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Beauty and the Problem of Retreats

By Cameron Semmens

Firstly, picture this:


Pademelons hopping by hotel windows.

Wombats ambling over grasslands like miniature furry cows.

Waterfalls yelling like hooligans and running white like champagne.

Ever-wet trees clothed beautifully in moss.

A staircase of mushrooms on the trunk of an ancient King Billy pine.

Evening snowfalls lit by torchlight.


This is a glimpse of my time in ‘Cradle’.


But now, think about this:

The problem with breaks, even longed-for Winter sanctuaries in exquisite places, is that we still don’t get a break from our own minds. And even more than that, a retreat from the contraptions and distractions of the world can actually mean we end up having to face our own subtle dysfunctions and hidden darknesses.

So, I go to Cradle Mountain. For a whole week. What a frickin’ luxury! I’m doing an artist’s residency in a climate and topography I love. How super privileged am I?! And I am sooooo looking forward to it.


I have to bring a mountain of other work to do: emails to catch up on; invoices to compile; school programs to develop. And on top of that, emotionally, I seem to have brought with me a grumpy koala – a clinging darkness in the branches of my being – with sharp claws – slowly eating away all that brings me life.

(If you can’t tell from that last sentence – I am a poet.)

So, here I am, having heeded the call of the mountains.

But even as I stare, enthralled by Cradle Mountain itself – teasing me like a stripper with feather-fan clouds – it is difficult to forget my other mountains: that mountain range of emails and invoices; those distant peaks of school incursions; and that far-distance Everest in my future that is some ultimate, perfect mountain-top experience.

Sometimes, it is just so hard to just be where you are, and to see what’s in front of you. And with my residency at the Cradle Mountain Wilderness Gallery, sadly, I often felt this. But, luckily – not all the time. Sometimes I could embrace the moment, and be thankful: grateful for the crisp wind, or the good food, or a friendly smile, or a lively chat, or the lush stillness of a temperate rain forest vista.

I didn’t scale every mountain I wanted to.

Cradle Mountain was too snowy and dangerous for my amateur equipment and questionable fitness; but I did answer my emails, get my invoices done, and the school programs written.

And as often happens, on the very last night there – I did finally feel a little more free to just ‘be’, and to be just ‘me’.

Interestingly, one of my poems featured in the gallery – Thylacine Silence – was a little prophetic in this regard:


…after a day

my screaming city self

develops a slow leak.


In a week

enough silence gathers

in my rock-bottomed depths

to give just enough surface area

for true reflection…


It’s a pity we can’t just flick a switch in ourselves – work mode; retreat mode; holiday mode; grief mode; joy mode – but our human psyches just don’t work like that do they!

But we do have a choice of emphasis, and of what memories to foster and feed. Thus, I am choosing to linger over the lush nature, and to nurture the beauty I saw, and the beauty I felt:


Sparkling lakes spangling the landscape like dollops of silver.

Sunset gold gilding the face of Little Horn.

Bright orange lichen branding boulders like warning signs.

The flit and flash of finches in the undergrowth.

The chirp and flutter of rosellas in the trees.

The weight of rock faces staring down at my wind-chilled flesh.

The overnight snow making old men of all the mountains – with a sudden crown of white hair.

The fun of frivolous photo shoots with my faithful brother.

A last-night, fireside conversation that sparked and flared with surprising warmth.

The simple joy of sweeping an ink-dipped nib across a fresh white page.

I am thankful for the mountains – even the ones that only ever hovered on the horizon; for in truth, they are the ones that draw me on, and call to me: “Return! Return!”



Guest Post by Cameron Semmens, Current Exhibiting Artist and Artist in Residence


Cameron’s exhibition of ink art and graphic poems Trees and the Taste of Shadow is on display in Gallery 7 until Wednesday, October 24, 2018.

Listen to Cameron read the poem The Fern Cycle featured in the gallery here.