Wednesday 24 August 2022


The title caught the eye: caged ghosts? The promotional golden sticker told that the book had been awarded a history prize: there was something mysteriously interesting here – the haunting photograph on the cover hinted at the ‘history’ subject that seemed differently intriguing: this was no ordinary history. The book was picked up and perused. As the pages turned, one saw beautiful maps, and drawings and photographs of sandstone engravings and carved trees; old and new intertwined, considered. It was obvious that the book was about the travails of the Australian aboriginal and place: it was purchased.

We were travelling through Coffs Harbour on our way to a family gathering when we stopped for lunch. This is GUMBAYNGGIRR country. It was on the stroll back to the car that we passed the bookstore and discovered a well-stocked shop. It was a pleasure to see such a good collection of books; the book Cage of Ghosts by Jon Rhodes was a surprise find in amongst an array of other titles on the subject of Aboriginal Australia – category ‘INDIGENOUS’ - but the discovery should not have been unexpected in such a well-stocked outlet. Here one could find many things of interest: it was no cheap, discount, remainder store that many bookshops seem to have become these Internet days. A.C. Grayling’s collection of writings in NON-FICTION had looked tempting, but it was the caged ghosts that caught the imagination. One soon understood the reference: known remnants of aboriginal art and artefacts in our environments were divided from us for protection, separated from us, screened off - ‘caged’ - into a ‘museum’ place, changing it; turning living visions into exhibits caging ghosts of distant pasts. One needed to know of this; there was a sense of richness, of love and protest here; of cynicism and desire; of commitment and determination: and then there were the unknown pieces in places yet to be discovered, let alone understood, that kept one thinking.

Jon Rhodes

The intent of the text was made clear when one read, amongst other scheduled Aboriginal places, the reference to the Bora at Burleigh Heads^ in the introduction. We live at Burleigh Heads. With some embarrassment, one asked “Where was the bora?” One can recall knowing of it once, in less developed times when modest, uncluttered fibro beach shacks lined the track parallel to the sandy edges of the beaches; one had heard of it, but its location could not be recalled. Where was it? Google Earth was opened. It turned out that the Jebribillum Bora was on the dual highway on the northern side of Burleigh Heads, just up the road from MacDonalds, framed by highrise development on the east, with Aldi nearby on the north. It was a place that had been passed hundreds of times without a blink; without any recognition or understanding; without any tingle down the spine, or any humiliation of embarrassment. It had been forgotten, swamped by the toing and froing of the distractions of daily modern life.

Google Earth Street View revealed the bora as a bland, fenced off area of a park, defining a no-man’s-land zone that looked no different to the remainder of the turfed park space. What might one be looking at? The low wooden barrier typical of 1960’s park post and beam log barrier detailing, took a segmented semi-circular form that unhappily appeared to crash awkwardly into the road alignment at the footpath that also had the same fencing barrier. It looked as if the whole circle did not now fit, but what was left had been assumed to be near enough as an exhibit to recognise this sort of thing. What happened in this place?^ For what and for whom might it have been a ceremonial centre? Where was the power of place today?** Why here? What have we done to the aboriginal world? What might the Burleigh environment we know today once have been? What do we not know? Where do we walk; on what? Where do we drive; over what?

One became aware of the great gap between two worlds, with one riding roughshod over the other, bizarrely getting and spending, laying waste the powers# that once held significance and meaning at this centre. The book took on a new, more urgent, timely meaning. One looked forward to reading it. There seemed to be something of a questioning mind here, worried about how we have been so careless with significance; so arrogant with place and purpose; so dismissive of a different sensibility.

Rhodes’ interest in this subject was stimulated by a small book he saw in Alice Springs. This publication had drawings of the landscape around Alice with the aboriginal names of the landmark elements annotated. Place was known, named, and contained stories; it was never just something pretty and picturesque. There was depth and meaning latent in our environment that we know very little about. How could one even discover how to feel about such things now when our society has developed into such a greedy, self-centred, ‘fake’ entity that sees landscape simply as real estate blurb for hype and heightened prices: “glorious, relaxing mountain views,” etc.; or something for indulgent holiday enjoyments: “bask on the stretches of white sandy beach beside the turquoise waters with your martini.”

One thought of the ancient landscapes of the world; more intimately, that of the Shetland Islands to the north of mainland Scotland. Here each nook and cranny, each recess and swelling, is named. It is place that has been occupied for thousands of years by the Picts and the Vikings; place that has stories and meaning; place that has been lived in and walked over by many more than ourselves that we seem so concerned with these days, being carelessly self-centred. Foolishly, one had not even thought of Australia in these terms, thinking loosely about only a few locations, perhaps street names, that carried an aboriginal sounding reference that would have been labelled by the white settlers, perhaps phonetically. Have our brazen Colonial roots recreated its own self-centred history? Our history books told us nothing about this understanding of place; this unique wholeness in experience in our environment.

It was a day later that there was time: one could settle down and start reading this intriguing publication and know its content more intimately. The book is really a series of quests setting out tasks to respond to various questions and propositions. It is a remarkable document that records Rhodes persistence and rigour.

One is left knowing a little more about our historic environment, but there are many questions left that need attention. It is truly staggering how Australia’s best record of aboriginal sandstone engravings has just disappeared; that the offer to have them as part of a collection was apparently ignored. It is remarkable to get some understanding of what the engravings might have meant when the Big Man is perhaps revealed as a guide to water and ochre, when the proposition is put: we will go and stand and look in the same direction as the Big Man and test the theory. Body and soul are engaged here in place, such that bodies today can possibly make something of the significance. It is a shame that we may never know how the soul was once encountered, or how it might be re-engaged. We seem immune to any real understanding of the carved trees beyond seeing them as ‘interesting sculptures’ for museum exhibits that come with pseudo-explanatory texts that say very little that is not simply descriptive, e.g.: “found at … on . . .; carved from such and such a tree . . .; size . . .; perhaps burial markers.” Alarmingly, one sees that the local university – of Queensland – was involved in collecting these astonishing symbols, removing them from their context for a life of display – caged; isolated.

Rhodes’ photographs tell the general story: the eerie shadow of the jogger shading the sandstone engraving of a shark that is just not seen, let alone recognised by eyes that look only at the performance watch looking for a PB; the post placed centrally on top of one engraving, as though it just was not there;* likewise with the fence. There needs to be no comment with these images as they sum up our history of the treatment of our indigenous Australians.

Bill Neidjie

Bill Neidjie, who came to be known as Kakadu Man, decided to transcribe the elders’ oral stories so that they might not be lost. He was aware of the dwindling power of this knowledge with young folk having more interest in western matters and their quirky diversions. So we have his marvellous little books that tell us about his understanding of the world.## It is a start; books like Rhodes’ Cage of Ghosts only highlight how much more we do not know. We should be humiliated; but politicians today have taught us how never to be shamed; how bold spin and cheeky lies can frame fake intents to make them ‘true.’ We need to rediscover the mystery and magic of place in life if we are going to have any hope of understanding our aboriginal world, and be prepared to feel shame.

Strangely, it was in the Shetland Islands that a book on the aboriginal pathways in south-east Australia was discovered – in a charity shop in Lerwick. Just how it ended up there is anyone’s guess; but it does add yet another layer of understanding to our aboriginal place, making the concept of terra nullius an astonishing farce – pure, unadulerated spin. The map in the frontispiece of Rhodes’ book highlights the completeness of aboriginal settlement in this country. The vacancy refers more to our understanding than anything else. More needs to be done so that we can all recognise something of the richness of place as understood and lived by our aboriginal predecessors. The publication is yet another excellent step in this direction. It is readable, intriguing, and powerful, making it an excellent introduction for those starting on the path of caring, sensitive recognition, if not meaningful understanding.

Rhodes has given us more than just hollow, meaningless words; smartly spun phrases; bland, political gestures; and crude, nonsensical clichés that pretend to acknowledge, understand, and respect our aboriginal past once in a while when convenient to us. He has shown us how we all share place that has been known and lived, and suggests an attitude and interest that can seek out its re-enchantment with a raw rigour - lest we forget. We have to learn how to live in this special place; we have to learn its history, and not indulge in our own shallow, gratifying fantasies that disfigure both time and place to suit ourselves.

Stone memorial for Indigenous 'diggers': see - 


See: Secret tribal men’s business -

See also:

and -


Judith Wright expresses the sense of loss and meaning in her poem:

Bora Ring

by Judith Wright

The song is gone; the dance
is secret with the dancers in the earth,
the ritual useless, and the tribal story
lost in an alien tale.

Only the grass stands up
to mark the dancing-ring; the apple-gums
posture and mime a past corroboree,
murmur a broken chant.

The hunter is gone; the spear
is splintered underground; the painted bodies
a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot.
The nomad feet are still.

Only the rider's heart
halts at a sightless shadow, an unsaid word
that fastens in the blood of the ancient curse,
the fear as old as Cain.


Apologies to Wordsworth:

The World Is Too Much With Us


The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.


This is not unique to Australia. On the island of Unst in the Shetland Islands, above Crussafield, the slope that rises north from Baliasta - the site of the first Althing in Shetland - there is a mysterious arrangement of stones. Four slabs of stone have been placed standing up low to form a box about a metre square. On the Ordinance Survey Map of the island, this location is called The Giant’s Grave. No one knows much more about it; but, in the middle of this ‘box,’ the local crofter has placed a straining corner post for his fence. It is an astonishing insult to history, and archaeology.


Bill Neidjie’s books:

Australia’ Kakadu Man: Bill Neidjie

Story About Feeling

Old Man’s Story: The Last Thoughts of Bill Neidjie.

Gagadju Man: Kakadu National

Wednesday 10 August 2022


Is it all merely an attempt to rationalise what is seen by many as a mysterious shambles? Colleagues have responded to images of the model and the renderings with astonished scepticism, leaving cryptic messages like “Speechless.” Prints of the scheme were once handed around the monthly curry table ‘for discussion,’ and were met with a sense of incredulity, and a silent “WTF?” There was really nothing to say; little was said. The general response was bluntly dismissive – “It’s unbelievable.” Could such a piled up ‘inspired’ mess be serious? The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi presented a puzzle.

The YouTube talk on this project given by Gehry# seems to be a response to manage what appears to be be the typical reaction to this scheme. Frank O. Gehry, ex-‘Ephraim Owen Goldberg,’ speaks directly to the camera from what seems to be his office studio, with a model of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi behind him. His manner is unusually humble, conciliatory, modest; carefully thoughtful, meaningfully concentrated. There is nothing of the arrogant, ‘single finger’ response; here we see a sensitive, concerned man. What’s going on? Is this a charade; a calculated pretence? One is perplexed by the remarkable change.

Gehry begins explaining the origins of the Guggenheim scheme, as if he senses the need to prove that it has been conceived rationally, carefully, considerately; that it is a purposeful response rather than a bundle of shapes and masses randomly thrown together willy-nilly to make a visually ‘interesting’ assemblage, as it might appear to be. Perhaps his reputation for things inspirationally random and ad hoc has been shaped by, amongst many other dismissive gestures and statements, his scribbled sketches for his projects, and the reference to a crumpled brown paper bag as being the basis of the concept for his Dr Chau Chak Wing Building for the UTS Business School in Sydney, Australia. One wonders if he now regrets this cheeky, shameless, brazen approach. Is there something of a search for redemption here? In this presentation, Gehry speaks about the quality of the entry, the approach to the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Building, explaining how timber is used to give a “user friendly” security area. The message seems to be that he has deliberately designed the place in detail, really caring for the people who might visit. Is this a new Gehry, or one attempting to create a reputation as a serious theoretical, emotional, ‘real,’ sensitive, thinking architect rather than an arrogant rebel revelling in eye-catching deformities? Strangely, there is no further mention of the visitor or any comment on the interiors in the remainder of the presentation.


Gehry moves on with his talk, speaking about the entry “under the beautiful cone,” suggesting that the curved forms are not random, but have a particular climatic function: “as one crosses the threshold there is a 15 degrees drop in temperature.” The cones “cool the outdoor spaces.” The inspiration for these conical tubular pieces is explained as being the tepee, a shape that exhausts heat. Gehry sees the sloping vaults working in the same way, telling us how he placed “a bunch of tepees over the public places . . . to become a place holder.” The reference to ‘place’ seems contrived to fit the expectations of those seeking some logic in the strategy, establishing Gehry as a caring ‘placemaker,’ reminding one of Aldo van Eyck’s ‘place not space’ subtlety. The proposition seems to be that there is more than a scattered random, ‘interesting’ nothingness behind these shapes: but weren’t we just told that these ‘tepee cones’ were for cooling?

One has to wonder why a North American reference to form and function might be useful in middle-eastern desert climes. Do tepees really exhaust heat or just let the smoke out? Why would one not use the traditional wind towers of the region that have proven to be so effective, instead of referencing the American Indian’s mobile shelter?* It looks as though the tepee form might draw in as much 46C heat as it exhausts. Where is the proof of the instant 15 degree drop?+ Might it only be hope and hype to explain the form? The nearby Nouvel Louvre building provides a local example of the problem faced. Here the large, shading dome does nothing to modify the external temperature, even though the images of the outdoor space are very poetic; perhaps the shelter makes temperatures rise under the radiant heat of the heavy structure? - see:

Wind towers, Dubai

Louvre, Abu Dhabi

Nouvel's Louvre is nearby

Gehry continues, boasting about the way the scheme was chosen by his client. Apparently a selection of approaches was offered in model form. Is ‘meaningful’ architecture really something of a ‘pick the winner / trial and error’ preference game? This particular scheme was seemingly chosen with the reported comment, “You really understand our culture.” It would be good to see all of the other projects that were rejected. How many options does Gehry develop for each project? It is strange to have specific ‘meaning’ and cultural ‘relevance’ recognised in what appears to be a ‘pick a box’ choice made from a selection of a variety of, perhaps, less ‘meaningful’ alternative possibilities. Is this ‘considered’ structuring of meaning merely wishful thinking, or a simple matter of the chance selection of the client who saw some vague parallel in shapes? It is difficult to put one’s finger on the commitment to any particular enterprise here.

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque

Gehry explains the client’s statement as referring to the repetitive simple shapes, the domes, one sees in mosques. Just to prove that the chosen scheme was ‘culturally referenced,’ the video presentation shows an interior and a silhouette of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul with its various curved shapes and profiles; and then, later, images of the Blue Mosque are revealed. This is Turkey, not the UAE. Gehry explains that this sense of repetition of simple forms “became an important architectural element” in his client-selected project, in spite of the fact that he had previously said that the inspiration had been ‘the tepee’ - ? Is the concept tepee or dome: climate or culture? He tells how “he has seen a lot of mosques” in the last few years, implying that it has been the mosques that have given a context for the meaningful inspiration rather than the tepee. Is this so? The suggestion seems to be that these great buildings have repetitive, curved profiles just like the Gehry scheme has, an analogy that he seems to think carries more richness than a simple similarity in descriptions. The Gehry ‘mess’ mocks the rigour of Hagia Sophia. Gehry mentions the works of Sinan, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright called the greatest, as though Sinan was his inspiration, his mentor. How? There seems to be just too much effort to get meaningful connections here. One senses a sort of ‘grab all’ rationalisation in the hope that something of the muddle might stick.

Blue Mosque

As if to explain away the obvious discrepancy between the mosques and his shambles, his ‘messiness,’ Gehry acknowledges the precise symmetry in the Blue Mosque, but points out how the experience “becomes messy” as one moves around, as if this might excuse his ad hoc randomness in form, and exaggerate the ‘meaningful’ cultural connection with his disordered expression. One is left bewildered; baffled. Does Gehry not know Coomaraswamy’s statement that reminds us that much of our great architecture was about God, not attractive form? Gehry seems to be defending his messiness with clever phrases, trying to prove cultural relevance in words alone, as if this might be enough to bluff everyone.

Gehry notes how “men are white; women black” in this culture; and tells us that this observation caused him to want a “black and white environment.” Is this strategy really ‘meaningful’? His ambition, apparently, was “to show different cultures together in one room,” a concept he sees as “a revolution.” Really?? How might this be so wondrous? Australia is an example of a multi-cultural society that has had its own easy evolution. Somehow glass floors and balustrades play a role in this strategy too. Is this the idea of literal transparency becoming used as an example of a moral stance?

Hagia Sophia interior

Gehry closes his presentation with a reference to different cultures, noting “the political mess” the world is in; adding that he is seeking “a clarity in talking” while not wanting to “politicise” matters, avoiding “military options and threats” with a “more humanistic architecture; a more questioning approach” that can ask “Who are we? Why not talk?” The finale is grand: Gehry hopes his building will “deliver this message” – what precisely is this? - and that “his architecture will become a part of something bigger.” Is he serious, or just seeking something more meaningful than scribbles, crumpled, brown paper bags and quirky, ad hoc distortions? Has Gehry lost confidence in his visual deformities?

Early model studies

Gehry seems to be grasping at all of the right themes to explain his work as meaningfully rational, but it is difficult to take seriously. The early development models seem to reveal nothing of his new cultural sensitives. One is left wondering why he is attempting this explanation. What can one make of this? Is it merely propaganda; spin; empty words that seek to sound enriching? The problem is that Gehry has a history of what looks like carelessly considered randomness rather than creating buildings that might transform humanity. Has he really changed, or is he merely responding to the critics, seeking forgiveness for his extremes?

Soon after viewing this almost apologetic explanation that seeks to give real ‘meaning’ to the project’s conception, another site is discovered that presents the engineering work for this project.##

Here one sees sound studies, and rather ambitious, or maybe hopeful, rainwater studies for this project: Abu Dhabi has an average rainfall of 42mm. There are structural details too, showing joints and assembly methods; other studies show sunlight and shade. It is all very intriguing. The reality of the engineering thought and analysis gives some rigour to the project. It is the work of the Sydney Opera House engineers, Arup. One looks, but cannot see any study that might reveal the effectiveness of the curved shelters as cooling elements offering a dramatic 15 degree drop in temperature.

The Abu Dhabi Louvre experience makes one wonder about the whole climatic concept. After experiencing the Abu Dhabi Louvre in 46C heat, and finding the temperature under the dome simply intolerable, one cannot get over-excited with the effectiveness of these tepee shelter/place markers in the searing heat. Is it all simply fanciful; hopeful?*+

While the engineering bits and pieces might be intriguing, the wholeness of the scheme remains a question, as Gehry continues to present what must be a justification for his “speechless” mess that becomes, in his understanding, something of a conglomerate, humanistic, multi-cultural engagement enriched by its cultural references and climatic sensitivites.

What can one say other than that cultural meanings are much more significant than a mere similarity in profile and matching words. Architecture seems just too quick to use language to promote projects with a unique enthusiasm that frequently has little relevance to the experience of place other than offering ‘ways to see’ a project; providing words that shape visions yet to be beheld. Why is ‘Mr. Goldberg’ now seeking to explain his work as humanistic; sensitive; place-making; place-shaping; caring; politically correct; tolerant; and transformative when his previous projects appear more interested in being both different and alarming expletives; seemingly inexplicably arrogant and deliberately ad hoc as deformed, bespoke, ‘Gehry’ expressions?

Luma Arles

A rendering of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.


Domes, Cones, and Inspired Messiness -


The engineering:

It seems as though the rigour of resolution is left to the engineers. It is indeed a wonderful site to peruse, and highlights the extreme difference between how the architect and the engineer see things. Architecture needs more engineering thinking to inform it, because detail is critical. Gehry might see ‘cultural richness’ in his ‘inspired messiness,’ but it is the precise resolution of the fine detail that makes the project what it is. It is a delight to see, and becomes something of an embarrassment for the architectural profession that seems happy to muddle along in a fanciful world. It was Kahn who spoke about the transition from things vague and fanciful, into things factual, to become vague and fanciful yet again.

A great building must begin with the unmeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable.

Architects appear to have given up, leaving the engineers to resolve all matters measurable. One has to consider Christopher Alexander’s ‘wholeness’ to understand the problem here.

Other reports on aspects of the project:

Another report on the Guggenheim suggests that these forms were based on the traditional barjeel: see -

The jagged towers and palm-fringed walkways of the proposed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (GAD) take their inspiration from the wooden sailing dhows that ply the waters of the Gulf and the funnel-shaped wind towers, known as barjeel, built to bring natural ventilation into old houses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Gehry makes no mention of either of these sources. He mentions the tepee, and domes. The reference to the traditional wind tower is formal only, if at all, and seems to ignore the basic physics of these traditional structures: see -



Is Gehry using this report for his reasoning? -

Throughout North America, numerous indigenous tribes used teepees for centuries prior to European colonization. Some indigenous Americans continue to use teepees today, both for ceremonial and practical reasons. It turns out that teepees feature a number of impeccable design elements that make them perfectly suited for modern use, particularly in harsh, cooler climates.

Unlike modern tents, teepees are actually suited for long-term, year-round habitation. Because teepee technology has had thousands of years to evolve, they continue to be relevant alternative lodging options. Whether you’re looking for a unique guesthouse, an interesting art studio or an extension of your living space, it’s hard to go wrong with investing in a modern teepee.

There are a number of benefits associated with teepee ownership. Here are just a few of the reasons you should consider investing in teepee poles in Utah:

  • Easy to heat: It’s surprising how much heat a canvas teepee can keep in! With just a few quick adjustments to the canvas, you can set your teepee to either vent excess heat or collect solar rays. Additionally, it’s possible to have an open fire inside your teepee, thanks to the exterior vent. Some modern teepees actually have stoves inside, for maximum safety and enjoyment.

  • Good air circulation: Teepees consist of canvas wrapped around a wooden frame supported by teepee poles in Utah. Using a few simple maneuvers, it’s easy to adjust the canvas to create perfect air circulation, even if the air outside of the teepee is relatively stagnant. It’s possible to create an updraft that can make the interior of a teepee as much as 15 degrees cooler than the temperature outside.

  • Wind-resistant: Have you ever woken up inside a tent that collapsed thanks to heavy winds? Sleeping in an unsteady tent isn’t just annoying—it can actually be dangerous! Teepees, however, boast an aerodynamic shape that moves with the wind. Even during intense outdoor storms, teepees are able to stand strong, and remain firmly planted. Unlike tents, teepees are a viable option for year-round habitation.

  • Flexible: Because teepees are constructed of wood and canvas, they’re extremely flexible. If you’re in an earthquake-prone area, you can rest easy knowing that your teepee will probably survive most tremors. Additionally, it’s extremely easy to set up and take down your teepee, meaning it’s possible to travel with it virtually anywhere you may want to go. It takes just half an hour to raise most teepees.

The words particularly in harsh, cooler climates are interesting.


Is this a secret 'architectural' gesture, or a specific attitude to the world?