• 25 Aug 2013 /  News, THEATRE


    There is a meta-narrative under-pinning (over-riding) many theatre blogs which is the wailing and gnashing of teeth about not getting to enough shows, worse still trying to find the time to write about them meaningfully.  The diva, Alison Croggon, who tried the hardest most often suffered the most. Me, to get around the problem, I have mainly just skipped a  lot of shows, ushering in disappointment from fans, and privately great waves of guilt (more so given the generous support I get from all of the main theatre company publicists). We are in a situation now in our city/society where the print media contribution has become so minimal it is almost not worth mentioning. So it is left to the mostly unwaged bloggers, giving of their time to an often take-it-for-granted readership and a feeling-neglected theatre profession who desperately yearn for their work to be acknowledged. We bloggers are a troubled lot and I don’t think even the broader theatre industry quite realises what is currently at stake.

    The New Prince Alfred Park Pool


    Exhibit A! I  have said it in the past: paintings and novels can lie around for years unacknowledged before being ‘discovered’. But in theatre-land, while an old script may be lying around somewhere, the actual artistic event which this script serves – the production – is gone. Long gone – lost in the mists of time and irretrievable. Without criticism (especially good quality criticism) no meaningful record survives.

    Yuppie breakfast at the new pool – poached eggs and smoked trout!

    Alison Croggon, tearing out her hair on a pre-dawn basis under the weight of demand did her superhuman best for many years before giving up. Lucky for her, her readers, and for those looking back to this time in the future, Ms Croggon got hired pretty much the next day by ABC online. In Sydney we have a group of on-liners (a nicer word for blogger?) who together (as a mob) make a contribution that approaches Croggon’s Melbourne-based achievement. But it mostly comes without financial reward and, in a city as expensive as Sydney, the current arrangement cannot last. What we are seeing at the moment is the publication of a bunch of newbies  (admittedly some very bright newbies) submitting reviews to online publications for no more than a couple of freebie tix. But once they have cut their teeth, are moving on to greener (aka ‘waged’) writing pastures. Employed by a big theatre company or industry body to run its own blog –  basically PR, hardly a balanced view. Or getting into ‘PR’ itself, or ‘marketing’ or ‘philanthropy’. No single reviewer born of the current circumstances is likely to hang around long enough to offer quality product and/or attain a merit-worthy following born of years of experience and a thousand mistakes.

    Pasta Bros birthday party – run by two French guys – Devonshire Street

    As one of the more experienced ‘not-for-profit’ reviewers based in Sydney, I am currently facing my ‘Alison’ moment. The way I have set up my site, I simply cannot sustain it for much longer. In fact it’s kinda over. It’s not just because the pieces themselves take so much time: one of my bigger pieces might take three days. My slow rate of delivery also does not work for the blog reader. When they click on my site after yesterday’s curious reading, they want more. An impossible task for the sole trader. This one anyway.

    Puppy dog sun-baking on the pavement in Crown Street. Not long after this was taken he got hit by a car. A heap of floral tributes were left at his spot. Clearly he had a sizeable fan base – including me.

    Okay I am particularly slow. But that’s because I like to try and get to the ‘bottom of things’. On a good morning after a good show the night before perhaps the ‘top of things’!

    Back lane – even the Quakers make rubbish.

    Here’s my situation and what I plan to do about it. I said a little while back I  had to take some time out to get overdue National Library work done. I haven’t got very far – there’s still a backlog. So this time-problem remains for at least a couple more months. I’ve still got a pile of ‘Timed Summaries’ to type up. And then there’s the backlog of interviews to get stuck into. I am not complaining: I LOVE this work. But I can’t do both  jobs well at the same time, and only one pays the rent.

    I recently put in some window boxes to my 3rd-floor flat – the weather has got them booming.

    Here it is straight up. Writing lengthy, closely argued, time and brain-devouring reviews for free is not how I wish to spend the rest of my writing life. For charity, I’d rather throw a blanket over someone sleeping rough or toss them a few bucks. Yes I do like the intellectual challenge of writing these long pieces, and I wont stop. But I am going to redesign this site so it can carry other forms of writing – exactly what shape that writing takes is still in its foetal stage. No doubt I will draw on the best suppositories of knowledge I can access: including my famously unreliable memory. Some circumstances have changed which suggest I can make better use of  this web-site. Plus these photos are a bit of a hint. Also the ones I have put up on Facebook about growing up in New Guinea.

    Dude with coffee and laptop at Ampersand – the cafe adjacent to the Clover’s Surry Hills library

    Between 1983 and the launch of this site a few years back, I wrote a lot for various high-life and low-life print media outlets: theatre reviews, other features and interviews, and think-pieces relating to theatre and theatre practice. And on other topics ranging from travel to architecture, to the latest fashion in eyewear. I have edited parts of, and whole magazines. I have lectured at a couple of universities. My flat contains mostly a collection of boxes stuffed with cuttings and publications begging to be put into some form  of order. A reason to bother has recently come my way. 

    My bachelor pad with flowers.

    Some of you know, as of July 2013, my website has been included in the National Library’s online cyber collection – called Pandora  - and will be updated once or twice a year. In a lightbulb moment, after such flattering news, I realised this presents me a reason to bother sorting through my clippings. And posting them in an archive folder linked this site. So, if I am not posting something new, I can put up something from the past. Possibly with some notes added now on how I think the piece reads now, however many years later. 

    ‘Skipping Girl’ – Wilson Street Redfern. On the way to Carriageworks.

    How am I going to do it? Probably start a whole new site, differently formatted and designed – to hold more than one single thread. I have got as far as purchasing the domain name – jameswaites.com.au. To do this I need help. And that is available to me in November when my ex Brett (who helped in setting up this site from his base in faraway Milan) has some time to help out. I will move across the content on this site – jameswaites.com – and start all over again. It should be lot easier than redesigning this site, especially since it’s so intertwined with ilatech.org (the ‘patch’ this site after being ‘Trojan-Horsed’ by a video-store in China a couple of years back). It was a life-saving measure at the time, thank  you Larry; but it also adds an unnecessary layer of complexity.Especially for people searching.

    Nitro on the left and the white one is Amos – my flatmates. They look after me as well as each other. It’s a happy household!

    I hope to spread my wings a bit on the new site – meaning not just stick to big theatre items or even gross und klein theatre items. There is other stuff I want to write about. It’s like this, I have got to a point in my own personal time-line where there are more years gone than yet to come. I promised myself I would try to live an interesting life, even if that meant never earning much money. Admittedly, I was from an early age drawn to the life and characters inhabiting the ‘other side of the tracks’. But then how many other people can say they have dined alone, on more than one occasion, with reclusive novelist Patrick White and his boyfriend Emanuel Lascaris.

    Redfern Station – returning from Carriageworks

    The deal with the devil was that this might give me something interesting to write about . ‘So where is that writing?’ the devil laughs.

    Busker outside State Theatre – 2013 Sydney Film Festival

    And now another nudge. If you are still with me (lolling half-asleep in James’s very own Garden of Olives/Eden), you may well prefer to know (as opposed to not know) the latest. And it is to put to rest any unnecessary concern or confusion down the track that I want you to know. I would keep it quiet, but it’s going to get out and so I want to make my situation clear. Everyone knows I have a thick medical file. So much so I have for a long time expected that if I wrote about some of what I have encountered in my years on this planet, it would be difficult to get around saying something about illness and injury, about recovery and well-being.

    Wilson Street – also on the way to Carriageworks.

    After a several year-long battle to get over what I got to call ‘the incident on the train’ (which took a lot longer than  expected), I enjoyed last summer almost daily at Coogee Beach, in the water, in  union with my million-year-old chromosomal origins. Well into autumn, it just got more beautiful and more healing as the early days of global warming kicked in. I was so delighted with my progress I made the mistake of declaring on the Facebook (aka ‘the Illustrated Buble‘) that I was  healed. At last I’d got my life back! We had a warm winter. Then, at some point a few weeks, a bout of cold windy wet weather set in. And, to my utter shock and dismay, the straw-man that is little me got blown down – again. Back to the chronic pain – but more of it and worse. How was I going to rebuild the mental detachment I had previously discovered the hard way was vital to cope now I had brought the defences down. Pain and suffering you learn are two very different things.

    Victoria Park – adjacent to Sydney University

    So what a smack  across the face with God’s handbag it was when I was this time diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Don’t freak out just yet – there is quite a bit of  silver lining.

    Now I know why so many things have been going wrong for me, and  hitherto not made sense – even the difficulty of getting over the train thing. A person can live with this neural disease for quite some time before it starts to manifest in  the more obvious symtoms of trembling hands and/or a stutter and/or a stooped walk and/or forgetfulness. Where was I? Oh yes – this is my message and why I am outing myself. It’s like coming out Gay or left-handed to one’s folks. What I want you all to know, medical advances being what they are these days, is  that the medication I am on makes me feel great. Certainly better than I have for a long time. I can’t use chopsticks, my handwriting is akin to that of a five-year-olds, I clap with one hand while the left one just waits to be smacked (so no I don’t hate your show). But also I feel good in myself. The pain disorder has retreated once again. And as of this last week I am back to doing a few, very modest, yoga postures, and as of yesterday back in the water. This time, at last, Clover’s Piece de Resistance – the Prince Alfred Park swimming pool (see top photo). Just a bit of walking in the deep water and then a few modest laps. But gosh given the early spring weather we are currently and as a Piscean – how truly aqueous and astrological. And a fresh opportunity closer to home to stay as fit and mobile as I can for as long as I can.

    Homeless man – Taylor Square. I found him lying lost in his dream in the sun on a very hot day. I managed to wake him up and help him relocate to this shadier spot. He even trusted me with holding his bottle.

    Meanwhile I am grateful for the diagnosis, and the forewarning it brings. Thus I can sort out my priorities and get on with them (hence much of the above). One of two things is going to happen. 1. Medical science is advancing at such a rate, by the time I would otherwise be getting into trouble, a magic bullet may exist. That’s the medical gossip anyway. They are already inserting mirror-balls and even Priscilla buses into the brains of some sufferers further down the track than me. If not, well we all have to end our time on this planet one way or the other – and  the way is rarely of our own choosing.

    Busker – Devonshire Street tunnel

    My main point is this (said KRudd poking his finger through the TV and into my face): what I want you all to know is that my well-being is going to improve for a period of time before it’s starts getting worse. How long – who knows. No one can answer that – not even Godot. It is way too soon for anyone, even me, to start getting upset. I am outing myself here also because, having informed a few intimates, most of them confessed they had noticed odd signs but did not know how to ask or what to say, and were ‘very worried’ about me. So if you’ve seen me bent and slow struggling in the street against the wind (like some drag Miss Docker), no I am not jazzed-up to the hilt on methadone or absinthe or gone quietly mad or gripped by Abbott-fever. I am fine and right now, a month into the right medication, getting better everyday. Want to know more? Google Michael J Fox Foundation.

    Bachelor cooking – inspired by watching too many episodes of My Kitchen Rules!

    Meanwhile from me: here’s a bunch of haiku-sized responses to some of the shows I have recently seen. Eamon Flack did a great job with the massive Angels in America - with the help of a perfect cast including a super-spectacular Robyn Nevin in several Meryl Streep roles. Persona also at Belvoir was very interesting – certainly a refreshing change in terms of tone and timbre to what’s currently fashionable. At STC, a truly fun-filled brain-fracked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead with an all-star cast, niftily directed by Simon Phillips (welcome to Sydney – do come back). And Storm Boy- my apologies I took my new medication at the wrong time and I pretty much woke up at the curtain call. There was kid hanging onto a dead bird? What prefaced that situation I am not sure. But it must have been good since one of my besties – who collects children’s books – was sobbing as she exited the theatre.

    My latest bit of ‘found’ furniture – off the street!

    See you soon in a foyer near you. If not here sooner – then definitely around November sometime. I may not be able to resist commenting on the Simon Stone Hamlet starring Mr Toby Schmitz up the street from me at Belvoir! It’s being promoted as a ‘cure-all’!! Could be just what I am looking for!! ‘Let’s keep on dancing and playing the tune.’


  • 24 Mar 2013 /  FESTIVALS, News


    I love this image

    The photograph above is significant and to many provocative. Why? Because the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras – its best-known name – has had other titles over its thirty-five years. This is the brand image for 2013 and it does not include either the word ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian” – not even in small print. Argument has broken out within the community about dropping those key words without proper consultation with members. The full name is used in official correspondence at the moment and in anything that involves the law. But not in public – ie anything likely to put off retired Miami tourists whose ‘cruise’ ship happens to be town that day. Too complicated to explain here. But it’s just one of many kerfuffles this special Sydney event has endured and survived over its 35 years. And there will be an EGM soon to sort this out.

    Nowadays it’s called ‘branding’.

    All that behind-the-scenes stuff aside, the 2013 poster is composed of several references alluding to concerns and interests of Sydney’s ‘homosexuals’ today. That’s not the right word either because nowadays the inclusive philosophy of Mardi Gras has now spread to embrace anyone who identifies GLQBT and/or I (meaning: Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Bisexual, Transexual/Transgender/Transvestite and/or Intersex). Don’t laugh this is serious business – and feelings run very deep and very high over the pro’s and cons of this alphabet soup. Never mentioned is that there are likely also to be as many ways to be straight  (recently popularly known as ‘breeders’ – until non-straight couples started  appropriating the word – having their own kids by way of various advanced medical technologies (and a hopefully whole lot of love). Gone are the days when straying from the heterosexual norm  could be umbrellaed under the provoctive and usefully elusive term ‘Polymorphous Perversity’. Technically my preferred option, but I can’t see Events NSW (now a sponsor) finding that one easy to swallow. Blaring along Sydney streets in rows of big banners. If only…’POLYMORPHOUS PERVERSITY’ repetitively – like a visual mantra.

    Mattthew Toomey’s cheeky contribution to the current ‘name change’ debate.

    Despite the missing words of ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’, this year’s poster image suggests multiple topical references including the right to marriage and parenthood, challenges faced growing up not straight; and the baby blanket is composed of posters from the last 35 years of Sydney’s G&L Mardi Gras. The blanket also happens to reference a segment of the AIDS Quilt (officially the Names Project). The AIDS Quilt started out as a community project in San Francisco designed to help people grieve. It is composed of small hand-made quilted segments made by a loved one or loved ones, each honouring a single person lost to AIDS. In my view, the AIDS Quilt is one of the is one of  most important works of art ever – what with its powerful content, sheer tragic beauty, and the involvement of so many hands. Many countries took up the idea of a Names Project  including grieving Australians. Here’s a link to more about the  USA Quilt and its origins. And another one – even more interesting with a recent  engagement with the latest digital wizbangery.

    AIDS Quilt display Washington

    Aids Quilt Project – Australia

    The Sydney’s Mardi Gras story begins with a rather dinky night-time ‘street party’ held on 24 June 1978 in Oxford Street after a day of traditional protest for homosexual rights. It didn’t have an official name. Though when Ron Austin put his idea to Margie McMahon, another member of the Glebe-based community support group CAMP (Campaign Against Moral Persecution), she said: ‘Oh you mean a Mardi Gras”. It was a very simple idea and the name stuck. This above is the confirmed undeniable origin – so don’t let other claimants fool you. The protest movement at the time  - post-Vietnam War  - was a passion, almost a way of life for many back then. But support for Gay Liberation was inhibited by the fact that in joining a march in daylight you were possibly coming out ‘gay’ (to your family and employer) and, at that time, homosexual acts between consenting males of any age was illegal. Without going into to much detail, Ron Austin suggested an extra event to follow a day-time city street protest. The idea was to dress up a bit, play some loud music from speakers on the back of a truck – and  travel down Oxford Street (the Gay Mile already established) calling for gays in the bars to come  out and join in the fun – safe in the dark! They did and by the time that lead truck got to Hyde Park there were many hundreds more involved.

    Conflict with police at that point escalated and the participants defied police by heading up William Street. In the main street of Kings Cross they were blocked off at both ends by a new shift of police and the party, having already turned into a protest, now escalated to a riot. There were arrests and the whole event blew up in the faces of both the revellers and police. Many were thrown into jail for the night. And thrown out the next day by a magistrate. Meanwhile the Sydney Morning Herald’s Monday edition printed the names and addresses of all arrested. Their cover blown, families ripped up and indeed jobs were lost. Ironically, if conflict had not happened there would probably have never been another Mardi Gras Parade/Protest – which did occur around the same time the next year. And  interestingly, Ron Austin’s ‘non-political’ event turned out to be the most political in Australia’s gay and lesbian history.

    Just so you know a few of the photos in this post I have collected  randomly over the month or emailed a few requests during MGras 2013. Others I dug out of Google. Everyone involved at whaever position they hold from CEO to roadside Parade viewer has a different experience. So this is basically the story of MY Mardi Gras 2013 – below is a photo Cindy Pastel (aka Richie Finger) probably my personal favourite Sydney alphabet soup persona. Whose life story was turned into Priscilla the film and the musical. With virtually no money from the pocketsful of cash going to her/him.

    I Love Cindy Pastel! – backstage at Bob Downe’s Celebrity Roast

    Here she is again below with Bobe Downe (aka Mark Trevorrow) – my next other favourite (in gay world you can a have more than one) – trading identities. Not just a hilarious shot, but also a very good example of why we need a single word (or very short phrase) to encompass the many variations of non-straight gender and sexual identity.

    Cindy as Bob & Bob as Cindy!

    I was close enough to Sydney  Gay world in 1978 to hear about the party/riot the next day, though I was not personally involved. In the past decade I hnbve been barely involved in any way. However, just over a year ago I was invited by the National Library to undertake an Oral History of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. It is proving to be a much more interesting project than I imagined (me thinking all the main players are dead – and indeed many are). But there are others still with us and they can tell their stories and speak up for the those who are lost. For example Ron Smith spoke about not only his time in the MGras Workshop but also his dear friend Doris Fish, an original Synthetic. She had relocated to San Francisco  - but came back once a year to help in the workshop. And prepare her own special once-in-a year outfit

    Doris Fish in San Francisco Gay Pride march – still carrying the Aussie flag

    The journey of Mardi Gras over 35 years is a fabulous story which cuts open the history Sydney like a watermelon. And I will post more stories down the track as my Library project evolves. But just to make just one point: if it were not for the experience gained  in being involved in running the Mardi GrasParade, over so many years, there would never  have been such a well organised Sydney 2000 Olympics. And to this very day, mega-event managements frpm all over the world look to employ people with G&L MGras experience.

    Despite having lived in Sydney for the past 35 years and more, I haven’t been close to the organisation for quite sometime. I was a personal friend of  Peter Tully and David McDiarmid who were among the group who pushed for the date to be moved from winter to summer (less clothing and thus a chance for more flesh and more fun); and, moreover, set up a decent workshop where big ideas could come to life; also with Workshop staff help available for community troupes to go bigger and better if they wanted to. Tully and McDiarmid – sometime partners and life-long pals – were greatly influenced by trips to the uptown New York nightclub – the Paradise Garage. One of the first places to put together party drugs, dressing up  and dancing to dawn. Peter’s art work named Urban Tribalwear was also influenced by trips to big parades in the Caribbean and even PNG. David, more overtly political, darker sensibility, and outliving Peter by several years was hugely drawn to Festivals of the Day of the Dead in Mexico – and drew on some of that imagery in his Parade float creations.


    Peter Tully (far right)  with his Tribe

    The Tully look.

    The Mardi Gras Parade was solid gold content for photographer William Yang. Here (below) are three classic W Yang shots from the height of  the  Tully/McDiarmid era. 

    Disempowering the enemy: taking back ownership of derogatory terms.

    Peter Tully (centre) with friends – Australian wild-life costume

    Revd Fred Nile’s Head on aPlate – a la Salome – carried by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Probably the most significant float ever.

    The decision to move from winter to summer escalated involvement and a more celebratory atmosphere. But there was also a loss. It caused a few of the ‘protest’ hardliners to pull way, especially almost all the lesbians who re-hitched their wagon to the burgeoning Woman’s Liberation movement. Hitherto homosexual rights protests had been a remarkable example of coalition politics.

    Mardi Gras, including management, and Parade & Parade participants remained almost exclusively male until the late 1980s, when a female member of the workshop, Cath Phillips, eventually found herself on the Board and a year later successfully ran for President. Over the next few years women were drawn back into the event at all levels. And it has remained a ‘coalition’partnership ever since. The highlight to this very day in terms of the Parade  has been the participation of Dykes on Bikes. Who now annually start or are near the start of every Parade. What a throbbing, powerfully sexual kick start: I don’t know, this year it felt like about at least a hundred. Usually with girlfriend or best friend sharing the ride. The noise of the bikes and then the roar of the crowd has to be heard to be believed.

    Dykes on Bikes 2013

    The is much more to the story of the first decade, including the impact of the AIDS pandemic. For the National Library I am basically working in chronological order and currently up to around the mid-late 1980s. There have been some fantastic stories told – and now safely stored. A couple of years ago I interviewed Rose Jackson (born Barry) for the National Library – she got sacked from the Old Tote theatre com[any when her sex-change hormones started to kick in. But she went on and made a great career for herself as a costumier and performer at The Purple Onion in Kensington and later Capriccios on Oxford Street. I think hers is  my favourite Library interview ever. I was asked to speak at her funeral and wrote the  SMH obituary.

    The photo of Rose we chose for her SMH obituary – what a lady!

    While we are at it, another big loss this year was Carmen Rupe. She lived near me in her last years and would travel around on one of these medical scooters – flowing with coloured ribbons and banners (a touch of Isadora) and always flowers in her hair. A one woman year-round Mardi Gras. I took Carmen as my date to Richard Wherrett’s funeral (another story altogether). Half way through the ceremony she passed out, her head fell into her huge breasts and  she started to snore. She turned a few rather severely disapproving heads, but I thought Richard looking down from above would have found her ‘performance’ amusing.

    Celebrated New Zealand emigre hooker/role model Carmen Rupe also passed way this year. She was honoured in this year’s Parade.

    One last comment before I sign off.  I noticed that Mardi Gras’ current CEO, Michael Rolik, was going to resign about a year ago and so I sought an interview with him before he disappeared into the wilderness. As it turns out, Rolik has stayed on. But meanwhile I have been given a brief insight into how Mardi Gras is run today. This year, after more than a decade of non-active involvement I took in as much as could of Festival, Parade and Party. There was much I was sorry to miss especially the conference day - Queer Thinking – which had some very interesting material and people involved. From past experiences 0f Mardi Gras Festivals, the events I attended this year  rose well above my expectations. But all that for another post. I think this is enough for one reading (and it’s been sitting around two weeks unfinished). I promise you more to come. I just have to  change horse in mid-stream and write about opera. Let me tell you – got the money go see Carmen on the water – FABULOUS!!


  • 12 Mar 2013 /  News, Other Art Forms



    6:00PM-9:00PM. Licensed Bar

    To be opened by

    Jon Lewis, Artist & Professor Ross Steele AM, Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.

    Master of Ceremonies: Edwina Blush


    I have been promising Roger Foley (Ellis D Fogg) and my readers to expand in my one-page notice of this event for more than a couple of weeks. I have a bunch of support material which says a lot. So I think I will put all that up first and then see what else is needed. As I mentioned last time (perhaps on Facebook) the late 1960s and the 1970s were an extraordinary era for Sydney. And hugely influential to me. So much grass roots creativity, so many old rules broken and very wild ideas about art and living flying in every direction. Roger Foley loved lights and he’s made an international career out of playing with them. He was there at the beginning which lets say is the closing era of the Push (grog) and the birth of the hippy aesthetic (marijuana and LSD), perhaps most significantly marked in time with the opening of The Yellow House in Macleay St Potts Point – a living museum merging communal art and life creation. Original participants including Fogg, Martin Sharp, Richard Neville and filmmaker Albie Thoms. Thoms died last year – a very important figure in the creative story of Sydney. A book - My Generation - by Thoms  has been posthumously released and I think this festival of memories is in part in honour to Thoms’ contribution and legacy.


    My Life and Loves

     Roger Foley-Fogg aka Ellis D Fogg

    psychedelic exhibition – free admission


     art, posters, odd objects, books, costumes, films and a bizarre-bazaar

    everything is for sale

     Friday March 15th to Easter Monday April 1st

    12PM Noon to 5:00PM Thurs Fri Sat Sun and Monday, April Fools Day

    107 Redfern Street, Redfern, 107 Projects Lounge Room Gallery,

    good cheap food nearby – bring a takeaway and have it in our Lounge Room. 

    An early work by Ellis D Fogg


    The exhibition will be accompanied by live events and films from the 60s – bookings below 

    hear what it was like and talk to people who were there.

    Fri 15 – 6:30PM – The Ides of March, meet JIM ANDERSON of the London Oz Obscenity Trial with the sly wit and smooth sexy songs of EDWINA BLUSH

    Sat 16 – 6:30PM, WORLD PREMIER OATS – Once Around The Sun, with Co-Director David Huggett. The long awaited film of the Ourimbah Pop Festival.

    Sun 17 – 6:30PM GRETEL/MADAM LASH Sylvia & The Synthetics DANNY ABOOD, ADULTS ONLY.

    Fri 22, – 6:30PM meet JOHNNY ALLENNimbin Aquarius Festival + special guestJEANNIE LEWIS

    Sat 23 – 6:30PM – meet JIM ANDERSON with EDWINA BLUSH

    Sun 24 – 6:30PM – UBU Films – tribute to Albie Thoms “MARINETTI” EXPANDED with David Perry.

    Easter Fri 29 – 6:30PM meet  JOHNNY ALLEN “Nimbin ,Cabaret Conspiracy, Paris  Theatre”

    Easter Sat 30 – 6:30PM – meet JIM ANDERSON  with EDWINA BLUSH

    Easter Sun 31 – To Be Arranged

    Easter Mon 1st April 6:30PM April fools Day, A tribute to BLACK and WHITEFREEDOM on the 50th anniversary of OZ Magazine, Australia. SLAVERY TO STAR TREK introduced by HERE (CORRECTION REQUIRED) Francesca Emerson-Foley, closing party with licensed Bar and supper.

     TICKETS for evening shows, $20 and Cons with cards $15  Season Ticket all shows and grand opening $110, email request to fogg@fogg.com.au  –  Ticket price includes “meet the artists informal party”, exhibition viewing and a light supper.BOOKINGShttp://www.trybooking.com and search for foggENQUIRIES: 0409 229 282 and e: fogg@fogg.com.au

    Here is some other info for you to peruse and perhaps get  a better idea of who and what we are talking about.

    Roger Foley (Ellis D Fogg0 

    Ellis D Fogg is the pseudonym of Roger Foley (born 24 January 1942) who the National Film and Sound Archive have described as Australia’s “most innovative lighting designer and lumino kinetic sculptor.” The term Lumino Kinetic Art was first used in 1966 by Frank Popper, Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Paris.[1]

    Early life
    Foley was born in Cairns, Queensland and attended Newington College (1957–1959).[2] In the late 1960s he started designing rock concerts and psychedelic light shows. His experimental light shows through to the 1970s were precursors to present multi-media installation.

    Yellow House
    He was one of a group of artists who worked and exhibited at the Yellow House Artist Collective in Potts Point. The Yellow House was founded by artist Martin Sharp and between 1970 and 1973 was a piece of living art and a mecca to pop art. The canvas was the house itself and almost every wall, floor and ceiling became part of the gallery. Many well-known artists, including George Gittoes, Brett Whiteley, Peter Kingston, Albie Thoms and Greg Weight, helped to create the multi-media performance art space that may have been Australia’s first 24 hour-a-day happening.[3] Current work While continuing as an artist Foley is a producer of light shows and architectural theming for festivals and events. He was part of the Yellow House Retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1992 and was a finalist in the Blake Prize for Religious Art in 2003 and 2007.



    The house at 59 Macleay St is a “Queen Anne” terrace, one of ten designed and built in the late 1890′s by architect Maurice Halligan. Its design was in many ways a wide departure from the ordinary style of terrace adopted across Sydney in that era, differentiated by distinctive gables and balconies set back behind roman arches. (Theatre lovers – note the reference below to Hair)

    Yellow House some years later. The building is still there with a cafe on the street.

    During the 1950s, No. 59 Macleay Street was a haven for many of Australia’s best-known artists. It was the scene for the emergence and acceptance of an important phase of contemporary art within Sydney. The property’s resident owner, writer Frank Clune, author of dozens of popular books on history and travel, started this artistic link. In 1959 the Terry Clune Galleries opened on the premises, exhibiting Sydney’s emerging abstract and modernist artists — John Olsen, Robert Hughes (now New York based art critic for ‘Time’ magazine), the late Robert Klippel, Stan Rapotec and others. During this period the Clune family house was also home to a number of artists, including Russell Drysdale who lived there for a short time.

    The building’s most colourful and famous period began in late 1969. Martin Sharp was frustrated by the traditional gallery scene, so he approached the owners to make use of the disused Clune Galleries space. Sharp had returned to Australia in early 1969 after spending several years in London. During his period in the UK he created posters and illustrations for the infamous Oz magazine (working with his friend Richard Neville) as well as designing the famous covers for Cream’s albums Disraeli Gears and Wheels Of Fire. Sharp took up residency in the old Clune Galleries. Thelma Clune, the gallery director, had decided to sell the building, but was in no hurry to do so, so Martin was able to use the space to present his first exhibition after his return home. This was followed by ”The Incredible Shrinking Exhibition”, which comprised photographs of the first show re-exhibited in small gem-like mirror frames.

    These two exhibitions laid the foundations for The Yellow House. The project was inspired by an unrealised dream of Vincent Van Gogh, who had mentioned the idea in a letter to his brother Theo. Van Gogh envisaged setting up his house in Arles as a centre for artists to live, work and exhibit. During the late 1960s Conceptual Art had emerged as a major new movement, and novel combinations of music, theatre, film, slides, lightshows and live performances of music and/or dance — “total environment installations” or “happenings” — had. Public awareness of conceptual art in Australia was given a major boost by the French artist Christo, who came to Australia in late 1969 and created his famous “Wrapped Coast” at Little Bay.

    Vincent van Gogh – The Yellow House

    Sharp produced a catalogue and coordinated the setting up of artists’ spaces to be prepared for the Spring show of 1970. In many repsects, the creation of The Yellow House was the culmination of much of the activity on the Sydney “Underground” scene of the late ’60s. Sharp’s contact with the UBU film/lightshow collective led to several UBU members — Albie Thoms, Aggy Read, Phil Noyce — becoming closely involved in the Yellow House. The opening attracted considerable media attention. Sydney’s Sunday Mirror called it ..”the wildest, most way out happening of the week..”, and commented that “…the guests wore really wild gear, and many looked as though they had come from a performance of Hair … ” — which had opened a few weeks earlier at the nearby Metro Theatre in Kings Cross.

    The Yellow House was an innovative ‘multimedia’ space, perhaps the first permanent “happening” in Australia. It included artworks by Sharp, Brett Whiteley and others, a special sound system created by Aggy Read, films by Read and Philip Noyce, “Lumino Kinetic” lighting presentations by Ellis D. Fogg, tapdancing by Little Nell (aka Laura Campbell, who later played Columbia in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and photography by Greg Weight. Other well-known names associated with the Yellow House included painters Tim Lewis, George Gittoesand Bruce Goold (now one of the group of artists who contribute designs to the famous Mambo clothing company), and film-makers Albie ThomsPeter Weir and Jim Sharman.

    The rooms were transformed into a range of environments, many reflecting the influence of the Surrealists. One was an homage to Magritte, another a bonsai room created by Brett Whiteley. The Stone Room contained everyday objects made to look like stone. The exterior was painted yellow and the building became known as “The Yellow House” as a tribute to Van Gogh. The House took on roles which extended beyond a simple exhibition space and it increasingly became known for its music and performances by people such as Little Nell, Bruce Goold and George Gittoes; films were screened and classes in film-making and folk music were organised by Albie Thoms. As well as exhibiting there, Greg Weight photographed the interiors of the House extensively, documenting this exciting moment in Australia’s art history. Weight’s photographs record the wondrous environments of the Yellow House, such as The Stone Room, but are also artworks in themselves, tributes to what Sharp claimed to be “probably one of the greatest pieces of conceptual art ever achieved”.

    The Yellow House continued in operation for most of 1971, but during the latter part of the year financial problems and artistic tensions led to the departure of Sharp, Gittoes and Thoms. The House continued as a performance space for some time after, presenting acts like The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and Lindsay Bourke, but without a clear artistic direction it became little different from other performance venues and it closed towards the end of the year.

    The Yellow House was a milestone in the history of contemporary art in Australia and its importance was recognised by a retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1990, coinciding with the centenary of Van Gogh’s death in Auvers, France on the 29th July 1890. Today The property is a private boarding house.

    References / Links




    Real Wild Child CD-ROM (Mushroom Pictures – Pacific Advanced Media – Powerhouse Museum – ABC, 1998)



    TALES FROM THE FOGG - by Roger Foley-Fogg

    MARCH 14, 15, 16, 17,  22, 23, 24, Easter Weekend March 29, 30, 31 and  April 1

    at 107 Projects 107 Redfern Street, REDFERN. 

    Noon to 5:00PM each day

    AND different performances each night see :  http://www.talesfromthefogg.net

     A personal psychedelic exhibition and opportunity to purchase:

    Costumes and fetish wear clothes by Madam Lash. Clothes by Linda Jackson

    My collection of fantasy shoes include some with 8 inch heels, 

    Paintings and posters by Martin Sharp, Jim Anderson, Maggie Walsh and many others. 

    Rock and Roll and psychedelic posters from the 60s

    funky 60s theatre lights

    My photographs from The Spirit of the Gija series taken while working with indigenous desert Aborigines in the Kimberley.

    photo montages from The Spirit of India series by me

    Lumino Kinetic Artworks inspired by Indian culture by me.

    Same as above with more dertail nsd some groovy photos

    GRAND OPENING – with licensed bar

    Thursday March 14th

    the Psychedelic Exhibition 6:00PM to 9:00PM. 

    Opened by Jon Lewis and Prof. Ross Steele.

    With MC Edwina Blush.

    and then the following performances on the weekend which include a relaxed time after each show for supper and a drink with the artists.

    Friday March 15, 6:30PM live performance with JIM ANDERSON – An Artists Journey – illustrated,and EDWINA BLUSH see flyer below.

    Saturday March 16, OATS 6:30PM – the long lost film of the first pop festival in Australia at Ourimbah 1969 - WORLD PREMIERE – Once around the Sun and a celebration with Director David Huggett, licensed bar and light supper provided for ‘after party’.

    Sunday March 17, 6:30PM - live performance with MADAM LASH and DANNY ABOOD - a personal story with Sylvia and The Synthetics Danny Abood – a highly entertaining interaction. Followed by:

    8:30PM following Gretel’s live performance a free screening of ‘Thats Showbiz”, one of PHILLIP NOYCE’s first films. Starring Madam Lash and her ‘whip act’

    Exhibition continues the following two weekends: 

    Noon to 5:00PM thu fri sat sun with Mr FOGG – free admission.

    Live shows continue the following weekend with JOHNNY ALLEN’s illustrated talk about The Aquarius Festival-Nimbin, Cabaret Conspiracy, The Arts factory and Paris Theatre accompanied by the great JEANNIE LEWIS – Then an expanded screening of Albie Thoms ‘Marinetti’ introduced by David Perry followed by our tribute to BLACK and WHITE FREEDOM on the 50th anniversary of OZ Magazine with Francesca Emerson with HERE  -CORRECTION REQUIRED) Andreea Kindryd’s FROM SLAVERY TO STAR TREK.

    DETAILS and links to all the artists here www.talesfromthefogg.net

    BOOKINGS: http://www.trybooking.com/Event/EventSearch.aspx?keyword=fogg

    More information and pictures follow.


    Some of the costumes on display and for sale at the exhibition which including the’ Gown-less Evening Strap’ by Madam Lash.



    Oz boys in London: admiring/pissing on? their own magazine promotion!


    advertisement in GO-SET for the Ourimbah Pilgrimage for Pop.



     OATS or ‘Once Around the Sun’, The film about this festival, the first Rock/Pop Festival in Australia, has just been found and its world Premiere will be on Saturday March 16

    Once Around The Sun was inspired by the Pilgrimage For Pop Festival at Ourimbah near Sydney on a hot and sunny Australia/Invasion Day Weekend in 1970 – so the film is now 43 years old – and has finally made it to the screen, thanks to Exec Producers David Hannay and Jeff Harrison at Umbrella Entertainment. OATS was originally conceived and filmed by the late Gordon Mutch and the late Eddie Van der Madden in 1970. It has now been digitally restored on video by the original editor and co-director David Huggett, who worked on the project until it crashed in 1973


    Once Around The Sun is an evocative psychedelic joyride back to the heady culmination of the flower-power era and, assisted by the consciousness-expanding effects of psychotropic drugs, is a celebration of the dawning of the Space Age, The Nuclear Age and Aboriginal and Gay Liberation in The Cultural Revolution at The Dawning of The Age of Aquarius. Once Around The Sun contains unique performances in 35mm colour by some of the first Australian Rock and Blues icons: Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs, Jeff St John and The Copperwine, Chain, Leo de Castro, Tully, Wendy Saddington and Company Caine, Hans Poulsen and Max Merritt and The Meteors.The orchestral music score accompanying the flights of fantasy into the origins of life, the universe and everything, was written and conducted by Australian jazz/rock legend John Sangster.

    Madam Lash meets and wisely ignores Fred Nile

     A tasty enuf final image to tempt any of you? Remember exhibition during afternoons is free. And shows at night are very low cost. I am going to everything – to remind myself where I came from.

  • 28 Feb 2013 /  News

    Dear Children,

    I am  putting this up to show you my age. And to suggest you look at this document with your diaries open. Here is a once-in-a-life-time chance to get some major insights into the alternative art/performance culture of the Sydney that raged big time in the late 1960s and through the 1970s. I was just a tiny bit younger, so these are the people who had a lot to do with shaping who I am and the way I think today. They were truly heady days and Roger Foley (Ellis D Fogg) is creating a fun and very rare opportunity to revisit this wonderful Alice-In-Wonderland world.

    This is only a let-you-know in advance. Once MGras is over I will write more about some the people who are contributing to this very special event. I am not going to miss a single session. But in that next post, I will try and help you pick and choose depending on your interests, curiosities and taste.


  • 27 Jan 2013 /  Reviews, THEATRE

    A friend in the business asked what The Secret River was like. Here is my slightly tinkered with email reply: ‘You must see The Secret River. The Secret River is 6 years in the making (to our amazement we found out on opening night it was the first project commissioned by Cate and Andrew when they took on the artistic directorship). It’s not only Neil at his finest, Bovell at his finest, a cast drawn to brilliant performances – sets costumes workshop etc. But no-one has yet said that this is also a highly intellectual and polemic work. Its race relations politics are well worked through and we have Australian theatre’s most important contribution to the History Wars debate since Big hART’s Ngapartji Ngapartji.” 

    Sydney Theatre Company’s The Secret River
    © Cassandra Hannagan / ABC Arts online


    That ‘History Wars’ kerfuffle may have gone quiet in other media and art forms for want of anything further left to say. But our theatre has struggled throughout to find effective ways to engage. Not for want of interest or effort, or the number of works (just one being The Seven Stages of Grieving) that have paved the way for these tw0 outstanding works for the stage. But to get to the top, it’s a matter of both understanding the potential of the art form we call theatre, plus the ability to realise that potential technically and creatively. Saying is one thing, doing is another. Both Scott Rankin (director of Big hART’s Ngapartji Ngapartji, and Neil Armfield (director of the STC’s The Secret River), understand in their bones what theatre was, is and can be. And both possess the skills to bring a major work to life. If in very different ways. Despite both being about Australian race/culture relations, the two works could not be more different. Nor the methods the directors employ. Do I prefer one to the other? I don’t think we need to go there quite yet.

    Nathaniel Dean as William Thornhill

    There are a few theatre-makers hovering in the next rank who I think are making their own way up the ladder of excellence, mostly by trial and error. And some excellent older creatives still around who have been forgotten with nary a thought for what they might have to offer the ‘now’ generation. A great squandering that.

    For example: Chekhov master, George Ogilvie, may not be up to directing a full main-stage production these days. But how many people who think they are important in Australia’s theatre-world today are familiar with Oglivie’s name, much less his body of work? I can cite another director of the first order barely remembered from the generation that followed Ogilvie’s: namely Rex Cramphorn, who spent several of his early years writing theatre reviews for the Bulletin. On 9 November 1968, Cramphorn published an end-of-year overview titled ‘Ideals and Actualities’, covering both Sydney and Melbourne seasons. Not too happy with what had been dished up, towards the end of the essay he writes in a fragment of consolation: “No-one would suggest the theatre is booming in Melbourne. But some conclusions may be drawn from the success of the Melbourne Theatre Company, with George Ogilvie’s production of The Three Sisters, probably the best thing I’ve seen in theatre in Australia.” (1 – see end of post)

    Anita Hegh as Thornhill’s wife – Sal

    This is a glowing praise from a young buck (Cramphorn) who in the next few years would emerge as the most formally innovative director this country has ever produced, making work (initially in Grotowski’s ‘Poor Theatre’ tradition) in a manner entirely at odds with Ogilvie’s essentially classical style. Their commonality – a huge belief in the importance of the actor and a meticulous eye for (correct) detail.

    My questions are these. If you don’t know your theatre’s history, how could you ever get near knowing  - and/or sharing – a story from our nation’s broader history? Plus, if you’re in the play-making craft, leave the room now if you can’t or won’t put your actors first. Ogilvie and Cramphorn, Rankin and Armfield share the same view: it’s their job to assist the actors in finding a way for them to tell the story. The theatre director is a facilitator not an auteur, even if the final look of the work gives the latter impression. People wonder at how Armfield bumbles round a rehearsal room, as did Cramphorn: yet up come the lights on opening night and what is our reaction? ‘This could only be an Armfield’ or ‘This could only be a Cramphorn’.

    An early meeting: Ursula Yovich as the narrator, Roy Gordon as the elder Yalamundi & Rhimi Johnson Page as Wangarra

    Self-centredness is quite a valid posture in other art-forms like painting, novel-writing and particular film-making where actors are indeed rightly slaves to the director’s celluloid/digital vision – where we are seeing a story through one eye (not even two). But not theatre: in the most painfully telling example of last year was Benedict Andrews’ navel gazing in Every Breath at the Belvoir compared to his brilliant open-hearted generous rendition for Opera Australia of The Marriage of Figaro which had premiered only a week earlier.

    In making important work, development and rehearsal time are factors. Scott Rankin’s Ngapartji Ngrapartji took seven years to create – far reaching, unrelenting, thorough: involving much consultation with the owners of the story and traversing much sensitive cultural terrain. Pretty much daring to go where no whitefella in Australian show business has ever gone before. With a passion to truly tell a story from the view of this country’s First People as best he could, given the position he was born into as a non-Aboriginal. There are plenty of posts dedicated to Rankin’s work on this website – if you can find any of them. This site I know needs a thorough tidy up.

    Sal making friends

    Making music – Trevor Jamieson and Iain Grandage

    Armfield’s The Secret River, we discover on opening night, took six years to produce. I doubt if it took as many working hours as one of Rankin’s major works. There is a lot to be said, nonetheless, for letting things brew – and in this case it shows. This is one of the most meticulous works from Armfield (and his team) out of the many he has created in his favoured ‘backyard barbie’ style. A deceptive throwaway feel that leaves the audience wide open when the big moments hit.

    That said, he has been forced to tread warily through much of the same land-mined cultural terrain that Rankin has stared down. I’m not going to favour one over the other here because each of these directors go about making theatre in very different ways. Rankin determined to ensure the people who own the story, or are close to it, are included in its dramatisation – and ideally benefit socially as well. Say in the case of the more recent Namatjira, descendants not only got to show their own art work in good galleries in all the main cities the show played. But by the end of the run they were getting prices twice or more than what they had been before the show got up.

    In The Secret River, Armfield is somewhat let off this hook. This is essentially an Australian (History Wars) race-relations story (as were Ngapartji Ngapartji and Namatjira), but quintessentially from a whitefella’s perspective. Where Rankin might defer to many people from outback communities in making his work, Armfield really only needed Stephen Page, of Bangarra Dance Theatre fame, as an Artistic Associate, and Richard Green as a Language Consultant. No going bush for Armfield. But nor was there any need.

    Confrontation escalates

    What must have come first after choosing to commission this project would have been who to hire as an adapter? From novel to play-script – in this instance from a very good novel to a play-script which will need to go about its task of telling the same story in a very different way. The job went to Andrew Bovell, not only one of our most sensitive playrights but with an intellect to grasp the fundamentals of the challenge. Firstly, a big slab of the novel is left out. I will come back to that. But unlike the novel, we have characters standing right in front of us and half are Aboriginal. Both sides try to communicate the only way they know how – in their own language. So great swathes of the dialogue are in a particular Indigenous language we whitefellas in the audience don’t understand. In program notes from historian Anne McGrath, we are told that  ”the people from the region the play is set  - in and around parts of the Hawkesbury River – identify as Darkinjung  and Daruk people. However with its tributaries, creeks, elbows, and associated pathways, various dialect and  language groups have complex histories of connection.”

    For a mainstream basically white audience this language wall makes a big statement. While there are very many Aboriginal languages and dialects (many dying out fast), how many of us know how to say ‘hello’ in even just one of them? It’s a question Big hART has asked its audiences in the past. Also it’s clear to see that Bovell is an excellent collaborator. As is Armfield, including in the rehearsal room where he constantly encourages input from his actors. But here especially there must have also been an intense co-operation between Bovell and language consultant, Richard Green (Language Consultant); and a great sharing among  the cast and production team overall. Overall their shared endeavour creates such a deceptively simple and seemlessly put together work.

    Jeremy Sims as Smasher Sullivan – one of the eccentric Hawkesbury River survivalists

    This post is somewhat back-to-front: keen to discuss the making of the work I have overlooked the making of what? Kate Grenville’s beautiful novel of the same name - The Secret River - tells the story of the struggles of William Thornhill, a boatsman on the Thames who, being caught for theft in an effort to feed his family, is convicted and sent with his family to the gulag at Sydney Cove. Where, after some years, he is set free and allowed to make a life for himself and his family – however he chooses. Bovell has taken the bold step of beginning the play with Thornhill staking out a claim on what he thinks is an unclaimed piece of unused, unwanted acreage jutting out into the lapping waters of one of the Hawkesbury River’s many quiet estuaries. It’s not much but it’s ‘freedom’.

    As the drama unfolds we get to meet a family of Aboriginals who happen to consider this same piece of land as theirs. Each group politely waits for the other to move on. After a few years of tolerance and near-friendship, both families realise this is not going to happen. That’s when the trouble really starts.

    There is an imbalance between the way the two family groups are portrayed. The Thornhills are fully fleshed out individuals (western-style). Whereas the Aboriginal characters present more-or-less as a structureless mob. We can tell they have a leader in Yalamundi, but after that? Here too the production is making a point: this story is told through the eyes of William Thornhill and this blob of lookalikes is all he can see. He becomes particularly concerned when he discovers his boys are making friends with the ‘native’ kids, playing games and learning skills from them. It is mostly through the  innocence of the children in the story that any potential rapprochement is cultivated. Sadly the adults, especially the white adults, fail to take advantage of these openings to better understanding and reconciliation.

    Given the inability of the two racial/cultural groupings to cultivate any meaningful coming together, Bovell decides that at times a narrator is needed. This responsibility is given to Ursula Yovich, thoughtfully played, along with a couple of other smaller character roles. She may be overly gentle in her rendering of a story that ends in pointless tragedy. But I have made the point before, going way back to the emerging works by Aboriginal theatre-makers in the 1980s: that there is something counter-productive in yelling at people who have already declared their interest and  empathy by putting dollars down for the chance to know more. I am not at all against ‘angry’ theatre, and there have been some great examples when Aboriginals got their first chances to make the kind of theatre whitefellas do. And on the subject of race-relations in this country, even today, we could have more of that. But it was certainly not the approach Jack Davis took, Australia’s most successful Aboriginal playwright through the 1970s and 80s, despite the searing content of his tales (Kullark – 1972, The Dreamers – 1982, No Sugar – 1985). Nor has it ever been part of Armfield’s repertoire, which is partly why his productions of several of Davis’s plays worked so well.

    Armfield understands that Aussies get their back s up very quickly, and so he calculates social change by way of  theatre-making in inches. Over the past twenty-five years he has, as a result, quietly knocked-down barriers and moved us all a good distance. The opportunities he gave to the telling of stories by Aboriginal people about Aboriginal people when Artistic Director of Belvoir cannot be under-estimated. Built on the endeavours of many others – actors, writers, and directors from both sides of the racial divide. Whitefella efforts going back to Katharine Susannah Pritchard’s Brumby Innes (1927) and  the New Theatre movement  in Melbourne which, by the 1940s, was employing Aboriginal actors. Then in 1970 came Jack Charles’s Nindethana troupe which joined forces for a while with the Australian Performing Group (APG), along with new plays in the European style by Aboriginal writers, including Robert Merritt and Kevin Gilbert, addressing interracial disfunction. One could add many paragraphs to get to the present where we now have our first Aboriginal Artistic Director of a State Theatre Company, Wesley Enoch in Queensland; who attracted international as well as national attention in 1995 with his direction of 7 Stages of Grieving (written and originally performed by Deborah Mailman), and Rachael Maza Long (daughter of Aboriginal actor Bob Maza) very recently directing the autobiographical work Jack Charles Vs the Crown, co-devised on the writing side by Jack’s life-long mate, John Romeril.

    Jumping over very many significant writers and their plays, directors and their productions, actors and their characters is my Captain’s Pick. It goes to Scott Rankin’s Big hART Theatre Company’s Ngapartji Ngapartji, a work I mentioned at the top of this post. He is currently working on a mega-project in WA’s the Pilbara region. My encounter with Ngapartji Ngapartji, when it played at Belvoir, was the kick-start for this blog. Entirely different in construction and temperament, I could almost say ‘coming from the opposite direction’, The Secret River is also a masterpiece  - if not quite as complex in its invention

    If we forget the meta-framework of race-relations that so far holds together (I hope) the argument of this post, let’s now push the lens in closer. What do we have? As I started in that brief email to a colleague: ‘Neil at his best, Bovell at his finest..’ etc

    Some of the best scenes are when we break away from the ‘inter-racial-families-in-conflict’ narrative and we get to meet a circus-like carnival of weird and wild freaks who have previously staked out their claims on other pieces of the Hawkesbury and made it work for themselves, one way or another. They enjoy their lives: if nothing else it’s at a distance not only from England, but also (most of the time) the authorities based in Sydney Cove.

    Knowledge transferred by way of the children

    To the acting. From the first moment the emancipated convict William Thornhill convict carves his name into this little patch of godless earth, we know actor Nathanial Dean is born for this part. I’ve only seen Dean in a couple of live shows before, and for whatever reason his work did not particularly register. To give this massive role to a near unknown takes almost reckless courage on the part of the director, but Dean takes up the challenge and very successfully gives it his all. This is a blistering heart-stopping performance when required, and these ‘hot’ moments are held back typically by Armfield for those special occasions when the big guns are genuinely necessary. Not since Ewen Leslie in the second half of Benedict Andrews’ The War of the Roses have we had such a moment where an actor takes his professional destiny by the horns. It’s a beautiful, soul-searching performance that captures every quiver of competing emotion this role demands.

    Armfield is famous for his impeccable casting (with the odd mega-blooper tossed in to remind us even he is mortal). No mistakes here. Anita Hegh as William’s wife Sal, is both as wilful and submissive as the character and the times allow. Beautiful and measured, staunch – with just a hint of bruising to her soul. I am not going to go through the whole cast one by one. It’s in the nature of the work that the Aboriginal actors are given fewer opportunities to distinguish themselves as individuals (they are a ‘the other’). But for the history books, the Aboriginals in the cast are: Bailey Doomadgee, Kamil Ellis, Roy Gordon (as the Elder), Ethel Anne Gundy, Trevor Jamieson, Rhimi Johnson Page, James Slee, James Slee and Miranda Tapsell.

    Sal is aided in her illness

    The actors cast to play the Hawkesbury ‘maddies’, on the other hand, get to turn in some of their most colourful work ever. Each a Hogarth drawing come to life. As a group  they create a vivid reality by way of emotion-releasing brutish farce. Rarely have I seen Jeremy Sims, Colin Moody, Judith McGrath or Bruce Spence be so bold and inventive. I’ve left out the Thornhill kids, played by Lachlan Elliott, Rory Potter and Callum McMannus. All sweet, upright and bright. Here is probably the right place to mention composer Iain Grandage who performs live on stage: I don’t know how to  write about music. But it worked for me.

    Colin Moody as Thomas Blackwood (secretly married)

    We learn as the years go by and the NSW colony grew, settlers on the Hawkesbury found it easier to ignore Sydney altogether and instead row upstream and do business with the evolving township of Windsor – which eventually is where the story ends. Thornhill’s ultimate transformation into a gentleman of means requires not just a breakdown in his family’s relations with the Aboriginal cohabitants led by Yalamundi, but also a massacre.

    Trouble stirring

    The setting by Stephen Curtis is iconic – the roots of a massive stage-size ghost gum (solving this theatre’s acoustic flaw at the same time). And I thought costume designer, Tess Schofield, did an inspired job creatimg the impression of a time long-gone-by without resorting to the literal. Every item of clothing feels and looks like it’s from back then, but it’s not. Check the ‘boardies’ on Rhimi Johnson Page (see photo 4 from top). Make-up also adheres to the costumes’ mix-and-match aesthetic, if that’s what you call these smears of colours across the characters’ faces – wounds, burns, war paint, carnival masquerade.

    If the play has a dominant theme, it has been aptly put by Rory Potter, a young actor playing one of Thornhill’s sons: ‘I see the story as being about how Australia’s future and past could have been different if people like Thornhill had stood up and said this [killing] was wrong. I think people need to know what actually happened.‘ (SMH – 21 Jan 2013)

    It’s starting to get nasty

    If I can pull the lens back for one last long-shot. Just as we get this sickening sense as Thornhill marks out his modest little plot in the opening scene, that it symbolises the entire continent; equally the elder Yalamundi and his mob represent the entire indigenous population of this country ultimately dispossessed of all that was theirs and many murdered. I know the season is sold out, but it’s touring to other Australian cities – and let’s hope it can come back to Sydney for another run! So I won’t spoil the ending. Only to say that the production closes on a very sad image that could well speak of 150  years ago and/or today. It may only be William Thornhill (Nathaniel Dean) and Ngalamalum (Trevor Jamieson) no longer talking to each other, and the building of a fence to keep them apart. But it is also very obviously the end of a game of winners and losers. Can there ever be true reconciliation?

    This photo off the net reminded me of something!

    (1)  If any of you found interest in my rather inexplicable references to George Ogilvie and Rex Cramphon up the top: for more go to ‘A Raffish Experience: the Collected Writings of Rex Camphorn (edited by Ian Maxwell for Currency Press). Or with a click of your mouse, you can read this essay through (also by Ian Maxwell and published in Double Dialogues). It’s well worth it.

    If you are still wondering, it was all leading to an anecdote about Ogilvie on tour with an MTC show and rehearsing his famous Three Sisters at the same time. It was about Monica Maugham getting up extra early one morning to practice and practice, until she got it right. How the kind of maid she was playing would correctly lay out a very long linen table cloth. It had something to do with striving for perfection I guess. If you want an even madder segue: it was on one of these  regional Victoria MTC bus tours of the mid-1950s that a bored witless (witful?) Barry Humphries came up with the first inklings of Edna Everage.

    How vaste a distance have we traveled since William Thornhill’s emancipation? And for better or worse?


  • 12 Jan 2013 /  News, OPERA, THEATRE


    Okay so there are Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover – and I’ve tried most of ‘em. Ten Green Bottles, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Seven Shades of Gray and there’s even A Hole in the Bucket. Well and good. But how many ways are there to see-in the New Year – say if you’re a Sydneysider. Whether it’s luxury-viewing from a Woseley Road mansion avec staffed/stuffed canapes, an apartment rooftop in Potts Point, a boat on the harbour, Barry Humphries’ private party, Clover Moore’s Mayoral gig on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House, or with your head under the doona. That’s just a sprinkle of options.

    The last few years I have been lucky. If you have been following my whereabouts this has included two Clover parties (the floor you are standing on actually shakes when the fireworks explode) and last year I was part of a rent-a-crowd for a wonderful man who lives in an apartment overlooking the city from Macleay St as it curves into Woolloomooloo. This fine 95-year-old retired architect/widower poured champagne into our glasses with the sturdy hand of a man 20 years his younger. And we were there because he wanted to throw a party and mathematically all his friends were dead. We mere 40 to 50-year-olds threw some youth into the room and from his balcony we got the full vista of five different fireworks exploding points. Our host told us that when he first moved into the apartment in 1955 there was only one high-rise building. From his ‘period’ lounge-room he had watched the city grow.

    In a world full of great old cities being bombed to smithereens, or overwhelmed by the homeless and rotting garbage, Sydney is an oasis. Signs of growth are everywhere. Let me segue to my job. Just looking at the plays I am going to see over the next seven days (all home-grown product even if linked to the Sydney Festival program). At Belvoir, there is J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan adapted by Tommy Murphy, directed by Ralph Myers. The next night I’ve got School Dance at STC Wharf One, written for Adelaide’s youth company Windmill by Mathew Whittet, directed by Rosemary Myers, with a cast that includes the deliciously talented Amber McMahon.

    Cast of Windmill’s School Dance

    Then it’s an adaption by Andrew Bovell for the Sydney Theatre Company of Kate Grenville’s fabulous novel, The Secret River, directed by Neil Armfield, playing at the Sydney Theatre with a cast of over twenty. There’s a new show at The Stables, Caleb Lewis’s Rust and Bone at the Stables. And apparently the new annual David  Williamson at the Ensemble is rather good.

     Who gives a toss if this year’s Sydney Festival management has decided to invite only a few reviewers to only a few things. I am happy with my lot of home-grown works. Which is my point. The work we can make by ourselves these days can come together and create a mini-festival without attending anything brought in from overseas. There will be hits and misses, as there always is to with the imported stuff too. But we have evolved so much in the past twenty years as a creative city (given the right support), missing out on some imported shows isn’t as as devastating as it was twenty years ago. Meanwhile pesky reviewers effectively banned. Unless every show is already sold out to the rafters, you would have to wonder what is achieved by keeping the media at bay. See this recent post by me - Alison Croggon Retires from Theatre Notes - about the future of reviewing.

    One of  highlights of the local works is  Opera Australia co-production of Verdi’s A Masked Ball  with probably my favourite company in the world, Barcelona’s La Fura dels Baus (‘The Rats of the Sewer’. I think I’ve survived four of their shows in different places around the world: my entire being hurled into another stratosphere each time.

    Here are some pictures of the production I found on Google. If you have ever thought of taking the leap from theatre into opera land, I don’t think I could more confidently recommend a production (in advance of seeing it myself). Wait for whatever reviews it gets if you like or throw yourself recklessly headlong. These pictures are enough of a draw-card for me. Along with Sydney, La Fura dels Baus is also creating versions of this Masked Ball  with Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires; La Monnaie, Brussels; and Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, Oslo. No doubt the Sydney Festival has helped finance and promote the gig – but given the number of local artists involved (musicians and singers) it is not what you would strictly-speaking call an import.

    I hope I am not giving too much away. To me these pictures serve as a draw-card. Who wouldn’t want to pull money out of their pocket to see what the image below is all about?

    Arriving at last at the main topic of this post: my New Year’s Eve 2012/13! I somehow found myself with two tickets to the OA’s gala night which includes a performance – this year of La Boheme - and then canapes and drinks after which we watch the fireworks from the glassed-in foyer above Clover’s party (or other vantage points). Actually 9pm fire-works at interval and then grog and tastings and idle chat from 10.30 till the bridge and the harbour exploded at midnight into a burst of noise, colour and lights.

    The evening hosted by Kylie Minogue!