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Pianos are a recurring motif in the art of Melbourne-born sculptor and installation artist Ken Unsworth, who is the subject of a major retrospective opening at the National Gallery of Victoria this week. But his relationship with the instrument has been a rather tortured one.

As a nine-year-old in Mallee country, Unsworth gravitated towards the upright Collard & Collard that his adoptive parents kept in their front parlour, and to the sheet music of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata that sat upon it.

Zoë Coombs Marr was doing drag long before she dressed up as comedian-character Dave, carting his metaphorical swag of dick jokes. As a child living in the Northern Rivers town of Grafton, where her parents kept a hobby cattle farm, she would dress as Huckleberry Finn.

“I used to wear overalls with one side undone,” she says. “I was a real tomboy.” Humid, subtropical Grafton was home to the yearly Jacaranda Festival beginning in the last week of October, and Jacaranda Thursday was the highlight of the calendar.

Fifty essays and dispatches on
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