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Victorian Artists’ Society Opens Heritage Renovation

April 2, 2017

What Lies Underneath the Arches

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Victorian Artist’s Society

Tuesday 28th March 2017 saw the opening of the recent heritage restoration of the historic galleries inside the Victorian Artists’ Society in Albert Street in East Melbourne. The society was foundered in 1888 and in 1892 the Victorian Artists’ Society’s elegant building appeared on the landscape of East Melbourne, a place for artists to gather, to share their ideas and exhibit their works.



This was a reflection of the enthusiasm and pride that pervaded the formative period of Marvelous Melbourne. The arts society provided studio space for many of Melbourne’s early impressionist artists the likes of which included Streeton, Roberts, and McCubbin.

Over a century later this collection of splendidly restored galleries were officially opened on Tuesdaythe 28th March at a sparkling evening event. This bustling occasion was not simply well attended but importantly provided a platform for the announcement of the winner of the society’s contemporary art competition.

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Audience at the Victorian Artist’s Society event 2017

The exceedingly affable MC Ron Smith gave us a brief overview of the many luminaries that have exhibited and performed at the society, including Melbourne’s famous opera diva Dame Nellie Melba who taught at the music conservatorium from 1915- 1931 when it was incorporated into the Artists Society premises.

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Rebecca Bode

To honour that occasion we were treated to soprano Rebecca Bode singing three opera arias including my favourite One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. Rebecca’s stunningly powerful rendering of these opera highlights left the audience quite spellbound.

Victorian Artists Society much loved President Eileen Mackley spoke passionately about restoring the original building to its original state and an important aspect of which was the restoration of the iconic arched façade. The work has repaired longstanding water damage, heating, and plumbing and added a new purpose designed sophisticated German lighting system to add luminescence to the artwork.

The Victorian Artist Society prize for Contemporary Art was judged by Godwin Bradbeer, a Melbourne based figurative artist, Head of Drawing in the School of Art at RMIT University in Melbourne from 2005 until 2010.  In his eloquent opening speech Godwin chose to reference 20th century cultural icons that the audience could relate to instantly.


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Godwin Bradbeer courtesy of The Art Room


“In a field of paintings, varied in manner and accomplished in execution I am ultimately drawn to those works wherein the residue of struggle remains evident and visceral. Where risk and courage are present in the mix. I am reminded of the statement – perhaps apocryphal of Pablo Picasso’s –that;

“the work of art is a battle between the painter and the painting and if the painter is lucky, it is the painting that will win”

“So on this occasion, rather than presenting awards for fine art or for excellence in contemporary painting practice I have chosen to make these awards for valour, for stepping into the breech, for courage in the face of the blank canvas and for confronting the visual culture of the twenty first century”.

Erica Wagner and artist Godwin Bradbeer

Erica Wagner & Godwin Bradbeer

With this criteria in mind I acknowledge the high achievement of the Jo Reitze, Paul Laspagis, Margaret Gurney, Clive Sinclair, Raelene Sharp and Ian Wilson.

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Alison Waters (me) & Erica Wagner

I deem artist Erica Wagner the prizewinner on this occasion. Her painting atching the Water has a beguiling visuality and Erica’s work has an energy all of its own”.

I caught up with Erica Wagner briefly after her win and asked her what inspires her to paint. She gave me a quote from the German writer and statesman Goethe.

‘Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.’

“His words kept me going during the many years of squeezing my art into tiny spaces while juggling work and family. For the last 7 years, working part-time in publishing, I’ve had the luxury of more time, but when the juggling gets out of control, that quote still fires me up”.


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Winning painting Watching the Watch y Erica Wagner

Celeste –Memoirs and Memories of Celeste de Chabrillan La Mogador.

September 19, 2016
Photo by Jacqueline Mitelman

Photo of AW by Jacqueline Mitelman

What a delight it is to see the heroine of my 1983 film and TV treatment back on the radar of the French presence in Melbourne. At the time I had spent over a year (1982- 83) researching the life of Celeste de Chabrillan the First French Consuls wife from 1852- 58 and saw the story as a potential film/ TV project.

I put my research in front of our friend Tim Burstall the film Director and he was immediately taken with the possibilities. We went on to write a film and a TV scenario together. We submitted the film scenario to the Australian Film Commission but Australia at the time had no co production agreement with France and I had facilitated a French company to be involved as half the film was to be shot in France.

After months of meetings and negotiations with the Australian Film Commission I then arranged for Bernard Ledun French Consul General in Melbourne to take our scenario to one of my favourite French writers Marguerite Duras in France


Collage from diary, October 1983

It seemed we were at an impasse with the Film Commission because of the lack of a co production agreement between France and Australia in 1983 and the fact that we would have to use some French actors. Tim and I then turned the material into a TV series and submitted the project to Film Victoria with my name, and Tim using the non de plume Digby de Maistre.

In 1984 I submitted my research on Comte Lionel and Celeste de Chabrillan andphotographs for display in the exhibition The French Presence in Victoria 1800- 1901 that was shown at the Victorian Artists Society.


I subsequently took up the position as cultural attaché at the French consulate responsible for publicity and promotion of $25 million cultural program that France gave to Australia for the Australian Bicentennial.

The French played an important role in the history of Australia and certainly the Comte and Celeste de Chabrillan provided some very colourful moments in that rich cultural past. Melbourne University Academic and award winning translator Patricia Clancy and Jeanne Allen translated Celeste’s second memoir Un Deuil au Bout du Monde in 1998 with a fascinating introduction. The bereavement to which the French title refers is that of the Comte’s death in 1858.

Last week at the Alliance Française in St Kilda a new book on Celeste’s final memoirs was screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-22-33-pmlaunchedCourtesan and Countess translated by three Melbourne University French Academics Jana Verhoeven, Alan Willey, and Jeanne Allen.. These memoirs hidden for 80 years were found by Jana in a Chateau in France once owned by Celeste.
“Courtesan and Countess tells the story not only of her struggle as a creative artist to survive and earn a living, but also of her fascinating life at the centre of the bohemian circles of Paris, surrounded by friends such as Alexandre Dumas père, Georges Bizet and Prince Napoléon. Courtesan and Countess paints a portrait of a remarkable woman and of the turbulent world of Paris during the Belle Epoque.”

The following are pages from my personal diaries that I have mentioned in my blog:

Jours Pour Se Souvenir – Days to Remember

JULY 16, 2012


screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-1-02-30-pmAs a committed Francophile with a passion for fashion and French Culture Bastille Day evokes memories of early travels in France, and in the late 1980’s spent as cultural attaché at the French Consulate in Melbourne. As part of my research when developing my film The French Consuls Wife in 1983 I discovered that Dianne Reilly La Trobe Librarian had located the grave of my principal character Melbourne’s first French Consul, Comte Lionel de Chabrillan, a member of one of the oldest aristocratic families in France. This unruly and neglected grave was located at the Melbourne General Cemetery


In 1984 frantically trying to write my film script The French Consuls Wife it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to throw a cemetery party with Melbourne’s Alliance Francaise and celebrate the hero of my film Comte Lionel de Chabrillan. Throwing a party is probably not the first thing people think of in connection to a cemetery. The French flag draped the austere grave. There was fine French champagne, strawberry pastries, a string quartet and readings from the French poet Baudelaire – all of this among the headstones.



In 1986 we celebrated the graves restoration with a much grander party. I organised a splendid French lunch at the leading French hotel Le Meridian for 35 people. I recreated with the assistance of the chef the menu of the 1848 Café Anglais, gathering place for the Paris dandies, where the Comte first met his future wie. We then all went on to the Melbourne General Cemetry. It was a bleak gray winters day, the French Consul General the elegant Isabelle Costa de Beauregard Robertson gave an eloquent speech. As I spoke about Lionel and the love story with his wife Celeste, the famous dancer La Mogador, a clap of thunder echoed around the tombstones as a huge black crow let out a raucous craw swooping low over the restored grave, as if it had been scripted from a scene out of a Ingmar Bergman film. To this day whenever we see a big black crow we think of Comte Lionel de Chabrillan.


Collage from my diary

Feathering The Nest

July 17, 2015
Gwendolyn Burkin & Richard Nylon

Gwendolyn Burkin & Richard Nylon

Richard Nylon meets William Johnston

Part of the Johnston Collection House of Ideas Series


From the moment I walked into this riveting exhibition I felt I was walking into a moment of Tardis time travel. Standing on a superb marquetry table was a rhythmically ticking metronome. A moment of whimsy was provided by the ostrich feathers attached to the metronome as its pendulum swung back and forth tick, tick, tick, tick.

The Tardis Time Travel Room

The Tardis Time Travel Room

Hanging on the walls were numerous antique clocks dating from the 17th century, marking a technological shift in the recording of time. From this period of time, time itself was no longer simply marked by the ringing of church bells. Perhaps our grandchildren living in a digital age will never relate to the comforting sounds of a ticking clock. And there amongst these relics of another age was the ever so present Richard in the form of a tiny figurine. This was indeed a house of ideas.

Hat ‘Oseau chapeau’, by Iranian Fatemeh V

Richard had imprinted his own sense of theatre on the engaging boudoir with a resplendent golden sun bedhead, which signified that we had now returned to the Court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. On the bed itself there were many tiny ceramic English Setters happily attending their master in bed. Who would have known that Louis XIV adored dogs? He fed them biscuits baked by the Royal pastry chef and they slept in beds made from walnut and ebony marquetry lined with crimson velvet in the chamber des chiens next door to his own bedchamber.

My favourite room however was the philosopher’s room with a round table displaying a splendid collection of small busts of revered philosophers from the past each adorned by Richard with glamorous evening hats. I liked Socrates glamorous chapeau– were the gold leaves the leaves of hemlock that led to Socrates death?

As Socrates so famously said “ An unexamined life is not worth living – Richard seems to concur with this statement in maintaining that to examine ones life is the only life worth living.

There were lots of conundrums, witty statements, and extravagances as only a rich imaginative, fertile mind like Richards could conceive. This is an exhibition not to be missed. To view phone The Johnston Collection 9416 2515.

A Bewitching Private Recital June 2015

Soprano Antoinette Halloran, Tenor James Egglestone and Bass Baritone Shane Lowrencev

Tory West, Me & Lesleigh Jermanus

Tory West, Me & Lesleigh Jermanus

A bewitching concert displaying the storms, passion and joys of popular opera arias, in an elegant, private setting, with magnificent flowers, fabulous food and fascinating guests – a tribute to the talent and charm of our host Di Bresciani founder of YMFA.

YMFA is an organisation established to foster music and support of young musicians.

How To Be Alone

August 1, 2014


Sara Maitland “How To Be Alone” [Macmillan; Main Market Ed. edition January 2, 2014]
“Learn how to enjoy solitude and find happiness without others. Our fast-paced society does not approve of solitude; being alone is literally anti-social and some even find it sinister. Why is this so when autonomy, personal freedom and individualism are more highly prized than ever before? Sara Maitland answers this question by exploring changing attitudes throughout history. Offering experiments and strategies for overturning our fear of solitude, she to helps us to practise it without anxiety and encourages us to see the benefits of spending time by ourselves, By indulging in the experience of being alone, we can be inspired to find our own rewards and ultimately lead more enriched, fuller lives.”
solitude 2
“From the outside, solitude and loneliness look a lot alike. Both are characterized by solitariness. But all resemblance ends at the surface. Loneliness…

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Sojourn in Brisbane in July 2014

July 30, 2014

Sojourn in Brisbane in July 2014

Friendship isn’t a big thing – its a million little things – unknown author.

I love escaping Melbourne’s winter for the warmth of Brisbane and renewing an old friendship of 26 years in a delightful old vintage Queenslander house.

Anna's Home-made Bread
You wake to the delightful sounds of the morning calls of the magpies floating in the light airy space.

Joanna's Salad
Despite a cold desert wind most of my days were full of sunshine, good food, good conversation, good books, good music and long walks.

C.G. Jung – Falling in Love At First Sight

July 25, 2014

F. Scott Fitzgerald to his 11-year-old daughter, Scottie, who was away at camp

July 25, 2014


La Paix, Rodgers’ Forge
Towson, Maryland

August 8, 1933

Dear Pie:

I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy — but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed pages, they never really happen to you in life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs “Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of…

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Love, desire and riches

July 21, 2014

Love, desire and riches

Love, desire and riches

Penfolds Luxury Collection Dinner at Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto

April 30, 2012

Alison wearing Jean Paul Gaultier skirt, Antonio Marras one shouldered silk knit with Shane Douglas

Last Thursday I was delighted to find that I was amongst the chosen few assembled at Intercontinental the Rialto, Penfolds Luxury Collection Dinner in the Bluestone Wine Lounge.

The Bluestone Wine LoungeAs we arrived we were greeted by the gregarious General Manager Joerg Boeckeler, the gracious Director of Sales and Marketing Shane Douglas and consultant Special Events Coordinator the very elegant and exotic Elena O’brien, styled a la Grace Kelly.

We sipped Penfolds Reserve Bin 10A Chardonnay 2010, one of the rare Penfolds wines that is 100% South Australian sourced from super premium sites in the Adelaide Hills. This was accompanied by delicious cold hors d’oeuvres

Laughing Kookaburra

After an enjoyable half hour of chit chat with various people including the engaging publisher of the Luxury Travel and Style Magazine James Air and Sotheby’s stylish publicist Sarah Easson we were seated at a grand and very long timber banquet table, beautifully presented with autumn leaves and fine silver ware. Our host Jorg added a wonderfully eccentric element to the table decoration with the inclusion of a bespectacled stuffed laughing kookaburra!

Stephanie Dutton Penfold wine maker and wonderful ambassadress for the Penfolds Brand was a vivacious raconteur who displayed her great depth of knowledge with her introduction to each course and accompanying wine. Michael Lindell, the architect seated next to me, did very incisive quick sketches of some of the assembled guests including the Laughing Kookaburra.

Mt Laura slow cooked lamb loinAhh! – the wines. Of the reds I loved the St Henri Shiraz accompanied by Mt Laura slow cooked lamb loin with celeriac and asparagus. I think of the whites my absolute favourite was the Cellar Reserve Viogner 2011 that accompanied the splendid Berry Clafoutis desert.

As I took in the wine, the food and the ambiance I had a Proustian moment and was transported back in time to an earlier European masked ball – a totally delicious experience.

French Masked Ball


Sheila Scotter – The Inimitable Queen of Style

April 22, 2012

Sheila Scotter AM, MBE

Rare is the felicity of the times, when you can think what you like and speak what you think.

— Tacitus,
The History, I.i

I first met Sheila Scotter when I was the cultural attaché at the French Consulate in Melbourne in 1988/89 looking after France’s $25 million cultural gift to the Australian Bi-Centenary. As part of these Bi-Centenary celebrations there were many official openings at the Melbourne Art Centre to which we would invite Sheila Scotter.

Alison WatersBeing a hat lover I would always admire Sheila’s evening hats as I often wore an evening bandeau. She told me about her bespoke milliner Marea Bright of Collins Street who would make these exotic evening hats for her with little diamantes that would sparkle when the lights went down at the opera or the theater. As she explained “I would be noticed by everyone, even in the dark” Sheila Scotter was certainly hard to miss.

Sheila’s deportment and elegant style was, funnily enough, not of the establishment English style. She was often referred to as ‘the silver duchess’ and that would have fitted well with her well modulated voice and imperious air, but she was far more like a fastidious, formidable, French aristocrat mixing in the salons of the Faubourg Saint-Germaine, in Paris. She knew all about etiquette, style, and ritual but apparently little about empathy.

Sheila Scotter Funeral - Photo via The AgeMarcel Proust the great French writer would have loved Sheila as a character in perhaps À la recherché du temps perdu Remembrance of Things Past and in fact Sheila Scotter was a symbol of the grandeur of the past and the world of genteel luxury, beautiful apartments, chauffeured driven cars, fresh flowers daily and fine dining – she herself was a good cook. But Sheila Scotter worked professionally for most of her long life. In fact she had a very strong work ethic that must have come from her family’s English military and Church background. I think the two great influences of the thirties in England and Europe when Sheila Scotter was a young adult were probably Proust and Freud. A student of Freud in the 21st century would have detected very quickly the discrepancy between the legend and the real women.

Sheila Scotter Funeral - Photo via The AgeSheila had charisma and sex appeal. When she walked into a room all eyes would be on her and she knew how to make the most of her entrances and exits. She certainly was fastidious in everything she did, things were always ‘to be done properly’. Sheila had an innate sense of discipline probably the result of being sent to boarding school in England at the age of four while her parents were still in India. She could be kind and supportive and her close friends speak of her loyalty. She also could be jealous and bitchy and very, very demanding.

Sheila ScotterA perfectionist right to the very end Sheila planned every detail of her funeral for 200 of her closest friends and associates. The funeral was held on Friday 20th of April in St Silas High Anglican Church, Albert Park. Born in India, a daughter of the Raj, her coffin was covered in white roses, gladioli and lilies and was appropriately draped with the Australian flag as befits an AM and a MBE.

Alan Jones and Ros PackerVeteran Age writer Lawrence Money, with a reputation for an incisive tongue, gave a moving and personal eulogy and the fiercesome radio journalist Alan Jones showed a ‘soft and caring side’ to his character as he spoke about his ‘dear friend Sheila’ and her support for such causes as the opera, ballet and her many charities. Jones also recounted Sheila Scotters years as a journalist, particularly as Vogue editor and founder of Vogue Living. Close friend Sylvia Bradshaw gave us a look at the naughty and playful Sheila, the coquettish Sheila and her enthusiasm for titled gentlemen. Former model and Vogue journalist Diane Masters spoke of her first meeting with Sheila at Myer Emporium in 1949 “there she was in a dashing black cloak and Spanish sombrero, a red rose tucked beneath the brim”

The WakeSoprano Tiffany Speight with David McNicol at the piano sang expressively O silver Moon the aria from the Dvořák’s opera Russalka. (this aria had been a great favorite of the revered Australian soprano Dame Joan Hammond and Sheila Scotter had been an active member of the Dame Joan Hammond Award). For sensuous, heart-tugging beauty, you do no better than this beautiful music and these words. The aria conjures up a magical world that you can believe in while the music takes you there:

Rusalka, singing to the moon, whose beams now light up the whole landscape.
It is a beautiful summer’s night –

O moon in the velvet heavens,
your light shines far,
you roam throughout the whole world,
gazing into human dwellings.
O moon, stay a while,
tell me where my beloved is! …
O tell him, silver moon,
that my arms enfold him,
in the hope that for at least a moment
he will dream of me. …
Shine on him, wherever he may be,
and tell him of the one who awaits him here! …
If a human soul should dream of me,
may he still remember me on awakening;
o moon, do not fade away!

At the wake afterwards we sipped on Mumm Champagne and nibbled delicacies from Peter Rowland Catering, with of course linen napkins. We all reminisced about our ‘Sheila moments’. I think Sheila Scotter would have loved it.

John Hoerner - Douglas Butler - Jan McGuinness