In 1984 Colin McCahon went to Sydney for the opening of a small retrospective of his work. While visiting the Sydney Botanic Gardens he became confused, disappeared and was missing for 28 hours before he was found in a psychiatric hospital where he had been placed because he was unable to say who he was.
When Martin Edmond found this story he “thought and thought about it and at some point conceived the idea of of replicating that lost journey…to arbitrarily choose a route and along it find equivalents for the fourteen Stations of the Cross.”
In Dark night: Walking with McCahon Edmond writes about his walks from the Botanic Gardens to Centennial Park, where McCahon had been picked up in a routine police sweep after spending the night outdoors. Edmond made the walk several times, at different times of day on different days and nights, observing the world he entered immediately he began walking “the world of street people, of the homeless and the bereft, of the abandoned.”
It’s a side of Sydney few visitors see, but there is a lot more to this book than ‘a brilliant exploration of a city and its denizens’, as the jacket says. Edmond also has some acute observations about Colin McCahon, and art, and families, and religion, and faith.
I first heard of the possibility of this book a few years ago at an Auckland Writers and Readers Festival when Edmond was an one of the authors. He told the story of McCahon’s disappearance and mentioned that Alexa Johnston, at the Festival that year with her lovely book about baking, had been a curator at the Auckland Art Gallery and was with the McCahons at the Sydney Botanic Gardens when Colin McCahon went missing. Finding all this absolutely fascinating I kept an eye out for the book – but I had to wait a while.
The wait was worth it in so many ways. I loved this book but there is one thing missing, possibly deliberately left out for reasons best known to the author. A map of the walk. As it is I have to go back through the book and plot it out because if I am ever in Sydney I am making a pilgrimage to these stations of the Cross.