Next Year, I Will Choose Another Date To Celebrate Australia Day

Something didn’t feel quite right when I woke up on the morning of “Australia Day” this year. You know me, any excuse for a piss-up and I’m there with bells on, but this year felt different. Sure, we had only organized a small gathering of friends at a local pub, followed by a nice lunch – our way of celebrating our appreciation for a country that we migrated to thirteen years ago and have made our home – but the problem was, my social conscience wouldn’t shut up.

For those who don’t know what “Australia Day” represents, according to the Australia Day Council website, it is “about acknowledging and celebrating the contribution that every Australian makes to our contemporary and dynamic nation. From our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people  – who have been here for more than 65,000 years – to those who have lived here for generations, to those who have come from all corners of the globe to call our country home.” 

Unfortunately, what the day represents for our Indigenous population, (and an increasing percentage of the rest of the population), is the day in January, in 1788, that the British invaded our country and went on to murder, rape, and throw them off their land. It is why they call it their “stolen” land.

“Australia Day” is an event that causes immeasurable grief for some people, and courts controversy for many others. It is a day that divides our diverse nation – in particular, for those who believe that the celebrations deny the real and terrible truth when Australia was colonized.

A change of date was proposed recently – of which I am whole-heartedly in favor – although, not so much for the radical accusations made by some that the majority of Australians remain indifferent to the treachery caused to the forefathers of our land. In spite of the obvious bias in the documentation of that period of history – which was taught until recently in our schools (I am told) – every Australian I have met has been sensitive to the truth and does not want any part in its distortion.

For many, the “Invasion,” is not what Australia Day represents.

We are a multi-cultural nation. “Nearly half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas (first generation) or have at least one parent born overseas (second generation)” – The Guardian – many of whom are immensely grateful for the opportunity to live here. For some, their immigration has been a life-saving event, but what they can’t do is turn back time and change history, in much the same way that the Germans can never fully atone for what took place in their concentrations camps during the second world war.

What we CAN do is move forward and put right the inequalities that continue today: we can narrow the gap in standard of living between our indigenous people and the rest of the population, and reduce (hopefully) the number of aboriginals that take their own lives each year, or serve prison sentences for minor crimes.

We can keep the pressure on our government to listen to the voice of its people (and voters), in the way we did for marriage equality.

Progress has been made. There is an evident desire to embrace the country’s indigenous history and culture. “An ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ is an opportunity to acknowledge, and pay respect, to the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians of the land – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” (Commonground) is made at most events and council functions; there was a national “Apology To The Stolen Nations in 2008” and morning ceremonies on Australia Day are being led by our Indigenous people; likewise, Naidoc week “celebrates the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The arts, in particular, strive to support Indigenous theatre, media, and writing. There is also targeted recruitment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates, as well as positive moves to promote more Indigenous people into politics and leading roles in the community.

But the crawl towards progress is frustratingly slow; as it is for inequality between the genders.

There is no doubt that Australia’s reputation on the world stage in terms of discrimination is tarnished. Our history of ribald sexism, racism, and ongoing discrimination of the LGBTQIA community, (this week called out by Anna Wintour), has been well-documented. And while I would like to deny the existence of such ongoing behavior from my cosy position of white privilege, I can’t. As an active member of the Twitter community, I witness to it every day.

But in defense of my adopted country, such discrimination is not the cancer of Australia alone. I truly believe that our irreverence to “difference” is changing, and that, at heart, we are a good country – albeit a young country, that has historically lagged behind other western countries when it comes to education and social conscience. Our geographical location – which promotes insularity; the climate – which makes us like the Spaniards ie. a bit too relaxed for our own good; and our national pride, is perhaps why we have come to the party later than other, more progressively-thinking western countries. But we know that we are late developers, and there is an eagerness to do better.

Our harsh migration policy is the most obvious contributor to our reputation as a racist country, even though, (in my experience), few educated people condone detention centers such as Nauru – and hopefully, the next federal election will prove that, even if a solution to the problem is far from clear-cut. But our awareness of discrimination, the true story of Australia’s colonization and our responsibility to our Indigenous people is improving.

During our lunch, in a discussion about something else, a friend pointed out the importance of not staying neutral. Change, she argued, can only be affected by loud voices and activism – something I strive to do in other areas of my beliefs! And writing this post has clarified what Australia Day means to me. Celebrating it is my way of demonstrating my gratitude for this beautiful land we live on, and that’s why, next year, I will choose an another day to celebrate it.

Arty-Fartiness And A Celebration Of The Naked Female Form

image4One of the best parts about this stage of life is having the time, finally, to concentrate on what we love doing; the ability to explore new avenues and discover new passions. And if you’re not one of ‘those that can’, it’s just as pleasurable to appreciate the passionate endeavors of others, stand in their shade, and lap up their success.

I was invited to view an art exhibition the other night. Three female artists (Jane Park, Laurie McKern, and Petra Pinn), and one male artist, Evert Ploeg (whose work is represented at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra), get together weekly, on Monday Nights, (hence the name of the exhibition), to paint the naked female form. The exhibition included framed pieces, canvases as well as sketches of their experimentation and exploration of the process.

Those of us that can’t draw or paint stood back and secretly wept with envy at the talent on display by the four artists, who had not only depicted the female form in all its glory and strength but had also created an intimate backdrop for the event, with a distinctly South Amercian flavor. As Jose strummed Spanish music on his guitar in the background and a gorgeous life model lit up a makeshift stage – in top hat and garters, and very little else – it was difficult not to imagine yourself in nineteenth-century Valencia.

Sadly, my purse doesn’t stretch to the price tag of real art (that’s the problem with being married to a tightarse/heathen), yet something else stopped me from my typical impulse buy compulsions, and it bothered me. image2

I identified it as I ummed and ahhed over whether it was appropriate for me to approach the young model to ask for her photo. Stupidly, I worried that she might think I was some seedy older woman about to exploit her, in much the same way how I sensed the old man might feel if any one of the images of strong, semi-naked females appeared on a wall at home.

Like many men, he’s not as comfortable with the naked female form, or indeed femininity, as perhaps he should be for a man of his age.

Many men associate imagery of naked women with sex, porn and desire and some struggle not to objectify it. It is an attitude that we need to change if we are to alter the culture of the abuse of women and domestic violence, and perhaps by making art such as this more accessible, we can change that attitude. Another way – of which I am a staunch supporter – is by getting more penises on the screen and in the media, and ahem, fewer under boardroom tables.

image1As a side note, my friend and I were reassured to spot the preponderance of lush female bush in the depictions of the younger models – a sign (we hope) that this ridiculous concept of shaving everything off down below is finally demode.

‘Perhaps that’s because the models are South American?’ she queried.

‘But isn’t that where the Brazilian originated,’ I asked her, confused.

Of course, shaving off your bush is every woman’s choice and thereby wholeheartedly approved of by feminists such as myself; the only caveat being that women are doing for their own reasons rather than for men who struggle with the distinction between real life and porn.

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This piece, by Jane Park (Instagram page is at Janeparkart.com), was my favorite of the evening – possibly because it reminded me of how I look in the morning – and I seriously contemplated buying it to hang over our bed to terrify the old man. Had I been brave enough, I am certain that it would have forced him into the spare room, once and for all.

When You Kid Yourself That One Night At The Opera Makes You Cultured

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I had steak tonight. It was one of those spontaneous decisions brought on by the anxiety that we’re all going to die soon and I might never taste steak again because I rarely eat red meat these days. I am one of those people that get sucked into the latest health advice about what you can and can’t do, so I gave up red meat (almost) a while ago, and now I eat a lot of salmon. That is, until this week, when an article described how salmon is farmed and full of worms and artificially colored and… yuk, I’m not sure when I’ll eat salmon again, either.

And in other related news, last night I went to the opera because my latest fad for seizing the day is pushing me to try all these things that normally I’m much too lazy or terrified to bother with. This free opera event, which is held at the Domain in Sydney each year and sponsored by Mazda, is such a great initiative that I’ve decided to bore you with my experience and to extol its virtues again like I did this time last year.

Le’s be honest, when we’re getting false ballistic missile warnings, the most powerful politician in the world describes countries as shitholes, and women are vilified for  coming forward about sexual harassment, it’s time to step back and immerse yourself in whatever makes you happy, even if it has been proven to clog your arteries or makes you a pretentious twat.

And what’s not to love about a FREE event where you can pretend to be a music aficionado for a couple of hours, tick off your one and only cultural event for the year, and drink copious amounts of sparkly with no judgment. In fact, this is one of those rare events that condones getting publicly shitfaced in the name of culture, although in my book, ‘bring a picnic’ has always been code to over-imbibe.

Now some of you might think about privilege when you think of opera, but remember, this event brings music to the masses, and although the demographic may not be the same as meat raffle night during Happy Hour at the Blacktown Pub, it was wonderful to see such a diverse crowd in both age and ethnicity respond to the civilized freebie – for the proletariat, the next best thing to going to the Opera House.

However, I was surprised to see that even at the opera there are those that take the piss; who believe themselves superior to the rest and flout the rules; who tried, (unsuccessfully) to sneak in their full-height camping chairs past security, thereby compromising the view of the stage to the latecomers who hadn’t the foresight/anal disposition to arrive ridiculously early to ensure a good spot, like us. And they were dealt with accordingly, in a manner to fit the crime –  ie. hung, drawn and quartered, no matter what their objections, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, age or infirmity.

This was a festival without normal festival behavior. Bin bags were supplied for the rubbish and the toilets were clean – in fact, I felt a little disappointed not to find one speck of white powder on the toilet seats.

We went in a group, two of whom were celebrating their birthdays, so if you can imagine a middle-aged hen night, that was us. I can say with some certainty that it is unlikely any of us will be invited to join the Sydney opera in the near future, even though, personally, I thought our attempt of several different (and really quite complex) arias was inspired.

We commenced with The Flower Duet, from the opera Lakme – more famous as the music to a British Airways advertisement from the eighties – just to gain our confidence, and finished with a female version of Nessun Dorma for our finale. I promise you, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time we finished; we were pitch perfect if a group of howling feral cats in the early stages of attracting a mate is your thing, so early booking is required.

Keeping Your Eyes Open In Middle Age

I decided recently that with my advancing years it was time to embrace some culture before it’s too late.

 

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Photo courtesy of the Opera House and Australian Ballet

For someone who believes herself to be creative in so many ways, I have always struggled with the level of intellectualism required to interpret the different art forms. Abstract art confounds me, there’s a voice in my head that tells me to fart loudly during serious classical music renditions and the theatre sends me to sleep.

 

Musical theatre, pantomime, or a good old-fashioned comedian are more up my alley -choices, I assume, that herald back to my working class roots where we cheered ourselves up with ribald humour, ostentation and revelry.

 

But I have tried to like the ballet, which is why when some girlfriends suggested a group outing to the Opera House, I jumped at the chance – even though getting tickets to the event was almost as difficult as securing tickets to Adele.

 

I didn’t ask too many questions about the performance beforehand, nor did I read the synopsis – a mistake in hindsight. I’ve seen Swan Lake a couple of times and assumed that ballet is ballet and that it would be similar in theme – you know, chocolate box scenery, skinny ballerinas with the immense discipline to resist muffins so they can contort their bodies into ridiculous poses, and men prancing around in tights.

 

But I was wrong.

 

Albeit that there were lots of men prancing around in tights, “Nijinsky” was a contemporary ballet rather than “classical’, and so stylised that it made me feel like I’d unknowingly taken some of Kurt’s illicit substances within the first ten minutes. Devoid of the comfort of coloful, schmalzy scenery, the troupe of “Australian Ballet” dancers proceeded to enact the “rise and tragic fall” of the ballet legend. Even I was able to interpret that the man had a pretty fucked-up life, which the company interpreted with lots of foot stomping, flesh slapping and rolling around – which I can fully identify with – but there were also scenes of homo-erotica, (if I’m not mistaken), and even the odd three-some.

 

At one point a group of male dancers strutted across the stage in army jackets and underpants, to be joined by Mrs Santa en pointe and I may have whispered a WTF?…so you get my drift.

 

I like to think I have an open mind and it was an interesting experience, if not completely intelligible or compelling for me personally, but the main feeling the performance invoked in me was relief that I hadn’t invited the old man, who frankly would never have forgiven me.

 

However, this is from the perspective of a self-confessed philistine whose idea of the perfect Saturday night is at the pub with a meat raffle on offer. The dancing was, judging by the enamoured audience (ie. the people who should have been there), mesmerising; the orchestra was outstanding and even I sat back in awe at the talent and passion on display. With forty or so talented members of the company and a full pit of equally talented musicians, it was better value for money than the Crowded House concert out front of the Opera House with a few prima donna band members and some stoned roadies.

 

And it opened my eyes, which is always wonderful at this stage of life, even though they were desperate to close most of the way through the show. Do I feel a better person for it? Not necessarily. But it did confirm two things: 1) to keeping trying new things and not let my age stop me, and 2) to accept it graciously when something turns out to not be my thing and put it down to experience.

There’s More To Following Your Dream Than Achieving Success…

Once a year I allow myself to cavort around Walsh Bay in dark sun glasses, high heels and Review cardie, and I try to look all luvvy and creative-like at the Sydney Writers Festival.

 

There's More To Following Your Dream Than Achieving Success
Swanky coffee shop at the Writers Festival, darling!

This is a vital part of ‘following my dream.’

 

I think I look like Tara Moss but I’m probably more Jilly Cooper.

 

I had to move heaven and earth to get to my first session this year – it can be SO tedious when the day job conflicts with my wannabe life as aspiring writer.

 

But these trips are so invaluable for keeping me motivated.  I see the Writers Festival like a sort of work ‘jolly’ – as recompense for the hours of toil I waste at my computer, (with very little to show for it). It’s like a paint sample pot worth of gold that sits close to the finish line of the symbolic rainbow in my head, that keeps me going for the rest of the year.

 

The ‘end of the rainbow’ being when I finally get something published.

Tara Moss
Tara Moss (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)

 

I may kid myself that I go to the festival to further my education, but I actually go there to pose soak up the ambience by stalking being with bonafide, successful writers and social commentators – people who have been able to justify those hours of frustration, isolation and intense misery. 

 

And the sessions never disappoint. Last year I came out a reinvigorated feminist, ready to storm the government for change and burn my bra if necessary.

 

And today was no different. By the end of the session, I had developed a renewed vigour for finishing my own book and an even greater motivation to help improve awareness about mental health issues in young people.

 

This is what culture is all about, people – enhancing your learning via the brilliance of other people.

 

With such an esteemed panel of speakers, including Steve Biddulph (who is one of my parenting gurus and Brendan Cowell, who is hot), the discussion was never going to be predictable.

 

The theme of the discussion was ‘Wild Things’, and it was about the new-found violence and sociopathic behaviour we are witnessing in 15-19 year old men today, which could be blamed on anything from changing family structures or alcohol consumption to a lack of nurture.

 

So not exactly aimed at the Bridget Jones blondies like me…

Bridget Jones, 25 year later
Bridget Jones, 25 year later (Photo credit: tripu)

 

 

But the main protagonist in my book, (whose working title remains ‘How Much Fucking Longer’) is a wild and angry young man, who lives life impulsively and is always on the edge of trouble. So as you can imagine, the session was full of new ideas to infuse into my character.

 

Can’t think who could have possibly inspired this character of mine! I must just be brilliant!

 

The panel sat on these very sexy, writer-ish chairs.

 

There's More To Following Your Dream Than Achieving Success
Very Sexy Writer-Ish Chairs!

 

And I decided there and then that I will know that I have truly made it as a writer when I am invited to the Writers Festival to discuss my award-winning and best-selling book and film, and I get to sit on an Arne Jacobsen Swan Chair.

 

And I also realised that ‘following your dream’ is not just about achieving success, or your goal or that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; it’s about having fun along the way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

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