Monday, February 19, 2018


A  tribute to a talented, determined woman -Margaret Vine - who contributed  to research for  major  books  on Australian artists ,  early important  documents in  the  nation's international  affairs and  the  production  of   Queensland  regional   memoirs  and Magnetic Island  heritage  signs .  During her life she collected pottery , jewellery , costumes , carpets ,  books  and  indulged  a   deep interest in opera . With  her liking  for  black  and mauve  clothing   and sporting  long fingernails painted  green ,  some  children  went  in awe of  her , asked  if  she  was  a  witch. 

The late Margaret  Ann (nee  Vine ) Willis , talking  to  artist Sir Russell Drysdale  at  the  launch  of  an exhibition in  the  Johnstone  Gallery , Brisbane , in January  1970 , to launch  the  Australian Art Library ,  the  function attended  by  leading  Australian   artists  and  sculptors. This  cutting, from the Australian Women's Weekly ,  reported she was stylishly dressed  in a tiered  dress of crisp black taffeta, with  black accessories .   

From  the  l950s to  early 1970s, the Johnstone  Gallery  was a major force  in the Australian  art  world .  The proprietors, Brian and Marjorie , were  close friends of Margaret's  .  Brian ,  born in  India , educated in Adelaide, attended   Duntroon Military College , became  a captain. He   served  in America and  Europe  after the war ,  Margaret saying he  had  been personally   involved with  Dr Herbert Vere  Evatt ,  an art lover , who  from 1948-1949 was the third President of the  UN General Assembly ,  helped   draft  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  became leader of  the  Australian  Labor  Party . 
 By Peter Simon
For a short  time, Johnstone had  served as aide-de-camp to the Queensland Governor , Sir John Lavarack . Mrs Johnstone ,  an actress , into mime , added to the  atmosphere of  the   distinctive  gallery  they  eventually  ran , Home Salon, in Bowen Hills . Both were  foundation  members of  the Queensland Art Gallery Society   

Margaret's   connection with  the  dynamic  gallery proprietors  was  so  strong that  her  pet Beagle , Ponsonby, and  a   Dachshund  named  Lindy ,  owned  by   them , used  to send each  other  Christmas cards , one of  which  she  showed   me  ,  along with a wide range of art  gallery  ephemera  and  catalogues.

Margaret  recalled that one   Christmas , Brian Johnstone had an ox tail sliced down the middle  to expose the marrow , put it  together, wrapped it up , and  had  it delivered  to  Ponsonby  who " went mad over  the gift ". In return, Margaret made  Christmas  cake , probably using here mother's recipe , cut it into cubes , wrapped it in cellophane , and sent it off  to the Johnstones  and  their   Dachshund .
The last Christmas card  sent out in l972, marking the end of the gallery, showed the Johnstones  in  an Australian  sleigh , led by their  dog, presents being thrown out the back , depicting  the  work  of  artists  connected with the gallery over the years ...which included  Ray Crooke, James Gleeson, Margaret Olley, Charles Blackman .  


 Born in Ashgrove, Brisbane , in 1936, Margaret remembered  being carried about on her father's  shoulders , he singing  what  she  later  identified as opera ,  showing  here  possums  and   birds. 

A  Brisbane  newspaper  asked parents to send in photographs of  their children  , the  snapshot  judged the  best  would be  be  turned  into a professionally produced portrait  in  a  special frame , behind  glass. Portrayed holding a teddy bear,  Margaret's  photo won , see below.  It was offered  to the  National Photographic Portrait Gallery in Canberra   last year , but  it  was declined .

From the age of about  three to five , the Vines  lived in a house  on stilts ,where she often sat up close  to  a mantel  radio  ,  listening  to  people  singing . One day she  told  her mother  she had  heard "Darna  Derba"-Deanna  Durbin - the Canadian born-American singer and actress ,  performing.  On a swing under the house she imitated   a  song by  the  popular American  singer and actress , Jeanette  MacDonald. Nelson Eddy, who co-starred with  MacDonald , also inspired  her  singing . 

Travelling with her mother in  the  tram, she often stood up and broke into song , causing passengers to  clap . When she accompanied her mother who went to see  a dentist ,  she sat  quietly  in  the waiting room totally engrossed by the "yellow books"-National  Geographics . Staff remarked that it was  amazing that  she sat still,  turning  the pages over  and over   , as  most  young  children  fidgeted , ran   about.  It  was  an   indication  of   her future  voracious  reading  and  interest in  so  many  subjects .    


Her father , a  bank employee, who had been educated at  Townsville Grammar,   became a  top cricketer , said to have taken  eight wickets  for   four runs  , who  could  have  gone on  to  play for   Australia  but  for  the demands of  his   job . During WWll,  employed by  the Bank of Australasia as a teller , he   was  stationed  in the Lennon's  Building , Brisbane ,  used  by US supreme commander of Allied  forces in the Pacific,  General  Douglas MacArthur , with many   dealings  with  Americans , helping them  convert  dollars into Australian currency , complimented  for  his   servce .

The family moved about  during the  war  to such places as  Windsor and Enoggera ( where the school had air raid exercises and  she  found it claustrophobic looking up  from  trenches).  From there  they went to Oakey  where  an airport was being built  nearby and she saw her  first "black man "...  not  an  Aborigine , a " Negro " soldier. 

 An uncle  went to Singapore, was captured, spent time in Changi , and lost a leg . At one stage Margaret and her mother moved to a sheep and cattle property ,"Geradan"   at  Tara , near Dalby , where she had a pony , Sally . Her mother said she could ride the pony after  first doing her  intensive primary correspondence  course  and  getting it   right . She passed the  course  in six months  and received Mickey Mouse merits  for  her work .
While at Geradan she received as a 1950  Christmas present from an aunty  and uncle the Ernestine  Hill  novel  My Love Must Wait ,the story of  maritime explorer  Matthew Flinders , and in later life she  became  interested  in  maps during   her   wide  ranging  research  .  
In the postwar  period  the family continued to move about  due to her father's job with the  bank . At one school , where she studied home science " and all that jazz  ", cooking and sewing , she sat for  a  scholarship  exam  and tied  ninth in the state .
The school manager at the time was  rotund Eric  Davis, son of  the writer Arthur Hoey Davis (1868-1935), creator of Dad and Dave , author of  the  Australian classic , On Our Selection, written  under the  name  Steele Rudd . The son of Eric Davis was  named  Steele,  who  told  Margaret  she could  play   doubles  tennis with him  if she let him look at her homework  to see if  he had the right answers .
Because she was so bright ,  Eric Davis  bet her father a brand new shirt  that she would  come within the top 10  in  the scholarship exams.  Margaret commented that it would have been hard to find a shirt big enough to fit him because he weighed about  16stone . Prizes came her way in the shape  of school  book awards , one from Nambour High and Intermediate School in 1953, Seven League Boots by Richard Burton , which she kept until  2017 , by that time containing pencilled  in  margin  notes . 
Due to her father's  employment , the family moved to the mining town of Mount Isa in the l950s  and  she described  being driven  to the open  air theatre   by Len Evans , later the prominent  wine writer ,  in a 1925 Packard  car  with running boards , a pet  Collie dog , Prince ,   taken along  for  the ride  which   licked  ice cream  from  a  cone as they sat in canvas seats  gazing at the screen .
 Her younger  brother, Jim,   said  there was hardly ever a night  without a message being flashed across  the screen for the  local  doctor  to come to the office  as he was  wanted . A book read  during that period in Mount Isa , when the  Vine  residence   was   8 Fifteenth Avenue , was  the  1952  Brisbane published   Where Strange Paths Go Down , by A.M. Duncan-Kemp, about  outback   Australia , retained by Margaret  until  late in  life .  Unfortunately not  going into details , she mentioned "theatricals "  performed  in  the Isa  and that Evans may have taken  part in them .  
It became a bone of  contention that  her father told her she   could  not go to university because she was a  girl , that  she  should take up  teaching  instead.  In due course  she did  become  a  teacher  and  while  at a girls' school , slipped away  for  an  arty weekend  in  Brisbane  ,  attending  a  party dressed  as  Picasso's  giraffe , her  hair   pink .   So that she would  not stand  out at school   on  Monday  ,  she   hastily  washed   the colour  out of  her  hair .
 Years later, attending the school reunion, an old girl  informed her that  she had noticed  the teacher's hair  on that Monday had a  pink patch  at the  back  and had  drawn  other  girls   attention  to   the spectacle, who then trooped   behind  the  teacher ,  had   a  peek,  and   raised  eyebrows. During he teaching career she was presented with a number of  cookery books , one  entitled A French Woman for  a  Wife .
 NEXT : Margaret puts herself through university , runs  a  café  , goes to Canberra , attends  lots  of   book sales , goes  overseas , tours  art  galleries  all the  way  to  Moscow  and   takes  in  some  auctions  along  the  way .    

Sunday, February 18, 2018


His  latest Townsville  nautical  find  is  this  LP   which  has a   paper  Waterfront label with a stylised  view of Sydney Harbour , including the Opera House  and the Bridge ,  some   music  by Mushroom .  It  is  ex  the   record  collection of Townsville's community radio station , 4TTT FM, which first went to air in 1982,   since 2006 103.9 Triple T. The   cardboard sleeve is   dated  June  1990 . Inserted is a  printed sheet with words for Don't Call Yourself An Angel, Enemy Mine, Viva Las Vegas  and Cripple Creek .

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Our  store detective  reports on  the  changing  North Australian  commercial   scene.

After Christmas , the lights eventually went out  in  Santaland, in  Townsville's   CastleTown  shopping centre . It remained  closed  for  some time , the large, unlit   Angus and  Robertson Bookshop  sign over the entrance  , long  gone, still visible . Last  week  the  space was  open...occupied  by  cars .  A short distance  along  was  another  space  filled  with  cars .
In November , without much  detail , it was  announced   that  the   Myer  store in Townsville's  Stockland  shopping centre would  be  altered to  contain a  Degani Café.This was dutifully reported in the Townsville   Bulletin , along  with    an ominous statement  by Myer  CEO Richard Umbers that 19  stores were at risk of closure .  
There  was no media  follow up to  ask  the  management  of the    existing  large café  near  the  Myer   entrance  what  it  felt  about  Myer getting into the tucker business as well .  Umbers  has  just resigned , the company is in dire financial strife , will the   food  business  plan  go ahead ? 
Some years ago, it was trumpeted politically  that  Myer  would be opening up in   the second stage  of  Darwin's  Casuarina   Shopping Centre , in the Northern Territory .  Did  not  happen . 
However, the  second stage , which  has a  Singaporean look about it , went ahead and many people  say  it  and  other   large  shopping centres  at  Palmerston and  Coolalinga  have sucked   the  life out of the ailing Darwin  CBD , especially  the  Smith  Street  Mall , once a thriving  part of the city.
In December, this was the   closing down sale of  the Aussie Shop  NT  in the Smith Street Mall. There are signs, however,  that new life  is about to be injected into the mall . Word is that  the famous Vic  Hotel , where pioneer  aviators stayed  and  NT News reporting staff  of yesteryear  had a close association, which has been  closed , below,  for a long time , has been bought by a  smart  operator, with  catering  interests   locally   and   Alice Springs.  

The Darwin City Council  plans to move its library into the mall  and Anthony's Arcade, the subject of  planned  major development in the past , has been bought by  a  southern group. This tale   endeth  on  a sad footnote : a long running eatery,  not far from the mall  ,  Ducks  Nuts , closed due to a large amount of money  taking   flight,  instead of nesting  in the till . 


Ace political  reporter Argus Tuft  telegraphs new  political  scandal which  will rock  the  nation .

CANBERRA :  I can reveal that  the  entire Coalition is unduly  influenced by a   seductive staff  member  who is  closely linked to   the Manager of Government  Business  in the  House of Representatives, Christopher  Pyne. 

ABC political reporter Annabel Crabb  grilled  Pyne  over  his obvious close   association   with  Ms.  Dix   and  he was  captured on camera  saying  he did not even  know  she  existed !!!! 
This despite the fact that he is responsible   for  drawing  up  questions  to be asked of government  during  parliamentary  sittings which  are universally    known  as  coming  from   Dorothy  Dix  and  are  called  Dorothy Dixers .
Argus Tuft  says  Dorothy Dix  is rushed from office to office at all hours of the night  and  day. She has the power to  mesmerise politicians  and make them    sound like  robots when  they  get up and  ask a  question in the House of Reps  and Pets. Her frequent  passionate  utterances  refer to  hard  working  Australians who  could  do  themselves an injury  in  a  different  position proposed   by   those  evil   eunuchs  opposite.


Cairns and its  photogenic Pelicans  are  enthusiastically taking part  in  the  large  scale Chinese New Year celebrations   which  includes  an  exhibition by artist  Hayley Gillespie  of  Chinese zodiac  signs in the new Aquarium   , a  group including Chinese artist Yixuan Ruan  doing paintings of dogs, harbour cruises in   a Chinese  junk ,  an 1880s  miniature display of   Chinatown ,  the  Cairns Temple display.

On February 21  SBS news presenter  Lee Lin  Chin will host  a  Yum Cha  Lunch  for the Central Queensland  University  ;  there will be a street festival  with  lion  and dragon dancing ,   a large market  with  food stalls , a  lantern display .

The recently opened  expanded  Cairns  Museum  has a  special  associated exhibition. Our  Cairns correspondent, Abra,   reports  that  apart  from  there being  many Chinese in town,  there  are  also  large  groups  of  Japanese   tourists, the Pelicans receiving  much  attention .   

Friday, February 16, 2018


At first glance, this view  could  be  taken as  a dusting of snow on  a  ridge in the Mount Kosciuszko  alpine  region . It is, however, on Magnetic Island, North Queensland , background clouds and lighting   giving  the optical  illusion of  snow.  


Drunken  looking  clock  tower , with facial tic , at the   Brewery.
Without the Townsville  media noticing due to the fact that it appears to run in an  anti-clockwise direction , the  hands on the  clock  above  the former post  office in the CBD, now the Brewery , were removed   in  recent  days  .  The  clock  has  not  worked  for  years .  After the  Japanese bombing  of  Darwin  in  1942  the   mechanism  was  removed ,  reinstalled  much  later.  Something  went wrong ,   the clock  stopped,  civic authorities  apparently did not care that  a  busted  prominent  town  clock  was  not   a   good look  for  the  Queen City of  the North .

When  British  TV  presenter   Tony Robinson  came to  Townsville on his Australian  Time  Walks  series   a  few years ago he  commented on  the fact  that  the  clock was not working , raised   the  issue  with  a person  behind the bar  in  the Brewery , was  told  the  problem  was  being worked  on .

 On  Thursday  of  this  week ,  the   hands  were  back  on ,  two  faces  almost showing   the   correct  time ! It gave the impression that  the Phantom  of Big Ben  was loose  in  the clock  tower . Could be a  story here .
Tipsy , not  working  clock  from  another  angle .