Wednesday, January 20, 2016

That Australian Life - has Australian culture entered into decline?

Triggered by two TV documentaries, Monday Forum - Brilliant Creatures, Blood and Thunder and the culture that formed us concluded:
One unifying theme in these two apparently very different stories lies in a certain brashness in the Australian character and culture, a dislike of cant, that led those involved to push the boundaries. 
This brings me to my questions for this forum. We are all formed by our own experiences. What, to you, is that music or film for that matter that brings back your younger years? Are there distinct features in the Australian cultural experience? 
Since then, there seems to have been something of a wave of programs, some repeats, linked in one way or another with political or cultural history.

On such program was the repeat of Gracie Otto's The Last Impresario, the story of British impresario and film maker Michael White. White's productions included (among many others) Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  The photo shows Otto with Michael White. 

A second program was the repeat of the first part of George Megalogenis' documentary Making Australia Great: Inside Our Longest Boom, which first aired in March 2015. Both programs link back to my post. 

Brilliant Creatures focused on four Australians ( Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James and Robert Hughes) who made their mark in London during the 1960s and 1970s. This was also the period in which Michael White first came to prominence, so there is considerable overlap between the two shows. The thing that surprised me about The Last Impresario was the strong Australian presence. This is not just linked to the fact that Gracie Otto is Australian. More, it reflects the deep penetration of Australians into London life during the period.

Blood and Thunder, a very different program, looks at Australian rock and roll and popular music more broadly. Here one of the themes is the youth rebellion that flowed from the unemployment and disillusionment of the seventies. 

The first part of the seventies was positive, captured in the Whitlam It's Time campaign of 1972. That was the first campaign that featured Australian performers. It marked a new standard in Australian political advertising.

This is the best known ad. Even for someone like me who was not an ALP supporter, it's hard not to get goosebumps.

The first oil shock came in October 1973.That shock triggered the end of the longish period of global prosperity that had been in place sine the end of the Second World Way. Unemployment and especially youth unemployment rose and rose. Megalogenis explores the political ramification, Blood and Thunder the musical.

Here we have three very different periods. Those in Brilliant Creatures came through the Australian university system at a time when, while expanding, it was still elite. Even where from poorer backgrounds, they were effectively children of privilege. Not for them the need to focus on careers or the need for vocational qualifications.

Pop culture is always more reflective of young people as a whole. The  Australian bands who stormed to success came from very different backgrounds. They may have reflected youth angst, but it was a very different angst.

And since 1980? Here I have been struggling. The period since 1980 has been one of massive change in Australian wealth and society. But I am hard pressed to identify one Australian cultural trend, movement or group of people that has had impact beyond Australian shores that doesn't actually date to the 1970s or before. Am I wrong? What do you think?         


Anonymous said...

Interesting that your earlier referenced post mentions Strictly - a 1990's movie - and what about Priscilla and the Mad Max franchise - these are 1970's? There are several influential Australian producers, actors, directors prominent now, who made their international names after 1980 - surely?

I think your "identify one Australian cultural trend, movement or group of people that has had impact beyond Australian shores that doesn't actually date to the 1970s or before" is pretty vague; difficult to respond to without greater definition. But anyways:

On music (popular) have a look at the artists listed in this wiki: - I can see Men At Work's Downunder kicked off the 80's for instance - and in association with the America's Cup vistory was, I think, a reasonably significant boost to Australians' view of ourselves. Kylie Minogue, Silverchair, The Wiggles, anyone?

In art, the entire boom bust cycle of Aboriginal works is contained within the period you think devoid of significant cultural event. But of course, it started a few (thousands of) years earlier...

But if I could be allowed to be even more vague with the use of "cultural trend with an international impact" I would suggest perhaps the most significant was this one: - hard to assess the impact of removing the wires which previously bound our use of computers, but surely of immense significance - worldwide, and in every sphere of activity.

There's probably a proper term for it, but I think this "not much has happened recently" is a bit of reverse-myopia :)


Anonymous said...

Also, I think that in history terms the recent past is not able to be so closely studied as it lacks context. IOW if it didn't happen over 50 years ago, it hasn't "happened" yet.


Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, kvd. With these things there are always lags and overlaps. Taking your examples in order.

Strictly Ballroom is a 1992 film based on a critically acclaimed stage play originally set up in 1984 by Baz Luhrmann and fellow students while he was studying at NIDA. Ted Albert and his wife saw it and liked it. Both the play and Luhman can be placed to the 80s as formative decade, while Albert goes back to the sixties and seventies as was the point of Blood and Thunder. Priscilla dates to 1994, with writer and director Stephen Elliott getting his start during the Australian film boom of the 1980s. The first Mad Max film dates to 1979.

The rebirth of the Australian film industry began in the 1960s, accelerated during the 1970s and seems to have peaked in the 1980.

Neigbours began screening in 1985. Kylie Minogue was born in 1968 and got her first roles as an eleven year old in The Sullivans and Skyways. Countdown first screened in 1974, Young Talent Time 1971.The music time line suggests a music peak in the seventies and eighties, although I agree that its not clear cut. The contemporary Aboriginal art movement dates to 1971.

WiFi is messy. Interestingly, the work came out of radio astronomy, the rise of which does date to the earlier period.

I totally agree with your point about the need for time to gain historical perspective, although I don't think that you need as long as fifty years! It's also very much set by personal perspectives - as you say, reverse myopia is quite possible. This is a 2014 perspective on the decline of Australian theatre -

All this reminds me that I have got a little out of toch with aspects of Australia's cultural history.

Anonymous said...

Jim, not sure where your above list goes except to highlight that everything is to some extent an outgrowth of something seen earlier, hence my initial comment re vagueness. But it is interesting to note this quote from that SMH article you linked:

Five writers – David Williamson, Joanna Murray-Smith, Louis Nowra, Michael Gow and Nick Enright – were responsible for a ''whopping'' 24 per cent of Australian drama staged at nine state and second-tier Australian theatre companies between 1987 and 2013, according to AusStage figures

- to which I'd say (1) of the five writers he mentions, only David Williamson could be said to have a significant body of work dated prior to 1980 and (2) he blithely ignores the converse that 76% of Australian drama was not produced/created by those five.


Jim Belshaw said...

Yes, most things do grow out of something else. The list was helpful to me in clarifying just that point! I need a spread sheet!

Anonymous said...

There's also no small element of The Four Yorkshiremen in this; ask your daughters how they view the 80's (i.e. before they were born) compared to their "now" and they'd probably look at you blankly for a moment or two. Quite justifiably!

But we old geezers who remember the Yellow Peril, and the space race leading to the moon landing, and JFK being shot, and SA Apartheid have a far different view of when times were tuff. And I agree, they've certainly gorn downhill ever since :)


Anonymous said...

I got off my train of thought just then; a frequent failing of mine unfortunately.

To be clear: I would far more trust/value your daughters' opinions of your posited "decline" since the 80's than I would your or my opinion - because they did not live through that period, and are free of the excess baggage we must declare from earlier times.


2 tanners said...

The AC/DC of the 80's was a very different beast than that of the 70's. Kylie Minogue, singer, is not Kylie Minogue, soapie star. But although I loved the Master's Apprentices, it wasn't because they were original. The Stones are STILL playing music they stole from black Americans who were not entitled to copyright.

This "impact requires originality" (in the sense of NO prior history) bit has me baffled. Do we ignore any Aboriginal culture that is derivative from previous generations, or revere its long history?

Do you discount The Year of Living Dangerously, Dead Poets Society and The Truman Show because of Picnic at Hanging Rock?

Maybe I'm reading you wrongly, Jim, but this piece is weird. And as for "wi-fi came from astronomy", so what?? Wi-fi has a huge impact in my palm top computer and occasional telecommunications device.

Jim Belshaw said...

You know, kvd, we seem to be participating in different conversations! Both my girls were born in the 1980s, one in 87, the second in 89. They are different, of course, although both in their own ways are very Australian and proudly so. Their knowledge of the period before they were born? It depends.

In broad terms, I know what the girls have watched, listened and done. I know what they like doing. But what does that tell me in the context of current discussion? Not much, I think.

The starting point in this thread were two documentaries, one tracing the influence of certain intellectuals of a certain period beyond Australia's shore. The second focused on the history of popular music, again with a focus on the impact beyond Australia's shores. The discussion continued because I found more information linked to both themes. This was an exercise in cultural history in terms of what happened here, the influence of those happenings elsewhere, the importance of certain periods in forming what happened later. It did include a hypothesis associated with decline, decline in the Australian elements and decline in impact.

In a way, kvd sidetracked me. The reason I started looking at dates and the overlay of time lines and later influences lay in my responses to kvd's comments; that was helpful. For 2t's benefit, it's a question of origin and progression. It's not a question of exclusiveness. Robert Hughes rejected the value of things Australian as provincial, second rate, but could never escape his Australian perspective. It was that as well as his intellectual ability and his articulation learned at at home, school and university that gave him his particular impact. He remained distinctly Australian.

In somewhat similar vein, the others of his period who fled to London deliberately avoided Earl's Court. They wanted to be become part of a greater whole, to challenge. That desire to challenge was itself a reaction to their perceptions of Australia. Ironically, perhaps not, in doing so they articulated and presented a particular view of Australia that was meant to parody but in fact promoted the particular view. There is a clear link between the adventures of Barry Mackenzie and today's Bundaberg ads.

I need more time to think through these things. I also need to eat lunch!

Anonymous said...

Yes tanners, agree, and re the wifi, I deleted my personal apology to Copernicus for not acknowledging his input.

And since it's hot and I'm interested in this can I also add that my reference to the boom and bust of Aboriginal art was just that. I am aware of Geoffrey Bardon's work early 1970's (and have his diary comments on a painting I currently care for) but the boom/bust was an 80's onwards thing, commencing with people such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri - in terms of an international perspective. Or as the wiki would have it: "Although painting took hold quickly at Papunya, it remained a "small-scale regional phenomenon" throughout the 1970s, and for a decade none of the state galleries or the national gallery collected the works.".

It had to start somewhere, hence my absolute respect for Bardon's work - but in terms of a wider appreciation/audience/respect, this did not start until much later - in that period which Jim describes as mostly in decline.


Anonymous said...

Cross-posted with you Jim; apologies.

I had thought "the starting point" in this thread was the post heading - "Has Australian Culture Entered Into Decline" - qualified by your final "I am hard pressed to identify one Australian cultural trend, movement or group of people that has had impact beyond Australian shores that doesn't actually date to the 1970s or before".

I would simply, politely, reject both provocations. (Wrong word, but carries the meaning I wish to convey)


Anonymous said...

One thing that has changed is that in the Clive/Germaine/Robert/Barry generation, almost every ambitious Australian went to London, where it was easy to go. There is a point where this changed - I think about 1967 tho I can't track it down clearly because UK sites are always more concerned about "Asian" (they mean Indian and Pakistani, though also concerned about HK and Malaysian Chinese) and black (West Indian and African) commonwealth immigration. Quite possibly Germaine married in 1968 in order to stay in the UK.

So there was an Australian presence in London in the 60s probably not so much different from the Yorkshire one, though perhaps in degree because of the distance; London was the metropolis. Still when I came out of uni in the early 80s, most people, for example, at least in the humanities, aspired to O/S postgraduate study or life in the UK, though to a lessening extent.

Apart from hardening of barriers to immigration to the UK (and in the world generally) the two other things which changed were the decreasing necessity to leave Australia for certain qualities of life (including that movers and shakers a decade younger than Germaine and Barry mostly got swept up in the Whitlam ferment) and the fact that Australians who did leave went to increasingly diverse destinations. Many "Australians" have simply returned to their parental nationality, which is no longer necessarily English/Scottish/Irish (though rarely US - there is remarkably little US immigration to Australia).

Anonymous said...

And now, for something completely different; my brushes with fame as prompted by all the above.
1. The Enrights. Jim Wilkinson was a friend of my father's through Newcastle Surf Club. He spent his life in the family home in New Lambton, alone, after the death of his mother (he never married). His sister married a Maitland solicitor surnamed Enright. I briefly went to Newcastle Uni with Chris, Nick E's elder brother, and sort of knew Nick as a bit of an annoying kid! No 2 son (mine), Toby, met Nick at CSU Wagga when he (Nick) was on his 'final farewell tour'. Taken much too soon.
2. George Miller. In a long ago (JDB knows of which I speak), I was briefly serving at RAAF Point Cook. George was working at Base Medical Flight as a very part time civilian MO. I was also dividing my off duty time between a share house in Toorak and the Female Officers' Quarters, a particularly cheerless, humourless and restrictive abode. GM did not drive, so I was frequently his chauffeur back to Melbourne's eastern suburbs. I also used to work with a woman who used to go out with him.

Jim Belshaw said...

Small worlds, JCW. Or, one might say, in a galaxy far far away!Remiss of me. I hadn't known of Enright's origins. That deserves recording for other purposes. With George Miller, I'm reluctant to give a girl's age away. However, Miller finished his Sydney residency in 1972. That was the same year he formed Kennedy Miller Productions. From the sounds, he would have been a very part time MO

Jim Belshaw said...

Marcellous, just following up now on your comment. The US one is interesting. While a number of Australians did end up in the US, the US pull seems to have been less. The new UK immigration restrictions did create a barrier, it was about 67, although movement continued. There was a recent example that I was trying to find - a number of Australians ended up in senior positions in the UK arts scene leading to complaints about Australian takeover! For the life of me I have not been able to find it.

Anonymous said...

Same time as PSW, JDB, so you know exactly just how aged we all are. Actually, not too sure what he was doing in Melbourne, esp RAAF PCK. Enrights Solicitors is still a firm in Maitland, although no actual Enrights work there. Last I heard, Chris was working in Maitland as an independent book publisher. At some stage he wrote a 'law for idiots' type textbook. In early 1990, when the AMA was in the process of relocating headquarters from Sydney to Canberra, the kids and I had gone up for the farewell dinner, and as we were staying near SU, went for a wander around the campus. Walking through St John's College, met a bloke coming down the staircase, and asked him where the (quite famous)chapel was. We looked at each other; he said 'hello Judi', and I said 'hello Chris', and indeed, it was Crane meets Enright for the first time in 25 odd years. Amazing how paths cross and recross. On an entirely different note (but speaking about the Arts), dunno whether you picked up that Box Hill HS topped Victoria in VCE Drama, and came aeq 3rd in Media. No 2 son's gorgeous wife, Cally, having been shafted by Melbourne Girls' Grammar, took a year's contract to teach with him at Box Hill HS, and pulled in the top Drama scores. He taught Yr 12 Media, in a course which he designed, and BHHS came aeq 3rd in the state. They were the only comprehensive HS in the top10% in Drama, and aeq 3rd with MacRoberton GHS, a very selective state school for Media.
I can only hope that MGGs are licking their wounds. TAS did really badly this year in the HSC. Absolutely no carryon to past members of the school community about their triumphs. Most unusual. Usually as an ex staff member, I get all the glory blurb. Perhaps gurls will raise the standards; pity about the rugby, though. BTW, I have a beautiful Folio Editions version of 'The Compleat Molesworth'. Chiz, chiz xxxx

2 tanners said...

Ah, the public licking of wounds. Look for statements (soonish, but not right away) about successfully entering a rebuilding phase, and refocusing on values.

Rather unlike Woolworths' 'We screwed up, we know it and now no-one even wants to run us.' Refreshing honesty, if a bit too late.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hello tree, hello sky, hello JCW. Be wary of Gauls crossing the ALPS. Congrats on the Box Hill performance.

Not sure about the TAS thing. The School FB page carried quite a lot, while NBN had a feature. I quote from one piece: "Massive congratulations to Ali Ahsan on his ATAR of 99.75 and Joshua Stevenson, 99.2!! Nick & Ben from NBNTV spoke with the boys today about their results. Four others achieved ATARs of 90 or more. Ali and Joshua are amongst six TAS students with ATARs above 99 in six years. Congratulations to all students on their results, and thanks to the teachers that helped enable them.
Full story on NBN news tonight." Then we have "Joshua Stevenson and Ali Ahsan were the only two students in the NENW region to be named on the All Round Achievers List. It's the seventh consecutive year TAS students have made the list." And this: "We're proud of all our Year 12 students including Ali Ahsan and Joshua Stevenson who made the All Round Achievers List for five Band 6 results, and the 11 Distinguished Achievers who between them achieved 26 Band 6s in 13 courses." Obviously Ali and Joshua are featured, but its not no coverage.

TAS has become highly sophisticated in its use of the new media.The school is constantly selling its facilities and range of activities with a special focus on all the other schools that come to TAS. I have been following it quite closely because it's a fascinating case study. I am also still close enough to the Sydney schools in regard to both girls and boys sport (this is where the GPS rugby has come in; last year I ended up being called the Uncle Jim, the padre, of the Sydney GPS thirds comp on the Green and Gold Rugby Forum!) to be able to make some comparisons with them. TAS's technology and command of the visual and its capacity to find general interest connections makes it a constant news item on the NBN and Prime regional news broadcasts.

The admission of girls, the only one of any of the GPS schools to have done so, creates another fascinating dynamic and especially in the sporting arena. Netball anyone? Or does TAS join the growing push to girl's rugby? Or both? I am watching the dynamics here and especially its potential impact on girls'sport. Do the girls end up as cheer leaders to the boys (this seems to be a coed pattern) or does the TAS competitive element extend to girl's sport?

I know from contacts among parents present as well as past that there is a degree of frustration at the "genteel" nature of girl's school sport as practiced at, for example, IGGSA. TAS is going coed at a time of major shifts in attitudes toward's women's sport. How will this play out? I may be wrong, but I expect to get some quite decent stories out of this.

On the Enright's, I am writing a full post on Nick at the present for the New England blog.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good evening, 2t. Your comment crossed with mine. You are referring to JCW?

Jim Belshaw said...

As well as Wooolies?

2 tanners said...

I was pretending it was Monday, and went anywhere, including JCW and Woolies. Interestingly, Canberra Grammar School has just gone coed, leading Canberra Church of England Girls Grammar School to cut off all artistic ties (they used to join together, particularly for some rather well presented musicals).

Hello birds, hello sky.

Jim Belshaw said...

Saw the Canberra Boys Grammar stuff. Interesting I'm assuming that its for broadly the same reasons as TAS - ie get more numbers!

Anonymous said...

Bit behind the times, 2T. Canberra Girls' Grammar has long since ditched the 'CofE' from its title, thereby exposing itself for the money grubbing establishment that it really is. Interestingly, though the Diocese of Canberra/ Goulburn 'owns' the real estate, so that could lead to some interesting ducking and weaving if, and hopefully when CGGS turns up its grotty toes. The current principal, who I think is still referred to as a principal, rather than a CEO, advised that some joint musical activities would cease forthwith, but I'm not sure about 'all artistic ties'. If you can enlighten me on that, please?
CGS, alone in the ACT follows the NSW HSC; CGGS follows the ACT college system, so for gurls going to CGS, it's a choice of system as well. O tempora, o mores! How easy it all was when there was just Sigismund the Mad Maths Master, and 'Fairy Bells' plaed on the skool piano, and skool sossidges for luncheon.

Jim Belshaw said...

For the benefit of those to whom this conversation thread has become just too culturally obscure - Just trying to help! Remaining obscure "Grown ups are what's left when skool is finished." I wonder if JCW won the rafia prize?

2 tanners said...

I am behind the times, JCW, and especially for schools dedicated to girls of which I and my parents and my brothers bore precisely none. There was an immediate reaction that joint dramatic productions, including musicals and joint orchestral/chamber music cooperation would cease. That may have been shooting from the hip, I'm not sure, plus offence that the CGS principal was trying to eat their market share. He's a pretty sharp cookie, although a bit of a divisive figure. I think, but can't find confirmation easily, that they sometimes used to hold joint art (sculpture, painting etc) exhibitions as well. If they did, I'd suggest that's on the scrapheap as well.

CGS also teaches the International Baccalaureate course (as do a number of other ACT schools) but I don't know if CGGS does, which would be another point of differentiation, because it's a decision that has to be made late in a student's secondary career. You don't enrol your newly born daughter at the coeducational private school Radford because they offer the IB. You do decide in year 9 where she is going to go, if that's her chosen path.

I'm still waiting to see if (a) CGS retains its rather profitable boy's boarding house (I'm betting yes) and (b) if a similar facility is opened for girls (I'm betting no, at least for the time being). That would be unique in Canberra and very useful for public servants on posting to countries with inadequate schooling systems.

CGGS will still probably rely on CGS for dates to the formals :).

Sue said...

Hi Jim

I can't help myself. English writer Lissa Evans entered a competition(some 30 years ago) to write a love letter between unlikely fictional characters. Here is her entry:

Dere Mme Bovary

I take my humbel pen in hand to xpress my grate regard and invite you to my present dweling viz. St. Custards chiz chiz. Surrounded as I am by Masters prunes and gerunds, yore impressive beauty and command of the Fr. subjunctive would add a certain je ne sais qoui (grammer) to my bleke dorm.

Also, Peason sa to tell you, there is a piano on wich you can tinkle, xtensive grounds to blub in and 300 boys starved of cultural contackt.

Yore passionate (hem hem) admirer
Nigel Molesworth esq.

PS Could you bring some of yore arsenic as Fotherington - Thomas is partic. trubblesome at the moment.

Wonderful stuff.

2 tanners said...

I didn't quite roll on the floor laughing, but my upstairs neighbour is asking if I'm OK. That was priceless.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that is quite brilliant Sue. Thanks for sharing.

On a totally different track (because tanners said every day was Monday) I'd like to quote a couple of paras from this :

My parents live with me. Can I use their income to help qualify for a mortgage?

Yes, this is the purpose of the HomeReady™ mortgage program. You are allowed to use the income of a person living in your home to help you qualify for your home loan.

My children live with me. Can I use their income to help qualify for a mortgage?

Yes, this is why the HomeReady™ mortgage program was created. The income of a person living in your home can be used to help you qualify.

Can I use income from someone whom is not my parent or child with the HomeReady™ program?

Yes, via the HomeReady™ mortgage program, you can use the income of anybody living in your home to help get mortgage-qualified. This can be your aunt, your uncle, a brother or sister, a friend, or anyone else.

If I use the income of somebody living in my house to help qualify for the HomeReady™ loan, does that person need to be on the mortgage application?

No, you do not need to include other people on your HomeReady™ mortgage application -- even if their income is used to help you qualify.

In order to use another person's income on your application, you will only need to show that person's proof of income and a signed statement indicating their intent to live with you for a period of at least 12 months.

"Homeready" was introduced in December 2015, and is backed/financed/underwritten by Fannie Mae

I started bolding the bad stuff, but there's just too much of it. Shades of the subprime crisis?


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Sue, as 2t said! On Homeready, it does bear a distressing resemblance to that!