Thursday, August 5, 2021

Contemporary Indigenous fashion – where community culture and economics meet

The themes covered by the exhibition, 'Piinpi', are important because they demonstrate the intersection of the culture of First Nations communities with creative industries and the cultural economy. In attempting to address the major issue of Indigenous disadvantage, for example, it is critical to recognise that one of the most important economic resources possessed by First Nations communities is their culture. Through the intellectual property that translates it into a form that can generate income in a contemporary economy, that culture is pivotal to jobs and to income. It may not be mining but it mines a far richer seam – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal. At a time when First Nations communities are talking increasingly about gaining greater control over their economic life, this is highly relevant.

After remotely reviewing ‘Piinpi’, the important exhibition about contemporary Indigenous fashion, when it first opened at Bendigo Art Gallery last year – at a time when I expected to never see the exhibition myself in the flesh (or the fabric) – I have finally seen it. The exhibition especially interested me because while I fortuitously spent many years managing some of the most important Indigenous cultural programs of the Commonwealth Government, my main interest has always been creative industries and the cultural economy. A subsequent interest in the link between the two areas was inevitable.

Collaboration between Hope Vale Art Centre on Cape York Peninsula and Queensland University of Technology fashion design students was just one productive partnership.

My earlier article, After a fashion – creative industries from First Nations culture is a reminder of what the exhibition is about: ‘When I first heard that Victorian regional gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery, was planning an exhibition about contemporary Indigenous fashion I was impressed. The Gallery has had a long history of fashion exhibitions, drawing on its own collection and in partnership with other institutions, notably the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is fascinating to consider how a leading regional Australian museum and an internationally renowned museum on the global stage, while in many ways so different, have so much in common. The exhibition is far more than a single event in a Victorian regional centre – it is an expression of a much broader contemporary Indigenous fashion phenomenon nation-wide. It hints at the potential of the creative economy and creative industries to build stronger communities. Both the economic importance and the community and social importance of creativity and culture are tightly interlinked because of the way in which creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up’.

The connection between community artists and creative industries is even more pronounced in this example. Print designer Bede Tungatalum, designer Heather Wallace and costume maker Robyn Trott collaborated to create the wedding dress and underskirt which featured in the film 'Top End Wedding' in 2018, bridging fashion and design and screen.

The exhibition finishes up at the National Museum of Australia this week, so if you are lucky enough not to be locked down or locked out or locked up, this is your final chance to see a truly iconic and ground-breaking exhibition. Otherwise you can buy the excellent catalogue or check out the websites of both Bendigo Art Gallery and the National Museum of Australia. Incidentally, my visit earlier today underlined how well set up and serious public institutions like museums are for continued operating during a pandemic.

Making history
The full significance of the exhibition will not be recognised for some time to come, because it is not just documenting history in the making, it is itself contributing to that history. You can read about the exhibition and its significance in more detail in my original article, referred to below. ‘Piinpi’ is so important for several cross-cutting reasons. Firstly it was developed by the fabulous Bendigo Art Gallery and then toured to the National Museum in Canberra, underlining the crucial importance of regional culture in our national culture – particularly relevant if we are talking about the place of First Nations culture in Australian culture generally.

'Most importantly the exhibition demonstrates the intersection of the the culture of First Nations communities with creative industries and the cultural economy.'

Most importantly the exhibition demonstrates the intersection of the the culture of First Nations communities with creative industries and the cultural economy. In attempting to address the major issue of Indigenous disadvantage, for example, it is critical to recognise that one of the most important economic resources possessed by First Nations communities is their culture. Creative firms and other partners are already developing which draw on that cultural content, some of them mentioned in the ‘Piinpi’ exhibition. 
 
Through the intellectual property that translates it into a form that can generate income in a contemporary economy, that culture is pivotal to jobs and to income. It may not be mining but it mines a far richer seam – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal. At a time when First Nations communities are talking increasingly about gaining greater control over their economic life, this is highly relevant.

See also

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 part of that cultural landscape’, Always was, always will be – a welcome long view in NAIDOC week.

After a fashion – creative industries from First Nations culture
‘When I first heard that Victorian regional gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery, was planning an exhibition about contemporary Indigenous fashion I was impressed. The Gallery has had a long history of fashion exhibitions, drawing on its own collection and in partnership with other institutions, notably the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is fascinating to consider how a leading regional Australian museum and an internationally renowned museum on the global stage, while in many ways so different, have so much in common. The exhibition is far more than a single event in a Victorian regional centre – it is an expression of a much broader contemporary Indigenous fashion phenomenon nation-wide. It hints at the potential of the creative economy and creative industries to build stronger communities. Both the economic importance and the community and social importance of creativity and culture are tightly interlinked because of the way in which creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up’, After a fashion – creative industries from First Nations culture.

Standing out in the crowd – a regional road tour of arts and culture
A recent regional road tour through Victoria to South Australia showed how a focus on arts and culture is a pointer for how regional centres can take a path other than slow decline. It also showed how a small country on the edges of the mainstream can become a global design force by staying true to its language, locality and culture – the things that make it distinctive in a crowded, noisy marketplace dominated by big, cashed up players, Standing out in the crowd – a regional road tour of arts and culture.

Regional Australia recognised with City of Culture listing for Bendigo and surrounds
‘It’s been apparent for some time that regional centres and smaller cities and towns can be interesting and creative places and that cities that have missed out on the benefits of globalisation in the era of neo-liberalism can be brought back by community action and imagination. It’s certainly not happening everywhere but it’s true of many lucky regional towns and cities and some suburban and outer suburban areas – witness Sydney, where it’s increasingly clear that the excitement never really stopped at the edges of the inner city. The regional rollout of interesting keeps on happening’, Regional Australia recognised with City of Culture listing for Bendigo and surrounds.

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

Out of sight, out of mind – building knowledge on sustaining the creative and cultural sector in regional and remote Australia
‘Creative organisations and artists often collect information and research in order to report to funding bodies about how grant funding has been used. Apart from the need to report on funding or to make a case to government, or society in general, the creative and cultural sector also needs evidence and understanding for its own purposes. While government funding bodies might need the sort of information collected from funded organisations, the organisations need it far more – for their planning and to report to their Boards and their communities. They need it to know whether what they are doing is effective and worthwhile – or whether they should be doing something else.’ Out of sight, out of mind – building knowledge on sustaining the creative and cultural sector in regional and remote Australia.
 
The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival
‘Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.
 
Growing up across many worlds – the daily life of ‘In My Blood it Runs’
‘An important new film about Dujuan, a young Aboriginal boy living in Alice Springs in the centre of Australia, is both engaging and challenging, raising major issues about growing up Aboriginal in modern Australia. ‘In my blood it runs’ is a film for our troubled times, that tackles the challenges of a culturally divided country, but also finds the hope that this cultural diversity can offer us all for our overlapping futures’, Growing up across many worlds – the daily life of ‘In My Blood it Runs’.
 
Changing the landscape of the future – a new focus on cultural rights
‘The arts and culture sector has spent far too many years pressing the case for why Australian culture is crucial to Australia’s future, without seeming to shift the public policy landscape to any great degree. Perhaps a proposed fresh approach focusing on cultural rights may offer some hope of a breakthrough. What makes this approach so important and so potentially productive is that it starts with broad principles, linked to fundamental issues, such as human rights, which makes it a perfect foundation for the development of sound and well-thought out policies – something that currently we sadly lack’, Changing the landscape of the future – a new focus on cultural rights.
 
Songlines – an ancient culture for a contemporary world
‘What interests me in exhibitions about Aboriginal Australia is what they mean for Australians generally, even if most Australians won’t ever see them. After a mere 220 years, in many ways we 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 examples, undone because they were unable to learn 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. It made me realise that we can gain a much richer grasp of Australia through recognising that First Nations culture and heritage is part and parcel of our own Australian heritage’, Songlines – an ancient culture for a contemporary world.

History all around us – the long term practical impact of cultural research
‘Cultural research has long term impacts in terms of our developing body of knowledge which stretch far into the future. Researchers are finding stories in our major cultural collections that were never envisaged by those originally assembling them – a process that will continue long into the future. The collections of our major cultural institutions are becoming increasingly accessible to the very people the collections are drawn from and reflect. In the process they are generating greater understanding about some of the major contemporary issues we face’, History all around us – the long term practical impact of cultural research.

The language of success ­– recognising a great unsung community movement
‘What is especially significant about the Prime Minister, in his Closing the Gap address, recognising the importance of Indigenous languages is that this is the first time a Liberal leader has expressed such views. It’s exciting because for progress to be made it is essential that there is a jointly agreed position. This moment arises from the tireless work over many decades of hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language revivalists – surely one of the great positive unsung community movements in Australian history. By their hard work they have managed to change the profile of Indigenous languages in Australia. Unfortunately the address reinforced the tendency of government to overlook the success stories that are already happening in local communities and look for big institutional solutions. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a missed opportunity’, The language of success – recognising a great unsung community movement.

Unfinished histories – encountering ‘Encounters’
‘A single exhibition can sum up many things. By bringing together so many histories, stories and objects – particularly long-absent ones from the British Museum – the 'Encounters' exhibition at the National Museum presented a snapshot of the ongoing living history of Australia. Many strands ran through it, reflecting the complexity of the realities it tried to express. By successfully reflecting on the pressing issues it raised we have some hope of getting beyond the vision of the Great South Land of 18th and 19th Century ambition towards a truly great nation of the 21st Century’, Unfinished histories – encountering ‘Encounters’.

Literature and languages – inaugural Indigenous literary festival sign of things to come
‘The inaugural Victorian Indigenous literary festival Blak & Bright in February 2016 was a a very important event for Australian cultural life. It aimed to promote and celebrate a diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. It raised important questions about how the movement to revive and maintain Indigenous languages – surely one of the great positive unsung community movements in Australian history – is related to ‘Australian literature’. Australian culture as a whole is also inconceivable without the central role of Indigenous culture – how would Australian literature look seen in the same light?’, Literature and languages – inaugural Indigenous literary festival sign of things to come.

When universes collide – ‘Encounters’ exhibition at National Museum of Australia
‘The Encounters exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, a once in a lifetime event, makes you realise that astoundingly all this earth-shattering history happened only a few generations ago, so much so that descendants of the Gweagal, those first people Cook encountered, still talk about that encounter in 1770 as though it was yesterday. Despite the continuing concerns about the vast holdings of mostly looted cultural artefacts, the return of these objects, however briefly, will serve to emphasise how recently the British came to Australia, how much more we need to do to be fully at home in this country and how much part of a living, contemporary tradition Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are’, When universes collide – Encounters exhibition at National Museum of Australia.

Land of hope
‘There were times in our past when Australia was seen as the great hope of the world – when it offered a vision of a new democratic life free from the failures of the past and the old world. It seems we have turned from our history, from the bright vision of the nineteenth century and the great nation-building vision of the period after World War 2, with its sense of optimism and fairness, towards something much more pinched and narrow – mean and weak-willed. For such an optimistic nation we seem to have developed a ‘half empty’ rather than ‘half full’ view of the glass – and the world. If we want to live in a land to be proud of, a fair country that truly inherits the best of Australia’s traditions, while consciously abandoning the less desirable ones, we need to change course – otherwise we will have to rebadge Australia not as the land of hope but instead as the land without hope’, Land of hope.

A navigator on a Lancaster bomber
‘Sometimes I think Australia has lost its way. It’s like a ship that has sailed into the vast Pacific Ocean in search of gaudy treasure, glimpsed the beckoning coast of Asia and then lost its bearings, all its charts blown overboard in squalls and tempests. It seems to have turned from the great nation-building vision of the period after World War 2, with its sense of optimism and fairness, towards something much more pinched and narrow. It’s time to rediscover the Australian dream. We need a navigator – or perhaps many, one in every community – who can help us find our way, encourage us as we navigate from greed and complacency to a calmer shining ocean of generosity and optimism’, A navigator on a Lancaster bomber.

Valuing the intangible
‘We are surrounded by intangible cultural heritage – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and often it’s incredibly important to us but we can’t seem to understand why or put a name to its importance. So many issues of paramount importance to Australia and its future are linked to the broad cultural agenda of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In particular they are central to one of UNESCO’s key treaties, the International Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage,’ Valuing the intangible.

The Magna Carta – still a work in progress
‘You don’t have to be part of ‘Indigenous affairs’ in Australia to find yourself involved. You can’t even begin to think of being part of support for Australian arts and culture without encountering and interacting with Indigenous culture and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and individuals who make it and live it.’ The Magna Carta – still a work in progress.

Black diggers - telling war stories
‘If you are convinced you have heard all of Australia’s great stories, think again. If you consider you know something about Indigenous Australia you probably need to start from scratch. Black Diggers, “the untold story of WW1’s black diggers remembered” is a great Australian story. Why over a thousand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians left their communities in remote Australia or our regional cities or the big state capitals to travel overseas to fight and die in the European trenches far from home is part of a larger Australian story. Why they would bother when they were not even recognised as Australian citizens in their own land is a story all their own – but a story relevant to every Australian’, Black diggers - telling war stories.

Death by a thousand cuts what is happening to the Indigenous cultural programs of the Australian Government?
‘The Indigenous cultural programs of the Australian Government play a critical role in support for both Indigenous communities and for a diverse and dynamic Australian culture – what is happening to them?’ Death by a thousand cuts – what is happening to the Indigenous culture programs of the Australian Government?

The gap in Closing the Gap
‘Experience of many years of the Indigenous culture programs shows that involvement in arts and cultural activity often has powerful flow on social and economic effects.’ The gap in Closing the Gap.

The hidden universe of Australia's own languages
‘I’ve travelled around much of Australia, by foot, by plane, by train and by bus, but mostly by car. As I travelled across all those kilometres and many decades, I never realised that, without ever knowing, I would be silently crossing from one country into another, while underneath the surface of the landscape flashing past, languages were changing like the colour and shape of the grasses or the trees. The parallel universe of Indigenous languages is unfortunately an unexpected world little-known to most Australians.’ The hidden universe of Australia's own languages.

Real jobs in an unreal world
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world.

Like a long-lost masterpiece
‘Many decades ago when I was much younger and a student I used to march in National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee marches. They were shorthanded to NADOC marches, back in the days when Islanders hadn’t yet been included and there was no ‘I’ in the name. I realised a while back that I must have been marching under the new Aboriginal flag at its birth. I had a poster from those years which I used to cart around with me from city to city until one day when I was about to move yet again I decided to donate it to the National Library of Australia’, Like a long-lost masterpiece.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Understanding the economy of the future ­– innovation and its place in the knowledge economy, creative economy, creative industries and cultural economy

When we start to think about the economy of the future - and the clean and clever jobs that make it up - we encounter a confusing array of ideas and terms. Innovation, the knowledge economy, the creative economy, creative industries and the cultural economy are all used, often interchangeably. Over the years my own thinking about them has changed and I thought it would be useful to try to clarify how they are all related.

Knowledge economy, creative economy, creative industries and cultural economy
Increasingly the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape are both clever and clean. They are mainly service industries that make up the knowledge economy, based on intellectual inquiry and research and exhibiting both innovative services or products and often also new and innovative ways of doing business. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.

Where the cultural economy (and to a lesser degree, creative industries) differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world ­– they help channel those who write the stories, paint the pictures and dance the dances that tell our story. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors of the knowledge economy do not. As part of Australia's culture sector and the cultural economy that derives from it, they share the critical function of managing the meaning of Australia and what being Australian means, which distinguishes this sector from other parts of the knowledge economy.

Artists, the arts and culture sector and the cultural economy
The cultural economy is underpinned by the arts and culture sector and the artists and arts and cultural organisations, mainly small, that make it up and create the content which often feeds into and inspires other sectors of the creative economy. 

The cultural sector (including the arts sector and much of the heritage sector) can't be reduced to economics, in fact the cultural economy may well be one of the less important aspects of the cultural sector and its role. However, the reality is that the cultural sector does have an associated cultural economy, which is an important part of the creative economy and overlaps with the creative industries. This interconnected economy also happens to be my main area of interest.

The work I did on creative industries, including while I was in the Research, Statistics and Technology Branch of the Department of Communications, established the parameters of my subsequent interest. Even though I went on to manage various aspects of the Indigenous cultural programs of the Commonwealth for almost six and a half years, I have always seen my primary area of interest as being creative industries (and their links to the cultural economy) and even my continuing interest in First Nations culture and languages has largely been from this perspective.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Broader and deeper - the creativity and culture of everyday life

The Impact and Enterprise post-graduate course at the University of Canberra is unique in Australia in placing creative industries and the creative and cultural economy in the broader landscape of the wider impacts of creativity and culture - both economic and social. It starts from the premise that what the broader social and economic roles of creativity and culture have in common is that a focus on the economic role of creativity and culture is similar to the focus on its community role – both spring from recognition that creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up. In March 2021, as the course entered its third year, I gave a talk to the students about where it came from.

Increasingly I realise that everything is connected – if only we are able to recognise how and benefit accordingly. The ripple effects of creativity and culture reach far further than we might expect.

At one point one of my managers in the public service commented with a note of disapproval that I seemed to have done lots of different jobs in my career. What she didn’t realise was that I had done the same job, but in lots of different places. I was surprised that she didn’t see that because one of the things I loved most about my time in the Commonwealth public service was that every couple of years – if not months – you would find yourself doing something new.

You would never hear about this, but at the height of the pandemic, one of my former Arts colleagues found herself working around the clock in a task force set up to liaise with the major supermarkets to ensure that supplies didn’t run out, as a major attack of moronavirus stripped the shelves of toilet paper.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Beyond boundaries – Dr Terry Cutler and how to connect everything

The global pandemic has so upended the world we knew that everyday matters, like relationships, birthdays, births and deaths have often slipped by unnoticed and uncelebrated. In a world of pandemic and lockdowns – and shakedowns by government – such things seem to go unnoticed. In such a way the departures – through retirement or death – of those who have made unparalleled contributions to our future have often passed before we even notice. This was certainly the case with strategic creative and cultural thinker, Dr Terry Cutler, who died during the pandemic lockdown last year, when the focus of most of the world was on other things. 

I was listening to a talk about innovation by Professor Stuart Cunningham at the University of Canberra when I was shocked to hear that Dr Terry Cutler had died last year. In a world of pandemic and lockdowns – and shakedowns by government – such things seem to go unnoticed. Terry Cutler did so many things, across so many areas, that it’s difficult to even skim across them all – strategist at Telecom Australia in the early days of the digital revolution, key figure on the board of the respected science and technology body, the CSIRO, President of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, to name just a few of his many roles.

Terry Cutler crossed boundaries with his interest in the potential of the content of cultural institutions for creative industries. One of his later roles was President of the ground-breaking Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Too soon to tell
What I want to touch on is only a part of this, in a period when I worked with him. It is only part, but it is extremely important. I regularly come back to much of it in my blog articles about innovation, cultural institutions, content and the digital universe. It has informed ‘Impact and Enterprise’, the post-graduate Unit I developed at the University of Canberra. This focuses on the interrelationship of the broader economic and social impacts of creativity and culture, arising from the way creativity and culture is a central part of everyday life and the activities that make it up.

‘When asked what he saw as the long term effects of the French Revolution, [he replied] that it was too soon to tell.’

Saturday, December 5, 2020

After a fashion – creative industries from First Nations culture

When I first heard that Victorian regional gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery, was planning an exhibition about contemporary Indigenous fashion I was impressed. The Gallery has had a long history of fashion exhibitions, drawing on its own collection and in partnership with other institutions, notably the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is fascinating to consider how a leading regional Australian museum and an internationally renowned museum on the global stage, while in many ways so different, have so much in common. The exhibition is far more than a single event in a Victorian regional centre – it is an expression of a much broader contemporary Indigenous fashion phenomenon nation-wide. It hints at the potential of the creative economy and creative industries to build stronger communities. Both the economic importance and the community and social importance of creativity and culture are tightly interlinked because of the way in which creativity and culture are integral to everyday life and the essential activities that make it up.

I have been to both museums quite a few times and it is fascinating to consider how a leading regional Australian museum and an internationally renowned museum on the global stage, while in many ways so different, have so much in common. Previous fashion exhibitions included Marimekko: Design Icon 1951 to 2018’, ‘Grace Kelly: Style Icon’ and ‘The Golden Age of Couture’, all of which I managed to see and thoroughly enjoyed. There were many more which I didn’t see: Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’, ‘Desert Lines: Batik from Central Australia’, ‘Undressed: 350 years of fashion in underwear’ and ‘The White Wedding Dress: 200 years of wedding fashions’ to name a few.

Earlier days in a national phenomenon - fashion parade, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, 2013.

As the Gallery website notes ‘Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion ‘brings together a selection of garments and textiles by First Nations designers and artists from around Australia. The first major survey of contemporary Indigenous Australian fashion to be undertaken in this country, Piinpi sheds lights on a growing industry which is blossoming and set to become Australia’s major fashion movement. ‘Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion’ celebrates Indigenous art, history and culture through the lens of contemporary fashion.’

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?’