Great Southern Land

Today was Australia Day, which is Australia’s official national day. It’s a public holiday and commemorates the arrival of Captain Phillip and the First Fleet in 1788. For most people it is an opportunity to display our national pride and you’ll often see flags in windows and people wearing green and gold at barbecues and lunches. It’s a patriotic day that brings unity despite our many differences: the one day where we are just Australian.

For me Australia Day holds a slightly different meaning. I am proudly Australian but my parents were originally English; they lived in Australia for more than 15 years before becoming Australian citizens themselves. Witnessing their citizenship ceremony was one of the proudest moments of my life. But perhaps because of that I have always preferred a quieter observation; while other people attend festivals I prefer to take time thinking about what Australia means to me, how far we’ve come and still have to go.

chris by the harbour

Something I always do around this time is to look back through some of our old photographs and I found this one earlier. I can’t believe it but it must be almost 20 years old now; I still remember some of that day, near the harbour and the botanic gardens. We had ice cream afterwards. And yes, that is me in the picture. I was 4 years old. Ugly little bugger, wasn’t I? 😉

Of all the photographs we have this is one of my favourites, not just because it captures the memories I still have of that day but also because it’s like a snapshot of how I see Australia. To me Australia isn’t a nation in the sense that America is; we’re much younger and don’t have the same history and culture behind us. We’re still growing and finding our identity and culture. That’s what I see in the photo: that I would grow, and Australia would as well.

Over the last 20 years Australia has changed a lot and it has been interesting watching those changes unfold. To be frank some of them have disturbed me, particularly as our civil liberties have unravelled, but we’ve also made progress. The apology to Indigenous Australians last year was a watershed moment in our development as a nation and raises the real possibility for reconciliation one day. That indigenous leader Mick Dodson was named Australian of the Year this year is another step towards that.

But we’re not there yet. There are still a lot of obstacles in the way and Australia Day itself is one of them. Some people think the date should be changed from January 26 so it includes all Australians and I agree; many Aboriginal Australians consider it to be “Invasion Day” and to have a national day which isn’t inclusive of the first Australians seems culturally insensitive to me and always has. Federation Day, January 1st, 1901, seems more suitable, the day we gained interdependence from Britain.

But when I think of all we’ve achieved as a young country, though – from the biggest townships to the smallest farms, from the beaches of Gallipoli to the villages of East Timor -, it makes me extremely proud. We’re a country that came about partially by accident; under other circumstances we could have been a Dutch or French settlement and if not for the American Revolution the events of our colonisation by Britain would’ve been very different. As the descendants of convicts, we’ve developed a stable democracy and are slowly moving towards becoming a republic. That is not a bad start for any country.

Today the thing I find myself thinking about the most is our landscape. That’s what I noticed most looking at that photograph, how after 20 years the harbour is still the same… the water the same brilliant blue. I think it’s something a lot of us take for granted; for many of us Australia is just there but how many of us have really seen it, have seen Kakadu or Kings Canyon? I know I hope to at some stage, to see Uluru at sunset and the ancient art in the Abrakurrie caves. I think it’s our landscape which defines our identity and it’s what I’m most grateful for.

There’s one song that always comes to mind when I think of Australia. It’s Icehouse’s Great Southern Land. I couldn’t hope for a better song to post on Australia Day. Hope you enjoy it.

Wherever you are in the world I wish you peace, hope and a Happy Australia Day. Here’s hoping one day it’ll be Happy Republic Day – a day we can all celebrate as one. 😉

An Update and a Quiz

music quiz

What Does Your Taste in Music Say About You?

This is just a quick update as it’s been a while since my last post. I’m still here but I haven’t felt up to blogging recently; I’ve been ill for several weeks and I’m still finding my routine again. I’m looking forward to posting again, though; should have a few new posts finished next week.

On the plus side I’ve had some time to think about my writing. I’ve reached a stalemate with several works and I’ve decided to set them aside for now to explore other ideas. I’ve been working on an early draft of a novel and I want to give that more attention. It’s a social thriller and very different to my other works. Hopefully it will turn out well.

I’m also planning several short stories to finish before the end of the year. I enjoy short fiction; there’s a real art to writing it. Some of my ideas are a little ambitious but I’m looking forward to the challenge… if you don’t want to push yourself, what’s the point of being a writer?

Anyway, I’ll get back to blogging more next week, but in the meantime who’s up for a quiz? I found this one earlier and thought it was fun. My result’s not bad; I enjoy a wide range of music, although I drift toward indie and alternative bands. Not sure about the financially well-off bit, though; I always thought I’d live in poverty, die at 38, and be published after my death. 🙂

I thought I’d post one of my favourite songs as well, to go with the quiz. This is Henry Lee by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, a retelling of Young Hunting. Their relationship ended after this as well, which makes it very haunting.

Old Favourites

I didn’t realise it had been a week since I’d posted. Ever since I wrote my letter to Clare I’ve been a little distracted but I’m feeling better now; the emotion that it brought up is starting to settle down and I’m feeling more like myself again.

I’m working on a couple of new posts but for now I thought I’d post some of my favourite songs… some old gems a few people might have forgotten about. I enjoy new music (love Coldplay) but I’ve found myself listening to a lot of old favourites recently. I love the period leading up to the late 70s, particularly for the songwriting… it shows that a good song is timeless.

I stumbled across these videos earlier and hadn’t seen most of them before. What’s amazing is they’re still good quality; most are well over 30 years old and the audio quality in particular is very good. They’re also a wonderful throwback to their time; the hair, the clothes… it’s like looking at a piece of history.

By far my favourite is this video of Jimi Hendrix performing Purple Haze in Atlanta. The video is incredible but not as good quality as the others, so if you don’t mind that, click over to have a look. I hope you enjoy the others. I wonder what some of your old favourites are?

My favourite Fleetwood Mac song is Rhiannon and this is a great version; Stevie Nicks is almost possessed. I also found a live performance of I’m So Afraid; the video quality isn’t as good but it’s well worth watching if you’re a Mac fan.

I think this is from 1970 although I’m not sure which concert. Both Sides Now is a lovely song; it has such beautiful, simple lyrics.

Layla would make any list of my favourite songs. This version is from the ARMS Charity Concert in 1983 and has Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck with Clapton.

I blame MQ for Stairway to Heaven; she’s been a Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page fan for years, I inherited it. I love the song and this is a great live version.

And just to confirm, yes, I am 23. But I feel much older. 🙂

Indy Rides Again

I love Harrison Ford. He’s one of those actors that always feels familiar no matter what he’s in. It’s the same whenever I watch Clint Eastwood or Tom Hanks; they just become their parts and bring their experience to any film. At one time Ford had starred in the top five box office hits of all time but I think his dramatic roles are underrated as well, like Witness and The Mosquito Coast. But of course he’ll always be remembered for Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

The Indy films are some of my favourites. They’re such fun films and I still think Raiders of the Lost Ark is the best adventure film that’s been made, mainly because of the balance between action, character and humour. I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yesterday and enjoyed it. It brought back a lot of memories of the previous films and of my childhood as well. It’s funny how you associate movies with a time in your life, isn’t it?

I saw Raiders when I was eight and loved it. At that time it was like nothing I’d seen before, particularly when the guy’s head exploded! I remember one of the things that really struck me about it was the music. At the time I had no idea it was John Williams who’d scored Star Wars as well but it seemed so light and playful, I loved it. I still get a chill when I hear The Raiders March even now.

I came across this video earlier and thought I’d post it to celebrate the release of the new film. It’s The Raiders March in all its glory, set to the artwork of Drew Struzan. Struzan’s poster artwork for the Indy films is stunning and really helped to define Indy’s style. I love his artwork for Pan’s Labyrinth as well.

So what did I think of the new film? Avoiding spoilers, I enjoyed it. It’s a fun adventure and Ford definitely doesn’t look too old for the role, which was ridiculous anyway; Indy uses his wits and knowledge to defeat his opponents, not brute strength. Karen Allen returns after 27 years and Cate Blanchett is great as a Soviet femme fatale. Shia LaBeouf offers support and some smouldering looks for the camera. The storyline has a few twists and there’s a superb jungle chase sequence that rivals anything from the earlier films.

It’s not Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Last Crusade but it has the humour that Temple of Doom lacked; I liked it more than that and the last half flies by. The main problem is that it doesn’t follow the same Indy formula as the previous films. It feels much more like a 50s B-movie than a 30s serial and some people will think it’s not an “Indiana Jones” movie because of that. But I quite liked that; you can’t make the same film 19 years later, so if you change the setting to the 50s, why not change the formula too?

The biggest surprise for me was John Williams’ score. His scores have become a little repetitive in recent years but this is one of his most enjoyable scores in a long time. It’s a thrill hearing The Raiders Theme again and the Crystal Skull motif is particularly good, an eerie, three note string piece that builds to a crescendo later in the film. It brings back all those memories of listening to the Raiders score for the first time and I wasn’t expecting that at all!

Overall I thought Crystal Skull was good. It matched my expectations and if you’re a fan of Indy or Harrison Ford I’d definitely say go and see it; it’s fun and that’s what matters. Just don’t expect it to be the same kind of film as the others; it’s different, as it had to be after 19 years. I’d say it’s worth seeing just for Cate Blanchett. She steals the show! But then I might be biased. 😉

What makes something art?

resurrection cartoon

Cartoon from See Mike Draw

What do you think makes something a work of art? Is there some quality that distinguishes a painting or sculpture as art compared to an object in the natural world? Or is there a cultural difference, with what we consider art changing based on our beliefs and heritage?

For me the difference is that a painting (or any work) is created by the artist; it’s the expressive nature of the medium that makes something art. In that way I think any work that touches us on an emotional level – brings us joy or anger, tears or laughter – is art. But there is a cultural aspect to it as well, particularly in how we interpret art. Some works can be so foreign that they’re lost in translation to different countries, and sometimes what’s considered art by one group of people can be offensive to another.

I wonder what you think of this cartoon? It’s from See Mike Draw, a blog I stumbled upon last week. I’m addicted to Mike’s drawings; they’re so clever and there’s not enough cultural satire these days. The reason I found this one interesting, though, was because of the what happened after it. After Mike drew it and another cartoon, he received a comment a few days later calling his blog blasphemous and saying that he was using his talent to “give glory to Satan”.

I couldn’t believe the comment when I read it. First – and this is the writer in me – it would be sacrilege, not blasphemy. But it’s strange anyway. I don’t find any of the cartoons offensive; it’s the job of a humorist to make observations about life and I don’t think any topic should be off-limits to humour, including religion. I can understand someone not liking a joke or finding it tasteless but if that’s the case, don’t read the blog; no one’s forcing you to. Sometimes people just need to grow a thicker skin.

What it’s made me think about again, though, is the way we view art. The best satirical drawings are memorable because they create strong feelings in people, and that’s true for any work of art. But what about when something doesn’t touch us that way? What about when a work goes too far, or doesn’t make us feel anything at all? Sometimes it seems like the only reason something is considered “high art” is because the critics rave about it, but why should a few people decide what’s culturally relevant, or what I like?

David Hockney said something similar recently. Hockney was asked about the current standard of painting in Britain and didn’t seem impressed, believing the widespread use of cameras in art schools and fewer drawing classes had created a generation of shock artists. He was particularly critical of Tracey Emin, an artist known for her conceptual art. Hockney sparked a lot of debate and I tend to agree with him, particularly about Emin. I’ve never quite got what her work is about. She’s best known for My Bed, a work showing her bed and objects from her room in an abject state; sheets stained with body secretions, a pair of underwear with menstrual stains, the floor covered with cigarette packets and condoms… I just don’t get why that’s art. I mean, I don’t like it, I don’t hate it… it doesn’t make me feel anything, which is the point. But it was shortlisted for the Turner prize and had the critics raving, so I must be missing something. Right? 😕

Conceptual art seems to be the rage in art circles at the moment, and I like some of it, but there seems to be a debate going on as to what crosses the line. Emin’s work is often described as conceptual art (and much of it is) but some people think that My Bed and other works are closer to shock art; it’s confronting but then the idea forms the basis for the work, so it tends to fall between the lines. For me it illustrates that the way we look at art is changing; with less time we’re attracted to works that can fit in with our lifestyle and traditional art is taking a backseat to it.

But perhaps it’s also a generational difference. While many critics praise works like Emin’s, they also seem dismissive of digital art, or at least don’t see it on the same level as other forms of art. I don’t understand that. Why should an artwork be any less relevant because a computer has been used to make it? Sites like Deviant Art show what’s possible with technology and some of it is stunning. And I can’t help but think that some of Hockney’s criticism shows a disconnect between his views and younger generations. That art schools are using cameras shows they’re providing artists with different skills, which is necessary. And after criticising Emin, Hockney went on to say that iPods were as much to blame for the decline, which further highlights the disconnect.

I wish people would stop blaming the iPod for everything. I know it’s easy to use it as a symbol but blaming the iPod is like blaming a gun rather than a person; it sidesteps the issue. Hockney’s main criticism is that we’re not living in a visual age because of the success of the iPod. He says that sound has replaced sight; on buses we don’t look out the window, listening to music instead, and that’s resulting in a weakening of the visual arts. He also says that’s producing badly dressed people.

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty comfortable with how I dress and I still look out the window when I listen to music. I’m not listening to escape inside my head either, rather it’s to block out other noise. The one thing people seem to forget when criticising the iPod is that cell phones are a big intrusion too and the iPod has been a godsend for people wanting to escape from them. The ironic thing is that Hockney isn’t entirely wrong but by attacking the iPod he loses credibility. It’s true that people are turning to music more now but the real reason (apart from convenience) is because the imagery isn’t connecting. It says more for the art that’s being produced; show me an exhibition that’s not of someone’s bed or a movie that’s not all CGI and I’ll be the first one there. I’m sure other people would say the same thing.

And why is it that music is being portrayed like a lesser art anyway? Is listening to or performing music somehow less stimulating than creating visual art? Is writing? Something makes me think that if it were Mozart or Chopin we were listening to that Hockney might have a different attitude. It feels like elitism and it’s a pity because it dilutes Hockney’s other points.

Anyway, I should say that I don’t know that much about art; I just enjoy it as an observer and this has been on my mind lately. As a writer the devaluing of the arts is a big concern to me but also the idea of valuing one art above another; all forms of art have merit and just because some forms produce more mainstream works doesn’t mean that they’re somehow lesser than other forms. Anything that has beauty has value and should be treasured.

I wonder what you think? What makes something a work of art? Is there a difference between how different generations view art? Is there anything that should be off-limits to artists? Let me know what you think. 😉