Letter to my grandson (xxxviiii)

Dear Winton

Today is your birthday. You’re three and already an experienced cake-eater and firefighter.

Today, your mum has prepared a special treat for her fireman.

And you have had a day at the Werribee Zoo with your mum and dad where your mum took a photograph of you looking like a barrow boy from London’s East End and altogether more than your three years.


Later in the day, your mom and dad brought you around for cake and presents. It had been a long day at the zoo so we really appreciated seeing you.

Your cousin, Connor, has just finished a week-long visit and will have landed in Manila by now after flying out last night. The two of you were not able to spend much time together unfortunately but you have a quite remarkably close relationship for two little boys who see each other so rarely.

There’s the occasional altercation about almost nothing but there was an interesting exchange at Connor’s birthday party in a local pub. Connor was playing with an abacus and an older and bigger girl came and took it away from him.  You were having none of it.


Your dad intervened. I think it was something along the lines of, “‘Let the Wookie win. It’s not wise to upset a Wookie.”

We took you and Connor and his parents to the NGV.  The carwash installation which you have enjoyed so much has been removed and most of the cushions you roll around have gone all to make way for the queues for the Van Gogh exhibition so it wasn’t quite so much fun.

You and Nana often go up the escalator.  Because I am the support team with the pusher I have to use the lift and don’t keep up so I don’t see you go through the exhibitions so I have missed you and your appreciation of the Oriental sculptures.  I do not use the word lightly because Nana says you stop and look, often at the same ones.

But today I had left the pusher behind.

I saw something that made me realise there is something going on in that beautiful head of yours when we visit the gallery that involves more than rolling cushions around the Great Hall.

At the top of the first escalator, there is a bronze statue, a torso by Gaston Lachaise.  You stopped in front of it and stood looking at it.

“What happened to its head?” you asked. Nana explained that the artist left the head off on purpose. “It’s a mummy statue,” you observed. Your aunt giggled nervously as you walk around it.

Gaston LACHAISE torso.jpeg

In the next gallery, we found a first century BC marble entitled Torso of Athlete.


You stood and looked at it for some time. “What happened to its arms and legs?” I explained that they had broken off and sometimes some bad people broke them off.

Where do you start explaining all this to a child who is going to have his third birthday party next weekend? The role of the artist and the role of the vandal. I hope I can live long enough.

You walked around the statue looking closely.  “Would you like me to show you some statues, on the computer, that haven’t had their arms and legs broken off?” I asked. You thought that would be a good idea. You went back and inspected the Lachaise again.

I was talking to your swimming teacher recently and he said, “Winton’s problem is that he can’t concentrate.” My immediate reaction was: He is only two years old.

Now I think, perhaps he should come to the National Gallery of Victoria with us one day.

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