Lisa Hill has an amazing blog promoting Australian literature. She ensures many voices are heard especially those of Aboriginal authors, also books that throw light on Australia’s shameful past.
The illegal removal of Aboriginal children is one issue that needed to be acknowledged, condemned and apologies made.
The media, politicians and public talk about The Stolen Generation but it is only through the personal narratives and explanations of the history in a book such as Cameron Raynes’, The Last Protector, the illegal removal of Aboriginal children from their parents in South Australia, that we will even begin to understand and appreciate the grave injustices visited upon Australia’s indigenous population.
Reading this book made me angry, and like other books revealing Australia’s Black history, it should make other readers angry too. The Last Protector, the illegal removal of Aboriginal children from their parents in South Australia shows that even when legislation deliberately curtailed administrative power to prevent the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, the Chief Protector in South Australia flouted those laws anyway.
Cameron Raynes is a name that may be familiar to readers: he has turned his hand to fiction and his book The Colour of Kerosene and Other Stories, and his recent YA novel First Person Shooter have been offered as giveaways on this blog. But The Last Protector arises from his PhD on what the blurb calls ‘the moral subtext’ of Aboriginal oral history, and it has the imprimatur of Julian Burnside QC who wrote in the foreword:
Room, the novel, not the recently released movie, had me hooked from the beginning. The first few intriguing pages disconcerting until I adjusted to the rhythm of the voice of the narrator, five-year old Jack – and then, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
Jack is celebrating his fifth birthday imprisoned in a room with his mother (Ma) but because he has never been outside, the room is his world, his reality. The only other living person he knows is their gaoler, Old Nick, a scary visitor in the night, but also their benefactor because he supplies food, clothes and other material needs.
Reading Room, I relived my experience with The Lovely Bones, and recently reviewedWartime Lies. I didn’t want to stop reading until the last page, and couldn’t put the book down, despite the range of emotions stirred by confronting the dark side of human nature.
One of my students gave me the novel after a discussion about the current crop of films at the local cinema this year.
‘I still haven’t finished readingThe Dressmakerbecause I saw the film first,’ I told her. ‘One of the main characters is so different in the book but I can’t get the movie out of my head.’
‘I know what you mean,’ said Betty, ‘but our bookclub read Room years ago and we’re only going to see the movie now. I’ll let you know if it’s a good representation of the book.’
‘I don’t know whether I can cope with the movie considering the subject matter,’ I said, ‘it looks like harrowing viewing, but I’ll give the book a try.’
And so I read Room by Emma Donoghue, a book shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010. A book I’d never heard of, probably because in 2010 I was too busy coping with a cancer diagnosis and adjusting to life after a mastectomy.
My choice of reading material that year escapist genre fiction and a delightful collection of short stories by seven of the best contemporary Irish writers. Afterwards, I gave Finbar’s Hotelto my surgeon to read and hope it’s still doing the rounds of a hospital ward to brighten the lives of other patients!
Since reading Room (not a book to brighten anyone’s life) I’ve discovered how controversial the book was in 2010. Apparently, you either love it or hate it. Lisa Hill, a friend and well respected reviewer is in the latter category and her adverse review can be read here.
Creative writers are pirates, we steal stories from everywhere. Characters and worlds imagined from triggers: real life experience (our own and others), casual remarks, media reports, dreams, fantasies, nightmares – you name it, we expand, embellish, push the boundaries.
The media has exposed other cases of young women and children abducted, held hostage, abused, sexually assaulted and exploited – too many heinous happenings in a society claiming culture and civilisation!
Some of these cases came to mind when I began to read Room. I understood and appreciated what the author was trying to do and applaud the courage and talent of Donoghue, writing from a child’s perspective. This originality was what probably got the book on the prize list.
I’m sure it would have been easier to write from Ma’s perspective, or even one of the relatives or officials, who appear in the second half of the novel. It must have been difficult keeping Jack’s point of view and voice.
There are instances of author intrusion and although Jack has the precociousness and maturity found in many home schoolers some observations are too adult, even if relevant and insightful.
However, I found these lapses and imperfections easy to overlook. The story is powerful.
I’m grateful for Room. Women and children in similar circumstances have been given a heartrending and memorable voice. The sad soundbites of tragic news we picture like the stories from world war two are just overwhelming tragedies until detailed in an individual life story.
The description of Jack’s suffocatingly, tiny world of a 12 foot square room. The intense love and devotion of Ma. The strangeness, adjustments and adaptions explored when freedom experienced.
How would I cope in a similar situation? What would I do? How could you maintain mental and physical health trapped in a claustrophobic room? The stirring of so many questions and thoughts.
My daughters are young women now, but I can still remember dreary days of feeling frustrated and isolated when nothing seemed to placate their bad mood or mine. How would I have coped corralled in a cell for 5 years, 7 years…and more?
Fictionalising an important narrative such as Room gives us a distance and saves our sanity. It allows empathy, sympathy and understanding without sleepless nights trying to rid ourselves of stark images of the real life horror.
Stories on the TV, Radio, and momentary newspaper headlines actually happen, but they are easily dismissed and forgotten for the next drama unless writers like Donoghue set our heart racing, move us to tears, challenge our perceptions and perspectives. Show or explain how people rebuild destroyed lives or fail to recover.
‘Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it’s over you look up, the world looks the same but you are somehow different and the feeling lingers for days’
The ingenuity of Jack’s mother is amazing, the games invented, the filling-in of time, the explanations of life within the confines of the room and then the shattering of his world when escape is planned. Jack must comprehend that the world of television does actually exist.
Ma loves Jack when she had every reason to hate or resent him. He is a constant reminder of her abuser. But he is also her comfort, her companion – her love. The bond of breastfeeding particularly poignant.
Old Nick is evil, keeping them prisoner, but he hasn’t killed them, he brings food, clothes, vitamins and even a birthday present for Jack. What are we to make of this monster/man?
Donoghue doesn’t dwell on these psychological or philosophical questions and several characters remain shadowy or stereotypical. These are left to the reader’s imagination and interpretation, along with the lingering impressions and memories all good stories leave.
Donoghue’s attention to detail, descriptions of daily life and the regular sinister visits of ‘Old Nick’ is painful and chilling reading. However, there is humour in the second half of the book as Jack adjusts to life beyond Room, and we discover the other lives disrupted when someone is abducted, presumed dead, or believed to be alive somewhere.
This is a compelling read about a disturbing and unfortunately too frequent phenomena but also about the power and persistence of a mother’s love and devotion.
The novel is structured logically and is an unusual and gripping read. I enjoyed it but I also loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, another fascinating story told in an original way, which others in my writers’ group hated. I guess liking the way stories are told is a matter of taste.
I’m glad I read Room but still haven’t made up my mind whether to see the movie!
On Saturday, February 6th, we didn’t encircle the world but we linked many parts of Melbourne CBD with giant dominoes. The outcome astounding, and as one member of the public said, ‘I’ve never seen the people in the city so happy.’
There was definitely an upbeat vibe.
The development of earth art and installation art stemmed from the idea of taking art out of the galleries. Involvement in the arts engages people in their community, improves self esteem and builds creative skills.
Dominoes was the third project funded by the amazing philanthropist, Betty Amsdenand her Participation Program determined to do just that – engage ordinary people in a creative pursuit and improve community wellbeing.
At the afterparty, a new friend Rhonda found just enough energy to do a bit of rock and roll with me when I decided to take my weary body and sore feet home! Below she greets a very hot and sweaty me at the end of the line where the last structure was being dismantled outside the Arts Centre.
Conceived and directed by UK-based Station House Opera, Dominoes was first created as a celebration to link the five host boroughs for the London Olympics Arts Festival. Dominoes takes as its starting point the simplest of ideas – a line of dominoes – and will transform the rhythm of the city for one special day.
Thousands of breezeblocks are used to create a moving sculpture, which runs through the city, unfolding over the course of the day. Occasionally disappearing from sight and then resurfacing, sometimes pausing for sculptural performances, the line of dominoes will thread its way through historic and everyday parts of Melbourne.
To make an extraordinary event like this, Arts Centre Melbourne needs literally hundreds of volunteers to help build the 2km line of dominoes with more than 7000 breezeblocks. Arts Centre Melbourne’s team is looking for about three hundred volunteers!
The day to participate arrived and the weather forecast said the day would be HOT – 32 degrees hot! Despite my Celtic pelt, menopausal weight gain, and propensity to perspire profusely once the temperature hits 30 degrees, I set off for the city with hat, sunscreen and the fervent hope I’d be assigned somewhere with shade.
Melbourne hadn’t sweltered for days like Perth, WA, but by the time I reached Flinders Street Station and commenced the short walk to the Arts Centre, the concrete pavement and city buildings oozed heat.
Tingles of trepidation building in my stomach exploded with joy when I discovered my assigned section for the day was Hamer Hall. Hurray! It was ‘next door’ to the Arts Centre, there would be easy access to toilet facilities and bliss, oh bliss, air conditioning.
I sat down with my Section 10 to hear the last minute pep and the all-important risk management talks feeling I’d won Tattslotto. I introduce myself to others: Alison, Jenny, Wei,Rhonda, Jeff, Ian, Colin …another Jeff…
Unfortunately, some volunteers did not turn up on the day. Perhaps the weather played a big part in this because the whisper said almost 20% failed to report, an unusually high number.(Organisers usually plan for 10% of volunteers failing to show.)
Regardless of the reasons, we were delayed setting off to allow a reshuffling of numbers. We lost 5 members to another section. I felt guilty not putting my hand up to swap sections but decided to be selfish – Fate had dealt me a good venue and I don’t tempt Fate.
At last, wearing our distinctive t-shirts and orange backpacks, we followed our leader Stacey to Hamer Hall where she walked us through our route and explained various roles.
The venue would be open to the public at 1.00pm so there was no time to waste unpacking the blocks from several pallets and placing them in strategic spots for the set up.
A reality check altered the picture I had of the task ahead. Our dominoes would start at the door but after moving through the building we had to build a considerable number outside to link up with those heading for the grand finale at the Arts Centre.
I wasn’t going to escape the heat entirely. And there’d be mega crowds because we were so close to the finish line. Thank goodness volunteers had distinctive T-shirts and Stacey and Lachlan, the section leaders had bright red tops.
I looked around at my fellow volunteers – mostly in their 60s like me – thank goodness we had several younger men and women too. Whoever organised the groups did well.
From the moment we started work I appreciated our friendly team and the display of commonsense, cooperation and congeniality. Although none of us had been involved in something as daring as Dominoes, most had volunteered in some capacity before. We were an eager team!
We had a lovely family with two young children. The youngest, Eliza, drowning in a much too big t-shirt while she helped me clean up the considerable amount of concrete dust that fell off each block as we manhandled them into position. Eliza held the rubbish bag open for me and was most diligent throughout the day. My little friendly shadow.
The gloves in our kits earned their keep protecting hands because with several hundred blocks to shift bare skin would have suffered. The gloves also helped our grip and although there’d been an allowance for breakages we didn’t drop one. Go team!
We emptied the first pallet of dominoes with a speed that surprised ourselves. Stacey beamed, “The way to go, Team!”
Organisation the key as we spread in even distances up the stairs and played pass the parcel with the blocks. Every 10th or 15th block left lying down just in case anyone knocked the dominoes accidentally.
Later in the afternoon outside, a little boy tested the domino theory much to his parents’ embarrassment. Jeff and Jenny fixed it in a trice. We tried to comfort the family that no harm had been done; it was all part of the unexpected fun of the day. However, we were glad only a few blocks had to be set up again.
Indoors required patience and persistence too. There were two flights of stairs, several general areas, plus the foyer. Surfaces varied:
And of course those fragile mirror walls!
The females in the group more conscious of the mess and the danger of scratching the beautiful interior surfaces. I had flashbacks to childhood:
Careful you’ll scratch that! Watch you don’t break that!
We carried the 8kilo blocks and manoeuvred them into position mindful of workplace health and safety rules and protected each other:
Lift one block at a time! Bend your knees. Mind your back! Have a rest. Let me help.
Hours disappeared as we worked ahead of schedule.
Before the expected public invasion, there was a short break for a tasty lunch delivered in brown paper carry bags by other volunteers. A salad roll, sandwiches, square of chocolate cake and an apple, plus fresh bottles of water. Volunteers from the section setting up along Southbank joined us, seeking relief in the coolness.
Outside was really hotting up. I discovered I’d missed a call from number one daughter who’d decided to pop by and say hello but couldn’t get inside the building and so went home. C’est la vie.
In the foyer, we had to leave big gaps for public access to the ticket counter. We carried on building to the bemusement of arriving staff. Anticipation and crowds building too.
We finished ahead of schedule, but knew once the signal was given we’d have little time to place the missing blocks into position. Betty Amsden‘s words rang in our ears. “Things will go wrong, but it doesn’t matter. Having fun does.”
A morale-boosting visit by Betty and Arts Centre Staff and some of the creative Station House Opera team from England reinvigorating. Lots of interesting interaction with the public and chats among volunteers fulfilled the participation aim of the project.
It was Chinese New Year, the city buzzed with visitors and locals. Some had heard of Dominoes, others were thrilled they’d chosen this day to explore Melbourne’s delights.
The Dominoes route coincided in part with the display of Chinese characters on the Crown Riverwalk:
After we’d packed up for the day I strolled along snapping as many pictures as I could but decided the year I was born, 1953, the Year of the Snake didn’t sound like it produced nice people. Oh, dear!
I put the categories in the same basket as horoscopes (horror-scopes) and clairvoyants. Negativity wasn’t going to spoil the wonderful day – one day I may check out if Celtic predictions are better!
One of the fun parts of participation was allowing young people and others to pick up the blocks and watch the surprise or glee on their faces at the weight and texture. When they were told the blocks are given away and recycled some said they’d like one, others were glad organisations were already planning to use them.
Some children were too little to pick up the blocks, but I found a way for one family to participate by suggesting two little boys use the wood packing strips to build their own domino line. While they were amused their parents took photos and learned about the project.
There was a lull in activity once our section was completed without disrupting public access too much. Jenny and I were assigned to ‘guard’ the line, particularly from cyclists cutting through to City Road. Cyclists who were supposed to dismount and who in 99.9% cases never did – even when they saw the crowd, and the blocks. Oh, dear again! (Maybe they were all born in the Year of The Snake.)
The deadline drew closer – the first domino to fall scheduled for 5.00pm, the last at 5.25pm. I wondered how the grand finale was shaping up. It seemed an incredible task to achieve in a short timeframe.
However, not only did the jobs get done but when Stacey and Lachlan announced the line had started to fall the excitement really did reach fever pitch. In fact, it all happened so quickly the 15 or so minutes it took to reach Hamer Hall seemed like seconds.
The roar of joy and anticipation as the blocks clunked and fell up the stairs to whizz past me is a few moments of drama on my mobile. And suddenly I was surrounded by a cheering, rushing, crushing scrum following the dominoes up the hill towards the Arts Centre tower.
Wow! An unforgettable adrenalin rush and an astounding success.
But for every high there is a low, what goes up must come down. In what was probably the hottest part of the day because of the build-up of heat, we began the big clean-up.
Our A-team cleaned up Hamer Hall and then some of us helped the Southbank section. It was well after 7.00pm by the time we finished but the organisers had chosen section managers well and the arduous job went smoothly.
The thank you party was in full swing when I got there and the food and bar offerings a welcome sight. I found other members of my team and watched the quick edit of the day’s events filmed by a number of volunteer film makers and photographers.
Betty thanking us again
Julian Maynard Smith thanking us
The project and the day were awesome with cheers of the volunteers and organisers reinforcing that as people recognised themselves or their venue on the screen. The artists, organisers and volunteers did a magnificent job. Betty Amsden’s vision satisfied and the city of Melbourne the winner.
As I walked over Princes Bridge towards Flinders Street Station I breathed in the smells of the city at night: coffee and delicious food from street cafes, the pungent manure and sweat from horse drawn carriages, the brake fluid and exhaust fumes from traffic, the scent of a thousand perfumes and deodorants – and my own sweat from a hard day.
Two women called me over to their table, wine glasses in hand.
How did you do it?’
How did you keep your temper.
And you were so patient!
I couldn’t do it!
You mean building the dominoes?
And keeping the crowd from knocking them over .Some people were silly…
… And pushy.
Oh, were you at Hamer Hall? Did you enjoy it?
We loved it! Wouldn’t have missed it for anything!
I’m so glad. That’s what it was all about.
I continued on, until amidst the cacophony of traffic and revellers I heard the haunting yet uplifting sound of Indian music. Was it the Hare Krishnas? An advert for a show or other celebration?
I peeped over the bridge to Southbank and spent a few minutes absorbing the tranquillity of the River Yarra and the joy of living in multicultural Melbourne.
We live in a wonderful city and when I think of the many trouble spots throughout the world we are truly blessed.
The first half of the film shows the dominoes making their way from the Port of Melbourne through Footscray, Brighton, Toorak, Richmond, Fitzroy and laneways in the CBD to the beginning of the live route at Melbourne Town Hall. The second half features the live event on 6 February. Logistically, they couldn’t capture footage of each and every block that fell, but the film brings back some of the thrills (and spills) of the day!
The film credit goes to:
by Station House Opera
Presented by Arts Centre Melbourne
Project III of the Betty Amsden Participation Program
Last post, I wrote about the joy of being involved and participating in a public art project. The ability of art to change mindset, bring people together, create happiness.
This project designed to connect us with the issue of homelessness and the people who are homeless – challenge our beliefs and in many ways misconceptions of who the homeless are, why they are homeless and how they live.
Over nine in ten Australians, across all states and territories, are receptively engaging with the arts by attending arts events or reading… more people in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland agree that the arts make for a richer and more meaningful life.
Yesterday, I added excitement to my life by rehearsing for an engaging celebration of public participation in the arts, which will take place next Saturday. The UK performance company, Station House Opera, will bring Melbourne to a standstill as a 2km chain of more than 7000 giant dominoes will snake through the city. This will be the first time an interactive domino show has been held outside Europe
Dominoes takes as its starting point the simplest of ideas—a line of dominoes—and will transform the rhythm of the city for one special day. Thousands of breezeblocks are used to create a moving sculpture, which runs through the city, unfolding over the course of the day. Occasionally disappearing from sight and then resurfacing, sometimes pausing for sculptural performances, the line of dominoes will thread its way through historic and everyday parts of Melbourne.
It will be fantastic to see our line of dominoes start at the Town Hall, snake and fall through iconic buildings like St Paul’s Cathedral and the Nicholas building, but also go underground at Flinders Street Station, across the Yarra River via the footbridge, and eventually end at the Arts Centre.
Enthusiastic Arts Centre staff involved with The Betty Amsden Participation Programhave been planning the event for months. Betty was there yesterday to thank the 300 volunteers and encourage us all to have fun and make new friends. The fund she has created to celebrate the creativity in us all, one of those generous gifts that keep giving.
I saw parts of the Arts Centre I didn’t know existed when we went outside to practise setting up the blocks, in an area aptly named Testing Grounds. An hour disappeared quickly as we were shown how to ‘pack’ the dominoes onto uneven surfaces, check their balance and to judge the correct distance to enable them to fall in the direction required.
Storage area too
A variety of structures will be built to add to the spectacle. Volunteers are divided into: builders (those who set up and dismantle the blocks), guardians (the protectors of the structure before the 5pm start) and promoters (people explaining to the public what the project is about).
The volunteers will be in groups of 20 with section managers keeping us on track. There will be members of the public annoyed at their day being disrupted, but from past experience, most will be caught up in the anticipation and joy of the event. In the cinema or engrossed in a good book we enter another world, suspend disbelief – next Saturday we want the city to embrace and participate in One Day, One Line of Dominoes.
We set up blocks twice – the second time much quicker than the first. Practice does indeed make perfect. How we cheered at achieving the ‘right’ result without any major mistakes. Everyone helping each other, chatting about the aim, aware we were part of something special – a variety of generations, cultural backgrounds, experienced volunteers and newbies.
Saturday, February 6 will be a long day, but totally worth it. I’m looking forward to being part of a once-in-a-lifetime event. I played traditional dominoes as a child, and it was one of my Mother’s favourite games. She bought all her grandchildren a domino set and they have fond memories playing with Nana. This is a fun extension – who wouldn’t want to play with giant blocks?
I’m sure there will be inspiration and stories to write – certainly plenty of characters to note – this is Melbourne, after all.
Melbourne art scene has lots of opportunities for volunteering, and participating in a project like this enriches your life.
For a smashing start to the New Year join us. Have a large dose of arts therapy and release your inner child. As the well-known song tells us, ‘the best things in life are free‘.