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.

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