It’s been a month now since my father passed away. Since 26/11/19 I have had daily multiple instances akin to out of body experiences as I go about my daily tasks with the realization that a person whose constant presence in my life amounting to over 50 years no longer exists.
It’s no gross exaggeration to claim that he was witness to and firm supporter of every whim I chose to explore, three university degrees, multiple professional roles, scores of overseas trips, hundreds of journeys deep into regional and remote Australia, without maps, without guides, forging a fluid persona in a body in constant movement and becoming.
Over the years I became his Odysseus, as he fondly called me, the mercurial daughter with a fearless love for journeying into the unknown.
He was present at court, there to see the jury selection process, there to understand the rules of evidence and the burden of proof, to hear my volley shots aimed at a belligerent prosecutor or inquisitive bench, and though he didn’t quite understand why I had to add exhibition making to the mix of an already full life, he admired the confidence with which I committed myself to story making about memory and place through art.
This endeavor however challenged him greatly and though a constant presence at my exhibition openings, follower of my social media feeds and avid reader of my published art reviews, he would always exclaim with deep regret that he could not understand the language of art.
One of my father’s most traumatic memories funnily enough was not the WW2 German air raids nor the constant beatings at the hands of his tyrannical father. He would often recall with a quiver in his voice how he was banned from marching in the primary school parade celebrating the island’s liberation from the Axis powers, because of his shoes. He was denied participation because he was one of nine children born to a poor carpenter scraping a living from the ruins of WW2 who wore hand me down hand made wooden shoes. He was required to standby and applaud the island's wealthier children, the sons and daughters of the rich merchant and professional classes those deemed worthy who could afford to wear polished leather shoes.
My father was 10 years old at the time. By 16 the economics of this history compelled him to make the journey deep into the Australian northern frontier to stake his claim to a better future in an island continent that prided the mythology of the “fair go”.
At 40 once he established himself as one of Darwin’s finest master builder, returning home after work, he became a reader of encyclopedias, then of Greek philosophy and political history.
As he progressed, he sought out philosophers and political theorists who concerned themselves with understanding then eliminating the structural causes of class, hierarchy, power. He was obsessed with examining the ideology behind the exploitation of the masses by a historically entrenched elite. He scrutinized concepts and systemic agendas, peered through institutional structures that self generated and sustained oligarchies across all epochs of history. Though he came to be derided by his fellow Greek peers, who preferred him to remain quiet at the coffee shop and stay content in the intellectual vacuum of gossipy men over a backgammon game, he persevered a lonely journey through self education.
Whilst he read Hegel, Freudenbach, then Engels and Marx, Darwin and Freud, with a massive map of the world hanging on the wall behind him and the atlas and dictionary present next to the steak knife, whilst he came to know the key points of difference between Trotsky and Lenin, and whilst hiding his shame for Stalin's betrayals behind the language he developed fond to repeat certain dogmas, he never quite understood the language of art, rich with its own symbolic references, with its own self referential language, and dogmas invoking the visual ghostly traces of painters, movements, ideas from the present and from the past.
My father considered religion and art to be alike-mystifications- the opium of the people for the former. As for the later, the frivolous fetish products produced by the false consciousness of a corrupt and complicit intelligentsia.
Over the years I tried to explain various tropes in the art works on display at various exhibitions I conceived, curated and independently produced. As one of the best in the building trade, I often required his tools and skills for installations. Discussions about art followed drilling and hammer sounds deep into the night. These were continued during conversations at my home during the feasts I prepared for family gatherings.
Using materialists conceptions of art history, I would explain the context and milieu of the art work or movements. Over the last few years I developed an art language for dad-half Greek, half English- beginning with our "year zero", with the infamous appearance of "the Black Square" by the Russian Constructivist Kasimir Malevich in 1915, which coincided with his beloved Russian revolution, and ending with American style Pop art, the cultural movement par excellence, inside which we are still mimicking in endless repetition the capitalist economy beholden to rapacious imperial wars, with indebted agents trapped in a vicious circle, running on the treadmill fueling the conspicuous consumption upon which the system enabling the elites depended on...my father enjoyed this paradigm through which to construct and articulate stories most about art.
I was one of the participants during a series of workshops with nine other creative non-fiction writers. We participated in situ returning to engage with the art works and with each other over a three month period, to consider new approaches to critical writing about artworks and exhibitions more broadly.
My father followed my Facebook posts about the workshops ardently. On my monthly visits home to Darwin he wanted to know more about ACCA, the reasons and purpose of the workshop, and though considering these as yet just another example of the mystification processes delineating the forms by which the spheres of influence for elites are entrenched, he was nevertheless content to see that his Odysseus buzzed around that space as free as the digital dragonfly she had become before his dying eyes.
As I have found the time to pen an introduction to the publication, I wish to dedicate my writing piece "Of Reasonable Doubt" to my father. He was not by any means an ideal father, the reverberations of his own failings will be endured for decades to come. However, this is not the time nor place for catharsis. It is instead a eulogy to an ordinary working class man who worked tirelessly to give me (and his six other tertiary educated children) every opportunity to jump over the psychological hurdles associated with class, a man who never once impeded the freedom I required in order to perpetually become that which he was historically denied.