Launch | Dael Allison's Fairweather's Raft

Poetry at the Pub (PATP).
The Northern Star Hotel, Hamilton, Newcastle
Monday 17 December 2012

(The following is not a transcript of the launch,
but a very close approximation of much that was said).

door It is indeed an honour to be here this evening to launch Fairweather’s Raft by Dael Allison, published by Walleah Press (Ralph Wessman). It is much more than a culmination of Dael’s studies for her Master’s Degree at UTS. It is the continuation of an almost lifelong curiosity about Fairweather and a passion for words that add perspective, shading and sensitive archiving to another, often poorly comprehended, artist’s work.

Dael’s history here at PATP is well known to us all. Dael and I think we started reading here about the same time – 2002-3. Since then Dael has been a regular supporter of events, readings and festivals. Even as her life sailed off to Kiribas for so many months, or the Northern Territory, Dael regularly returned to read her works in progress. The fine results are in your hands this evening, and I believe this will not be the last we hear of this topic or similar.

It is appropriate that tonight’s launch of a work reflecting on Fairweather occurs in the week leading to Friday 21.12.12 – that date beset with the portent of cataclysm, the end – or perhaps the beginning of things. Much of what we believe involves paradox – that double-edged state of possibility and reality. It takes a courageous, driven artist to pursue his true North and Fairweather did just that.

Fairweather experienced that paradox of end/beginning throughout much of his uneasy life. He was, as Camus might say, an outsider, personally and literally – shunned by family and living rough on beaches, under self-rigged tents and imaginative spaces. His life was as chaotic and desperate at times as Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa.

Born in 1891, Fairweather’s cataclysms – war, lack of social embrace, financial hardship – were also his beginnings. The beginnings of his drives for freedom, keen observation of other ways of being and his ability to express in colour and image that which an orderly, rigid life could never encompass.

Long before he built his fated raft at age 60, Fairweather had become his own boat – often rudderless, but always influenced by the tides of experience gained in China, the Philippines, Singapore, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin. The environment and he were each other’s life rafts.

He was extraordinary in his artistic reverie, capturing, or rather setting sail to light and imagery in ways that defy traditional art world compass points such as ‘abstract’. He was simply ‘true North’. While boats need a name, Fairweather’s art did not, does not. Each of the remaining 550 works, including his translation and illustration of ‘The Drunken Buddha’ are both vessel and journey for the artist and us, as fellow travellers.

Sailing is aided by the night sky, the stars. Dael Allison is one of those stars. Dael’s long held fascination about the wild man of water, words and colour has made her his assistant,

‘if he needed blue
I’d distil it from his eyes’
(Fugitive Colours, P.5)

his lighthouse,

‘I pull up to offer him a lift.
Surprised he concertinas in,’
(Each step into the light, P.3)

And voice, as in Demobbed (P.25)

While his name did not offer him protection from the storms of life, Dael Allison’s poetry has absorbed the buffeting, the ballast, the rough and swell. Her imagery is visceral such as in Reflection (P.69)

‘I wake to the sea laid out
like the wrinkled skin
in a half empty tin of paint’

For all the truths, there is also meditation such as on Page 68, Lacuna

‘stillness is a revelation
am I done with resisting?’

You will not be able to resist reading Fairweather’s Raft by Dael Allison and with that, I have the privilege of launching this sea-worthy vessel.