Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Always was, always will be – a welcome long view in NAIDOC week

Being involved with Australian culture means being involved in one way or another with First Nations arts, culture and languages – it’s such a central and dynamic part of the cultural landscape. First Nations culture has significance for First Nations communities, but it also has powerful implications for Australian culture generally. NAIDOC Week is a central and continuing part of that cultural landscape.

This year NAIDOC week coincides with the first week of DESIGN Canberra, so two of my major interests come together at the same time. NAIDOC Week is an annual series of events that celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The name originally derives from the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee that organised the earliest celebrations, with ‘Islander’ added in the early 1990s to encompass Torres Strait Islanders. The NAIDOC theme this year is ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’, to recognise that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years. 

Many overlapping anniversaries
Today is the focus of many overlapping anniversaries – NAIDOC Week, DESIGN Canberra and the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was a time when humanity stood at the eleventh hour, a moment that recognises a bright but vain hope at the end of World War I that the world might have seen the war to end all wars. It is especially significant in NAIDOC Week because so many First Nations volunteers joined the armed forces. It's a good moment to look back and take stock of where Australia has managed to come in its relatively short history as a global nation and to think forward to what we might be able to become.

Musician and songwriter, Jessie Lloyd, lights up the room with Mission Songs, at the National Folk Festival in 2017.

All of us immigrants, both new and older arrivals, and their descendants are still only part way through making our home here. We haven’t yet figured out how to navigate this land properly. When I was at school we learned about so many doomed explorers misinterpreting the country, unable to find their way. Burke and Wills were the perfect example, undone because they were incapable of learning simple lessons offered by the local people on how to make edible the vast supplies of food surrounding them. They starved to death in a field of plenty. Is this our future, too?

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Beyond a joke – surviving troubled times

We live in troubled times – but then can anyone ever say that they lived in times that weren’t troubled? For most of my life Australia has suffered mediocre politicians and politics – with the odd brief exceptions – and it seems our current times are no different. Australia has never really managed to realise its potential. As a nation it seems to be two different countries going in opposite directions – one into the future and the other into the past. It looks as though we’ll be mired in this latest stretch of mediocrity for some time and the only consolation will be creativity, gardening and humour.

A land of bushfires and choking smoke, drought and floods – and plague
Over the last 12 months we have endured bushfires and choking smoke, plague, drought and floods. Australia’s creativity and culture and the whole creative sector have been hammered and it will be the last thing to recover as we move into the new post-pandemic world. At times like this there are a few things you can rely on for consolation – the pleasure of creativity and gardening and the distractions of humour.

Fire-ravaged landscapes in the Snowy Mountains.
 
Over the last decade I seem to have spent most of my writing career producing articles about Australian creativity and culture. Lately some of it has been a bit grim, given the way the current Coalition Government has largely abandoned both the creative sector and the higher education sector. Together they comprise much of the clean and clever economy which should underpin a bright global future for Australia. The creative sector has responded to being sidelined by generously sharing a huge amount of advice and experience about how to survive behind enemy lines. Some days I think I should have been an economist, but instead I intend to focus on being a humourist. After all, it’s a bit like those who have written about Trump in America – at some stage you have to think ‘what more can you say?’

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

An everyday life worth living – indefinite articles for a clean, clever and creative future

My main blog indefinite article is irreverent writing about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age. Over the last ten years I have published 167 articles about creativity and culture on the blog. This is a list of all the articles I have published there, broken down into categories, with a brief summary of each article. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, the cultural economy and creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian creativity and culture. They originate mostly between 2010 and 2020, with the bulk after 2014, though some were written before 2010.

I hope you find them useful. One of the main reasons I write them for this blog and for my complementary Facebook page is to help provide case studies, evidence and arguments that can be used to press the case for the importance of creativity and culture and the broad benefits they have across Australian life. Both economic relevance and a sense of being embedded with community are complementary aspects of contemporary creativity and culture that make it so strong a force. The economic role of creativity and culture and their community role of building resilience, well-being, social inclusion and livable cities are inextricably linked. What they have in common is that both spring from the reality that culture and creativity are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up. The blog is a place where I can post many of the articles and analysis I come across, that readers of the blog might not otherwise see. They are welcome to share this amongst their own networks.

1. Cultural landscape
2. Artists and arts organisations
3. Cultural institutions
4. Cultural policy
5. Arts funding
6. Cultural economy and creative industries
7. First Nations culture
8. Cultural diversity
9. Australian society
10. Cities and regions
11. Government
12. International
13. Canberra
14. Popular culture
15. About my blogs
16. Parallel universe
 
1. CULTURAL LANDSCAPE
Remaking the world we know – for better or worse 2 Nov 2020
‘Given the Government cannot avoid spending enormous sums of money if it is to be in any way capable and competent, this is an unparalleled opportunity to remake Australia for the future. Usually opportunities such as this only arise in rebuilding a country and an economy after a world war. It is a perfect moment to create the sort of clean, clever and creative economy that will take us forward in the global world for the next hundred years. Unfortunately a failure of imagination and a lack of innovative ambition will probably ensure this doesn’t happen any time soon’, Remaking the world we know – for better or worse.
 
The old normal was abnormal – survival lessons for a new riskier world 14 Sep 2020
‘When I hear the call to get back to normal, I think ‘what was normal about the old normal?’ The sudden shutdown of large sectors of the economy highlighted drastically how precarious was the situation of vast chunks of Australian society, in particular but not exclusively, the creative sector. The business models implemented by the Government to help businesses survive and employees keep their jobs didn’t work at all for those who had already been happily left at – or even deliberately pushed to – the margins of society and the economy. In good times the creative sector is flexible and fast at responding. In bad times it is a disaster, as the failure of the COVID-19 support packages for the sector shows’, The old normal was abnormal – survival lessons for a new riskier world.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Remaking the world we know – for better or worse

Given the Government cannot avoid spending enormous sums of money if it is to be in any way capable and competent in the face of this pandemic, this is an unparalleled opportunity to remake Australia for the future. Usually opportunities such as this only arise in rebuilding a country and an economy after a world war. It is a perfect moment to create the sort of clean, clever and creative economy that will take us forward in the global world for the next hundred years. Creativity and culture could play a crucial part in this renewal. Unfortunately a failure of imagination and a lack of innovative ambition will probably ensure this doesn’t happen any time soon.

Given the Government in this moment cannot avoid spending enormous sums of money if it is to be any kind of a capable and competent government, this is an unparalleled opportunity to remake Australia for the future. Usually opportunities such as this only arise in rebuilding a country and an economy after a world war. It is a perfect moment to create the sort of clean, clever and creative economy that will take us forward in the global world for the next hundred years. Creativity and culture could play a crucial part in this renewal.

The Government dropped the ball responding to the bushfire emergency before largely abandoning the creative sector in the face of the pandemic.

Looking back, rather than forward
Yet I can’t help suspecting that this Government is using the pandemic and its aftermath as a convenient excuse to make the sort of changes it has wanted all along. Aligning education (or as they seem to think of it, ‘skills and training’) even more firmly with the short-term needs of the neo-liberal economy, keeping welfare firmly clamped down, largely ignoring the crisis-ridden aged care sector, with the large number of people in it who are no longer seen as productive and hence, of less importance to ‘the economy’.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Skewing the view - call for inquiry into mass media in Australia

This is highly relevant to those with an interest in Australian creativity and the creative sector. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, having courted the Murdoch media for many years in politics - as every politician ends up having to do - is now free from owing Murdoch anything and has launched a petition for a Royal Commission into the media in Australia.

I don't know if signing petitions is of much use, but given the way the Murdoch stranglehold on our mass media has skewed our democracy and a future for Australia based on creativity and diversity, I'm prepared to give it a go. It beats scrawling 'who writes this rubbish?' on copies of their papers in coffee shops.
 
My acknowledgement from Parliament House noted how many people have signed in just a week: 'You have successfully signed petition reference number EN1938 and there are 300,880 signatures on this petition.'
 
Why not take a short break from worrying about the future of creativity and the creative sector in Australia and for the sake of our democracy, have a go, sign and then share early and often?
 

Monday, October 5, 2020

The short answer #2: Broken broadband unbalances the books

Back in 2013, when the first of the latest string of Coalition Governments we have had was elected, there seemed to be a strong view within the Coalition that broadband was a luxury, mainly useful for entertainment. Yet those of us familiar with the work of Australian post-production companies, doing the finishing work on major US films during the day while the US industry slept, and sending it by broadband overnight for work to resume in the Northern hemisphere the next day, knew it was a key part of Australia’s productive infrastructure. Then the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed it. Now the Government has acknowledged that there are major deficiencies with the National Broadband Network but is it too late to save it and make it the national asset we need and deserve?

I don’t normally write about technical issues. However high quality broadband is so crucial to the future of the creative sector that commenting about it is unavoidable. After spending ten years belittling the Labor Government plan for almost universal high speed broadband, the Coalition Government has finally accepted that what it has produced is a second-rate mess.

 

Distinctive National Broadband Boxes have sprung up across the nation - but the news is not as welcoming as the message on this one.

Now, seven years after the Coalition Government was first elected, it is pushing ahead with plans to spend $4.5 billion to fix up the compromise its own cuts have created. The Minister now responsible, Paul Fletcher, used to work for Optus, so on top of the advice from his department, he must have a pretty good historical idea of the problems. It’s a good sign that he has finally made this announcement, despite the limitations of Government commitment. There’s also the question of who would want to go into the next election with this disappointing issue on your hands?

Monday, September 28, 2020

Music makes the world go round – the bright promise of our export future

After ABBA, in an unexpected break from its traditional way of building national wealth from natural resources, Sweden managed to discover a new source of income. It was not as you would expect coal or oil. Rather than oil what it had discovered was song royalties, part of a fundamental change in the nature of modern economies which transformed them from relying solely on natural resources, transport and manufacturing to make creative content a new form of resource mining. Examples like theirs point to potentially major opportunities for the Australian music industry to become a net exporter of music.

Many years ago, in a universe far, far away – actually the arts and culture division of the Australian Government – I was responsible for a time for literature and contemporary music policy and programs. A songwriter who worked in the area with me, who knew a thing or two about the economics of the music industry, pointed out to me that after ABBA, Sweden had managed to discover a new source of income, which was not as you would expect coal or oil.

Building a Scandinavian economy of the future - renewal energy and creative content together pack a powerful economic punch.

Rather than oil what it had discovered was song royalties. From then on, I was intrigued. My songwriter colleague at the time had drawn some of his insights from a forum organised by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), the national organisation representing copyright holders in creative content in music and song.

‘APRA has been around since 1926 and today represents the rights of 103,000 songwriters, composers and publishers across Australia and New Zealand. At the heart of what APRA does is collect money for the use of its members’ intellectual property – their songs.’

 This is why a little-publicised recent speech by Jenny Morris, noted Australian musician and song-writer and current Chair of APRA, is so important and timely. She made her hard-hitting address at the National Press Club in Canberra in August this year. Incidentally she was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia five years ago and Sophie Payten, better known as Gordi, fresh from a concert at the Sydney Opera House, assisted in delivering her address.