This is Argyll: Ardminish, Isle of Gigha

Ardminish Gigha from Gallowhill Copyright Sue Anderson

This photograph is by copyright holder, Sue Anderson of Island Focus. Taken from Gallowhill, it shows Ardminish, the township on the Argyll Isle of Gigha.

Gigha lies just off the Kinyre coast, a twenty-minute ferry ride from Tayinloan at the mouth of West Loch Tarbert. Blessed with fertile soil and with more sunshine than its immediate mainland and its neighbouring islands of Islay and Jura further offshore, it is known as God’s Island. These riches are best seen in the renowned Achamore Gardens, drawing visitors regularly to the island.

Gigha has been continuously inhabited since prehistory. It is said to have been important during the time of the Gaelic Kingdom of Dalriada. Home to the Clan MacNeil it was variously under the controlof the Norsemen and of the Lords of the Isles.

In 2002, Gigha became the third of the Scotish community buy-outs, made possible by the Land Reform Act. It was sold to the islanders by its last landowner, Derek Holt from Aberdeen, who – inexplicably – was  allowed to retain some of the most profitable businesses on the island.

The buyout has been markedly successful.  The island is owned and managed by the Gigha Heritage Trust. The population of the island has grown. Some affordable homes have been built, A buyer was found for Achamore House. A significant amount of the loan enabling the purchase has been repaid. The island has and plans to develop a wind farm which earns it some revenue. It has a lively cultural life drawing visitors to eat the Lotus. It has a genuine sense of fun.

In modern times the main development of the island and the creation of the Achamore Gardens were achievements of the philanthropist, Sir James Horlick – of the Horlicks drink family, who bought it  in 1944.

The island’s most colourful Laird was Glasgow property developer, Malcolm Potier, who genuinely cared for the island and spent a lot of money on improving it before becoming bankrupt. At that time tenant islanders suddenly found their cottages marked with eviction notices by bailiffs – an experience none have forgotten.

Potier himself is now in jail in Australia, serving out a 25 year sentence for the second of two attempts to solicit the murder of his wife, mother of his child. They had split up and he had become obsessed with the fact that she wouldn’t let him see his daughter. In jail as an illegal immigrant and awaiting deportation, he hired a hitman – a fellow inmate, to murder his wife and her lover. The inmate, on release, ran off with the money.

Undeterred, Potier tried again.This time he asked a woman friend to recruit a professional hitman. The friend went to the police and an undercover detective pretending to be a middleman who would contract a hitman, used this device to gather the evidence that led to Potier’s conviction. He is said to be considering an appeal.

Ardminish Gigha from Gallowhill Copyright Sue Anderson

Copyright: Sue Anderson, www.islandfocus.co.uk. Images may not be reproduced without prior permission from Sue Anderson.

Helensburgh is 125 years old and the Helensburgh and District Historical Society is having its 30th birthday – in Australia, that is

The Helesburgh in New South Wales in Australis is 125 years old this year – and its local historical society, the Helensburgh and Dsitrict Historical Society, is also 3o years old.

The records gathered and held by the Society cover coal mining, railways, forestry, education, sport, social clubs, religion and all other aspects of village life.

This Helensburgh is on Australia’s eastern seaboard, on the Southern fringe of Sydney, an hour by train to the city and is bounded by a National Park. Like the residents of Helensburgh in Argyll – on the shores of the Clyde waterway on Scotland’s west coast and aslo bounded by a National Park, Scotland’s first – Helensburgh NSW folk think their place is ‘God’s own country’. Do they know about Argyll’s Isle of Gigha – God’s Island?

Place Matters to Judy Parrott, photographic artist in Rothesay

Doon the watter Judy ParrottJudy Parrott is a photographic artist now living in Rothesay in Argyll’s Isle of Bute and with a working connection to the town dating from 2007. At that time she was offered the 2007 Scottish Arts Council Partners’ residency. This saw her come to Rothesay, spending half of her time working with the community and the other half developing her own work.

The exhibition that emerged from this, Rothesay – A Place on an Island, forms part of her Place Matters series. This documents community, cultural identity and connection to place using traditional black and white photography, sound recordings and sensory items. The series includes exhibitions entitled: Antarctica – A Place in the Wilderness; A Place in Bolivia; and West End – A Sense of Place. West End is an Inner city suburb in Brisbane, Australia – Brisbane being named after its founder from Largs.

Judy Parrott’s own life to date has been a sequence of engagements with places from China to Australia, Antarctica to Bolivia. These journeys saw the development of her visceral interest in the relationship between people and their place. And they saw the growth of her passion for photography – very specifically for the still crafts-oriented art of silver gelatin prints.

Judy accounts for the value of photography as being that ‘it holds onto a piece of history, something tangible’.

Her first journey in the mid 1980s was a madcap adventure with two old minesweepers.  Judy and her boyfriend planned to deliver the ships to Australia along with a crew of other young volunteers engaged by an entrepreneur from Adelaide who wanted to convert the ships into dive boats for use in Australian waters.

China 4 1990 Judy ParrottIt was during this period that Judy lost both her parents. One of her favourite images, from her travels in China, shows a woman, alone, walking forwards carrying baggage on her back. It is arguable that this is what she must have felt at this time. Parents are your backstop. When they’ve gone, the world and your attitude to it is very different. There’s a breeze at your back that wasn’t there before and the only way to look – and move – is forwards.

From that point on you make your own negotiations with the world around you. Your familiar filters, your personal organisers, your guardians, your instructors and your shelters are gone.

This experience of unshielded responsibility for oneself must also have played its part in developing Judy’s focus on the relationship between place and person. There will have been a point at this time when she will have felt that all she had was where she was.

She says of all this: ‘I don’t think I came to see my life differently in a single moment. It’s hard to explain. I had various incidents of not coping and an urge to keep moving – maybe because I was never settled again and also because I love the cultures and colours of the world and how good the world seems when you travel in it. You learn you can be safe anywhere at any time, and that things work out’.

China 3 1990 Judy ParrottJudy’s first Sense of Place exhibition was in Brisbane – of West End, the inner-city suburb she finally settled in and which she now watches being systematically homogenised; its diverse population displaced and historic buildings replaced by high rise development.

Why does Judy say she feels she belongs in Scotland and particularly in Rothesay? She says that this is: ‘because of the connectedness of the people and how the people belong in their landscape and the history which is ours, the strong cultural identity’.

What does she want her exhibitions to achieve? Her aesthetic is clearly not about ‘art for art’s sake’. She’s far more of an ‘art for life’s sake’ person’.

Judy hopes to inspire her exhibition audiences to think about issues of community, cultural identity and connection to place.

‘As a stimulus I use traditional black and white photography of the communities, sound recordings collaged into an ambient story of place, the written word in the form of my diaries and sensory items to touch and smell.

Rothesay Ramblers‘My exhibitions are set in places where community and landscape remain strongly integrated but may also be under threat. They draw on the importance of community, cultural identity and connection to place’.

And why traditional black and white photography?  ‘I use black and white photography partly because of its visual and atmospheric appeal, its three-dimensionality, and partly because of the timeless nature of the medium. I have an affinity with all things old and I like to be a part of preserving a dying art.

‘When I remain connected to history and old items it keeps me grounded. Visually, old items increase my connectivity with the world’.

Skipping Judy ParrottJudy’s next exhibition in Rothesay is part of the Landscape Partnership’s Homecoming 2009 Big Man Walking programme. Her involvement with this via the StepUp project links material she gathered in Australia with her Scottish material.

Other members of the Rothesay community will add to the exhibition by interviewing local people who have family members in Australia and by being involved with the set up of the exhibition. Judy is also currently talking to a local drama group about putting on a storytelling event at the exhibition venue, set around migrants from Scotland to Australia.

ForArgyll.com will publicise the Rothesay exhibition when the dates are confirmed.

The photographs above are by the copyright holder Judy Parrott and are reproduced here by permission. They show, from the top:

  • Rothesay, Bute: a moody shot of the promenade entitled ‘Doon the Watter’
  • China: woman walking
  • China: Yangshuo, with paddy fields below the distinctive hills
  • China: women working in the fields stop to sing
  • Rothesay, Bute: ‘Rothesay Ramblers’
  • Rothesay, Bute: ‘Skipping’

Ron of Argyll

Ron of Argyll 1Part of the notion of Homecoming is the repatriation of information – recovering connections as well as building new ones.

Here is just such an initiative. For Argyll has tracked down a classic yacht, built by Alexander Robertson & Sons, Yachtbuilders of Sandbank at the Holy Loch north of Dunoon. Sandbank was later the site of the US Navy’s Polaris Submarine Base in Scotland.

The yacht is the Ron, a 50′ gaff-rigged ketch designed by the Scottish naval architect J A McCallum Continue reading

Bute’s Island Time Bridge

Great to see Argyll’s Ise of Bute mounting an imaginative, ambitious and complex project as part of Argyll’s contributon to Homecomong Scotland 2009. Island Time Bridge will run throughout the summer from 1st June to 27th September.

It will be the result of a marriage of art, landscape and archaeology and of seroius efforts to make contacts with and draw upon the experience of historical Scottish diaspora communities in Canada and Australia.

Discover Bute Landscape Partnership along with the Step Up Project will run an arts and culture programme of events and workshops throughout the summer, themed around emigration (Canada and Australia) and will have two parts;

  • One is a digital interactive photographic and sound exhibition portraying contemporary life on Bute contrasted with life on Scotland Island NSW, Australia. This is an Artist-led project with the involvement of the local community.
  • The other is the Giant – a mega-festival of activities, workshops and happenings finishing with three large scaleoutdoor events. Working with the ‘Big Man Walking’ team the Giant will interact and take part in Flag and Banner waving, Puppets and Lantern procession and will open the new Tramway all-access pathway to Ettrick Bay. The route will have events and performances examining and marking the history of the island’s emigration. This project will be actively seeking links with similar communities in Canada and Australia.

This event is part of Discover Bute Landscape Partnership’s Archeological Research project. The Giant will lead the procession along the 2.5mile time corridor passing events and happenings highlighting the island unique archeological and cultural heritage. The route will encourage the elebration of the island’s migration and emigration over the years.