• 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 DRINK!

    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.

    'NEW BEGINNINGS': PAINTING by 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.

    PERTH BROTHEL HIDDEN AWAY IN SUBURBIA: PHOTO by JULIE BATES

    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 NGAPARTJI AT BELVOIR STREET THEATRE: PHOTO by Big hArt

    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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