There is nothing like a cleanup to surprise. In amongst all of the ‘stuff’ that one accumulates, there are little surprises: old friends meet again; past thoughts are rejuvenated; old feelings are re-invigorated; judgments are confirmed; things forgotten are reformed in the wholeness of the revelation of discovery. Then there are the more mysterious matters: the finding of things one never knew one had. It is all very nostalgic, a little romantic, and somewhat archaeological, like looking at an old photo album in 3D real-life space-time where the past is now – me, here. Time is bridged by memory.
So there was real astonishment in the finding of a small, square cast glass bowl that looked like something made to hold the miniature knick-knacks on a dressing table. Where did this come from? It was too small for nuts or dips; too out of place for food of any kind with its base image. This little cut crystal fake bowl/frame glistened as new once the grimed dust had been wiped away to reveal a pleasant image of a river, black and white edged in subtle water blue. What was this? Where?
In the centre of the vista, on the void of the river, was the text in small block letters: ‘BRIDGES, BRISBANE.’ The words had a lovely cryptic ring to them. Strangely, they did not appear to disrupt or disturb the impression of the picture. One had never thought of talking about the local bridges in this way, or of using them as a reference for the city in this plural manner. Usually it is the more dramatic, spiked Story Bridge that stands taller than the others, that is used for the city reference in an apparent attempt to match Sydney’s iconic promotion. Neither had one ever thought of identifying a photograph of the city reach of the Brisbane River by referencing the bridges that could really only be seen in part. One portion of one steel arch of the old Victoria Bridge filled the lower left of the image, and a couple of the concrete arches of the old Grey Street Bridge, now renamed the William Jolly Bridge, could be seen stretching across the centre of the photograph. So why identify the subject of this city vista as the bridges that appeared to form just a part of something more whole, more complete? It was indeed a nicely composed photograph.
This little glass trinket bowl picture frame seemed to be an almost useless item. There was no way that it could be hung on a wall. It is nothing but a souvenir of Brisbane, an old one. Someone must have purchased it as a reminder, maybe as a gift for another to ponder. Its function was far more than practical, almost symbolic, and it is still fulfilling this purpose: remembrance. The old Victoria Bridge has been demolished and replaced with a pre-stressed concrete arch bridge again named Victoria. The Grey Street Bridge remains intact, repaired. Downstream of the Victoria Bridge is the new Goodwill Bridge. Brisbane seems to have trouble naming bridges these days. Between the Victoria and Grey Street bridges is the new Kurilpa Bridge, the absurdly cheeky structure that was falsely promoted as being the world’s first tensegrity bridge. Upstream of the Grey Street Bridge is the awkwardly-named but more elegant Go Between Bridge. In spite of the new cross-river connections, Brisbane remains divided. The new bridges have missed the opportunities to create significant natural linkages within the workings of the city. They have been located for other purposes: to frame a fireworks river display area; and to fulfill an ill-considered concept: to link the GOMA region for alleged pedestrians who will usually be elsewhere in the CBD. The Brisbane bridges do not work as well as those over the Liffey in Dublin do, in spite of their number.
The old South Brisbane river frontage with the skating rink and rowing club can be seen in the souvenir image. This is now the Queensland Cultural Centre, Library and Gallery of Modern Art. The distant hills of Mount Coot-tha are the same apart from a few television transmission towers that prickle the sky and some taller buildings that punctuate the cityscape. The city esplanade with its sub-tropical palm trees and the formal sandstone arches of the Victoria Bridge has been transformed into a chaotic traffic intersection with the riverside freeway slicing the river off from this precinct and the city heart. What has happened to our city? Would a photograph from this location that appears to be the roof of the old Lands Building, now a hotel adjacent to the old Treasury Building, now a casino, (the dark mass can be seen in the lower right hand corner), be used today to promote this place, or are we too self-conscious of the mess that we have managed to make of our city?
This little glass gem is still reminding, putting us in mind again of other times, places and attitudes, stimulating thoughts of older times that still ring clear and true today, as souvenirs do, even though they might be totally useless or terribly kitsch. This is why we have a 'souvenir' wall/mantelpiece that is filled with more than memories – little sundry pieces of craft, purpose and irony that all carry a complex story. What memories will these tiny items recall if found at some future period, perhaps still on the mantelpiece or in a box? They will hold meaning for the collectors, but for others? Will anyone even try to guess at the sense of their being a set? Will anyone re-conjure the ambition in this array of ledges beyond an ad hoc, random or perhaps decorative intent?
Memory is the most intimate, subtle and surprising of matters. It is who we are. Souvenirs play a significant role in our lives, be these formal trash or items of crafted wonder. Their significance calls for greater consideration and quality since they help us create a tangible wholeness out of the wilderness with little sundry gifts of remembrance.
This tiny, insignificant glass bowl brings to mind not only other eras, but also various pieces that have been written on bridges, souvenirs and memory over the years too. What a marvellous little item! – see:
. . . and there are more. Browse through the blog and discover – and ponder. In a strange way, one can see voussoirs as a 'souvenir' wall, a gathering of thoughts and ideas to be contemplated.