Mardie Whitla blogs about her ceramic sculpture Poseur

Mardie Whitla blogs about her ceramic sculpture Poseur

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Do you see what I see?

My Italian friend, Patrizia, arrived in Melbourne on 27 February 2020 for her six-week holiday. It was her first visit to Australia, and she arrived on the day that our Prime Minister activated the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Covid-19.

By mid-March, voluntary self-isolation of all arriving travellers was the rule. Victoria had declared its state of emergency, the Ruby Princess had discharged 2,700 passengers, but we drove to our pre-arranged trip at Great Otway National Park. We stayed at Cape Otway Light Station for three nights.

On our final day there, whilst enjoying breakfast at the cafe, I searched for the usual newspaper to read. The manager told me that it was not available, due to the Premier’s rule of not sharing anything – such as a newspaper. It was only then that I realised something serious was going on.

From left: Ceramic artist Mardie Whitla and her Italian friend Patrizia
Cape Otway Light Station, where Mardie and Patrizia stayed before Victoria went into lockdown

So much for all our great plans

We had so many other plans. Our indoor exercise class had to close due to large groups. A few of us decided to develop our own type of exercise by briskly walking along the Port Philip promenade between Black Rock and Beaumaris beach – which we did, every Thursday morning at 10.30.

With the bluestone sea wall behind us and the shallow crystal-clear waters and beach beside us, we watched black swans, Australian pelicans, cormorants, magpies, petrels, herons, seagulls, and an occasional blue wren. Depending on the tide, we could sometimes watch two men standing on the edge of the promenade, throwing their rods to collect little garfish.

Sometimes Patrizia and I would also take a picnic lunch to our special table beside the tea-trees. It was located at the nearby Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary, the traditional Sea Country of the Bunurong / Boon Wurrung people.

At Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary
View from the edge of the promenade wall
Lonely. Is it a Pacific Gull or a Pied Cormorant?

Return panic

By March 20, Australian borders were closed to all non-residents. I cancelled our planned car trip across Bass Straight on the Spirit of Tasmania, two accommodation sites, and art museum MONA.  

Patrizia and I were beginning to feel a touch uneasy. She had a return flight to Italy booked for April 4. Obviously, that would no longer be available. Her son was contacting us on a regular basis to see what our plans were for her return.

On March 24 we watched information on TV regarding flights out of Australia. We could see they were restricted, and we realised that we had to move quickly. Already many had been cancelled. To get onto a plane required a letter from your doctor. Patrizia’s son in Tuscany and I in Victoria were on our computers trying to find appropriate flights. Or even slightly inappropriate flights.

Time was of the essence. On three occasions we made a flight booking only to be told 30 minutes later the flight had been cancelled. Finally, we found an unusual way of leaving Melbourne. It was the last flight out of Melbourne on 25 March with Bangkok Airlines. No doctor’s letter, but a full day stopover and so forth. In London Patrizia slept overnight, arriving in Italy almost 3 days after she’d left Melbourne. Home. Lockdown. Long sleep.  

Poseur parts in raw clay
Poseur parts with under glaze
A Poseur in the hand

My Covid activity – and the creation of Poseur

About 3 months after Patrizia had departed, I started making my little clay man Poseur. Why I used French instead of Italian for his name I know not. I used Chris’s light midfire speckle and Orton Cone 6 from Clayworks to hand build eight separate pieces.

Before the first firing I used a range of underglazes for the bright colours. My little fisherman was probably catching garfish. He is perched on real Beaumaris (after a storm) sand. When I look at him, I ‘see’ a little memory of Patrizia and our many pleasant times on the shores of Beaumaris.  

You can catch a glimpse of Poseur now online in the exhibition, Do You See What I See?. He is also on Instagram And he’ll be in person at Louis Joel Gallery, Altona, from 22 April 2022.

Assembling the Poseur parts
Poseur is ready for exhibition
Mardie asks: ‘Do you see what I see?’ A man and a boat? Or memories of a friend across the sea?

And as for that exercise habit

Regarding the exercise walks along the beach on Thursdays, that has held true. Since March 2020, every Thursday morning at 10.30 I walk briskly along the promenade of Black Rock/Beaumaris beach. And every Thursday morning at 10.30 it has not rained. Sure, there have been a few heavy gusts of wind, black skies, and cold rolling waves. But never in these last 18 months between 10.30 and 11.30 has there been rain. Amazing.

Thursday continues as beach walk day
Some days the water is rough
Some days the water is smooth as silk