• 15 Oct 2008 /  Articles

    My life has changed since Germaine Greer declared I was Aboriginal. Not necessarily coz she was right – though she always is! But because this was around the same time I was heading off to Ernabella – and all the good that has come to from that ‘sojourn on another planet’.

    The good from that trip is multi-faceted, but one of the main elements was the opportunity to allow the illness of ‘anxiety’, with which I suffer, to diminish from a big black hole in my heart to a much smaller black smear. Here I am putting my life in my readers’ hands, but – oh well – what are blogs for if not to blog all over. Only a few of you know that I fell off a cliff when I was in my twenties and drifted into a coma while on the operating theatre from which I did not emerge for, I think, something like twelve days. I had many operations, four on my left hip, including two in London – where I limped around for a year with an infection and a bandage from knee to groin for more than a year. It was a tough way to start my global career as a something. From which I returned unsuccessful and instead became a critic.

    Approximately 27 fractures to live with this day, mostly down my left side, so I get a bit of arthritis these days – oh and the blood I received in transfusion was infected with a virus I am still obliged to manage daily. But the only real price I paid for that accident was ‘nominal aphasia’ (aka ‘forgetting names’); and what has been diagnosed as ‘panic disorder’, perhaps better known as ‘shell-shock’. This might help explain to those who think they know me, why sometimes I have been known to ‘over-react’ to challenging or unpleasant situations I have sometimes found myself in.

    It got to a point in my 40s where this behavioural flaw seriously started to have a negative impact on my life at all levels, personal and professional – and I had to go seek help. The highlight of which was being accidentally locked in the toilet of my psychiatrist’s flash new premises, magazines being pushed under the door, while we had to wait a couple of hours for the builder to turn up and get me out.

    I was greatly comforted in that moment by two factors. One was the idea that I was in the middle of the ultimate Woody Allen joke; and the other was a cartoon hand-drawn on the toilet mirror by Leunig – which I really can’t explain here without tiring you out, but which was suitably philosophical to help me through the moment.

    It has taken a lot of hard work for me to feel confident that I could return to crowded buses or bars, though a boss only has to shout at me once for me to get up and exit a new job. It speaks to my love of the form, I guess, (how safe I feel) that I don’t at all mind a crowded theatre foyer.

    But I did let myself down on the drive from Alice Springs to Ernabella when, at a rare petrol station stop, a woman called me to wind my window down so she could pour abuse on me with great enthusiasm for an alleged driving  incident some several hundred kilometres earlier, when – as I tried to explain to her – I was not actually driving the car. In normal circumstances these days I would have done whatever I could to defuse the situation of this hard bush bitch barking obscenities at me with an apology and a soft smiling heart; but instead I fell into the old trap of answering back. All this is very small beer – except for the fact that, while I was chewing angrily on my ‘burger with lot’ (a very good one actually) from the garage diner, Big hART’s Scott Rankin came up and pressed his thumbs gently into my shoulder blades. In front of the rest of the somewhat-alarmed touring squad. It was a gesture of strategic healing and noteable compassion from, in effect, a stranger. And while this piece of writing is not about Scott Rankin, or the recent trip away, it was an action that – I believe now – goes to the heart of his work.

    What I do want to note however was the ‘Whiteness’ of the woman’s attack on me. It is not how I grew up. Something else not many of you would know: but I was born in 1955 in a tiny colonial hospital on the island of Sohano, which sits in the strait between Buka and Bougainville; islands themselves that for thousands of years belonged culturally to what we now identify as the Solomons, but were hived off at the stroke of  a pen and carelessly handed to the colonial powers (first German, then British, then Australian) holding sway over what we like to call New Guinea. Later down the time-line, of course, trouble has come from that.

    Even though my parents were not a great match for marriage, and trouble unfolded in later years; growing up on those islands, and other outposts around New Guinea and Papua (Saidor, Madang, Kerema, Daru, less so Port Moresby in the later years) was characterized by a peacefulness – an absence of ‘anxiety’ – that I have missed since moving to Sydney for boarding school in 1967. ‘Alienation’ is not given its due as one of the structural posts of late capitalism’s consumerist society. “We grieve therefore we shop.” “We grieve therefore we shoplift.” “We grieve therefore we yell at that other customer in the queue.” We grieve therefore we stab the late-night migrant worker before making off with a packet of cigarettes.”

    It was not until I read Patrick White’s Riders In the Chariot and Tree of Man (syllabus texts) in my late teenage years that I found some help in understanding the weird underpinning of gratuitous cruelty that appears to characterize the Australian culture. However ‘low tech’ they might have been, the towns had grown up in across PNG seemed infinitely more civilized.

    I am not talking about some kind of hifaluting colonial pomposity, of the sort indulged in by the British in India. Life in PNG in those post-WWII years was ‘survival’ based, and even if almost all the European households had ‘staff’, there was a great camaraderie and mutual respect between colonizer and colonized – by and large. Mum would babysit the housegirl’s kids if need be. And kids from the nearby village would be rounded up to flesh out attendance at our birthday parties – where such luxuries as lamingtons, meringues and fairy bread appeared as nutritionally mad, if delicious, to the locals, as they actually are.mMy mother used to say she knew we would always be safe on Bougainville, all three of us little children, however far we wandered. That PNG is no longer such a safe place is an indictment of Australia’s mismanagement of it’s obligations as a colonial power: but that is a story for another time.

    It was profoundly tragic to revisit the place of my birth in 1988 – in the midst of a civil war. Bougainville  PNG. All over a goddam copper mine. I found the tiny hospital I was born in abandoned by staff and taken over by a colony abandoned lepers. It was a confrontation as shocking as it was succinct. I had come to find a lost part of myself: and I did so in the form of one young man who would appear from behind trees and bushes, shouting mad things at me with great enthusiasm as he limped along the track behind me – in the belief I was his long lost brother. Jimi! Jimi! Jimi! Well perhaps I was!

    This dislocation in my sense of self is something I have had to learn to live with. And, apart from the occasional fall from good grace, I have done so. More or less. But it does not take away the sadness; nor does it diminish the suspicion in my eye as I gaze across what is brightly described as Western Culture.

    So you can see why my journey to Ernabella with the Ngapartji Ngapartji mob was such a positive experience for me. In the first instance, there is the Big hART working model, which requires all participants to put their egos in their pockets and work as one. As someone who must still be very careful about how much time I spend in the company of large groups, living close to the ground – 24/7 – in so-called ‘primitive conditions’ – with between twenty and forty people was a great test of my susceptibility to ‘illness’. And for 99.99% of the time, the experience was incredibly positive. I fact I have emerged from the adventure with a much stronger and more secure sense of worth and self. And a more secure sense of calm.

    More significant was the experience of being Ernabella itself, which is so like the towns I grew up in. If dryer. Or quite likely similar to what most of these towns would be like if I visited them today. So many memories came flooding back of living in a ‘bi-cultural’ world. And how comfortable I felt with that. I remembered writing in my diary from Rabaul in 1988: “I feel like a frog put back in his pond”; and there was a touch of the same sensation being in Ernabella too. Though I am not making light of the profound cultural differences between indigenous PNG cultures and those of central Australia.

    Dear me: all the above was intended to be no more than of pre-amble to the ‘subject of the day’ – subjet du jour! Which is meant to be what I made of the Deadly Awards in particular but, in the same week, two other trips to the Sydney Opera House. And another tonight to see/hear Pattie Smith. But, in fact, as the week has unfolded, all these ‘live’ experiences survive in the shadow now of the most significant cultural event since my return. That being the opening two episodes of SBS’s bone-shaking series, The First Australians.

    Are you watching it!

    Since few of us these days have very long attention spans, and there are no pretty pictures to go with this post (sorry kids) I am going to stop here. Leave you hanging, as it were; and I will pick up where I am leaving off tomorrow.

    PS: for those of you who love my site exclusively for Brett’s pictures, I assure you, more are on the way. He had to do a wedding on the weekend (yep you know the movie – The Wedding Photographer). But he is back processing images from Outback-DownUnder as you read this

    ….if you got this far (lol).

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  • 22 Sep 2008 /  Uncategorized

    Three of us got up early on Sunday morning and climbed the largest of the hills embracing our camp. In honour of the local town, Ernabella, we decided to call it Ernie! The view down onto the sleeping camp is fantastic, as is the vista in every other direction. It’s obvious from above how our camp sits on a valley plain of sediment formed over millions of years from the worn-down mountains.

    After making camp – a week ago now! – it has been non-stop for all included in the advance party. This involves three key groups: a tech crew establishing the performance site; a documentary film unit; and some of the senior Ngapartji Ngapartji creatives (which on this project includes logistics and management types):

    Production Manager Mel Robertson Thinking Big

    Key Performer & Co-Creator: Trevor Jamieson
    Writer & Director: Scott Rankin
    Lighting Design: Neil Simpson
    Creative Producer: Alex Kelly
    Filmmaker: Suzy Bates
    Choir Coordinator & Musician: Beth Sometimes
    Production Manager: Mel Robertson
    Stage Manager: Jess Smithett
    Asst. Stage Manager/Ceramicist: Zoe Churchill
    Company Manager: Mariaa Randall
    Production Assts: Nick Higgins, Ben Lambert, Peter Dixon and young Zac

    From the Crew:
    Sound – Neil Fischer
    AV – Sean Bacon

    I’ll put up all the names of those working on the doco next time, with a chat about their work. Oh and not to forget Brett, snapping away with his camera, and me just sitting back and watching everyone work. Well, every now and again they trick me into occasional light duties – like washing up or shooting a kangaroo!

    Bloggist as Hunter Gatherer

    Yep, I can tell you that a couple of days back I shot my first kangaroo. With Brett’s Nikon – boom boom. Fortunately it was already deceased and gone to kangaroo heaven by the time I got to it. Two of Trevor Jamieson’s kin had arrived from Kalgoorlie/Warburton area in the morning and off they went pretty quick smart in one of the tougher vehicles, with film crew guys, Matt Davis (camera) and Stuart Thorne (sound) in the back. Matt’s camera work has taken him to countries across Africa and Asia, including war zones, and he was even working in Burma when the cyclone struck. Matt reckoned this car ride was one of the wildest he’d ever been on. Tjurlu Jackson, at the wheel, carved up the scrub while Lyndon Stevens rode shotgun – striking with devastating accuracy. Trevor – between them on the front seat – oscillated, as the vehicle bounced over the dunes, between his dual identities: a man who loves his traditional culture and, slightly less gung-ho, a leading man of modern Australian theatre.

    Lyndon Stevens with Tjurlu Jackson and other Roo Tucker Fans

    Brett and I were just returning to the camp when Trevor and his brothers passed through on their way to a site to cook up the roos. We followed, kicking into 4-wheel drive, as the real men ahead ignored anything that resembled track. Eventually they skidded to a stop at a site deemed suitable.  To us it looked like nowhere. But, as we quickly discovered, the soil was easy to dig into and there was an abundance of accessible dry wood. In fact, it took only about 30 minutes before the roos were being dipped into hot flame to have their hair singed off.  The animals then taken off the fire until it settled down; before being returned  to the coals to slowly cook way.

    At one point in this process Brett had go return to camp to alert the film crew. It was then, just as kangaroo guts were being carved open, that the onus of visual documentation was placed in my hands. As some of these shots are pretty gory, Brett has put them up on his site on a discrete location. Culturally fascinating, but don’t go there if this is not the sort of thing you want to look at.

    Neil Simpson with Young Zac

    A week of incredible activity began with the production crew heading down to the open-air site in town with a semi-trailer full of gear to unload: the initial task to set up scaffolding. As days went by, sound and lighting was added in, and then several tonnes of rich red sandy-earth was trucked in to create a stage floor.

    The difference between putting up a show like this in a city theatre and out here in the bush is impossible to underestimate, with resourcefulness and extra muscle power but two of the skills regularly called on. Imagine having to set up your own power source, link in your light and sound desks, create scaffolding to hang lights, dig troughs to run wiring, and more: all under a blazing sun and then working way into the late of night.

    On the afternoon of the second day, most of us had a chance to attend rehearsals of one of the other gigs taking place as part of the Ernabella Arts Centre’s 60th anniversary celebrations. This involved a dance for men and another for women. Orlando, the policeman from Umuwa (a town close by) has agreed to take on the challenge of the Emu Dance. He seems to  have quite a touch of Nijinsky about him (a la Firebird!): his hands behind his back to form a tail, his head down in search of tucker, and then looking up a little nervously now and again, keeping an eye out for the threat of dingo. All of us whitefella men on the Ngapartji Ngapartji team were called up by Punch Thompson, a local senior law man, to have a go. The result, as Brett observed was more Chicken Dance. But we had fun and watchers on from the local community a good laugh over our clumsy efforts.

    Orlando on Patrol

    As crew on site worked through the next day, a few of us got a chance this time to sit in on a rehearsal of some of the members of the women’s choir. The choir’s coordinator Beth Sometimes has a long association with Ernabella, and sings in the group with a number of women who are like family to her and have taught her many aspects of language and culture over the years.

    Amanyi (Dora) Haggie with Beth Sometimes

    A number of these women have performed in the show before, including in Sydney at Belvoir Street Theatre last January – where I first saw the show and fell in love with it.

    The Famous Ernabella Backflip!

    By now it’s impossible to say which day it was, but there was a great moment down on the set one afternoon when a small hovering of local kids grew steadily into a crazed storm of riotous play. For us whitefellas from the city there’s some knowledge in these pictures. It’s not all glue sniffing in these communities and the natural athleticism, spirit of community, and love of unstructured play are everywhere to be seen.

    Palya Palya Palya Palya Palya Palya

    This outback adventure is only just over a week old, yet it feels like years of past city life have already fallen away from the likes of Brett and myself.  We watch and listen, and every now and again take instruction from others more familiar than we are with local ways. The pleasure is bountiful, the privilege enormous, and the experience – quite often – beyond words.

    Take a look a more of Brett’s pix.

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  • 20 Sep 2008 /  News

    Activity is gathering pace both at the camping ground and the performance site. The first team of about twenty has settled into various duties; and a new mob arrives today from Alice Springs which will double the size of the campsite. I will post a fulsome report in a couple of days that will give you a look at what has been taking place over Phase One of prep which, in effect, finishes today.

    Film Crew in Action on the Way to Ernabella

    Film Crew in Action on the Road to Ernabella

    Meanwhile, just to let you know if you go to photographer Brett Monaghan‘s site:


    He now has a selection of photos up – covering the road trip down from Alice to Ernabella and the initial set up of the camp. There are lots of fun shots! And yep, everyone already looks like they working pretty hard!

    Each post from now will have a link to a new collection of pictures on Brett’s website.


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  • 19 Sep 2008 /  Articles

    Ngapartji Ngapartji

    I get out of my cosy swag aside the still flickering fire and, as I head over to the vehicle to get something, I notice fresh hoof marks in the red dirt. I thought I had been dreaming, but we must indeed have had a mob of brumbies clatter past in the middle of the night. The evening had been cool and otherwise still – a full moon drifting across, dusk to dawn, from one horizon to the other, like a sacred eye amidst a scattering homage of brilliant stars. I find out later they were wild donkeys: not everything out here is exactly what it seems.

    the drive

    After a seven hours drive from Alice Springs on Sunday, we got in after dark and set up an impromptu base in a rarely used camping ground. A few old buildings include a semi-built shed where I set up a desk. I can see right through the unfinished walls across grassland to khaki hills. This site, a few kilometres outside the township of Ernabella, is surrounded by calm, old, beautifully worn-down mountains wrapping around us like ancient arms in a circle of tender embrace. It is as if we are in nest.

    In a way we are. Such is the camaraderie and spirit of goodwill holding together this cheery group of techies and creatives, admin folk and an entire documentary film crew. Plus a kid and a dog!

    The night before, with most of the team crashed out after a massive first day, a few of us sit around the fire chatting and admiring the hills. The production’s leading actor Trevor Jamieson says that their rounded shapes remind him of country further to the west.


    Ngapartji Ngapartji's Lead Actor Trevor Jamieson

    Over that way, well into central West Australia, similarly rounded mountains belong to an Emu Dreaming. The concept of Dreaming (Tjukurpa) means a lot more to Aboriginal people than to Europeans. I will not have got this exactly right, but the story Trevor told us as we were dozing off goes something like this:

    A flock of young emus have walked a long way when they come across some interesting tucker. They bend down to eat these seeds which make them dopey. One by one they lie down to sleep and never wake up. The roundness of the hills represent the backs of the emus. The emu features strongly in many stories from different locations, often features a ‘law’ aspect, and much contemporary Aboriginal art draws on its symbolic significance in image making.

    Arts center

    If you can picture it, Ernabella sits about 480 kilometre’s south-west of Alice, almost directly under Uluru, on the South Australian side of the border. In 1872 pioneer explorer Ernest Giles passed through the area and wrote: This is a really delightful discovery. In all my wanderings … in Australia I never saw a more fanciful region than this.’

    In 1933, a sheep station was established in Ernabella. The Presbyterian Mission bought the station lease and founded the Ernabella Mission in 1937. While some locals worked on the station, for others the mission served as their first encounter with Europeans.

    Ernabella from Space Station Google

    The Presbyterian Board of Missions established the mission at Ernabella as a buffer against increasingly destructive European expansion into unprotected Indigenous country, and to offer education and medical help. Ernabella mission had a policy of deep respect for traditional culture, best exemplified in their use of a bilingual education policy from the start. School teacher Revd. Ron Trudinger arrived at Ernabella in 1940. He began teaching young Aboriginal children in the local creek bed. Within six weeks he had translated the Lords Prayer into Pitjantjatjara, beginning the bilingual tradition that continues to this day. A remarkable man, Trudinger’s role at the mission over many decades merits particular attention.

    The mission closed in 1973. The Lands were ‘returned’ to Anangu (the people) by the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act 1981 (South Australia) granting them freehold inalienable title to the country which, in fact, they had never left. This ceremony took place on the actual site where we are now camped. Ernabella, now also known as Pukatja, sits close to the centre of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (APY Lands).

    Ernabella sits north of Maralinga, notorious for the atom-bomb testing undertaken by the British, in consultation with Australian government, but not the consent of traditional landowners and residents who were forcibly moved off their country and dumped elsewhere. For those who didn’t make it out in time were locked in by thousand-kilometre fences and died like starved rabbits.Others hid in caves and survived, though illnesses of various sorts have been passed down through generations: this on top of the price indigenous Australians everywhere have paid for having been dislocated from their lands.

    Ernabella Is a town with an extraordinary history. And those of you already following this blogsite will know that this trip has been in the planning for some months. We are here to observe and, in part, document rehearsals in situ of Big hART’s amazing theatre show, Ngapartji Ngapartji about the atom-bomb testing at Maralinga, its immediate impact, but more importantly the long-term effect it has had in terms of cultural dislocation and spiritual alienation on the region’s descendants.

    An outback production line

    The show is coming ‘home’, as it were, and for the first time, after several years to packed houses in fancy theatres at arts festivals in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

    In just over a week, the show will be presented to many locals who, from various perspectives, already know the story. Or at least bits of some of the stories out of which the drama is composed. Various residents of the Ernabella township have been included in the performing ensemble from the beginning

    On this occasion, the production is to be presented on a specially built site in the heart of the town as part of the Ernabella Arts Centre’s 60th anniversary celebrations. Ernabella is famous for many reasons, particularly the fact that in 1948 a building was dedicated to art making, the first of its kind in Australia.

    Ngapartji Ngapartji Writer and Director Scott Rankin with Roxxi

    Big hART's Creative Director Scott Rankin with Roxxi

    Some are travelling great distances to be here including ex-residents – Aboriginal and European. Among the big ex-mission names is retired Deaconess Winifred Hilliard who arrived In Ernabella in 1954 and stayed on teaching and encouraging arts and crafts skills for the next 32 years. Another guest planning to visit is Bill Edwards, one-time Superintendent. But more of all this in the days ahead.

    brett and easton

    Brett with Easton

    At my Desk

    I should report on other activities so far. Three days ago I was greeting photographer Brett Monaghan off a British Airways flight from Milan. He was coming home after eight years and landed with the bulk of his European life in tow: a mere two hundred kilograms in Excess Baggage. We spent that first night repacking; and then by 10am the next morning we were on a Qantas flight to the Centre of Earth. As we descended into Alice the famous vast red earth revealed itself from horizon to horizon.

    The young lady at the Europcar (free plug) desk helped us into our state-of-the-art, all-mod-cons blue Nissan patrol and we were off. Alice has a lovely town centre, flat and square, with neat simply designed buildings set on the bank of the almost always dry Todd River bed. We found where we had to go, the Ngapartji Ngapartji office, where resident company members were milling with various other recent arrivals.

    A day later we were on the road in convoy. About seven vehicles, several towing trailers stuffed with camping gear, food and – you name it. Our vehicle carried a mountain of swags on its roof racks to which I was greatly tempted to tie some grand ribbons of coloured fabric – a la Priscilla. Along with our own gear in the back sat two massive Eskies of butchered meat. If Brett and I got lost, or stuck, or broken down, we knew we could at least survive on raw protein for some time. All the more tasty if one of us could work how to make fire by rubbing together a couple of sticks!

    The Remains of the Day

    The Remains of the Day

    Less carnivorous vehicles specialized in the transport of fruit, vegetables, water, tofu burgers, muesli, tea bags, water, coffee, six varieties of Mountain bread, and whatever else hard-working pioneers carving out culture on the frontier of contemporary arts practice require.

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  • 12 Sep 2008 /  News

    This is a quick howdy to those of you who have already started following this blog. You will know that I am off to Ernabella via Alice Springs in Sunday. It’s not easy getting ready for this (like what to wear?) and keep up with theatrical events in Sydney at the same time. I will ‘write a post’ as soon as I can on the Ensemble Theatre’s lively 2009 program, including mention of the book by John Burfitt just published on the 50-year history of this very special and much loved Sydney theatrical institution.

    Last weekend I got to see Waiting For Garnaut, the Wharf Revue team’s latest political souffle which rises more than twice! It was the opening night of its Paramatta Riverside season. The show is bold and funny and more, and this ‘real centre of the city’ venue is certainly getting into its stride programing-wise. More soon.

    Last night I got to see Damian Millar’s play, The Modern International Dead.  Directed by Chris Mead with a top cast of three:Belinda McClory, Ian Meadows and Colin Moody. Strong stuff. Design by Genevieve Blanchett makes history in creating a new means of entrance onto the tiny Stables theatre stage, after all these decades of use! It allows for fantastic flow of action, a feature of this production. I will write more on this soon as well, but I would like to read the script first.

    I am sorry the season of Scorched at Belvoir is not running into next week. You would have had the choice of three war stories at a venue near you at the same time. What with Women of Troy opening next week at STC. Rumours are already leaking out of the usually watertight STC environment. Apparently, if any of us think we have got the measure of Barrie Kosky – we ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Word out too, is that La Nevin is seizing this rare and timely opportunity to go to the edge her acting possibilities and beyond.  What with sharing the stage with Melita Jurisic, back from her years in Vienna, one anticipates ‘performance’ is going to be a compelling highlight of Kooky’s (cf: Kosky spellcheck – lol) latest.

    I will be away out in the desert with Ngapartji mob when this show opens. But Women of Troy will definitely be my first port of call on my return to the big smoke. So long as the Sydney Theatre is still standing and has not been razed to the ground by either the literal or metaphorical pyrotechnics.

    Desert Wear - Made Entirely of Mortein Molocules!

    Cerruti Desert Wear - Made Entirely of Mortein Molocules!

    What do you think of my specially designed ‘Outfit for the Outback’?

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  • 02 Sep 2008 /  Articles

    “What else should our lives be but a series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become.” David Malouf


    Your Complimentary Cocktail!

    Party Up!

    Thanks for accepting the invite to meet up on the first page of my new venture. Ideally you are a mini-throng of some of my favourite people oscillating in cyberspace together, free radicals, enjoying the complimentary avatar drink and a savoury plate promised by Miss Docker. Yet to arrive - apparently she’s stuck somewhere up on the Old Northern Road…

    I guess I want to tell you what has led me to make this move into cyberspace, a world of alternate realities as diverse in content as a Mexico City rubbish tip piled high - truckfuls of postmodern junk – over Aztec ruins. Not that I would dare to ‘privilege’ the past by suggesting earlier civilizations were better (though some probably were, and this current one may well be the last for a while- lol).

    Since I can’t get a job these days working for the Egyptians carving ibises into stone, or misspelling Shakespeare’s plays as one of the inebriated team working on the ‘composition’ of his Folio Edition; nor it seems is there a place for many of us any more in established print media…well I better kick-start my own dance party! Get my own printing press whirring. A New Beginning as it were – to cite one of my favourite creatives, the Danish painter Kristian von Hornsleth.


    'A New Beginning': Painting by Kristian von Hornsleth

    Get A Real Job

    I have enjoyed my days in the sun: for example, an excellent run at the National Times in its heyday. Being the drama critic for that most influential publication of the 1980s was heady stuff. Passionate I might have been, but way young. That was a ride.

    I also had a good run  in the 1990s as drama critic at the Sydney Morning Herald. Until I fell foul with various city burghers. Bob Carr once told me he heard I was fired because I dumped on Les Miserables big time. Bob added brightly he couldn’t think of a ’better reason’ for being fired from the SMH’s critic’s desk. I think there was a bit more to it. Maybe I’ll upload some of the letters from the NOT‘orchestrated’ campaign. The one from James Strong is paticularly hilarious.

    I have had other writing and editing jobs, including stints on the Arts Pages at Vogue, guest editing a few editions of Australian Style and writing freelance for newspapers and magazines across the country. I’ve done some teaching at uni. I’ve also cut grass, poured beers, and served in a carvery wearing a big white hat. In my only stint as a waiter – at Joe Allen in London - my first and last customer was John Cleese! The Manuel in me took over in a hilarious cacophony of dropped cutlery and I never even got to serve a second customer.

    Stories From Theatre People

    I have a wonderful job these days as an interviewer for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History Program. These are ‘in-depth’ voice interviews with ‘eminent Australians’ or on a ‘social history’ theme. Since 1993, I have worked on a project called ‘Australia’s Response to AIDS’, which has been drawn on for research purposes now quite a few times. This now extensive collection of interviews was used in research for a powerful doco – Rampant: How a City Stopped a Plague – which screened on ABC TV late last year.

    More recently I was approached by the National Library to take up a new subject area and, with Bill Stephens, we are undertaking an extensive series of interviews with Australia’s leading theatre arts professionals. Among those completed so far are conversations with Arthur Dignam, Nico Lathouris, Brian Thomson, Jane Harders, Rob Brookman, Sue Ingleton, Dennis Watkins, Jackie Kott, Richard Murphett, Joseph Skrzynski, Jennifer Claire, Melissa Jaffer, Monica Maughan, Bob Hornery, John Krummel, Rose Jackson, Ken Horler, John Bell, Betty Lucas and Ron Haddrick.

    What About Writing?

    There is still that little bit of me that likes to write, however, and since the collapse of The Bulletin, not long back, I haven’t found anywhere suitable. What I think might be a good story seems to be at odds with current editorial tastes.

    You would think being the only ‘non-member’ to be invited to the Scarlett Alliance (sex-worker’s union) annual general meeting – held this year in Kalgoorlie! – would have attracted interest. I pitched the story to every outlet I could think, noting that Australia’s oldest surviving Madame happens to live in Perth; and that WA only recently legalised prostitution. No bites.


    Front Entrance - Perth Brothel: Photo by Julie Bates

    Since returning to the city of Sydney, two ago, after half a decade out of town on some acres with horses and dogs, and a somewhat wayward ‘other half’, I have been doing some writing on theatre for www.australianstage.com.au

    If you are not yet aware of this site I recommend it. I was given some great writing chances, including a review of Ngapartji Ngapartji, by Big hArt, which played at Belvoir last Sydney Festival. I count it among the most fascinating theatre events I have ever encountered.


    Ngapartji at Belvoir: Photo by Big hArt

    Ngapartji Mob

    I have since made friends with the Big hArt mob ho created the show and am currently preparing for a trip out to a small town called Ernabella, four hundred kilometres south-west of Alice Springs. It’s the 60th anniversary of Ernabella’s Arts Centre. The Ngapartji mob is there for two weeks to re-rehearse the show in advance of performances to be held over the celebratory dates of 23/24 September.

    No one in the print media has been interested in this story either. This seemed a squandering of a great opportunity, and a bit of a let down to the Big hArt team who have opened up their creative process to my perusal. Hence the final impulse to set up my blogsite now. I am travelling with photographer Brett Monaghan who is returning from Milan where he has been shooting mostly fashion for the past eight years. We work well together; it should be a fun trip. And I hope to file reports on this site daily, or as close to daily as technology and other challenges allow. I hope to see you around these parts again.

    Meanwhile, get yourself another drink! Unfortunately, the catering has been dismembered. Miss Docker has had a messy encounter with a pack of dogs and will be missing the party, as usual.

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