In the land of the fluffy white cloud

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ERBACHER

Over the Easter break I have been in pur­suit of clouds but, don’t worry, this is not a tale of crazy storm chas­ing.

I’m in Toowoomba, in south­ern Queens­land, for what has be­come a reg­u­lar fam­ily get-to­gether at this time of year. And the clouds I am seek­ing are those cu­mu­lus beau­ties with a flat bot­tom you could draw with a ruler. A se­ries of them across a blue sky — so evoca­tive of my child­hood on the Dar­ling Downs and a fond re­minder of my fa­ther. I can pic­ture him, in his fi­nal years in a nurs­ing home, sit­ting in front of a win­dow fram­ing th­ese clouds.

Artist Ken­neth Macqueen was a master at de­pict­ing them. Born in Bal­larat and raised in Syd­ney and Bris­bane, Macqueen served on the Western Front in World War I and stayed in Lon­don to pur­sue art stud­ies at the Slade School.

In the early 1920s he and his brother Jack ac­quired a farm out­side Millmer­ran, an hour from Toowoomba and not a mil­lion miles away from Steele Rudd’s Se­lec­tion of Dad and Dave fame. Macqueen mar­ried il­lus­tra­tor Olive Crane soon af­ter and they com­bined the life of artists and farm­ers, he work­ing in wa­ter­colours in an early mod­ernist style and ex­hibit­ing mostly in Syd­ney.

His sub­jects were those of farm life — plant­ing, har­vest­ing, fenc­ing — but he had a “coun­try­man’s yearn­ing” for the beach and painted scenes from hol­i­days on what is now the Sun­shine Coast. And al­ways in his work, the clouds. Macqueen’s vi­sion of the land was some­thing to be cul­ti­vated and pro­duc­tive, in con­trast to that of, say, Rus­sell Drys­dale and Sid­ney Nolan, who in their own works were ex­plor­ing the bru­tal­ity of the Aus­tralian land­scape.

My mis­sion is to head to Millmer­ran to find the Macqueen farm, Mur­ralah; its lo­ca­tion on Macqueen Road helps. There they are: Mount Em­lyn, the un­du­lat­ing ter­rain, the con­tour farm­ing he pi­o­neered and painted, and the bil­low­ing clouds, lined up on their best be­hav­iour for the per­fect pho­to­graph.

This coun­try driv­ing takes its toll. On Satur­day evening, back in Toowoomba, as we head out for a bite to eat, the day’s joy is bro­ken by the un­mis­tak­able flap, flap, flap of a flat tyre. Why do th­ese things hap­pen only on hol­i­days? The wheel bolts won’t budge (can I plead a lit­tle arthritis in my right thumb?), so it’s a case for Road­side As­sist. The ser­vice man ar­rives in a jiff, the flat tyre is ef­fort­lessly off and he’s ready to fit the spare, which we no­tice is of the nar­row va­ri­ety em­bla­zoned with the dread in­struc­tion, 80k MAX.

To­mor­row is Easter Sun­day and Mon­day a pub­lic hol­i­day; our ser­vice guy is sure no tyre repair places will be open. It’s go­ing to be a slow trip back to Syd­ney.

But then he is on the phone to a cousin, who is re­turn­ing from the Gold Coast and just hap­pens to work in the tyre shop a few blocks away. We are mo­bile again within the hour. It’s an en­counter with a “no wor­ries, mate” gen­eros­ity that sadly seems so rare.

What do they say about clouds and sil­ver lin­ings?

Su­san Kuro­sawa is on as­sign­ment.

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