Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Labor election victory means renewed approach for Australian arts and culture support

Almost a decade of Coalition Government has ended, with a complex and ground-breaking result. During that long period the substantial and detailed work to develop a national cultural policy under the Rudd and then Gillard Labor Governments was sidelined. A strategic, comprehensive, long-term approach to support by national Government for Australian culture and creativity in its broadest sense was largely absent. Now we are likely to see a return – finally – to some of the central principles that underpinned ‘Creative Australia’, the blueprint that represented the Labor Government response to Australia’s creative sector.

Having been Director of the National Cultural Policy Task Force that coordinated the development of 'Creative Australia' under Crean and Gillard, I feel a great sense of deja vu this week - albeit looking back over almost ten years and a global pandemic. I can never say again that we don't live in interesting times – with all the consequences of that.

 A ground-shaking election means that there may be some important changes on the way for support for Australia’s arts and culture. I must admit that I had largely stopped commenting because at some point, you realise there is no more to be said about the same old, same old after almost a decade. Now we are likely to see a return to a revised blueprint that represented the Labor response to Australia’s creative sector ten years ago. Before the election, Shadow Arts Minister, Tony Burke, outlined what an incoming Labor Government would do for Australian arts and culture.

Election poster from New Zealand 2016

His most important comment was that ‘the first step is a comprehensive cultural policy.’ He went on to note that ‘a cultural policy isn’t simply an arts policy. Cultural policies have only been developed in Australia by Labor Governments. Paul Keating and his Arts Minister Michael Lee developed Creative Nation. Julia Gillard and her Arts Minister Simon Crean developed Creative Australia.’

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Driveway Dawn Services – reclaiming remembrance

I usually pass Anzac Day quietly, as befits remembrance. I try to avoid the flag waving and the speeches and the politicians – difficult as that is during an election. However, the day touches on so many issues that affect the future of Australia, that it always makes me think about where we have come from and where we are going. Lest we forget – or be doomed to repeat.

As Anzac day comes to an end for another year, I was thrilled to see the way communities have been reclaiming what has increasingly become a huge remembrance industry, beloved by politicians – especially in the middle of an election. Driveway Dawn Services, a short-term response to the global pandemic, could easily have slipped into history, once the pandemic changed shape. Fortunately they seem to have become part of a continuing history, taking the heart of remembrance back to families, friends and communities, where it all began.

Family connections
Anzac Day always makes me remember my five uncles, who all went to war to fight for a democratic way of life they believed in. They all served in World War 2 – on convoys to Russia, aboard motor torpedo boats in the Adriatic and in the air above Germany. Copying his big brothers, my father tried to join up too, but he was too young and his father refused to sign the papers – thankfully, or I might not be here.

The red poppies of Flanders

Most of my uncles were decorated, some more than once. One uncle was a navigator on the Lancaster bombers that fire-bombed Dresden. My mother-in-law was staying with relatives on the outskirts of Dresden that night and watched as the city burned. My uncle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice. He used to joke that the casualties amongst bomber crew were so dire that they awarded medals to anyone who survived – though I’m sure they weren’t awarded for just turning up. Astoundingly, they all survived – when so many did not, including many they knew personally.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Asian Century was underway long before the British arrived

We are all used to being astounded as we see growing evidence of how widespread contact and trade was across the breadth of the ancient European world and with worlds far beyond. The Romans and the Vikings and many after them all roamed far and wide. This is the stuff of a hundred television documentaries that show just how interconnected the ancient world was. Connection, not isolation, has always been the norm. Seaways were bridges, not barriers – a way to bring people together, not divide them. Now important archaeological work confirms just how widespread that cross-cultural, international network was across the whole of Northern Australia, long before the British arrived.

For many years I worked in the Australian Government programs which supported the efforts by local communities across Australia to revive or keep thriving their First Nations languages and culture. As part of this I travelled to East Arnhem Land on several occasions to attend the long-running annual Garma Festival and visit the well-respected Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala. One of the first things that strikes you in East Arnhem Land is that you are far closer to Indonesia and Timor than you are to Perth or Sydney or Melbourne – or Tasmania, my original island home.

Ancient traditions of Aboriginal ceramics have contemporary equivalents. Ceramic pots by artist Tjimpuna Williams, Ernabella Arts Centre, in a DESIGN Canberra pop up mini exhibition, 2015. In a perfect example of cross-cultural and cross-national collaboration, the ceramics were created during a residency in Jingdezhen, China, in early 2015, with long-time Craft ACT member, Janet deBoos.

At the time the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, where I worked, was developing its important White Paper strategy, ‘Australia in the Asian Century’, under the leadership of Ken Henry. There’s no question it was an important marker for the future of Australia. This was when the first hints of what the Asian Century meant really began to appear. In East Arnhem Land I had heard about the close and long-running and amicable connections between the Macassans and the Yolngu people.

The Asian Century began long before our time
I became fascinated by discovering that the Asian Century had in fact commenced long before the British arrived. Much earlier than Cook, local Yolgnu communities in Northern Australia had formed long-running trade and cultural partnerships with the neighbouring Macassans from Sulawesi in what is now Indonesia. This was built on commerce but developed into far more. We might talk about the importance of the Asian Century but the Yolngu were already partnering with Asia long before Australia even existed.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Lifeblood of the creative sector – have your say on copyright reform

The Australian Government has released draft copyright reform legislation for comment, with input due soon. It is seeking feedback on the legislation, which will help the cultural, education, research and government sectors to provide services in a digital environment, and provide clear and reasonable access to copyright materials while maintaining the incentives and protections for content creators. As part of this, the Government is also reviewing other related copyright issues and wants comments on those as well.

The fact that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and asking ourselves whether 2021 has actually ended and a new year begun is no good reason to ignore some of the important and pressing matters that keep arising. I discovered just before Christmas that the Australian Government had released for comment draft copyright reform legislation, with comments due in the New Year.

'It may not be mining but they mine a far richer seam – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal.'  

Reforms to support content services in the digital age
I had to search far and wide to find information about it and in the end obtained my information initially from the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) website. ALIA sums it up, ‘The Federal Government is seeking feedback on draft copyright reform legislation, released on 22 December 2021. The copyright reforms will help the cultural, education, research and government sectors to provide services in a digital environment, and provide clear and reasonable access to copyright materials while maintaining the incentives and protections for content creators. ALIA, individually and through the Australian Libraries Copyright Coalition (ALACC) have been advocating strongly for reforms to support libraries in the digital age. The Government is also taking this opportunity to conduct a review of the technological protection measure (TPM) exceptions in the Copyright Regulations, as required by the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, and is seeking input.’

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Revhead heaven – travelling together into the mobile future

Cars are at the heart of everyday Australian life. Even if they don’t interest you all that much, or even if you mainly use public transport, you probably also use a car regularly. The Sunday drive, the regional road tour, the daily commute are all as Australian as burnt toast and peeling sunburn. The annual Summernats road extravaganza in Australia’s national capital celebrates this mobile culture. With some imagination, it could be even more – celebrating a central, while challenging, part of contemporary Australian popular culture.

The annual Summernats four-day extravaganza of cars and loud revving motors has been a fixture on the Canberra calendar for as long as I’ve lived here – getting on for 22 years. Plenty of Canberrans hate Summernats because of the noise and the crowds and the petrol fumes. Whether they’d hate a large music festival as much is hard to tell. Maybe it’s the NIMBY syndrome – not in my back yard?


Interest in cars pops up in unexpected places. This one was on the traditional site of the Summernats event, EPIC (Exhibition Park in Canberra), but this was during the weekly Farmers Markets also held there.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Saving the farm – recognising Indigenous languages is part of salvaging community

The end of the year – after a bumper 24 months of disasters – is a time of closure. Many things have changed and many more will change – hopefully mainly for the better. In particular people who have made major contributions to Australia's creativity and culture are moving on from their roles to take up new interests or interests they have been too busy to pursue. This is particularly the case in the arena of First Nations languages, where the recognition amongst Australians generally of the importance of languages and culture is part and parcel of salvaging community – for everyone.

As the end of the year approaches rapidly, after two solid years of bushfires followed by pandemic, many other things are also drawing to a close. A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in my car outside my local surgery, waiting for a routine medical appointment while trying to take part in a Zoom session on my tiny tablet. The reason for the Zoom event was to farewell Faith Baisden after decades as the face of First Languages Australia, the national body advocating for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in Australia. 
 
A panel of community languages talent at 'Jarrak: Our languages journey', an event presented by First Languages Autralia in 2019 - Veronica Dobson, Dana Ober, Trevor Buzzacott and Eve Fesl, in conversation with Paul Paton.
 
Faith is leaving First Languages Australia to pursue her many other interests, particularly involving childhood education and music. Like all the other community languages folk I’ve met, she is a quiet over-achiever, building bridges and producing miracles wherever she turns. I’m sure she will keep doing it in a new area. 
 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Flight of the wild geese – Australia’s place in the world of global talent

As the global pandemic has unfolded, I have been struck by how out of touch a large number of Australians are with Australia’s place in the world. Before the pandemic many Australians had become used to travelling overseas regularly – and spending large amounts of money while there – but we seem to think that our interaction with the global world is all about discretionary leisure travel. In contrast, increasingly many Australians were travelling – and living – overseas because their jobs required it. Whether working for multinational companies that have branches in Australia or Australian companies trying to break into global markets, Australian talent often needs to be somewhere else than here to make the most of opportunities for Australia. Not only technology, but even more importantly, talent, will be crucial to the economy of the future.

Watching the course of this global pandemic, I have been struck by how out of touch a large number of Australians are with Australia’s place in the world. While before the pandemic many Australians had become used to travelling overseas regularly – and spending large amounts of money while there – we seem to think that all our interaction with the world is about discretionary leisure travel. Australians stranded overseas during the pandemic have been abused on social media, as though they just wanted to have a holiday.

It's not only technology that fuels the new economy of the future - but talent

In contrast, increasingly many Australians were travelling – and living – overseas because their jobs required it. Whether working for multinational companies that have branches in Australia, Australian companies trying to break into global markets or companies based overseas, Australian talent often needs to be somewhere else than here. They are part of a globe-trotting aristocracy of labour, increasingly a different form of essential worker, fuelling the modern global economy and, as a result, the many national and local economies connected to it.