In the land of the fluffy white cloud
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.