OnlyFans and the adults in the roomThe emerging OnlyFans community offering training and support to adult-content creators
The Monthly Awards
The Monthly thanks the members of its Arts Issue selection committee:
Alison Croggon, David Marr, Wesley Enoch, Jonathan Holloway, Stephanie Bishop, Benjamin Law, Terri-ann White, Michael Williams, Callum Morton, Katrina Sedgwick, Lisa Havilah, Brian Ritchie, Julian Day, Claire G. Coleman, Deborah Conway, Shelley Lasica, Susan Cohn, Miriam Cosic, Helen Elliott, Craig Mathieson, Geordie Williamson, Steve Dow, Luke Goodsell, Harry Windsor, Paola Balla, Annika Christensen, Julie Ewington and Sarah Holland-Batt
This year Australians finally got to see and hear The Magic Flute, Barrie Kosky style, at the Perth and Adelaide festivals. The production was created at the Komische Oper Berlin, where Melbourne-born Kosky has been artistic director since 2012, and had become an international touring hit before making it to these shores. Kosky’s take on Mozart’s 1791 singspiel – German comic opera with spoken dialogue – was well worth the wait, which first required the director to get over the traditional panto and vaudeville of more traditional stagings.
His secret weapon was the Margate- and London-based production company 1927, famed for integrating film and animation into its live performances. The fresh approach by the company’s founders, writer Suzanne Andrade and illustrator Paul Barritt, who had been unfamiliar with opera, saw this production’s bird-catcher Papageno dressed like Buster Keaton, followed around by his pet black cat, while Pamina wore a bob cut and frock reminiscent of Louise Brooks, who played Lulu in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box. Their nemesis, Monastatos, was a Nosferatu plucked from the 1922 silent German horror movie.
The animations surrounding the performers constantly surprised audiences with their imaginative invention. While the production was a pure joy to watch, the singing was often rendered secondary to the spectacle, but this was also reflective of the fact Papageno was originally written by and for the opera’s librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, whose vocal range was less than virtuosic. In this Flute, Norwegian baritone Tom Erik Lie made our hero lovable, while British soprano Kim-Lillian Strebel was a feisty Pamina.
While Kosky insists it is “very unlikely” he would return to Australia to run an arts company, prudent local artistic directors will hopefully continue to bring his provocative takes on opera classics to our door, from the flamboyant flourishes on Handel’s oratorio Saul to the outrageous absurdism of Shostakovich’s The Nose. The broader audience appeal of The Magic Flute compounds the artistic loss when Australia allowed Kosky – “I’m still always going be Barrie from Melbourne who’s living in Berlin” – to permanently leave our shores.
Counting and Cracking had epic ambition, with 16 actors playing 50 characters across four eras, from 1957 to 2004, scaling big themes of migrant identity, refugees and Australia’s continuing paranoia over the continent’s borders. This collaboration between Western Sydney writer S. Shakthidharan and Belvoir Street Theatre artistic director Eamon Flack premiered in January at Sydney Town Hall, which was converted into a grand stage, heralding an invigorating creative partnership the pair plan to continue. This joint effort was suitably rewarded with seven Helpmann Awards, including best new Australian work, best production and best direction.
An enthralling investigation of the impact of civil war and attempts to start life again in Australia, the play allowed different sides and generations to have a say without laying blame. The playwright’s own family fled Sri Lanka in 1983; known as Shakthi, he describes himself as an “Australian story-teller with Sri Lankan heritage and Tamil ancestry”. Counting and Cracking grew out of his founding of Co-Curious, a company committed to creating large-scale diverse narratives – migrant especially – for main stages, which are sorely needed to stand beside numerous white Australian epics such as Cloudstreet and The Secret River.
Shakthidharan made us care beyond the political specifics with a warm humour and keen eye for domestic drama, employing sophisticated time and place shifts between Colombo and Pendle Hill, Western Sydney. Accompanied by three live musicians and dancing, as well as occasional multilingual spoken lines translated for the audience, Tamil politician Apah (Prakash Belawadi) pleaded for equality between Tamil, Sinhalese and Burgher, even though he had been taught early that democracy was “the counting of heads, within certain limits, and the cracking of heads beyond those limits”.
Among some terrific ensemble performances were standouts Shiv Palekar as 21-year-old Siddhartha, who wonders where he belongs, and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, playing the younger, politically idealistic version of Radha, the future matriarch. Suryaprakash and Belawadi won Helpmanns for their performances.
Ursula Yovich announced her retirement from the stage this year. A captivating actor and singer, Yovich has blessed theatregoers with her final performances in two emotionally affecting works in 2019. There was Man With the Iron Neck, which Yovich wrote, an eloquent piece about Indigenous youth survival with physical theatre group Legs on the Wall. And there was her eponymous role as the troubled yet hilarious rock singer in Barbara and the Camp Dogs, which had a victory lap of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane this year after it saw Belvoir Street Theatre converted into a sticky-carpet band venue for its premiere in 2017.
Yovich co-wrote this rocky road musical with Alana Valentine, and given the compelling characterisations and standing ovations at both performances I attended, it is hoped that if Yovich cannot be persuaded to act on stage again, she will continue to write. Along with the wryly witty Elaine Crombie as Barbara’s sister René, the pair make a great comic duo as they squabble while getting on a motorbike to ride from Darwin to Katherine en route to their next gig, a terrific visual gag as Barbara in helmet and goggles then bobs up and down in the sidecar “hack”. Sung with a live band, the original songs segue from pathos to lusty stealth to blue chuckles. “High maintenance, me,” sings Barbara with a cute flourish. “Real piece of work, you see. A troublesome stunt, instincts of a cunt.”
This was all a delicious entrée for the profound road trip to come, when Barbara and René make the journey to see their dying mother, and old resentments about maternal favouritism bubble up. Literally throwing herself onto the stage and baring her soul for the audience, Yovich drew on her life to make this work pop, aided by Crombie’s charismatic performance. The play won four Helpmanns, including best musical, best original score for Yovich, Valentine and Adam Ventoura, and of course acting gongs for Yovich and Crombie. Its closing song, “Let In the Love”, did what theatre does best: it united performers and audience.
The Nightingale’s reception has been rather muted compared to that which greeted Jennifer Kent’s last film, The Babadook. Given it substitutes human monsters for metaphorical ones and wades into the thickets of race and sexual violence, that’s perhaps not so surprising. But it is, I think, a vastly better film: resolutely uningratiating and ultimately far more horrifying than its predecessor in its conception of trauma. It’s certainly not perfect – a moratorium, please, on gnomic final shots in which a character smiles enigmatically, or sighs, or breaks the fourth wall. But it feels like the work of an artist trying to say something about her country, and who manages to do so without reducing her characters to ciphers.
A major reason for discomfort with the film is undoubtedly the narrative and ideological messiness of its last half hour, in which The Nightingale’s Irish convict heroine forsakes vengeance only for the mantle of it to fall, pointedly, to her Indigenous male companion. You can read it as either the female character being stripped of her agency or as an acknowledgement that turning the other cheek is only possible for the privileged, even if that privilege is only relative. And there’s no doubt that the final act of violence is conventionally satisfying in a way that undermines Kent’s claim to have been exploding the traditional notion of catharsis. But the sequence is also coded in a way that is deeply subversive: white hand-wringing doesn’t just fail to prevent another black death in The Nightingale, it abets it.
In Australia the battlefield and the sporting ground are where national myths are forged, and also remade as political necessity requires. It’s fitting then that The Australian Dream, a documentary about the racism and double standards that drove champion Indigenous player Adam Goodes out of the Australian Football League in 2015, explores the certain similarities these two spaces share. The abuse that Goodes suffered, while playing and while protesting, was a continuation of a mindset readily traced back to colonial dispossession, tempered in conflict.
Directed by Daniel Gordon and written by Stan Grant, who also offers eloquent commentary, The Australian Dream is exceptional at holding together the intimate struggle of Goodes’s story and the vast and brutal historical context that fuelled it. Each strand informs the other, so that Goodes’s pain illuminates Australia’s struggle to even recognise its own racism, while systematic ills are concentrated and made clear by his high-profile response. The hypocrisy of the media commentators and football figures who condemned him for essentially refusing to accept racism remains staggering.
The documentary is not merely compelling because of what it says, but also because of how it’s framed and formed. The narrative is backed with images that contrast the physical spaces we fill and cannot fill, such as heaving stadiums and the stillness of the outback, and the evocative cuts by editor Matt Wyllie allow optimistic possibilities to be considered. Being attacked for his skin colour led to Goodes connecting with his Aboriginal heritage, while his experience widened the national conversation about racism and enduring trauma. Ultimately none of this is a game, but that’s still a hard-fought win.
Strange Colours by Alena Lodkina
This is contemporary visual art considered as slow, rather than momentary, diversion: three iterations of a collaborative project by three Sydney institutions, spread over six years. The 2019 episode at the Art Gallery of NSW, Museum of Contemporary Art and Carriageworks marshalled new works from more than 50 artists and groups, much of it specially commissioned. Rich, thoughtful, complex, The National committed to experimental and ephemeral projects of considerable ambition, not only physically but in their address – Pilar Mata Dupont’s performative video, for example, and Mark Shorter drawing landscapes nude and in the dark in real time, seized something of the overall sense of the artists’ passionate engagement with the country’s troubling legacies of invasion and colonisation. Mumu Mike Williams’ extraordinary paintings on old mailbags – the continent outlined, inscribed with Pitjantjatjara texts and customary drawings of Anangu country – acted as a temporary banner for the idea of the “national” critically reconceived.
How did the artists collectively sum up the state of the nation? Each venue had its own take, though in this second iteration The National was far more finely calibrated than the first. At AGNSW the pathos of Rushdi Anwar’s arc of burnt chairs exemplified the precariousness of current life (social and political); at Carriageworks, Cherine Fahd’s exquisite investigation of family photographs suggested a postcard from the past to the present; and at the MCA, “a third space” shared by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians convened a fluid and sophisticated conversation between artists and works. But it’s not an evasion to say that the sum of The National was more important than any of its parts. This generous project is the most comprehensive of its kind in the country, unmissable for its breadth, imagination and probity, for experiences both disturbing and delightful. Agatha Gothe-Snape’s contribution remains online in abbreviated form – otherwise, make a diary entry now for early in 2021.
Shaun Gladwell: Pacific Undertow (MCA)
Desert River Sea: Portraits of the Kimberley (AGWA)
Rosslynd Piggott: I Sense You But I Cannot See You (NGV)
Janet Laurence: After Nature (MCA)
Far too often television for younger children gets a pass mark merely for being a distraction, the ultimate screensaver for flustered carers. Bluey, the ABC’s hit animated series that’s lit up the imagination and lowered the inhibitions of preschoolers since debuting a year ago, is far superior. The everyday anthropomorphic adventures of six-year-old blue heeler Bluey, accompanied by her four-year-old sister, red heeler Bingo, are delightful, inventive and blessed with a love of creative play. The episodes are just seven minutes long, but their influence runs deep.
Set in the native Brisbane of creator Joe Brumm, with a warm colour palette and an inviting poinciana tree shading the family home’s backyard, Bluey has a rich and idiosyncratic animation style and multi-layered scripts that lead to offbeat humour and guileless emotion; Bingo may be working on her “big girl bark”, but the dogs’ world feels identifiably like our own. Dad Bandit and mum Chilli (David McCormack and Melanie Zanetti – the young voice actors are uncredited) balance parenting and work, with family outings a source of chaos and wisdom. The show’s lessons are encouraging, but they’re not intended just for children.
An episode such as “Chickenrat”, with its reverse flashback chronology charting the quest for a stuffed toy named Floppy, has a narrative invention worthy of Seinfeld, and the program’s ability to consistently surprise and impress has made its 51 episodes produced to date into a benchmark. This is a rare Australian television show that will endure, and it’s not surprising that it’s been snapped up internationally by the likes of the BBC and Disney. Bluey isn’t just a marvellous television show, it’s the first time in years the world has seen the best side of our country.
How could Get Krack!n possibly take it any further? After all, the first season of the breakfast TV satire had seen Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney – its Caucasian, at-sea female hosts (played by themselves) – eat human faeces on-air for Aboriginal reconciliation.
Yet Get Krack!n’s second and final season for the ABC was even more focused and savage in the demolition of its targets. Moreover it put minority communities – usually patronised or maligned by breakfast TV shows – at the centre of the story. Only viewers fluent in Auslan, for instance, would have understood all the in-jokes in an episode on disabilities.
Thrillingly, the show saved its most brilliant and shocking moments for its finale, in which Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui took over as temporary hosts, and struggled with having to play palatable Aboriginal women for a TV audience. After enduring non-stop racist segments, the women snapped. “Sovereignty was never ceded!” Tapsell snarled, throwing an urn with the ashes of “Australian Television” through glass. (The urn is engraved with the day Sunrise debated Indigenous child removal without a First Nations guest, and one panellist called for a return to the Stolen Generations.) In “Kunts for Klicks” – a panel segment platforming a “convicted white supremacist”, “government pension–funded troll” and a “hitherto-unemployed right-wing firebrand” – the show made its thesis clear. “They’re not necessarily views that we endorse or share personally,” Kate McLennan sunnily told the audience, “but they’re definitely opinions that we are 100 per cent complicit in broadcasting.” Get Krack!n didn’t just expose the hellscape that is Australian morning TV, but a country that eats this shit up for breakfast.
One hundred and twenty-seven people. That was the census count of “the good white settlers” in the town where Odette Brown lives. Odette was not counted. None of her people were counted. They exist as shadows in a white world.
Odette lives in a small, tidy house on the town’s fringes. When she wants to go to the graveyard on the opposite side she skirts the edges. Like the birds who, since settlement, never fly over it, Odette never wants to go through. There are times, of course, when she must go directly in – to shop, to see a friend, to get a pass that allows her to travel outside the town. She gets that from the local cops. They run the show.
South Africa? No. Australia, early 1960s. Author Tony Birch contracts the world to one woman’s life and inheritance, and the result is an emotionally eloquent novel in a direct line from two minor classics published in 1961: Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright and Nene Gare’s The Fringe Dwellers. Both dismantled comfortable Australian myths about mateship, inclusiveness and women. In The White Girl, Birch is as unflinching as Cook in portraying nastiness, ignorance, cruelty and the wrong side of power, and as eagle-eyed as Gare in noting the destructive boredom of life in those places that the powerful are often too tired to regard. And Birch has the vantage of 60 further years of colonial history to observe.
Birch is a Melbourne-based academic, author and activist, and always has urgent things to say about history, especially Indigenous history, and climate change. In The White Girl, his attention turns to the necessary inheritance of strength in Indigenous women.
The White Girl lays out the realities of Australia’s recent past and its overlooked shame. And there is no getting around them. Birch’s intention, like Nene Gare’s and Kenneth Cook’s, is to insist that we look at history as it played out in individual lives.
See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill
The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper
Blakwork by Alison Whittaker
Collected Poems by Les Murray
Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany
Dance Massive, Melbourne’s biennial festival of contemporary choreography, is Australia’s boldest dance event. It provides a brilliant snapshot of what is going on in established companies and more loosely assembled ensembles, as well as with independent dancers and choreographers. The tight spaces in the foyers of Dancehouse and other venues enable audiences to smell each other’s sweat – in the best possible sense – in an intimate gathering. A series of talks and the “Witness Salon” discussions round out the fortnight into a forum.
This year’s festival declared its themes to be “vital questions of identity, equality, environmental collapse, rapid technological growth, a longing for home”, and it included big works from Lucy Guerin Inc., Force Majeure, Jo Lloyd and Chunky Move. Established work sat alongside the new and the work in progress. Notable productions included Joel Bray’s gorgeous sojourn high up in the Sofitel, Biladurang, with its truth-telling, frenzied movement and great tenderness performed within
a hotel suite. I loved the playfulness of percussionist Claire Edwardes and dancer Richard Cilli with their free play of sounds and movement, a collaboration with director Gideon Obarzanek and composer Paul Mac. Marrugeku’s urgent work on New Caledonia and decolonisation generally, Le Dernier Appel / The Last Cry, was big, loud and angry. Also making an impression were Paul White and Narelle Benjamin’s Cella and DubaiKungkaMiyalk’s Same but Different.
A particular highlight was Cultural Residues 2020 by Russell Dumas, a retrospective show with nine dancers in duets and trios. Kinaesthetic intelligence. The joy of watching. Simplicity. Bodies in stillness and abstraction, relating to each other in always surprising ways, co-dependently. And with purity: no music, no language, just what the body can do and the shapes it can make, with a compelling and sensuous shadow play on walls and scrim surfaces. Unadorned and brilliant, elegant, grounded, without hyperbole, it explored the aesthetic potential of the unstable body. Glorious.
Supersense (Arts Centre Melbourne)
OnlyFans and the adults in the roomThe emerging OnlyFans community offering training and support to adult-content creators
The avoidable warKevin Rudd on China, the US and the forces of history
In light of recent eventsWho’s preferencing whom?
Ghost notes: Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’A virtuoso memoir of music and trauma, and his experiences as a child prodigy, from the acclaimed Australian pianist
The Monthly Awards 2019Highlights of the year in Australian arts and culture
‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte WoodThe Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age
‘Act of Grace’ by Anna KrienThe journalist’s propulsive debut novel tackles the aftermath of the Iraq War
No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre
The avoidable warKevin Rudd on China, the US and the forces of history
Election special: Who should you vote for?Undecided about who to vote for in the upcoming federal election? Take our quiz to find out your least-worst option!
Remembrance or forgetting?The Australian War Memorial and the Great Australian Silence
Property damageWhat will it take for Australia to fix the affordable housing crisis?
zzzAre you enjoying the Monthly?
You can subscribe and receive full digital access on the website, and via the iPhone and iPad apps.
Subscriptions start from $44.95.