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Autumn in Canberra

by Angus Trumble, 1 May 2014

Angus Trumble with Self portrait at easel by Fred Williams
Angus Trumble with Self portrait at easel by Fred Williams

Her pleasure in the walk must arise… from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

In Persuasion (1818), a long walk on a fine autumn day affords Anne Elliot an opportunity to ruminate wistfully and at great length upon declining happiness, youth and hope, to which Jane Austen might well have added her own sharply declining health. Persuasion was written in a hurry, so it is hard not to see Anne as a kind of self-portrait, urgently drawn but without a hint of self-pity. The earliest copy advertised for sale in the Sydney Gazette in June 1821 was bound with Northanger Abbey, and formed part of "the Residue of an Investment imported on the ship Midas".

Our many deciduous trees make the southern autumn more clearly visible in Canberra than in any other Australian city, so I wonder if at this time of year we are similarly nudged in the direction of poetical melancholy, such that Nora Heysen’s youthful self-portrait seems more than usually grave and defiant; Arthur Boyd’s more haunted; Fred Williams’s more introspective, and Sidney Nolan’s more restive and lonelier in the face of advancing years, despite the signal honours that were heaped upon him. Four great artists see themselves here with various degrees of sharpness and acuity, but surely just now we see them above all in the light of autumn.

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