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Bryan Dawe | Tangier Illusions | Exhibition Launch

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Exhibition Launch 

Bryan Dawe | Tangier Illusions

Launch by Elly Varrenti

Exhibition Dates: 10th – 26th August 2017

Launch: Thursday 10th August 2017 6-8pm

We know Bryan Dawe as a writer for stage, screen, radio and print. He has won multiple awards for his work in the fields of comedy, acting and music.

His work, as part of the political satire duo Clarke and Dawe, screened on Australian TV for close to thirty years.

Bryan has held a number of photographic exhibitions, the latest in Tangier, Morocco, in February of this year. That exhibition: ‘Tangier Illusions’ will be on show for the first time in Australia, at the Arnold Street Gallery, as an umbrella event at Bendigo Writers Festival.

Bryan Dawe has spent many months in Tangier on his many visits to Morocco where he developed a deep appreciation of its people and culture.

Tangier Illusions is an exciting collection of artistically enhanced images that go far beyond the usual touristic depictions.

Surrealistic, with more than a hint of humour, the photographs delve into the psyche of Tangier: the old bars and cafes inhabited by the famous writers and musicians, the artists, spies, the wealthy, and the smugglers. Against a backdrop of decaying buildings and circus, Bryan honours Tangier’s creative and social past.

Arnold Street Gallery | 189 Arnold Street, North Bendigo| p: 0439 571 054 | e: arnoldstreetgallery189@gmail.com | w:www.arnoldstreetgallery.com

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Australian Education Union ( AEU) magazine July Column

In the days before GPS and Google Maps told you where to go I went on a business trip to regional Victoria and got lost.

I’d always wanted to go on a business trip because adults with proper jobs go on business trips. So when my boss at the Victorian Arts Centre Schools Education Program asked me to visit those twelve primary and secondary schools participating in our pilot program, I went.

And I took my grandmother and mother with me because my grandmother loved an outing and my mother worried I’d be lost without her.

So there we were: three generations of imperfect mothers on a road trip.

My mother did the driving –  she was the boss of us. My grandmother did the navigating – she had the sense of direction. I sat in the back like a kid trying to make out what her parents were saying in the front seat.

When she migrated to Australia, my grandmother was the first to get a driver’s license in her community. Mum says it was unheard of for an Italian woman of her generation to be getting around ‘with those long dark curls of hers, sunglasses and smoking a cigarette. Outrageous she was. Shameless.’

I have no sense of direction. Really. None. I get lost going to the bathroom.

This trip involved lots of country driving on the wide open road, plenty of animals that looked like they’d come straight from Central Casting, and insufficient signage. I used to hate the country, it made me feel lonely, so Mum and Nonna’s company seemed like a good idea at the time.

Our program at the Victorian Arts Centre placed professional artists who were at the top of their game – dancers, writers, actors, musicians and designers – into schools, where they’d work with students and teachers across all subject areas. The schools had already attended a theatre performance at the Victorian Arts Centre a few weeks earlier and so this was the second-stage follow-up part where the kids got to unpack the show’s various components with the arts practitioners themselves. Our program was the first of its kind in Victoria in the early-nineties.

Sometimes I’d need to visit three different schools in a day and once there I’d talk with teachers, students and principals about why imbedding arts education into the curriculum was not a luxury extra but essential to the creating of a well-rounded human.

And then there were the motels. We stayed in those anti-charm joints with their thin walls and little sachets of instant coffee and twin biscuits, and had to share a room. Although I occasionally slept in the car because of my grandmother’s snoring.

Every night they would brief me on the following day’s schedule with particular emphasis on directions on how to get to the schools. I went on my own the first day but got lost, so from then they came with me, and while I was working they’d go and explore the town.

At night we talked.  Well they did most of the talking. Stories about the old days in working-class migrant suburbs like North Melbourne, Fitzroy and Brunswick during the forties and  fifties. Who’d run off with whom. Who’d turned up at which Communist Party meeting and made a fool of themselves. ‘God, I loved those meetings at our place!’, said Mum. ‘I used to eves drop and think it all sounded so important and exciting.’ There were secrets I’d heard before and some I hadn’t. Stories against other people but mostly against themselves. Sometimes we laughed so much our sides hurt and my grandmother would have to rush to the toilet. ‘Don’t talk about me when I’m gone!’

I listened, and ate toast and honey. I was a grown woman, a teacher, an actress and now a professional on a business trip, but on those nights I just felt like a kid gorging on late night snacks.

It was a successful trip. Not that I had others to compare it with. I witnessed firsthand the impact of having artists working on site in country schools where most students had no other chance to ever meet a real, practicing artist in the course of their daily lives.

My grandmother always encouraged me to follow my passion because she thought that anything to do with the arts was romantic. Mum was just glad I finally had a proper job.

 

 

 

Review: The Australian Newspaper

The Hot Guy

By Mel Campbell & Anthony Morris

Published by Echo

 

Girl in Between

By Anna Daniels

Published by Allen & Unwin

 

 

Two novels penned by authors experienced in writing for film and television have hit the shelves recently, both of which could be categorised as similarly themed chick lit – their protagonists both funny, bawdy, 30-something women dedicated to finding ‘the one’. Yet between them, these novels prove this form of genre fiction is a broad category.

 

The Hot Guy, co-written by film critics Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris, is rom com 101 and sited firmly in the screwball film comedy tradition of the 30s and 40s.

 

Adam, the eponymous ‘hot guy’ of the title, is an earnest and unwittingly handsome movie nerd trying to raise finance to direct his next short film – a work that delves unpretentiously into the ‘Dark Side’. Provisionally titled Metadata, it’s about ‘the essential asymmetry of the panopticon’.

 

Adam works at a multiplex cinema with his two sidekicks: Steve, a wannabe actor, and Renton, a film reviewer for blog BackedUpToilet. Just three nerds in a kiosk, riffing-witty on movies and girls, and making choc tops.

 

Cate is a self-identified ‘funny lady’ and publicity director for a sports stadium, despite hating sport. ‘I hate sport,’ she says to Dave, the car park attendant.

 

‘Cate’s sense of humour … first disrupted her love life at the age of twelve.’, and now she has been dumped by her uptight boyfriend over a joke. Dejected and lost, she debriefs with her own sidekicks, Vanessa and Kirsty, while hanging out at their kite flyer and drone club. There’s some nice fast talk in these scenes, too: swipes at vampires, zombies, cat videos, a particularly sharp jab at the current trend for all things ‘bespoke and, of course, plenty of no holds barred boy talk. Think Bridesmaids.

 

Egged on (and set up) by her friends, Cate picks up Adam at a bar – there’s lots of alcohol saturated prose in both of these books – for a no-strings one-night-stand: to get back in the saddle, so to speak. Trouble is, they actually ‘like’ each other.

 

So far, so genre.

 

But Adam isn’t just any hot guy, he’s The Hot Guy; unassuming and drop-dead gorgeous. In fact, so gorgeous that there’s a Facebook page dedicated to the ambition of a ‘night-with-Adam’ – given that a night with this guy will allegedly cure whatever ails you – set up by Adam-obsessed women of the disturbingly named League of Icarus.

 

So when serial one-nighter, looking-for-the-gal-who’ll-be-there-in-the-morning Adam makes out with serial picker-of-wrong-guys Cate, assumptions and vested interests abound.

 

All of this makes for some entertaining and over-the-top set ups: a farcical hostage situation involving The League, followed by a road trip to Adam’s home town of Ladbroke – where the statue of the Unknown Soldier is of course modelled on gorgeous Adam – for the premier screening of Metadata at the town’s inaugural film festival.

 

 

Characters like Adam’s recalcitrant but gratis director of photography are drawn in brisk and vivid strokes – ‘grizzled, inebriated druid shambling’ and some of the best writing is in the three-way shtick on sex and celluloid between the blokes at work, although it does feel like the authors are having just a bit too much fun competing for best-bad film titles.

 

 

Girl in Between, Anna Daniel’s first novel was shortlisted for the 2016 Vogel awards. It’s the story of Lucy, who, at 32, low on love, luck and life, is suffering an extended mid-youth crisis. She’s chucked in her TV producing job in Melbourne and come home to Rockhampton (aka Rocky, ‘Beef Capital of Australia’), moving back in with her parents to finish writing her book, Diamonds in the Dust, and generally sort out her life.

 

Mum is an African-drumming Cher acolyte (‘Remember what Cher says…’) who spends an inordinate amount of time poring over handy home hints catalogues with Lucy’s zany bestie, Rosie. Dad goes to the jockey club every other night, or so Lucy believes. In actuality he’s battling the black dog and hanging out at the Men’s Shed.

 

Daniels, herself a kind of latter day Bridget Jones, hails from Rockhampton and is a writer and producer known for her funny, quirky TV segments. ‘How Not to Interview Russell Crowe’, an edit of her potentially disastrous encounter with the notoriously volatile actor, is pure Bridget, and won the ABC Comedy Segment of the Year in 2004. The sketch is reworked in Girl in Between as an interview with a fading 80s rock star.

 

In Lucy, the author has created a heroine not far removed, seemingly, from herself. But the lightness and short -segment appeal of her earlier work does not quite translate here, where lots of heart-thumping, body-trembling, blood-boiling, stomach-lurching, pulse-racing clichés choke a narrative already weighed down with signposts as subtle as a Mallee bull. Nods to more serious issues – Mum’s cancer, Dad’s depression – feel tokenistic.

 

Aussie idioms and vernacular keep both novels tonally consistent, home-grown and comfy, maybe even a touch exotic, if you’re not a local. In Daniel’s novel we know we’re in Australia because we’re told we are, often, not because we recognise it. Rocky might feel like ‘a pair of Ugg boots – super comfortable, sturdy and secure’, but Porpoise Spit it ain’t.

 

What’s striking is the extent to which lists and labels (books, film titles) stand in for description or observation. Red UDLs, Rooster, KFC, Maccas and Subway are listed like product placements, standing in for character as if anything, anyone, can now be reduced to the brands they consume. It’s a short-hand, but a lazy one.

 

 

While both books are unapologetically populist and formulaic genre fiction and Girl in Between does contain some funny deft writing, it lacks sufficient irony or self-reflection to do more than simply fulfils the clichés.

The Hot Guy, written with relish and self-awareness; the authors’ playfulness with the genre smart, not smart-arsed, more homage than piss-take, fulfils the brief more successfully.

 

 

Elly Varrenti is a writer, broadcaster and critic. She teaches in the creative writing department at the University of Melbourne.

 

 

REMEMBERING PLAYWRIGHT MICHAEL GURR (1961-2017)

May 4, 2017

 

A best friend for more than 30 years, Michael Gurr came to live in my street in the regional Victorian town of Castlemaine three years ago. He loved the place. Occasionally I would protest its arty-folksy-smallness and he would just look at me, proffer another piece of onion tart or tea cake or some such other Moroccan or Mediterranean thing he had just made, and say something like: ‘El, negative is easy; try positive, it’s harder.’ Or, ‘I hope you are not on some bloody nonsense diet again, because I have made French custard poached pears.’

He loved to cook, to garden and, most recently, to walk home from town carrying big-ish new things for the house: an olde-worlde record player so that he could revisit his millions of Dylan albums. A large framed drawing/collage by some local artist: ’Take a closer look’, he said. ‘There’s more to it, the closer you get.’

Once I arrived at his place – a daily or double-daily visit, generally – and he announced that he had bought three quail. ‘Yuk. I can’t eat quail,’ I said. ‘They are far too small and delicate and it just feels wrong somehow.’ ‘Not to eat,’ he said. ‘To admire. They are magnificent.’ And there they were outside the back screen door, all set up in their new little double-storey hutch replete with straw matting, tiny pot-plants and an ensuite bathing area.

He was something out of the box: so smart, so funny, so generous, so wicked, so old-young, so singular, so confident without swagger, so unwittingly beautiful.

His little weatherboard cottage opposite the footy oval was a comfort and joy to him, poised as it was in perfect perving distance from the parade of locals on the way to the pub or train station or Botanic Gardens or pool. He relished the crispy night footy training and Saturday matches. ‘I love the sound of it,’ he said. ‘It’s the sound of place and belonging.’

He always had something or other to give to my mother or to me every time I left – The Guardian Weekly, usually. My 85-year-old mother was always grateful. She loved him like a son – and got cross with him like a son, too – but she never was able to read those papers for the tiny print. She never had the heart to tell him, though.

Michael also gave her the latest political biography he had just devoured, and once insisted she read one of his beloved Elizabeth David cookbooks. Mum was not interested in the cookbooks but took the other stuff happily. Last week it was a jar of pickled lemons. ‘They are not ready yet so don’t open them, just let them be for a while. Some things do get better in time, you know.’

The pickled lemon philosopher sometimes gave me the shits. He could be opinionated, and obstinate too. But kindness and largesse… Mate, he invented those words.

From the moment I met him, when we were 21 and 22 respectively, I knew he was something out of the box: so smart, so funny, so generous, so wicked, so old-young, so singular, so confident without swagger, so unwittingly beautiful. The first time I saw one of his plays I experienced a sort of dwarfing awe. The second time I saw one of plays, I forgot it was a play, I was so immersed in his writing’s signature rhythms; the ideas layered and demanding; the wit, rude and shocking; the characters flawed and magnificently conflicted; and the politics searing and prescient.

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We lived together for five years in our 20s and they were… (really, no nostalgia here, because, ‘Nostalgia is a conservative impulse. A retreat into what seems knowable is dangerous,’ he reckoned.) They were five of the most creative, instructive, hilarious, vital, delicious, domestically secure and exciting years of my life.

In recent months, Michael became ill. He never complained, he never asked much of me or others; only for me to be kind-of around and to sometimes drive him places, because he had always refused, perversely, to ever get a bloody licence and walking even short distances had become difficult for him. Our time together began to change, the balance to shift, as his fiercely resistant yet increasing dependence began to take centre stage.

A true autodidact, Michael was learning up until nine days before he died.

I have loved this extraordinarily gifted (yes, an unfashionable word I know) man. His loyalty to his ‘tribe’, as he would say, was breathtaking, if not sometimes intractable and stubborn.

A true autodidact, Michael was learning up until nine days before he died. ‘Did you know,’ he said to me, while we sat in his favourite cafe in the old gaol atop the hill at the back of his house, drinking black tea and eating apple slices. ‘I dreamt a new play last night. First time in ages. It’s called Karaoke. Did you know that I have been spelling the word karaoke wrong for years?’ And then I asked, as I have asked every single time over the past 35 years, even though I always get the same answer: ‘What’s it about?’ To which he says: ‘I never talk about what I’m writing. Why would I? Once I speak it, then it no longer demands to be written.’

Michael’s work was his life, his life his work, his family his theatre, his friends his family; his sisters and brothers, his nieces and nephews, my son, his god children, his students, his former partner of 23 years, his comrades, his colleagues, his actors, his pollies, his barber, his fish monger, his books, his newspapers, his quail and his cat… these were his life. His death feels like an amputation.

Who is going to call out my whingeing now? Who in hell do I give my miserable first drafts to for a brutal but fair edit? Who do I now visit most days and wish to god he would stop smoking inside the house like it’s still the 1980s? Who do I care about and for, because he has always, always cared about and for me? Who has my back now?

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A memorial service for Michael Gurr was  held at the Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank in Melbourne on Monday, May 15. A standing ovation.

Book Reviews  per The Australian 25.May.2107

Both The Hot Guy and Girl in Between, by authors experienced in writing for film and television, could be categorised as similarly themed chick lit. Their protagonists are funny, bawdy, 30-something women dedicated to finding ‘‘the one’’. Yet between them, these novels prove this form of genre fiction is a broad category.

The Hot Guy, by film critics Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris, is rom-com 101 and sited firmly in the screwball film comedy tradition of the 1930s and 40s.

The Hot Guy by Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris.
The Hot Guy by Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris.

Adam, the eponymous hot guy of the title, is an earnest and unwittingly handsome movie nerd trying to raise finance to direct his next short film — a work that delves unpretentiously into the “dark side”. Provisionally titled Metadata, it’s about “the essential asymmetry of the panopticon”.

Adam works at a multiplex cinema with his two sidekicks: Steve, a wannabe actor, and Renton, a film reviewer for blog BackedUpToilet. Just three nerds in a kiosk, riffing wittily on movies and girls, and making choc tops.

Cate is a self-identified “funny lady” and publicity director for a sports stadium, despite hating sport.

“Cate’s sense of humour … first disrupted her love life at the age of 12”, and now she has been dumped by her uptight boyfriend over a joke. Dejected and lost, she debriefs with her own sidekicks, Vanessa and Kirsty, while hanging out at their kite flyer and drone club.

There’s some nice fast talk in these scenes: swipes at vampires, zombies, cat videos, a particularly sharp jab at the current trend for all things “bespoke” and, of course, plenty of no-holds-barred boy talk. Think Bridesmaids. Egged on (and set up) by her friends, Cate picks up Adam at a bar — there’s a lot of alcohol-saturated prose in both of these books — for a no-strings-attached one-night-stand: to get back in the saddle, so to speak. Trouble is, they actually like each other.

So far, so genre.

But Adam isn’t just any hot guy, he’s The Hot Guy, unassuming and drop-dead gorgeous. In fact, so gorgeous there’s a Facebook page dedicated to the ambition of a “night-with-Adam” — given that a night with this guy will allegedly cure whatever ails you — set up by Adam-obsessed women of the disturbingly named League of Icarus.

So when serial one-nighter, looking-for-the-gal-who’ll-be-there-in-the-morning Adam makes out with serial picker-of-wrong-guys Cate, assumptions and vested interests abound.

All of this makes for some entertaining and over-the-top set-ups: a farcical hostage situation involving The League, followed by a road trip to Adam’s home town of Ladbroke — where the statue of the Unknown Soldier is of course modelled on gorgeous Adam — for the premiere of Metadata at the town’s inaugural film festival.

Characters such as Adam’s recalcitrant but gratis director of photography are drawn in brisk and vivid strokes — “grizzled, inebriated druid shambling” — and some of the best writing is in the three-way schtick on sex and celluloid between the blokes at work, although it does feel like the authors are having just a bit too much fun competing for best bad film titles.

Girl in Between by Anna Daniels.
Girl in Between by Anna Daniels.

Girl in Between, Anna Daniels’s first novel, was shortlisted for last year’s The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. It’s the story of Lucy, who, at 32, low on love, luck and life, is suffering an extended mid-youth crisis. She’s chucked in her TV producing job in Melbourne and come home to Rockhampton (aka Rocky, Beef Capital of Australia), moving back in with her parents to finish writing her book, Diamonds in the Dust, and generally sort out her life.

Mum is an African-drumming Cher acolyte who spends an inordinate amount of time poring over handy home hints catalogues with Lucy’s zany bestie, Rosie. Dad goes to the jockey club every other night, or so Lucy believes. In truth he’s battling the black dog and hanging out at the Men’s Shed.

Daniels, herself a kind of latter-day Bridget Jones, hails from Rockhampton and is a writer and producer known for her funny, quirky TV segments. How Not to Interview Russell Crowe, an edit of her potentially disastrous encounter with the notoriously volatile actor, is pure Bridget, and won the ABC Comedy Segment of the Year in 2004. The sketch is reworked in Girl in Between as an interview with a fading 80s rock star.

In Lucy, the author has created a heroine not far removed, seemingly, from herself. But the lightness and short-segment appeal of her earlier work does not quite translate here, where lots of heart-thumping, body-trembling, blood-boiling, stomach-lurching, pulse-racing cliches choke a narrative already weighed down with signposts as subtle as a Mallee bull. Nods to more serious issues — Mum’s cancer, Dad’s depression — feel tokenistic.

Aussie idioms and vernacular keep both novels tonally consistent, homegrown and comfy, maybe even a touch exotic, if you’re not a local. In Daniels’s novel we know we’re in Australia because we’re told we are, often, not because we recognise it.

Rocky might feel like “a pair of Ugg boots — super comfortable, sturdy and secure”, but Porpoise Spit it ain’t.

What’s striking is the extent to which lists and labels (books, film titles) stand in for description or observation. Red Rooster, UDLs, KFC, Maccas and Subway are listed like product placements, standing in for character as if anything, anyone, can now be reduced to the brands they consume. It’s a shorthand, but a lazy one.

While both books are unapologetically populist and formulaic genre fiction and Girl in Between does contain some funny deft writing, it lacks sufficient irony or self-reflection to do more than simply fulfil the cliches.

The Hot Guy — written with relish and self-awareness, the authors’ playfulness with the genre smart, not smart-arsed, more homage than piss-take — fulfils the brief more successfully.

Elly Varrenti is a writer, broadcaster and critic. She teaches in the creative writing department at the University of Melbourne.

The 3 Times I Met John Clarke -AEU Magazine

 Much has been written, said and broadcast since the recent death of writer, actor, satirist and polymath, John Clarke. Now this is my opportunity to add to the seriously sad, shocking and celebratory cacophony that Clarke has left in his wake. But Clarke would not have approved of that last sentence with its overwrought alliteration and hyperbole because Clarke’s way with words was never cheap and clunky, but always precise, dextrous and daring.

I first met John in 1998 when he was making the mockumentary The Games for ABC TV. We had a friend in common, and he, Bryan Dawe, had asked me to sit in on some early script readings. The Games ended up being a 13-week master-class in writing, performance style and direction.

You had to have been living in a cave not to know of Mr. J. Clarke’s very particular brand of satire and seeing John in action up close that first time was at first exciting and scary and then just plain fun. And hard work. John was a perfectionist, and did not stop until he got it right. No matter what it was. Whereas Bryan would nick out for a fag or a coffee- like the rest of us- John always seemed content just to sit and wait patiently until the rest of us mere mortals finished fluffing about.

Everyone in that cast was impressive, let’s face it, but John was just so special-smart.

The second time I met John Clarke was at Bryan’s in Phillip Island where they both had a house and it was then that I really got a taste of the intellectual promiscuity of the man.     A Socratic conversationalist, John could talk the leg off an iron pot sure, but he never forgot about you. He wasn’t a monologist, but a critic, philosopher, nature lover, poet, artist, social commentator, environmentalist, swimmer, writer, comic, and the kindest and driest and most seriously funny and curious bloke you could ever have the pleasure of sharing a bowl of soup with.

John was highly relational. He was excellent at friendship and very good at the fleeting more casual relationship like ours.

The third time I met John was last year when he and Bryan asked me to interview them at Fed Square at the release of their Special 25-Year DVD Box Set of Clarke & Dawe.

A quarter of a century is a long time to survive any kind of relationship but John Clarke and Bryan Dawe’s, like any healthy partnership, had moved and responded to the times. Their particular kind of work with its simple no frills format belied the layers of meaning and its daring approach to social and political satire and commentary. They were there at the start; they were there before The Office, before Utopia.

Clarke & Dawe became shorthand for smart, subversive and a deadpan style of lampoon and Clarke’s writing and the pair’s collaboration was the ultimate gentle slaughter of the sacred cow. It’s a dirty (funny) job but someone’s got to do it.

John’s eyes – yes it’s a cliché but they were sparkly and cheeky– and his voice was not at all actorly or lovely, but samey and a bit nasally even. John was neat, trim, unadorned and pleasing in a nice bloke kind of a way. All this meant, of course, that when Clarke appeared as ‘himself’ with no attempt to resemble the figure he was parodying in the segments with Dawe, his appearance, in effect, never got in the way because there was a neutrality to it. John was a canvas. Not quite blank, but sufficiently un-distracting to convince us that he could be anyone, if the writing was good enough. And it was. Always.

Increasingly people have turned to political satire for the news – The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Have I got News for You, Shaun MCCallieff, Charlie Pickering – who offer up pithy, entertaining and often some of the sharpest contemporary commentary around. Perhaps fake news has replaced real news. Perhaps some people actually think John Clarke is Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison or Pauline Hanson?

Before we all did the Fed Square interview, John and I had a couple of conversations on the phone to discuss its possible format and content. The first conversation went for 35 minutes and the second for 80. After, my brain was in over drive. The dopamine and serotonin were wrestling for supremacy. I was on fire. Excited. Talking with John, following John along his paths of creative improvisations was like being in an intellectual labyrinth. We talked about so many things that I didn’t know I even knew anything about. Some of them I didn’t. Lots of them I didn’t.

With John as teacher and guide you experienced your best self. His generosity and subversive tutelage got you riffing in places you’d never contemplated previously.

During the interview a few days later at Fed Square I asked him at one point:

‘So if satire is an art in which vices, follies, abuses and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself into improvement, is your work driven by cynicism or angry faith?’

‘That’s a very interesting question,’ he said. ‘But I would have to say neither cynicism nor anger. Faith, yes. Faith, and a fair amount of amusement.’

 

 

 

AUE Column Dec 2016

My 84-year-old mother, who taught in Melbourne from the 60s through to the 80s, reckons that these days, school kids are too indulged and overstimulated. And she’s not speaking from the skewed benefit of hindsight because Mum’s been raising my late sister’s son since he was 15 months old. He’s seven now and in Grade 1.

“Every week there’s some kind of event or celebration, and every second week I get a note home asking for money for this fundraiser or that multicultural day or whatever.”

I tell Mum she sounds like a grumpy old woman, a Depression kid from migrant parents, stoic and frugal. She looked after them, as much as, maybe more than, they did her.

But Mum, surely things are better now than in your day when you and your little brother were at Fitzroy Primary. You know, when school excursions didn’t exist, when learning was by rote, and when shaming and fear were classroom management strategies.’

Clearly conditions have improved since Mum first started teaching in public education in her late 20s (she was a baby journalist for an Italian Communist rag in Sydney before that). Back then curriculums were less complex, varied and stimulating than what they are today.

‘Of course things are better today,” Mum pipes up. “When I went to school, the Aboriginal and migrant kids were lucky to make one day out of five a week and nobody sent notes home to the parents in those days.’

Mum’s on a roll. Always the journalist, providing background and context to a story’s still important. ‘It was tough for those teachers too with often 40 kids a class and lots of them struggling with the language. No ESL teachers in those days!

Since my sister died, Mum has devoted herself to her grandson’s rearing and education with enviable single-mindedness and energy. I wish my parenting were half as consistent.

But today after our usual morning walk around the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, she’s irritated.

“It’s as if teachers are expected to be entertainers and festival directors as well as just teach, nowadays. I really don’t believe kids require a teacher’s constant attention and affirmation. A bit of benign neglect doesn’t hurt either, you know.”

“Yeah,” I say, “except that we know so much more these days about student engagement, multiple learning styles and authentic assessment. We have smaller class sizes and better teacher training so of course there’s going to be more going on at school all-round … more extra-curricular opportunities, more newsletters and forms to fill out for incursions and excursions to Sovereign Hill or Japan or wherever.”

“That’s my point. Japan! When I was at school, Japan was the enemy, not a bloody school excursion!”

“You want a coffee at that new place in town?” I suggest.

“No. Save your money. I’ll make us one at home.”