Friday, March 23, 2018


More  episodes from  the   life  of   Margaret Vine.

 As a special tribute to  the late  art  historian  and  collector  ,  Margaret   Vine ,  the  Magnetic  Island Museum  will  next  month launch an  exhibition , A Walk Up Olympus Crescent   to  Journey's End .  Museum  president  Zanita  Davies says it will  follow the steps  of  the New  Zealand  author and  activist  Jean Devanny (covered previously in this blog),  who  in  1950  included  the now Heritage listed  street   in   a  ramble   and   wrote  an   unpublished   novel  about  the   island .
Many interesting people have lived in  Olympus Crescent  over the years, including  the Duke and Duchess of  Hamilton ; Journey's End  was  the  name  of  a  1930s house .
 By Peter Simon
Ms Vine moved to the  island  from Brisbane   in  1998  and  took  up  residence  in Olympus Crescent  to be near  her  mother  who was  in  a Townsville  retirement  home . With  her  she  brought  45   boxes of  books  ,  paintings,  an impressive   pottery  collection, unusual  jewellery , a wet  paint sign she  picked up and had framed ,  a  mass  of  retro  clothing from which  all   designer  labels  had  been removed ,  and  other items  of  interest  she   had  amassed  over  the  years . 
Because of her attire  and long green  fingernails , nearby   young  children thought she was  a witch , which  amused  her. They  even  wrote  notes  and   put  them  in her  letterbox , one  asking   the  leading question , " Are  you  a witch? "
She responded in the  affirmative ,  but informed them she  no longer  had  a  broomstick . What a shame. Those apprehensive   children   became  adult   friends .   
One of her early actions on moving into the  Olympus Crescent  property , named Rocky Road , was  to remove all  trees  and  vegetation  not  regarded  as  native  and  therefore not beneficial to birds and animals, which she looked after  . She  was photographed  late last  year ,  above, aged 81 , with  her "Lolly Tree "in full blossom  . Knowing she did not have much longer to live , she had started  to  prepare  for  the  ultimate  end  of   her   journey.
Island carpenter Andy Frost  , a sculptor , was  commissioned to  build her coffin , nothing  flash, based on  one  he had made for his mother, the same height as  Margaret , 5ft .
During its construction  , Margaret was  delighted   when  Frost  told her he   had  discovered   that  in   New Zealand  Maoris  did  not  refer to coffins, instead  calling them "underground furniture " .   She   recounted  this  amusing   story to  dentists in Townsville  and  people she  encountered   during  a  trip  to Sydney  to  attend  an  opera  performance .
 Boxes  of  books were  transported by me  at her direction  to the  Magnetic  Island  kindergarten  for  the  annual  book  sale .This  book culling involved me   being ushered into her cramped  bedroom  and removing the  14 unopened boxes  of  books   which   formed  the  base of  her bed , a  foam mattress  on  top. My  head  holding up the tilted  mattress, I pulled  out each box at her direction  for  quick  perusal , the  contents  sorted out , put in stacks .  The  boxes were refilled  with old telephone directories and put back  in place , making  it more comfortable  than  she  could  ever  remember. 
Arrangements  were  made for Bronwyn McBurnie  , head librarian , Special Collections  , Eddie Koiki   Mabo  Library , James  Cook University ,  Townsville ,  to come over and view   part  of  the  large  Australian  art  book  collection , some special presentation copies  with  inscriptions acknowledging her input  ,  part  of  which  went  to the library for   inclusion  in  the  special   Edna  Shaw  Australian Art  Collection .

Obviously  not well , stressed , she called  me and asked if I would   come and help  sort " her  pots "  that were  going to the  Queensland Art Gallery .

They  were   well  wrapped pieces of  pottery she had collected over the years,  in sealed boxes , numbers on the outside. On opening one box,   the   top of a  large  jar was  visible  under the  bubble wrap .  Margaret , agitated,   said  that  it  was not  supposed to be in there , dashed  off  to get  a   folder  containing   photos of  her collection , flicked  through  the  array .

I was  told to close the lid. It being cramped  and hot  in the storage area,  watched  by some of her inquisitive pet wallabies through the window ,  I  attempted to ease the tension , quipped, " You're not  selling  the  Ming vase  today ? " 

Angrily, she  firmly told me it was no time for flippancy .  Another call for help was  received when  a packer arrived  to take possession of the valuable collection , hand it over to the Perc Tucker  Gallery in Townsville , for it to be transported   to  Brisbane . I was asked to bring  a trolley  on which to convey the pots down the hill , but it  was  not   required .

After her death, I was informed  she had once owned a  very large  jar  or  vase  which had been made by  a  "Japanese master" , who suffered   from  heart trouble,  and   had  died  soon  after making   the  masterpiece .  
She  had travelled   south to arrange the sale of  her jewellery collection  ,which had been stressful, and  informed me  that it  included  ancient Chinese  beads which somehow had  turned up  in  Indonesia .  An  Indian  chief's ring was  shown  me. 
Of her time  at  Queensland University, putting herself   through  Arts, she provided  brief  anecdotes . This  included  her  singing  to me   part of  a  slightly risqué  song  she  rendered   at  what   could have  been  a  revue, accompanied  on  the  piano by a student  who went  on  to  become  a  member of  the  Queensland  judiciary .
There was  mention  of another prominent  university  student, muscular, who became  amorous . Being pressed against  him  was  like being up against a leather  backed chair . That  clearly  was  the  end  of   that   anecdote .
Queensland  University book sales were discussed ,   from which she bought many  volumes, one  the 1856 Narrative of the Expedition of   An  American Squadron  to the China  Seas  and  Japan,  by Commodore M. C. Perry .  With Margaret's deep interest in  opera , and  the plot of   Madame Butterfly  being about the American  naval officer  Pinkerton  taking a Japanese wife,  she was delighted  to  obtain  the   book.  
 During   our association,  I  told her on several occasions  I would like to  sit down   with  her  and  record  her  life story,  knowing  any day could be  her  last . While not agreeing to that course of action  , she did  say she would  provide  some  anecdotes-disjointed , nevertheless fascinating .  Because of  her  condition , which made   it  difficult for  her to  sit  and travel in  a car  , I   brought her home and  indicated how she  could stretch out  like Cleopatra on a lounge , and  I  would   interview  her, start the third  degree .  Yes .  Someday  soon . Never .
Each time I transported her in my  car ,  she positioned  herself   with her knees on the seat, facing  the   back   of  the  car , holding onto the back of  the seat.  On  the  ferry , she  often spread out in the  horizontal .

Travelling by bus in Townsville , she  stood  throughout the journey , holding a  pole , swaying  about .  During  one of  these pole  dancer  performances ,  she  told  me  tantalising  snippets ... about  the art  and  café society in  Brisbane , her admiration  for  a member of the   Tintookies ( Aboriginal for little people who came from the sandhills )   , started by  Peter Scriven  , of  the Marionette Theatre of  Australia ,  which  established  puppetry  as   an  art   form   in  Australasia.

On two  occasions , while driving  her to the ferry, I got carried away  trying to  flesh out an  anecdote  or  three  and  instead  of  heading straight   to   the  ferry boarding  area , continued  on  into  the  round  about .
This caused her  to shout  my  name and  ask what  I was  doing . Apologising ,  I told her, on the second occasion ,  I was imitating Mr  Bean in his  runaway  little   car. At  times she addressed her colostomy bag , Stanley  by  name ,  informing me he had been reluctant  to give up a nice  Japanese  meal  partaken   during  a  special opera  trip  in  Sydney . On such  flights  to   Sydney she  booked  two  seats  because of her  body  problem.
Delivering her  home from the ferry one day , we  pulled up, Margaret announced  Stanley  had  not  liked   something  , began moaning , clutched at her  side . I instantly said I would drive her to the medical centre .  No .  Questioning  Stanley  about what  he was doing, she insisted on  getting out of  the car and  making the  long walk up  to her house on  the  hill , without   any  assistance . 
Obviously clearing out  her personal  possessions  , I asked if  I  could have a peek  at any/all  papers, documents, ephemera  she  was  discarding . She responded by  saying much of  it  was only old  photocopies ,  death certificates , related  to research  over  the years ,  which  she   just  ripped  up.
Recoiling in  shock, I said photocopies of  the many areas of  her research could  be of interest  to others . NO . NO .  On leaving  her  premises , I glanced into a  wheelie  bin and  there on top were  torn  photocopied pages dealing with the famous Australian soprano  Dame Nellie Melba . On seeing this , I informed Margaret  I was  going to slip round  at  night  with a  chaff  bag   and  steal  the  contents of  her  wheelie  bin .    
One day she  produced a photocopy  of   a small,  early Tasmanian   newspaper article   providing advice  for  bachelors on  how  to  entertain  young   women  on their premises, for me  to  hand on  to  a teenage boy  soon to move out  of   house.  I subsequently was  informed  she had also arranged  for  a cookery book   with   basic  information  for   new cooks   be   given  him .    
Following  her  death , her brother gave me  a   small  notebook   in  which  Margaret  had  kept notes  on people who had lived in  Olympus Crescent over the  years, with contact numbers , other details of  interest , which  Zanita  Davies said  would  be  helpful  in  preparing   the  exhibition .

At the time of writing  this  post, Margaret Vine's ashes are in the possession  of Zanita   Davies and  arrangements  are  being  made  for  them to be  scattered about  Alma Bay ,  perhaps  to  the  sound  of   opera.

 One of  the books   Margaret  kept from  her  schooldays, awarded to her as a prize,  dealt with  the myths and legends of Greece and  Rome .  Olympus , of course, featured  in that book , in which she had  marked  some contents  in pencil , one   being   the meaning  of Manas : The shadows of  the  dead . Margaret  continues  to   cast  a most unusual shadow on Magnetic  Island  and  beyond .

NEXT :More  anecdotes  covering  her  research  and her  beloved and well fed menagerie.