How to sabre a bottle of champagne…

It has been said that when a bottle of champagne is sabred correctly it sounds like the sigh of a content woman.

It begins with peeling off the layer of gold foil, slowly and purposefully; for it is delicate. Then releasing the cage around the cork so that the pressure can escape. Carefully untwisting the wire to prevent the cork releasing ahead of time. Running my fingers along the seam on the neck of the bottle. Being confident; placing the sabre on the seam, careful to apply the right amount of pressure and then swiftly sliding along the neck. I don’t want the cork to be unyielding. An inexorable sigh escaping with a sudden burst of satisfaction. The trick is not to be strong and hard but sure and intentional. Go all the way, it is a clean movement.

The history of sabrage is surrounded by myth and mystery. It goes back to the French Revolution of 1789  when Napoleon Bonaparte would sabre champagne using his sword. It is said that he and his soldiers; Hussars, would drink it in both defeat and exaltation. They were able to sabre a bottle with their brass hilted swords whilst on horseback.

Legend has it that they would visit Veuve Clicquot in Reims and be entertained by the widow Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, dining at her vineyard. Madame Clicquot took over the champagne business after her husband died in 1805, when she was twenty-seven years old. The bottle is still representative of her today, veuve being the French word for widow. She was a woman of contradictions, described as a formidable business woman and an entertainer of great frivolity. Historians still claim that because of her “no business in the world has been as much influenced by the female sex as that of champagne”. As the soldiers would depart her vineyard she would gift them a bottle of champagne that they would sabre as they rode off to their next battle.

Champagne sabrage has been kept alive in modernity by companies such as Mumm who have made it a feature of their brand to keep this practise relevant. I was trained by a Mumm representative some years ago now. It is possible for inexperienced hands to cause injury to themselves and others but as you can see when done well it is a seamless performance and makes a welcome addition to any dinner party.

How could anyone say no to a satisfied sigh…



Winter is coming

Winter is the season for lovers. Being cold and hot, prudish and passionate. It’s the season of secrets and revelations. Big coats, warm boots and cosy gloves, the glimpse of a collarbone, the line of the neck, the little hollow that begs to be touched. Less is revealed, and more is desired. The short days and dark nights, the moodiness.

Hellebores or winter rose. One of my favourite winter flowers.

The polarity between indoors and outdoors. The comfort of home and then the need to leave when it’s been too long. The fire, it is mesmerising, wanting more, adding another log. Not knowing when it is enough or recognising that it is too much. An inability to be measured. Having to open the window to let the freezing air in, peeling off the layers of clothing. Where is the point of divergence and the space in which we join? Winter is the season of contrasts.

The clothes. The time it takes to dress properly. The extra garments, the pantyhose, the camisole, the little items that determine whether my day will be cold or comfortable. Remembering the scarf and umbrella. The time it takes to undress. Everything is slow, a forced patience.

Dry skin, dry hair, wet clothes, wet walls, condensation, warm breath. Writing on the glass, the shower, the back door, the car windows, no surface is forbidden. The messages, they are obvious, funny and omnipresent. They make me laugh.

The disparate flowers of winter. The heady fragrance of daphne. The fragile dogwood and happy daffodils. The time spent outdoors, the wet knees, easy digging, soft earth and abundant weeds. The genial winter sun reassuring on my back, contentment. All the things that make my winter garden unique.

The early hours of the winter evening; they are suited to seeing the milky way. There is less humidity, clear skies, you can pinpoint the stars. It is a time for observing after the exertion of planting and pruning and picking. The last few minutes before it gets really cold. It is silent, there are no birds chirping at this hour of this season.

Winter is the season for dinner parties, entertaining, red wine, gooey cheese and friends. Hot ovens, warm scones, sticky jam and clotted cream. It is the time for flushed cheeks, cold hands, brisk walks and impassioned embraces, relieving one another of the cold.

The hot baths without haste. Cool sheets, warm bodies, crisp air. The leisurely lie Ins, the long mornings and lazy weekends. Winter is the season for lovers, both new and old.

It is the season we welcome upon its arrival and then we are desperate for it to end.


Beyond the limits of beauty

When blurry lines of beauty speak.
Our souls do sing as pleasure peaks
And if we should avert our eyes
Doth beauty form a new disguise
She hunts us down as truth doth seek
Her gentle caress upon our cheek
And when we attempt to turn away
Her fairness doth command we stay
For in our hearts lives true desire
That justice loves and cannot mire
And so we seek a shroud that may
Cloak us in the auspice of the day.

Nicole Cullinan
Things of beauty…music, flowers, books, and art by Sophie Grace. Photo credit Nicole Cullinan.

Last week I announced the next post would be on beauty, but I couldn’t write it. I am a seeker of beauty and all that it be. I have traversed the history of beauty so many times over the years and it is a complex topic with much emotion. At the beginning of time beauty was just about form and objectivity. Beauty was included amongst the ultimate traditional values of goodness, truth and justice. Over the centuries it came to be understood that beauty is also subjective, it is in the eye of the beholder and prone to the opines of the day. Once it became historically accepted that beauty is both objective and subjective it was largely removed from discussion in the arts and no longer grouped with the virtues of goodness, truth and justice. Because if everything can be beautiful then it is meaningless. Beauty is meaningless…

I feel overwhelmed by all my thoughts regarding beauty and I wonder if my opinion is irrelevant and that I will be misunderstood. I woke weary on the Sunday morning after what had been a tiring weekend, a weekend of objectivity, subjectivity, goodness, truth and justice. But also, a weekend of beauty. I sat in my garden and wrote a poem about beauty. And at this point in time that is all I have got…the simple understanding that beauty is complicated.


Searching for your soulmate?

I’ve always had a fascination with the idea of a soul mate. The mythical story told at Plato’s Symposium seems so romantic, the thought that one could possibly spend an eternity looking for their other half. Searching for the one who knows what you are thinking, the one who understands you, the one who will desire you forever.

Photo credit Robert Doisneau

It was Aristophanes who told the story at the symposium. He states that humans originally had four arms, four legs and a single head made of two faces. They were very powerful and would cartwheel everywhere; moving very fast. It is said they also had great strength and threatened to conquer the gods. Zeus, King of the Greek gods came up with a creative solution to split them in half as punishment for their pride, doubling the number of humans who would give tribute to the gods and halving their strength. Each one then longed for its other half.

What does all of this mean for us today, in modernity? We’ve all experienced the ‘we just clicked’ or ‘we are on the same wavelength’ feeling. We can all identify that there are people for whom we have a natural affinity. For me, a soulmate also has to be desired. Some people describe they have a soulmate with whom they have a platonic, non-romantic relationship. This is a best friend, not a soulmate. The narrative of the soulmate is seeking the other half from whom you have been severed. It is passionate, romantic and profoundly moving. Aristophanes says his speech explains the source of our desire to love each other.

“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a matching half of a human whole…and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him.”


So where do we find this someone who can ‘cure the wound of human nature’, the soulmate who will make us complete and restore our joy and optimism. Ancient Christian philosopher Augustine proposed this wound could not be cured. He says we bear a kernel of the infinite within us, thus finite things cannot fulfil us. Our desires can never be satisfied and this is the ultimate flaw of humanity. We always seek more, never satisfied with the beauty and love and riches we already have.

As our search continues some of us have many soulmates; because we no longer believe there is just one. There is one that satisfies our physical desires, the one that meets our emotional needs, the one we cry with, the one we talk with, the one who holds our secrets, the one who shares our joy. We become so fragmented that everything and nothing is meaningful.

How did this happen? We are constantly told one person cannot satisfy our every desire and that we should seek out these deficits of nature in others. What does this do to us? When we have so many encounters with others, does this satiate our souls more thoroughly or just exacerbate the sense of what is missing. Our days are punctuated by moments where our hearts quicken and we feel desire and excitement and passion. But they pass by so fast, these little moments. We can barely remember them months later as they are not part of a meaningful accumulation of a lifetime of memories with one. How can we ever be certain we chose the correct one when the others are so alluring. Each of us deciding whether there is one or many whom will pass through our lives with the honour of having been a soulmate. Each of us settling on a story that is the truth we need to believe at that moment in time.

By proposition the soulmate is someone who makes you whole, someone who can cure the wound of human nature. It is someone who knows what gives your life meaning. It is someone who wants to lie entwined with you every-day. It is someone who hears you when you are silent and laughs with you when you are loud. It is someone we all search for.




Bohemian Modernism -Heidi II McGlashan Everist

To think of Heide is to conjure thoughts of post war bohemian modernism. A place where mythology and dreams filled an artistic landscape that would endure for decades. John and Sunday Reed acquired the parcel of land in 1934, they named it ‘Heide’ for Heidelberg. They had a strong vision of an honest life that would be fulfilled by supporting creativity in others. John and Sunday commissioned young architect David McGlashan to build Heide II in 1963. Everything was a joint activity with John and Sunday.

In function they envisioned a gallery to be lived in that would be ageless. In form they desired romance, ruins and mystery. It was to be a good match, David, John and Sunday. David was half of a design duo McGlashan Everist, an architectural practice founded in 1955. It still exists today in Drummond Street Carlton. The two Directors are John Lee and Geoff Saunders, whom have been there for more than thirty years, so there remains a connectedness that bridges the bounds of time.

McGlashan says ‘they tried to design houses that were without a time scale’. The practice became known for a modular style of building. They often built on steep, sloping sites. Heide II is unique because it is made from Mount Gambier Limestone. This was chosen because it would weather and age gracefully on the outside and stay light and pristine on the inside. It would provide a neutral background for hanging art.

Heide II was designed to be a physical experience of moving ‘through space’, transitioning from the house site to the art and then extending into the garden. McGlashan used techniques of framing to facilitate this experience. He wanted it to look as if it belonged to the landscape, as elegant as a sculpture, and as timeless as a ruin.

A literary recollection of my time working at Heide II – 2015 by Nicole Cullinan

My office, the former guest bedroom, with desk abutting wall, where the bed once did. Perpetual distraction, a tantalising essence of the incorporeal. Those who had lay here in this tiny den, three stone walls, no windows. I place my hand on the limestone, little fragments of dust coming away. I go home, and the day comes with me, smudges of lime, little chalky writings adorn my dress. Another pair of heels ruined on the stone steps. Desire and destruction float in equanimity. The air is cool, and the light is thin, this little box I languor in.

Construction was laboured and took far longer than anticipated. The limestone required precision placement and the build became fraught with tension as the builder nearly went bankrupt. He had underquoted substantially on the labour cost of construction. Finally, Heide II was complete. There were no skirtings or plaster traditionally associated with houses of that time. Terrazzo tiles, timber, glass and leather door pulls had been utilised to maintain a connectedness with nature. It was a modern masterpiece that fulfilled the essence of the brief.

John and Sunday moved into Heide II just after Easter in 1967. They had been in the Victorian farmhouse on the property for more than thirty years so this was the beginning of a new era for them at Heide. In 1968  McGlashan Everist won the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Award for residential building of the year. John and Sunday resided at Heide II until the winter of 1980.

Life had become extraordinarily difficult for John and Sunday, around this time and they had suffered some great personal losses, but their love for Heide and one another endured. In 1981 Heide II was to begin a new phase of its life as a public art gallery. John and Sunday spent the last year of their forty-seven years at Heide back in the Victorian farmhouse. They both died there ten days apart in December 1981. They never left Heide, their ashes scattered at the base of a scarred red river gum. In 2015 Heidi II received an Enduring Architecture Award. Heidi II is a triumph for modernist architecture.

Heide II is open 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday, 7 Templestowe Road Bulleen 3105 – twenty minutes from Melbourne’s CBD.




Enduring Love


Thirty years ago today I met my love. I am in my forties. He calls me ‘Cosi’, although only occasionally now. It was a childhood name. Reserved for grandparents and parents and my love. It’s very affectionate. Everyone else calls me Nicole, this is the way I prefer it, I don’t like nicknames.

I don’t have strong memories of meeting him. I met many people that day. I recall he was shy and had beautiful eyes. At some point I became curious. And so there was the slow revelation of truths over the coming months. There was no internet at that time. Things were different. A stalker was someone who hid in a tree in your garden not a person at home hunting on their computer for pieces of information that would disqualify or promote someone’s worthiness. How different the genesis of love can be today.

As the months passed I would recall my Grandmothers words ‘ Patience is a virtue. Possess it if you can. Found often in a woman and seldom in a man’. We lived in a narrative of binary beliefs with a total lack of awareness. Everything was uncomplicated. Slowly we migrated from friendship to love. There was never a moments doubt for me. I’ve always known what I want. Such burning desire.

First ten years and then twenty. I was engulphed by breathless adoration. Should all loves be so lucky to have twenty years like this. Life was easy and we knew it. We didn’t sweat the small stuff. We never have. The affection and devotion upon which I regarded my love was intoxicating to those around us. I fielded constant inquiry as to what the secret is. I thought I knew. With unrivalled arrogance I would tell others the secret is ‘not to let the sun go down on an argument’. The ability to forgive. A lesson I learnt from my loves Grandmother. She was married for more than fifty years to a man with a similar temperament and the same moniker as my love.

And so we slid confidently into our third decade. Me, my love and our four children. I can hear the children’s laughter, it fills my heart with joy. The days pass with a satisfying exhaustion that comes from giving everything. The bedtime stories. The silence of them sleeping. The time for us. The closed doors, the fire, the heat, the dry skin, the moistness. I remember everything, like it was yesterday. Time and space recorded in little dioramas for my thoughts to browse.

Do you remember my love? The beginning, we had nothing and everything. Materiality was meaningless. I was a well that could not be emptied. I was young.  I don’t want to be patient anymore. I feel a sense of urgency, like time is moving too fast. The world has changed. I have changed. There is only one thing I am certain of, the passion I have for you my love. Tomorrow we begin our fourth decade.

Touch me and you will know what it is to be loved… Just touch me, my love.

Blue Poles by Pollock

The psychology of abstraction.

Jackson Pollock Blue Poles

American abstract artist Jackson Pollock doesn’t tell us what to think, he compels us to think. When Blue Poles arrived in Australia in 1974 everybody thought something. It was a seminal acquisition for the Australian people and established a new frontier for the Australian art scene. Animated discussion took place in every lounge room across Australia and opinions varied widely from it being a complete waste of government money to a sign of a politically progressive modernist viewpoint. But one thing was undisputed, no one truly understood what it meant, this abstract expressionist art. It was the beginning of something for Australians as a collective and most importantly as individuals.

The Whitlam government paid $1.3 million in 1973 for Pollocks abstract expressionist piece of art. It was a world record for a contemporary American painting and debate raged over the value of abstract art at this time. Blue Poles was painted in 1952 and measures just over two by five meters. Painted in a style termed drip painting on Belgian linen that was stretched out on the floor.

“On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting”

Jackson Pollock 1912 -1956

Pollock used sticks and syringes to flick and drip paint over the dark undercoated canvas. He would squirt the paint with incredible precision and control. He could quicken the line by thinning it or slow it by flooding it. The creation of this artwork a purposeful act for him, externalising his troubled internal state.

Abstract art defies conventional explanation and can be described as a conceptual notion of society at a moment in time. At that time, we witnessed the rise of the individual in society and abstract art can be seen as a reflection of this. Pollock was trained in conventional painting but chose to do work that was very personal to him. This then gives rise to us, the people of the collective conscious; having our own rights to an opinion. We no longer have to believe what we are told or taught. This piece of art allows each of us to think freely.

Blue Poles did a tour of Australia upon its arrival in 1974. I was a small child when I met Blue Poles. It was my first trip to an art gallery and it has informed my love of art. My family missed seeing it in Melbourne and decided a road trip to Adelaide would be a good idea.

Mid 70s – a recollection of the road trip.
We were buckled into the powder blue HK Kingswood with the retro fitted seatbelts at some iniquitous hour of the day, my sister and me. Wearing our pyjamas for the first part of the journey; we were expected to be silent and sleep. My Mum was very organised with the map and a thermos. My Dad was the sole driver, he was always the sole driver. It was my Mum’s job to give directions and keep a look out for police wanting to book my Dad for speeding.
On this particular trip we picked up Nana; as she wanted to see Blue Poles too. My memories suspended as I faded in and out of sleep during the journey, feeling really content to see Nana in the middle of the bench seat in the front. She sat much taller than Mum and Dad, she was a statuesque good looking woman.
We stopped for breakfast at the Golden Fleece Petrol station with the yellow sheep sign, this happened on every road trip. Dad would have a big fry up, he seemed to enjoy this cooked breakfast. I couldn’t understand why. I have strong memories of cold toast in a cane basket that looked dirty and felt greasy. I can still recall the dry toast in my mouth. It was horrible.
Back on the road again and we were over half way when the radiator blew. It gave everyone a fright. The bonnet of the car flung open with a big bang and cracked the windscreen. Dad managed to shut the bonnet and we limped to a petrol station. I can remember Mum repeatedly asking Dad about the temperature. “You should have noticed the temperature. You knew the radiator had a leak before we left.” The accusations were running thick and fast. I perceive my Mum as being right but feel sorry for my Dad all the same. She is the careful one, telling him to slow down and when to turn and what to do. She gives the go ahead to pass the trucks. It’s a real team thing, except when it’s not and Dad has done something wrong.
Finally, we made it to Adelaide. We all head to bed a little weary, it had been a long day. I was tired but super happy to share a bedroom with my Nana. The next day there was a big fuss about how lucky we are to go on holidays and how privileged we are to be seeing this painting and that we need to behave. Something we rarely did. We were outrageously naughty children. I don’t recall feeling lucky. I just remember standing before this huge canvas and my Dad saying, “I could’ve done that”. That is all I remember. I was little, very little.

After its tour of Australia Blue Poles went into storage until the National Gallery of Australia building was completed in 1981. It has resided at the NGA in Canberra since then. There was another road trip not long after the opening of the NGA. The year was 1984 and we drove to Canberra to see the ‘Impressionist’ exhibition. Whilst we were there Dad took us along to revisit Blue Poles, I was fourteen years old. I reminded Dad of what he had said some years earlier, the vernacular exactly the same. He was true to his word and time had not softened his stance on this particular piece of abstract art. And so, we truly see the rise of an egalitarian; individual point of view, on this occasion from a man who didn’t finish school yet speaks six languages. My Dad. Everyone had an opinion and to each their own. A new era in art and individuality had begun in Australia, the masses had been engaged.

Blue Poles is on permanent display in Canberra at the National Gallery


Is love worth it?

This morning I woke up to read the papers and saw this article headline ‘Forget romance, there’s only one relationship in life that counts’, the one with yourself. It is an opinion piece written by Wendy Squires. I beg to differ.

Garden of Love Chateau de Villandry

When you love, you can get hurt, really hurt. The romantic imagining of love can disappear. You know the one, love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…and instead of enduring romanticism, you are in unrivalled turmoil. Something like this…

The break up and the days after…
It was insanely painful in the beginning, like when you have badly stubbed your toe and you are in agony and you want the torment to stop. So, you give in to it, that pain in your toe, you make it part of you. You calm yourself down, settle your heart rate and then this gut wrenching anguish; it begins to subside. Instead of your heart feeling impenetrably tight and like it could explode because you are suffering so much; it settles into feeling heavy, each breath giving rise to a more sustainable squeeze and release. You can still feel the pain, a little less so with each step and then it becomes manageable. Everything is precarious. You are so scared the toe will go numb. You don’t want it to go numb. You want to feel. But the pain is wearing you down. You are tired, so tired. You need to let go.

It’s awful. We don’t want to go through that many times in our life. Yet most of us will go through it at least once. Squires article goes on to discuss a ‘golden couple’ and states it was ‘glorious to be in their orbit’. She seems genuinely happy for them. At some point in time the ‘golden couple’ whom she states were a ‘romantic illusion’ fall back to earth and it is brutal, one of the ugliest break-ups she has seen. And that is life. Life is unpredictable and scary. There is no certainty about romance and relationships and love. There are no rules. Love means something different to each of us. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. There are infinite possibilities for passion and pain.

Squires then states that “I saw that no honest couple had what I’d assumed they had: the perfect relationship, the easy love, the lucky life.” But at some point in time they all had something, and a number of them would have had everything. And an even smaller number yet; get to have everything forever. Their love continuing into eternity, for not even death can sever their bond.

Of course, our relationship with ourselves is extremely important. We need to be kind and nurturing towards ourselves. And sometimes we need to push ourselves beyond fear, and into a reality that may be wonderous.