Bizarre curiosities make Ned's Corner final event a raging success
Posted by Trevor Flinn
What follows is an account of the Ned’s Corner Twig Event which took place on Sunday the 7th of September, 2014 – and Trevor's period of reflection in the days afterwards.
Clearly I have not stuck to my ‘daily blog’ plan as previously promised. However, as Andrea, who mediates this blog, says: “THERE IS NO NEED TO FORCE A POST.” I have, therefore, headed her advice and so given myself a plenty of time to gather my thoughts and offer you a much more considered account of my last day at Ned’s Corner.
This time, rather than sitting at a computer in the Scottish Wing of Ned’s Corner, I am hand-writing this fourth and final dispatch*, while sitting alternatively inside my 1987 Toyota Hiace campervan (aka Cole) or a small beach tent (purchased for $5 from the Denmark Red Cross Shop).
The op shop ‘tent’ came with no tent pegs, no fly and no fly screen, so I have had to do a bit of ‘Macgyvering’ (or ‘Bear Gryllsing’ depending on your generational persuasion) and managed to convert a couple of tie-dyed cotton sheets (I found in my van) into an improvised fly and mosquito net. I also happened to be carrying one red tent peg – a souvenir from the 2013 Natimuk Frinj Festival – so together with another little tent peg I picked up off the ground nearby, plus a head-shaped rock, a piece of twine and the weight of my swag, everything was nice and secure. I had finally constructed for myself a practical, hippy-style retreat from rough weather, that would deter all but the most determined wild grey nomads who were ensconced nearby.
I am currently located in the picturesque Lucky Bay camping ground. The date is Tuesday the 9th of September, the time is approximately 8am, and I have just been informed by one of the grey nomads that last night’s storm front was the equivalent to a category one cyclone. He looked a little rattled, the poor man. I think he must have been the fellow parked up on the top of the hill in the camper trailer.
I, on the other hand, slept soundly for over 10.5 hours. I guess I must have needed the sleep. At 6am I emerged from the van (I didn’t have the energy the previous night to properly set up camp) to discover that my fridge (the roof of my 1987 Toyota Hiace) had disgorged its contents all over the gravel parking area, and most of my lovely packages of food (which Michelle had kindly put together when I left Ned’s Corner on Monday afternoon) were strewn all over the place.
I resigned myself to the situation, cleaned up and salvaged what I could (“lite skit rensar magen” as my Swedish friend Minna would say) and went for a run along what is described as the whitest beach in Australia (I’m talking sand colour-wise, not ethnically speaking...( or am I?)).
Anyway... returning from the beach I made a large pot of porridge, a cup of chai tea and was just about to pour myself a freshly brewed cup of coffee when Cameron, the Park Ranger, arrived to collect the $10 nightly camping fee. I offered him and his offsider a coffee but they said they were alright. It soon transpired that Cameron had actually grow up with Michelle Barrett and knew Kieran and their daughters very well.
Cameron seemed genuinely interested, and I had just imbibed a large cup of strong coffee, so I took great delight in giving him a long and detailed account of the Sunday evening event.
What follows (as previously promised) is my impression of The Twig at Ned's Corner...
After a solid morning of focused work which included: putting the finishing touches to ‘Ned’ (the clay monolith on the hill), completing the last remaining ‘pieces’ for their wool shed unveiling, positioning lights and prepping curtains, The Twig event for Ned’s Corner was ready to go.
I returned to the homestead, with half an hour to spare, put on a clean shirt, collected a video projector, the two looped DVDs I’d burned earlier that morning, and returned to shearing shed where I met Dewi, my wonderful local photographer friend who I showed into the space in order for him to somehow prepare for what would be a very difficult event to capture on film (or digital for that matter). He very kindly said that he was already impressed by the changes that had been made to the shed since his first visit three days ago.
The girls were already manning their merchandise stand and were busy flogging a few of the one hundred 100gm bags of name-tagged ‘Ned’s Corner Holy Grail Sheep Poo’ to a growing number of bemused visitors.
I parked the ute in front of of the western end of the shearing shed and attempted to rig up the data projector and audio system, while simultaneously returning a missed call. My dad answered the phone and we chatted for a little bit before it finally dawned on me that today was father’s day. I apologised, wished him all the best, and said goodbye.
I set up the other projector in front of one of the old concrete water tanks at the south end of the shed, adjacent to entrance area that utilised a lovely brass fire place, and some ‘lounge suites’ from Kieran’s workshop (aka salvaged seating from various farm vehicles that had been welded to frames in order to provide a comfortable pew). Perfect ‘readymades’!
The small cooking fire was going nicely and the drinks and nibbles were starting to be handed around by Michelle. In no time at all the light started to fade and a spectacular pink sunset appeared in the west – the first of many wonderful and unexpected moments which peppered the evening at Ned’s Corner.
By 6.15pm, a small but expectant audience was milling around the large, west facing sliding door of the woolshed.
The kids who were running the puppet show (five of the original 14 students from Munglinup School turned up, which was a much more manageable number) were well and truly primed to play their part in the evening’s proceedings. So after briefly checking that all was setup within the whole space, I slid open the door, asked (with Emma’s help) for everyone’s attention and invited Michelle and Kieran to say a few words of welcome.
It was then a matter of inviting everyone to climb the worn, wooden stairs into the the wool shed, where everyone was handed a lit candle in a paper cup and ushered through the coiled, black and red water pipe ‘portal’, and along the narrow, green, astro-turf runway (that once would have been buzzing with the sound of half a dozen hand pieces) and down onto the battens – the very bowels of the massive structure.
It was difficult to imagine that this quiet and cavernous space was once periodic home to the 16,000 sheep who once grazed the original 24,000 acre property. That was once owned by the legendary Sidney Kidman and Company.
I drew everyone's attention to an open section of the gridded, wooden flooring, which revealed years of ancient, accumulated sheep poo – sheep poo which, I assured the audience, had magical properties ... and was indeed available for purchase, at a very reasonable price, at the merchandise stand in front of the water tank. All proceeds, I emphasised, would go to the Munglinup P&C.
With candles in hand, and after marveling at what surely could be called a sheep poo ‘holy grail’ (by passionate gardeners at least), the audience was encouraged to walk in single file, following a narrow trail of ground up white clay (collected from one of the many piles that lay along the watercourse just below the shearing shed) that Kieran had sprinkled, like veritable bread crumbs, in a labyrinthine, geometric pattern, that led every walker through every single pen of the sheep holding area.
The colour of the trail changed from white, to mustard yellow, to a rusty, dried-blood red, with the result that the trail became increasingly more difficult to discern by candle light. This caused some momentary anxiety amongst some of the small group, but eventually someone produced a torch, picked up the trail and the line of people slowly made their way back into the light and towards the drafting area.
At this point, two of the kids immediately started the process of drafting off adults (the audience) to the left and any remaining kids (the puppeteers) to the right. The adult audience were then locked into a small pen facing the puppeteers, who hid themselves behind a large, back-lit bed-sheet, and the Ned’s Corner Puppet show was ready to begin!
From behind the curtain stepped Eadie Barrett wearing a black top hat and shiney black cape. She theatrically let her scroll-like script unroll until it hit the floor and with a momentary flourish she began: “Once upon a time at Ned’s Corner...
The story was about the animals who lived at Ned’s Corner and how each of them got gobbled up by a very hungry Tiger Snake. As each of the animals were mentioned they appeared as a shadow on the screen beside Eadie and rapidly disappeared into the stomach of the large and greedy Tiger Snake.
Eventually, after swallowing a swarm of bees, “for desert”, the Tiger Snake began to throw up every single animal that he had swallowed, thereby learning her lesson and from then on only sticking to frogs or small mice. The audience was utterly transfixed and when the show ended there was a big applause and the all the kids stepped from behind the curtain to take a group bow.
The audience was released from their pen and were allowed to march out through the darkly stained killing area (the only sheep who live at the farm nowadays are known as “the killers”) and back into the first little atrium area where they first entered, which was sectioned off from the main floor of the shed by a couple of large steel barricades.
At this point I explained that the show wasn’t over yet and that there was still much to see. I immediately dragged open the barriers and revealed, like a veritable Willy Wonka, a gallery of spot light curiosities, cobbled together from all sorts of scavenged detritus and odds and ends that I had been continually ‘magping’ since my arrival on Monday. The first ‘piece’, I explained, pointing to two identical calf feeders mounted on the wall beside me, was an interactive game for one or two players, with the object of the exercise to express some milk into one of the paper cups provided. Eadie, who eagerly volunteered to demonstrate, succeeded in getting the milk everywhere but in to her paper cup, much to the amusement of all the onlookers.
Next I walked the audience to a large, curtained-off, wooden plinth, which I invited Michelle to unveil. As she pulled on a piece of twine that looped around a high steel truss, and connected to the four corners of the two joined together bed-sheets, she revealed a spot lit map of Ned’s Corner, made entirely of different coloured lentils: yellow for canola, green for wheat, red for roadways etc. Mushrooms were placed strategically to represent the granite various outcrops, and dark green, curly kale (representing remnant vegetation) stretched sinuously along road and waterways.
The audience gasped in astonishment.
Michelle explained that the edible, scale map of Ned’s Corner, which she had designed and arranged in a matter of hours, was infact composed of most of the necessary ingredients required for her newest culinary creation: Ned’s Corner soup!
Each audience member was invited to place a spoonful of the map into the pot which she provided, to be was immediately added to a larger, pot of soup stock that was bubbling away on the coals outside. As each of the audience members scooped up a spoon-full of the map, they moved into the rest of the area of the shed, where I pointed out (like some kind of deranged side-show-alley spruiker) each of the remaining curiosities.
There was the coin operated, plough-disk-game-of-chance, where the object of the exercise was to try and get a coin through the small, square hole in the centre – a difficult, if not impossible task. All coins that hit/missed the disk were lost to the game and fell into the large woven basket below, thereby becaming an instant donation to the Munglinup P&C. Any coins that managed to make it through the square hole and land inside the cut open Nippys chocolate milk container would win the jackpot! Obviously this possibility proved too tempting for a number of the audience members because a large amount of small change was collected from the basket at the end of proceedings.
Next was possibly one of the most minimal pieces ... a real conversation piece, if you will. It consisted of a large length of wide diameter agricultural piping coiled around a grain auger. The idea was that complete strangers might be encouraged to engage in whispered, conversations completely undisturbed by the surrounding cacophony.
Opposite the ‘hose-a-phone’ stood an unlikely looking pile of PVC pipe, hosing, a curved fibreglass panel, car tyres and a single lopsided bale of wool. This of course was an interactive, kinetic sculpture (aka a tennis ball displacing machine), which was activated when a tennis ball was dropped into the end of a length of grey hose, reached by climbing an aluminum step ladder. The ‘machine’ would disgorge the ball through two sections of PVC pipe, across the curved fibre-glass panel and eventually deposit it on a small square of astro turf (the green). This piece proved very popular with the younger members of the audience who succeeded in filling the machine to clogging point.
One of the final pieces of the ‘gallery show’ was ‘The Terrifying Tiger Snake’: a piece of of spray-painted, orange hose which was attached to a large rock with a hole in it. Spot-lit and suspended from the ceiling the Tiger Snake looked ready to strike! I tried to warn everyone who got too close to the Tiger Snake to take care, but I’m afraid only a few member of the audience took me seriously.
The final piece of the ‘show’ was perhaps the most time consuming to make, and the one work that seemed to cause the most mixed response from the audience. I called it 'The Holy Bee Board' and explained that the 296 dead bees (that were pinned to a large, white, section of pin-board in a gridded 14 by 14 pattern, and leaned up against the closed west-facing sliding door of the shed) on display were collected from floor of the altar of St. Pauls church in central Munglinup.
I discovered the bees on my first day in the area, while visiting the local landmarks with Michelle and her two girls, after school. As soon as I saw the bees I felt compelled to collect their bodies and eventually the idea developed to somehow monumentalise them. The final piece was inspired both from a suggestion made by Michelle and as a homage to a work by American artist and filmmaker David Lynch called ‘Bee Board’ (1990), where the artist similarly mounted a series of bees onto a board using pins, and gave each of the bees an all-American name like ‘Ricky’, ‘George’ or ‘Bill’.
There was a mixed response to the final piece because for so many people bees, at this time of year, pose a real problem as they gather in swarms and hunt out new territory – often attempting to set up shop in peoples houses, the local school, or in this case St Pauls church.
At this point I left the audience to examine the works further and asked Kieran to bring the community bus around to the front of the shed and give the horn a bit of a blast. The bus journey to an undisclosed location would be the final and most mysterious part of the proceedings.
Once everyone responded to the tooted horn and found a place in the 24 seater, KIieran threw the bus into gear and off we went, into the night, on a magical mystery tour of Ned’s Corner.
Into the dark night we drove. A few strings of fairy lights strung up around the windows gave the bus a slightly carnivalesque atmosphere and as we turned a corner and continued on, with only the smallest prompting Michelle’s parents broke into a ribald rendition of The Little Red Rooster. It was a wonderful, spontaneous moment that lightened the strangely tense mood that had suddenly descended on some members of the audience. At last we arrived at our final destination.
The bus stopped just off the road on the corner of a fenced-off bit of scrub that led down to a dam, and the dam was exactly where we were headed. Sisters Emma and Eadie marched ahead of everyone, Emma brandishing a watering can and the audience struggling to keep up.
Most people had torches so we all eventually made our way to the dam edge and waited and watched as Emma and Eadie attempted to get a some water into the watering can. This water gathering exercise turned into an impromptu, slapstick performance as Emma’s foot sank deeply into the mud and as she tried to extricate herself, she slowly but surely toppled over into the mud. Eadie, who went to her sister’s aid, and also attempted to collect water, also came unstuck (or in fact stuck fast) in the deep and sticky mud.
Both girls eventually emerged from the dam with a small amount of water in the watering can and both girls looking slightly muddy and bedraggled but still determined to march on up the hill towards what was quite clearly a towering column of smoke and flame.
The bonfire (constructed by Kieran over a number of days from fallen trees and limb) had been lit and quickly threw out ample light on the surrounding area, and allowing everyone to forget the dark night and the fact that a light drizzle was beginning to fall. The fire light also revealed the large, sculptural form that was perched on the hill top, starring out towards the crackling flames.
This must surely be the famous Ned, and this was quite obviously was His corner!
Once the audience had turned from gazing at the fire towards the red clay head on the hill, now clearly lit up by the huge and roaring bonfire, Eadie and Emma ceremonially held hands and walked slowly up to the top of the head. With great reverence Eadie sprinkled a few handfulls of seed from her pockets onto Ned’s bald pate, and Emma carefully watered it all in with the water she had brought from the dam.
After climbing carefully down the back of the head (using the carved out spiral staircase) the two girls stood beside Ned and watched as Michelle stepped forward and received a plant (a hardy, prostrate grevillia called Goaldmine) from me as a gift, then proceeded to plant it in the dirt filled hollow of Ned’s mouth. As she did so I explained that the large clay monument before us was in fact a revolutionary, self-watering sculpture, and that the plant would therefore have a very good chance of surviving the challenging conditions of the site.
Finally Kieran stepped forward and placed first one shovel and then another of red, hot coals into Ned’s gaping eye sockets, finally activating his peepers and producing an eerie halloween-like effect.
This last action was more than just cosmetic – it was intended to create (once cooled) two reservoirs of ash, which when combined with rain water would produce black, nutrient-filled tears that would stain Ned’s cheeks as they ran down his cheeks to his hungry mouth and the grevillia plant growing within. The ash I suspected would help promote strong, healthy growth.
With the final element of fire added to the Ned’s Head activation ceremony, pictures were taken by all who thought it necessary or appropriate, and I warmly thanked Michelle, Kieran Eadie and Emma for making me feel so welcome on their farm and for helping to create, such a wonderful event.
We all relaxed and just gathered around the fire, but soon the rain began to get heavier and before too long it was generally decided to return to the woolshed for refreshments and some of Michelle’s delicious food, which included the communal Ned’s Corner soup.
Back at the woolshed the rain continued to fall steadily so that only the brave, or those who carried an umbrella, took the opportunity to step outside and view the two projected, looping videos. One showed Scott, the sprayer pilot, continually taking off, landing and refueling (which I like to call Scotty Flies Again...and again...and again...etc.) and the other a series of long-held tableau-like shots of ‘Killer Sheep’, a stunned rabbit, a slow tracking shot of the old shearers quarters, a timelapse of the Ned building process and a short snippet of bees swarming at the side of a building.
The first film was projected large on to the corrugated surface of the western end of the shearing shed, while the second was projected on the rough, curved surface of one of the concrete water tanks that greeted people when they entered and exited the southern door of the shearing shed.
The audience stayed for some time, gathering around the food and drinks and engaging in cheerful discussion.
I was thrilled and relieved but most of all incredibly energised by the whole process. The whole Barrett family, through their constant support, encouragement and hands-on labour helped make the night a raging success. The audience, though relatively small, was completely captivated by the experience and seemed to be genuinely absorbed in the various stages of the proceedings.
After the last of the guests had left I packed up the projectors (which had miraculously stayed dry in their hastily thrown together housing) and returned to the house for a well deserved cup of tea, another slice of Michelle’s special Twig cake, and finally a bit of the old shut eye.
The Ned’s Corner Twig was complete.
In the morning following a larger than usual bowl of porridge, I headed back to the shearing shed to dismantle everything and return the shed to its original state. In a few short hours, with the help of Kieran and Michelle, it all looked as if nothing had ever happened.
Only Ned’s head on the hill and a few shouldering logs on the fire told a different story.
When Ned’s head eventually disintegrates, and only a small bump and a thriving grevillia remain, I hope people will still speak about the night some stranger persuaded them to walk through a water pipe portal into another dimension of sheep yard labyrinths, shadowshow story-tails, and a series of bizarre curiosities that culminated in a bus ride to a massive bonfire and a big clay head on the hill.
It will I am certain remain a powerful memory in my mind. What an extraordinary place and what incredibly nice people. I look forward to catching up with everyone at Ned’s Corner again some day ... perhaps we could have another little Twig.
*Obviously you are reading something that has been typed up ... so when I say I was writing this entry in my journal, I wrote draft one in the journal and typed it up in a building called Innerspace, part of the Cannery Arts Complex on the edge of Esperance CBD. Some 4-5 days later.