On 12 February 1014 Jim walked into the water at Coogee Beech … forever. This is a collection of pictures, thoughts and songs, from and for Jim. To loose you is a deep and everlasting sadness. This is a testament to the man we all loved and admired.
11 Mar 2014 / Life Stories
The reason I am here today is to hopefully, shed a little bit of light on what made Jim – JIM.
And when I was thinking about what I would say today, it occurred to
me that I could probably use every adjective in the English language to describe him, and I’d still leave something out.
So under that kind of pressure, I’ll do my best.
Jim was one of 4 kids – and we all grew up in Papua New Guinea. Our parents were both Australian – our dad was a nurse – which was quite unusual for a man in the 1950’s, and our mum was a fiery redhead who came from good convict stock.
In 1954 dad went to PNG as a Medical Officer. Mum who was 8 months pregnant with Jim, and our brother David (who was about 2) followed soon after. For the last part of their journey, mum and David travelled by canoe to Buka Island and Jim was born in a small jungle hospital a few weeks later.
Our father worked in remote areas providing basic healthcare to people living in tiny villages in the middle of nowhere. Our first houses were a bit rough, no running water, no electricity and the walls were made of woven bamboo. We would stay for two or three years in each place and then move on to the next one. Jim and David did all their early schooling via correspondence and short wave radio
We lived in a wild and untouched paradise. Populated by ancient tribes and fierce warriors – It was vibrant and beautiful and dangerous. It was a place of bright colours and dark magic. Everything about it was extreme.
But the thing about growing up in another country, is that sooner or later, you realize it’s not yours. In a very gradual way, you become aware that it is not your place. That your family has a different culture and that you come from somewhere else.
At the age of 12 Jim returned to Australia to go to boarding school – and from that point forward he straddled two very different worlds – modern Australia and ancient PNG.
And I think that’s what made him so observant. Why he paid such close attention to what lies behind the obvious and why so often, he could get to the very heart of the matter.
For Jim, the most lasting and significant aspect of growing up in PNG was his sense of ‘the tribe’, of the ‘village’, of being part of a community that supports and sustains itself. And that was how he felt about the theatre. He often said it was the one place he truly felt at home.
In 1975, Jim was 19 and a pot smoking uni student, working as an asst stage manager at the New Arts theatre in Glebe. I had just turned 11 and I came to Sydney from boarding school to spend a week with him. This was the first time Jim was in charge of looking after me, and for my birthday, he was taking me to see the show he was working on – The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now I knew that he lived in a rickety old terrace house with some other students and a dancer or two – and I knew that I would be sleeping rough on the floor and I knew that he was a bit of a hippy – but what I didn’t know was that I was going to be offered my very first joint (which I declined), or that I would be eating the weirdest food I had ever seen, but what I really didn’t know, was that I was about to be transported into a world filled with transvestites and aliens.
But that was life with Jim. He was my window to the world and he showed me just how weird and wonderful that world can be. He showed me just how broad the spectrum really is and, I think he would be very pleased to see the motley crew that’s turned up today.
From jungle drums to the bright lights of the big city and into its’ darker corners too, Jim embraced it all, with open arms, open eyes and an open heart. He gave everything he had and expected everyone else to do the same. There were no half measures and no compromises. He never lacked for courage, and his proud, warrior nature led to many conflicts.
Perhaps he had too many principles – perhaps he defended them too passionately?
But then, Jim was passionate about everything. He loved spectacle, he loved people who took risks, he loved living on the edge, with danger breathing down his neck and he appreciated anything that was beautiful.
He was a bright light with a bit of a dark soul. But that’s what made him interesting. Thank you.
James Arthur Waites
“I promised myself I would try to live an interesting life.”
- James Waites 25, August, 2013
Please join the family and friends of James in celebration of his ever passionate, vibrant and interesting life.
The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf
Sydney Theatre Company
Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, NSW, 2000
Sunday 9 March, 2014
‘Let’s keep on dancing and playing the tune.’
James Arthur Waites (06.03.1955 – 12.02.2014)
Arts journalist and writer, mentor to many in the arts community and theatre critic James Waites passed away at Coogee Beach on the morning of the 12th February, aged 58.
James had been suffering from long-term illnesses and had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. With his health in terminal decline, he made the considered decision for his last swim to be at Coogee while he was still in a position to do so.
Jim Waites will be remembered by all who knew him as a deeply compassionate individual who was a Son of Josette and Tom, much-loved brother of David, Frances (dec.) and Tricia, beloved uncle to Kirsten, Christopher and Aiden’ and favourite nephew and cousin to Waites, Heffernan, Jenkins and Craig families.He was a colleague, lover, mentor, teacher and friend of many.
Details of a memorial service will be available on this site and elsewhere from Friday 21st February 2014.
The Australian Arts community have acknowledged his passing on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and print press. Selected links are included at the end of the brief and potted biography that follows. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: Augusta Supple, Breet Monaghan, Coogee Beach, Currency House, James Waites, Jim Sharman, Les Miserables, memorial, National Times, Parkinsons Disease, Rex Cramphorn, STC, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Theatre, Whitney Fitzsimmonds, William Yang
I could have called this post ‘dust yourself off‘. Here I was dropping back into this site to write a response to OA’s South Pacific. It was one of my mega-pieces. Sadly due to an accidental switch-off of some hidden button/app/trojan in my computer I lost the lot. Three days of work. Should I throw the computer out the window? Should I throw myself out the window? There is so much I wanted to say about this show and that’s not gonna happen now. What I will say in summary is that it’s an excellent production (from the Lincoln Centre in New York via London) with wonderful Australian leads: Teddy Tahu Rhodes as the isolated French widower Emile, Lisa McCune as the ‘love-life’ love interest nurse Nellie Forbush, Kate Ceberano as Bloody Mary, also Eddie Perfect, Daniel Koek and Celina Yuen among others. If you love good theatre you will love this production. This is opera as theatre – gimmick free – and beautifully staged and sung.
We are at a point in the creative journey of Opera Australia where, three years in, we are now seeing the current Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini’s take full control of the commissioning aspect of the job. With the need to book opera talent so far ahead it has taken to this year to see exactly what Terracini’s vision for the company looks like. Diversity is everywhere. For certain reasons I’ve only been to a couple of shows, but deliberately (out of curiosity) they were ovetly the popular fare.
The Handa sponsored La Traviata presented on a floating stage just off Lady Macquarie’s Chair was a great event. Directed by Francesco Zambello and designed by Brian Thomson, this was the coming together of an elite art event in a popular context. And it totally worked. Same formula for the next two Sydney summers. Meanwhile, given it has the space for staging, Melbourne gets Wagner’s Ring Cycle directed by Neil Armfield and designed by Robert Cousins.
Another breakthrough in Sydney is the current production of South Pacific. There is no reason why a good opera company can’t program good musicals – when apart from the kinds of voices required we are talking about the same form. And that precedent was set years ago anyway. We were never going to hear Joan Sutherland with her great gift for the bel canto style hang onto a Wagnerian pitchfork and blast us out of seats like Rita Hunter could do. Or verse visa.
On this occasion, allow me the indulgence of taking me on trust. My readers are theatre people. If you want to see the best production of a musical Sydney as seen for a long while this is it. I know it’s expensive, but so is a lot of theatre these days. Maybe your folks are wondering what to give you for your birthday or an early Christmas present?
Was chatting to a fellow arts lover in the supermarket this morning. Yes, I have been a good boy and done some laps in the Victoria Park pool, and after shopping, first thing I did when I got home was change Amos and Nitro’s kitty litter (No not Glitter and Fluffy – I am sure they have their own people to do that). Ingredients purchased for healthy soup to make once this is posted. All good we are a happy household here.
One of the points of discussion with my fellow connoisseur was the gap between art and life. Where I was born sits mid-centre of the map of the South Pacific that’s featured in this production. And the island on which this production is set looks nothing like the island we see here on stage. But that’s art: we tell lies to make the truth.
There is so so much more I want to say about so many things on this site. I wasn’t expecting to get back to it so soon. But I owed it to Opera Australia in recognition of their support and generosity regarding comp tickets. And to honour this lovely open-hearted production. So here I am starting again, for better or worse, from now.
I will try to post more often, but that means fewer epic pieces. If there’s one thing you quickly learn about blogs is that they are hungry animals and can eat you alive if you don’t feed them enough or often enough. In returning, I do have plans to take the site in a somewhat different direction. Not dropping theatre – coz that is my life’s love. But re-conceiving the site to wrap that material in other layers. More to be revealed as time goes on.
As a hint to one of my plans here’s a segue. Not only was I born on an island in the South Pacific, a mere ten years after the Pacific war had ended in the Americans decimating the coalescing Japanese fleet. But one of my favourite films is set on an island in the South Pacific – and that is Paul Cox’s Molokai: the Story of Father Damien. It’s a brilliant film and for reasons I have never understood completely flopped. Not only did it virtually launch David Wenham’s acting career in the title role, but the cast includes Sam Neill, Leo McKern, Derek Jacobi, Peter O’Toole – and Kate Ceberano – this time as the Queen of Hawaii.
To make another link. With the Europeans gone and a civil war in Bougainville for over 20 years, the little place I was born looks nothing like it did when my family was there. The locals have fled and the tiny medical outpost where I was born has been taken over by an abandoned colony of lepers. It was sad to see. Sadder than the Molokai movie. I will tell you more another day: there was a reason why I put up some pictures of where I grew up a few posts back. And it has to do with the clashing models of individualism (‘for the most important person in the world’) as opposed to community.
PS: speaking of Terracini’s programing – one of the productions next year is going to employ the talents of Barcelona’s notoriously wild theatre troupe La fura dels baus (aka ‘the rats of the sewer’). I’ve seen three productions by this company – all mind-blowing experiences.
PPS: If you want to read a very thorough and insightful review in the classic form (of reviewing I mean) – go check out South Pacific 0n Diana Simmonds‘ website Stage Noise where musicals connoisseur and ex-SMH theatre critic, Bryce Hallett shows us all how it’s done.
02 Jul 2012 / AUTOBLOGRAPHY