I have almost resigned myself to the fact that I may never more be inclined to write another story, nor to record local history events. I am afraid that, like my mother foresaw in her later years, there comes a time in one’s life for ‘The end of stories‘.
The rapid onset of this COVID-19 pandemic has, I suspect, accelerated a change in attitude toward the telling of stories … and where once I would write of characters from a recent past generation, using storylines of a recent past era and with a style of the “author as objective observer” … such a genre and style is now also of a thing past … the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions have created a population, I believe, that has shrunk more inside itself … become more insular, more introverted … where once I would describe my style of writing as “they and those” … now there is more a demand for “me and thee” … the author now more a “subjective participator” in the story itself, becoming a central character themselves and the reader, vicariously joining with the author in a kind of “identity persona” in the plot and storyline.
Mind you, I doubt the passing of Joe Carli as author will create even the slightest ripple in the calm mill-pond of Aust’ literature, but what is happening here is a bigger picture event … I believe we are witnessing a decline in cultural renovation that begun with such cinematic classics as Sunday too Far Away on through to the cheekily arrogant Crocodile Dundee and a host of Art-House delights in Indigenous films that demonstrated a rising confidence in risk-taking in the Arts … But now we are seeing that risk-taking that is the proving-ground of cultural confidence being wound back and mainly “safe-house” genres of performance and bottom-line payables are being considered … a tragedy in itself.
It’s the price we pay with conservative governments holding the purse-strings of artistic development … conservatives who most likely have little artistic imagination beyond a mental picture of ANY art other than that metaphoric Nordic ‘fat-lady-sings’.
I have been challenged many times to describe what exactly is Aust’ culture … and of course there is this perception that there really is no solid foundation that can be called “national cultural identity” … I disagree … after all, I grew up amongst it … and like all national cultures, you can’t really pin it down to an absolute … to point a finger at something and say; “THIS” is Oz culture .. because it is a “moveable feast” as Hemmingway described Parisian society back in the 1920s … and you can read of it in Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas … but Oz culture is there all around us in the cynical strine of the rebellious individual against conservative social structures … the “won’t take shit” confrontation of both vulgar boganism and wry intellectual witticism of the clever wordsmith … We see it in Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter and in common front-bar repartee ..
A bloody excellent example of the latter was Gough Whitlam’s sudden interjection at a Town Hall meeting to Sir Winton Turnbull (a Victorian MHR) who was raving and ranting on an adjournment and shouted ‘I am a Country member’ … Whitlam interjected with; “I remember” … Which brought the house down!
It is this singular style of twisting the language from straight comprehension to sardonic irony … that is inherent in every dialect and ethnicity … but has been given freedom of expression in this expansive, wide-open country that (ought to and once DID) allows broad interpretation to both logic and lies with neither fear nor favour and has the ability to liven the conversation in any room. This freedom of idiosyncratic, laconic expression is the foundation of many iconic stories and displays in book or audio/visual art … Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series springs to mind, as does Russell Drysdale’s The Cricketer, with the stark image of the individual batsman lighted against the imposing backdrop of the huge structure there … truly a contrast of determination against odds in a lonely landscape … likewise a short story I remember of Peter Carey’s “The Windmill in the West” … and that hilarious song by The Tennants; You Shit Me to Tears … of the individual battling a lonely vigil against seeming impossible odds .. yet battling on … a central theme in many Lawson stories like Water them Geraniums … and I would like to think that I too in my own humble way, have carried on with that tradition … strength of character vs. imposing power of the seeming inevitable.
But now things have changed … that window of voyeurism on the past has shut and a new window brought about by the immediacy of confrontation of both COVID-19 pandemic and a distinct change in social confrontations of extreme politics and gender issues … neither of which allow contemplative reflection on history. In my case of “where to from here?” … I cannot find a sympathetic connection to a rising generation that places “self” at centre and “them” on the outer with accusatory condemnation … for there seems so much injustice in our immediate vicinity, that there must be at least someone to blame, even if that someone is a closest companion … Myself … call me old fashioned … but I like to sling my arrows of accusation at that old bogeyman; the conservatives … after all, their style of stubborn refusal to admit even ethnicity into their comically insular environments gives opening for any number of ‘taking the piss’ moments.
So I have to accept that a rising generation that is more inclined to demand that the 1st person singular be central to plot and character, has little interest in a broader picture of the wider complexities of work and the outside world around them … truly, the vicissitudes of life that were once grist for the “mill of life” of a hardy pioneer generation have now become a means of income for a legion of New-Age therapists servicing the vainglory of a materialist/consumerist society …
And good luck with all that!
PS: The title for this piece comes from a O’Henry story about a couple of shady characters seeking vainly for the blend of salubrious ingredients for a cocktail of accidental mixing that created an alcoholic elixir of sublime delight … worth a read …
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