I tried to make the
best of Tass's stay by taking her around Melbourne. These hikes around the suburbs were
fantastic adventures. I had to explain the most minute details to her and in doing so,
realised how rich in meaning the world I lived in can be when presented to a curious
We were particularly interested in the street signs of Melbourne. New York
doesn't seem to have many traffic signs so the number of signs in Melbourne struck Tass as
quite significant. My father worked for the Department of Main Roads and was absorbed in
the problem of traffic flows through the inner city. He died when I was 18 while in the
grip of an obsession about traffic lights. The study of traffic had a strange attraction
Another growth that has taken over Melbourne in the last two decades is the roundabout.
The firsts of these were just being installed when I was driving Tass around. It's quite a
marvellous thing, the roundabout, though we probably take them for granted now. Some of
you might remember that before the roundabout motorists were forced to abide by the `give
way to the right' rule. This was an annoying and dangerous convention. It meant that in
approaching any intersection it was necessary to slow down and first, look to the right
and make sure there were no oncoming cars in that direction, and then, look to the left
and hope that the oncoming cars worked with the same rule that you did. The great problem
with the `give way to the right' rule was that it was all in the head. There was nothing
out there in front of you as a point of mutual reference for you and the other driver.
I have some slides of traffic signs with me this afternoon. For some reason, when I
tried to think of how I began to paint seriously, these seemed terribly important. Of
course, they're contemporary signs -- I don't think any of them would have been around in
1972, but they will give you some sense of how Tass and I were looking at the world then.