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Qdos – My Ten-Day Stay in an Artist's Paradise (Lorne, Great Ocean Road)

AUSTRALIA | Sunday, 14 September 2008 | Views [2505] | Comments [1]

Lorne is easily everyone's favorite town on the Great Ocean Road.  A modest 900 live here year-round, but the population swells to a roaring 30,000 (yes, 30,000) once the summer rolls along.  With arguably the GOR’s best beach and hippest restaurants, easy access to the tangled and humbly majestic Otway rainforest, a plethora of million-dollar homes overlooking a winding coastline… every town along the southern coast has a right to be insanely jealous.  And there’s another part of the small town that makes it especially worthy of an extended stay.  Not many venture far from the happenin’ coast, but if you do climb the steep hills, past the roar of the ocean, past the beach-facing windows, past the construction sites, and wind about a half mile down a gravel road, you’ll reach a driveway neatly sheltered by the encroaching rainforest.  You’ll know you’ve reached your destination when you get to a silver metal stenciling magically floating above a bolder along the side of the road; this whispers your arrival to Qdos, one of Lorne’s best-leaked secrets.


“Qdos” is, I was told, a postmodern spelling of “kudos,” which Aussies pronounce, as the name suggests, [QUEUE’-doss].  And you can’t help but murmur the word to whoever envisioned this living, breathing celebration of art.  Because the first thing you notice is that everything here is art – the bulbous, distorted sculptures seem to grow out of the soil; the light that falls on the small human-made pond is dappled by the canopy of eucalypts; what looks like a sting ray that just swam through a black hole hangs on an exterior wall; mounting the stairs you notice that even the stone path is a work of art -- you’re walking on a hand-designed repeating pattern of thin slate rock stemming from a blue stone, forming a cluster of stars…or bouquets of artsy, post-art-deco flowers… or light streaming through holes poked in the sky … or spotlights that you’re squinting into.  But, hey, this is art; it’s whatever you want it to be.


Standing before you is a wide, flat building that looks like it’s either going to take a helicopter landing or fly off itself.  You push open the heavy glass doors and immediately know you’re somewhere neat.  To the right is a small café, offering gourmet “brekkies” and lunches, coffees and teas, and an exquisite selection of wine and homemade goodies.  To your left, you can mosey around a three-room art gallery, admiring the fine collection of mostly impressionistic portrayals of Australian scenery.  It’s not often that I see a piece of fine art that captivates me, that says to me, “Laur, buy me!  Hang me on your wall, look at me every day.  I’m worth the thousands of dollars you’d spend on me!  We’d have a fabulous life together, I promise!”  But, shockingly, the Qdos gallery has five of them, four of them by the impressionist artist Mark Payne.  Now to me, that’s impressive.  (But no gallery would be without its weirdoes, like one that is a very round, very orange face of a cartoon cat; or a yellow and red world of cars puttering around houses and factories; or a cartoonish portrayal of a crew team rowing on a beach.)


The theme here is art, windows, and nature.  Any direction you face, you’re either looking at a $12,000 painting or at the humble yet stunning eucalypts of the Otway forest, or the proprietor’s architectural interpretation of them.  (All the colors of the buildings can be found in eucalyptus trees.) 


Walk out of the gallery and around a bend and you’ll find the pottery studio, half inside a bright open room, half outside under a corrugated iron roof (or bright blue tarp).  The studio’s organizational and spatial perfection is one achieved only after years of living and working in the space.  Recently thrown bowls; cups; teapots; plates; and massive curving, distorted sculptures take up every available shelf, every counter top and corner.  A fine powder from dried clay coats the room, dusting everything (and everyone) a milky gray.  Upon entering, you feel humbled, as if you’re among great talent, great professionalism, among the product of sturdy dedication and practice.  You feel simultaneously a part of yet apart from this place; feeling at home and comfortable, yet knowing you have no right to.  So is the enticement and mystery and elitism of art.


Walking outside, you’re impressed by how each tool has a place… and that each tool exists.  Everything a potter, carpenter, and gardener could possibly want – but nothing they wouldn’t -- can be found here, neatly hanging on a wall or stowed properly on its shelf.  It is obvious that this is a place that took years to build.


Walk just past the wood pile around the corner and before you, you have the pumping heart of any pottery studio – the kiln.  Five meters long and two meters wide at its widest point, the kiln looks more like a giant wasps’ nest than an oven.  The outside is made out of a mixture of clay and sand, and though it looks delicate, what you can’t see is two feet of brick and newspaper insulation.  I came twenty-six hours after the last day of the firing:  during this annual five-day event, all of the pieces thrown during the last half-year are loaded into the wood-fired kiln, which is heated to 1350 degrees (Celsius!) and tended by volunteers and staff for one hundred and twenty straight hours.  After the festivities are over, everyone goes home and the kiln sits for seven to ten days as it cools down.  (Three days later, the kiln is still hot to the touch.)  Everyone goes home, that is, except me; this is the point in the story where I arrive at Qdos, with the intention of lending my talents as a WWOOFer, one who works four to six hours a day in return for food and lodging.  (WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms, though there is an open definition of the “OF” bit.)


So here I am, writing this on my fourth night at Qdos, after three days of hard, dirty, but not terribly unpleasant work – mostly gardening.  Already in my short time here, what I’ve grown to fully realize, though not appreciate, is that work is nothing but moving materials from one place to another, occasionally – though not often –  transforming it from one shape or form into another.  For example, my first day’s task was to move wood from close by to far away.  My second day’s task was to move mulch from this place to other places around the property.  For my third day’s task, today’s, I moved slightly-wet-but-drying clay from crates to the table, then wet clay from the barrels to the crates, then dry clay from buckets to the barrels to become wet clay, to someday beyond my scope of vision become slightly-wet-but-drying clay.  Very interesting to read about, I’m sure, and not all unpleasant and unnecessary work; but still, distilling it all down to “moving things from here to there” certainly puts your work in a certain kind of perspective.  (And I know, I’m intentionally ignoring the value-adding aspect of work that happens through the application of knowledge and experience.  Shh.)


Oh but I certainly am rewarded for my hard work.  At night I get to go home to my very own Japanese bungalow.  Yes, Qdos also has eight or so one-room pagodas perched on a steep hill behind the gallery.  You open the door, take off your shoes, and walk into bamboo and parchment paper paradise.  The wood smells fresh and new, one inside wall is lined with ash-colored skipping stones, and the single light dims to just above sight.  It’s the perfect romantic getaway.  Uh… for one!


The luxury doesn’t end there.  To all those who wish to WWOOF someday, my word of advice is this: choose a place with a built-in café.  For breakfast, it’s homemade muesli (like granola but replace crunchy with oats), fruit, and soy milk, with OJ (freshly squeezed by yours truly).  Tara, the waitress and practically assistant manager, makes everyone coffee lattes, and though I still largely refrain from coffee, occasionally I ask for a soy chai latte.  Mmm…  For lunch, it’s a fresh pumpkin and rocket (what Aussies call arugula) sandwich on fresh sourdough, or rocket pesto pasta, or a fresh veggie wrap; finish that off with a slice of cake or a gourmet, homemade cookie.  (Honey coconut, perhaps?  Or how about dark chocolate-date?)  Dinner is a roasted vegetable salad, or Asian pasta stir fry, or whatever Graeme and I throw together from the day’s leftovers.  Again, as at Sally and Steve’s, they’re feeding me so much good food that it’s hard to resist eating too much of it!


Qdos is the brainchild of Graeme Wilkie.  The following adjectives have been used to describe him: grey-haired pony-tailed jaded ex-hippie-turned-capitalist new-age Buddhist philosophizing mumbler.  FACT: the first day I came, I could understand approximately 40% of what he said to me.  Fortunately, 40% was all I needed to survive the first day, and I’m getting better at understanding him as the days pass. 


At night it’s just Graeme and myself – the two people who live on the property.  We throw some amalgamation together from the café refrigerator (mine was usually stir-fried vegetables with a rocket pesto) and chat.  Our topics of conversation (really, more aptly called whole-hearted discussions, sometimes verging on arguments) have centered around paradigm shifts, metaphysics, and spirituality.  Sometimes they got pretty heated… he certainly was a challenging person to talk to, but it was a great opportunity to listen and learn, not only about his philosophy but also about myself, what my opinions are and how I feel, as well as how I react to rigorous attacks on my lifestyle and profession passion.  At a later point, I may post a synopsis of one of our debates with my reaction and reflection to get some feedback from you guys.  It was a pretty interesting one and it bugged me for a couple days so I’d love to hear what you think.  Anyway, more about Qdos upon my return!

(The following was written after returning to Melbourne.)

Though I was living in practical paradise, after ten days were up I was ready to head back to the great city of Melbourne.  I definitely could have stayed longer, but it just felt like the right time to leave.  For those ten days, it was great to wake up with a clear purpose, knowing I would be outside and active for a healthy portion of the day.  Most of my work was gardening (burying drip irrigation hoses, adding mulch, planting asparagus, pruning trees in the orchard, e.g.) though I did help with moving clay around and cleaning up the studio.  And – Dad, you’ll be pleased to know! – I was able to score some time on the pottery wheel!  It is officially confirmed that I am no potting prodigy, but it was a thrill to learn what it’s all about.  And lemme tell ya – potting is hard work!!  Between transporting, preparing and kneading the clay, glazing, storing, firing, recycling broken pieces and the loads of other chores you need to do, the actually throwing of each piece is a miniscule part of the arduous process.  Truly, potters deserve a “Qdos” (haha [kudos]) for all this hard work.  And man, clay is HEAVY!  I actually built some arm muscle (!!) over those ten days!


I capped the week off well, too; Adrien came down on my last day and I got to show off Qdos and Lorne.  We splurged on dinner and took some short walks along the beach and into the rainforest before heading back together for the 2½ -hour bus & train ride to Melbourne.


Overall: everything about the experience was beautiful:  the environment, the people, the food, the accommodation, the weather, the art… it was a wonderful opportunity and I’d recommend it to everyone!  Who knows, I might even go back and do it again one day!


For now, I’m back in Melbourne with Sally and Steve.  I can barely believe it, but I leave for New Zealand in a little over a week!  My life will completely change then.  I’m excited to start this new adventure, but until then, I'm more than happy to chill out in this lovely city with people I've grown to love.

Tags: great ocean road, lorne, pottery, qdos, wwoof, wwoofing




Lorne and Qdos have been added to my list of places not to miss. Maybe I'll meet Graeme someday, too, and see if I can understand him as well as you.



  Ralph Sep 16, 2008 12:52 AM



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