My encounters with Ross Gibson all came purely by chance. In 1999, four of us found ourselves marooned in California over the Easter break. Film producer Bob Weis and I were at UCLA for a conference and ACMI honchos John Smithies and his “Creative Director” Ross Gibson were in the States on ACMI business.
Somewhat recklessly, the four of us decided to fly to Antigua for the fourth Test between Australia and the West Indies in St John’s. “You’re not going without me” was everyone’s immediate response.
I knew Bob and John from my time in Melbourne, but had never met Ross. I knew his writing and his films (Camera Natura, Dead to the World, Wild) - all great works of cerebral, intellectual inquiry. At the time, I had preconceived notions of such intellects, generally finding their egos insufferable, so, I wasn’t prepared for the humble, empathetic human being I would be spending the next five days with at the Antigua Recreation Ground.
The four of us had the same seats every day and were surrounded by Antiguans who more or less treated us with the disdain they reserve for any white colonial tourist. Seated at the back of the stand, but behind us, we overlooked a jerk chicken stand where Merv Hughes would spend the next five days, eating, drinking and generally holding court. He kept one eye on a small television broadcasting the match, but not once was spotted inside the ground. Back in Australia, this didn’t stop Merv giving authoritative interviews about the Test on various media outlets.
The West Indies were two up in the series. Steve Waugh had dropped Shane Warne for the match, an unthinkable exclusion that apparently put them on “no-speakies” terms for the rest of Warne’s life. Australia batted first and managed only 2.7 runs an over. The West Indies’ first innings came in at 2.8 runs an over. Australia’s second innings was 2.5 runs an over and the West Indies second dig was 2.0 runs an over.
These are excruciating run rates, requiring a great deal of crowd patience, although sections of the ground just decided to party all day long.
Ross and I spent hours searching through our filmic memories for cinema as slow as the cricket. We finally settled on the pacing in the films of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg and this seemed very suitable until Brian Lara came in to bat.
Antiguans don’t seem to like cricketers from other parts of the Caribbean and Lara was greeted, and treated, with considerable reserve. To the four of us, however, he was like an alien come to bat and produced one of the greatest innings any of us had ever seen. Lara scored exactly 100 from 84 balls with 78 runs in fours and sixes. The equivalent of 7.1 runs an over. Ross and I were unable to find any comparison with Syberberg.
During his innings, Lara had remarkably avoided facing Glenn McGrath. When he did, on 100, he went out first ball.
We also played scratch cricket matches with locals on beaches; snorkeled on reefs; “limed” with a crowd at an outdoor performance from local band The Burning Flames(their set started at 1am and when we left around 4am they hadn’t taken a single break between songs); and Ross ventured out to Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in St John’s and proclaimed the service “one of the great experiences of my life”.
I didn’t see Ross again for a decade or so. An old high school friend, Russell Smith from the prog-rock band Company Caine was visiting and we went to the Art Gallery Of NSW. In the middle of the gallery, we came upon a large box in the centre of the walkway. Inside was Ross Gibson. This was his installation for Conversations II, part of the Biennale of Sydney. He was the installation and spent the entire Biennale in this box having conversations with anyone willing to do so.
A wonderful person to spend time with. Vale Ross.