Saturday, October 30, 2010

Everything old

At Moonee Valley racetrack last Saturday, Daryl Braithwaite was whipping the crowd up with his 1991 hit Horses. No finer music critic than Drew Morphett observed that ’20 years ago Darryl seemed gone for all money, and yet here he is, the crowd in the palm of his hand’.

Later that night Ricki Lee Jones, the writer of Horses, was doing similar at the Myer Music Bowl, lacking only Darryl’s equine anthem. Ms Jones joined Sinead O’Connor and John Cale, others whom we might say did their best work in another generation, or two, or three. An appearance from Archie Roach was cancelled due to his suffering a stroke a week prior. Only the indigenous quartet - Dan Sultan, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Ursula Yovich and Leah Flanagan - could be said to be of more recent or current times. The occasion was the closing night of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

(Dan Sultan, delivering the goods.)

The theme of this geezer jamboree was transcendence. A topic those of us greying at the temples, thin of pate and/or thick of waist, might easily turn to. The artists’ brief was simple: select and perform seven songs ‘to leave behind’. Which is, I guess, an elaborate version of the parlour game: ‘what song would you have played at your funeral?’ Each performer also chose a Leonard Cohen song. (Had Leonard been in attendance the average performer age would have risen by at least a decade.)

John Cale, who could make a case for popularising Cohen’s anthem Hallelujah, evaded time's tidemark with a bent version of Heartbreak Hotel. This stratagem seemed like the novelist dabbling in historical fiction, a neat sidestep around more current concerns.

Like Moonee Valley, the Myer Music Bowl was packed, even if those on the lawn could be forgiven if they huddled for warmth. But given the audience paid around $110 each to be here, this gig was as much about their involvement with transcendence. What songs you would leave behind; what songs you would take with you? Perhaps such questions are the luxury and privilege of middle-age. Surely twenty-somethings are too busy living, than to sit on a freezing hillside contemplating their eternal soundtrack.

A slightly different version of this post appeared on the Wheeler Centre website.
(Thanks to George Dunford.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Yep, time for a change. Recently I resigned from my job after nearly nine years. I have been unemployed in the past - and I don't much like it. So volunteering for the cause wasn't something that I was planning for.

The State Library of Victoria and the Centre for Youth Literature are wonderful places to work, but last month I reached a point when I filed notice. I am working up until Christmas, will have a holiday, and re-load in the new year. Nine years is personal best by some margin, so on that score I'm satisfied, but also know that I need new challenges.

Youth literature is a fantastic field to work in. There are a lot of smart, passionate, creative people: writers, editors, publishing people, booksellers... YA fiction remains wide open to innovation and change, the boundaries are ever being tested. (Just like it is with teenagers.) And I liked the sense that we were working for teenagers, to support and to challenge them.

More recently I have been working on exhibition of recent Australian picture book illustration, which opens on 3 December, my wife's birthday. I am enjoying working with the exhibition team at the State Library of Victoria; they are like watchmakers, every fine tooth of every cog in its perfect place. There is some wonderful artwork in the show and I hope that people young and once young will get a lot out of the show.

When I was offered the job at the Centre for Youth Literature I remember being a bit speechless. I honestly did not expect to be offered it. All things considered it has been a wonderful experience for me. But I don't believe in hanging on for the sake of it.

Whatever comes next I hope that it won't be far from the world of books and young people.

But, who knows?