Tag: Kenneth Slessor

‘Water’ … the third Element Door

Water was the first door I painted in this series. It all came about because there was a door going nowhere in The Gap High School Library, and the Teacher-Librarian, Janelle McMahon asked me if I would paint it blue (because she liked blue…lol) 🙂

I’ll do better than that, I said, I’ll paint a picture on it and it will include blue! Little did I know where that casual remark would lead.

One formal proposal to the Principal later, the one door had turned into four and the images were to be the Elements. No better topic to express my love of landscape! The school gave me a good lump sum of money for the art supplies and I agreed to do it free of charge – I kept the left-over oil paints, brushes etc.

Water paved the way for the rest of the pictures. I had no idea how the paint would stick to the surface – the doors all had a textured good-quality vinyl surface in a limestone colour. But I need not have worried – it worked perfectly.

I used acrylics to ‘map’ out my design first, glued down the mixed media of the printed poetry on rice-paper, then slowly built up glazes in oil paint. The individual images in the picture I added as I went, building up their surface with oils.

‘Water’ – ‘Down by the Bay’ – Sheryl Gwyther 2003

Water focuses on my other job at the time, a part-time teacher at Brisbane’s Nudgee Beach Education Environmental School. It’s on Moreton Bay and is mangrove coastline with estuary beaches – a really important part of the Bay’s eco-system.

Jelly fish in deep water

The Bay (as Brisbanites call it) is constantly under threat from over-fishing. We had a shipping accident last year that tipped containers of chemicals to the ocean floor and swamped tons of oil across beaches. Now the sea-grasses where dugongs feed are threatened after the recent floods in Brisbane.

Moreton Bay in danger of being loved to death, and so are the estuarine mudflats of Nudgee Beach. I haven’t been back there for a while but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s denuded of its micro-life.

Water is a multi-dimension landscape painting – mapping out a bird’s-eye view of Nudgee Creek as it flows into Moreton Bay. The macro image of a Soldier Crab represents life on the mudflats, and the water-poetry inserts are there because the painting is in a Library.

The chosen poetry extracts are some of the most evocative words written about water by poets from several continents and times. I chose my favourites, Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot, Five Bells and Beach Burial by Kenneth Slessor and others.

Human symbols for water include in the painting are Aboriginal water-hole circles, the ancient Egyptian wavy hieroglyph for river, the zodiac water signs of Scorpio, Pisces and Cancer, and the Brisbane tidal patterns. See if you can find them all.

Some of the larger images include baby turtles (not from Nudgee Beach); my favourite creature of the Bay – the Soldier Crab; flowers from the Red Mangrove and shells.

Soldier crabs armies look like pieces of sky moving across the mudflats.

This is a painting about conservation of a fragile environment – and I don’t care if it’s not subtle. The estuary mangroves are the nurseries for Moreton Bay’s fish and mud crabs. Below, in and above them live countless creatures. The most destructive creatures at Nudgee Beach walk on two legs.

If you’re ever near The Gap High, call in and ask Janelle or Karen to give you the guided tour. 🙂

All images are copyrighted. If you would like to use them for educational purposes, please acknowledge them and contact me first for permission.
(c) Sheryl Gwyther 2011

Making art with kids at Nudgee Beach




Of a sunburnt country and convoys of dead sailors…

Recently, I was a guest blogger on Sally Murphy’s Writing for Children Blog to celebrate the launch of her new verse novel, Toppling. She is an acclaimed Australian children’s author and reviewer of Children’s and Young Adult novels.

Sally asked, ‘What do you like best about poetry…’


“What I like best of all is how the poet is able to capture so much in a few words – of how images are distilled and poured into those words. That is clever writing!

I haven’t read as many poetry or verse novels for younger children as I have books, but I aim to change that soon especially with Sally’s Toppling and her hugely popular, Pearl Verses the World.

Thankfully, my eyes were opened to the joys of verse novels for older children when I read Steven Herrick’s verse novel, Cold Skin. It was one of those books you cannot put down until it’s finished – and one in which the story and the characters stay in your mind for a very long time. I consumed Herrick’s Lonesome Howl and By the River in the same week – stories that wrung me out emotionally, but left a feeling of peace in my heart, and so glad I read them.

When I was at school, we studied Australian poetry and learned to say many poems off by heart. The ones that stayed with me created such strong images in my mind. I’m not surprised they have been perennial favourites for many Australians even in modern times.

Like Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country. Her words could never mean any other country except Australia. I like the way her poem describes all the adversity, the harshness and beauty of this country but it makes no difference, she loves it unreservedly.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains …

Kenneth Slessor’s Beach Burial, written during WW2 is so evocative, so sad and beautiful. (It’s worth reading the whole piece.)

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness; …

It makes me happy to see how children’s poetry books and verse novels are once more popular with publishers. It means that librarians and teachers encourage children to read poetry and to perform it. And that children will discover worlds they may remember forever, with emotions that will touch their hearts.

A loved poem is a friend you can take anywhere.