I don’t claim to have the answers to all our problems. And I recognise that Australia has a lot going for it: great climate; great natural resources; great people. Maybe our good fortune is the source of our complacency. We’re a bit like Middleton’s Rouseabout (see the poem by Henry Lawson here).
It’s hard to go to any public function in an Australian city these days without the MC intoning recognition of “…the traditional owners of the land we meet on. The people of the …Nation; their leaders past, present and emerging…”.
It is one-sided and self-indulgent. It does not recognise that our ancestors took the land from them, and caused them immense harm. And we don’t intend to give it back. Then we added to the harm by taking their children from them.
It is easy to overlook that Aboriginal settlement in Australia goes back about 65,000 years. Compare that with recent developments like ancient Egypt (about 4,000 years ago) and ancient Greece (about 3,000 years ago) and blow-ins like ancient Rome (a bit over 2,000 years ago).
Aboriginal people are about 2.8% of the Australian population. So how about this:
- A once-off tax of 2.8% of the capital value of the land we took. The proceeds would amount to billions of dollars. Use that money specifically to fund programmes designed – genuinely designed – to repair the damage we did to members of the oldest, longest-lasting civilization on earth.
The Arts struggle to get genuine, meaningful support from governments and big-Australia. Of course there are exceptions, but it is rare to see a head of government also holding the Arts portfolio. And most practising artists in Australia can’t make enough from their art to cover the cost of surviving, so they take a job as a teacher or as a waiter.
But in the long sweep of history, it’s artists who are remembered. Try this experiment:
Take a room of 50 or 60 people of fair intelligence and reasonable education. Give them a list of names from the past 6 centuries. They will recognise the names of painters, sculptors, composers and writers out of proportion to the number of practising artists from time to time. They will not recognise the names of lawyers, accountants, sporting heroes…They will recognise the names of a few politicians, but mainly the ones who were tyrants. By this experiment you will demonstrate the real, transcendent value of the Arts.
- So: when governments at any level (from local to Federal) put out a request for tender, they could include this question: “What does your company do to support the Arts?”. It’s a fair bet that a lot of companies would want to be able to give a good answer and might just start supporting the Arts creatively – and generously.
In 1974 the parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive”. It was new norm of conduct for companies in Australia. While it was resisted at first, it is, by now, a deeply ingrained idea of the way companies should behave.
But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that the norms of conduct, which parliamentarians set for commerce in 1974, do not apply to politicians.
Most people expect politicians to lie. Not many politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.
But should we expect better? I propose:
- Parliament should pass an Act which provides that “A politician, in his or her capacity as a politician, shall not engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive”.
Imagine how our politics would be transformed if politicians were expected to behave with the same honesty they demand of companies…
On Thursday 16 November, Kate Durham will speak at the opening of the Home exhibition at the Walker St Gallery in Dandenong. It includes works by Zia Atahi, Renee Dixson, Mahla Karimian, Pierre Mukeba and Zakiria Tahirian
Kate spoke at the opening of the Dandenong Annual Art Prize in 2015.
Dandenong Annual Arts Prize
Dear Dandenong, Defiant Dandenong, look at you, how you’ve grown. I remember you, but not like this. Dandenong you are like a council of nations. Here in this intricate city is an Ark, as if from the bible, representatives of every breed, clan or culture are assembled here, a gathering has taken place, Moses would be pleased. What did this city know of the bewildering displacement, the loss of art and cultivation, the self-expression or the needs of the people of the world? Or how to welcome their tentative steps towards a cautious resettlement, in an often hostile terrain?
What is the purpose of the shelter, the vessel, the shield you have made here? The purpose is a very human one: to allow people to represent and to reproduce themselves, and their lives; to find passage to future generations, to stretch their allotted time and space on this ground, to leave the sea of turmoil. Like those animals in the Ark, people seek, if not deliverance from a place of evil, then a place to stay, the way a creature needs a habitat.
The people of the well-named Greater Dandenong recognised as an opportunity, other’s need to find a resolution to the search, a nest, a home, a full stop. With them, they also knew those exotic people would bring their freight of ancestry, their knowledge,,, their joke-bags, their grievance and losses, fears and expectations.
Their great enterprise will be to flourish, but also to pass on an indefinable essence, to pass it on, and to pass it on. Like the game Pass The Parcel: here is my gift, it may get smaller, but keep it, please keep it.
I’m picturing Dandenong, twenty years from now. Take yourself there now, on a little mental voyage. You may discover, that for the first time in a long while, white people, and certainly white females like me, even with the price of a ticket, can no longer travel to more than a quarter of the world’s surface, its prohibited or at least risky. White people are astonished, they have been the ones fussing over, visas, tickets and border control . We, no longer rule the world. we start to experience ostracism, mistrust and boundaries, like those immigrants only a generation ago.
The travel Industry, has not shut down, a vast commercial machine like that won’t rest or die, it will simply restrict or invent our horizons in a manner that suits its business model. They are already doing it. Travel is re-focussing, its offering has changed. In the 70’s the idea was to experience otherness, other cultures, other vistas. Nowadays its imperative to experience more about YOU. You, trekking, you on a mountain. you, snorkelling, you chilling on a beach, any beach. You taking a short trip around Europe within the sanitary and speedy confines of an ersatz Las Vegas: Disneyland for grown-ups, time – poor and afraid of anything but the highlights…
Some of you and some of these artists will remain here in Dandenong. Most of you will possess far more than highlights, you will have the fine grain, the memory, the advice of your former politics and parents. You will have a culture that is not thin, not dilute, but strengthened by its hybridity. Dandenong will be well known for its cultural curiosity and learning.
The artists in this show have something in common, mostly their otherness. In the future, artists like Valamanesh will not have such close, direct insight into Islamic Art and its cosmic gaze, but they’ll have this artist to guide them so the past won’t be so misunderstood. I’ve followed this artist for a while, admiring his cool austerity and wit.
I also know and have desired artworks by Guan Wei, also witty, with an out-sider’s idiosyncratic eye in relation to Australia.
Rhubaba Haider’s work spoke immediately to me of her feminine Hazara heritage. She has morphed that knowledge into something strong yet fragile and contemporary, and philosophical. Whilst retaining a great deal of typical Hazara woman’s discipline and personal restraint.
Khaled Sabsabi”s work turns like a Dervish on Sufi themes, that strange metaphysical branch of Islam which is becoming endangered. Thank you Khaled for preserving it.
Gosia Wlodarczak’s unsettled lines following and chasing life, restless and unfixable, charting her relationship to objects. She makes a cartographic record over time and space.
Kosar Majani’s work is highly symbolic and resonant. It speaks of unrelenting rituals and repetitions that we’ve never known or encountered, in our young country.
20 years from now we may find ourselves grateful that Greater Dandenong ignored the ”Team Australia“ slogans of some of the worst leadership known in this country. That Prime Minister tried to frighten us about the living and cultural aspirations of others, demanding to know whose side we were on, challenging us to mistrust foreigners or the unfamiliar.
Fortunately we barely remember that Prime Minister, he left no relics or artefacts. Unlike these artists who have joined us in a gathering just like this to fill this once slight and shallow space with all our lives, heredity, children, art, adventures and exploration on the vast subject of US and WE. Not THEM or THEY.
Thank you Dandenong, dear Dandenong: you are the Ark. Pass it on, pass it on.
Lest we forget.
The first World War produced remarkable poetry. In earlier times, war poetry tended to valourise war. Not so between 1914-1918.
The lacerating poetry of the First World War showed just how powerfully the truth can be told. Wilfred Owen in particular, and his mentor Siegfried Sassoon, showed how poetry can strip away the protective layers of delusion which protect us from the truth of what we do.
Good poetry sees the world in ways which are invisible to most of us – until we read the poems. By doing that, it can smuggle uncomfortable ideas into complacent minds.
Wilfred Owen died just a week before the Armistice. Only four of his poems had been published. In 1937, Siegfried Sassoon persuaded a publisher to publish a book of Owen’s poetry. Two years later the second World War started. It was a predictable consequence of the Treaty of Versailles: the Treaty had impoverished Germany; the misery experienced in Germany made it possible for Hitler to take power in 1933; Hitler made himself popular by blaming all of Germany’s problems on the Jews and he poisoned the public attitude to Jews by vilifying them grotesquely.
Something similar is happening across the Western world today: Muslims are the target these days. Muslims are being vilified by people who should know better. One person emails me regularly with anti-Islamic rants. In one email he contrasts the Christian teaching “Love thy neighbour” with his assertion that the Koran preaches violence and hatred. Apparently he thinks that Muslims are not our “neighbour”, despite Christian teaching.
He has even urged that Australia should create concentration camps and put all Muslims in them; and he has suggested strafing refugees in their boats. It is the thinking of a person who has forgotten. He has forgotten not only the core teaching of the Christian religion which he appears to espouse. He has forgotten where hatred and vilification lead to.
Lest we forget, as that person has forgotten.
Here are a couple of Wilfred Owen’s poems.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
SEMINAR: A POET’S ARCHIVE
Peter Porter’s Creative Legacy
The National Library is proud to be the custodian of the personal archive of poet Peter Porter. From first drafts to page proofs, from notes to correspondence, the collection reveals the life of an Australian poet in London and is a treasure trove for research.
Join Porter’s family and friends for a day celebrating his legacy in all its diversity, and for a glimpse of the richness the archive offers.
For full program details, visit nla.gov.au/event/a-poets-archive
Supported by the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust
Friday 29 July, 9.30 am–5 pm
Theatre, $25 (includes collection viewing and light refreshments)
Book here or 02 6262 1111
National Library of Australia, Parkes Place, Canberra ACT 2600
The Guardian Australia today published the views of a panel on the effect of the election on various aspect of Australian life. I was asked to contribute a bit about refugees.
The whole Guardian article is here. My bit is set out below:
So far, the election result is too close to call with much confidence.
For refugees, it hardly matters which major party wins government, since both have struggled to keep their policies as close as possible. The Coalition policy calls the exercise “border protection”. Labor said it would “stand firm on maintaining a policy of offshore processing”, while claiming that it would be humane and compassionate to the innocent people it would lock up.
It looks as though the balance of power will not be held by the Greens, but by Pauline Hanson (whose attitude to refugees makes Nigel Farage look tolerant) and Nick Xenophon (who still needs to understand that calling boat people” illegal” is a lie).
Offshore processing and intentional cruelty seem likely to remain.
This means that no-one seeking protection who gets to Australia will be allowed to settle in Australia. They will be taken, by force and against their will, to PNG or Nauru. Their claim for asylum will be processed there (at Australia’s expense) but those found to be refugees will not be allowed to come to Australia. Where they would be resettled is anyone’s guess. How long they will be left on Manus or Nauru is anyone’s guess.
I expect a Liberal win by a narrow margin. For several months I have been predicting the Liberal party room is likely to replace Turnbull with Scott Morrison. Morrison’s track record for lying about boat people, and his strangely un-Christian attitude to them, means that the future for boat people (and this country) looks very bleak.
Here is a really worthwhile message from Fortyfive Downstairs: Melbourne’s most creative an vibrant arts venue:
Dear friends of fortyfivedownstairs,
You will probably have seen something in the press about the effect the massive Australia Council funding cuts have had on Australia’s arts community, and like all of us, you will have had many appeals for funds by post and by email.
We can’t say that our need is greater than that of homeless people, or refugees, or victims of domestic violence. The fact that the need is so great is an indictment of one of the wealthiest countries in the world. But without the arts, we are a country without a soul. Our artists need our support now more than ever.
In the past couple of years, we’ve said that if everyone who comes to this venue for an exhibition, or a theatre production, could donate $10, we would be able to reduce costs for artists, and achieve our aim – to make money for artists, rather than from them.
Since 2002, fortyfivedownstairs has presented, produced or co-produced almost 200 new Australian theatre productions, and we’ve shown the work of literally thousands of artists.
The reality however is that it’s getting harder and harder to survive, let alone combat the current climate of Federal government indifference to the arts. So we are asking for your help to continue our efforts to bring exciting new work to audiences, and to reward the artists who create it.
Our artists hold up a mirror to our society, they illuminate the dark corners, they enrich our spirit. Imagine how poor our lives would be without them.
– Mary Lou Jelbart, Artistic Director
See: KEEP THE ARTS ALIVE
Fortyfive Downstairs is a curated gallery space and also a performance venue. We showcase independent visual art, theatre and music.
The Arts in Australia are suffering at present, because of changes to Australia Council funding.. Theatre productions in particular are difficult, if not impossible, without external funding. So people wanting to mount plays have a really hard time doing it unless they receive external funding. That has an immediate impact on venues like Fortyfive Downstairs: if people can’t afford to put on a show, we have an empty space but we are still paying the rent. We do what we can to help, but we need YOUR help as well.
If you feel like donating, click here
In the interests of full disclosure, I am the founding chair of Fortyfive Downstairs. I do not have a financial stake in it; I donate to it each year. But like all Melburnians, I am enriched by the enormous contribution it makes to the arts in Melbourne.
I saw Tom Ballard’s show at the Mielbourne International Comedy Festival on Monday 11 April 2016.
It’s a great show: an astonishing mixture of comedy and information: information about what we are doing to asylum seekers.
It would have been easy for the show to degenerate into worthiness or “do-goodism”, but it does not. Instea, it cheers you along and then hits you between the eyes.
It’s a great show. You should try to catch it, especially if you think the government is doing the right thing with boat people. It only runs until 17 April, so you will have to be quick.
At the end of the show, there are hand-outs. I can’t even try to reproduce the hilarity of the show, but here are the handouts:
Ballard pages 2 & 3
Ballard pages 1 & 4
Chinese artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei, has an exhibition of portraits in Lego at the National Gallery of Victoria in St Kilda Rd.
It runs from 10 December 2015 to 24 April 2016 and features the images of 40 Australian human rights activists. The portraits are made from hundreds of thousands of Chinese-made plastic bricks (in the style of Lego). The portraits include Rosie Batty, Julian Assange, Archie Roach and me.
“It is about the activists or the people who speak out for human rights in Australia,” Ai said.
I am honoured to be among them. His image of me comes from this photo Barry Jones took of me one day after a memorable lunch (you can draw your own conclusions) and is included below the BJ original:
The quote he asked me for, which is across the bottom-left corner of the image reads:
“The greatest threat to Society is politicians who compromise our most basic principles in order to achieve a political advantage for themselves”
The Benaud Piano Trio is a Melbourne-based piano trio, named after Australian cricketing legend, Richie Benaud.
The Benaud Trio was deeply saddened last April by the passing last April of Richie Benaud, their namesake and hero. Their plan is to commission a new work in Richie’s memory to open their 2016 concert season.
The Benauds have been in discussions with a high profile Australian composer (and cricket tragic) who is very excited by the project. Together they have had a great time brainstorming how such a work might evolve and how it might reflect Richie Benaud’s life and character.
The Benaud Trio are looking for a fan of chamber music (and cricket perhaps) who would like to make a significant contribution to the repertoire by providing the generous support needed to make this commission possible. If you would like to explore your potential personal involvement in this exciting project they would love to hear from you. Please call Lachlan on 0422 017 929 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
$6,000 would make it all happen, and if you are the person who commissions the piece, your name will forever be linked to Richie Benaud’s name.
This is a poem written by Oliver Hovenden. I heard him read it recently. It’s terrific. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon would have approved: they got angry. He agreed to let me put it on my blog.
Get Angry – Oliver Hovenden
When old men scoff at your equality views
And politicians denounce a woman’s right to choose
When the fat cats gain and the thin cats lose-
When making money means more to them
Than saving the planet from the folly of men.
And we’ll axe a tax on carbon pricing
And ignore the fact sea levels are rising.
When blue ties and red tape mean doctors can’t report child rape.
Child slaves in sweat shops and sexism in hip hop.
When women don’t get paid the same for playing what is an identical game
Our government lives in a world of hypocrisy
When they support invasions in the name of democracy.
But won’t support those that flee from the fire
And no one cares if the situation’s dire.
Because Stop the Boats- and we’ll get votes.
When the larger the company, the smaller the tax form,
And interest in politics is a novelty not a norm.
When left and right wing is no more than a position
On a football field, and we have a coalition,
That doesn’t think you deserve same rights if you’re gay
And argues that things should always stay the same way.
When a backwards step is a unanimous motion
And they base their beliefs on a preconceived notion
That the Australian people don’t want to see change,
The name ‘The Liberals’ seems a little bit strange.
Because liberalism’s all about acceptance and respect,
And with our ‘Liberal’ government that’s not what you get,
Because male still matters, and so does straight,
And the colour of your skin still determines your fate.
Don’t sit around and be keyboard warriors
If you feel for your opinion you need to be sorry is
There are problem with it, or a problem with them?
Don’t wait to act, don’t wait to condemn.
Because if he who is silent, consents
don’t be afraid to give your 10 cents.
It’s our future, it should be our word,
It’s time to get angry and make ourselves heard.
Understanding the effect of cutting over $100 million from the Australia Council Budget
“The last time there were similar cuts, when severe budget cuts wiped out the entire middle sector of Australian theatre in the 1990s, the culture took twenty years to recover. I believe these budget cuts are much more serious.” – Alison Croggon, submission to the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding
Mary Lou Jelbart, who runs fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne has sent the following newsletter to supporters of fortyfivedownstairs. It shows plainly how the arts are being hit by Senator Brandis’ reduction of funding for the Australia Council.
Many arts lovers are finding it difficult to comprehend just how powerful an impact the Government’s 30% cut to the Australia Council will have, and it’s hard for non-practitioners to work out why it matters so much.
The opera, the ballet, the major theatre companies and the orchestras have been “quarantined” from the cuts, and their funding will not be affected. Instead, the cuts will have to come from grants to individuals, small to medium sized organisations, and independent theatre companies nationally. This amounts to a 57% cut of previous total funding. Already small grant programs for artists in their early years after graduation have vanished, and two of this years’ four funding rounds have been cancelled.
fortyfivedownstairs does not receive funding from the Australia Council or other public funding sources. However, arts venues have already been seriously affected by the cancellation of theatre seasons scheduled for 2016 due to companies’ inability to apply for funding support.
For example, in the past 9 years, fortyfivedownstairs has supported and/or presented over 70 new Australian productions and 40 readings of new plays. Literally hundreds of emerging and mid-career artists have exhibited there. Some of the most remarkable exhibitions, and productions, have been made possible by relatively small grants from the Australia Council. All that is under threat, and with it the viability of fortyfivedownstairs, and other small, independent venues around the country.
Last week the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding received submissions. Many arts practitioners attended and spoke to their submissions. I strongly recommend looking at them on the Parliament of Australia website.
Very important issues are raised in these submissions, including concerns about secrecy of decision-making by the newly established National Program for Excellence in the Arts. If you only read one or two of the submissions I would strongly recommend the impressive submissions from writer and critic Alison Croggan (no.116), curator David Pledger (no.172) and Professor Nikos Papastergiadis (no.4).
Australia Council Funding is not a perfect system, but it is open and transparent, and has evolved over forty years. The NPEA, set up by Senator George Brandis, will not publish names of those who make the decisions, those who receive the grants, or the amounts granted. As many have pointed out, in the wrong hands a secretive program could well become a vehicle for political control.