Editor’s Note

Editor’s Note October 2017

Australians may take satisfaction in their egalitarianism and scepticism towards authority, and are undoubtedly happy to cut down tall poppies. But when it comes to public criticism of historical icons and national narratives, or dissecting shared prejudices, our attitudes are radically different. We lean towards denial.

The furore over the defacement of the Captain Cook statue in Sydney’s Domain and the widespread refusal to discuss the true symbolism of 26 January are cases in point.

“The problem with memorials,” writes Don Watson in the October issue of the Monthly, “is that they freeze history – and knowledge – in its tracks. They perpetuate the myths that at once sustain us and, with the connivance of our leaders, keep us stupid and obedient.”

In mainstream Australia, criticism and debate on such subjects can be tantamount to treason, and the only officially permissible emotion around matters of nationhood is pride, regardless of the truth of our history.

Darryn King’s cover essay, about Australia’s most iconic building, draws attention to another polite fiction that Australians have happily celebrated for decades. As King explains, and almost everyone who’s worked there will admit, the Sydney Opera House is not just a lacklustre performance space, it’s a truly terrible venue. Concerts don’t sound good in the Concert Hall, and “if the Drama Theatre is awkward for drama, that’s nothing compared to the Opera Theatre’s downright hostility to opera”.

In almost every aspect – seating capacity, stage size, backstage size, technical and production facilities – the building, on the inside, is a disaster. Even the name itself, the Sydney Opera House, is a “colossal misnomer”, and draws attention to precisely the most compromised art form offered in the building.

Most Australians would undoubtedly be more comfortable to keep telling themselves it’s “world class” and simply a source of unadulterated national glorification. (That would be in keeping with the way patriotism works generally in this country.) After reading King’s essay, however, you’ll realise that this common understanding about the building is both insufficient and deceptive. You’ll never think about it the same way again.

Welcome to our Arts Issue, in which art, culture and their presentation are dissected and debated, excoriated but also celebrated.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of the Monthly.

@nickfeik

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