One of the delights of this year’s WOMADelaide’s 30th anniversary celebrations was the strong First Nations presence ripping up the stages around Tainmuntilla.
With acts such as Kutcha Edwards, Baker Boy, A.B. Original, Dhungala Baarka (Nancy Bates, Allara, Corey Theatre and Daniel J Marquez), Emma Donovan and the Putbacks, King Stingray and Barkaa, along with up and coming duo Marlon X Rulla; WOMADelaide was certainly celebrating its legacy of providing a platform for First Nations artists to tell us some uncomfortable truths through music over three decades. You can’t help but wonder whether we would now be experiencing the current flourishing of the indigenous music scene across Australia without this iconic festival.
It was therefore fitting that homegrown duo Electric Fields was amongst the stellar 2022 line up, holding court in its own right on Stage 3 during blockbuster Sunday. Their performance was a striking and haunting merging of traditional culture with electronic music, featuring special guests the Antara singers and Tjarutja First Nations Dance Collective. It was powerful stuff.
It seems impossible to believe that it has been five years (2017) since Electric Fields last graced the WOMADelaide stage and the 2022 performance provided an opportunity to appreciate just how far this duo have progressed. While this was a triumphal return, you can’t help but feel that they are on the precipice of something even greater. The stars are still definitely on the ascendant here and I for one am still wishing for their Eurovision moment.
Zaachariaha Fielding is always a captivating and compelling presence on stage with the voice of an absolute angel, and on this balmy Adelaide autumn night he ensured he owned the crowd, superbly backed up by the Michael Ross’s keyboards. There is a wonderful alchemy that is weaved together which the hometown crowd just lapped up. You are continually amazed at just how this duo continues to find ways to further push the boundaries for Indigenous music, particularly the use of language with lyrics weaving between English, Anangu, Pitjantjatjara and Yunkunyjatjara. This is reconciliation and truth telling combined in the purest sense.
With a song list that included Lore Woman, Pukulpa, a new track Catastrophe and Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good), they tapped into the emotion and movement which was further enhanced by the Antara singers and Tiarutia First Nations Dance Collective to build up to the ultimate crescendo, their moving version of the Paul Kelly/Kev Carmody song, From Little Things Big Things Grow.
It seemed fitting to close out WOMADelaide’s 30th birthday anniversary party with a glorious homecoming performance by the iconic Paul Kelly.
Adelaide-born Kelly had been part of the inaugural WOMADelaide line up back in 1992 when it was conceived at the time as a special one-off event as part of Director Rob Brookman’s Adelaide Festival program. Little did we all know that this world music and dance event would become an central part of our festival season producing so many magical moments over three decades.
WOMADelaide and Kelly are a seemingly perfect fit for each other which made it hard to believe as the master stepped out onto Foundation Stage on Monday night with the brilliant Vika and Linda Bull providing back up vocals, that it was his first appearance back at Tainmuntilla/Botanic Park since 2006. As he said, “it has been a long time between drinks.”
This was to be a night of pure classics, kicking off with Finally Something Good before moving back to the 20th century catalogue with Before Too Long, Careless and Love Never Runs on Time. By this stage the adoring crowd having been in party mode over the past four days didn’t need much prompting to be in full flight.
But it wasn’t all just a greatest hits package, known for bringing issues to the fore, Kelly introduced a brand new song on the Northern Rivers, enabling us to all consider the current flood situation and the impact of climate change.
Then it was back to the party, with Firewood and Candles before Linda Bull provided some vocal magic with Smells Like Rain.
Monday’s performance provided Kelly a chance to reminisce including how From St Kilda to Kings Cross was written on Cold Chisel’s Don Walker’s piano in Sydney, while living at the keyboardist’s house or the summer Sundays spent after mass at Norwood pool before performing Deeper Water.
It was during these reflective moments that despite the large stage setting and crowd, Kelly was able to provide a sense of intimacy and gentleness to the night.
Known as Australia’s rock poet laureate, it is easy to see why with Kelly able to delve into a prolific four decade career to include such legendary songs as To Her Door, Leaps and Bounds (complete with a Shane Warne tribute), Dumb Things and the modern Christmas carol How to Make Gravy in the set.
The finale, fittingly was the powerful land rights anthem From Little Things Big Things Grow, co-written with Kev Carmody, complete with some superb yidaki from Russell Smith to close out the almost two hour set.
After four days filled with wonderful performances, this masterclass performance was just the cream on top. WOMADelaide may not have had the international mix of previous years thanks to COVID but the Australian focus provided an opportunity to reflect on the depth of our own musical talent, particularly the rising dominance of our First Nations artists, something Kelly himself has been instrumental in bringing forth.
Happy anniversary WOMADelaide and here’s to the next 30 years.
We are just simple musicians, all we can do is amplify your voice.
Shane Howard to WOMADelaide audience – Sunday, 13 March 2022.
And wow what an amplification of that voice Goanna provided to the WOMADelaide crowd on Sunday night with its triumphal 40th anniversary celebration of the iconic Spirit of Place album.
It seemed fitting that they returned to an Adelaide stage at WOMADelaide. The event itself marking a milestone with its 30th anniversary and a celebration of its return to its spiritual home at Botanic Park, a place in which artists and musicians have amplified a global message for three decades.
Back in 1982 I was an idealistic 16 year old starting to develop my own political consciousness when Spirit of Place hit our airwaves that November. It is therefore no surprise this album has resonated deeply within me, confirming a growing belief I had back then that this continent had a deeper story that needed to be told. It was and remains groundbreaking stuff.
There has been much progress in amplifying that deeper story and awareness since then, evident by the strong presence of First Nations artists at this year’s WOMADelaide. With a line up list featuring Baker Boy, A.B. Original, Kutcha Edwards, Emma Donovan (with The Putbacks), Zaccahria Fielding (Electric Fields) and Barkaa along with Nancy Bates, Allara and Corey Theatre for the world premiere of Dhungala Baarka and up and coming duo Marlon X Rulla, First Nations artists are loudly and proudly proclaiming their space, often in language, not to mention dominating the charts. Goanna, along with fellow contemporaries Midnight Oil and Paul Kelly (who was also part of the 2022 WOMADelaide line up) set the pathway for this flourishing of First Nations voice.
For all that progress, there is still much that needs to be done to remove the white lens from our collective consciousness such as constitutional recognition for our First Nations people and a treaty. So while 40 years may have passed the messages of Spirit of Place still resonate.
You’re standin’ on solid rock
Standin’ on sacred ground
Livin’ on borrowed time
And the window of change
Are blowin’ down the line
Right done the line.
(Goanna, Solid Rock)
The path towards reconciliation over the past four decades was very much part of Sunday night’s musical celebration with Gumbaynggirr artist Emma Donovan joining the band, straight from her own powerful set on Stage 2, for a mighty and soulful version of Stand Yr’ Ground.
Not only did Spirit of Place dare to question the colonial-settler history of the early 80’s but also recognised the growing environmental movement that was starting to take hold. The headlines at the time dominated by the protests over a proposal to dam Tasmania’s Franklin river, a campaign that led to one of the first significant wins for the environment movement in Australia and the emergence of a new political party – The Greens – led by Dr Bob Brown. Little did I know back then that 17 years later I too would become involved in the Tasmanian forestry wars.
It was therefore fitting that local singer-singer and Redgum frontman – John Schumann – who also contributed musicially to the rising political conscious of the same era, came up on stage to share the vocal duties on the environmental anthem Let the Franklin Flow.
Spirit of Place is one of those rare albums where all the tracks are fine works in their own right, there are no fillers here, something we were all reminded about on Saturday’s night.
Yet it is the powerhouse anthem as it was back in 1982 – Solid Rock – that remains the album’s seminal track. Donovan and Schuman once again rejoining the band onstage along with Yidaki didgeridoo virtuoso William Barton for an incredible finale of this searing song.
This was one powerful and epic performance with a deeply emotional message of hope.
When the 2022 Adelaide Festival program was announced back in November last year, little did anyone anticipate that it would be held against the backdrop of a Russian autocrat waging war in Europe.
The centrepiece of the 2022 festival, this brilliant and surreal Adelaide Festival/Festival dÁix-en-Provence co-production has become a timely reminder of the folly of war.
Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov composed his “pretty fairy tale” in 1906-07 against an increasingly difficult political situation in Tsarist Russia that included the 1905 Revolution and the Russo-Japanese war. Using Alexander Pushkin’s 1835 tale of the same name as inspiration, Rimsky-Korsakov’s satirical morality fable was clearly aimed at Tsar Nicholas II. It is therefore no surprise that the piece initially fell foul of the Russian censors, not to be performed until October 1909, a year after the composer’s death.
While rarely performed since, it is still nevertheless a surprise that over a century later Adelaide finally plays host to the Australian premiere of the work.
This is a wildly imaginative and seductive production, directed by the indomitable Barry Kosky.
We open to the stripped back and breathtakingly simple set by Rufus Didwiszus with British-Ukrainian baritone Pavlo Hunka as Tsar Dodon, lamenting for glories past. Now a foolish old man he listens to the counsel of his even more witless sons Aphron (Samuel Dundas) and Gvidon (Samuel Dundas), ignoring the sensible advice coming from his best general Polkan, sung by Mischa Schelomianski, dressed as a horse. Mention must go here to the clever and imaginative costumes by Victoria Behr that emphasise Rimsky-Korsakov’s satirical themes.
In the end it is up to a glittering guardian, the golden cockerel (Matthew Whittet onstage and sung offstage by Samantha Clarke) a gift from the astrologer (Andrei Popov), to protect the land. A recipe for disaster as he is seduced by the gorgeous and seductive Queen of Chemakha (Venera Gimadieva).
The star of the show is Rimsky-Korsakov’s music, its magic brilliantly captured by Estonian conductor Argo Volmer with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. It is a richly melodic and kaleidoscopic soundscape that transports you, while at the same time reflecting a sexiness to it particularly during the seduction scene between the Queen of Chemakha and Tsar Dodon.
In fact it is this scene where Dodon, mocked and humiliated by Queen Chemakha, making him essentially impotent, that brings in parallels with King Lear.
In the end we are told that this is but a fairy tale and that only the astrologer and the Queen are real – but are they? Who is dreaming? Is this a dream within a dream? The first casualty of war is truth and the same could be said for politics, even back in 1905 Rimsky-Korsakov was questioning the official line.
With the nightmare unfolding in Ukraine, it is impossible to watch this production of The Golden Cockerel without thinking about the impact of Russia’s invasion and what it could potentially mean for us all and which only heightens the response to this stunning and emotional work. This is richly textured feast of music, staging and movement.
One of the smash hits of the 2021 Adelaide Festival, local physical theatre troupe Gravity and Other Myths (GOM), returned in style to open this year festival with world premiere of the beautiful and at times haunting Macro.
Co-commissioned by Adelaide Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival to mark the Scottish event’s 75th anniversary, Macro is designed as a cross cultural collaboration with GOM combining with the Djuki Marla First Nations dance group, local youth vocal ensemble Aurora and Scottish folk musicians Aiden O’Rourke (fiddle), Kathleen MacInnes (vocals) and Brighde Chaimbeul (pipes).
It seemed fitting, given the show’s location at Adelaide Oval’s Village Green, for joint Adelaide Festival artistic director Neil Armfield to lead a minute’s silence to mark the death of cricket legend Shane Warne, a moment where the arts and sport intertwined.
It was then on with the show with a moving Kaurna welcome by Karl Winda Telfer and Yellaka emphasising the spirit and cultural significance of place as the Macro performers traversed the aisles and stage to be cleansed by fire.
Macro has a strong link to GOM’s award winning 2021 Adelaide Festival production of The Pulse containing very similar elements between the two shows, particularly the collaboration with Aurora. Yet for all the similarities there are points of difference most notably the involvement of Djuki Mala and the Scottish folk trio.
Macro is an ambitious show, but you couldn’t help but wonder if the Village Green setting really did it justice. With the 7000 plus audience spread out across the green it did feel at times as though the connection between the audience and performers was lost. For all its promise there were moments when you felt you were waiting on something that just didn’t eventuate. Fit for purpose staging, either in the round or raised audience seating would have suited this production better.
However despite these challenges there were some hits, such as the comic relief provided by Djuki Mala and the unique Australian/Celtic soundscape. A big highlight was the beautiful and haunting duet featuring MacInnes singing in Gaelic and Ekrem Phoenix in Turkic, accompanied by a graceful contemporary movement sequence by Djuki Mala. There were times you also couldn’t help but hold your collective artistic breath as the GOM performers defied the laws of gravity with their acrobatic skills.
If the Edinburgh Festival provides the right staging Macro will be a mind blowing birthday celebration. This is a production that brings together people and cultures together and after all isn’t that the main premise of an arts festival? That is definitely something worth celebrating.
When it feels as though the world is turning on its axis, it seems serendipitious in timing for the public art installation Groundswell, located in Rundle Mall during this year’s Adelaide Festival.
It is the third of Adelaide Festival’s interactive public art works in the mall, following on from Tatzu Nishi’s A Doll’s House and Robin Frohardt’s The Plastic Bag Store.
Created by Melbourne artist Matthias Schack-Arnott, it is a beautiful auditory sculptural and interactive experience that prompts a mediation on our relationship with the earth and one another.
The rocking and rolling of the platform with its auditory vibrations does indeed makes one feel very unsteady while the 50,000 steel balls that roll underneath its clear surface and the accompanying atmospheric music provides a juxtaposition that reflects the anxiety one feels when things feel out of kilter.
While the world starts to emerge out of the pandemic, crisis is still around. The threat of climate change remains very real and with the Adelaide Festival now occurring against the backdrop of the Russian/Ukrainian conflict and the east coast floods, it seems this work provides you with permission to acknowledge just how wobbly the world is.
Following its premiere during the 2021 Sydney Festival, this Adelaide Festival season is only its second outing, a planned installation for the 2021 Melbourne Fringe cancelled due to the Victorian Delta outbreak.
While the work has been out in public against the backdrop of COVID, Groundswell is not a pandemic work.
“I actually started working on the piece about a year before the pandemic and the conceptualisation had well and truly already been done when COVID struck,” said Schack-Arnold.
However it is a work influenced by crisis, in particular the climate crisis. I was wanting to reflect on our collective responsibility and decision making, to provide a sense on the impact that each of us have on the spaces we inhabit.
“Of course what was really interesting was that we ended up totally aligning with the pandemic. We have now all found ourselves in situations where our choices have repercussions on each other in so many different ways.”
Schack-Arnott said one of the best things about the Groundswell experience was how multiplicious the responses has been to the work.
“People draw the own individual conclusions about the meaning of the work. Because it is a physical experience it provides for a different kind of thinking – when you engage with the work you think through your body. The work therefore speaks to people in vastly different ways which I like.
“I was a bit nervous coming to Adelaide as the Sydney run had been impacted by COVID so this was the first time it really was being experienced to its full potential.”
Groundswell is a family friendly experience. For all its intentions as a reflective piece on crisis, there is a lightness to the work with the giggling joy of children running around the platform clearly enjoying the roller coaster ride. Their exuberance very much adding to the soundscape, providing a reminder that while things might be topsy turvy, we can still find silver linings or rays of hope.
“It’s been nice to see how positive the reaction from children has been,”Schack-Arnott said. “I wanted to make it a very engaging interactive experience even for two year olds – that was my aim – however I didn’t undertake much testing with kids on it beforehand so I was quite nervous when we first installed it.
“However to see how consistently kids have reacted to it has been great. They seem to love it and respond to it in different ways, particularly physically. They are also prepared to engage with it differently either by lying on their back, putting their ears to the surface or just rolling across it.”
For Schack-Arnott, simplicity was key in its design. The work is based on an ocean drum (a small drum with ball bearing inside and used by musicians to create wave like sounds). As a percussionist and improviser its natural for him that the experience of visceral sound is at the heart of the work.
“With the low frequency waves of vibration I wanted to create a sense of flux,” he said.
“Migratory patterns, climate crisis or even COVID, all these things exist in a state of flux. Nothing is permanent. I wanted to capture this sense that even when we think things are in our control, they’re probably just on the edge of chaos. And there’s a beauty to that.”
Groundswell, Adelaide Festival.
Gawker Place, Rundle Mall
Runs until Sunday, 20 March
Sunday: 11am – 5pm
**except public holiday Monday, 14 March: 11am-5pm
Dr Gill Hicks more than anyone understands the power of the brain.
It is therefore not surprising that the 2021 Adelaide Fringe Award winner makes a powerful return to the 2022 Fringe leading a team of neurologists, musicians, visual artists and wellbeing experts to take us on a 45 minute magical ride through a most fascinating part of the brain – the hippocampus.
The human brain is the most powerful part of us that makes us well, human, yet it is also in some ways the least known part of us.
With much discussion in recent years on the close correlation between the rise of the digital world and a slow down in our cognitive function, it was refreshing to attend Music Art Discussion’s fascinating celebration of the brain Hippocampus.
For quick background, the hippocampus is actually the part of the brain that continues to grow and develop – neurogenesis. So yes we truly can regenerate our brains. Just like Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz it is possible to get a new brain.
At the beginning of the show, Hicks recounts how she became fascinated by the power of the brain. While undergoing her rehabilitation during the aftermath of the London bombings her physiotherapist revealed that in fact it is 90% of the brain controls walking. Who knew?
The creative driving force behind the show, Hicks has collaborated with cognitive neuroscientist Dr Fiona Kerr and wellbeing educator Annie Harvey to offer us all an insight in the complexity and utter brilliance that is the human mind.
But this is definitely no dull scientific lecture – entertainment is key here. You can’t help but engage with the Julian Ferraretto’s beautiful music especially composed for the show. There are even moments where you are actively encouraged to clap along and become part of the rhythm making.
The story and music is further enhanced by digital artist Max Brading and visual artist Mike Worsman who have cleverly combined to create a powerful imagery, encouraging you ponder on the various messages and imagery that flash up on the screens.
The Lab was the perfect venue for this richly layered immersive experience of sound, music and light. It is very much a thinking show, as you would expect for a production that offers an insight in just how brilliant this organ is.
From the outset, as you sit on the pink exercise balls that doubles for seating you know that this is no ordinary show. It doesn’t take long for you inner child to emerge as you bounced up and down on the balls waiting for the show to start. It also provided the perfect opportunity to undertake chair dancing at its finest as Ferraretto’s foot tapping music takes effect. There was no fear of breaking the COVID rules here.
At the end of the day Hippocampus is very much a thinking show and as you leave the theatre you do feel enlightened, reflecting not only on how important but just how amazing the old brain is. It is the very essence of life itself.
Having virtually sold out during its very short Fringe season I hope that Hicks and Music Art Discussion look to stage Hippocampus again into the future and kick start more discussions into the power of the brain.
West Coast Gem (Acoustic Sessions at Sinclair’s Gully)
Sunday, 20 February 2022
One of the joys Adelaide Fringe provides are the opportunities for emerging artists.
As part of its spirit of egalitarianism, this is a festival that is open to all artists no matter where they are in their career trajectory.
So it was a delight and a privilege to be among the audience in the natural ampitheatre at Sinclair’s Gully Winery at Norton Summit as part of their Acoustic Sessions series to hear Adelaide-based Wirangu singer-songwriter Kenneth Wilson make his debut Fringe performance.
While Sunday’s acoustic performance was Wilson’s first solo show, he is no stranger to the stage having supported fellow Adelaide-based singer-songwriter, mentor and close friend Glenn Skuthorpe at gigs around town.
From the opening song My Ancestry, inspired by his first journey to country, it is apparent that Wilson’s Wirangu heritage is a vital part of his heart and outlook with the with the Dreaming stories providing a strong influence to his writing.
Sinclair Gully’s Winery might be a long way from Wirangu country, it was apparent quite early during the performance that spirit was alive and well as the candlebark forest backdrop and the black cockatoo song provided a fitting accompaniment to Wilson’s music. It all combined to create an atmosphere that was just pure magic.
This was an emotional performance.
However Wilson is also prepared to bring us all back to the 21st century with his commentary on the issues impacting many First Nations communities including alcoholism, racism and incarceration through such works as My Soul and Follow Your Dreams. This is the power of music.
Whenever there is music, love is never far away and Wilson ponders on the people who come into your life and help you through the hard times through love with the beautiful Sweet Memories.
So it was fitting that ultimately this was an afternoon about friends and family, with Wilson supported by close pals Skuthorpe and Hawker-based Nurungga Adnyamathanha country music singer-songwriter Warren Milera. Wilson is a skilled raconteur who was more than happy to share to the audience stories of his life including show these musical brothers in arms came into each other’s lives.
Music influences were also revealed through Wilson’s choices of cover songs that were interspersed through the set including Stand By Me, Under the Boardwalk, Brown Eyed Girl, Hotel California and Country Roads. These golden tunes provided the audience with a chance to sing along and to celebrate in the joy of art.
There is talk about the possibility of a CD on the way and I for one hope that this becomes a reality and we get to hear more of Wilson and his thoughts on life and creativity.
Acoustic Sessions at Sinclair’s Gully, Adelaide Fringe
Whenever someone talks to me about Tracy Chapman, my memory immediately turns to her stunning breakthrough performance at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert at Wembley Stadium in 1988.
It was a revelation. Relatively unknown at the time and appearing almost waiflike on stage, it was riveting to watch the Wembley crowd embrace her powerful words and music. We were witness to the arrival of a compelling performer.
You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we can make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me, myself, I got nothing to prove
Tracy Chapman, Fast Car
For 11 year old Nancy Bates, at the time under guardianship in NSW, the impact on listening to Fast Car for the first time was profound, sparking a lifelong interest in the American singer.
Still Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution is the second Fringe outing that the Adelaide-based singer songwriter and proud Barkindij woman, has produced to celebrate and share the power that resonates in the music of Tracy Chapman, building upon her successful 2021 Fringe show Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution.
The influence of Chapman on Bates’ music resonates deeply, with her own body of work addressing similar socially active topics such as race relations, growing up poor, black and in care, the impact of domestic violence and caring for Mother Earth. It is no surprise that Bates was a finalist in the 2021 Australian Women in Music Humanitarian Award.
Still Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution reminds us that all these are universal themes that we all need to address and consider. No matter where we live.
Focusing and reminding us of the power and universality of Chapman’s songs, enables Bates’ to pay homage to her inspiration, wonderfully supported by Dave McEvoy (piano), Flik Freeman (bass), Kyrie Anderson (drums) and Tom Kneebone (guitar).
Bates’ passion for Chapman’s music and her own belief that change needs to happen permeates throughout the show, making the atmosphere in the Arts Theatre seem more akin to a church revival meeting than a concert. The sense of a desire for change was palpable among the audience, you can’t help but embrace the excitement and vision that Bates was sharing. We weren’t not just Still Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution here, the feeling was that the revolution needs to occur and now. The time for talk is over.
As Bates tells the audience – Tonight for me is about reactivating our privilege.
A clear sign of change in the air was the inclusion of Auslan interpreters in the production to the delight of the deaf members of the audience. The joy on their faces as they were able to fully participate in the show through interpreted lyrics was a sheer highlight of the night. Bates is once again leading the charge for more inclusivity in performance, and I only hope more artists around Adelaide join her to incorporate Auslan as part of their shows. Now what a world would that make.
From Fast Car, we moved into the issue of gun control and its impact on race relations with Bang Bang Bang, while the show’s theme of rising up was further reflected upon with She’s Got A Ticket. On a softer side Give Me One Reason, provides the hopeful reminder that love is still all around before we come to the crescendo of the night with the still all powerful Talkin About a Revolution. A message just as relevant in 2022 as it was in 1988.
As she had done in 2021, Bates once again passionately reminds us of the power of Tracy Chapman. We need to listen to the music and words of both these remarkable artists and look at how we can embrace the change that needs to come.
With one show remaining on Thursday, 24 February this is a performance that should not be missed.
Still Talkin’ About A Revolution, Adelaide Fringe.
Arts Theatre, 59 Angas St, Adelaide – Wednesday, 16 March at 8pm
Story telling whether through word or song has been with a part of the human psyche for millennia.
Without story there would be no culture.
Putting words to song has always been a natural fit and a most powerful way to convey a message and emotion all in one.
Putting words to song has always been a natural fit and a most powerful way to convey a message and emotion all in one.
This synergy of spoken word, songwriting and performance with a compelling theme of reconciliation is behind the Fringe show River Dreaming.
Adelaide-based musician, Nhunggabarra, Kooma and Muruwari artist Glenn Skuthorpe has combined with Orroroo’s A.B “Ben” Eggleton, known as the “Bard of the Scrub”, to create a magical soundscape reflecting their joint love of story telling.
For Eggleton, River Dreaming is not the first time his poetry has been put to music. In 2016 he worked with Tarlee musician Geoff Drummond to produce a complementary CD to his first book Bard from the Scrub.
However River Dreaming is a dream come true for Eggleton. The genesis of the production dating back to January 2021 when he collaborated with Adelaide-based musician Chris Goodall, of Chris Goodall Music to compose music and lyrics to create an initial work, Fourty Thousand Secrets.
Goodall and Eggleton further collaborated to produce a video of Eggleton’s poem My River of Dreams with Goodall’s music. This music became a song River of Dreams, with vocals and music by Goodall with Eggleton providing backup vocals.
It was then at a 2021 Valentine Day’s show at Norton Summitf, organised by Sue and Shaun Delaney of Sinclair Gully’s Winery that Skuthorpe came across the “Bard from the Scrub”. It was manager and promoter Emma Rennie who came up with the River Dreaming title.
It seems that the recognition of the poet in both Skuthorpe and Eggleton was instant.
“I have always loved poetry and English literature, particularly William Blake, Oscar Wilde and John Keats,” said Skuthorpe. “So when I heard I first heard Ben, it was such an Australian voice and so beautiful, it really resonated with me.
“I knew immediately that we could do something together, put some music to his words, let it flow through and we have proceeded to where we are now.”
Both Skuthorpe and Eggleton are known individually for producing emotive work, evoking the wide open plains, deep blue sky and meandering river ways of the Australian countryside, illustrating their deep connection to this continent.
Combining this creativity just makes the message more powerful.
They are both river men, the Bokhara River runs through Skuthorpe’s hometown of Goodooga in New South Wales, while Eggleton hails from the River Murray town of Robinvale, Victoria. You might be able to take the boys away from the river but it is clear that it remains a vital part of their essence.
In Goodooga the river was a central part of growing up and has resulted in being a theme in much of my work
It flows. From the opening chords you are immediately taken to the river bank, you can sense and feel the light dappling across the water and the wind rustling through the trees as Eggleton breaks into his opening poem Ghost Moon Shadows, written especially for this show. There is a sense of timeliness. The river has been here long before us and will continue (hopefully) long after. This is just a brief snapshot of time.
In putting together his music to Eggleton’s words, in collaboration with bassist Doug Petherick, Lainie Jamieson (keyboards) and Dave Branton (drums); Skuthorpe was conscious of capturing the essence of Eggleton’s poetry.
“What we tried to accomplish and actually I think we did accomplish was to ensure the music truly reflected what the story was all about,” he said.
“When you sit behind a very good poet it makes the job so much easier.”
The River has seen the good and the bad, including the blood that has been shed. Skuthorpe from his songbook addresses the pain and ongoing impact of colonialism with Roll My 7 and the contemplative No More Whispering, while Eggleton kicks in with the haunting 40,000 secrets. There is no blame here just a clear statement of the fact. Powerful stuff.
Yet for all this River Dreaming is a positive show with a core theme – the hope of Reconciliation – eloquently put forward by Eggleton in his poem We Are One.
When you join black and white together, you don’t get grey, you get harmony and peace.
A.B. “Ben” Eggleton
“This was something that we both wanted to explore with this show and I think we have made it a central part of our joint voice,” said Eggleton.
As we wind further along the river journey in the latter part of the show, Skuthorpe leads us all into an embrace of this wide land with his final two songs Under the Fire Sign and Moon Rising, interspersed by Eggleton’s final poem, River of Dreams. The essence of Australia permeates through Skuthorpe’s music and Eggleton’s words and we are taken not only along the river, but also across the plains and the mountains. This continent might be bigger than all of us but essentially it is also a part of us.
Listening to each other, understanding and sharing stories is what makes community and connectedness. Skulthorpe and Eggleton with their performance reminds us of the power of art, words and conversation.
River Dreaming is simply reconciliation in action and a must see. It is a vision, of the past, present and more importantly – the future – rolled into one.
River Dreaming, Adelaide Fringe.
Sinclair’s Gully Winery, Norton Summit – Friday 18 March at 7.30pm
Eliza Hall at Payinthi (Prospsect Town Hall), Sunday, 20 March at 7.30pm
In recent days I have had the chance to ponder over how as creatives we emotionally connect with the creativity of others.
It began with a work conversation about how and when reading has resulted in very public tears. This then led me to think further about my connections and reponses to art, either as the giver or the receiver of the creativity.
This thought process then went one step further when a couple of friends and I went to see a local singer songwriter perform, whose emotionally engaging music I have only just recently discovered. As I listened to the music and words and music waft through the air in the dimly lit room of the hotel I couldn’t help but wonder whether my reaction to the words and music I was hearing was in keeping with the spirit of their creation.
Such contemplations now has me wondering – in regards to my own writing – the exchange between myself as the creator and the audience or recipient of my work. Until now something I have never seriously contemplated.
What is the very nature of that pact? What if your audience – whether as a listener, reader or viewer – emotionally engages with your work in a way that is vastly different to what you intended?
Just how much say can we have on how someone emotionally engages with your work and do we just accept that is the joy of the creative exchange?
At then end of the day are we creatives essentially just providing an outlet for us all – whether as giver or receiver – to express emotion?
Let’s face it when putting forth our creations, whether it is a piece of writing, a song, a screenplay or play or visual art work; the fact is that it always comes with an element of the personal. It was something that took me a while to admit with my writing. However this acknowledgement also makes putting your work “out there” a scary concept.
Is that why the creative exchange can also be so fraught?
Since those initial ponderings I have chatted to a couple of fellow writers about this process and how to handle the juxtoposition between the fear of putting something out there when there is also the need to receive feedback.
During both conversations we reached the same conclusion, if you want to reach the wider public there is no point in being screamish about revealing yourself. Equally, you need to accept that in letting “the baby” go, the wider world may embrace it in ways your never contemplated and in fact enhances what you set out to do.
It is really indeed the essential joy of being a creative.
OK the big wide world might not be so scary after all. Maybe I just needed the reminder.
Returning to the original conversation that started this thought journey of recent days – the ugly crying in public – you must admit that while possibly embarassing at the time, those moments resulting in glorious emotional responses from engaging in creativity and art are later cherished.
Guilty as charged your honour – there have been many moments throughout my life I’ve publicly ugly cried over someone’s creativity. In fact, too many to list but here are some to give you a context on how emotionally engaged one can become.
One of the first moments I experienced such a reaction was the beautiful 1974 film version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince starring Gene Wilder. I cried so much that my sister had to help me out of the cinema as I couldn’t see where I was going. At that stage I had yet to read the book but it comes as no surprise that once read a simliar reaction (albeit this time at home) occurred.
Then there was the time listening to the audiobook of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegence of the Hedghog while doing a country commute. In hindsight it might have been one time when listening to an audiobook while driving was not a bright idea. The beautiful but devastating ending forced me to pull over because of all the tears. Finally when I reached my destination, still snivelling away, I had to go straight into a dinner meeting at one of the local hotels. I was still so absolutely devastated to the point that people in fact asked me who died. I received some dumbfounded looks when I explained it was a reaction to a novel rather than something happening to a family member.
Having just finished Barbery’s latest book A Single Rose, I must add that her writing continues to resonate deeply within me, luckily no public ugly tears this time.
Music has always moved me deeply over a range of genres from classical to rock. Sometimes it is a particular note in a song, while at other times it is a word or phrase. For sheer beauty it hard is to go past Allegri’s Miserere and the equally beautiful Adagio in G minor by Samuel Barber. Everytime I hear these pieces I feel transported to a higher place.
Then there are always tears (although not always ugly) every time I been lucky enough to witness Steve Kilbey/The Church perform Under the Milky Way live, then again seeing The Church live is always an experience.
Womadelaide 2021 also brought out the tears with Archie Roach’s beautiful and emotionally charged farewell performance. While watching him perform at Rodney King Park back in March I kept having flashbacks of his 2011 Reconciliation Week concert at the Portland Town Hall in Gunditjamara country. They may have been different venues, country and audiences but both performances were equally powerful and emotive experiences.
With live music I’ve been lucky to witness many moments of sheer beauty where all the ingredients just came together in a perfect unplanned harmony to create something truly magical. Womadelaide has provided some of my most sublime concert experiences including Dirty Three’s 2012 performance at Womadelaide under a full moon or the soulful oud jazz fusion tones of Dhafer Youssef (again another late night performance) in 2013.
It goes without saying live theatre also has the power to move and often can provide a context for us to understand the world around us.
One moment was on Friday, 15 March 2019 with the Australian premiere of Hofesch Schecter Company’s mesmerising Grand Finale just hours after the horrific Christchurch Mosque shooting. Described as a dance for the end of time, watching this phenomenal work that night seemed to provide the right outlet for those of us lucky to be in the audience as we were still coming to grips with the cruelty and evil human beings can inflict on each other. This was creativity helping to articulate a response to the unfathomable.
Ultimately at the end there are so many moments where art and culture has raised my emotions to a higher lever that I just can’t list them all. However it also explains why I am so glad I consider myself a creative. I only hope that one day someone contacts me and lets me know how something I have created has touched them.
Twelve months ago against the backdrop of supermarket scrambles for toilet paper and an increasing sense of impending doom, Adelaide Writers’ Week was one of the last of the major literary festivals to be held before the Great Lockdown.
A year later it has been one of the first to emerge into the new COVID world order.
It was therefore self explanatory that Unstable Ground was the theme of the 2021 Adelaide Writers’ Week. So as we gathered in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens for six glorious days last week, it was a case that while some things changed, especially in regards to social distancing measures to keep the health gods happy, much of what makes this such a wonderful literary festival also remained the same.
The iconic vibe of sitting under the trees in the “The Gardens” in Kaurna country listening to scintillilating discussions from local and international audiences is a truly unique element to this event and thankfully was again the centrepiece of Adelaide Writers’Week. The use of streaming technology to enable international and some interstate authors to overcome the current interstate border and COVID restrictions just added to the experience.
While here in Adelaide we have been relatively sheltered from the full extent of the horrors wrought by COVID during the past year, these streaming sessions and the feedback from the international participants provided a stark reminder of just how lucky we actually all were to gather together face to face in most instances to celebrate reading, writing and all things literary. Victorian presenters and authors, having faced the most stringent of the Australian 2020 lockdowns, also revelled in the experience and frankly thought it was a miracle that Adelaide Writers’ Week Director Jo Dyer and her team managed to pull this six day event off (a sentiment on which I totally concur). Even the weather gods gave the event their blessing.
Sitting under the trees in “The Gardens” as the event unfolds each years, always provides one with the sense of having a break away of the stresses and strains of everyday life (curiously a very similar experience when immersed in a good book). However paradoxically the very nature of literary festivals is such that reality – particularly political realities – isn’t that far away.
In 2020 it was the looming catastrophe of COVID, the fallout from the Black Summer bushfires (along with climate change) and the forthcoming 2016 U.S election that dominated the political psyche. In 2021, while COVID and climate change remain hot button topics, it was to be the real time distressing bombshells continuing out of Canberra in relation to the toxic relationship of power and misogyny that ended up dominating the political texture of the past week. Unfortunately a political narrative that still dominates our airwaves, newspapers and social media.
Much has been written by others about the various allegations (and counter claims) that have emerged in recent weeks which I won’t go into detail here. I couldn’t help however but notice the serendipitous timing of the festival program to feature former Prime Ministers Julia Gillard (Women and Leadership?) and Malcolm Turnbull (A Bigger Picture), along with local Liberal powerbroker and former cabinet member Christopher Pyne (The Insider).
While all three were fascinating in their views on the nature of power and politics, the most riveting session for me particularly in the context of the realtime political backdrop, was Louise Milligan’s discussion on her experience as a witness in the Cardinal Pell case, as documented in her latest work Witness. This conversation included a broader commentary on the realities faced by survivors of sexual crime in seeking justice. These observations, made on the Monday, were to become chillingly all too real by the final days of the Adelaide Writers’ Week as the political events continued to unfold.
An unfortunate and perennial issue (for me) of this wonderful literary festival are the program clashes and 2021 Adelaide Writers’ Week was again the case. As a result I missed Katharine Murphy and Laura Tingle’s session on the current state of Australian leadership. I’m convinced their insights would have provided an excellent guide to navigate the storm emanating from Canberra.
Another ongoing and timely theme during Adelaide Writers’ Week 2021, reflected through both non-fiction and fiction works, was that of the Aboriginal and First Nations experience, recognition and reconciliation. It was therefore wonderful to hear from Julie Janson (Benevolence), Nardi Simpson (Song of the Crocodile) and local author Karen Wyld (Where the Fruit Falls), whose fictional works intertwine family, Country and history and the ongoing legacy of Colonialism. This experience also forms the backdrop of the Stuart Rintoul’s biography of a giant among Indigenous leaders, Lowitja O’Donaghue. Rintoul states that right from the outset as he wrote Lowitja, that he wanted to show how her story isn’t just a personal story – it is also a story of the Aboriginal struggle.
A big feature of the 2021 Adelaide Writers’ Week was the focus on local authors, a not surprising factor given the success of Pip Williams (The Dictionary of Lost Words) – the winner of this year’s MUD literary prize, along with Katherine Tamika Arguile (The Things She Owned), Karen Wyld (Where the Fruit Falls), Rachael Mead (The Application of Pressure), Patrick Allington (Rise and Shine), Durkhanai Ayubi (Parwana), Danielle Clode (In Search of the Woman Who Sailed the World), and Royce Kurmelovs (Just Money: Misadventures in the Great Australian Debt Trap) among others. In a nod to the Zoom book launches of 2020, the West Stage was given over on Saturday evening for an in person re-launch for these writers. It was a great way to kick off what would be a continuing celebration of South Australian writing and creativity over the event’s six days. By the end of the festival you couldn’t help by note the current strong state of the South Australian literary scene.
This is only just a snapshot of the many highlights for me over festival’s six days. Other stand outs for me included Trent Dalton (All Our Shimmering Skies), Maggie O’Farrell (Hamnet), Julia Baird (Phosphorence), Kate Grenville (A Room Made of Leaves), Christina Lamb (Our Bodies, Their Battlefield), Debra Adelaide (The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing), Tegan Bennett Daylight (The Details: On Love, Death and Reading), Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (The Mountains Sing), Colum McCann (Aperogon), Maaza Mengiste (The Shadow King), Andrew Kong (One Bright Moon), Anne Applebaum (Twilight of Democracy) and Natalie Hayes (Pandora’s Jar). Needless to say the bank balance was seriously challenged in the Book Tent.
Adelaide Writers’ Week is essentially all about the timelessness of story telling in its many guises, something we humans have been doing for millennia. As Karen Wyld reminded us: all the water we drink, see and which falls upon us is what dinosaurs swam in. It’s the same water. Water clearly illustrates the fluidity of time.
After another hiatus with this blog I have finally got back on the saddle again, so to speak.
Since April when I last posted, it has turned into yet another whirlwind year reaching the point that as the precious writing moments became so few and far in between, I was forced to make a conscious decision to take up whatever writing time that came my way in favour of the WIP rather than the blog .
Once again it taken holidays, to give me the clear space to spend quality time at the writing desk and so finally the blog resumes its life.
It was actually writing, and a 30 year promise (more on that later), that finds me typing away here in Hong Kong today. Before anyone asks, I must point out that I booked in March, way before the current troubles.
Looking out of the hotel room window watching the traffic and people passing me by as they undertake their daily manoeuvres, the TV news stories of the recent months of unrest seemingly dissipate into the background.
So why Hong Kong, you may ask? As I mentioned earlier this trip is making good on a 30 year promise and also because I honestly believed back in March that to get some of my own writing in I had to get away from Adelaide and the distractions of home life. Given I am sitting at this desk already on my first morning that plan seems to be working.
The holiday writing plan was also very much influenced by my good friend and fellow writer Catherine, who used her long service leave wisely earlier this year to write the first draft of her novel while holidaying in Carcassonne, France. You can follow Catherine’s journey (which still continues) at her blog Being Boomer.
Listening to and reading Catherine’s plans for her writing holiday made me realise, particularly as the writing desk was increasingly getting hard to reach, that this was also a feasible option for me. So as my last holidays were ending back in March, I found myself walking into the travel agent one Sunday afternoon and walked out having booked holidays to Sydney, Paris and Hong Kong. Eventually Paris had to be dropped, mainly in favour of a bigger French trip to hopefully occur next year which will double as a research trip for the WIP. However here I am in Hong Kong with Sydney to follow next week and I am writing!!
So back to my 30 year promise which has also brought me to this fascinating city.
In the late 1990s, 1996-1998 to be precise, I was finishing up my cadetship and becoming a senior journalist at The Advertiser. Among my wonderful colleagues there were some who were already planning their next career moves beyond Adelaide and Australia. At the time the usual path of such a step involved getting to London and scoring a job with a British paper.
However one of our more senior colleagues often entertained us with stories from his time as a journalist in Hong Kong. That, and the then impending handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule, prompted an interest among a few of us to consider Hong Kong, rather than England, as the next step in our journalism careers.
A small group did go on to make that step and I promised I would join them. In fact I promised one of them while saying goodbye in early 1998 that I would be in Hong Kong within six months. I got as far as booking my ticket but in the end that was as close I got to getting to Hong Kong until I finally landed here late yesterday.
There are a variety of reasons why Hong Kong never became my next career step. It was also prompted losing contact with many of that group of colleagues over time, which dissipated the opportunities to plan a visit.
Over the past decade I have reconnected with many of those dear colleagues from that late 1990s period, mainly thanks to Facebook (one of the great joys of social media). However it took catching up in person at last year’s Advertiser reunion to put a visit to Hong Kong firmly back on the agenda.
Of that small group of colleagues that went onto international careers, only one has remained in Hong Kong. Chris moved to Hong Kong in early 1998 to take up a role with the South China Morning Post, little did he know back then that he would continue to call the city home more than 30 years later.
During our all too brief catch up last year in Adelaide, I renewed my promise to visit Hong Kong. This time I made sure I delivered and got my act into gear to make it a reality.
As I write I am waiting on Chris and his wife Sandy to turn up at the hotel. They are going to show me their Hong Kong. Not only do I get to spend time with some dear friends but I also get to finally discover a city that has taken me 30 years to visit. I am sure there will be a lot to write about in the coming days…
In February as I was embarking on all things Fringe and Festival, I marked my second anniversary on the WIP, or better known amongst friends and family as “the writing saga.”
Little did I know when the inspiration for this story first popped into my head where the subsequent journey would lead. Two years later while I have a better idea of the path ahead, well at least of the plotline to my story with its working title Searching for Orlena, that alluring mystery still remains.
Even now I can still recall quite clearly my lightbulb moment. I was pondering over a book I had just finished reading. I must point out that writing anything, whether it be a blog post, short story, non-fiction book or novel, was the last thing I had on my mind.
Anyway I digress. On the night when inspiration struck there I was with the finished book sitting in lap as I was digesting what I believed to be a less than satisfactory end to the story. I was actually somewhat angry at some of the behaviours and attitudes of the characters and before I knew it the following lightbulb switched on in my head…
Just what motivates people to do what they do? Why does someone choose to go down a path that seems quite unfathomable and out of character?
From that little philosophical moment a germ of an idea grew that two years later is still growing, even if it is a little slower than I anticipated.
While there were other story ideas that I had been musing on for years, and to a certain point are still at the back of my mind bubbling away, this is the one that for now has got the most legs. It is also a great reminder how inspiration can strike you when you least expect it.
I’m still surprised that this flash of inspiration wasn’t during a writing session, an even rarer occurrence back then compared to now.
So this two year journey has been however one of relevation, not only of the story itself but also in my approach to writing.
Over the years I’ve regarded myself more of a ‘pantser’ than a ‘plotter’, probably due to the fact that as a journalist and media/communications consultant I am usually able to write to a deadline with speed. Even at university I was also able to write most of my essays with very little review or rewrite. However there was the odd that was like like drawing blood out of a stone.
However this WIP has proven I can do the plotter bit too. I suspect this is due to a couple of things, one being that it is the longest long-form of writing I have done in quite some time and the other is that there is no pressing external deadline to write to, except my own. Already I’ve missed my first imposed deadline which was to have the first draft done by the end of last year. At least I can still say here I am still tapping away at it.
The other factor that I feel contributes to the plotter element is with this WIP being a work of historical fiction I am forced fto stop the writing process from time to time to make sure the facts line up. Then there is this blog which needs feeding every now and again but I enjoy this side of the writing process too. It provides a great avenue to enable me to contemplate my broader world away from the WIP and indulge in other writing projects such as my recent reviews of the 2019 Adelaide Festival.
Many writers have written about the psychological aspect of writing and that little demon that is such a part and parcel of the writing life that questions the work you are doing. Believe me I’ve had those moments too. The thought bubble, that comes up for air every now and then, is if I have actually bitten off more than I can chew.
Until now I haven’t mentioned much about the plot for Searching for Orlena on this blogsite, partially as I didn’t think I was ready to talk about it, but also because describing it is a bit of a struggle. To be honest even now two years later, I am really not sure what genre it is and I suspect any such label may not become apparent until the first draft is complete.
One of the ways I describe the work to people is as an erotic spy thriller/historical novel with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.
I think you get the picture for my confusion.
I can also reveal that Searching for Orlena is a complex multi-generational tale set in France and Australia and spans a timeline from the 1930s to the early 21st century.
I often describe writing as a bit of a journey and with Searching for Orlena I can say it really is. One of the things I have loved with this project is how some of the ideas that have come to me as part of the storyline, while initially seem far fetched, do in fact on closer examination line up. It is always the loveliest surprise and provides some validation to the concept and the work. I am in awe as the characters reveal themselves to me and take me to places I didn’t expect them to go.
To help and support me along the way I am a member of a couple of Facebook writing groups and they have definitely proven to be a writing cheer squad. Recently I came across a post on one of these group pages which I found particularly enlightening. The author spoke about the joy writing gave her and how publication for her was not the end goal.
It made me wonder just what it was that I am seeking with Searching for Orlena and just why I am prepared to continue with it two years in, other than just believing in the story (admittedly an important step). I can confirm that publication is the ultimate aim in this journey.
However in the meantime there is a comfort when I am able to engage in my own private writing whether it is the book or the blog. These snatched private writing moments indeed provide a stress release which on one level does seem paradoxical for someone who is lucky enough to write for a living. I believe this could be because I am letting my own thoughts, hopes and beliefs have a life.
The main thing above all else is that I am still writing! Let this journey continue.
As the curtain falls on the 2019 Adelaide Festival, the @adelaidefestival visual arts program was a feast for the senses encompassing the harrowing reality of Afghanistan to questions on the health of our planet and a salute to one of the 20th century’s cultural icons – the Ballet Russes.
While the main festival program has now come to a close, some of the visual arts exhibitions will continue into the coming weeks, providing one with a chance to overcome festival withdrawal symptoms.
Beautifully rich in humanity, Quilty is a wonderful exhibition that skilfully captures the career of one of Australia’s top contemporary artists, Ben Quilty. His thought provoking works are an important commentary on 21st century Australia.
While the exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia has been described as a retrospective of his work, there are only a couple of pieces from the early Torana series, along with his 2011 Archibald winning portrait of Margaret Olley. Instead curator Lisa Slade has concentrated on more recent series that highlight his increasing push for social justice. These cover such topics as the plight of refugees, acknowledging Australia’s frontier wars and his campaign to save the lives of Bali Nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance. Through it I hope to push compassion to the front of national debate.
It is an emotional exhibition. Some works such as The Last Supper, painted at the time of Trump’s rise to the U.S presidency noisily clamour for attention; while others, such as the haunting Seeking Refuge or the despair of the returning soldiers such as Captain Kate Porter featured in the Afghanistan and After series, lead to quiet introspection and thought.
Quilty is an emotional exhibition that illustrates the energy, passion and empathy of this remarkable artist and of his genuine drive through his art to give a voice to those who are unable to get their message out.
and the earth sighed… at the South Australian Museum is an absolutely fascinating and riveting immersive experience that draws you into Australia’s vast landscapes.
Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski, combine cinema and aerial photography (via drones) to comment on the our relationship with that landscape.
This stunning installation brilliantly brings home the impact of climate change on our fragile continent. The large scale floor projections show us how our environment is changing now and not at some far off future point. While embracing the moment as you watch the projections unfold, you are also aware of an urgency to the questions and the earth sighed… raise. It’s powerful and moving with the images lingering with you long after you leave.
Sally Smart’s The Violet Ballet is another immersive multi-media experience that pays homage to the Ballet Russes through a combination of collage, video, text and Indonesian wayang (shadow puppetry).
It is a wonderful kaleidoscope of colour, movement and sound as Smart, one of Australia’s foremost contemporary artists, makes a triumphant return to her home state. In The Violet Ballet she looks particularly at Ballet Russes’ production of Chout, performed in 1921. It is a macabre story that provides an opportunity for Smart to reset it to the 21st century through a lens that also includes the legacy of colonialism and orientalism.
Here they are leaping across, puncturing surfaces, assembling themselves on the go
Out of scraps, swirls,
Out of feeling passed on as movements…
Movements passed on as feelings.
(The Violet Ballet)
Just like a collage, the medium that Smart is best known for, The Violet Ballet is a multi layered work that is open to many interpretations. The Ballet Russes made a deep impact on early 20th century dance, art and music. This exhibition clearly illustrates how their legacy continues to influence artists such as Smart almost a century later.
Although not part of the visual arts program, as this is my final Adelaide Festival 2019 review it would be remiss if I didn’t include commentary on my final AF event – the extraordinary Grand Finale by the Hofesh Schechter Company.
This is a dance for the end of time as this phenomenal work takes your breath away. Grand Finale is an explosion of sound and movement; it is powerful, arresting and just beautiful on so many levels. There is an allure in the macabre.
Sitting in Festival Theatre just hours after the harrowing events in Christchurch, it seemed somewhat fitting to contemplate on the things human beings do to each other through this mesmerising work described by artistic director Hofesh Schechter as an apocalpytic response.
Despite the bleak undertones in Grand Finale as it grapples with the themes of death, disaster and disintegration; there is also a message of hope and resilience. There is a wonderful moment during the interval when the show’s musicians lead the audience on a brief sing a long.
In a festival that had so many wow factor moments for me Grand Finale was indeed the stand out of the 2019 Adelaide Festival.
Other highlights of this year’s program included the heartbreaking beauty of the Another Life: Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys exhibition, Kassem Eid’s poignant description of the day his village in Syria was subject to a chemical attack by the Assad regime during Adelaide Writers’ Week; and By Heart, the moving and inspiring love letter to books and words.
In an uncertain world, Adelaide Festival 2019 was ultimately a celebration of our humanity. For 18 days we stopped, paused and remembered that there is in fact more that unites than divides us. To Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy, along with the rest of the AF team, thanks for enthralling, entertaining and challenging us with a brilliant program. I for one already can’t wait to do it all again next year.
Quilty is showing at the Art Gallery of South Australia until Sunday 2 June. Admission is free. For more details visit https://www.agsa.sa.gov.au/
The Violet Ballet is showing at ACE Open, Lion Arts Centre until Saturday, 27 April. Admission is free. For more details visit https://aceopen.art/
One of the joys of the Adelaide Festival is how over the space of one glorious fortnight Radelaide becomes the epicentre of the performing arts world as national and international acts descend on this city.
This was definitely the case with the 2019 Adelaide Festival’s music program as local legends including Tim Minchin, Richard Tognetti, Robyn Archer and Paul Kelly, shared the bill alongside such international acts as cello superstar Natalie Clein and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, currently regarded as one of the best orchestras in the world.
This orchestra definitely delivered on that hype with their program one – Schubert’s Symphony No.3 in D major and Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 in E-flat major – at Adelaide Town Hall.
Comprising of 45 musicians from 20 countries, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is considered a democratic orchestra, and being no classical music expert (despite my love for it), I did wonder on its chamber label. Thankfully my companion for the evening put me straight, pointing out that any group comprising of less than 50 musicians can be regarded as a chamber ensemble.
Despite their numbers the playing is intimate. It is clear that under the direction of Conductor Laureate Daniel Harding this is a tight knit orchestra.
My overriding sense on listening to both the Schubert and Brucker in performance was one of majesty. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s vibrancy, tonality and contrast was just sublime. To me this was simply classical music at their best; a view supported by the enthusiastic and appreciative reaction from the audience at the end of the night.
While the Mahler Chamber Orchestra was bringing international brilliance to Adelaide, our own local legend Robyn Archer was taking us on a magical mystery ride around the world in 60 minutes with the very clever Picaresque.
Against the backdrop of 200 marquettes, collected over 40 years of travels which she describes as evidence of her carbon footprint walk of shame; Archer brilliantly and skilfully reviews her career and travels through song. Virtuoso accordionist George Butrumlis provides wonderful support as the duo literally busk their way through a cardboard world.
The associated exhibition, which also includes other travel memorabilia such as hotel do not disturb signs, airline menus, ticket stubs, and baggage labels; illustrates an extraordinary international cabaret career. It is however her vocal and musical prowess that confirms just what a talent she is as she performs songs from the Great American songbook, Bertolt Brecht, Dean Martin and a yodelling tribute to Mary Schneider. At the show’s core is Archer’s passion for the music. Picaresque is a work from the heart.
Then there was another National Living Treasure to catch up on – Richard Tognetti. This time joining forces with Erin Helyard to present Forces of Nature. An absolutely wondrous program that featured Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in G major and Violin Sonata in A major, along with Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat major.
Forces of Nature celebrated a pivotal period in chamber musical history as it reflected on a changing era as the Age of Reason, epitomised by Mozart, gave way to the birth of romanticism, embraced by Beethoven. Tognetti on violin and Helyard on fortepiano brilliantly capture the emotion, colour and passion of this important time. The shades of lights and dark in all three pieces were sublimely captured by this duo.
Their explanation of the social mating rituals associated with chamber music provided a wondrously humorous touch to the evening. This was a time when the woman’s place was strictly either playing the piano, the harp or singing, with the violin a male domain until Mozart met Regina Strinasacchi. The sonata in B-flat major was written especially for her. As the notes from this piece wafted through the Adelaide Town Hall, I not only thanked Mozart for overturning musical and social conventions of his time but for the fabulousness that was Tognetti and Helyard with their passion and virtuosity.
Picaresque continues through to Sunday 17 March 2019 at the Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre. For further information on this show and other Adelaide Festival productions visit www.adelaidefestival.com.au
One of the highlights of the Mad March period here in Adelaide is the wonderful Adelaide Writers’ Week (#AdlWW).
As the incomparable David Marr asked as he surveyed the crowd before him from East Stage; “isn’t this the most beautiful setting for a writers’ festival?” Having sat under the trees of the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens for six days in March for many a year, I can only but agree.
Marr is indeed a living national treasure and he was in full flight during this year’s event; either reviewing an extraordinary career with his memoir My Country, or while chairing the Writers on Writers session with Bernadette Brennan and Ceridwen Dovey. His sparring with the equally legendary Kerry O’Brien during O’Brien’s own memoir discussion was an #AdlWW highlight. I am subtitling that session the battle of the memoirs.
With a new look and a new director Jo Dyer, #AdlWW once again didn’t disappoint. As flagged in my overview blog of week 1 of @adelaidefestival, the core theme of Telling Truths was also a central part of this year’s #AdlWW conversations. In an era where the truth is increasingly a fragile commodity, questions such as – what is truth, what truths are we telling, who can tell certain truths and what happens when truth is suppressed? Were raised over the six days.
In the early 21st century there is no greater debate on truth and which voices are being listened to than in the area of asylum seekers and refugees. This conversation was kicked off right at the outset of #AdlWW with Gillian Triggs on her memoir Speaking Up.
Triggs let the facts, rather than her personal experiences, tell the story as she covered a range of topics including refugees, human rights and gender equality. Her grace, compassion and rigorous search for the truth shone through.
Here in Australia our understanding of the refugee story tends to occur at a political level, either through activists and intermediaries such as Triggs or our politicians. However this year’s #AdlWW provided opportunities to hear the refugee story first hand as Ben Okri, Kassem Eid, Sisonke Msimang and Future D. Fidel revealed their truths.
For me one of the great moments I have ever encountered at an #AdlWW was Kassem Eid’s poignant description of the day his village in Syria was subject to a chemical attack by the Assad regime. Describing it like “the day of judgement” the whole audience shared his anguish, his confusion and ultimately his anger on the events that unfolded during and immediately after the attack. Living the experience with him, the audience was so riveted that it seemed that you could virtually hear a pin drop. Special mention must also go to session chair Jon Jureidini on his sensitivity, allowing Eid the space to tell his story in his own time.
Nazanin Sahamizadeh’s account of bringing the play Manus to light, based on Behrouz Boochani’s award winning book No Friend but the Mountain provided another intriguing angle to the refugee/asylum seek tale.
All I have is my art and as a person of peace my art is what I have to make a difference (Nazanin Sahamizadeh)
Investigating just whose truth we are telling was another fascinating topic among the #AdlWW conversations. For those of us who have a voice, do we have a right to speak for others? This is a question that seems to be particularly fraught when dealing with the Holocaust, as discussed by Morris Gleitzman, Bram Presser and Maria Tumarkin.
It was also one of the questions at the core of the analysis on white/black relations whether it was Australia’s shameful Aboriginal past, post-Apartheid South Africa or the slave story of the Americas. Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, Reg Dodd and Malcolm McKinnon with Talking Sideways, Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, Aunty Sue Blacklock and Lyndall Ryan with Remembering Myall Creek, Marlene van Niekerk and her body of work, Ndaba Mandela with Going to the Mountain, Patrick Nunn with The Edge of Memory and Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree; all contemplated this vexed issue. In some of these cases the prism of class relations was also applied.
While historical fiction can, to a certain extent, circumvent the question over who can discuss certain truths, nearly every writer of this genre pointed out how behind their fiction the facts still matter. The experience of the World War II comfort women, depicted in Jing-Jing Lee’s How We Disappeared, is also a story of her Grandparents generation, while Gina Apostol looks at the tricky history of the Philippines and United States, juxtaposed with today’s Philippines under Duterte in Insurrecto. Rebecca Makkai brings back the AIDS era of the 1980s with The Great Believers, Andrew Miller looks at the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on its combatants in Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, while Amy Sackville recreates the court of Spain’s King Philip IV through the life and times of the great Baroque painter Diego Velazquez in Painter to the King.
An always exciting element of #AdlWW is the introduction to new authors, particularly international writers. With quite a few debut writers generating significant buzz within the book world over the past year, it was no suprise that #AdlWW 2019 featured a considerable number of this new wave to the program. MUD Literary Prize winner Trent Dalton (Boy Swallows Universe) led the crop of first time Australian authors accompanied by Chris Hammer (Scrublands), Margaret Morgan (The Second Cure), Molly Murn (Heart of the Glass Tree), J.P. Pomare (Call Me Evie) and Jane Harper (The Dry). International debuts included Annaleese Jochems (Baby), Oyinkan Braithwaite (My Sister the Serial Killer), Singapore’s Jing Jing Lee (How We Disappeared) and Preti Taneja (We That Are Young).
Debut writers from the non-fiction ranks included Gabrielle Chan (Rusted Off), Soraya Chemaly (Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger), Kassem Eid (My Country), Ginger Gorman (Troll Hunting), Ndaba Mandela (Going to the Mountain: Life Lessons from My Grandfather), Rick Morton (One Hundred Years of Dirt), SarahSmarsh (Heartland) and Sujatha Gidla (Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India).
Finally, you can’t discuss the theme of Talking Truths without involving politics and politicians and #AdlWW had plenty of them and some of the leading political commentators on hand to look at the 2019 political landscape both globally and internationally. Whether it is the dawn of Eurasia, the ascendency of China, the Disunited States, the rise of the right or recent events in Canberra; there was plenty of fodder for a political junkee like me.
The Hon. Bob Carr, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, George Megalogenis, Fiona Patten, Bruno Maçães, Richard McGregor, Bernard Keane, Katharine Murphy, Don Watson, Carolin Emke, Nancy MacLean, Damien Cave and Jeff Sparrow brought national and global geopolitics and issues to the stage.
There is so much more I could say about #AdlWW. I haven’t even touched on the various conversations over such social issues as cyber bullying and hate, gender relations, the rise of AI (artificial intelligence), mental illness and rape/domestic violence.
This year’s event included several new initiatives such as the opening address (given this year by Ben Okri), twilight talks, the Zeitgeist Series at Elder Hall, the New York Times Crossword Challenge, the Middle and YA Readers Day and the Queerstories event. These events all provided an opportunity for new voices and truths to be contemplated and discussed.
To Jo Dyer and her hardworking team, thank you for a wonderful six days in March and I am looking forward already to the 2020 #AdlWW. In the meantime there is always the pile of books I brought home via the book tent to sustain me for the next 365 days.
I don’t read for the distraction, I read for the hunger. I read to save my life. (Ben Okri).
With 10 days of @AdelaideFestival now under my belt, the theme of Adelaide Writer’s Week – Telling Truths – has also very much been a constant part of my broader festival journey.
How we reveal, tell and interpret truths has been explored, investigated and dissected through a myriad of ways. From the hauntingly beautiful photojournalism of Another Life:Human Flows/Unknown Odyssey’s at the QBE Gallery (Festival Centre Foyer), the chaotic dislocation of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in Counting and Cracking, revealing the power of words and memory with By Heart, to the physicality of the Man with the Iron Neck. At the core of all these is the most important question – what is the truth, whose truth are we telling and who can reveal what truths?
Having fallen in love with photojournalism since a teenager, one of the inspirations behind my decision to seek a career in journalism, I believe in the power of the camera. The truth that it reveals is stark. There is no-where to hide and this is exquisitely the case with Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys.
The exhibition from the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography involves 26 photographers, including some of the best photojournalists in the world and features 160 works chronicling the drama, despair, hope and humanness of the refugee flow out of Africa into Europe in 2015/2016.
Curator Hercules Papaioannou says the aim of the exhibition is to show how people seeking a safe haven is not a new thing. It has been with us for millennia. Photography, since its inception, has been the medium that has powerfully illustrated the modern history of the dispossessed. Yet Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys documents a change in that gaze. Possibly thanks to the internet, the refugees of the 21st century are no longer apathetic or oblivious towards photography. Not only do they allow others to document their journey undertaken in the hope for a better life, for safety, but also use selfies to depict their gaze as they look out on an uncaring world.
Those who do not have much to lose, do not hesitate to expose their nakedness, without knowing exactly how their image will be used. Their only hope lies to its excessive and exaggerated strength. (Hercules Papaionnou, Curator Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys)
It is an unflinching, brutal and haunting but also a beautiful exhibition. I recommend that you take the time to absorb all that is portrayed before you, particularly the images rolling on the two TV screens. If you truly want to understand the human condition or are just a lover of the power of photography, this is a must see.
It is also worth noting that during the past week one of the doyens of international photojournalism, Reuters’ Yannis Behrakis, who has captured the best and worst of humankind in the late 20th and early 21st centuries sadly passed away. Some of his Pulitzer Prize winning photos on the exodus feature in this exhibition.
The search of a better life and what prompts someone to flee their country is also at the centre of the joint Belvoir and Co-curious joint theatre production of Counting and Cracking. This account of the Australian refugee/migrant experience is set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war.
Set in both Colombo and Sydney, Counting and Cracking covers a 50 year time span involving 16 actors from five countries who effortlessly switch languages to provide a voice to the migrant experience with its associated tensions between the old world and the new, between young and old. Playwright S. Shakthiharan has fused his own family experience with others from the Sri Lankan diaspora to create an epic saga told with humour, empathy and poignancy.
The minimalist specially created theatre set in the Ridley Centre at Adelaide Showgrounds enables time and place to be transcended effortlessly. It is easy to imagine yourself in the tropical heat of Colombo or the dry scape of Sydney’s western suburbs.
For one who was not overly aware of the background to this long running civil war, watching how a country can so easily descend into chaos and the impact of such events on families and lives change in an instant, was an eye opener. It is also a brilliant commentary on the insidious nature of Australia’s current asylum policies. This is very much a play for our times that also reinforces not only what it can mean to be an Australian in the 21st century but also our humanness.
Fittingly with Writer’s Week still raging in the background, Teatro National D. production of By Heart with Tiago Rodrigues, reveals the truth of words and memory. It is a beautiful work that brilliantly and passionately celebrates words, memory and love – which together is a very powerful combination.
In each performance, 10 audience members are asked to join Rodrigues on stage to learn a poem by heart with Yours Truly one of those volunteers. As we take on the task he weaves a magical tale that links his grandmother, Boris Pasternak, a Dutch television show, George Steiner, Farenheit 451 and the greatest storyteller of them all – Shakespeare.
From the stage and I suspect it is the same from the audience’s perspective, you are held spellbound. This is a collective experience. Like a choir master, Rodrigues’ warmth, humour and patience puts those of us on stage learning the poem at ease. When one of my fellow volunteers admits that it is French, not English, that is her first language, he breaks out into fluent French. Yet despite a few nerve wracking moments, in the end the 10 of us all combine together to recite the poem – by heart.
Thought provoking, inspiring, funny and moving. Ultimately By Heart is a love letter to books and words and how in a period where truth is questioned, our memory of stories not only helps to keep them alive, but I suspect us as well. It is simply theatre at its best.
Finally the painful truth of youth suicide, which has reached epidemic proportions in too many Aboriginal communities, is cleverly confronted and investigated with the Legs on the Wall production of Man with the Iron Neck.
The use of physical theatre and video in this engrossing work generates an energy that permeates throughout the whole production. While this is a story told from the Aboriginal perspective, it sensitively crosses the cultural divide to shine a light on the devastating impacts of suicide. This is an issue that has no boundaries.
Man with the Iron Neck is important Australian theatre. While suicide and mental health is at its heart, the Aboriginal cast and writers have superbly illustrated how the direct and indirect truama suffered by their people through colonisation and ongoing disadvantage, provides that final breaking point that has led to so many, like Bear, in this story, to decide to take this most final of steps.
This is a message that resonates on so many levels.
In an era where truth is constantly questioned the seeking and telling of truth is of paramount importance. Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy with this 2019 Adelaide Festival program are shining a wonderful light on our truthtellers. The reviews above are only a small sippet of my 2019 @AdelaideFestival journey undertaken so far with seven days still to go.
A summary of Adelaide Writers’ Week and the musical notes enountered with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Robyn Archer’s Picaresque will be the subject of separate posts.
I can’t wait for what the remaining seven days will bring.
The 2019 Adelaide Festival continues through to 17 March. For further information on the program and events visit adelaidefestival.com.au
I suspect most of us have our moments in the workplace; whether it is our workloads, the boss who seems supremely unqualified to manage people, led alone their job, or the numbing paperwork requirements of HR.
Then there’s that minefield of the office drinks when you have had that unwise one drink too many.
So it’s only natural that working for the man, or the system, has provided much fodder for creatives over the years. For me some of the best examples being The Office, The Hollowmen and Utopia.
DC Moore’s satire ‘Honest’ has added to the working life genre with a wonderful one man exploration of the world view of a British Civil Servant (Public Servant here in Australia). It’s Australian Premiere at the Adelaide Fringe, performed by Matt Hyde is a delight.
Although set in England and primarily centred on those in the government employ, this is a work that transcends geography and space. No matter what your working background is, whether it is public or private, Matt Hyde’s Dave is really Everyman, there is something in this work that we can all relate to.
With The Treasury bar providing the perfect backdrop, Dave is at a work function and as the night progresses and the alcohol starts to take effect we come to find out just what he thinks of his workplace and his colleagues, most particularly his boss.
The nods and laughter of the audience acknowledges that this is a shared space with Dave, most of us have probably been in his shoes at least once in our working lives. His commentary on the naming of Government departments and sections is a classic highlight.
As the work function reaches its predictable crescendo, we then follow Dave through a drunken tour of London. Matt Hyde so eloquently takes us through this journey that we’re strapped in with Dave for the ride. The attempted ordering of a Big Mac is spot on.
The stunning twist at the end is an added layer to a gorgeous tale that while on one level looks at the mundane and ordinary, reaffirms the beauty of life.
Modern life with all its dramas and pitfalls, and how we interact with others, is cleverly explored here. Matt Hyde is brilliant and engaging as Dave. This one-man show is simple story telling at its best.
If you ever had one of those work drink moments or work in the public sector, this show is for you. Ultimately no matter your working background this is a show that’s not to be missed.
Honest is performing at Treasury 1860, 144 King William St, Adelaide until 3March. Tickets $25 ($20 concession). For more details visit http://www.adelaidefringe.com.au
Adelaide as long been described as the driest city, in the driest state, in the driest continent. This summer has seen no exception to that description.
Having said that it has been an unusual summer, even by Radelaide’s standards.
Yep this city decided to go out and recreate the fires of hell with the peak of the heatwave breaking an 80 year old record as the mercury rose beyond 46C.
Needless to say this is a weather record that I really don’t want see broken again for a little while.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it meant the last two weeks of high temperatures saw any chance of writing going out of the window.
On our record breaking day and even with the air conditioner going full tilt, the creative impulse just dried up. It became even worse when the power went off at 10.30pm that night at the slightly cooler temperature of 35C. If the brain wasn’t fried at that point (and it wasn’t overly happy) it certainly melted after that.
Cooler climes have now mercifully returned and being a long weekend I have been able to squeeze in a couple of writing stints, although not enough to make up for the lost time.
So the #100DaysOfWriting challenge mark II has had somewhat mixed results this month.
It hasn’t been, I am pleased to report, all doom and gloom. The first two weeks of January, saw some progress before the temperatures soared,with a significant milestone met when the WIP passed the 10,000 word mark.
Another step forward, was trying new ways to squeeze in writing time. For the first time ever I started writing first thing in the morning before heading off to work. Before the weather kicked in, along with nights of little sleep, this approach helped build a slight bit of momentum up and it is something I am actively trying to get going again.
With the new year and new approach, I started using a hard copy notebook again, so I can more readily capture those moments of inspiration, before they flew away. This was also a helpful part of the process and it seemed that finally I might be getting into some sort of groove, then disaster struck…
Family commitments, hectic days at work and a virus started to play havoc with the routine. The advent of the hot weather was the final straw and the momentum was once again broken. Another case of one step forward and two steps back.
After this latest round of frustration and self-flagellation, which is I am fast learning is part and parcel of the writing life; the words are thankfully flowing again.
So having been impacted by the weather and as the Australia Day long weekend comes to a close as I write; it seemed appropriate to reflect on summer life Down Under. I don’t know about you but every time I think about this particular season, more than any other, childhood memories come to the fore.
I suspect that in coinciding with the long school break it is a time that speaks of being carefree.
Looking back, a picture unfolds of days at the beach; of bikinis, salt water, the hot sand between your toes and looking for starfish among the rock pools. If it wasn’t the seaside, there were pool parties either in your backyard or at the neighbours’ and where one learnt to swim armed with Floaties.
In the rare moments you were inside, the TV was all about the cricket or tennis. During the breaks, if the weather allowed, you would be back outside emulating your heroes by bashing the tennis ball against the wall or a hit of totem tennis. If there were enough of you around, it would be a quick innings of backyard cricket.
It was a time of BBQ dinners, lime cordial, dixie ice cream cups (complete with little wooden spoons) and Sunnyboys. In fact now that Violet Crumbles and Pollywaffles are coming back into our lives, I feel the need to start a campaign to bring back Sunnyboys. Those orange frozen triangles along with their dairy version – Snips – were a fabulous way to beat the heat. Kids you don’t know what you are missing!
Despite Mum applying layers of sun screen all over me I still managed to one major sunburn each summer. If that wasn’t enough, my teenage years saw myself and school friends eagerly sitting along the balcony of Gillam Building trying to tan our legs. I think it was the only time we were quite happy to wear our school straw hats. Despite all efforts, including an attempt at fake tan, my legs stubbonly remained either lily white or bright red.
So far my skin seems to be OK against such moments, but for how long I fear. Those South Australian and Northern Territory youthful summers are a key reason why I now try to avoid being out in direct sunlight at the peak of the day.
There were times when the Adelaide and Alice Springs summers of my youth were at times too endless, like last week’s heat.
Despite enduring days of 40 plus heat with no air conditioned cars (something I am actually facing again this summer), resorting to fans to keep the house cool and tiled floors usually a more attractive mattress than your own bed at night; we somehow managed to survive.
Australia is certainly a land of contrasts and summer is the season that illustrates this best. Away from the benign, lazy golden days that we love it also brings bushfires, droughts and flooding rains. They are the ferocious part of an Australian summer.
Our summers are certainly legendary for all the right and wrong reasons and I am glad that it has been such a spectacular part of my life. Despite it often not being a great time of the year to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, there is certainly something about it when she sparkles back at me across the page or screen.
Yes, it has been a while since I was last on the blog, a hiatus I can partially blame on writers’ block once again. Sigh.
While crossbordertales has had a rollercoaster ride with many starts and stops, I am pleased to report the past 12 months has been its busiest year with the grand total of 12 blogs!
Over the past eight years whenever I have sat down to post on this site, admittedly not as often as I would have liked, I have never been short of a topic and the words have seemingly flown onto the screen. However in November the yips struck… two blogs just didn’t work!
As you may recall, I acknowledged a case of writer’s block in my July blog – Creativity through tears – following the sudden and untimely death of my brother. Interestingly I was never overly concerned at the time as I understood it to be a natural part of the grief process. However when it struck again in November however I just couldn’t explain the why or wherefore of the abyss, other than the rest of my life was incredibly busy at the time. Maybe it was just case of trying to do too much and not providing a space for contemplation and absorption for writing.
So rather than force something onto you all at the time something that was not quite right, I decided to take a break. Given the whirlwind that the end of the year ended up being it was I think in hindsight a wise move although I was very grumpy about it at the time.
So here I am sitting at the computer on 1 January 2019, with the Festive season shenanigans now over. Thankfully the words are flowing once again – phew! Yes the break seems to have done me some good.
So given it is the first day of the new year, it is time to look back on the year that was and contemplate my writing plans for 2019. This year for the first time I am avoiding the big resolution declaration to concentrate rather on smaller goals, one of which was to write today, so already there is a tick. I believe that given the curveballs and surprises that can occur, especially with the year that has just gone, it is probably a more realistic outlook.
So back to 2018… just how did it go?
It was however a target that initially seemed to be on track during the first quarter of the year, despite some competing priorities, until the end of April when my brother’s untimely and sudden death brought things to a crashing halt.
For those who have been on this journey all the way through you will probably recall my grand resolution announcement with the 2 January 2018 blog – In fear and trembling or the latest attempt to overcome procrastination – that my resolution for the year was to have the first draft of the WIP completed by 31 December 2018. Um, yes well… as you can see that didn’t occur and as much as it would have been nice to have typed ‘The End’ yesterday I am not beating myself up on my missed deadline.
It was to be another 10 weeks before I felt able to return to my own writing again, a process helped by my Writers of Adelaide group, a local Facebook support group that morphed during the year into physical form. For a short period during the year we had a monthly block chain which provided the inspiration to the August blog – The importance of creativity | crossbordertales and the September blog Challenging Writer’s Block | crossbordertales (ironically another discussion on writer’s block). These exercises certainly helped to kick things along so to the WofA team thank you and hopefully we can try the chain again in 2019.
Then during September I came across a simple Instagram trend called #100DaysOfWriting.
As someone who struggles with finding the time to write, unfortunately a somewhat regular theme of mine as you have all probably noticed, I decided to give this concept a try, setting 1 October as the starting date. The October blog – #100daysofwriting | crossbordertales – was an update on the first 15 days of the challenge.
Initially this challenge seemed to be a good support in developing the writing practice until the second half of the month when organising a reunion of my Advertiser colleagues took over whatever spare time I had. It is probably no surprise to you all that the second writer’s block for the year then kicked in November.
During the abyss there were two blog attempts – one on the reunion and another on the centenary of the armistice – and you now know the story about what happened to them. I am sure they will resurface in some form, somewhere one day, I am a strong believer in that nothing is wasted in writing. I think it was a case that the time wasn’t right for them to see the light of day.
The Advertiser reunion was a personal highlight of 2018, providing a chance to reconnect with old friends. In some cases it was 30 years since we last saw each other and for one weekend it seemed as though time indeed stood still.
Despite impacting on my personal writing time, the reunion still had a link to the writing craft by providing an opportunity to look back on my journalism career. It was also a chance for all of us who attended to salute a grand profession and consider how lucky we have been to be a part of it. Journalism may not be what it was during the 1980s and 1990s but I think whatever form it unfolds into the future, telling the news story remains paramount for a healthy society and democracy and I believe in some way it will survive. It is that belief and in celebration of my colleagues, some of whom are still on the road and some who are like me and trying their hand at different forms of writing, that our group photo is today’s blog pix.
So as to 2019 what are my writing goals?
It is quite simple, to write as often as I can, to post up on this blog as often as I can, to read as often as I can, to spend less time on social media and TV and maybe just maybe, get the first draft of the WIP completed.
The good news is that two years on from when I first came up with the idea I still believe in it and I want to see it reach full fruition. Enough to inspire one to continue.
As previously mentioned, already on day 1 of 2019 I’ve ticked off the first 2019 goal with writing on News Year’s Day. Today also marks commencing my second attempt at the #100DaysOfWriting challenge. A challenge that is due to finish on my birthday! I believe this is somewhat fortutious timing and when this attempt is successfully accomplished, it will be a fitting double celebration.
So whatever writing or reading you do during this year, may it be a wonderful adventure. So 2019 come at me and let this journey begin… now back to writing the novel.
This latest post is initially brought to you from the lounge of the Maylands Hotel, armed with the iPad & a glass of wine, awaiting the monthly Writers of Adelaide face to face meeting.
Such a setting – writing ahead of a meeting to discuss writing – provides a good example of my writing life since I commenced the #100DaysOfWriting challenge at the beginning of October. The aim being to get a little bit more discipline back into the writing practice, particularly on the WIP.
Now that I’m half way through the first month I feel it is time to reflect on the early stages that I’ve experienced with the challenge so far.
For those new to this particular approach to writing practice, it is an Instagram driven challenge, created on a whim by British novelist, Jennifer Ashworth. For her it was a way to fall back in love with the WIP after her writing routine got out of whack. It didn’t take long for it to take off on social media and is now a considerable movement.
Regarded as a gentle way of getting a writing routine up – being more of a carrot than a stick approach – the main premise is that via Instagram you show evidence of having presented to your writing. You can be either at the desk in the study, the kitchen table, a cafe or bar, the train or even the lunchroom during a quick break at work. So yes on day #15 as I began to generate this piece, I presented to the writing sitting in a comfy lounge chair and typing away with a very nice glass of Down the Rabbit Hole Tempranillo by my side (yes it is the glass of red in the photo).
Even the day before (day #14 of the challenge) had me presenting to the writing at Norwood Cibo when I was able to squeeze in some time before the weekly grocery shop. The challenge, I’ve therefore found, is a really great way of showing that you can sit down to write anywhere. I no longer feel that need to only write when in the study and in front of my desktop computer. I now can write whenever and wherever I can.
Having said that the desktop computer and study is still my primary modus operandi and it will probably always be that way.
One of the other delights of this challenge is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t actually write any words that day, the aim is to just present yourself to it. Even if you take a photo of you procrastinating that still counts.
So with that all in mind, how have I fared with this task you may ask?
The answer is not quite that simple.
I presented every day for the first 10 days, which given my crazy life is quite good. Even when I was on a roll with the WIP earlier this year I was only looking at it two or three days a week at best, so this is significant progress.
However the bad news is that I’ve been presenting to the writing on most occasions at the end of the day, after I had finished work, made dinner and dealt with other chores. As a result I’ve been often so tired that there has been very little new writing, opting instead to do research or reading through some notes as that was all one’s fried brain could cope with.
However on some nights I have been amazed to find that I would start the session initially dog tired, but as the writing unfolded I seemed to become energised. This has also meant that I tended to head off to bed way later than I should. It is therefore no surprise that this challenge has coincided with sleep deprivation.
Then there have been the occasions when I have made a breakthrough with the WIP when I have least expected it and on the verge of switching off for the night. A good example was the night I suddenly found a pivotal scene in a chapter that come together all of a sudden after months of trying to work out just how it was going to happen.
So then after presenting to the challenge 10 days straight and thinking this was all ticketyboo, the rest of life kicked in on days 11,12 and 13. It would end up being day 14 before I picked up the challenge again. But not all was lost. During this three day hiatus while I didn’t physically present to the writing, I did find I was still writing mentally during this period, particularly on day 13 . What is it about getting inspiration while in the shower? Yes, one of life’s great creative mysteries.
In fact when returning on day 14 I was able to get that shower inspiration down and now it looks like the idea will fly, so maybe I can count day 13 to the challenge after all!
So inch by inch I am noticing the development of some sort of writing discipline, even it is only 15-30 minutes a day. I should point out however this challenge hasn’t been totally about minutes of writing snatched here and there. Some days have indeed resulted in writing bouts that have lasted a couple of hours or more. However a full day of writing has yet to emerge since I’ve started this caper but I am sure it will happen by the time I reach day 100.
What have I found now just over two weeks in is that this gentle prompt nevertheless works. I feel now that the day is not quite complete if I haven’t presented to my writing and by default the #100DaysOfWriting challenge.
Looking back at these last few days, I now believe I have experienced in a microcosm the writer’s existence in all its forms. From snatching any writing time when one can (even late at night), thinking of plot and character while doing chores and being very grumpy if the writing doesn’t happen.
And that is the quiet beauty of #100DaysOfWriting. Organically the writing practice seemingly evolves around you. It’s still not a finely tuned discipline yet, but it definitely feels as though it is baby steps in the right direction. Stay tuned for what happens during the remaining 83 days.
September has been yet another crazy, busy, hectic and chaotic month with the Royal Adelaide Show, a fairly intense work environment, family commitments, the health not being on its best behaviour, a weekend dash to Melbourne and taking on the organisation of a reunion of my Advertiser colleagues. Phew!
So it is somewhat fortuitous that my local writer’s group, Writers of Adelaide, has set writer’s block as the topic for this month’s blog chain.
Initially when the topic was set, I thought, somewhat smugly: “Hah! I don’t experience that.” However as this crazy month unfolded, I started to wonder if this initial reaction was in fact actually correct. Somewhat evidenced by the fact that I am scrambling to get this written by the end of the month deadline now only hours away. Thankfully it is a long weekend so if I have to be up until midnight to post it up on time, then so be it.
Writer’s block is for me a somewhat interesting concept. While my initial reaction to the topic does have some truth, as I had no choice while as a journalist and now working in government media and communications, to always deliver a story or some form of writing to a deadline. There has been no room for writer’s block.
Over the years, I found some articles and stories to be very easy to write, while others have been like extracting blood out of the stone; but at the end of the day the goods have been delivered and pretty much to time. Even when writing university essays writer’s block was a rarity, again thanks to the deadline, although I must confess to successfully negotiating many an essay extension while in academia.
So staring at a blank page or screen waiting for some form of inspiration to strike hasn’t seemingly been an issue, I think partially because I’ve always had notes of some form to work off and thereby providing me with a starting point.
So while my professional and academic writing seems to have escaped the writer’s block curse, I am now starting to wonder whether I have been experiencing it with my personal/creative writing and not realising it.
Like many an aspiring author, I have started numerous writing projects over the years that have never been finished. Each time I have blamed the realities of life and while on one level that is true, could it also be the case that I didn’t ultimately believe in the project?
I am also starting to think that the form of writer’s block that has impacted on my personal/creative writing may in fact been because I haven’t developed a discipline to this area of my writing compared to my professional work. It is after all amazing how the need to pay the bills can be an incentive!
At the beginning of this year when I reactivated this blog site I made a somewhat scary New Year’s Resolution with my January blog – In fear and trembling or the latest attempt to overcome procrastination. At the time I declared I would finish the first draft of the existing work in progress by the end of this year. While there have been quite a few competing priorities along with way, it still seemed like an attainable goal until the end of April when my brother’s untimely and sudden death occurred.
It was to be another 10 weeks before I felt able to return to my own writing again, describing that period through with my July blog – Creativity through tears. Now thinking about those recent weeks in the context of this post, while I didn’t recognise it as writer’s block at the time, I am now realising that it was indeed the case.
In doing some preparation for this post, Googling “grief” and “writer’s block” produced a plethora of articles detailing the grief/writer’s block link. There are too many to list here, however if you are interested in the topic rest assured they are easy to find. That Google list also provided me with the solace that I was not alone in experiencing this problem.
When I returned to my desk back in July, instead of bashing myself up over the writing plans going AWOL, I decided to be kind to myself resetting my self-imposed WIP deadline to mid 2019 and committing myself to the writer’s group blog chain initiative (the latter ensuring there would be at least a monthly blog on this site). While I have kept up the blog chain commitment – even if it is at the 11th hour this month – the WIP is however been a bit of a struggle, not through the idea but in the time commitment to progress it.
So in thinking about writer’s block and my own writing I’m starting to think about the need to implement some discipline to the personal/creative writing space, following this timeless advice by Louis L’Amour:
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour
Earlier this year when I was far more diligent about the WIP, it did flow and even now, despite the hiatus of recent weeks, I still believe in it, probably more so than any other WIP I have commenced. So as we roll into October I am going to try some new tricks that I have come across this month to instil structure and discipline to my writing process and in turn hopefully kickstart the manuscript back to life.
The first idea came to me courtesy of A.J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window (by the way an amazing debut novel), during his author event at Norwood Town Hall earlier this month. He discussed his schedule of writing every night, after finishing his day job as a book editor, from 8-11pm. After this talk, chatting to friend and local author Victoria Purman who interviewed Finn that night, she made me realise how quickly I could get a word count up by such a regime. Which made me think my initial WIP deadline is do-able. Thanks Victoria for the push!
This article looks at how British author Jenn Ashworth came up with the #100DaysOfWriting challenge. The idea she said was more of a whim than a significantly planned concept. The exercise also started as she was coming out of a period of grief.
She posted the idea on Instagram with the #100DaysOfWriting tag. It was not to be about about productivity, hitting goals or word counts or even nailing her then work in progress, for her it was about an approach to falling back in love with writing. As she said:
“Every day for 100 days I would turn up to the book. There was no obligation to write for any amount of time, or to a word count every day, but just that I would turn up. I hoped that after these 100 days, I would’ve made friends with the book again, maybe finished it, maybe got over my terror. I put this up on Instagram, kind of as a way of holding myself accountable. I thought if I sent it in public, then I’ll have to do it.” – Jenn Ashworth
During that initial challenge others joined her and the #100DaysOfWriting is now a well established movement on Instagram, and has expanded beyond writing to include all forms of creativity.
I feel that both approaches by A.J.Finn and Jenn Ashworth are not only attainable but provide a practical path to instilling discipline to my own personal/creative writing. As tomorrow -1 October – doubles as a public holiday here in Radelaide, it provides me the perfect starting point to give the #100DaysOfWriting writing challenge a go. I might not get the first draft of the WIP completed but I should be well advanced on setting up a far more disciplined approach to this craft that I love.
So follow me at my Instagram site @fontyk for daily updates on my progress with the challenge along with weekly updates here at Crossbordertales. Stay tuned…
I am the last of the Writers’ of Adelaide group to make the blog chain. To see how the rest of the group have tacked this common aspect of a writer’s life please visit their blogs:
To be a creative I believe is something that is innate within you, it drives you, and to a certain extent, is your life force.
Creativity is probably one of the most important characteristics of being human. It is one of the main traits that makes us successful not only as individuals but as a species.
Therefore there is much to be said about the importance of creativity in our lives.
According to the Oxford dictionary creativity is defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. Therefore we often think about creativity as making, but I have also come across a description of creativity meaning ‘to grow’, a definition I think is the closest to describing just how creativity operates.
When I am creative I feel as if the world, and all that is in it, is vibrantly alive and that indeed I am growing as a person.
Whether it is something that is a part of one’s nature or something that can emerge through nurture, I will leave to science to determine. However in my case I have been one of the lucky ones who has been surrounded by creativity all my life. It is probably why I have been prepared to embrace it not only as an important, but a vital, element of life.
With an artist father and a foster father who was a master craftsman in shoemaking, there was no way I could escape creativity. I have never known a time where there hasn’t been someone doing something creative around me. Even my grandfather who could be described as an ‘Ocker’ Australian – a football, meat pie and Holden cars type of guy – was also to me a creative man. He built his own veranda extensions, the barbecue, a fountain and even a caravan, before his untimely death to cancer. Things all made his own hands (and often part of family projects).
While that familial male creativity was of a practical nature, there is also a history of what I would call intellectual creativity within my family, particularly on my father’s side.
My father’s three brothers all had creative careers at some point in their lives involving such fields as advertising, acting, music and copywriting. I recall going to the Dunstan Playhouse a few times during the 1970s and 1980s to watch Uncle John perform in State Theatre Company performances (the sets usually also painted by my father), or seeing him appear on the television through South Australian Film Corporation miniseries productions such as Sarah Dane and For The Term of His Natural Life. His wife, my Aunt Judy, was also an actor, one of her most notable roles being the schoolteacher in the 1976 adaption of Storm Boy (and yes I am looking forward to seeing the new movie when it is released soon). Even their children, my cousins, have been dancers, musicians and writers.
I also suspect that growing up in Adelaide during the Dunstan in the 1970s provided a significant backdrop to this creative output that surrounded me.
Unsurprisingly most of my childhood hobbies tended to revolve around creativity. Being the youngest by a few years, I developed the knack of entertaining myself and regarded creativity as a friend. In addition to piano and dancing lessons, I would spend many an hour absorbed in writing, reading, drawing and listening to music. It was also not surprising that many of my friends also had a tendency towards creativity.
Given this background it was obvious that creativity would also play a large part of my adult life. The big debate of my secondary school years was over what form that adult creativity would be, as I vacillated between journalism or acting. I still remember clearly a wintry Saturday afternoon sitting in my bedroom and all of 15, when I made the momentous decision that whatever uni course I got into would probably determine my future professional creativity. Essentially, as a good creative I really left it up to the universe to decide my my fate. In the end that toss of the coin landed on journalism after successfully obtaining a cadetship at The Advertiser. As they say, the rest is history.
Looking back now it was probably always going to be the path I pursued. Although I have since crossed over to the ‘dark side’ to work in public relations and communications, writing remains my true creative outlet. While creative hobbies have included singing along with dabbling in drawing, painting and photography; my creative muse is strongest when I’m doing my own writing.
Maybe because of self-imposed deadline pressures, I know how I feel when I don’t get to take up that chance to write. I can be somewhat antsy when day-to-day life and other commitments get in the way of progressing either this blog or the work in progress.
Even when I don’t feel well, allowing a creative moment and getting a little bit of creativity happening always makes me feel so much better.
As I said before, when I am creative it feels as though all is right with the world and I feel alive.
However creativity is not just important to my own self being. I believe it is also vitally important at a broader level for our society. To me, if creativity was to cease around us there would no such thing as a civilised society. It is why the current culture wars I see occurring both here in Australia and elsewhere around the Western world scares me.
Without creativity and culture we would not grow, we would not innovate and worst of all beauty would, I believe, disappear. It would result in a very grey world. Such a world unfortunately presents the perfect ingredients for democracy to die and totalitarianism to flourish. The consequences of such tyranny is stagnation. It is why I will continue to embrace, practice and promote creativity and encourage you all to do the same. The price simply is too high.
This piece is part of the August 2018 Writers of Adelaide blog chain. Dean Mayes has kicked off the conversation with his take on the importance of creativity. Others who will be joining in include:
It is one of the reasons I praise my ancestors who not only decided to jump on leaky boats from European ports for the arduous colonial sea voyage to Australia but had the sense to make South Australia, rather than the eastern seaboard, their destination.
As a born and mostly bred South Australian (there is a part of my childhood linked to the Northern Territory but I digress), my whole life has been imbued with the creativity and excitement that comes with having one of the most significants arts festivals in the world on your doorstep. Even when I have lived away from Adelaide and South Australia this influence remained with me.
While we are all aware of Mad March with the flurry of Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Writers Week, the Fringe and Womadelaide; Adelaide is in fact a hive of cultural expression all year round. No matter where your creative instincts may lie, should it be either in fine arts, music, crafts, performing arts or writing, there are a myriad of events that we can indulge in for the remaining 11 months of the year. This includes the Cabaret Festival, the Guitar Festival, the Umbrella Winter City Sounds, SALA, OzAsia or Feast. Then there are our cultural institutions such as the Festival Centre, State Theatre Company, State Opera, the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum that provide further opportunities for cultural pursuits. You can see why Adelaide’s nick name – Radelaide – has emerged.
If that isn’t enough inspiration for creatives living in Adelaide there are the artistic support networks located around the city. From my own writing perspective I have gained much from Writers SA with their resources, services and regular courses.
This cultural intensity also leads to some amazing community based and informal artistic and creative support around Radelaide. A good example of this level of support for me has been a local social media based writers’ group which I joined last year. Not only has it been a great source of support while embarking on the latest WIP but is also has also provided a forum to discuss and share articles and ideas on the writing craft.
The group – Writers of Adelaide – is quite an eclectic group with the membership ranging from those lucky ones who have reached publication status to others, like me, still wrangling that first draft together. One of its great joys for me is the opportunity to swap notes on juggling the writing life with real life, reminding us all as we sit down to write whether it is at our computers, on other electronic devices or handwriting down ideas with pen and paper, that we are not alone. The other thing we all have in common is our passion for writing.
This year the group has evolved away from our computer screens to now include monthly face to face catch ups providing further support to the creative life. A more recent innovation has been the establishment of a blog chain. With many of us sporting blogs we felt the concept provided an avenue for cross promoting each other’s blogs in turn hopefully generating more followers for us all. It also greatly helps in providing a blog topic prompt. It is in fact this month’s blog chain topic – Adelaide a source of inspiration for your writing or your job – is providing the mojo for this post.
Away from the support for creativity this city provides, Adelaide itself is a great source of inspiration as a writer. A former journalist with The Advertiser (Adelaide’s daily morning newspaper) I was fortunate to meet so many interesting people and cover some great events across this city during my time on the editorial floor. It won’t surprise me if any of them ever pop up in my own writing some time.
Away from the glitter and glam as a city renowned for its support of the arts and culture, there is a darker side of Adelaide. A dark side that also provides a source of inspiration for writers – its predilection for the unusual, brutal and in some cases still unsolved, crimes. Radelaide with its hot summers and long western coastline of sandy beaches provides a backdrop to one of the most baffling crimes ever – the mystery of the Beaumont Children. Having grown up and gone to school in Glenelg I must confess the spectre of that mystery very much played into my childhood consciousness. It was easy for my parents and teachers to just mention the Beaumont name for us to be very aware of stranger danger. There was no need to invent fictional ogres.
I was still at school when the victims of The Family and Truro murders went missing (a further contributing factor towards stranger danger awareness) and was at The Advertiser during the subsequent trials for those convicted. Where else but in South Australia could you come up with the Snowtown body in the barrels case?
They say that truth can be stranger than fiction and Radelaide certainly knows how to write a damn good crime story.
It comes as no surprise that this history has attracted the interest of writers and was certainly a topic of conversation at Adelaide Writers Week in 1984. The event’s major drawcard British writer Salman Rushdie certainly got tongues wagging (and much newprint produced) when he declared the city the perfect setting for a Stephen King novel or horror film. “Adelaide,” he said “is Amityville or Salem.”
Away from the dark side, the romantic soul of Adelaide with its food and wine, gardens, parks and relatively close proximity to the Mount Lofty Ranges and South Coast also provides inspiration. Friend and romance writer Victoria Purman has included Adelaide (and other parts of the state) in her published works and one of my all time favourite local novels, Where The Queens All Strayed by Barbara Hanrahan is very much an ode to Radelaide.
Adelaide – the Festival City. I am a very lucky writer to be able to call her home and revel in the source of creativity and inspiration she provides to me.
I am the last Writers of Adelaide blogger to post my thoughts on Radelaide but the group through this blog chain have all provided some great takes on just what makes this city tick for them. For some it is an inspiring place to raise a family while for those who have come from elsewhere, inspiration has come through the joy of discovering Adelaide and ultimately deciding this was a good place to establish roots.
So while this is my creative take on Adelaide please feel free to look at what my fellow Writers of Adelaide colleagues have had to say about this grand girl:
I will not say; do not weep; for not all tears are an evil – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King.
At the end of April my world was rocked by the sudden death of my brother, Werner.
Beset by a debilitating skin condition for most of his adult life he was not the most of well of men, his unexpected departure from this world was nevertheless a shock.
Having no partner or children, my Mother and I had very little chance initally to absorb the impact of his death as we quickly dispatched ourselves to Hobart, where he lived, to organise his affairs and say goodbye.
While a sad time, this immediate period after his death spent in Tasmania was also a cathartic time. In packing up his possessions, catching up with old mutual friends or meeting new people whose lives who had been touched by him, I was able to update my picture of a wonderful, crazy, and passionate man who left us way too soon. That mental picture has become central to my sense of remembrance of him.
The initial grief period in Tasmania through exchanging the stories of my brother and the shared experience of sorrow, confirmed for me how unique the journey of grief is for all of us. I now believe there is no right or wrong way in going about this fundamental life experience.
I am well aware that as time unfolds my grief and sense of remembrance will also change, particularly as major milestones such as birthdays and holiday celebrations including Christmas unfold in coming months.
However Werner’s death has not been the only one. Unfortunately Death has decided to remain active around me although not quite as directly. Since my return from Tasmania close friends and other family members have joined me on the grieving journey.
With Death being so prominent in recent weeks, it is probably needless to point out that writing, either on this blog or the work in progress, has not been a high priority.
My brother’s affairs had to be sorted out (a process that still continues), family members to support and friends searching for answers. This coalition of grief needed each other and the space for creativity was simply not a high priority.
Having made certain pronouncements on my writing goals at the beginning of the year , I quickly realised I had to be kind to myself and therefore decided not to get stressed about the fact that my writing projects have taken a hiatus. This wasn’t the time to force the writing.
Deep down I always knew that the need to do my own writing would return along with the reappearance of the muse. As you can see it is slowly emerging, although only baby steps at this stage.
However the creative life has not been void in recent weeks. It has been somewhat more a passive than active pursuit as the creativity of others guide me through these initial stages of grief. Solace has been gained through looking at a art, listening to music, attending a concert, reading books or watching fine acting. This passive absorption of creativity has been fitting. For my brother and I the creative world was a mutual sphere for us and through these activities I have been able to find him.
Indeed I can say that the creative world has been a blessing.
However these recent experiences have prompted me to ponder on the impact of grief on creativity. I am well aware that for some it can hinder the muse, while for others it becomes a central aspect of their healing process.
As everyone’s ability to grieve is unique I therefore believe the combination of creativity and grief is an unique process. We never know quite how it will hit us until we are in its midst. I also suspect that how I am experiencing it now could well differ the next time I confront grief and loss.
One of the most poignant experiences of grieving and creativity I have ever come across is the experience of one of the my favourite composers, Nigel Westlake following the murder of his son Eli in 2008.
For the first 12 months after the event composing and creativity was the last thing on his mind, as he recalls in the CD notes for his work Missa Solis:
“Many things, including music, completely lost their relevance and meaning. I was cast into an abyss of grief and yearning. All plans went on hold, future work prospects were postponed or cancelled.” – Nigel Westlake, Missa Solis CD notes.
At the time of Eli’s death Westlake had already started composing Missa Solis as a secular mass to the sun, however by the time the work finally premiered in 2011 it had turned into a requiem for Eli. As Westlake recalls:
“When I finally worked up the will and the courage to revive my interest in composition, in the forefront of my mind was the desire to express my grief at the loss of my son through music.
As the pages of Missa Solis stared back at me from the desk, I saw within them the potential to further expand upon this material in a way that might somehow reflect the enormity of my loss. As I pondered the parallel between the words ‘sun’ and ‘son’, Primavera’s ancient ode, ‘My joy is born every time I gaze at my beautiful sun’ now assumed a portentous significance. Here lay the blueprint for Eli’s requiem.” – Nigel Westlake, Missa Solis CD notes.
Since then Westlake’s grief and honouring of his son has continued to influence his creativity which has included the beautiful song cycle Compassion created in association with Lior. A piece of music that has been a part of my own grief soundtrack.
As my own words finally once again flicker from the screen, I suspect grief’s impact on my creativity is yet to fully express itself; however I am thankful that green shoots of creative expression are once again starting to emerge from within me.
Time will tell where the juxtaposition of grief and creativity will lead me, however I am already certain of one thing. There is beauty through tears.
Werner, may I continue on the creative journey for both of us. xo
Today is Anzac Day and like many Australians I have spent the day in contemplation and thanks for those who have served my country.
Despite the fact there have been limited direct action on Australian soil, it is nevertheless a very rare Australian family indeed who have not been touched by war.
There are those like me, who are descendants of those original World War One Anzacs or of the subsequent generations that fought in later 20th century conflicts ensuring the continuation of our lifestyle and society that I suspect we so often take for granted today.
Then there are others whose family background doesn’t include the Anzac tradition. Instead they are the descendants of soldiers from the opposite sides of the front. Their families having decided that Australia provided an opportunity for a fresh start away from their war torn countries.
Unfortunately there are those recent families who still have had to flee war and persecution. Some of whom are still waiting in limbo for that new life of freedom.
Born 20 years after World War 2 and with the Vietnam War already raging in the background, I recognise that my life and that of my family’s has been shaped by war.
I might have been a child of the Cold War but I also very much grew up in the shadow of both World Wars.
The family war stories started with the legend of my Great Grandfather, a veteran of the Western Front and whom, unlike two Great Great Uncles on my Great Grandmother’s side, did make it back to Australia. Unfortunately he died years before I was born but his stories that were passed down to us, nevertheless ensured his presence was still around.
Then there were my Grandparents who both joined the Air Force in 1940 just months after their December 1939 marriage; a Great Uncle who was a Rat of Tobruk and my Great Aunt and foster Mother (my complex family makeup is for another day), who worked in munitions. I grew up hearing all these stories and understood that the years between 1939 and 1945 shaped not only their lives but that of subsequent generations.
Through my Bulgarian foster Father and other family friends, the Europeans who decided that Australia was far enough away from blood soaked soil of Europe to regenerate their lives, I also grew up understanding the reality of being a refugee and how their experience also shaped my world.
It is probably somewhat not surprising with these tales swirling around me, that I developed an interest in war stories from a young age. I still fondly remember the first book I read featuring a World War 2 background – “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.” Strictly speaking, this memoir by a German Jewish girl about her childhood fleeing Hitler, leading to a journey through Switzerland, France and finally Britain, was set in the 1930s before war broke out. However to my nine year old mind even then, Nazism and World War 2 were seemingly synonymous. As a story reflecting on the impact of politics and war on civilians it was a book that was to have a profound impact on me, leading to my lifelong interest of the home front both in Australia and abroad. That interest has included a particular fascination with stories involving children and war.
That absorbed knowledge over the years either through family tales, reading or formal study is driving my latest WIP. It is probably of no great surprise that the themes of war, conflict and their impact should emerge.
With the family background and my intellectual interest in the period, it is probably of no surprise that World War 2 is a partial setting to the work. However not only are historical conflicts and political events shaping the work, the impact of terrorism on our 21st century lives is also making itself felt.
I am now as a result relishing one of the great joys as a writer, the opportunity to place yourself squarely in a world which until now has only been available to me vicariously. There is however, I believe, a balancing act in having this privileged position.
Although this is a fictional work the fact that my story is set in real time and place means I need to honour that. Consequently there have been times while writing that I stop and think about whether, given that I haven’t had a direct experience on what I am writing about it, should even be writing about it in the first place. I suspect, and hope, that many writers of historical fiction have this same debate.
This is where the legend and memory of the Anzacs and all the other experiences of war I have come across over the years have proved to be pivotal in helping me to reconcile that indeed I do have a right to do this.
Having studied history at university I am a strong believer that if we forget the lessons of the past we are set to experience it all again. Therefore I have decided that reminding people about the reality and impact of war, even as part of a fictional work, is an important part of ensuring those lessons remains alive.
Once the manuscript is finally complete and the story is out there for all to read, I suspect there will be others who will then debate about whether I have that right to write about such experiences. However again that is one of the joys of being a writer – to generate that debate.
If at the end of the day I honestly feel that I have made a meaningful contribution towards reminding us all on the folly and consequences of war it is really all one can ask for.
Indeed Lest We Forget.
As March comes to a close, I bid farewell on the period that is Mad March and my foray as a culture vulture.
For most of the month Adelaide Writers’ Week, the Adelaide Festival and the Fringe Festival have dominated my time. A wonderful way to have the creative well replenished and energised.
Now that these events have called a wrap, I usually go through somewhat of a grief period. However this year the withdrawal process will be somewhat easier thanks to a significant number of new additions to the ‘to read’ pile.
In reading them I will be able to once agin ponder on the many wonderful words, thoughts and discussions that permeated, particuarly at Writers’ Week, making it the great event that it known for.
This year was no exception with an array of writers who entertained, provoked, delighted and/or pushed me to a deeper understanding of why writing and books are still so central to our culture.
In 2018 a dominant theme emerged from the diversity of topics covered during this year’s event. Empathy. Not just by writers as they discussed their stories, but among readers as well.
So since then I’ve been musing on what is it about empathy in reading and writing that makes it so powerful?
First of all what exactly is empathy?
The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as the ability to identify with a person or object. However when considering it in the context of writing and reading I think the Scrivener dictionary definition – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – hits the nail on the head.
Empathy, I believe, is therefore at the heart of any writing and reading. In fiction however it is vital.
As a writer I need to be empathetic to my characters in order to achieve a depth and complexity in their creation. While at the same time I’m doing this I am also inviting you dear reader to transcend your thoughts, worlds and own lives to experience another’s.
Story therefore provides both us as writers and readers with a pathway to connect with the rest of humanity. It’s powerful stuff.
That central role of empathy in literature for me further illustrates the importance of books, writing and words to society and why ignoring them is at our peril.
In an interview with the New York Times as he departed the White House in January 2017, President Obama described how reading fiction and the associated empathy was important to his decision making.
“I think that I found myself better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful…And perspective is exactly what is wanted. At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes — those two things have been invaluable to me. ”
— Barack Obama, “President Obama on What Books Mean to Him,” New York Times, January 16, 2017
Given our current political climate where division and divide are increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception, just think what it would be like if all leaders were avid fiction readers?
However I digress. It does however lead me to believe that by promoting empathy, and in turn the opportunity to experience someone else’s world through writing and reading, provides a way to counteract the propaganda, misinformation and intolerance that is now so pervasive in both mainstream and social media. When we walk in each other’s shoes, it is harder to misunderstand or hate one another.
So as a writer I feel there is a sacred duty to promote empathy in my work. It also means that I am required to reach a level of empathy that goes beyond what is necessary for reading.
The best way for me to achieve the writers’ empathy is through the creation of my characters. While I’m well aware they aren’t real people I nevertheless need to empathise with them as if they are so I am successful in their creation.
It is why I spend so much time in working on the backstory as I need to know my characters inside out, consider their lives and their choices from their perspective. UltimatelyI need to allow them to take control and choose their own path.
Even if I don’t personally agree with their choices I must be empathetic to that decision and direction. Let’s face it isn’t that what a part of being a creative is all about, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone?
Once away from the desk and the computer screen, that writerly empathy, can then assist in our interactions back in the real world. It makes us more aware that others are strugling with the same joys, pressures and mistakes and in some cases their situation could even be worse. It forces me to consider how my choices can effect someone else.
Powerful stuff indeed.
Looking back at Adelaide Writers’ Week, words and their power is truly what this event is all about. To hear a group of wonderful writers to tell their own and others’ stories and all for free. We are truly blessed here in Adelaide.
As Australian author Robert Drewe mentioned while discussing his latest novel Whipbird during one of the Writers’ Week session. “Everyone talks about the death of the novel but you only need to walk into the book tent to see that’s not right. Fiction is very much alive in Adelaide.”
If that is the case empathy is also very much alive here in Adelaide.
Shakespeare productions come and go but Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s production of Kings of War, surpasses everything I have ever seen to date featuring the Bard’s words.
The Dutch company’s triumphant return to the Adelaide Festival with this production that conflates Shakespeare’s five history plays – Henry V, Henry VI (Parts I, II and III) and Richard III, clearly illustrates how the themes of power, greed and war are still so resonant in the 21st century.
I had missed TG Amsterdam’s previous visit with Roman Tragedies in the 2014 Adelaide Festival but as with that production, Ivo van Hove has combined a thematic series of Shakespeare’s works that through his translation provides a new respect for these great plays.
It is a production that is both complex and simple at the same time. The main stage setting of a modern war room, counterpoints to a behind the scenes warren of white corridors which through live video are relayed back to the audience on a large screen above centre stage. Through these stark settings along with the interplay of technology, scenographer Jan Versweyvel has cleverly projected us into a world of intrigue and murder. It provides a sense of watching the TV news until you realise that in fact we have gone beyond the main story and are for once privy to the backstory.
The Shakespeare history plays, set during the last stages of The Hundred Years War and the War of the Roses in the 1400s have long been regarded as part of Tudor propaganda, written to firm up the claims of the Tudor dynasty to the English throne. Whether such claims are true they nevertheless 500 years later still powerfully depict how propaganda and cynicism shapes power, priviledge and rule.
However Kings of War isn’t all intense and seriousness, van Hove’s pared down script and the stellar cast masterfully portray comedy and irony. One of the highlights is the interchange between Ramsey Nasr as Henry V and Hélène Devis as Catherine of Valois when the former tries to overcome a language barrier to woo her. There is also the nod to the current political climate with Hans Kesting’s Richard III’s imaginary telephone conversations to Trump, Hitler and Stalin/Putin. Kesting as Richard III and Eelco Smits as the tragic and peace loving Henry VI are the standout performances although this ensemble cast are on point all the way through.
In addition to the use of technology, the story is also amplified by the use of music with brass instruments creating a sense of pomp and ceremony and the tension and darkness that lurks all the way through, while countertenor Steve Dugardin’s beautiful voice transports us back to the 1400s. Another clever way of illustrating how the themes of propaganda, power, politics and greed are indeed timeless.
While I walked into the Festival Theatre wondering if I could cope with 4.5 hours of Shakespeare in Dutch (with English subtitles), I walked out mesmerised. This is indeed theatre at its very best.
Kings of War is a must see. Through this work Ivo van Hove has created a beautiful prayer for peace.
Writing time remains unfortunately as elusive as ever while work continues to be all encompassing, sucking up any chance not only for writing but also for reading.
However finding reading time, no matter how brief, has been luckily a little easier to come by.
It is through a recent reading experience that I have come across an element of this most wonderful of pursuits that I had never seriously contemplated until now — reading as therapy.
Like any bookworm I enjoy the fact that stories can take me to parts of the world that I am yet to traverse, or remind me of cities and towns that remain fond holiday ports. I enjoy the fact that someone else’s characters become, for a brief period of time, part of my life, breathing an existence of their own. There is also the opportunity in reading, to embrace worlds and activities one can only dream about.
Reading for me is discovering more about life and my own place in an increasingly complicated world.
One thing about reading that I never really experienced until recently is reading as a distraction.
During the heatwave that descended upon Adelaide earlier this month and feeling that one was at the gates of Hades, I decided to pick up my book rather than turn on the computer to write. I plead this was not procrastination and the reading was linked to my current work in progress, the heat sapping energy was making the brain feel passive than active so reading it was.
Anyhow I digress, having picked up my book in 43C heat I proceeded for the next couple of hours to reacquaint myself with one of my most favourite cities in the world – Paris – and the fascinating story that antiques can sometimes provide. Immersed in a world of auction houses, Parisian apartments and cafes and flirtatious French men I forgot for a brief while about the burning hell that was occurring outside.
A couple of days after my heat escaping read I came across a news article discussing the impending change whereby codeine products were to be only available by prescription. The article included comments by a chronic pain sufferer on the new pain management techniques he had implemented to not only overcome the change but to reduce his reliance on codeine. The new found methods he had embraced to reduce his suffering included reading.
This emerging theme of reading as a distraction came up again the next day while talking to a girlfriend about her stress in trying to find a new house at short notice mentioned how she spent the weekend reading as a way to calm herself down while waiting to see if her application for a new place would be successful. I am pleased to report she also got the house.
These three instances got me thinking… so what it is about reading that makes it more than just a pleasurable pastime and possibly something more transcendental.
Virginia Woolf once wrote that a book “splits us into two parts as we read for the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego, while promising perpetual union with another mind.”
In remembering that quote I immediately understood the importance of reading as a transcendental activity and in turn explaining, to me anyway, why reading can be therapeutic. I also now realise that I have unconsciously used reading for therapy and healing over time without realising the effect it was having on me. Yes, indeed story telling is powerful stuff.
Since this great dawning reality I have started looking at my fiction reading and writing in a new light. Is it my leap into mindfulness, placing me into a meditative state to process and deal with the world?
It seems that science agrees, with its own scientific field — bibliotherapy.
Research around the world indicates that reading can place our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, providing the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Reading has been shown to reduce stress by 68%, more than listening to music, going for a walk, or having a cup of tea. Readers seem to sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. Now I know why I embrace reading so much.
Last year (2017) I came across for the first time the Australian Reading Hour. This year it will be held on September 20. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you choose but as long as we all find an hour to enjoy the beauty of a printed word. Last year I found my hour by turning off the TV and going to bed early. I really should endeavour to wind down like this more often.
The aim of the day is for Australians to either rediscover or introduce themselves to the benefits of reading.
Given a book tragic like myself has only recently realised the therapeutic benefits of reading, it makes sense why there has to be a day set aside to promote and encourage the benefits of reading for both young and old. Even if you have never been a bookworm in your life, don’t worry it is never too late to pick up a book. It is a journey, I promise you won’t regret.
As another’s words provide therapy for me, I look forward to the day when my own words can be a source of healing for someone else. That’s something for me to aspire to with my writing.
As I come towards the end of the first month 0f 2018 I am already aware that my grand plans of focussing on writing this year is getting a serious battering.
I suppose one really needs to be a little more realistic when setting holiday writing goals I did however manage a couple of writing blocks, a fair whack of research and the reactivation of this blog, but that was it.
Then January came along with a series of emergency management issues involving fires and fruit fly. Not only did this cause an early return to work by three days early but also a three week blur of long hours and weekend work again minimising precious writing time.
I am well aware that I am not alone as we make the transition from holiday mode back to day to day reality as I became involved in many a conversation in various Facebook writing forums about finding that elusive time to write.
To my fellow writers who have taken to early morning writing starts I applaud you. Well done you!
Not being a morning person and particularly before at least one cup of coffee, an early writing sprint is currently a little beyond my abilities. Such a plan also clashes with my other grand scheme for 2018, to improve my fitness levels. This is particularly to counter the long hours already spent sitting at a desk. So any early start I have been able to muster so far this year has been reserved for the exercise sessions.
One evening last week however a moment of inspiration led to a combination of exercise and writing occurring in one full swoop. While taking a late evening walk Yours Truly suddenly came across an idea for a particular scene in the novel. I had heard how exercise can help creativity but I had not heard how one can take advantage of this moment and not lose the opportunity to keep up with the fitness regime at the same time.
However all was not lost. Realising the importance of capturing this light bulb moment, I flicked open the smartphone, switched on the microphone and dictated the scene while continuing on with the walk. While some might think it is taking multi tasking to the extreme, I did go to bed happy that night knowing not only had I made my 10,000 step goal for the day but also managed to add 400 words and a scene to the manuscript.
I should probably stop gnashing my teeth on my minimal writing time so far this year and look upon any chance for writing that I have been able to snaffle, no matter how big or small, as steps towards the my goal of a more focussed writing year.
So here I am finally once again able to fire up the computer, sit down, start typing away and tell you a story.
As today’s temperature in Adelaide reaches beyond 42C and the town seemingly in hibernation, it is appropriate to discuss a new form of story telling I have embraced recently – Slow TV – thanks to the SBS program The Ghan.
Despite no plot, dialogue or narration, I was mesmerised while watching both the three hour and 17 hour versions in recent weeks. To me it was story telling at its simplest.
While I didn’t watch both versions from woah to go, when I did sit down in front of the TV I found the concept absolutely captivating. Is it because it is just paring a story back back to it’s most basic or the fact that it is train travel lived vicariously? I believe my fascination might actually be both.
I’ve always adored train travel. From the Murder on the Orient Express, The 39 Steps, Anna Karenina, the Railway Children and others; I’ve loved the depiction of railway travel in stories. It is the thought, I suspect, of a captive cast who emerge to create a new world of possibilities, incidents and characters while the outside world rushes by.
As a young child taking various trips around Adelaide with my father at weekends on the old red hen railcars, I always had the feeling on the train that one was in a separate and complete world away from the scenes that flashed by the railcar window. It was only once you were back onto the platform would the two worlds merge.
Often freezing in winter or wilting in summer as you were stuck to the red vinyl seats the red hens nevertheless would take you out of your own backyard and allow you to explore the wider metropolitan area and beyond. I recall the joy of going through tunnels on the way up to Mount Lofty, playing with the the autumn leaves at Belair National Park, eating ice creams while walking along the beach at Brighton, Semaphore or Grange and going on the longer trip out to Gawler. In those days it was still a country town rather that an outer metro area and like the train journey to Bridgewater, it provided an opportunity to step out of Adelaide.
Yes train travel and I are like peas in a pod. It seems to be a natural fit.
It is no surprise that my first great travel adventure should be by train, although to be fair I should preface that statement by admitting my first interstate journey actually involved flight.
However there is something about your first great railway journey. It also now seems fitting in discussing my recent encounter with Slow TV my first great railway trip was in fact on the old Ghan – the Central Australian Railway – from Adelaide through to The Alice and included the original narrow gauge line from Marree to Alice Springs. That adventure is seared in my memory.
For little six year old me, going on the old Ghan was also my introduction to Central Australia, an area that was to play a further role in my childhood, although I wasn’t to know it at the time. What I do remember however is a three day journey north that made me realise how big our great country truly is.
It was December 1972 and I was part an extended family group travelling to Alice Springs to spend the festive season with family members living up there. This was the era when the Stuart Highway was still unsealed, so if you wanted your car at the end of the journey, the best way to ensure the vehicle reached Alice in one piece was via The Ghan.
A very early summer morning saw me walking through Adelaide Railway Station’s Marble Hall, holding Mum’s hand and in awe of the beautiful stonework, providing a calmness that promised great things. However the peace didn’t last long as one was suddenly became immersed in the hubbub of checking in luggage, making your way through the crowds to the platform and ultimately our carriage. There was a further burst of activity as conductors punched tickets, valets directed you to your cabin and rushed goodbyes were made to family members staying behind in Adelaide as the final call and whistle rang out.
Waving goodbye through the window, a little thrill ran through me as the train pulled out of the station, through the parklands, the northern suburbs and finally onto the mid north countryside. For the first time I was finally in a train that was going beyond Gawler!
My fondest memory of that initial leg to Port Pirie was my first foray in the dining car and being allowed to choose my own dishes (for a six year old this is significant). It must have been for lunch as I recall having cream of chicken soup. I know I was already a fiend of chicken noodle soup but this seems to be my first recollection of cream of chicken soup and it also seems to be the meal that fostered my ongoing love affair with pepper.
I was continually fascinated as I sat in the carriage lounge watching the country side pass by. Boredom strangely was not a factor here. There was something always seeking your attention, whether it was the ever changing landscape, being hypnotised by the ongoing thread of the electricity and telegraph poles and lines, observing one end of the train from the other while as it rounded a bends, or waiting in the siding as a goods trains rushed by.
After the change of trains at Port Pirie the clocks dotted through the train gained in significance with me as I moved through the carriages from the lounge to our berth and into the dining car. Whenever I came across one I would start to work out how long it would be before we reached our next stop at Port Augusta and onto our the change of trains at Marree that night. I was learning quickly that keeping a track of time was very much a part of train travel.
However I was also about to learn that in the case of the old Ghan keeping to timetables was not its forte.
The first inkling of this train’s idiosyncratic time keeping occurred just north of Port August while in the dining room having dinner.
Unlike the chicken soup of lunch I no longer recall what I was eating when the train came to a halt. By now used to the train stopping at various stages of our journey so far to allow for the passage of the goods trains past us, neither myself or anyone around me thought this stop signified anything different and we continued on with our meal.
However the longer the train remained stationary and without the accompanying rumble of a goods train passing by, it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary stop. In time one of the conductors came into the car to confirm our suspicions. This time the stop was due to a derailment of a goods train further north of the line. We would shortly be continuing on with our journey near to the derailment point and staying in the train overnight until the buses arrived in the morning for us to continue to Marree.
The old Ghan was once again showing how she was the mistress of her own timetable and not Commonwealth Railways. Derailments, from buckled rails brought about by the searing heat and floods that often came from no where to wash away the line, were a common part of life on the Central Australian Railway. I was soon to learn that it was a rare occurrence for the Ghan to ever complete the journey on time.
By the time dinner finished the train had once again set off and subsequently Yours Truly was packed off to bed to enjoy for the first time the delicious pleasure of being rocked to sleep by the gentle motion of the train moving through the starlit desert night.
The next day emerging out of the train in the morning light, we were all able to see the damage ahead of us caused by the goods trains. Twisted rails and wagons concertinaed across the sands. It was clear that our train was going nowhere.
This was also the first time I had step out of the train onto the parched country side and already the morning air brought the promise of the heat that was to come. It was quickly apparent the bus trip to Marree was going to be uncomfortable. This was before we even saw the buses.
A short while after breakfast the buses turned up. I can’t remember clearly the older family members reactions to what we were going to be travelling but salubrious they weren’t.
Our transportation to Marree was to be via buses used by Leigh Creek coalminers. While you could see a hint of the past lives as a part of Adelaide’s metropolitan bus network, they had nevertheless gone through a serious transformation in their new role of carting miners through the desert. All now remained was a ghost consisting of just the metal skeleton of the bus frame, the glass having been removed to enable as much air as possible to flow through.
My grandfather, realising that as being the youngest passenger on board the train I was going to need all the help I could get in making it to Marree. So as the transfer of passengers and baggage occurred he walked through all the carriages, obtaining empty drink cans and filling them up with water before stocking them in the bus. All I now remember of this bus journey was the searing heat as we bounced along the unsealed rocky road with my mother pouring water from the collected cans over me and constantly wetting the face washers that were wrapped around me neck in an effort to keep me cool. Thank you Grandpa for coming up with your great plan.
After a while we finally made it to Lyndhurst and the pub.
Taking a break in the shade of the Lyndhurst Hotel verandah, you could see the shimmer of the heat into the horizon as you looked out on the treeless plains beyond. It was at this point I fully appreciated just how unforgiving our big brown land could be. I was also grateful for the cold glass of lemonade that had come my way.
Looking out onto the sunburnt plains I overheard the adults behind me discussing the fact that while it was 42C in the shade, it was more like 50 degrees or more out in the sun. I didn’t doubt them.
However Marree still beckoned and all too soon it was time once again to rejoin the skeleton bus, the heat, the dust and the flies for the remainder of that bone shaking journey and more cans of water being poured over me.
On reaching Marree and sighting the train, we thought that worst of the adventures were over. The old Ghan still wasn’t done with us yet.
As we settled into our cabin we were advised by the conductor that the air-conditioning in our carriage had broken down and they hoped to replace it with one that worked. So for the rest of the afternoon the train shunted to and fro as other carriages were reorganised but for us it was to no avail. As our carriage contained the lounge car there was no choice but to continue on with our journey sans air.
Even in departing Marree The Ghan’s sense of humour continued.
As sunset approached an announcement came through to ask passengers who had been fortunate enough to have their carriages changed over to go onto the platform to identify their luggage. Given our carriage hadn’t changed we were sitting in the lounge area watching the activity occurring outside.
Seemingly without warning the train started moving. As with the collective thought process the night before just north of Port Augusta, the initial movement seemed no different to the shunting activity that had been occurring throughout the afternoon. However it soon became apparent that this time the train was starting to speed up forcing many to make a dash back into the moving carriages.
It is still one of the great mysteries of this adventure that the luggage seemingly left on the platform at Marree was somehow available for pick up on arrival at Alice Springs. I never found out just what happened but I suspect it was put on one of the goods trains that overtook us during that final leg north.
As we travelled into the night and into the next day slowly inching our way towards Alice Springs and despite our adventures encountered so far on the journey, I was still in awe of the country that was unfolding outside our carriage windows. Standing in the passage way with my cousin we marvelled as emus and kangaroos travelled along with us. Seeing them in their natural environment moving along the red sand and scrub suddenly gave life to the school and library books that until then had been our only reference to these magnificent creatures. For all her dramas The Ghan was still better than any classroom.
With no air conditioning and only a steel floor between you and the searing desert sand below, there was no way one could walk with bare feet. Jokes were abounding around the carriage about being able to cook an egg on the floor. It was one of my great disappointments that no one was game to try to test the truth of theory. However when going to bed during that our final leg to Alice Springs thongs were always strategically placed on the bunk in case one needed to get up during the night.
Finally in the early hours of Christmas Eve, three days after our departure from Adelaide we arrived in Alice Springs. My first great adventure on The Ghan was over but it was not to be my last, however the tale of those adventures are for another day.
In 2004 the 19th century colonial dream of a North/South transcontinental railway was finally realised when the new line via Tarcoola reached Darwin. I have yet to go on this full journey all the way from Adelaide to Darwin, other than what I have recently seen on SBS, but it is on my travel bucket list. I am looking forward to making the comparison of what I suspect will be a far smoother and comfortable journey against The Ghan of childhood adventure.
Another festive season is over and once again here I am at the starting line of a New Year with yet another resolution.
Like many I spend the last weeks of the year reviewing the achievements or otherwise of the past 12 months and begin to consider goals and aims for the coming year. Like many I then set myself up in great expectation with various resolutions.
Over the years I have taken on the more health related resolutions such as no alcohol consumption until my birthday (which being in April means a fair whack of the year of being teetotal), getting fit, setting weight goals, dieting and giving up smoking all with mixed results.
They have also all followed a similar pattern. December usually sees Yours Truly taking advantage of the seasonal festivities to indulge in good food and wine with the background thought that on 1 January I will suddenly go cold turkey and live the life of a nun by abstaining from alcohol, get fit and lose weight (not necessarily in that order) for the first few months of the year.
Well that is the plan.
Then suddenly the New Year arrives and the deadline clock clangs. “Hey baby there are no excuses now, it’s time,” says the little voice inside your head that you just know can’t be easily ignored.
So yes here I am on 2 January 2018 facing that shrill alarm clock.
I’ve now closed the chapter to 2017 and looking at the new page/chapter/story that will be this new year
However unlike past years 2018’s opening lines – the New Year Resolution – is already different.
This time around there is no declaration of getting fit, losing weight, going through a period of abstinance or even setting some unrealistic total on the number of books to read in the coming year. Yep 2018 is all about writing.
This year I am even publicly declaring it. In past years I have tended to keep my resolutions to myself and in doing so probably set them and I up for failure.
So the resolution/aim/plan/ goal is to have the first draft of my novel written by the end of 2018.
A necessary and tricky ingredient in ensuring this goal is met is to increase my writing time and to get the writing itself more out there. I say tricky as like many things the rest of the world will get in the way. I know I am very much not alone in stealing whatever time I can for this endeavour against full time work, dealing with ageing family members and in ensuring fitness, a balanced diet and a social life are not totally sacrificed as well. As you can see the themes of those other past resolutions are still a factor in this overall scheme.
At the moment a helping hand to this grand plan is the fact that I am still on leave, yet this has had its own distractions, the initial recovery from a hard year at work, preparing for Christmas, recovering from Christmas, catching up with friends and family who are in town for the holidays and then getting ready for the New Year.
Just as I was starting to worry that I would fall at the first hurdle, I cam across a wonderful blog piece this morning written by fellow local writer Jennifer Sando (http://www.jennifersando.com/festive-battle-or-break/), that reminded me on the need not to place too much pressure on oneself at the outset and in ensuring balance and patience with this endeavour.
Suddenly the procrastination and distractions that have occurred these holidays disappeared and the panic on hearing the screaming alarm clock about already being in 2018 and yet to commence my first writing steps for the year also dissipated.
So here I am on 2 January writing and already a part of this overall goal is about to be met – reactivating this blog.
Instead of a deadline of weekly blogs, I’m choosing instead the goal of having regular blogs that reflect on this 2018 writing journey. I may blog once a week or even more, while at other times it could be up to a fortnight before a relevant post is able to come along. Whenever it is I am committing myself here and now to regular blogging
As I embark on this journey over the next 12 months, I am already well prepared for the moments of frustration and tears that I know will come, but I also believe there will be highlights as well. I will reflect on those junctures such as the disappearance of the creative muse, dealing with the various competing interests on my precious writing time and share achieving the various baby steps to this project.
So 2018 come at me and let this journey begin… now back to writing the novel.
Sunset over forest wetland by the Glenelg Highway (between Casterton and Mount Gambier)
There are just some joys to doing the country commute.
It may still take me between forty minutes to just over an hour everyday to cross the border to get to work, the time being dependent on which town I am working from, but on a wonderful sunny day with nothing but farmland, forests and sea to look at the kilometres literally just fly by.
However I will be honest and confess that an issue with this commute is the dodging of our native and not so native fauna. Over the past two years I have had close encounters with kangaroos, eagles, emus, koalas, deer, echidnas, wombats, foxes, rabbits, cats, dogs and cows with contact fortunately so far avoided.
There are times I have had to scratch my head or do a double take as one of the above mentioned species decides to come into my line of vision, or worse stray onto my side of the road. The majesty of an eagle taking off, needs to be seen to believed and I never knew that koalas could be so big. I’ll won’t write here what I said when “Bambi” decided to hurtle across the road.
Payinthi (Prospect Town Hall) – Thursday, 23 February 2023
Farrell Flat Hall – Friday, 24 February 2023
Sinclair’s Gully Winery, Norton Summit – Saturday, 25 February 2023
Once again it is Festival season in Adelaide and CrossBorder Tales swings back into action as I navigate my way through all the 2023 Adelaide Fringe and Adelaide Festival offers.
It seems fitting that as 2023 sees a national conversation occurring on the Voice to Parliament, I have taken to the road with a group of First Nations artists with their Adelaide Fringe production First Nations Voices. A wonderful and at times spellbinding odyssey of truth telling through music and yarns.
Right from the outset this is a production that has resonated strongly having taken out the Best Music Award during its premiere season at the 2021 Adelaide Fringe. Since then, there has been several iterations of this program around South Australia and the Port Fairy Folk Festival. The 2023 edition is equally powerful with Adelaide-based singer songwriters Glenn Skuthorpe (Nhunggabarra, Kooma and Muruwari) and Nancy Bates (Barkindij), joined this time by Kaurna Elder Allen Edwards Senior, Gu Gu Yelanji song man Jungaji Brady and Torres Strait Islander Getano J Bann. The quartet superbly supported by Mike Haynes on bass and Dave Branton on drums.
By opening night at Payinthi the winds of change were already blowing with the South Australian Voice passing through the Legislative Council (upper house) just hours beforehand. With the legislation expected to go through the House of Assembly within the next few weeks you can feel the hope and expectation.
Immediately from the opening instrumental, a musical welcome and acknowledgement of country, you are transported on a sound journey that spans across this continent. It is powerful and spellbinding. As the songs unfold through the evening you can’t help but hear the birds in the trees, taste the fresh and salt water that surround and crisscross this land and the glow of the Milky Way as it dances across the night sky. This is a recognition of spirit.
During opening night, despite the late summer heatwave descending on Kaurna country it was a high energy show with the audience spellbound as the stories and music interweaved to create a powerful magic. At times you laughed and cried, while at other times you just wanted to sing and dance it was just enthralling.
Despite the air of optimism and the talk about change, nevertheless the legacy of colonialism is a core theme of the show. All four yarning on the injustices experienced, witnessed and shamefully still occurring in 2023. First Nations Voices is a chance for truth telling through song. These stories are honest and unflinching.
Before performing the hauntingly beautiful What Love Is, Bates raises the cold hard fact that Indigenous women are now the fastest growing prison population in Australia is that of Indigenous women – now at 37% – more than 20 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. A statistic more often than not linked to domestic, family sexual and other forms of violence against women.
The harsh reality is this story of violence against First Nations women is a global one as Skuthorpe reminds us with poignant Roll My 7’s, inspired by the disappearance of indigenous young women in Canada. Current estimates have that over the past 30 years as many as 4,000 Canadian Indigenous women and girls believed to have been killed or gone missing in Canada. A heinous statistic that is also tragically pervasive in Australia, with a Senate Committee inquiry last year (2022) finding murder rates for Indigenous women to be eight times higher than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Despite the upbeat tones of Getano’s Dumb, Drunk, and Racist, it is nevertheless a powerful message about the link between violence and racism with the song based on the true story of the 2014 bashing of a vision impaired indigenous elder on a Gold Coast bus by two drunken women.
From the heat of Prospect, the next day saw a 150km kilometre trek up the highway through the Mid North to Farrell Flat and Ngadjuri country, a historic wheat farming community that was once a stop on the old Peterborough railway. The significance of the railway to the town illustrated in the local silo art.
While the railway no longer rumbles through and the district’s farms have now merged into larger entities, it is nevertheless a can-do community with the show providing an opportunity for the local Farrell Flat Committee to raise funds for the institute building where the performance occurs. The community BBQ enabling the artists and locals to mingle together in the balmy late summer evening.
It is a respectful audience acknowledging the stories told to them. Contemplation seems to be the overriding atmosphere of the night. The truth telling providing a quiet power to the proceedings.
Then it is time for the return journey down the road back to Kaurna country, this time to land at Sinclair’s Gully Winery at Norton Summit for the third and final performance of the 2023 season.
Throughout the season this quartet has illustrated their strong connection to country through their work. Here on the open stage against the backdrop of the Candlebark forest with the yellow tailed black cockatoos joining in the musical language, it is obvious that a powerful and spine tingling sense of spirit is here. Creating a glorious beauty to the night.
While this atmosphere resonates strongly with all, it seems to be deepest with Jungaji, one of the few remaining fluent Gu Gu Yalanji speakers. Singing in language you can feel his passion to preserve his culture through his music and art, a drive initiated after meeting Babi Wawa, a 106-year old bush man. This passion seems to burst open with the glorious and powerful Mission Street.
Throughout all three shows the respect and love between the performers is clearly on display. Despite some of the heavy topics raised during the performances, humour and comradery shines through.
Although this ensemble only came together a day before the season commences, the musicianship is tight. This is a group of exceedingly talented musicians as they seamlessly switch between country, folk, funk and blues rock. The soaring vocals and harmonies contributing to the haunting beauty of the overall production.
By the end of each night a party atmosphere descends upon the audience, particularly at Sinclair’s Gully with many up and dancing. Music and dance has been central to humanity for millennia and once again we are reminded through First Nations Voices of its healing and unifying nature.
Throughout this 2023 season there has been a generosity between the performers and audiences. A joint desire and willingness to share and listen to the stories, to the truth telling and to the music. May such exchanges that is at the core of First Nations Voices pave the way for positive and insightful conversations and truth telling that will continue to unfold in the lead up to the referendum.