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Day of the Dead

Self-Portrait, 1994. Bronte Beach.

by VANESSA S. JONES

One day I walked down to Bronte Beach, from my flat in Bondi Junction, in Sydney. Or was it Woollahra? The real estate said it was Bondi Junction. Maybe that helped in renting it. Close to the shops and train station. But the post office kept correcting our mail "Woollahra".

I put in my knapsack a camera my partner had bought at a garage sale, for $4. It was an old German camera. Forget the name.

But I walked down, to the sea, snapping photos of the sea, the rocky edges, blocks of flats with rubbish bins overlooking the sea.

I took photos of cut down trees, which eased the views for residents, towards the sea.

Photos of where manmade sandstone walls met rock walls.

The cut down trees with Waverly Cemetery behind them, by the sea.

Then I got to the beach.

I knew Bronte well, and had swum there countless times.

Like a backyard, when I was a kid.

The little beach huts, divided into four sections. Skidding down the hill on your bum, on flattened out cardboard boxes.

Packed out in summer, BBQs, games on the grass, endless swimming, and possums up in the gully.

Local kids playing the racist joke of "let’s play ‘spot the Aussie’ ", as Lebanese or Greek families in the 70′s and early eighties drove in with their vans and dropped off wonderful eskies and picnic boxes of meats to BBQ and salads. And big watermelons. And stay all day, relaxing in the little huts. The women chopping up salads and the men cooking meat or sitting talking, drinking hot drinks, on their fold up chairs.

Getting an ice cream from the surf club kiosk. Boys jumping off the high rock at the pool. Waiting at the edge of the big pool, overlooking the ocean, for a wave to come, as you hang onto the synthetic twisted rope. Little nippers with their head caps. The train that went round and round all summer on its little track, which got garaged, at night, in the train shed. The driver man’s tan getting deeper and deeper all summer.

When you wait at the bus stop, to go home, there’s a bus shelter near the green grass, on the beach side.

Opposite the now flourishing cafes.

I turned the camera on myself, and snapped 6 self portraits. I still have the whole film of photos, and the negatives. I hadn’t taken an image of myself for ages. It is always interesting to use a camera to photograph yourself. I suppose a bit theatrical. Reflective. Think of Julie Rrap’s work or Cindy Sherman or Tracey Moffat. Also, Jo Spence.

When I look at these photos now, I see one photo, taken in that winter of 1994. At Bronte Beach bus stop. I see the text "sep 11", on the poster behind me. Only one of the photos has that full date. The other photos get the poster, and a bit of the date, but that photo gets the full date.

I’d just come back to Sydney after living in Egypt for a while.

Visiting the beaches, and places I loved. Reconnecting.

Bronte beach and its nearby beaches,

The harbour.

Inner city parks and areas.

It’s strange, the date in that self-portrait.

It must have been a dance or theatre ad, pasted on a Bronte bus shelter. A couple of the 6 photos have details of the performers’ and contributor’s names.

"Music by Sarah de Jong" "Linden Wilkinson" "Jeanette Cronin".

I like the photo on the poster ,

The way it somehow ties in with what later became "sep 11".

A dark ghostly brooding image/

A dancer imaged in half dark

And half light.

A silhouette you could call it.

What the impact of that small phrase "sep 11"

Would have for the western world, and the way it

Dealt out revenge to

Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the way "anti-terror" laws

Will affect our civil liberties.

The Canberra artist, Fatima Killeen, said recently, regarding her exhibition of prints and paintings, that her show is "an attempt to come to terms with how the American-led war succeeded in destroying the very fabric of Arab and Muslim homelands, turning them into zones of crisis".(1)

These paintings exhibited in a city where a talk by a journalist like Robert Fisk is packed out, people sitting side by side on the stairs, in October 2005.

The same city where the Australian government makes decisions about who to go to war with, and when.

The old camera from the garage sale worked. I think its next film didn’t.

At least it worked for one roll.

I wonder what the other roll contained,

That I will never know.

But there is one film I have,

Like a strange premonition,

Of something to happen, seven years later,

Half way across the world.

Postscript:

I decide to try and find out

Where the poster comes from.

Via the internet, I contact the composer Sarah de Jong,

Whose name appears on the poster

In my photo.

Who kindly refers me to the Griffin Theatre Company.

They email me the 1994 program of plays

And there, I find the date,

Within the details for the production of

Daniel Keene’s "All Souls"

Which ran from

11 Aug ­ 11 Sep

as the 1994 details say.

All Souls’ Day-

The Day of the Dead.

Vanessa Jones lives in Australia and can be contacted on post4@bigpond.com.au.

Notes.

1. Helen Musa, "Capital Life", The Canberra Times, 8/10/05