Having run out of my regular podcast listening this morning, I discovered a “search” function on the “Conversations” webpage. I hummed and hahed wondering who I might like to hear interviewed. Then a flash of inspiration came and I typed in “Paul Keating”. I found an interview with our ex-Prime Minister from back in 2012.
For those readers who are not Australian, Paul Keating was a character among our Prime Ministers. He had his term in the early ’90s. He was left wing, he said what he thought, had a quick tongue for repartee and he got stuff done. In his own words, when asked by the Caucus what the plan was, he would say “Slide down the scree slope with one ski and no poles.”
Last year (you know back in ancient history when you were allowed to go to the theatre) we went to see a production – a one-man show – in which an actor playing Paul Keating stands in a set made to look like his home office – and talks about himself. It was absolutely brilliant. Hilariously funny. So well acted. And so convincingly like the man himself.
Anyway, in the real Paul Keating’s chat with Richard Fidler (who could match him wit for wit) he kept talking about how Australians have lost their art for story-telling and lost their own special brand of humour. I wonder if he’s right. My Dad is the person I immediately think of when it comes to story-telling and wry Aussie humour. Dad tells a good joke and he remembers a lot of them. I have occasionally been told that I tell jokes well and I know it’s because I had a good role-model.
If Paul Keating is right, I blame it on the world growing smaller and more and more of our TV content being American. The English speaking internet is dominated by America too. I’m not saying it’s America’s fault. I’m saying that we (Australia) have so immersed ourselves in American stuff that we struggle to find our own identity.
It’s probably not helped by the fact that over the years, funding to the arts has been cut and cut and cut. I said somewhere on this blog once that art is the mirror in which society can look at itself. That was a little epiphany of mine. Maybe it has been said before. I don’t know. Whatever the case, I suddenly realised in the very moment that I wrote that line, that the art of a culture is a form of identity. This was a huge moment for me because I am, if I can be summed up in one word, artsy. I naturally lean to writing and drawing and music and languages. But I have never been sure of the real value of any art. Art is so subjective. I like some. I hate some. Some leaves me cold. So what does it offer other than these personal reactions?
Suddenly, in the middle of writing about our annoying government, I found a reason for the things I am most interested in. Without art, what tells us about ourselves as a society? Perhaps history contributes but, as I am slowly realizing, written history is so dominated by the powerful. Every piece of writing has a motivation. Everyone has a secret or a barrow to push. History is not as sure as I once thought.
Paul Keating claimed that he would listen to an hour long symphony the night before a sitting in Parliament and as he listened, he would have a notebook beside him. He said the music would open his mind and the ideas would pop and fizz and he would have his grandest inspirations. So art is not only a creative process in itself, but it opens the mind of the perceiver to creativity. I think I can vouch for that. Reading other people’s writing, hearing music… it’s a journey of the mind.
So we need art. But our current government thinks it has no value because our current government (given a free rein) prefers to think about GDP than about society as a bunch of people. In strict economic terms, people are only valuable for what they produce or what they consume. Oddly, that view reminds me of 18th century England where women were only valued for their “accomplishments” and their child bearing ability. I fear artists are the “Old Maids” of modern society (as perceived by Scotty) – left on the edge. Not scorned, but perhaps pitied for the lack of contribution.
Hopefully Keating is wrong. It’s not that the old Australia is “lost”. It’s just harder to hear the voices these days because the microphone has been turned way down. Money, just like throughout history, speaks loudest.
Anyway, to cheer us all up, here’s a favourite Aussie joke that my Dad told me:
A Texan was in Australia and he decided to go on a sort of bus tour in the “outback”. At one of the tiny towns where the tour stopped, the Texan got chatting with an Aussie stockman in a pub.
The Texan said: “You know, back home, I can ride all day from sun-up to sun-down with only an iddy-biddy break for lunch. Come sun-down, I’ll still be on my own ranch.”
The Aussie sipped thoughtfully at his beer and responded in a slow drawl: “Yeah… we used to have an old horse like that.”