Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

I don't think I have told you about David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet yet, have I? It's an epic story of 1799 Japan and Dejima, the section that the foreigners are confined to stay in while trading with, or living in, Japan. And Mitchell creates such a beautiful, intimate, almost longing, portrait of Jacob de Zoet, the Dutch clerk sent out with the Dutch East India Trading Company, that after over 600 pages later, I found myself almost weeping over the last three pages of the novel. Mostly love story, this historical fiction includes a huge array of secondary characters from samurai to slaves, midwives to Masters, Lords and limping, gout ridden Captains. The novel is an extraordinary piece of work by Mitchell. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Mary Smokes Boys

Now that I am not blogging for Readings anymore, I thought I would stop blogging. The pressure, the pressure, the constant pressure to think of new things to write each week was one of the drawbacks of committing to writing a non-marketing blog for them. But, then I read The Mary Smokes Boys by Patrick Holland and, apart from colleagues and customers, had no one to really share the joy with. And what joy. It is sad and desperate but a touch mythical and lyrical and he writes with such confidence and (clearly) knowledge of small town-ness. New Australian Gothic. A real diamond of the year for me. I really couldn't wait to read more from him.

So, I went fishing for him online and found a few of his stories for the Griffith Review here. Yes, he is one to watch. A slow burn of a writer who obviously has a clear eyed approach to story. Read The Mary Smokes Boys. It's great.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fun in the City

On Thursday we headed into the city to see the Ricky Swallow show Bricoleur at the Ian Potter NGV Gallery in Federation Square. On the way up the stairs at the gallery we wandered through the 2009 Clemenger Art Award and came across Destiny Deacon's latest piece. She is always super cool and precise in her gaze. I was also overcome with joy when I realised that by participating in Julie Gough's Forcefield 2, I could help erase the text of Keith Windschuttle's book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. It cheered me up immensely and I stepped on every page glued to the floor. Language, symbols and words have significance and power and change the way people think. They need to be addressed with energy and thought and that is precisely what Deacon and Gough ensure we do. Go and dance on Windschuttle's lies in the knowledge that some white Australians are still trying to deny our black history while you grin at the bravado and cheekiness of Deacon's Miss Diss Graces and Jacky Of All Trades and the stereotypes and perceptions they are aiming to subvert.

And Swallow's work? Amazing. Detailed and powerful wood sculptures because of the detail.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

homelessness and leasehold

So, in this week of Homelessness Awareness have a read of this great article from The Age by Chris Middendorp about Victorian homelessness and then this an article from the Centre for Policy Development website by Barbara Coombs.

If, like me, you see a link then push the idea at the dinner table, on the tram, at the water cooler.

Leasehold as a direct form of public housing. Sure, it will cost money to set up and support but imagine if there was a way of ensuring the least lucky of us could stay in residential housing for long periods of time. Imagine if they knew they were secure. Not secure as in housing commission but secure in that they would own their own place for 20 years or 30 years or 40 years.

Imagine if the rental crisis, the absence of affordable rental properties for people like you and I where we wind up paying huge percentages of our income in rent, turned into an investment boon for low income people like you and I. I don’t mind paying rent but in the toss up between leasehold or tenancy: leasehold would win. I could probably even afford it. And I’d be able to renovate the kitchen.

As any renter knows leasehold means you could stay in the area, the area you want to live in, even if it becomes uber-groovy and full of warehouse conversions. And if you have kids and you want them to go to your really good local public school you could stay without the worry of having to find cheaper rent and moving out of the area. You can get to know your neighbours properly and join the local gym.

We are all closer to the homeless then we believe or realise. A few missed mortgage payments, a rent payment missed, credit cards, phone bills – and before you know it you could be on that spiral down. Some of us are just lucky. But if we had residential leasehold then there would be more lower income people in stable accommodation over longer periods of time and it might just help a few sidestep the road to homelessness.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

People who post

I have just read that Joel Fitzgibbon supports sending troops into Pakistan:

What I found even more interesting and worth a ponder were all the comments posted. 100 at last look.

But why all the shouting and crowing – Labor versus Liberal is all a bit old school isn’t it when both parties are significantly similar in their approaches to issues both domestically and internationally. Well, OK Labor has amended the mandatory detention legislation (but hasn’t got rid of it – although it was a Labor government that started the policy wasn’t it?).

Whichever party is in don’t we simply expect them to help us make things better and if not that – make things better for us. And that ‘us’ can be your family or as far reaching as people on the other side of the world if it is possible. Who would say no to that.

I was in Kabul in May this year and wound up in a conversation at a party with a Pakistani consular official who had quite a few thoughts on this very matter. He quoted a Pashtun proverb:

‘If you are worried for your country, look to your state.
If you are worried for your state, look to your village.
If you are worried for your village, look to your family.
If you are worried for your family, look to yourself.’

He then went on to say that he was now worried for his village. His grandmother still lived in the village one hundred or so kilometres north of Peshawar and that an Afghan mullah has begun to preach violence and mayhem and moral fundamentalism including the seclusion of women from work. This man grew more distraught and animated as he described how his village had been peaceful for centuries and centuries. He then said:

‘There is a jungle fire coming my way and it will engulf you too.’ He was pointing at me and meant Australia.

Now whether you believe this or not is not my point. Neither is whether you support troops going into Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq or not. My point is that this situation (and all others in this contemporary world) needs to be engaged with, thought about and not used simply to criticise one political party or the other. That is what has gone before. Now we need a different way forward. If we have learnt anything surely we must have learnt that. It doesn’t serve anyone to repeat mistakes or history.

And here’s another story off the ABC news site about the fishing rights win in NT

When I posted my comment on that story there were no other comments posted (there are now 12). Why not 100? Why is there not as much interest in this story? It is a first for Indigenous people in Australia and has taken 30 years of fighting to win. It is important to Australia and Australian law for a vast number of reasons. Is it because people don’t know any indigenous people? Because it happened in the NT so what do Syd-Melb care? Because it is boring Australian law and no one really understands what effects it has on our lives?

Perhaps all the people who commented on Joel Fitzgibbon’s statement know Afghans, Pakistanis or Australian defence force personnel and they have an emotional and personal response to the thought that Australian troops may end up in Pakistan? Perhaps it is easier to grandstand about things external than think thoroughly about an issue. Or perhaps posts just aren't the place for comment of this nature and is only good for posturing. I don't know but it is worth a thought.

Or perhaps they all need to be paying more attention to their villages?

Just a thought.

Friday, February 1, 2008


i met my iraqi friend for coffee yesterday. coffee turned into lunch and four hours later we were still going. our conversation had started with an update on his documentary. i say his doco is about the irony of history. he says it is about the power of music and the simple fact that Iraqui arabs and jews (yes, there are iraqui jews) share the same musical traditions and songs. an inescapable fact. he is filming iraqui musicians (both arabs and jews) all over the world and is hoping to bring them all to melbourne for a night of music. we talk about the $100,000 he needs to really get started, although he and the two producers already have pre-sale agreements with US cable and european television networks.

he tells me the story of seeking support from an australian iraqui organisation. how he was called a zionist collaborator by fellow countrymen. we talk about the fear people have of music - because you can't talk or argue when you are singing or playing. his doco will be marvellous. Amazing. Inspirational. those last two words are about my friend. my friend who is a fine actor and creator. who knows intimately, the space on stage where he feels safe to explore, explain, resolve, his life in the hope that it resonates with others and transforms some element of them, of their lives. elemental - the act of creating. taking something base and lifting it, altering it, making it gleam in form and function. my friend and i talk about how most people do not understand what it takes to write, to perform, to confront the need to create. the everyday fear of sitting down and focusing. of taking away from your relationships, your everyday lives, the roles we all play with others. of how the only time he has never acted was under sadaam, when he was conscripted into the army.

i tell him i went on an australia day/invasion day march in support of indigenous australians - 'always was, always will be Aboriginal land - and how i became speechless with rage at those 'Socialist Left and Green Left' twats waving their magazines with headlines: 'TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ' and 'TROOPS OUT OF AFGHANISTAN'. My friend laughs and agrees, grinning. he tells me a story of when he was approached on the street by a young keen man to sign a petition to get troops out of iraq. my friend stopped and spoke with the man. 'What about 1991?' my friend asked. the young man clearly has no idea what my friend is on about. '1991 is the war crime. the US left then. they left us and then twelve years later they came back. I ask you again what about 1991?' the young man was realising that he had asked the wrong person to sign up and acquiesce to slogans. 'Why do they come back? To get rid of sadaam. Something they could have done in 1991. Instead we get sanctions. sanctions that always, the rich and powerful men can escape but the ordinary iraqui cannot. It is good that sadaam has gone. I am glad.' apparently, the young man was speechless.

my friend and i smile to each other. even if the invading forces didn't 'do it right' in terms of troop numbers or even having a re-building plan, at least they did it. and, i say, people are now talking about afghanistan as a failed state. my friend is shocked. old ethnicities are rearing their head, i say and warlords are re-arming. again, lack of troops. lack of conviction. but once there, once having spent all this energy to create peaceable societies in iraq and afghanistan we ask each other, what do these people demanding the troops to leave think will happen to the ordinary afghan, the ordinary iraqui? vacuums don't exist in nature i say. my friend agrees. something always fills the space. i say to my friend that i am planning on going back to kabul in april. he is excited for me, as he was when i went over in 2004. i shrug. depending on the security i say, but i have volunteer work lined up. i am hopeful of seeing that beautiful city again. we pause and sip our coffee. we, i say, the global community, ask an awful lot of ordinary afghans and iraquis. he nods. and, he says, i don't hear anyone demanding the australian troops out of timor. i smile. no. no. no one seems to have a problem with that.

did you see 'The Kite Runner' my friend asks. yes. i say. 'did you like it?' i ask. my friend screws up his nose. 'so hollywood,' he says. i laugh. yes we agree. a story with much possibility and it became a simple apologist narrative. not even of redemption. a false beard and a battered truck and all is right with the world. and no women, my friend says. no women in the 1960s and 1970s. no women under the russians and only one poor woman, under a burqa, stoned in the 1990s. not a depiction of real life. not addressing the taliban. or even how powerlessness breeds fundamentalism. i grin at my friend 'let's go fly a kite' i say...we have to laugh.

my friend has a calm and charisma about him, on stage and off. he tells me of his heart palpitations two years ago. stress was the verdict. the stress of learning a new language and culture. of trying to earn enough money for his family here. of trying to create. to maintain evenness in everyday life with memories and scars like his. 'so now, pip, i remain calm. in all situations. calm. no matter what is being discussed or what is being assumed. calm.' i say - good. calm is good. 'be alert but be calm.' he laughs at me.

we talk about money, neither of us, a writer and an actor, earn enough, let alone earn enough to buy a house in melbourne. my friend feels this keenly with his family. and also his cultural expectations of the man of the house. i say that i sent his email seeking financiers for his doco to the one rich person i know in melbourne. the rich man has four mortgages to pay and while he would love to invest, just can't manage it right now.

so if you know of anyone with a spare $100,000 for an investment that will garner returns - I know the project.