Friday, October 16, 2009

The role of black face

There's been an outrage about an act involving Black Face in a revived television show Darryl Somers. Australians are seen as being backward and insensitive about the way comedy can ridicule people of different colour. It certainly doesn't place Australia in a great light to be seen as living in this neverland of the Deep South. But I do wonder whether there is potentially a worthwhile purpose in black face. I'm thinking particularly of its version in Cape Town, where people under apartheid known as Coloured were inspired by the American minstrels to create their own version of black face. There's something about this form that acknowledges inauthenticity while engaging with difference. I'd be hopeful that there's a way in which black face can help Australians engage with the difference between non-indigenous and indigenous. We've already seen with the Chooky dancers how effective 'white face' can be. If this was loosened up and there be a testing experimental attitude to it, it would help us come to terms with the essential inauthenticity of white existence in this country, where the best option might be to find ways of assimilating into indigenous culture, but in a way that acknowledges its secondary nature.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The mighty Murtoa stick shed

Many year ago, when I was working for Museums Australia, I wrote about one of the wonders of Victoria, the Murtoa Stick Shed.

I was very pleased to see recently that Leigh Hammerton has hoisted a website in honour of this ‘found cathedral’. Let’s hope it helps gain a new life as a cultural centre of the Wimmera.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Help Nombeko leap over to Australia

From Pam Zeplin comes the following request:

Nombeko Rwaxa was one of the B&B hosts for the 2007 South Project Gathering in Soweto. She was an integral part of the supportive local community in Orlando, Soweto that made this event so successful.

Nombeko has also been professionally associated with the music world with figures such as the late Lucky Dube. She received a kidney transplant not long ago and successfully competed in the National Transplant Games in South Africa. This has qualified Nombeko to come to Australia and compete in the World Transplant Games at the Gold Coast  (Queensland) (August 22-30 2009), under the auspices of South African Transplant Sports Association (see attached letters and website .

This association and its athletes are seeking sponsorship to attend these games. Individual as well as corporate sponsorship can be accepted. As a previous guest at her Zizwe Guesthouse in Orlando, Soweto Nombeko has asked me to help find sponsors for this life affirming project.

For further information Willie Uys, National Chairman, South African Transplant Sports Association (E-mail: )

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Getting to know wortabokarra

There are several days in summer when Melbourne is whipped by scorching northerly winds. They come in across the great deserts of the centre and bake this southerly city. They often bring with them the top soil of the Wimmera, and sometimes even ash from nearby bushfires.

Despite living with the curse – and dread – of this wind, we haven’t yet given it a name. While one-off cyclones are personified, this regular visitor remains anonymous. It’s as thought we haven’t yet settled into the land enough yet to have developed the acquaintance.

In Crikey, an Adelaide vertebrate palaeontologist Jim McNamara nominates the Kaurna word wortabokarra:

In 1840, Teichelmann and Schurmann, recorded its meaning as: "north-west wind; tempestuous weather". They also have bokarra: "northwesterly wind, which is very hot during summer and indicates a storm".

This is more like it.

What are the word's roots?

I am not a linguist, but the same book (available as a copy from Google) tells me that worta means "behind" and karra is the redgum tree with other meanings of high, sky and heaven.

Perhaps one response to the tragedy of Black Saturday would be a finally give this wind a name. If anything, it is likely to become a more regular visitor. It’s time we got onto speaking terms with it.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Climate changed!


The day began with talk of gardens. We are moving into the post-Magnolia era. No longer can we ornament our homes with camellia-centric gardens, no more erect birch trees. It’s back to the natives.

In terms of the disaster, the Victorian bushfires and Melbourne’s inferno is relatively mild. Compared to the disasters that can strike other cities due to earthquakes, the lost of life was small. But there seemed something like a loss of innocence on this day. We can no longer pretend to be a piece of green Europe tucked away in the antipodes. Instead, we’re part of a big brown continent. We can’t escape the cruel logic of its weather.

It’s time to join Australia.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The heatwave we had to have


It was the week we had been dreading. After a comfortably mild December and early January, the inevitable heat wave was finally coming our way.

And it is going to be a killer. Five days straight of 40-degree heat. Perhaps it’s payment for the overdue hot days we missed so far. Plus the inexorable path of global warming. For a few cool days it seemed that all was pleasant in the world.

And then, on the first of the days, a gentle southerly breeze tempered the heat. Around midday, the temperature suddenly dropped and it seemed that perhaps we could escape the worst. Perhaps a butterfly sneezed in Beijing, and the high that has settled over Tasmania has quickly moved on.

But the northerlies eventually prevailed. If anything, the forecast now has got worst. It is going to be 43 degrees on Thursday.

After the collapse of Wall Street last year, the Australian government introduced a stimulus package to stave off recession. For a while, in December, it seemed that we would escape the worst. Extra dollars poured into shops for Christmas and there was plenty of fruit on the trees. It even rained.

And then there was the Obama inauguration, when the world seemed unified in a vision of hope. A passenger jet landed on the calm waters of the Hudson river. Obama started his mission ‘faithfully’. Jelena Dokic re-emerged from nowhere to win hearts at tennis.

But as the year rolls on, the newspapers are filled with more bad news and commentators are warning that with the downturn in China Australia will not escape economic hardship.

Things will get worse before they get better.

Last night Dokic lost.

It’s enough to make you a Stoic.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mandatory Europeanism


The chemist occupies a special place in a neighbourhood. The pharmacist claims a strangely intimate relation to the client. We entrust the man or woman in the white coat with the embarrassing details or our ailments, and niggling concerns about skin conditions and less savoury things. They help us in maintaining the armoury of public life.

Late last year, someone came into our chemist with an offer that was hard to refuse. He was about to open a branch of the super-chain Chemist Warehouse around the corner. ‘You can either sell us your business now, or you will go broke, as there’s no way you can match our prices.’ So they sold.

In its place is a chemist supermarket. The windows are plastered with crazy offers – I it looks cheap and nasty, people will think they are getting a bargain. Inside, it looks like any tacky supermarket, with aisles groaning with remaindered goods.

I decided I had to come and confront these demons soon after they were open, to give them a chance to win me over. Perhaps they are doing a social service, offering medical goods at a price that poor people could afford. No, instead the young man behind the counter sympathised with my position, and could see that it was a loss of neighbourhood. But, he said, ‘That’s what they are doing in Europe now, so, well…’

That’s certainly something to touch the sensitive republican nerve. So it’s done in Europe. Ok, I guess you’re right. Let’s give up on our local values, as if it is happening in Europe now, then it’s inevitable that will be happen here too. Resistance is futile.

This is our international European designer brand mentality, consigning us to the rubbish bin of history at the bottom of the world.

Or is it?