July 2007

Arts & Letters

‘Caravan Story’ By Wayne Macauley

By Martin Shaw

In 2004 Wayne Macauley published to great acclaim a novella titled Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe, with one critic even going so far as to say that "if more Australian literature was of this calibre, we'd be laughing." On the strength of his second book, also a novella, I entirely agree. But as much as the art of Caravan Story - its surreal, dreamlike atmosphere, its memorable cast of slightly sinister characters - seduces the reader, what really excites is Macauley's provocative cultural intervention. This angry young man of Australian Letters dissects, in a strongly cultural-pessimist fashion, the fate of art in our consumption-oriented society - and not least the dangerous accommodations that our literary and arts establishments make with power and money.

The book's central premise is a not-so-far-away-as-you-might-think radical utilitarianisation of the arts. A young couple, one a writer named Wayne Macauley and the other an actor, are removed from their inner-urban lodgings and taken by caravan to the local football oval in H-, a small town in the Victorian countryside. They find themselves in a new ‘community' of like-minded cultural workers (and by implication no longer a burden on hard-working ‘real' workers in the city). Confused by his new situation, Wayne nevertheless begins work writing - until it becomes apparent that his (and his fellow writers') material is simply ending up in the garbage bin, designated non-productive material. A select few writers get the opportunity to render themselves ‘possibly' useful by generating scripts for film or TV; the others simply vanish.

Wayne's girlfriend, on the other hand, finds herself on the road seven days a week in a travelling troupe, providing entertainment for demoralised country towns suffering from the drought, and, when not doing that, making TV commercials. Back in the camp more artists are being bussed in and it's full to overflowing, so the need to curry favour with Polly, the bureaucrat in charge, becomes ever more pressing for Wayne and his colleagues ... will she guarantee their survival? Part satire, part Orwellian fable, Caravan Story is compulsively readable.

Cover: July 2007

July 2007

From the front page

Surveillance grates

The government’s response to the Richardson review needs close scrutiny

Image of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

Currents of joy: Stephen Bram and John Nixon

Overlapping exhibitions by the two abstract artists convey their shared radical modernism

In light of recent events

Shamelessly derivative summer puzzle!
Image of Earth from the Moon

Pale blue dot

The myth of the ‘overview effect’, and how it serves space industry entrepreneurs

In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rose Lacson & Langley George Hancock

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Veritable listeria

‘Show Court 3’ by Louise Paramor, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, 20 April

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The big cheese

More in Arts & Letters

Image of Dhambit Munuŋgurr's Bees at Gäṉgän, 2019

Blue is the colour

The idiosyncratic work of Yolngu artist Dhambit Mununggurr

Image of ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Dividing the Tasman: ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Historian Bain Attwood examines the different approaches to sovereignty in the New Zealand and Australian settlements

Image of Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard’s wider world

The celebrated Australian author’s ‘Collected Stories’ sets private desperation in the cosmopolitan Europe she revered

Image from ‘Mank’

Citizen plain: ‘Mank’

David Fincher’s biopic of Orson Welles’s collaborating writer favours technique over heart

More in Noted

Image of ‘Jack’

‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson

History and suffering matter in the latest instalment of the American author’s Gilead novels

Image from ‘The Dry’

‘The Dry’ directed by Robert Connolly

Eric Bana stars as a troubled investigator dragged back to his home town in a sombre Australian thriller

Image of ‘The Living Sea of Waking Dreams’

‘The Living Sea of Waking Dreams’ by Richard Flanagan

The Booker Prize winner’s allegorical new novel about the permanence of loss

Image from ‘Kajillionaire’

‘Kajillionaire’ directed by Miranda July

A family of con artists are the American writer-director’s latest offbeat protagonists in a surreal but heartfelt film

Read on

Image of Stephen Bram’s work, Untitled, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 210 x 390 cm.

Currents of joy: Stephen Bram and John Nixon

Overlapping exhibitions by the two abstract artists convey their shared radical modernism

What elitism looks like

Flagrant conflicts of interest abound at the top

Image of Anne Ferran, Scenes on the Death of Nature I, 1986

‘Know My Name’ at the National Gallery of Australia

An exhilarating exhibition considers a persistent gender bias in the visual arts

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Morrison’s climate flip

Australia has a lot of catching up to do on emissions reduction