that contains genuine christmasy sentimentality - it may cause sudden attacks of 'bah-humbug' in the less christmasy minded....

On Christmas Eve the population of our small township of Cobargo and surrounding district will gather in the local park (there is little or no advertising about this – it just always has been – and so everyone figures it always will be...). About 500 or so people just turn up (more than actually live in the town) – kids will scramble over and under the overburdened few playground items. There will be a chocolate wheel and everyone will buy tickets to support the Cobargo Rural Fire Service. Santa will arrive in the local fire tanker (with full lights and siren – which must scare the hell out of poor unknowing tourists and bystanders!) – where he will give out balloons and ice-creams to all the local children. He will then preside over a variety of lolly scrambles before heading off on the back of the fire truck (more lights and siren action). The crowd disperses and all go home with thoughts of the Christmas day to come after the sleep.... Few will be thinking about where this tradition came from or what it is all about..... and few outside our small world will think of this quaint small moment as anything other than a quaint small moment.

This is the 60th year that this has happened – for 60 years my family has been the force behind the tradition.

(here I am with Santa and Nana A - Christmas Eve circa 1967)

Christmas 1949 my father's mother – my Nana Ayliffe - wrapped some little trinkets in Christmas paper, blew up a couple of dozen balloons and invited the local children to come down to the General Store on Christmas Eve for a 'christmas tree' party (I have no idea why it's called this...). My Ayliffe grandparents had moved to the township of Cobargo a few years earlier to take over the general store – they came with my father and his younger sister. I suppose her small gesture might have been seen as a way to ingratiate the family to the community....

But her gesture actually held a very sad tale, rarely retold to happy christmas crowds.

In 1942 my father's elder sister, Frances, suddenly, mysteriously, tragically died at 3 years of age. My Nana Ayliffe was understandably completely devastated – and never really got over her overwhelming loss. The family moved to Cobargo in the mid 1940s to make a new start – and my Nana dispensed little presents, balloons (and then also ice-creams - a rare treat in the early days of refrigeration!) in memory of her lost daughter – my unknown aunt Frances. As she told me when I questioned her sometime in the 1970s: 'well I would have spent this, and so much more on her anyway.....'

So every year since 1949 my family blows up a few hundred balloons, gives out a few hundred ice-creams and throws a few thousand lollies for the local kids to scramble after.

(sorry it's a terrible photo – its also from the late 1960s... and THIS is what Christmas looked like to me as a child – by Christmas Eve my Nana's entire staircase was a mass of balloons – hundreds of them were tied to the rungs. From about 7 years of age my Christmas Eve job was to maintain the balloon supply to Santa – a very responsible position and one I took very seriously - I was even allowed to use a nifty pocket knife to cut the balloon strings free.... I remember once threatening some interloper with that knife when they got too close to my balloons... decades later despite this 'incident' I'm still the balloon girl....)

And each year I think of my Nana who found solace and renewal in a small act of giving.

Through this act and story I've come to understand that traditions don't start with a grand vision (I know my Nana never set out thinking that this was something that would still be happening 60 years down the track) – mostly they are understood retrospectively, when folk look backwards and forwards simultaneously – and realise the significance of a small act that recurs without much fanfare.

(Nana A and Santa and Cobargo kids - 1968 – check out my nan's mini dress....
way to go nana! That'll hold back the hordes of kiddies!)

I hope to continue this Christmas tradition until my final days – and I hope it inspires my children (or dare I even imagine, grandchildren?) to do likewise.

Merry Christmas everyone

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Traditions (part one)

Christmas 2009 - featuring my efforts at hand marbling

Every year since the middle of my teens I've made my own Christmas cards. I can hardly believe that I've been doing this for almost three decades now – as I never set out to create a multi-decade tradition

If 'life is what happens when you're busy making other plans' - then traditions are things that sneak up on you and unexpectedly announce their presence.

Christmas Card circa 1983 (this is one of my earliest - so don't give me a hard time about it!)
I remember making these - it took me about a day to make each one (see subsequent development of rules below...) This card is also significant as it sparked my interest in the craft of calligraphy (mind you I had NO idea how calligraphy was done - these rather pitiful letters were hand-drawn)


these days I hand make around 50ish Christmas cards– and over the years I've developed a set of 'rules' that govern the making of my Christmas card collection

rule 1. each card must be hand made (only minimal mass reproduction techniques may be employed)

rule 2. each year's design must be unique – never before used and never to be used again

rule 3. the materials of each card must be unpretentious and not precious

rule 4. the entire collection of cards must be able to be made in a single day of construction – so only very simple designs and techniques can be considered

rule 5. the card design must capture the 'zeitgeist' of the year ( by this I mostly mean what is happening in my little world....)

Christmas Card of 2004
features my then very pregnant tummy wrapped up with a Christmas bow...
the 'Unwrapped Presence' was of course EJ

Its a fun and delightful challenge and a tradition that I enjoy immensely – In giving a handmade card I feel that I am giving my friends and family a moment of time – a tangible token of our relationship.

This year - I'm adding a new part to my Christmas card tradition – I'm posting a digital version of my 2009 card here, at flickr and on my fb page - a gift of sorts for all my online friends and with it I'm sending everyone a special Christmas greeting –

peace, love and joy to you and your loved ones.

From ronnie by the creek

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


ooooooo such excitement here at the creek – I collected my mail and looky what I picked up.....

it's the latest edition of Artlink magazine – volume 29 edition 4

if you turn to page 21.....

its 'scientia inflammatus' (knowledge on fire) by lil' ole ME

ooooooooh * faint

yes I knew my work had been selected for this edition – but I didn't give myself permission to believe it until I saw it in print ….. now I'm a believer!

Before I dissolve into a gooey puddle of drivel I've got to send out into the blogosphere a very big THANK YOU to my Monash Uni Masters supervisor for the past 2 years - Julian - who made me aware of the call for works relating to climate change and urged me to send something in for possible publication – who'd of thought this would make it through the selection process!

Here is the work (shrunked in size!) when it's not a dodgy photo of a print of a photo.....

Rhonda Ayliffe - scientia inflammatus (knowledge on fire)

Its a part of my 'codex incendium' series of works – to date I've only shown a couple of bits from this series. This was the third of my burning book towers – ephemeral sculptural works documented as digital stills and HD video.... (I know I still haven't shared the video....yet.....I will....eventually... somewhere....)

right now I'm just basking in the glow..... its a nice way to end to my 3 years of MVA study at Monash.