Don Watson: Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, A Portrait of Paul Keating

Don Watson’s biography Recollections of a Bleeding Heart is the first biography that I have read since reading David Marr’s Patrick White: A Life in 1995 (about the same time that society collapsed). And what a magnificent segue that it is into the core of things that matter. And even if you aren’t a Labor person or aren’t interested in the laws and institutions that govern you (as if intellectual ‘sectarianism’ ever meant freedom of thought) then it is still worth understanding how people with national political responsibilities have thought. So many younger Australians have been margianalised within a post-industrial waste-land-country named ‘Utopia’; a place that you may migrate to when you have all but given up.

Continue reading “Don Watson: Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, A Portrait of Paul Keating”

Beyond the Ladies Lounge by Clare Wright

Clare Wright’s book Beyond the Ladies Lounge is a history of Australia’s Female Publicans. What caught my attention when reading the book is its engaging use of feminist theory. This is perhaps because the book was written within the University of Melbourne’s History School. This school’s full title is the School of History and Women’s studies and it is the only school at that university with a focus on feminist concerns (and history).This refutes (as does Wright’s work) the popularly held myth that history is an ‘old boys club’. The evidence suggests that architecture and law and even new media are much less progressive disciplines in this sense.

The book addresses the question, in a somewhat revisionist style; why has Australia had so many female publicans as compared to other countries such as the US and Britain? Wright concentrates on the legislative and legal frameworks of the historical causes and effects and claims that females owned pubs because women were excluded from other parts of the labour force and other forms of social mobility (this is a similar story to the history of milkbars in Australia in terms of the migrant experience). The book has a broad reach from the earliest days of the Victorian Gold Rush (when pubs were in tents) to the barren ‘blokey’ pubs of the 1970s.

She discusses the ‘feminity’ of pubs and argues that pubs were legislated to be ‘family affairs’ with a public duty and women were often in a better position to uphold public morality. The whole family often lived in a pub and the bar was in many cases simply an extension of the house. The pub had to provide food and accommodation and was often (and still is in my street) a hub of the local community.

My major criticism of the work is that perhaps because it was re-written from research done for a PhD qualification (in a prestigious history school) that it often suffers from a misunderstanding of its audience. I took the book to my local pub where the publicans didn’t really get it and I feel that the book, given its subject matter, could have benefited from a greater evocative style. It was well promoted in the media, on the back of the ‘blokey’ history wars, but still the popular perception and promotion of the book did not resemble the actual content of the book. It is difficult to publish a PhD, especially because on the one hand the audience are specialists in your field whilst on the other hand the audience is the general reader (who are often the ‘owners’ of the very history being told). It is a difficult chasm to traverse and although Wright’s work is an excellent history is it not an excellent popular history. I feel that it does not always do justice to the popular history that could have been told. It is not about making ‘populist short cuts’ (which is not scholarship) but is is about using words and images and stories that (metaphorically) have deeper and more significant historical meanings. It is possible to bury some of the more pedestrian skills of the historian within the narrative and privilege the story. This would have given the work greater public reach without sacrificing the excellent historical practice.

Quarterly Essay David Malouf

What a comendable addition the Quarterly Essay is to the national debate. It is refreshing to engage with larger Australian discussions after floundering in the intellectual vacuum of ‘the global’for such a long time. The problem with much discourse on ‘the global’ is that it is largely dismissive of national discussions. ‘The national’ is seen as the complicit pariah whilst all the answers to (and causes of) the world’s ills are contained within the utopian vacuum called ?the global?. All social movement, such as the Civil Rights movement in the US, have had utopian elements, but one wonders how long one can be utopian for? The anti-corporate-globalisation movement was far too utopian and I wonder where next for this crucial social movement?

The utopian is not enduring (it soon turns into hell ie. Lord of the Flies) and how long does it take the average utopian to undertake a reality check (kill Piggy)? The reality check is that Australians live in one of the most enduring and stable democracies in the world. This, as David Malouf points out, is because of the Westminster system and the legacy of our British inheritance (for better or worse). It is going to take a little bit more than a trade agreement or ?sectarian? globalisation discourse before Australia disappears into the anlienting vacuum of the global (either corporate or civic). To take ‘the national’ out of the discussion of ‘the global’ is like playing football without a football oval. It is an intellectual version of year zero, a post-industrial Pol Pot for the Social Sciences.

I suppose that it is much easier to name and blame your ‘enemy’ than it is to understand them. As Owen Harris from the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies claims, the reason that there are clashes during this present period of ‘globalisation’ is perhaps because people do not understand it. It is largely equivocation.

Anyway, David Malouf’s essay Made in England is far too brief and does not do justice to the topic. But it is optimistic and honest; it is worldly as well as emanating from an older Australia that I can only imagine. This older Australia seems smaller, homogenous, narrowly globally networked and not well rounded. It is an industrial Australia, a pre information society Australia, a middle brow Australia. It is vapid and oblate Australia and one that I am glad that we left behind for a much more complex and culturally topographical (if unfair) Australia. It is an historically energetic essay but it is forgettable. It is well trodden ground; perhaps our history story telling parallels our democratic history; unreflective and secure. Malouf’s comparisons to the United States in terms of slavery and convicts is insightful (in terms of articulating the great hypocracy at the centre of American dictums such as ‘freedom’).

And I come away from the essay a little wiser as to who I am in the culture and language that is my country. Sure I could imagine another country such as ‘the global’ but then I would lose my culture and lose my identity. No one lives in the global, it is an imaginary place. The world is full of contradictions and inefficiencies and contingent centres of power. Napoleon called Britain (during the last great period of free trade and globalisation) a nation of shop keepers. So too is Australia. A nation of petit bourgeois ‘Bo Bos’ (bourgeois bohemians) imagining a much more engaging and rugged past. This is the invention of a national tradition. And shop keepers don’t talk about ‘the national’ that much because ‘the national’ is, in the old world of real politiks, the enemy of the shop keeping class (ie. invasive taxation and work place laws). Shop keeper radicals talk about the global because the global isn’t that much bigger than the doorstep that is swept each day.

Adam Thrilwell’s Politics

Adam Thrilwell’s novel Politics is as energetic as it is neurotic as English as it is universal. The universal themes primarily surround the sex scenes which are generational in an occasional hackneyed fashion, but rescued by a biting insight and honesty (There is a lot of energy in honesty and it is always better to be honest than truthful). It is a bright novel, in no way vapid or insipid, and reveals the intelligence of a broad reading within a humanist, historical, and personal canon.

Thrilwell is not a dilettante but employs a staccato pace that is penetrating, unpretentious and once more honest. Just when you think the tread of a reflection or comment in the prose is all but exhausted he takes it one more step; taking his reader well beneath the surface (or even the sheets). The prose is littered with the traces of the past, mostly idiosyncratic bites from the masters of Eastern Europe or political tyrants. He discusses Mao’s venereal diseases and Stalin’s phone manner. There is Bulkacov and Yeates and Stendhal and architectural spattering with semen and threesomes and guilt and love.

It is an endearing novel and the meditative narrator opens the work to the reader through a reflection on the process of writing it which doesn’t privilege the form of the work over the significance (or enjoyment) of the story. He uses ‘I’ in a self-effacing manner rather than an egocentric manner.

And I suppose that if I do the same here, that is reflect upon writing this book review on a web log, then what is gained? There are lots of web logs and many are merely self indulgent naval gazing that have little or no significance to anyone, perhaps not even to the hollowed out author. The worst are web logs that discuss the process of the web log but do nothing more. It is icing without a cake, it is the surface without a soul. The ability to write well is part of the story, but it can never be the whole story. Many tyrants have been able to write well and many chemists have been able to innovate murdering. Many IT specialists have been able to spread ignorance, jealously, greed, shallowness, and inequality more efficiently. Many have not.

A Brief History of the Melbourne Fringe Festival 1982-2003

A Brief History of the Melbourne Fringe: (1)

Fringe Festival

The Melbourne Fringe Network was established in 1982 after the demise of the legendary Pram Factory in Carlton. The Pram Factory was the home of the Australian Performing Group which was a democratically run theatrical collective. The group was at its pinnacle during the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll era of Carlton and revived a dreary Australian theatre scene:

The collective created a theatre in opposition to the script-based, director-dominated conservative norm. It was up-close, non-naturalistic and centred on the presence and skill of the performer. The shows were raw, rough, vernacular, iconoclastic, experimental, tendentious, comical, musical, and from time to time, magical. (2)

When the theatre collective concluded, artists returning from the Adelaide Fringe Festival (established in the early 1970s) decided that Melbourne needed its very own Fringe Festival. It was noticed that many of the performers at the Adelaide Fringe Festival were in fact from Melbourne so Melbourne did have the talent to accommodate such an event.

Fringe Festival

***

A coalition of independent artists announced plans for the week long Fringe Festival in 1983 to coincide with the Moomba Festival. This inaugural festival included one hundred and twenty artists working in a broad range of artistic expressions in twenty two locations around Melbourne. Although the festival had very little funding, Fringe offered support in the form of shared resources, venues, contacts, and bookings.

In 1984 Melbourne held the first of three Spoleto Festivals and Melbourne Fringe became the Melbourne Piccolo Spoleto Fringe Festival. Upon the demise of Spoleto and the creation of the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts (1986) the festival reverted to its previous name.

Generally speaking the festival has remained true to its mission. As well as presenting an innovative program of underrepresented performing arts, music, film and writing, a number of Fringe-produced signature events have been held at various times. The Festival’s opening street parade and party in Brunswick Street became a significant event on the Melbourne cultural calendar drawing audiences of more than one hundred thousand people. And Not the Archibald Prize, Fringe Furniture, New Short Works and the Women’s Season developed a reputation for presenting experimental art in an accessible and informal way. Any many new creative voices have emerged through these events.

***

In the early 1990s the Melbourne Fringe Festival altered its calendar so that it only briefly overlapped with the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts. The Fringe Festival has steadily grown and many events have come and gone as the Festival has matured. The festival takes place in venues across the inner city and much of the performance program is now centred in North Melbourne Town Hall, the Store Room, Trades Hall, and Chapel off Chapel. The Melbourne Fringe has been consistently presenting more than two hundred shows every year for twenty years.

Fringe Fashion

Fringe Fashion had a brief history from 1995 until 2001 and became one of the most popular segments of the Festival. It started as a part production and part exhibition and was originally called Ninety Percent Junk. It consisted of wearable garbage and recycled objects and was held at the Lounge nightclub in Swanston Street, Melbourne. Fringe Fashion presented experimental clothes which challenged the boundaries of what was wearable and what was purely art. It became a renowned industry event with participation from all over Australia. In 2000, there were one hundred and twenty designers from across the country.

Fringe Furniture

Fringe Furniture was conceived in 1984 by artist Bruce Filley. Unlike its Melbourne International Festival of the Arts rival, Fringe Furniture is a non-curated event. With the focus on art rather than function it has given established and experimental artist an opportunity to display innovative works. From boudoir to bathroom, lighting to lounge chairs; many types of furniture characterise original use of materials, techniques and processes. Throughout its eighteen year history, Fringe Furniture has become one of the Festival’s most noteworthy events. Fringe Furniture exhibitors include Rivet’s David Bourke, Marc Pascal, Chris Connel and Malte Wagenfield.

Parade/ Street Party

The (in)famous Melbourne Fringe festival parade ended in 2001 and was a feast of innovation and vitality. Think belly dancing, singing dogs, and art on sticks, tight fitting bodysuits and underpants. Events such as Le Tour de Fringe and the Waiters Race were favourites. Buskers, artists, street performers and a bevy of food and art stalls came together with thousands of people in Fitzroys most anticipated annual event. The Parade carried significance in uniting a whole community, especially memorable in 1993 when Fringe dancer and artist Bruce Fentham made his final appearance before dying of AIDS. Mentioning this day of arty celebration is generally a cue for someone in Fitzroy to say:

Oh, it’s really going downhill nowadays. I remember in 1989 when there were no dickheads from the suburbs there, it was great.

Performance

Fringe performance encompasses a variety of art forms including music, film, video, comedy, theatre, cabaret, dance and spoken word (and sometimes genres in between). The festival has spurred many new artists that include Tubby Justice (at Mietta’s) and Tiddas who went on to become Melbourne’s most sought after women’s acoustic trio (both showcased 1988). Others artists include Jean Kittson, Barrie Kosky, the Doug Anthony Allstars, Sue Ingleton and the Chamber Made Opera. In 1991, Fringe celebrated forty eight events and four hundred and thirty four performances. In the same year it ran one hundred and forty one titles within twenty four categories in the then annual film and video event.

The Poetry Cup was another noteworthy event and involved poets on a local, national and international level. Performances were held everywhere; even on trams (No.11). ‘Not the Premier’s Literary Awards’ and ‘Not the Spring Racing Carnival Fashion Parade’ also provided much misbehaviour.

New Short Works

New Short Works emerged in 1988 with its first showing at the Universal Theatre. The concept was to allow actors, movement artists and comedians the opportunity to perform short pieces (usually ten to twenty minutes long). Artists also premiered works-in-progress and extracts from longer works.

This event became a showcase for both new and established performers in many fields such as mime, shadow puppetry, ‘high energy funksters’, hot jazz and belly dancers. In 1988 Fringe hosted the Students New Short Works Season from the Victorian College of the Arts School of Drama. In 1991 the New Short Works Season was presented at Theatreworks in St Kilda and explored themes of love, children’s matinees, and the joy of flight. Its fifth and final season ran at the Grant Street Theatre in 1992.

Visual Art

Visual Art has been a constant of the Melbourne Fringe Festival since its inception. Throughout the 80s and 90s art exhibitions focused on the suburb of Fitzroy but in 1995 the visual arts hub shifted to St Kilda (in line with the current arts practices). Exhibitions and shows range from ‘Global Corporation’ themed window displays by schoolchildren in Brunswick St (1989) to an exhibition of memorabilia from 70s and 80s political causes (1990). There have been paintings of waitresses depicted as Bottecelli’s Venus rising from the Fitzroy baths (1993), photographs showing international coffee bars (1995), and images of women with their favourite bras (1999). Fringe hosts a yearly prize for the best Visual Art piece in the festival which was previously called Not the Archibald Prize.

Women’s Season

The Fringe Women’s Season began in 1986 under the umbrella of the Spoleto Fringe Festival. It displayed women’s work in theatre, comedy and performance. This was due to traditional male domination in these arts. The season produced original and provocative works which questioned and challenged women’s role in both the arts and within the broader culture and society. In 1994, the Women’s Season disbanded and became subsumed within the general Fringe events.

This Fringe Womens season produced some fabulous shows throughout its nine year history. These ranged from one hundred and eleven women singing at the Fringe street parade in 1991 to Sue Ann-Post and Lynda Gibson performing stand-up comedy as Toothless Bitches (1993). Rachel Griffiths also performed in a show about Barbie breaking up with Ken Barbie Gets Hip. (1991)

(1) Tim Robertson The Pram Factory: The Australian Performing Group Recollected, MUP, Melbourne, 2001
(2) Many thanks for Fringe Vintage staff (2002) for their previous historical research that has been incorporated within this narrative.

Directors:
2003 Dan Mitchell
2002 Vanessa Pigrum
2001 Vanessa Pigrum
2000 Virginia Hyam
1999 Virginia Hyam
1998 Virginia Hyam
1997 Virginia Hyam
1996 Virginia Hyam
1995 Peter Chellew
1994 Charlotte Yates
1993 Charlotte Yates
1992 Palz Vaughan
1991 Palz Vaughan
1990 Palz Vaughan
1989 Palz Vaughan
1988 Palz Vaughan
1987 Margaret Vandaleur
1986 Margaret Vandaleur
1985 Angela Burke
1984 Angela Burke
1983 Angela Burke
1982 Arpad Mihaly

Fringe Alumni

VISUAL ART:
Rosie Weiss
Sally Morgan
Ponch Hawkes

THEATRE:
Barry Kosky
Rachel Griffiths
Sue Ingleton

MUSIC:
Tiddas
Chamber Made Opera
Ash

FILM AND VIDEO:
Jane Campion
COMEDY:
Doug Anthony All-Stars
Jean Kittson
Sue Ann Post
Judith Lucy
Tracy Bartram
Rachel Berger
Linda Gibson
Ross Daniels
Rod Quantock
Frank Woodley
Colin Lane
Raymond J Bartholomew
Trevor Marmalade

Lobby groups and protest communication

I suppose that an interesting thing to think about is who would benefit from a history of ephemeral and interest group political communication within Australia? There is the process to consider ie.. How has political communication penetrated the main stream and how has it been successful? Lobby groups and radical groups may fine this information of benefit because they may not have the money to penetrate the mainstream media. There are also success stories to consider. ie. What was once a lobby groups or a radical group may now be the mainstay of mainstream political communication. And an interesting issues to consider is how has public culture facilitated political communication especially in terms of newer communication mediums such as the Internet. How is public culture being protected as a means to facilitate protest and ephemeral communication which is a vital component of a vigorous democracy?

The History Wars Continue: Keith Winshuttle Versus Simon Schama: A Hypothetical Trial

The History Wars Continue:

A Hypothetical Trial

by

Craig Bellamy

October 2003

History must strive to be an art before it can pretend to be a science

J. H. Plumb (1969)

Synopsis

What follows is a hypothetical case in which Simon Schama is on trial in relation to a charge brought forward by Mr. Keith Windschuttle. The serious criminal charge, as outlined in Mr. Windschuttle's provocative polemic The Killing of History is that Schama has attempted to murder History (Windschuttle 1994). Mr. Windschuttle believes that Schama has wilfully and maliciously used narrative, relativism and a dangerously reckless epistemology in an attempt to brutally murder the discipline. Mr. Windschuttle believes that the motive for this horrendous crime is little more than careerism. The prosecution for the case is the highly esteemed Eric Hobsbawn Q.C. The Defense Counsel for Schama is the somewhat unknown, Mr. Craig Bellamy. He was chosen as Defense council in this case, not because of his relatively untested knowledge of criminal procedure, but because, along with Schama, his curiosity has often caused him to push the boundaries of what is considered normal disciplinary rules. As the debate centres on the use of fiction in History it seems appropriate to experiment with the genre here. Judge Macintyre will trial the case.

Continue reading “The History Wars Continue: Keith Winshuttle Versus Simon Schama: A Hypothetical Trial”