Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival Numba Wan

The first ever Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival kicks off on Friday 10 February 2012. Maybe this will inspire me to revive this blog. Carolyn Webb's article Roach's musical road to recovery appeared today in the lead up to the festival.  Here are my festival picks that I may or may not review here soon:
  • STRAKE@ - An exhibition by Arthur A Cole
  • James Henry's composition for the Giant Theremin
  • Arika Waulu's projections at Signal
  • Troy Casser-Daley
  • Radical Son
  • Bart Willoughby
  • Skin
  • Patrick Mau
  • Lady Lash
  • Liz Cavanagh
  • Corranderrk - We Will Show The Country
  • Koorioboree
  • Indigenous Laneway Commissions
  • Incident at Swanston Street
  • Indigenous Writers' Talks
  • Indigenous Visual Artists' Talks
  • Mad Bastards
  • The Tall Man
  • Toomelah
Which is pretty much the entire program, but no one said I couldn't pick as much as I like. Just goes to show how much talent there is out there.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Blak is Cracked, Contemporary and Classic

Out of the crazy Queensland brain of Sean Choolburra comes this health message. Who cares if it works or not (ok we do care), I just love the brother is out their creating contemporary culture for all of our consideration and entertainment..

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Keeping Tropical Water Lillies

Tips on keeping water lillies from field botanist Diane Lucas:

Peak flowering is the dry season (up north), and the best environment is a still, permanent water source.

Waterlily ponds need to be at least 35 to 60 centimetres deep and have a surface area of at least 1 square metre, for a good carbon and oxygen exchange between the air and water. They should be self-regulating and never need cleaning if you have the right balance of plants and fish.

To keep the water healthy, plant two oxygenating plants, like grasses or reeds, to one waterlily.

Plant waterlily root stock in a large pot of almost pure compost. They're very hungry plants. Cover the soil with about 5 centimetres of gravel. That's to stop yabbies and fish digging and uprooting the plant. It also stops the soil discolouring the water.

Fertilise three times a year with fertiliser tablets. Wrap them in a cloth and bury under the soil. Don’t put them straight into the pond because they'll poison the fish.

Waterlilies like full sun, but a combination of full sun and dappled shade for part of the day is best. Direct sun will increase evaporation.

Water lillies carry cultural significance for Indigenous peoples including being a great food source.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

I am a Chocolate Homing Pigeon

*Serving suggestion - objects might be closer than they appear

In a totally realistic attempt to reach the achievable goal to become totally buff, I have limited my intake of food to a variety of pre-cooked proportion controlled meals, breakfasts of porridge, baked beans or nourishing cereals (yummo), snack foods like popcorn, Indian Bhuja mix (I always want to call it Bhudju!) and fruit.  Life is worth living.

In the same intervening period, the teenager has developed a predilection for concocting experiments, influenced by the internet. The key ingredients for these experiments are pretzels, melted chocolate and peanut butter. At first these experiments looked vaguely like some sort of worthwhile food group. Peanut butter is sandwiched together by two perfectly baked pretzels, dipped in melted chocolate which is left to harden and could passably be presented on a chocolate tray at one of Melbourne's many chocolatiers. But as the experiments develop, they have become streamlined into a kind of TV dinner style porridge. The food group varieties are dispensed with and the peanut butter is let go. Think Goldilocks meets Pimp My Snack.

In my food austerity I have put food away, found containers for foodstuffs previously uncontained.  The only chocolate in the house, which admittedly is my only stumbling block, is a svelte mini-bar of Monsieur Truffe 60% Grenada Dark Chocolate.

But wait! While putting things away I have espied the chocolate melts required for above experiment. I find a suitable jar and make them airtight.  I go about my biz, but find I am strangely drawn to the kitchen. The jar sits on the bench in the kitchen next to the room where I write. It is only on the third trip I become conscious of the chocolate homing pigeon. I find every punctuation mark requires an automated trip to the kitchen. I am unaware of the travel. I simply make a key stroke, comma, my body rises, my feet take five short steps, a side step down into the corridor, a turn, a wingflap to the kitchen bench also incorporates the twisting of the jar lid, the coop has been found. I wander back to the desk, a handful of stolen chocolate buttons, discretely nestled in the palm of my hand. They are scoffed down until the next question mark is employed and the homing begins anew.

Obviously the Teenager has chosen the optimum time to make this scientific pursuit. Our affinity in purpose is uncanny. Can I ban the teenager from such pertinent experimentation in the quest for my own buff-ness? Which one is more selfish? On balance, my life is pretty much defunct, while the Teenager’s is just begun. I will sacrifice my purpose for the greater good. The enquiring mind must be encouraged.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Maya Angelou's Poem About Michael Jackson

We Had Him

Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing, now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind.

Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace. Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.

In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time. No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure.

Though we are many, each of us is achingly alone, piercingly alone.

Only when we confess our confusion can we remember that he was a gift to us and we did have him.

He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance.

Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love, and survived and did more than that.

He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style. We had him whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his.

We had him, beautiful, delighting our eyes.

His hat, aslant over his brow, and took a pose on his toes for all of us.

And we laughed and stomped our feet for him.

We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing. He gave us all he had been given.

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square.

In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England

We are missing Michael.

But we do know we had him, and we are the world.

Maya Angelou, July 2009


Monday, 2 May 2011

Lisa Bellear’s 50th Birthday

Today we celebrated the 50th birthday of warrior woman and mighty poet, Lisa Bellear. Melbourne friends and family gathered for a bittersweet celebration of our friend, cousin, role model, mentor, advocate and artist.  Bitter because Lisa passed away without warning almost five years ago at age 45. Sweet because the occasion called for the telling of stories, the looking at photographs, the eating of favourite foods, the recitation of poetry and the playing of spoons.
The guest list was compiled from a quick whip around of friends from her hundred walks of life – poets, artists, activists, survivors, warriors, dancers, educators, writers, broadcasters, the babysat and the mentored.  A last minute do, but one that had been brewing amongst a group of us who think almost daily about Lisa. A graveside party was contemplated, but the distance was prohibitive. What then?  A do would certainly do.

All the elements were there. The tender lamb chops, bottles of Queen Adelaide, Dionne Warwick belting out Walk on By, poetry and poets, photographers and photographs. Even the barbecue played its part, erupting into a flaming urban campfire – Lisa’s pyromaniac spirit was saluted.
At first I wanted to read Maya Angelou’s tribute to Michael Jackson, We Had Him to kick off the poetry. Maya is a national treasure for good reason. A poet who can capture a mood, the feeling of a time and pot it. Just like Lisa. A poem which tells the loss of a star gone too soon, but lingers on the brilliance left behind.  I will post the full poem in a separate post in case the link above ever expires.

But as we started the readings, her book, Dreaming in Urban Areas (UQP, 1996) fell open at Tanna Man, and so we started with this. A fine beginning, one of connection, roots and a need for justice.
Tanna Man
(for Faith Bandler)
Cuts cane
As white men
With long slim noses
And whips
Curse him.
Faster “nigger” harder.

Each piece of cane he cuts
represents and islander from home,
kidnapped, black birded, stolen.

Mango trees echo vision,
Freedom, isn’t meant to be
a luxury for idle white boss men
To contemplate and dwell.
June 1993

The poem was met with cries of ‘Strong ay!’ and the crowd rallied to the call for more readings.
Brunswick poets read more poems and sister Kylie read  A Suitcase Full of Mould, one of Lisa’s most poignant, prophetic and painful.

Technology failed us on a few fronts as we tried to show a slideshow of photos of Lisa but we saw footage of her comedy routine from Natives Getting Funny!, and her cameos in Destiny Deacon’s video work.
But suddenly one of her writing buddies, Christine Gillespie, popped on screen and read one of the favourite poems, changing the words slightly from Koori woman, to Warrior Woman:

Chops ‘n’ Things
(for Eva Johnson)
I can’t wait to curl around
a lemon scented tree
light a fire and
watch it burn down to
the embers as the sun
floats away, far away
our ancestors are
yarning and laughing
at this Koori woman
and through the
flames, the embers
and the burnt chops
and charcoaled
potatoes wrapped in foil
they’re saying, tidda girl
you’re okay.
keep on dreaming
keep on believing
September 1991

The night ended in hilarity including ukulele renditions,  dancing and spoon playing but one of the highlights was definitely Ardy Tibby’s poem, written a year after Lisa’s death.

Quickly, and often late, she'd arrive
In a flurry of curls
With much clanking of equipment and
rummaging about
in an ever enlarging carry bag
Would plunk down in a heap with a glass
of plonk
To be reclaimed later.
Laughing and running about to photograph
everyone and everything.
Then a lift home,
Gone with a smile and a wave.
June 2006
But between the dancing and drinking, uncontrollable fire and comedy routines, the fine dining and the fine words, it was like Lisa was there, and the spirits and ancestors were yarning and laughing too.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

You Can't Change the Rhythm of My Soul

A couple of weeks back Archie Roach was our guest on ARTSUP! for the first time, although he'd been a regular on its predecessor, Not Another Koorie Show, especially in the mid 80's (presenter Lisa Bellear was a massive fan). He was with us talking about the forthcoming Bilyana Festival.  While chatting he brought up a great anecdote about touring with the Black Arm Band and when they visited London.

His friend Pete Postlethwaite, who he'd met through the project Lyarrn Nyarn performed a Welcome to Country for the touring artists. He'd experienced welcomes while in Australia and now he was returning the favour. The cultural exchange had come full circle and the act reminds us that the English were connected to Mother Earth somewhere back in time.

The London tour is captured in the documentary Murundak: Songs of Freedom and the potency of singing Songs of Freedom at the seat of Australia's colonial power is not lost on the touring company or the filmmakers. To illustrate this, they show the magnificent footage of Burnum Burnum claiming England in the name of all Aboriginal people of Australia. A classic moment in history.

Seeing Murundak: Songs of Freedom has reminded me of the privilege of hearing first hand the words and music of some of Australia's powerful songmen.  Experiencing the eloquence of artists like Joe Geia, Bart Willoughby, Peter Rotumah, Ruby Hunter and Archie Roach is something to be savoured. Sometimes we've heard them speak and sing so often, we forget their power.

Power to the filmmakers Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham, who spent four years following the Black Arm Band around from concert halls to red neck towns to remote communities.  The gaze is very respectful in capturing the musicality, stage presence, performance and charisma of some of the most powerful songwriters under the sun. To hear the musicians' personal stories, how their expression has been shaped  and to see it brought to life with archival footage of the protest movement brings heart to the film.

To see footage of Brisbane protests while Joe Geia talks about how he was shaped by Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland reminds us of where we have come from and the vestiges that linger.

To be reminded of the legacy of the mighty warrior Bart Willoughby and to see footage from the seminal film Wrong Side of the Road reminds us of his lyrical and musical genius from the get go.

We have land within our soul, within our soul

To hear Archie and Ruby share their story of removal and living on the streets brings home the continued history of dispossession. To see their love for each other shining in their eyes reminds us of the power of love to conquer all.

Down city streets, I would roam, use my fingers as a comb

To hear Emma Donovan learn about the powerful Gurindji history by learning a song, and then bringing her own powerful voice and interpretation to the now classic ballad affirms the important tradition of storytelling.

Don't stop a good thing, yeah

To see Dan Sultan discard all his big city ways as he wraps his arms around his skin mother in Alice Springs kindles a new kind of respect.

It's how I make my connection

The film ends with a poignant reminder of the need for protest and songs of freedom. In the life of the project three of the artists have passed away. Arguably some of the most powerful Australian singers of all time. Certainly one for me, the Blak Mick Jagger, is at the top of my record pile.

And I feel I'm close now, to where it must be

To see and hear Steve Pigram talk about Bart Willoughby's songwriting - to try the song out in his mouth and savour it -announcing the opening line to We have Survived is the best line ever, we know it to be true. We've always known it's true, since the first moment we heard it. A beautiful moment in film, to see our heroes think like we do.

You can't change the rhythm of my soul

When we hear their songs, go to their gigs, dance in the moonlight (or at least the reflected glow of the stage lights at the pub), when their lyrics run through our bodies, we know our heroes think like we do.  And we need songs to galvanise us together, to rally behind, to know we are not alone, so we can continue to get out of bed every day, find strength and keep standing our ground.

40,000 years is a long long time. Long long time, still on my mind