4 Weldings and a Funeral

Janine and I finished the wall and had a dozen visitors, Mark and Judith, who lost their house in the fire, Elizabeth, who lost her house in the fire, Jules, who lost her shed in the fire, Len whose house was damaged in the fire and lent me his generator in the week after the fire, Kevin who ran the recovery centre post-fire, The cars kept coming and stopping, complementing us on the wall, even the little trail bike rider who usually screams past in a cloud of annoying dust, slowed, stopped, did a bit of circle work in front of us , yelled out “nice wall”! and roared off in another cloud of choking dust.

I’ve started work on the big new arched window for the new pottery. It’s meant to reflect the big window in the house opposite. We’ll see how successful it is when I’m done. This window will be entirely made of welded metal so that it will be more fire resistant.

Finally, Vale our lovely chook, the last of The Spice Girls, the hen Formerly Know As Hillary, FKA Ginger and many other non-de-plumes, teller of great tales and the inspiration of many adventure stories has passed away. She had been going blind over the past month. She couldn’t perch any more, as she couldn’t see the rail, she wasn’t eating much, even a treat like snails, that she loved, she just didn’t know I was holding them out for her. I had to hold them in my hand and gently bump them up against her beak, then she would peck blindly at my palm to try and hit them, mostly pecking my fingers. On Saturday she fell off the verandah when I called her, as she couldn’t see the stairs and missed her footing.

Yesterday, she was very slow to come out of her house. I talked to her quietly encouraging her, she followed my voice, bumping into things that she would normally walk around, finally settling into the corner of my workshop. Her happy place, where she usually went to preen in the afternoon. She just sat on the floor with eyes closed. I fed her some bacon fat trimmings, her second favourite thing in the world and then sent her off play with her other sister chooks with the youth in Asia.

Vale Allan Parkes

Allan Parkes was a really good person to get to know. I was very lucky to have spent 25 years working with him at the old East Sydney Technical College. He was a great character. I really enjoyed our conversations. He seemed to be very well-educated, but I remember him telling me that he was brought up in the  country on a  property, with an absent father, who was away working in Sydney, earning the money to support the venture. So perhaps Allan was home schooled? Whatever his formal education, he had a wonderful speaking voice with particularly clear diction. Perhaps a result of some private schooling? (I learned at Allan’s funeral service that he was educated remotely by the ‘school of the air’ and by correspondence schooling. His beautiful diction and hand writing were a result of his self imposed and determined effort to ‘improve’ himself. A defiantly independent individual.) He was very well read and could converse on a wide range of topics. He always seemed to be borrowing books from the Art School Library on a regular basis.

He was a fine mentor in my early days there at the ‘Tech’. He was one of the ‘elders’ who helped grow me up. I admired him and remember him very fondly.

He came and stayed with us at our home in Balmoral Village on one occasion in the 80’s and gave me a lesson on how to cut and dress sandstone, to make the window sills for our house. I learnt a lot in a very short time and went on to carve all the sandstone window sills for our house over the next 9 months. I’m a slow worker. Allan gave me one of his pitching tools which I still have and even now, 30 years later, it still gets occasional use, as I’m currently building a new stone retaining wall at our property.


He often greeted me with “Hello Citizen” A reference to the French republic, but there was a lot more going on there, not all of which I ever got to the bottom of, but I enjoyed listening to his stories of working as a drover up in the Gulf country. I remember stories of restoration stonework on some big churches, carving the gargoyles for the Government House in The Domain. Very interesting and sad stories of his time as a news correspondent in Burma during the war. Some very brief descriptions of his detention and torture by the Japanese forces there. His discussions of French faience pottery. The need for more colour in the brown and green 70’s ceramics (which was a very accurate and timely prediction, that later came to pass), he was interested in organic gardening, native plant propagation, red wine, water-colours, sculpture. So many topics. He was so erudite, cultured, well read and he had a beautiful hand. We have a few notes and letters from him and even though they are hastily draughted, the lettering is exquisite.


I met him, when I first enrolled at ESTC in 1971. At that time he was the Technical Assistant in the Ceramics Dept. He was immediately engaging, supportive and helpful. Always ready with some advice and ideas to get the most out of my time there. Although he was only the TA in the Dept. he actually taught me more than some of the full-time staff that were employed there.

I recall going to him early in my first year as a student at the Tech and complaining about how I was so unhappy with my work that had just emerged from the kiln. He put one hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I know that you might feel disappointed just now, but I know that you will go straight back out there and make a better one”. I didn’t know that at all! But once he told me, I realised that I could, and so I did.

I didn’t know his history and what he had gone through in the war at that time. I must have appeared to him as a soft, spoilt, indulged, whingeing, middle-class brat, but he didn’t tell me that. What he told me, was to get over it and go and make another one, only not just one, but ten more. Good advice, well received, and because I did, we got on really well after that.

Janine and I used to call in at his home in Concord West at times during the 70’s when we lived in Dural and found ourselves passing by. He was still married to Helen in those days and we met Freya Marc and Manon there. Helen used to lend me her books on Native plant propagation and cultivation. It was Helen and Allan, who introduced us to the work of Edna Walling and that had yet another great effect on our lives. We are still keen native gardeners to this day.

Janine and I have spent some time reflecting and remembering Allan with great fondness during the past week, since we heard of his passing. He was so very good to us both at different times during our student years and then later in different ways. He always seemed so European in outlook, while also being so quintessentially Australian. He drank red wine when everyone was drinking beer. He drank beer when everyone switched to red, when wine became trendy. When boutique breweries evolved and both wine and beer became trendy, he drank cognac. A true individual, he owned a vehicle for his stone mason’s business, when no-one else could afford one, later, he caught public transport when everyone else drove.

He was never far from a roll-your-own cigarette, always rolled rather shakily from some intensely dark, very strong, Dutch tobacco. Later, when his hands became a bit too shaky for roll-your-owns, he switched to cigars.

He was a good artist and multi-skilled. I knew him as a sculptor in stone, ceramics, ice and butter. He often crafted images in butter or ice for use as center-pieces in table settings for big events in the food school at ESTC. This is an ancient tradition that very few people were aware of and skillful in – except of course Allan. He was also a very good water-colourist as well. I remember seeing his design sketches for the new sandstone drive-in gate at ESTC. He did a beautiful design and accompanying water-colour image. I didn’t know until recently, that he had also painted in oils in his latter years.



Allan was asked to repair the gargoyles on Government House in the Domain. He refused the job to re-create the old European originals. Instead, he submitted all new designs based on Australian native animals. I remember going there one day to visit him on-site. He was just finishing off the echidna corner piece. He had a natural gift for sculpture, which he honed through hard work and practice. The gargoyles looked strange up close when viewed on the ground, but suddenly emerged in perfect perspective once they were installed up in the parapet and viewed from 50 feet below. How did he know how to get that sense of perspective just right? He was very good!  Allan also designed and built the copper cockerel weather-vane on the roof of the old circular library building at ESTC. This image was later adapted to become the logo for the Art School. As far as I know, it’s still up there. Look for it the next time you visit the National Art School.

Allan left his mark in so many ways on the people that he interacted with and on the very real structural fabric of Sydney itself. Not many people can say that.

So we all have our own Allan in our minds eye and memories. We all come here today to add our own little bit to the complex picture of the complete man.

Citizen Parkes, well-read, complex, deep, richly informed, engaging.

Fondly remembered, sadly missed.


A funeral service will be held for Allan at Rookwood Cemetery, West Chapel, on Tuesday 13th of October at 2.00pm.

Vale Peter Rushforth – A Dear Friend and Mentor Has Gone

Peter Rushforth has died, and with his death an era comes to a close. Peter was the last surviving founder of The Potters Society of Australia.

The passing of Peter probably also brings to a close, the influence of the Leach Tradition in Australia. Peter never worked or studied with Leach, although he used Leach’s ‘A Potters Book’ to guide his self-taught experiments into the techniques of stoneware pottery. Stoneware is taken for granted today, but in the post war period it was more or less unknown here and was seen as being so exotic and seemingly unattainable. Peter did visit Leach at St Ives in Cornwall, back in the 60’s on his Churchill Fellowship and Leach visited Australia and spoke and demonstrated at East Sydney Tech.

Peter more or less single-handedly brought into existence the full-time, Vocational Ceramics course in Sydney at the old East Sydney Tech (now known as the National Art School) by shear force of will and persistent, determined, tenacity. He was later joined by Bernd Sahm and Mollie Douglas as the core staff.

Peter Rushforth was a true gentleman in both senses of the word. He was greatly admired for his ceramic skills and his teaching abilities as well as his support for young artists. He had great sensitivity and empathy when dealing with students. He was well known for his cheeky, impish sense of humour. I remember one day he ‘liberated’ a bicycle from outside the ceramics Dept. and rode it around the throwing room, between the wedging benches and the wheels calling out instructions to the students as he passed by. “Don’t let that form get too wide or you’ll lose it” and “don’t open that lump of clay up yet, it isn’t fully centred”!  On another occasion he prevailed upon the teaching staff of the food-school at the Tech to make a large dish of sponge cake mix and we fired it in the big gas kiln for morning tea. This wasn’t a huge success, being slightly soggy on the bottom and a bit charred on top, but we all dutifully ate our share of the sponge-like layer between the char and the sog!

Even though he became quite famous, he never lost his genuinely humble disregard for all the accolades that came his way. In his later life, he would say, ”why don’t they give these awards to a younger person, who is raising a family and paying a mortgage, someone who really needs it?”

One of the great enigmas that surrounded Peter was the fact that he had been a prisoner of war in Changi and on the Burma/Thailand railway. Yet when he returned to Australia, after the war, he embraced the Japanese ceramic aesthetic and later toured there on study trips. He became very close friends of Shiga Shigeo and Tatsuo Shimaoka and others. Everyone knew that he had been in the war, but he never spoke about it publicly. He just wouldn’t discuss it.

What isn’t fully known is that although he was very badly treated on the Burma Railway, as were all the prisoners, there were other, small, but significant moments, that touched him and that, perhaps guided his life forever after. Gestures that he never forgot. At one time on the construction of the rail line. He was so very emaciated and ill, such that he felt he couldn’t work any more. He collapsed, lay down and waited for the beating that was certain to come – or worse. A Japanese guard came up to him and as he waited for the ‘thump’ and ‘bang’ the guard, bent down and offered him some of the medicine that he had in his own shirt pocket. He gave Peter some of the tablets and then the whole packet and said, “so sorry, so sorry!” This was clearly a very deep and touching moment for him, and one that he never forgot.

Perhaps it was this memory of generosity and self-sacrifice that he retained and carried with him, that gave him the faith in humanity and gracious generosity to others that he exhibited all his life, and in particular, an ability to see the beauty and sensitivity of the Japanese culture, particularly in regard to their ceramics?

I was one very lucky recipient of Peters generosity. I was invited to be his workshop assistant one day a week when he lived and worked at ChurchPoint. Later, when I had written the first draught of my Laid Back Wood Firing book, and showed it to Peter for comment. He asked “ So what are you going to do with it”? I said that I thought that I’d like to get it printed as a booklet. But it was a bit beyond me financially, as I didn’t have the $500 that it would cost back in 1976. When I returned after lunch, there was $500 sitting waiting for me. He told me to pay him back some time, when I could. I sold the first 500 copies @ $2 each, in a little over two weeks, such was the demand for a small book of this kind. I was able to repay the loan and get a second printing done. This was a very deep and touching moment for me, and one that I have never forgotten!

We were regular visitors to ‘Le-Var’ over the 45 or so years of our association. Janine and I went up to ‘Le-Var’ and lived with them for a couple of weeks while we built his 2 chamber wood fired kiln in the late seventies. Later returning to share the first firing together. We had just finished the firing and clammed the firebox door, when it started to snow, turning everything white. It was so quiet and peaceful after the hot, hectic final hours of the firing. A very beautiful idyl, not to be forgotten.

A few years ago when we were up visiting them, we went for a walkntalk out to the lookout, as we often did after a long lunch. We passed a fallen tree in the garden that had blown over in a storm and I asked Peter, “What are you going to do with that dead tree. It appears to be a Japanese cedar from the look of the bark. It’ll be a very nice nice piece of timber in there”. He replied that I could have it if I wanted it. I said that I did indeed want it and returned the next day with my truck and chain saws to mill it up into planks.




After seasoning for a few years, I made both Peter and Bobbie a chair each out of the wood. It was soft, light-weight and beautiful to work with and the timber has a lovely grain. I has been made into a few beautiful chairs and I still have quite a bit of it left for other projects. The gift of the chairs was my way of saying thank you for everything, not just the opportunity to forestall waste and to be creative with this windfall tree. I am grateful to Peter and Bobbie for all the years of friendship and support. They have been endlessly supportive and generous over the years, not just to me, but to everyone in their circle. They have led exemplary lives and are an inspiration to us.





Peter and Bobbie called in to visit us at our home on the morning of our son Geordie’s home-birth. A surprise visit and a very touching one.

We were planning to go up and visit Peter and Bobbie in hospital last Friday, but couldn’t get there because of the snow. Janine spoke to Bobbie on the phone and she said to come sooner rather than later, as he might not last the week. We drove up to visit them on the Tuesday and Peter died the next morning. I’m so glad that we managed to get there in time.

We spent the day up there in the mountains with them.

Peter appeared weak, but OK. He gave us a smile but he was struggling to get his breath. He was very tired.

When I sat with him in the sun and held his hand. He said that he apologised because he couldn’t “entertain me today, because I’m not at all well”.

He reminisced about “the good things, the pots, and the good times that we had shared“ and that he “often thought of us”.

He nodded in and out of sleep, sitting there in his chair in the sun.

Janine had taken him up some of her soft baked almond biscuits. He liked those.

We’ll all miss him. His dry, cheeky, mischievous, often naughty, wry, sense of humour.

His self-effacing humility, his simpatico, his nurturing, caring humanity.

I consider myself so lucky to have been a friend and to have been mentored by him.

So many touching moments that I will never forget.