Bangarra 25

Bangarra Dance Theatre at Sydney Opera House

“I don’t mind if we get wet. I love getting rained on”, I said to Kate as we sat on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. In hindsight, I probably should have checked the weather before leaving the house, but since I wearing shorts, I figured getting wet wouldn’t be much of a problem. And besides that, it was a great thing to be part of, the 25th anniversary performance by Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Kate arrived earlier than I did, and so secured us terrific seats in the front row. For a couple of hours we sat there, chatted, ate and drank a little, as we watched and waited for the show to commence.

As I checked the weather radar, we overheard a couple of security guards chatting, offering their thoughts on the likelihood (or rather unlikelihood) of the show going ahead. For a while it didn’t look good. On two or three occasions cleaners came on stage to mop off the water. Even that had a certain theatricality about it. “You could put that in a theatre, charge thirty bucks, and say it’s edgy”, I joked.

The sheer risk of electrocution for the band and injury for the dancers meant they were only about to deliver a much scaled down version of what was planned. Nonetheless, it was a great evening, and one we (and many others) enjoyed very much.

Pop Art at AGNSW

A lot of people went to a lot of effort to dress up for the Pop Art Party at the Art Gallery of NSW last night. We didn’t. We were happy just to go along in the same clothes we wear to pretty much every event the AGNSW. In keeping with the theme of the party, there were lots of Andy Wahols, lots of Warhol inspired costumes, and lots of characters from Roy Lichtenstein paintings. For all the effort involved, my personal favourite was the skinny bloke who came dressed in an oversized Spiderman costume. “That’s the worst Spiderman I’ve ever seen”, a woman standing at our table said. “That’s the point”, I told her.

Friday Night Fever

“Where are you going? You have to stay. You’re in the show”, the photographer William Yang said to my friend Kate, as we had gotten up from our seats, and were headed to the bar to grab a glass of wine, ahead of William’s talk at the Museum of Contempoary Art (MCA) in Sydney last night.

We thought we had a few minutes to grab a glass of wine, and to absorb the previous talk by Djon Mundine, before William was due to speak. Djon had run a little bit over-time, and so the break between the two had to be shortened. Djon, an Indigenous artist, had spoken about the portrayal of Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people in Australian film. In particular he came from the perspective of the portral of white man. While a lot of film and popular culture tends to portray black men as mystical, magical and sexual, he was interested to see how white men are portrayed in films which have significant Indigenous themes and casting. Along the way he showed excerpts from films like “Kadaicha”, “Bedevil”, “Jimmie Blacksmith” and another film whose name escapes me right now. His conclusion: the portrayal is often as police, property developers and paedophiles, though he noted his lack of film critic or academic credentials.

William’s talk on the other hand was about some of his recent overseas travels to China, Korea, Italy and Germany. Kate featured in the number of photographs in China. It was like a “slide night with depth” as William talked us through photographs of art, landscape, social occasions, food and attractive men he met along the way. On the subject matter of the latter two, I thought he could do an exhibition called “Edible”, though I never got around to suggesting it to William himself. Though there were ample opportunities to, as later in the evening a whole bunch of us ended up on the rooftop dance floor.

I was there with a couple of other friends. Another friend was there with mutual friends. There’s nothing like a dance floor to see a blending of the groups, and to discover further mutual contacts. In a text to one of my friends who was downstairs, I urged her to come to the rooftop to hear possibly the world’s greatest DJ, Leo Tanoi. I didn’t know at the time, they were actually friends. Although the moniker of “world’s greatest DJ” was possibly a little over the top, he played the kind of music that went down well with a bunch of 40 and 50 somethings who like art and who like to groove along (Madonna, Whitney, Michael Jackson etc). It’s been ages since I’ve been out for a “proper dance”, and since the music was so good, we barely left the dance floor. In between, there was a terrific performance by a singer, Nadeena Dixon, whose repertoire tended to reggae and dance, with a lot of songs with Indigenous-themed lyrics. William Yang, as always snapped a few photographs of the dance floor festivities.

At the end of a long, long week, it was so great to hang out with friends, see some great art, and then have a dance for a couple of hours at the rooftop of the MCA, with the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge as backdrops, on a really pleasant summerish evening. “It doesn’t get much better than this”, a few friends were inclined to say last night.

Behind Bars

Lex Watson's Book Collection for Sale

Lex Watson’s Book Collection for Sale

It’s thirty years since the decriminalisation of consensual male sex in New South Wales, and “some of the leading figures responsible for that change have all died in a six month period”, we were told by Murray Maclachlan at the Australian Homosexual History Conference held at Sydney’s University of Technology. He was referring to former politicians, Gough Whitlam, Neville Wran and Ron Mulock, and to the academic and homosexual activist, Lex Watson.

As a young man thirty years ago, first becoming aware of homosexual liberation politics, Lex was a name I knew well. He was the “go to” person for the mainstream media for discussion about homosexual law reform. It’s amazing to think it was only thirty years ago that you could go to gaol in NSW for gay sex. In fact, the laws were so incredibly odd that the penalty for homosexual rape in NSW was seven years, whereas the penalty of consensual homosexual sex was fourteen years (I don’t think I’ve misrepresented the case there).

At the conference a series of speakers spoke about the moves to homosexual law reform in the different states and territories during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. In some states and territories, the changes were as the result of the state government leading public opinion, in others, the politicians had to be dragged along by the sentiment of public opinion. In others still, it was a combination of both. And then you have Tasmania, where it was the result of strong action by a small group of activists, who had to take their battle internationally, before the long overdue change could occur back here.

The keynote speaker for the conference was the former politician, and now Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan. She told the conference she had grown up in a fairly conservative Catholic family, and so it wasn’t until she went to university that she learned about homosexuals. “Camp as a row of tents was a phrase that was used at the time”, she told us, reflecting on both the negative and positive use of the phrase. Feminism informed her understanding of sexuality, she added. She spoke early in the piece about the political turmoil of early to mid 1970s, and how there was deep distrust of her in the heavily male-dominated Australian Labor Party. “There was a general view in the ALP in support of homosexual law reform, but there were fears about the political consequences”, she said. Forty years later, she pondered the opinion gap between the public and politicians on the issue of homosexual marriage, with a clear majority of Australians in favour of making the change. “The community won’t go backwards so the politicians will need to go forward”, she said. Now, as the Age Discrimination Commissioner, one of her major concerns are the issues facing older homosexual Australians in faith-based aged care. Though she says the sector says they don’t discriminate, she thinks that needs to be tested, though noting “there haven’t been any complaint yet”. During her speech, she reflected on the massive changes which have occurred in the last forty years, saying with a grin, “We used to say in the women’s movement how come they’ve done better than us?”.

Livet efter döden

Livet efter döden

Livet efter döden

The first five minutes or so of “Livet efter döden” (“Life after death”) are fairly bleak. The film opens with a close-up shot of Elsie Hammarlunds talking to a friend on the phone telling them about the recent death of her husband. I started to watch the film last weekend, but soon decided I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind for something that was potentially so sad.

And indeed, there are some very sad moments in the film: in particular the moment when the 83 year old gets dressed up in her wedding dress (such memories!) and when she visits her husband’s grave and you note the inscription has the birth and death date of her husband, and right next to it, on the same headstone, you see Elsie’s name and birth date (with the death date waiting to be filled in).

Livet efter döden

Livet efter döden

But there are some real moments of joy also. She comes across as a fairly independent sprightly individual, and the film documents her trip back to Australia after 25 years since she lived here. We learn in the film that, at the height of the Russian submarine crisis during the 80s (the last time a Russian sub was spotted in the Stockholm archipelago), she and her husband moved here, fearing the cold war, and the possibility Sweden could have become part of the Soviet Union. One of her children still lives here. In fact I met her at the Swedish Church Christmas fete (julmarknad) in Sydney last weekend, and that’s how I learned about the film.

The film starts and ends in Sweden, and throughout the middle she comes to Australia. There are some really wonderful moments from her visit to Australia, both lovely and sad, as she visits her daughter and old friends. Elsie travels independently and loves chatting to strangers, charming them, and often engaging them in a conversation about Jesus.

Livet efter döden

Livet efter döden

She also revisits some of the great tourist spots of Sydney. Clearly the connection to Australia remains strong, as her home in Sweden seems full of tourist reminders, including a musical stuffed koala that plays “Waltzing Matilda”.

I wish I’d seen the film earlier, as I’d like to have recommended it to you. It only has a day or two left on the Swedish TV website before it expires. A fair bit of the film is in English, and even if you don’t speak Swedish you can possibly guess the rest. But even so, the language isn’t so important.

Cartoon James

My friend Kate and I went to the fortieth anniversary drinks for the Copyright Agency.

I hadn’t realised until both Brian Johns and Thomas Keneally spoke about the history of the organisation: that it all came from the fact in the early 70s in Australia universities were allowing students to photocopy books, but were not willing to compensate the authors for potential lost sales.

Forty years later, there’s the added complexity of electronic publishing. But despite this, the agency now collects millions of dollars of revenue each year which, in turn, goes back to the authors, which is a good thing.

The drinks were awfully good fun and I even got to meet someone I know from my online life, but had never met in real life. That was a really lovely and surprising part of the night. It was also great they had a cartoonist there, who did a really great cartoon of Kate and I.

Niji Sushi Bar

It’s been one hell of a crazy week at work (and about to get even crazier), so when Sue texted me this afternoon asking if I’d like to go out for dinner, I was in two minds. On the one hand, part of me wanted to just go home, sit on the balcony and have a drink or seven. On the other hand, it would have been greeat to go out with her, have a chat and eat some terrific food. The offer was a sushi place at Kingsford, not far from where she lives.

I told her I just wanted to go home, get out of my “Work clothes”, have a gin and tonic on the balcony and relax. While the temptation would have been to stay at home, sit on the balcony, and enjoy a second or eighth gin and tonic, I made a quick decision I would definitely join her for dinner. And I’m pleased I did: first because of the catchup, and second because the food at Niji Sushi Bar was pretty bloody good.

The prices were good, the food was good, the service was a little slow and inconsistent. We asked for some bowls for a share meal a couple of times before they actually turned up, for example, and there was a fair gap between the first meal and the remainders. But that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, since the restaurant was really very busy. And the food was very tasty. Would probably go back there again.

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