1954 MORNINGTON PENINSULA An extract from ‘RITES OF SALVAGE’ Tony Convey Canberra 1984
While incarcerated in a boarding school conducted by nuns I began shaping boats, vehicles and companions out of materials found on the beach below the school. One morning we were taken to see Queen Elizabeth II passing through the Shire centre. To emphasise the significance of the event we were all given a bronze medal commemorating her visit to Australia and then led to a beach adjoining the pier where we feasted on hot pies seasoned with sand. While sitting on the beach I fashioned a companion out of wire, wood and paper. As I stared at him my surroundings were obliterated and I perceived an image of a bearded man on a storm tossed mountain.
At the time I was being subjected to a continual stream, visual and verbal, of biblical imagery. The stories of Daniel, Jonah and the men in the fiery furnace evoked strong feelings probably because with the self absorbed eye of childhood I identified with their imprisonment. My response was to summon up my own images of escape and transcendence.
One of my clearest memories is of a voyage undertaken in company with a raven and a bull. We sailed over glassy ultramarine seas alive with fantastic rainbow hued fish and serpents. The vessel was made out of driftwood, flattened food cans with wisps of faded labels still attached and a torn rag as a sail. This voyage was of course more successful than my five attempts at physical escape from the school and is in a sense still in progress.
A statue of St. Sebastian riddled with arrows was a particularly disturbing presence. For some reason this image intermingled with the legends I had heard of Lucifer and his rebellion against the established order in heaven. It laid a pattern of rebellion and ensuing punishment on my consciousness which was to be repeated over and over during the remainder of ‘my education’ and subsequent experiences in the ‘work force’.
It was here that my love of music and its transformative power was born. Each time I heard the bells my spirits soared. On Saturday mornings we had singing lessons in the courtyard looking over the headland. We stood on little wooden steps and sang old songs like Westering Home. Our conductor was a manically cheerful little man who rode a battered bike and played a clarinet. He wore what seemed to me odd clothes and as he conducted he threw little packages of sweets to those whose voices were most pleasing.
The experience of communal singing was overwhelming. I was a voice and I was every voice and we seemed to be suspended on a shining cloud high above the mundane world.