There are those moments of magic when researching a biography that are only partly anticipated. My visit with Peter and Ursula Laverty was one such moment or many as it turned out. I had been looking forward to the interview for some time and was sorry it was to be on a day when I had, unnaturally, arisen at 4.30am in Melbourne for the Sydney trip. Yet from the moment of pick up at Turramurra station to my drop off many hours later it could not have been better, it was also an experience, I was to learn, that Godfrey himself had shared many times.
Godfrey would ring the Laverty’s and ask “how was the weather in Turramoora?” to which the Laverty’s would reply with an invitation for a meal. In hindsight they think these calls may often have occurred around the time of a full moon. Godfrey would then proceed by train, as I did, and they would pick him up at the station. He would come bearing a string bag with an offering of oranges or once a frozen chook, the latter was given to Ursula with “do you know what to do with this?” Whilst Ursula battled with a frozen chook for the meal Peter took Godfrey out walking in Ku-ring-gai National Park.
Ursula took me to Ku-ring-gai and we traced the steps of Peter and Godfrey around the Cliff Ave tracks. We stood out on rocky outcrops where Godfrey fell into his reveries with the full moon. If I stood still enough, with my bare feet on rock, I could imagine him standing there, his feet firm, his mind somewhere beyond caught in silvery rhythms from the sky. Peter waiting with deep respect watching the silhouette of his friend “experiencing things”. Walking further in at Cliff Ave you can see the quarry on an opposing cliff face and I am sure this quarry is presented on a canvas I know
– this revelation was one of the many treasures from the day. We then went to Smith’s Falls and at this point I shed my inappropriate foot gear completely and felt the forms, Godfrey would have known, on my winter feet.
Driving to the other side where the disused quarry is located we walked over a grassy knoll to take in the views, the bird songs, the colours of a once violated earth – contrasting with the grey-green of the bush reaching out in valleys before us. A flame tree was spectacular in the distance hovering above a mound of forgotten excavations.
On return to the house we shared coffee and further Miller talk, a visit to Peter’s studio (Ursula had shared her paintings with me at lunch), a walk into the lower garden where fruit trees grow in grasses that only weeks ago were ornamented with freesias, daffodils and other annuals, then a walk back, maneuvering a crooked tree bent down over our path, to the front of the house which I loved best for its bush feel and native orchid surprises.
Throughout the day I felt Godfrey’s footsteps meet my own just as I did when I first walked into the gates of the Darlinghurst Gaol (East Sydney Technical College now National Art School). The moments of this day though, gifted to me by the Lavertys, friends with deep and admiring hearts.
From a letter to Lewis, 17/2/36 held in the Mitchell wing of the State Library of NSW.
‘I prefer the thread instead of the steps. The cord holding the Beads to the Beads. I believe there is a great opening or blossoming in such nature of thoughts. For instance we see Man as part of nature, breathing the Thing (air) which by the other method he wld consider as an object different from him: breathing it absorbing it into his blood: made of the earth on which he walks, part of it and holding in his hands Things which have been and again will be part of his fellow creatures. Opposite to this view we see man as Conqueror of nature. Strutting his way thru’ a moment of life stomping and subduing. Think with me when I take Dr Sze to our Western pictures and see ____: ten feet high given up to the portrayal of a man . All that for one man – and he looks at you and you look at him until the impact becomes tiresome. Then Sze and I go to the Chinese show and look at their pictures. “Man admiring the Moon” A big picture of cliffs, gorges, little promontory, pine tree, waterfall. But where is the man, I see the moon but where is the man. On the promontory a little insect which if you look you can see is a nice little old gentleman with a grey beard seated on a bench by what you can guess is the tea-house under the pine. The great cosmic forces: the moon: water: cliffs and little man just one among it all.’
Miller would not have seen Smith’s Falls in the inset video in 1935, as he did not settle in Sydney until the 1940s, but it is evident in the above letter that he was thinking of these elements as powerful forces…and goes on to say to Lew: ‘I make these statements as moderate as I can: so moderate that they hardly hang together, I avoid using their strength out of fear of alarming you. The extension of the Thought will take you Anywhere…’