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Delicious descriptions: Elizabeth Jolley on the value of libraries

July 15, 2018

Elizabeth Jolley, The orchard thievesRegular readers will know that in June I joined in Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) Elizabeth Jolley Week by posting two reviews, one of which was for the novella Orchard thieves. In that post I mentioned the sly humour, but I didn’t really share a quote to demonstrate it. However, I knew that I could always write a Delicious Descriptions post, so here it is.

It comes when the grandmother is walking home from the library. She had urged one of her extra library-book tickets to another library patron because “she knew how awful it was to get home only to discover that the books were familiar, having been read before.” As a librarian by profession, I loved it.

Anyhow, our grandmother is also a bit of a worrier, regularly thinking about various disasters that could befall her or her family:

On the way home the grandmother thought about the special kind of wealth there was in the possession of library-book tickets. They were reassuring and steady like the pension cheque. She never went anywhere without her purse. You could never know in advance what the day had in store. There might come a time when it would be necessary to offer all she had to appease an intruder. She knew of women who spread crumpled and torn newspapers all round their beds at night so that they would hear an intruder coming closer. Or, she might be held at knife point by someone in the street. She would offer all she had in her purse, small change, pension cheque and the library-book tickets. There would be absolutely no need for the villain to either strangle or stab her in order to snatch her purse. She would hold it out to him and tell him he could have it and be off. She would tell him this in plain words. The library-book tickets might even make a changed man of him, especially if he had never had a chance to use a public lending library during a life with all the deprivation brought about by being on the run.

I mean, really, don’t you love it?

Australian Women Writers 2018 Challenge completed

July 12, 2018

Mirandi Riwoe, The fish girlAs in previous years, I’m writing my completion post for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, around the middle of the year, even though I will continue to contribute until the year’s end. However, I like to get the formal completion post out of the way, so I can relax!

I signed up, again, for the top-level, Franklin, which involves reading 10 books and reviewing at least 6, and again I’ve exceeded this. In fact, by June 30, I had contributed 18 reviews to the challenge.

Here’s my list in alphabetical order (by woman author), with the links on the titles being to my reviews:

AWW Badge 2018There’s a significant difference between this year’s completion post and those of recent years – and that’s in the proportion of fiction to nonfiction. Last year, as you may remember from my 2017 Reading Highlights post, I read an unusually large proportion of nonfiction books (47%) and this was also reflected in my AWW Challenge reading. I said I wanted to recalibrate this in 2018 towards more fiction, and so far I’ve been achieving that (in my AWW Challenge reading and overall).

I don’t have specific goals for the rest of the year, except that I’d like to read more indigenous writers (besides Claire G. Coleman), at least one more classic (in addition to Tasma), and more from my TBR pile (besides Helen Garner and Elizabeth Jolley).

My 2018 AWW Challenge wrap-up post will tell the story!

Monday musings on Australian literature: about Arnhem Land

July 9, 2018

When this post goes live I will be in Australia’s Top End, touring a region called Arnhem Land – and will most likely be incommunicado. Located in the north-east of the Northern Territory, it is named after the ship captained by Dutchman William van Colster who visited the area in 1623. The ship, the Arnhem, was named for the city of the same name, in the Netherlands.

According to Wikipedia, the region has a population of around 16,000, of whom 12,000 are Yolngu, the traditional owners. The main town is Nhulunbuy, with other major population centres being Yirrkala, Gunbalanya, Ramingining, and Maningrida. Mr Gums and I will be visiting most of those places during our 12-day tour. Arnhem Land is known for the fact that a large percentage of its indigenous people live on small outstations on their traditional lands, with minimal western cultural influence. Arnhem Land is almost like a separate country – and visitors need a permit to enter.  Many of its leaders continue to push for a treaty that would allow the Yolngu to operate under their own traditional laws.

East Alligator River, western Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land borders, on its west, Kakadu National Park, which we have visited twice in the past. On both occasions we have done short indigenous-led tours of that border area – one on the East Alligator River, and the other into the country as far as the Injalak Art Centre. Those tours introduced us to some of the culture – the law, the art – of the people. It’s gratifying to feel our understanding of our country growing through these experiences.

However, for my Monday Musings of course, I want to share something of the region’s literary heritage, which given that the traditional culture there is oral, includes song. This list is very little, highly eclectic and very selective.

Some musicians

Yothu Yindi

Probably because I lived some of my childhood years in northwest Queensland, Arnhem Land was familiar to me, but it didn’t really, I think, become known to many Aussies until the band Yothu Yindi burst on the music scene in the early 1990s. The group was formed in the mid 1980s, but it was their song “Treaty” (I did mention of treaty in my intro, after all!) from their album Tribal Voice which brought them to national attention in 1991. The lead singer was Mandawuy Yunupingu and his nephew Dr G Yunupingu, about whom I posted last week, was an original member. The song “Treaty” was a collaborative work by the two Yunupingus, and other members of the band, and non-indigenous museum Paul Kelly. “Treaty” has gone on to become one of Australia’s most significant songs, being named in 1991 by Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time, and being added, in 2009, to the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia registry.

Yothu Yindi could occupy a whole post to themselves, so please check the link I’ve provided if you are interested. They have played a major role in promoting and developing Yolngu culture, to both Yolngu and wider Australia’s benefit.

There are many performances of the song, which includes words in language and English, on YouTube, including this one published by mushroomvideos. Here are a few lines:

This land was never given up
This land was never bought and sold
The planting of the union jack
Never changed our law at all

Dr G Yunupingu

I won’t add much here, because I spoke about his legacy in my above-mentioned post on Gurrumul, the documentary film about him. Besides the fact that his music is beautiful, and that he sang about his culture (and lived his culture for all to see), Dr G also made a significant contribution to Australian culture by writing and performing most of his songs in the languages of his region. The pride in culture that singing in language gives to his people can’t be underestimated.

A writer from Arnhem Land

Marie Munkara

Marie Munkara, Of ashes and rivers than run to the seaA member of the Stolen Generations, Munkara was born on the banks of a river in Arnhem Land, but she was taken, at the age of three, to a mission at nearby Melville Island (part of the Tiwi Islands). From here she was passed on to European foster parents, and didn’t see her mother again until she was 28 years old. You can read some of her story at SBS. I have reviewed her glorious David Unaipon Award winning book, Every secret thing, and plan to read her memoir Of ashes and rivers that run to the sea while I’m in Arnhem Land (for Lisa’s ANZlitLovers Indigenous Literature Week which coincides with this year’s NAIDOC Week. This year’s theme is, appropriately, Because of her we can.)

A blast from the past

Of course, I had to check out the digitised newspapers in Trove, and by narrowing my search to “Arnhem Land Literature” I retrieved a small number of hits, all from the 1930s, only two of which specifically related to Arnhem Land. Both were short stories by non-indigenous writers about Japanese pearlers in the region. I’ll just share one, because it’s by one of Australia’s most popular authors of the day, Ion Idriess (1889-1979). According to Wikipedia (the link’s on his name), he spent some time, after returning to Australian after World War I, travelling in the remote Cape York region, and working with pearlers and missionaries in the Torres Strait islands.

His story, titled “The massacre on the No Gawa Maru”, was published in Sydney’s The Sun on July 11, 1936, and clearly draws from his knowledge of pearling. It’s about a Japanese pearl-shell poacher, Captain Toyama of the “No Gawa Maru”, who “knew he was cruising here against the laws of his own Government and the Australian.” He knows about the Three-Mile limit, and he’s also aware of the Australian patrol boat, the “Larakia”, with its machine gun. It’s “nervy” business this pearl-shell poaching, but they are driven by “fatalism and greed and hope”, the idea of “easy wealth, quickly won.” (Something Idriess likens to the Australian gold field mania which also sent men to “lonely graves”.)

Anyhow, Idriess sets the scene:

They had passed Groote Eylandt lying away eastward with its hills rising as if from a great grey cloud upon the sea. Captain Toyama now stared for’ard where along the Arnhem Land coast islands were taking shape in silhouettes of tree-tops. Presently he saw the sun sheen on straw-colored grass.

Toyama’s crew tell stories of brutal indigenous attacks on boats, too, and of indigenous men selling their women “cheerfully” and the women going “eagerly”, but to accept this “is a death trap. Their women are only a snare. They kill for blood lust and loot.” He refers here to King Wongo of Caledon Bay, who was a real person. Idriess’ story is a gruesome, dramatic story about an indigenous attack on Toyama’s boat. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), it appears that Idriess bought into the idea of Wonggu/Wongo as an “evil genius” behind this sort of brutality, but not all agreed. ADB’s article on Wonggu concludes:

A man of influence, authority and charisma, he represented a romantic and little known aspect of Northern Territory history. More importantly, the events in which he was involved drew attention to the issues of Aboriginal justice and rights to land.

Trove, which I’ve only dipped into about this, certainly includes some very positive articles about Wonggu/Wongo.

The other story is by Keith Ellis, and is called “Sampans”. You can read it online if you like.

I hope that by the time we’ve ended our Arnhem Land tour we’ll know not only more about contemporary culture, but about some of its history and past characters too. I’ll report back if we do!

PS: There’s a good chance I will not manage to post a Monday Musings next week. Enjoy the break!

Six degrees of separation, FROM Tales of the city TO …

July 7, 2018

It’s July – a cold month in my city – but when this post is published I won’t be there. I’ll be in the far north, about to start a 12-day tour of Arnhem Land which is not only a fascinating place to visit, but a warm one! However, I didn’t want to miss this month’s Six Degrees of Separation meme, particularly since I’ve read the starting book. A rare occurrence. Some background first on the meme: it’s currently hosted by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). Clicking on the link on her blog-name will take you to her explanation of how it works.

Armistead Maupin, Tales of the citySo now, the meme. The book Kate chose for July is Armistead Maupin‘s Tales of the city. Not only have I read it but – unusually for me – I’ve read the whole series. I still remember the glorious weekend nearly three decades ago in which, for some reason, I had the opportunity to read and read – and this series is what I read. I had read novels by gay authors before, including EM Forster’s Maurice, which he would not let be published until after his death, but Maupin’s series spoke of lives contemporary to mine – albeit lived in San Francisco – and I loved the open, warm way he shared the lives and experiences of his characters.

Featherstone, I'm ready now, book cover

Because gay writers on gay subjects are still underrepresented in our literary milieu, I’m going to stick with this theme and shout out to local writer Nigel Featherstone and his novella, I’m ready now (my review). It revolves around Gordon, a gay man turning 30, who is coming to the end of his Year of Living Ridiculously, a year of rather self-destructive high living that he designed for his 30th year. It’s a lovely book about coming to terms with the past, and about, as Featherstone says, “living imaginatively.”

Jay Griffiths, A love letter from a stray moon coverNext, I’m going to change tack, and look at form. Nigel Featherstone will understand, because he, like me, likes novellas – so it is to another novella that I’m linking next. I’ve read and reviewed many novellas on this blog, so I’m choosing a beautiful one that I don’t think I’ve used before in Six Degrees, Jay Griffiths’ A Love letter from a stray moon (my review). It’s a gorgeous, moving story told in the voice of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, someone who could also tell us something about “living imaginatively!” (And just look at that cover.)

Banana Yoshimoto, The lakeYou might think that from here I’d move to another novel about an artist, but this month I’m in the mood to discombobulate … so, here’s the thing. I read Griffiths’ novel while I was travelling in Japan, which reminds me of all the Japanese authors I like (and how I haven’t read enough of them since starting this blog.) One I’ve read though is Banana Yoshimoto’s The lake (my review).

Alan Gould, The lakewomanThe lake is about a few things, but one of the main ones is about a daughter coming to terms with the loss of her mother. Another book involving a lake and a sort of loss – though not of a mother – is Alan Gould’s The lakewoman (my review). It’s a lyrical and clever book about love and connection, despite distance.

That’s lakes done. I could, in fact, link to another lake book, as I have a few in mind, but that’s a bit boring, so I’m going to switch gears again and link on authors who’ve attended my reading group meetings. Alan Gould was one, and Biff Ward was another. We were all moved by her clear-sighted memoir, In my mother’s hands (my review), and loved the additional insights she provided at our meeting. It is always a treat having authors present at meetings.

Georgia Blain, Births deaths marriagesFor my final book, I’m staying with form and content. Ward’s book is a memoir about living in a complicated family, and so is Georgia Blain’s Births deaths marriages: True tales (my review). In Blain’s case the difficulties came more through her father, but both authors document beautifully the challenge children can have navigating tricky relationships or situations.

Wow, I think I’ve excelled myself this month in terms of travels. We have been all over the place – from the USA (in the starting book) to Australia, and then winged our way to Mexico, Japan and France, before returning to Australia. As for gender balance, four of my six books are by women, which is about average for my Six Degrees posts.

And now, my usual question: Have you read Tales from the city? And regardless, what would you link to? 

Michelle Scott Tucker, Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world (#BookReview)

July 4, 2018

Michelle Scott Tucker, Elizabeth MacarthurThere’s something special about reading a good, engaging history – and this is how I’d describe debut author Michelle Scott Tucker’s biography Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world. There are, in fact, three prongs to my statement, namely, it is history, it is good history, and it is engaging history. I plan to tease out each of these in my post.

First though, a bit about Elizabeth Macarthur, particularly for non-Australians who may never have heard of her. She arrived in Australia on the Second Fleet in 1790, at the age of 23, with her husband John Macarthur who had an army commission with the New South Wales Corps. Their aim was for John to gain a promotion, and then return to England. However, they soon started making their mark in the new colony as farmers – including pioneering the Australian wool industry – and Elizabeth never did return to England, though John did twice. The first time (1801 to 1805) was to stand trial over a duel with Colonel Paterson, and the second (1809 to 1817) to stand trial again, this time for his role in the rebellion against Governor Bligh. Now, have you noticed those dates? Four years away and then eight years. So, who ran the famous pioneer farming enterprise? Yes, Elizabeth of course. It was partly to correct the longstanding image of Elizabeth as helpmeet to her husband that inspired Tucker to write this biography.

Now, my three prongs, starting with that it is history. This is easy to explain. In form this is a biography, but like most biographies of historical figures it also operates as history, because the reason it has been written, the reason we are interested, is the subject’s role in an historical period. This is somewhat different from literary biographies which don’t necessarily engage with wider historical issues relating to the subject, though you could argue, I suppose, that all biographies are history. I’m good, you’ve probably learnt by now, at this on-the-one-hand-but-then-again-on-the-other sort of argument! Still, the story of Elizabeth Macarthur is ingrained in the history of the early British settlement of Australia.

Next, that it is good history. Now, I readily admit that I’m not a trained historian. I did a little history at university – in fact just one subject on historiography – but I’m interested in history and like to read it when I can. So, what do I mean by “good history”? I mean that the history is, or at least appears to my lay eye, to be trustworthy. For it to appear this way, it needs to be well-researched, well-documented and well-presented. And this, Elizabeth Macarthur is. That it is well-researched is evidenced by the extensive bibliography containing significant primary and secondary sources, many of which I am aware and know to be authoritative. That it is well-documented is evidenced not only by this bibliography, but by the comprehensive, but unobtrusive end-noting. Very few facts that I wanted to check were not supported by a source. I read this book with a bookmark at the end-notes so I could easily check sources (or additional explanatory notes), which I did fairly frequently, not because I didn’t trust Tucker but because I was interested to know where she’d got her information. As for the presentation, this is also excellent with evocatively titled chapters, each headed with a quote, usually from Elizabeth or John’s own writings; the detailed index and the use of end-notes rather than foot-notes; and the sensibly selected and ordered pics.

These aren’t all that make it good history, though, because of course the “story” needs to be well-argued, and it is. Tucker marshalls the facts together clearly and logically to prove Elizabeth’s significant role in the family’s farming, but what I particularly liked was the way she handles her sources, and, in particular, the gaps, because of course there are gaps. There are, for example, letters not kept, information not documented in private journals, personal conversations not, of course, recorded. Tucker is careful to flag these, with words like “probably” and “maybe”, making it clear when she is presenting her own assessment of the situation. On one occasion when the frequently disputatious John Macarthur sends off a messenger with an inflammatory letter, that messenger is waylaid by his son Edward. Who sent the son, Tucker asks before exploring the possibilities, deciding in the end:

No. The most likely source is Elizabeth Macarthur, once more trying to mitigate her husband’s wilder misjudgements. But we have to imagine it: a hushed yet heated conversation with Edward to send him flying out after Oakes and then a vain attempt to placate and soothe John …

And finally, the last prong – that it is engaging history. It’s engaging partly because of the subject. Elizabeth Macarthur is an interesting woman, who lived long, achieved much, and left enough documentation for a story about her to be told. She was a woman of her times, as Tucker makes clear. She was aware of her social status, and wasn’t much into “good works” like some of the other leading women of the colony, but she and John were known to treat employees well. She was well-respected in the colony, and many times played conciliatory roles, but she and John were always driven, in the end, by money. And, of course, she was an excellent farm manager.

It’s also engaging history because of the writing. This story has a large cast. Elizabeth had seven children, for a start, but also, she lived in the colony for 60 years, so knew a large number of the often-revolving movers and shakers of colonial society. Tucker manages to keep the story moving despite all this, using some of the techniques more often found in fiction, including foreshadowing, clear character development, and succinct but evocative turns of phrase:

Yet for all their emphasis on the rewards of heaven, the gentlefolk of Georgian England maintained a steely gaze on the rewards of this earthly life.


When the court sat at 10am the scene was more circus than circumspect.

Why, though, should we read this now? Well, there are several reasons, the main one being to re-balance the historical record to properly recognise women’s roles. There’s also the discussion about indigenous relationships in the colony, with Tucker chronicling the Macarthurs’ early good relations with local people followed by their changing attitudes as “their” land and livelihood began to be threatened. There’s John Macarthur’s mental health and the role it played in his behaviour (and thus history.) Did he suffer, for example, from bipolar disorder as Tucker and others suggest? And then, there’s the insight Tucker provides into the daily life of the early colony – the relationships in such a close community, the economic ups and downs, the communication challenges caused by distance from England, and so on. If you like social history, there’s much here for you.

I did laugh at Tucker’s concluding comments that Elizabeth Macarthur, born 9 years before Jane Austen, is “a real-life Elizabeth Bennet who married a Wickham, instead of a Darcy – albeit one who loved her as much as he was able.” I’m not sure I agree, but I applaud her for taking on the Austen fans of the world this way!

Meanwhile, for other bloggers’ reviews of this book, do check out Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) and Bill’s (The Australian Legend).

AWW Badge 2018Michelle Scott Tucker
Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2018

(Review copy courtesy Text Publishing)

Monday musings on Australian literature: New Territory 2018

July 2, 2018

New Territory LogoLast year, some of you will remember, I was a mentor for the ACT Writers’ Centre ACT Lit-bloggers of the future program. It was great fun, and I really enjoyed working with Angharad and Emma over the six-months the program lasted. I wrote a couple of posts about the program, but if you’d like to refresh yourself, this one soon after it started would be a good place to start.

Well, it’s on again this year, but newly branded as New Territory: Adventures in Arts Writing, and with the Street Theatre joining the ACT Writers Centre and the National Library of Australia as program partners. The program, as last year, provides for two emerging ACT-region writers to attend events at the National Library of Australia, the Street Theatre and, in fact, the Canberra Writers Festival, and post their responses on the Writers Centre’s Capital Letters blog.

The ACT Writers Centre’s advertising of the program described it as follows:

[It] is a program that is committed to developing a deeper conversation about the arts: why we make art, how do we engage in art, and to what end? We aim to develop the arts writers, thinkers and provocateurs of the future.

In other words, the writers are encouraged to explore the arts in Canberra – and particularly the events offered by the partner organisations, which they can attend at no charge.

The two writers were chosen in June, and the program is now officially under way, so I’d like to introduce this year’s bloggers to you:

  • Amy (armchaircriticoz): like last year’s Angharad, Amy has a full-time job, and is developing her blog and critical writing skills on the side. Currently her blog roams across film, television, exhibitions, books and other topics that grab her fancy. Do check it out.
  • Siv Parker (On Dusk): and like last year’s Emma, Siv has some writing credentials behind her. Indeed, she won the  David Unaipon Award in 2012, and, in fact, I mentioned her twitter fiction piece in my post on the Writing back anthology last year. She is keen to rekindle her writing career, particularly in this arts writing area, and wants to explore how social media can be harnessed to this purpose. Check out her blog too.

I have asked Siv and Amy whether they’d like to write a guest post here during the program, as Emma did last year, and both seemed keen so you will hopefully see them here sometime in the not too distant future.

I will report back mid-program and point you to some of the work Amy and Siv have been doing, but meanwhile please do check out their blogs and Capital Letters (links above).

Until then, thanks again to the ACT Writers Centre, the NLA and the Street Theatre for sponsoring this program – and a special thanks to author Nigel Featherstone for overseeing this program and gently, encouragingly, shepherding us all through it. I am thrilled to be involved again. I loved getting to know, and spending time with, Angharad and Emma, and look forward to developing a similar relationship with Amy and Siv. Writers – of all sorts – are such fun to be around.

We’d love to hear if you know of any similar programs in your neck of the woods.

My literary week (12), some art, a film, and an unseen play

July 1, 2018

Much as I’d like to, I don’t have time to write full posts on the three “events” I’m writing about today, but I do want to at least document them. I don’t, in fact, document every film, show or exhibition I attend but I have particular reasons, which will hopefully become obvious, for wanting to share these three.

MoMA at the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria)

For a very exciting reason – Mr Gums and my becoming grandparents for the first time – we made a flying trip to Melbourne last weekend, and, as we couldn’t spend all our time gazing at the adorable newborn, we took ourselves off to the current exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria during our long weekend. Titled MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, it comprises a selection of MoMa’s world-famous collection. About 200 pieces the website says. The works are organised pretty traditionally – that is, in chronological order, but within this order there are themes, mostly relating to specific art movements, such as Cubism, Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and so on. The website says that “the exhibition traces the development of art and design from late-nineteenth-century urban and industrial transformation, through to the digital and global present.” It’s an inspiring exhibition, but like all such big, dense, exhibitions, we had tired by the end, despite breaking for lunch in the middle – so my concentration, not to mention my feet, did start to fail, affecting what I remember.

Anyhow, the exhibition opens with a wall comprising a work each by van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Seurat, who, the audioguide explained, are deemed to mark the beginning of modern art.

Salvador Dali, The persistence of memory, 1931

So, what did I enjoy? Of course, I liked seeing famous works by well-known artists, such as Dali’s “The persistence of memory” (the famous melting/dripping clocks painting). Who knew it was so small? Well, you do know it, if you read the small print in art books, but you don’t tend to remember that – at least I don’t always. It’s only seeing the work itself that makes this stick. This is partly what makes going to exhibitions so worthwhile. I also enjoyed seeing lesser known works by well-known artists, and works by artists I barely know or didn’t, until last weekend, know at all! And, I appreciated the inclusion of women artists, such as photographer Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) who was apparently looked at askance for photographing machines.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle wheel, 1951 (original was 1913)

There is so much more I could say, but, this being a litblog primarily, I’m going to end on one idea that particularly tickled me. Early in the exhibition is a work by Marcel Duchamp, the originator not only of Dada but of the art of “readymades“. The audioguide argued that one of Duchamp’s contributions to modern art was the idea that a work of art is not complete until it is joined with the viewer’s perception and questions (even if, the guide said, that question is, “is this art?”) This got me thinking once again about reading, and the fact that a book has as many meanings as it has readers, because each of us brings our own perspectives to it. An old hat idea, now, I guess, but I liked that Duchamp’s ideas resonated for me beyond the visual arts.

Gurrumul (Cinema Nova, Carlton)

Another exciting event in our lives – one still to come – is that in a few days we’ll be heading off to Australia’s Top End, to tour Arnhem Land and then spend a few additional days in Darwin. I can’t wait for the warmth – nor to experience Arnhem Land which has been on my must-visit list for some time now. Luckily for us, two friends have just returned from the same tour, and they advised us, in preparation, to see three films: Ten canoes (which we’ve seen before, but looked at again, via DVD last week), and two recent documentaries Gurrumul and West wind: Djalu’s legacy.

Gurrumul Yunupingu

Dr G Yunupingu @ Fremantle Park (17/4/2011), By Stuart Sevastos, using CC BY 2.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately we’ve missed West Wind on the cinema circuit, and it’s not available on DVD until later this year, but Gurrumul is still screening. So another time-filling activity for us in Melbourne was to see it at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. For those of you who don’t know, the film is about the recently deceased indigenous Australian musician, Dr G Yunipingu (the name used for him since his death in respect of indigenous Australian funerary practices. Permission was given, by Yunipingu himself the film says, for the film to be released, despite another indigenous practice of not showing images of deceased persons for some time after their deaths.)

Dr G Yunupingu was born on Elcho Island, in Arnhem Land, and was discovered early in his life to be blind. He taught himself to play music, and was clearly gifted – though it was his voice (“the voice of an angel” some said) that really captured attention. He wrote his own songs, which he sang mostly in language. The film chronicles, primarily, his musical life, but given his close connection to his culture, that couldn’t be done without reference to his family and culture.

It’s a traditional documentary, style-wise, but it’s the content, the subject himself, that makes this such a moving film. I was quite wrung out by the end – and not only because it had been an emotional couple of weeks leading up to it. One of the issues underpinning the film is an age-old story for indigenous people – the challenge of moving between two opposing cultures. It was a challenge that brought indigenous artist, Albert Namatjira, undone in the end. Dr G Yunupingu managed it better overall – partly because of his own sense of self and strong attachment to his country and culture, but partly also because his non-indigenous mentors had learnt from history and were respectful of Yunupingu’s wishes. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t tense times! The film will, I’m sure, enhance our Arnhem Land trip – but it’s worth seeing regardless.

Tourmaline (The Street Theatre)

Randolph Stow, TourmalineAnd, well, this last stop in today’s post is exciting too – but disappointing also, as I will be missing it. Yes, I am concluding this post by discussing something that not only have I not seen, but won’t be seeing either. I have a very good reason though for this strange behaviour, and it’s that the production, an adaptation of Randolph Stow’s novel Tourmaline, was written by Emma Gibson, one of the bloggers I mentored in last year’s Litbloggers of the Future program. Emma, in fact, wrote a guest post for this blog on Stow and the novel.

It is part of a double bill of adaptations of sci-fi-futuristic texts, the other being HG Wells’ War of the worlds. In her guest post, Emma said that the book has been described as an “ecological allegory”. This would slot nicely into Emma’s main interest, at present anyhow, which is writing about place. According to the promotions, the adaptations are made for radio – which is great to see in itself – but are being performed on stage at the Street Theatre. I am so sorry that I will be missing it – but I wish playwright Emma, and The Street, the best success with it.

Do you have any cultural outings to share?