Today I went to the opening of an exhibition called “Foreign Lands” by fellow artist Sabrina Lauriston. It’s an amazing photographic exhibition about Australian immigrants living in Bundaberg into which I somehow managed to be included.
That’s me in front of my photo story and my story is also included in Sabrina’s book. I have attached my story for you to read :-)
Marlies was born in 1964 in West Berlin, Germany. Her mother fled her home town in 1945 to avoid the advancing Russian army and her father later fled the communist East Germany, managing to get to West Berlin in 1951.
Growing up in a city surrounded by a wall was certainly special and living in West Berlin she considered herself very fortunate, she had everything whereas most of her relatives were living in Eastern Germany also surrounded by the wall but not being able to leave when they want. As a young girl she crossed the border on many occasions to visit relatives, taking food parcel as certain products and foodstuffs were only available if you were part of the communist elite. However, taking books and magazines was strictly forbidden and she once had her collection of Mickey Mouse comics confiscated by East German border guards, and one of her West German cousins was imprisoned in the East for leaving the motorway in his car to drop of a hitchhiker, which was strictly forbidden. It was an eye opener.
Living in West Berlin also meant that the eyes of the world were on you, especially during the height of the Cold War in the 70’s and 80’s adding to its specialness. With that ‘specialness’ of living in almost an illicit city, a vibrant, free and colourful place where anything went, an enclave in the midst of the dull and drab communist east, Marlies initially had mixed feelings about the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, that the special city of her childhood would be changed forever, but even now that she calls Australia home, Berlin holds a special place in her heart.
After High School Marlies started a career with Deutsche Bundespost, later to become Deutsche Telekom, whist also gaining her degree in Business Administration, working mainly in PR, the Press Office and in international divisions, and at some point was the PR spokesperson for Deutsche Telekom in Berlin.
Marlies always had a dream of either working in the United States or England, but with a long term partner, putting such dreams into practice can prove to be difficult. But that was to change in 1996, when her partner of 10 years tragically died in a plane crash that he was flying. Fate then served her well when she was offered a job in London with an international satellite company. It was supposed to be for a year, but she stayed for four and a half years.
Nearly on her way back to Berlin in 1999 she then met her now husband, Phil, on a blind date, and he wasn’t even meant to be her date. Michael O’Connor never showed, so Phil agreed to be a last minute substitute, fate has these mysterious ways of working.
Unbeknown to Marlies at the time of meeting, Phil had already applied for a visa to immigrate to Australia. Even after only knowing each other for a few weeks, Phil decided to invite Marlies on holiday to Australia to celebrate millennium eve 1999 with him, a trip he had already planned, to see if she would like the place. They had a ball, and Marlies applied for a de facto spouse’s visa as soon as they got back, on the one condition that Phil married her before they left. It was a huge undertaking to pack up two households one in England and one in Berlin and organise a wedding. They got married on 7 April 2001 in Portsmouth and immigrated to Australia on 18 June the same year.
They first settled in Sydney, first at Kurraba Point overlooking the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and then moving to Crows Nest on the Lower North Shore. Marlies’ first job was as an Event and Function Manager at the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, taking the ferry to work every day and although the scenery was perfect, she struggled to settle in and missed her friends and family.
But this should all change when she discovered an advertisement for the School of Colour and Design in Sydney. She was always creative, but never really pursuit it, so went along to the information evening and signed up on the spot. That course which lasted three years brought to life her creativity and she made some great friends along the way. Life in Australia looked so much more promising, now that she had a focus.
Jobs changed, but were never a real focus for Marlies as she had discovered visual arts, so they were just a means to pay for art materials and workshops at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, evening colleges,… she would try anything and everything. One day Phil suggested that as she wasn’t enjoying her job she might as well study art full time, so she put in an application to TAFE, but also to the National Art School, the Collage of Fine Arts and the Sydney College of the Arts. She was accepted at TAFE , but was rejected from CoFA, as ‘her English wasn’t good enough’, even though she had been working in English speaking countries for the previous 10 years, she didn’t have the ‘right piece of paper”. However, she was lucky enough to get accepted at the National Art School in Sydney, so from 2007 until 2010 she studied her Bachelor of Fine Arts and graduated in 2010 with Honours in painting.
She still thinks these were the four best years of her life. There were lots of tears, feelings she wasn’t good enough, but the rewards outweighed all the dramas. When other people went to boring jobs every day she went to school and played five days a week – for four years! Phil supported her throughout that time, both financially as well as creatively with ideas for art projects.
In 2010, while Marlies was on a holiday in Cairns Phil found an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald for an Art Shop for sale, reading that ad turned Marlies’ life around again, after 10 years in Sydney with all its amenities, cultural programs, theatres, restaurants…she was off to Bundaberg.
Marlies arrival in Bundaberg, at the end of 2010, was greeted by flood waters reaching within 50 metres of her newly purchased house and the road in front of the shop she was just about to buy, but all was well she started her new venture as Art Shop owner in mid-January 2011.
Bundaberg welcomed Marlies with open arms and she soon became integrated into the art community assuming a pivotal role, both supporting the community and exhibiting her work. She put on two well received exhibitions at the School of Arts, “Visions of an Iconoclast” – showing her work from the National Art School, and “4 Artists – 1001 Ideas” a collaborative work with 3 local artists who were exhibiting for the first time. She was also part of the “Bundaground” group exhibition showcasing the talents of Bundaberg’s Underground art scene in Brisbane. Most recently she has had an exhibition at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery “Nothing New” which is also planned for the Childers Art Space later this year. Marlies art practice continues to blossom in Bundaberg.
But Bundaberg hasn’t all been plain sailing. In January 2013 she had decided to go back to her native Germany to visit her father and was there when ‘The Flood’ hit North Bundaberg. Cutting her trip short, she was confronted with a shop that had had knee deep water running through it. When she eventually got to see her house the near metre of water which had gone through the downstairs of her house had destroyed much of her artwork and a large quantity of her art book collection. But with her German drive and efficiency she had her shop back in business within two weeks and was back home within three.