Venie’s Coffin

Venie’s coffin was made by David, Oliver and Stephen Oram in Stephen’s workshop as part of a process of love for, grieving over, and celebrating, Venie and her long life.

The basic box was made from reject sheets of plantation pine plywood, part of the stock from which Poet’s Corner, Venie’s house, was built. It symbolises Venie’s frugality, strongly embedded from her Depression era sense of poverty and her environmental awareness developed in mid-life.

The pages from her published poetry books, (as well as poems sent in and written by her poet colleagues) symbolise the complex mosaic of her mind and love of words.

The headboard was made from offcuts of Himalayan cedar used in the window and greenhouse frame of Venie’s house. The timber was from a drought-killed tree at Wombat Park estate, felled by Vern Howell and milled at Creswick in 1990. It symbolises two aspects of Venie’s long life. Firstly her journey, late in life to India as a performance poet. This tree is a close relative of the legendary Cedar of Lebanon that in the ancient past clothed the mountains of the Levant, home of her Jewish ancestors.

The footboard was Jarrah flooring offcuts from the great forests that lie between the place of her birth in York WA and Perth. The family home in Bicton, like most homes of the period, had a Jarrah roof frame and floors. Before that home was sold in 1979 Venie and David tore up the aging lino and worn carpet to sand and polish the hidden wood that had supported 25 years of family life. Jarrah is symbolic of Venie’s love of the bush and her recognition in early life of the wrongs done to the indigenous people of the land.

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The lid was made from spectacular salmon pink Californian Redwood from a huge (2.1m diameter) tree in a heritage listed Mt Macedon garden that was killed in the Ash Wednesday bushfires (1983). Milled by Jason Alexandra and part of the remaining stock from building the main house at Melliodora in 1987, it is a part of David’s lifelong passion for trees and sustainable foresty. It symbolises Venie’s hedonistic appreciation for the special things in life. The knots and holes of the body section of the lid symbolise both the progressive breakdown of a 93-year-old body and of the faults or “singularities” of a “character”. The perfect clear wood of the upper section symbolises Venie’s sharp and clear mind, right to the very end.

The simple hemp rope handles are symbolic of the great helping hand of housemate and informal carer Rick Tanaka during Venie’s last years at Poet’s Corner. Hemp rope also symbolises the Cannabis cookies that eased the chronic pain and worry that dogged Venie during much of her life.

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The pine edging sticking out of the lid was a weathered offcut from one of the beams from Poet’s Corner, cut by Haridas Fairchild in 1999 and racked at Fryers Forest for more than a decade. It symbolises the spine of Venie’s will to overcome limitations and of her love of landscape. The toe knot is a reminder of Venie’s bunions on her distorted feet that she spoke of all though her life as a symbol of deprivation wearing school shoes that were too small. Most importantly it is the footnote to tell all, that in her last years Venie came to see, she had, in fact lived a fortunate life. She died in peace, still committed to her atheist beliefs tinged with a deep sense of the mystery of life and death.