Scott Rankin, 2018 Australian of The Year for Tasmania, 15 November 2018
RAE FRANCES: Welcome everybody. My name's Rae Frances. I'm the Dean of the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Australian National University, just up the road and I've been given the wonderful job today of introducing this session.
But of course before I start talking about our speaker and musician today I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered here today on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. And it's particularly important I think that we acknowledge them here in the National Museum of Australia which as you all will have seen the byline is where our stories come alive. And this land is of course where Indigenous Ngunnawal stories have been coming alive for countless generations. So we see the Museum as the inheritor of this incredibly rich tradition. So with that in mind I pay my respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal people past and present and emerging and particularly acknowledge any other First Nations people who might be joining us this afternoon. And I'd also like to acknowledge the staff from the National Museum of Australia who do such a great job in putting on these public events.
And it's a great pleasure I think to enjoy to introduce our speaker today who's the first in what we hope will be an ongoing collaboration in public talks between the Centre for Heritage and Museums Studies at the National Museum. And we have the director Professor Laura Jane Smith with us today and the National Museum of Australia. And the ANU really values its many collaborations with the National Museum particularly its public lecture partnerships with the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies.
And this promises I think to be a particularly fruitful relationship. And I can't think of a better person to launch this series than our speaker today, Scott Rankin. As I'm sure you all know Scott is the CEO of arts and activism organisation Big hART. Scott has a long track record as an arts activist working with disadvantaged communities to bring about social justice and generational change. His organisation Big hART collaborates with communities across the nation to tell their untold stories in ways that affirm their experiences so you can see what a fantastic feat he is for the National Museum. He helps define their aspirations and activate change. And he's been doing this for over 25 years. Inspired originally by the challenges presented by the closure of the Burnie paper mill in Tasmania, Big hART's long-term collaborations with communities have developed compelling projects and performances as well as positive social impacts and earned it international acclaim and 45 major awards, projects like 'Acoustic Life of Sheds' bringing music and refresh distinction to deserted rural sheds and project 'O' which empowers young rural women through workshops and epic art events to counter family violence. Big hART also won national acclaim for ‘Namatjira’, a multi-arts campaign resulting in the copyright for Albert Namatjira’s paintings going back to his family and an expansive ongoing eight year partnership with the Roebourne Aboriginal community in the Pilbara and Scott was just telling me about a recent event in Fremantle associated with that project.
Scott Rankin was selected as the 2018 Australian of The Year for Tasmania, In recognition of his contributions as a theatre director, writer and arts charity leader. Now I'm going to speak as in my former role as a member of the Council of the National Museum where it's especially nice I think to see the way in which the Museum engages with major events in the Australian cycle across the year. And one of those events is the Australian of The Year Awards and it works with the organisation that runs those events to put on exhibitions each year featuring objects nominated by the finalists in the Australian of The Year award. And obviously I love museums and I love objects and I was intrigued to see what Scott's objects might be. So I'm just going to indulge myself by telling you a little bit about his two objects.
One of them was a set of pocket-sized miniature manuals full of ideas for running workshops and creating projects, an obvious thing given his background in community arts projects. But the other object is a model Chinese junk which symbolises his childhood home. He grew up on an unlicensed Chinese junk in Lane Cove River along with his parents, his two sisters, his grandmother and two ducks. And I think that childhood together with his great sense of artistic freedom has produced the incredibly generous and imaginative person that Scott is today. And it also, I think, has given him an acute sensitivity to the politics of culture of who gets to decide culture, who gets to invest in it, whose stories get to be told. And I think that's what's … he might contradict me. I'm only making all of this up but my reading of him is that that background has led him to his career in activism and to his most recent foray into this discussion paper that he's going to be talking about today. The discussion paper is titled ‘Cultural justice and the right to thrive’. And I'm not going to pre-empt what he's going to say. I'm going to let him speak for himself in a few moments but in the meantime we have a treat before us. Scott likes to do things artistic-led he explained to me just before this session. So before Scott gets up to talk about his work and his projects it's my other great pleasure to introduce a musician. So Mikelangelo will be opening the proceedings today. And he's a Canberra boy, born and grew up in Canberra and he spent 25 years touring around Australia and across the world solo and with his group The Black Sea Gentlemen. He's worked with Big hART on the Blue Angel Project and on Project Cosmopolitana. So please join me in welcoming Mikelangelo to perform for us.
MIKELANGELO [SINGS]: There's a truck that runs up to the ghost of the hut I used to call my home.
And many a year under moonlight clear my sins I did atone.
Down below the winds still blow, the clouds still roll along.
Up here you need two overcoats, fire, whiskey and a song.
Well the men out-number six to one.
The women here are fair and young.
Will she dance or will she run to another love.
The working girls, they bring them in.
You kiss their lips you taste their skin.
Then they take them away again.
There's no more time for fun.
Oh the working day goes on and on, no matter where you’re coming from.
The pick, the shovel and the pelican.
Count out the wages song.
La la la la, la la la, la la.
When I quit my drinking.
And when I mend my way.
I will hold my head high, my heart will be free to sing another song.
And when the working day is done.
Dust is in your throat and lungs.
You're dreaming of your sweetheart's arms.
As you sing the wages song.
Yes the working day is never done.
La la la la la, la la la la.
The wages song.
You sing the wages song.
La la la la, la la.
So … when I first … before I met Scott. I first saw Scott on a panel at APAM in Adelaide, the Australian or Australasian Performing Arts Market. He's on a panel with a bunch of people from various funding bodies including the Australia Council and he was in the process of disagreeing with them and telling them they were spending their money very poorly.
And I don't know any artists who ever does that. At those sort of events you're trying to seem like a confection that would be a lovely thing for people to buy because that's, that seems to be the role of artist to be like a really good dog, when you're in that situation and behave well. And I straightaway thought ‘I like this guy’ and then as I listened further he didn't ostracise them.
They were in fact agreeing with him and I thought ‘Wow this guy is not only witty and has a wisdom but he actually has the power to speak in such a way that he can appeal to people while disagreeing with him’ and I thought, ‘Well, great’.
And then I didn't see him again for years but …
But then our fates became intertwined. When my long-term group the Black Sea Gentlemen were thinking about why it is that a group name that would have ended up in Australia let alone Canberra and we thought ‘This is a little hole in our fantasy history and how can we tie that up nicely with something that is from reality’ and we thought, ‘Well clearly when we had to flee Europe to escape with our lives we ended up in Australia working on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme’ and then simultaneously there was a, there was little manifestations at South East Arts with Lindy Hume and Andrew Grey and others and Scott talking about ‘Wouldn't it be an interesting project to actually make a work and a community outreach program connecting with all the old or, or dying migrants from that area that are part of the Australian story’. So we came together and worked on that project which was a delight and a project in which I met my future wife. So I have to thank you. Scott spent better part of a million bucks getting us together so thanks for that, but I've got a lot of good to say for this guy.
So that was a great project. And you know for me personally it was interesting and I grew up in Canberra with a Croatian dad and an English mum. They're sitting there in row six and Dad's on his phone. Thanks Dad. Oh no, he’s taking photos, it's fine. He'll be showing you photos of me afterwards, in case you forget what I look like. But anyway they met at a Ukrainian dance — Mum couldn't understand a word Dad said. But she said it was more interesting than all the other guys. And now I think it's coming up on your 52nd wedding anniversary. Well you can applaud if you like. Yeah I wouldn't be here without them. So thanks. Good work you two.
But their story was similar to so many stories we discovered of migrants and refugees that fled war-torn Europe to come here for a new life not dissimilar to what people do now yet are put on islands and in prison. But that's another story we'll go into.
It was nice to celebrate that time in Australia when because we needed people, we accepted them into here but perhaps we need them now more than we think to expand our horizons.
This is actually Scott's platform paper not mine. So I'm going to sing you another song and get off the stage. The Black Sea Gentlemen ... another part of the generosity of Big hART and Scott was that the group wrote a whole album and more material some of which was used in the show Ghosts in the scheme. But we made our own album after the flood that we went on to then tour with our own version of that show and completely with their blessing and you know I've never worked with a record label that was so good about that. We actually came up with a whole body of work, thanks to them, that became a new outpouring for our group. So yeah it was … that song I played was called ‘The Wages Song’ and this next one's also off the After the flood album and it's called 'The sun will shine in'.
Into the great vault I go — I don't want to.
Last week I saw poor Josef lose both his legs.
Well all the king's horses and all the king's men, they can't put him back together again.
I see him before my eyes when I go down below.
I wake up in darkness.
I work all day in darkness. I go to sleep in darkness. I know one day the sun will shine in.
If Father could see me now. He'd be so sorry. He told me not to come to this place.
Well down here nobody calls me Alexander, and the food just tastes like dirt.
I miss my mother and my sisters every day.
I wake up in the darkness. I work all day in darkness. I go to sleep in darkness, but I know one day the sun will shine in.
[SINGING IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE]
I wake up in darkness. I work all day in darkness. I go to sleep in darkness. But I know that one day, one day the sun will shine in. Yes, the sun will shine in. Let it shine, shine, shine.
SCOTT RANKIN: Go for it.
Here, you can use my mic. We'll make it a sort of a ‘bro love’, man.
MIKELANGELO: Ladies and gentlemen [kiss sound] Scott Rankin!
SCOTT RANKIN: Thanks, Mikel. Thanks very much for being here. It's going to make quite a difference. Just a couple of things I want to add my thanks to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people for their work here and I want to just say, say it in a certain kind of way and that is that we're in this great building and I was coming in and looking at the new Roman exhibition and those things and I just thinking about the stories and leading with the art with Mikel and having his parents here. If we think back to settler ... you know early settlers, it's ten generations ago and it's been, you know, a remarkable thing. If we then maybe think back beyond that to some of the greats from the canon that we love to, you know, have front and centre in our culture and we think of William Shakespeare, that's sort of 20 generations ago and it's all good.
If we think beyond that to the start of one of the world's great religions on the shores of Galilee with a bit fishing and a bit of carpentry, that was one hundred generations ago. The exhibition out the front here, that's on the, on the boarding with the Roman, the Roman Empire that was 200 generations ago. In between their ancient … the ancient pyramids. I think it's one hundred and thirty one generations ago. And the people who've looked after this country and have done so with remarkable cultural diplomacy and remarkable ecological stewardship, that's very advanced globally, is 2400 generations and it's a tremendous thing just to see it in context — the land that we're on and the reason for the thanks.
Those thanks also need to be extended out to, to Rae for her kind words and to point you to the collateral here, very important institution. And thanks very much Professor for your work and to Maya for your long studies and the invitation to come and join in here. And I could go on. I will extend to the National Gallery of Australia where we've done some great projects over the years and also do our residency at the Canberra Theatre Centre. Over nearly a decade where some of this material has had its outing, its first outing and it's been a very trusting relationship as we brought, you know, semi-made works to put on there and they helped us to, to get them ready for the rest of the country, so thanks very much.
Just leading into this in careful ways — because the Namatjira project was mentioned, I just will if it's okay with you and some of you might be on our socials so you'll be getting word that one of the great men in that family out of respect not using his name that Kumantjayi Namatjira who was in the show and the documentary, passed away a week ago almost a year to the day after Kumantjayi, his sister Namatjira passed away just after getting the copyright back. So this talk is dedicated to them and their remarkable courage and their story. And because there's really great brains in the room two things I want to speak from notes to make the best use of your time. And secondly I just want to point out that we're talking about cultural justice and that we're doing that in nine or ten different ways around the country. Yes we are in four places — five places, there are Aboriginal people from different communities who are with us that we are speaking alongside of. There are times when it's like today, it's Mikel and some justice around diversity. There's young people and children, there's men and women and we're speaking launching in a prison, we're launching in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, we're launching in parliament. So we're trying to say this is not just something for a metropolitan area and it's not just for one group but the issue of cultural justice is critical and we all need to participate in that and not be frightened to participate in it.
With that in in mind because of the sensitivities of being part of a settler culture if you have the question when I talk about Roebourne and some of the Aboriginal work. Allery Sandy who's a senior Yindjibarndi woman has a letter on my phone just giving me permission in case you want to check in on that when she can't be here. So she's doing some of the launches. I mean her family's doing some of the launches. So maybe we'll dive in with a video, just to give you a bit of context in case you don't know much about Big hART, it's two minutes and then I'll get, you know, a bit edgy with the words.
This is where we live, this is our hometown. This is where we come from.
The importance of the children being involved in this project. There is this intergenerational way of passing on information.
Tapping into the magic desire the community for good things. That's what we’re privileged to be part of.
It's time that our voices are raised. And the people to raise their voices are the new wave of women coming through.
SCOTT RANKIN: So we're using some of Big hART's work to illustrate what I think is a critical time for us as a country and for anyone interested in culture. Cultural justice and the right to thrive.
As Tim Rogers, that sexy string bean slightly manic frontman of the band from the 90s You Am I is inclined to say to his fellow trio of musicians just before he launches into his first jangly guitar riff: 'Alright people let's get to work'. And I work mostly as a playwright and that's what it is — it's work like anything else — shipwright, you make ships. Wainwright, you make wheels. Playwright, you make plays and we've got some work to do today, Luke. You ready? Excellent. So, a few hundred years ago when the craft of being a playwright was in its ascendancy, the horse was also in its ascendancy in the modern world.
The horse was so central to life that it came to be used as a name, a measure of power — ‘A 150 horsepower Merc I'm going to get one ... you know I'm going to get a 75 horsepower jet-ski’ etc. It was the symbol for the landed gentry, it drove agriculture and industry and it was absolutely critical to the development of what we think of as the modern world. It was ubiquitous and it was impossible to imagine that it may one day lose its central status. Today however the horse, apologies to Peter, the horse has been relegated to a novelty, a hobby for the middle class with a strange dress code for Saturday mornings at the pony club. The predicament for the arts in the West is similar. So I'm taking the piss out of me as well, Peter. There's a very good horseman here.
I had no idea he was coming, I would have chosen a different metaphor.
The rise of common democracy globally and the tsunami of mass culture that has swept over the arts as they were then and changed everything. And just like the horse, the arts are largely now seen as recreational. The occasional Picasso flat pack blockbuster might be coming down the road here and breathe life into some metropolitan hotel bed sales at the Realm or the Burberry or whatever. And you know the premier or the arts minister will look, look up and say, ‘Gee, we better get a bit more of the arts — they're helping the economy’. But that's about it. These days it's easier to talk about beauty in the context of soccer, the ‘beautiful game’, than it is to mention beauty or truth in the context of art. Yet our cultural ministries nationally fund the arts as if nothing has changed. And dare I say, you can groan if you wish, they could perhaps be backing the wrong horse. Don't get me wrong — this heritage work can and should be funded but just not out of the arts budget because the arts are far more thrilling now and alive than that. And in this time of massive global creativity and the blossoming of participation there is an excitement in the air that I think we're missing.
I'm going to show you some of that excitement now in the form of a new piece which is controversial — which is dividing people — which is made in a four year process on one of Australia's incredible traditions that's been held by the Ngarluma People and Yindjibarndi People. And this is straight out of the cutting room. It's called Tjaabi. It's a song form of the Pilbara. They're short sung haiku that comes upon the person who keeps that song and it's with complete permission of Allery Sandy and with Patrick Churnside who you'll see doing the show. It's being made to crossover in an intercultural way to theatres around the country and I don't want you, for you to think for a second that I'm pitching this work in front of you now. Here it is: Tjaabi, the work of Patrick Churnside, an incredible singer and Australian artist.
[SPOKEN WORD IN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE]
Let me tell you about my country [inaudible] — come with me, I’ll show you what it’s really about. Our borders are written in song. Where one song finishes, another one starts. And tonight! We can travel, see — over country, in song. Big circle … [inaudible]
[SINGING IN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE]
[Inaudible] My country. Can’t change the past, but I have my own songs now … [inaudible] my story.
[SINGING IN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE]
No I can’t go through [inaudible] … I’m holding an imaginary song. My song, see? [Inaudible] I can’t explain it [inaudible].
[SINGING IN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE]
Mother’s blood splashed on a wall. That little boy — he’s hiding, see?
[SINGING IN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGUE]
[Inaudible] It’s for death … [inaudible]
[SINGING IN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE]
[Inaudible] Against the white fella [inaudible] our medicine [inaudible]
This next tjaabi … celebrate Jiwarli People … our heroes [inaudible]
Strength is in language. Strength is in culture. Strength is in our law. Strength … [inaudible]
[SINGING IN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE]
SCOTT RANKIN: We have to be careful I think, thank you, we have to be careful I think when we talk about culture because what we talk about displaces something else that we may want to talk about and I think this country is waiting to speak to all of us. And I just want to go back for a moment to the beginning of culture if you like. So 13.8 billion years ago, the ‘great nothingness’ was pregnant with possibility and then there was a big bang; 4.5 billion years ago, our sun and solar system began to glow. Two hundred thousand years ago our species began and we could measure down right through to the present day. And against this timeframe, if we're lucky, a human being will live for about 720,000 hours. The 150,000 will be spent in nappies and on trikes and that kind of thing. The last 150,000 hours will be spent possibly in nappies and you know and in, in wheelchairs and all kinds of things as we make our way out of our time on earth. We'll spend about 200,000 hours sleeping and that leaves us at about 2200 hours at the height of our human powers to sit and worry about things like how little time we've got. So thanks so much for being here. This is an hour you'll never get back. I'm just claiming it for myself.
Carl Jung put it like this that ‘Life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries that in the end are one’. I love that quote. One of the tools we use to work through this luminous mystery is a thing called culture. We gather up iconic mythological clues from the past and we combine them with our aesthetic experiences of the luminous present and we use this heady brew to imagine possible meanings and possible futures. And all these collective explorations are put together and become a thing that you could call, like Edward Said called culture. We then get quite protective of our version of culture and start to politely shove it down the throat of others around us as the best and brightest expression of this luminous life. And in the book on page five it talks about John Kerry is quoted as saying, ‘The assumption that Western culture represents the best that has been said and thought implicitly devalues other cultures’.
In a post-imperial world this is no more than a racially tinged absurdity. So let's stop for a minute and look at one iconic example of Western culture. Shakespeare's much-loved Hamlet. Hamlet is constructed out of about 31,000 words. Ophelia is given about a thousand of them. The root of the name Ophelia is it comes from the same word as a veil — to avail — to be available. In the play, her lover, her father and her brother all avail themselves of her in different ways. And they rob her of her agency. This iconic character ends up dead by suspected suicide in a creek, portrayed as a victim. So at the heart of iconic Western culture is a picture of the availability of young women for the needs of men, written by a man we consider to be great, which paints young women as powerless. No one in this iconic fictional work saw Ophelia for who she was. They didn't know her story and she was drawn as damaged and she took her life. Perhaps Shakespeare was being brilliant and he was sounding a kind of a cultural warning way back then.
Or perhaps he was being lazy and reinforcing a stereotype, I'm not sure. But Ophelia remains powerful in our culture influencing other aspects of Western culture. What I'm arguing in this paper, published by Currency Press and apparently not available in the bookshop yet because the box of books is lost somewhere but that we have your email address — see us afterwards — is that culture is not trivial. It's far from recreational or elitist or optional. Culture is not benign. It's a powerful narrative contagion that binds us together. Because of the power of culture we need to pay attention to it and be vigilant about everyone's rights. Not for the few, not for the many, but for all because if we don't it can be used against sections of society demonising them or rendering their story invisible and citizenry vulnerable.
Culture is a right and it sits within the international rights agenda. Culture is as essential, I'm saying, to our government as clean water, electricity, education and health. It's not a hobby for the middle class. It's not just something to soak up our disposable income. It's not a balm for this anxiety of the status junkie. And we shouldn't let it be hijacked for dog whistling by politicians or by shock jocks. We have to be careful. Because cultural rights ensure that we can be visible in our community, our society and in the decision making that determines the futures, we have to be careful. Cultural justice upholds our right to resilience — our right to thrive.
The fictional character of Ophelia did not thrive. She killed herself. This year in Australia a high school worth of young people will kill themselves. Twenty thousand others will try and they'll fail. And they'll fail mainly because they didn't have the right information. Perhaps paying attention to the cultural rights of young people, especially those on the margins, has never been more critical than now. Big hART is an organisation that loves to work in these domains and we use the phrase — we've been taught to use the phrase by these communities — that ‘It's harder to hurt someone if you know their story’. Story in all its myriad forms is how we see each other.
How we imagine what it's like to walk in another person's shoes, another generation's shoes, another nation's shoes. If you're not visible, you can be easily hurt or damaged or demonised and discarded. I'd like to widen it out a little bit and look at another phrase from Edward Said that he uses this phrase ‘Nations are themselves narrations’. And if through a deliberate act or cultural policy or deliberate cultural manipulation of the story, one group loses their inclusion in the narrative, in the narration that is the nation, they lose a natural protection. In fact they lose the primary protection of cultural visibility. Cultural policy then has a critical role in upholding natural forms of primary prevention in the everyday life of our society. If we see young women in rural communities, in any community, as more than Ophelia — if we can see them for who they are and all that they can be, violence against women will decrease. If you work in a nursing home and you can see beyond the translucent skin of an elderly person to the story of them when they were a farmer or a scientist or a professor or a lover, they are less likely to become the victim of the slow genocides that we're witnessing. If we can see that the vast majority of the adult prison population suffer from undiagnosed speech pathologies and literacy deficiencies, then the commercial industry based on, on prison flesh would change drastically.
This position paper argues that cultural justice ensures this primary prevention is there for all of us and we all have the right to a future in which we are safe. And I think safety is being … being used for dog whistling in the run up to certain elections in this country. For this reason the way we talk about culture must be kept broad and participatory rather than exclusive and passive. Cultural policy should focus on the web of participatory relationships rather than the commodities to buy and sell or, dare I say it, even talking of the creative industries. Culture is not just heritage or icon. It is the evolving meaning and mythmaking that gives rise to heritage and icons. Therefore heritage should be part of the cultural funding mix but it should not be the preoccupation of it. One fundamental thing that places like Roebourne … Iremugadu where Tjaabi was being staged there and where it's been generated, one fundamental thing that First Nations people are trying to share with settler cultures is that culture is the whole of life and this is strong cultural policy.
Because if we see culture as the whole of life we create the opportunity to de-silo other social policy areas; to de-silo education, to de-silo early childhood, to de-silo community safety and juvenile justice and post-traumatic stress and health and in turn we can unshackle the arts from its poor pathetic silo. In effect, this releases the arts as a tool of culture into new relevance across a whole-of-life social policy. And in turn, dare I say it, releases cross-portfolio funding for the arts that can unshackle us from the Australia Council. How do I know this can work?
Because Big hART has raised over 50 million dollars for disadvantaged communities using this approach and less than nine percent of the 50 million has come from arts funding state, federal or local. The Australia Council says, ‘We will adapt the way we invest in the arts to increase our impact and become more open and reflective of evolving arts practice’. Now I'm not sure this is true. Actually I think the majority of the arts dollar is spent on reinforcing the primacy of certain art forms and repertoire from pre-industrial Europe. It is the equivalent of the Australian Navy saying, ‘We will be open and reflective of evolving naval practice and then patrolling our borders in sailing ships like the New Endeavour’.
I forgot I wrote that — it's funny ... and I'm just changing the metaphor, Peter, from the horse because I quite like horses. The Australia Council has clung to an approach which has its origins in design and assumptions in a world that's pre-GFC, pre-digital, pre-mobile phone, pre-9/11, pre-Holden Commodore, at a time when Beta and VHS were battling it out for supremacy in our lounge rooms. I kind of feel an elephant entering the room could be large ... no it's an elephant. So let me just read ... so 28 major performing arts board companies received 62 per cent of Australia Council funding totalling 109.1 million, an average of 3.9 million per MPA. Five hundred and ninety small to medium sized organisations share funding of 54.3 which is an average of 90,000 per organisation, for the year. Where is the most urgent need for cultural justice, funding and support in our country? I would say Aboriginal Australia. Of the 28 major performing arts companies who receive 62 per cent of the arts funding available from the Australia Council, how many are Indigenous? One. Bangara. That is structural racism and it must be fixed.
There are four point five — I hope it's okay for me to speak like this — I haven't met the gentleman in the front here. There are 4.3 million people with a disability in our country. The Australia Council funding for people with a disability sits at just 1.3 million dollars a year. This is cultural injustice and it must be fixed. But I want to point out that this then, because of voicing it like that, this is not so much an issue of funding, it's an issue of priorities. The Australia Council currently states that its priority areas are First Nations people, children and young people, people with a disability, regional and remote communities and cultural diversity. It is this small to medium sector that get almost no funding that do the grunt work for diversity, First Nations, disability, regional and remote. And yet their funding is continually squeezed. So someone is not telling the truth to the public.
Ben Eltham has pointed out in 2014–15, the small to medium companies audience reach with 6.87 million while the major companies reach was 3.37 million — less than half. Major companies collectively receive a subsidy of 31 dollars per audience member, and small to mediums, while delivering twice the audience numbers receive $3.36 per audience — nine times the subsidy for half the impact. Now I'm not suggesting this is an ‘either/or’ proposition.
And we have to be careful about speaking like this. The MPAs deserve funding providing they innovate and put cultural justice front and centre in their practice. They deserve it if they reflect the diversity of the community in content and seek treatment for their European heritage addiction, well fund them to share their halls and resources and IP with prisoners and refugees. And fund them to deliver their main program in regional centres. Justice, equity, inventiveness, creativity, reach, scale, process, accessibility, participation: these things need to sit alongside other kinds of virtuosity and sure, put it alongside the occasional piece of heavenly heritage. The MPAs’ funding allows them to employ small teams of fundraising professionals to trawl for sponsorship and philanthropic funds through every sector of society. They are like mega trawlers scouring the funding ocean and leaving nothing for those smaller companies who can't afford funding departments yet are doing the hard yards in terms of equity, access, justice and artistic development and those priorities for the Australia Council. Using precious arts dollars to fund this kind of cultural candy is like using health dollars to fund obesity.
Just thought I'd say that. Now these are not abstract concepts. Cultural visibility is critical and urgent because life and death issues are amplified in our country by cultural injustice. Fifty one point eight per cent of the children locked up today in our country are Aboriginal. One hundred per cent currently in the Northern Territory. Is this the Australia we want for our grandchildren? Real estate — 20 per cent of the Australian population own one and a half times the real estate of the other 80 per cent of the population combined. Is that the country that the Anzacs fought for? Traditional owners in this country who have fought for two centuries for their culture and their community and their country and their language are invisible in our great halls and our galleries and our civic monuments and in our curriculum.
And therefore they are invisible in the hearts and minds of many children and many of our grandchildren. And this is a form of slow cultural genocide perpetuated by poor cultural policy settings.
I'd like to show you another video. Have we got time? Yeah, okay. We'll show you this. It's from Roebourne again, Iremugadu in the Pilbara. And it is a place of great urgency for good cultural policy. It's a place where First Nations people play out … their future plays out in the proximity of first world companies — massive global companies. The ‘Roe’ in the word ‘Roebourne’ which is that … the new name for Iremugadu is, comes from Septimus Roe, who was a settler and a magistrate and who was at the centre of blackbirding and slave trading and massacres early in the life of the town. It's on Ngarluma country, which is the country where Yindjibarndi man — we have permission to use his name — John Pat died in custody aged 16. And that triggered the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody when there was some community riots. The Royal Commission made 337 recommendations.
We haven't yet seen ... we've seen hardly any of those recommendations put into place. Roebourne has been demonised by the country, by the narration that is creating our nation — it's used in the press and it's seen as a place of conflict only. And yet it's a very beautiful place. It's a place of deep culture, of high Aboriginal culture. Last month the community staged a concert called Songs for Peace and it's based on months of songwriting workshops in the Roebourne prison and in the community.
And it was staged next to a peace garden which has been constructed with the Pat family, as a peaceful place for members of the family to sit and as a legacy for John's passing. And it's been part of an eight year project which has involved more than 2000 workshops, created 40 short films, hundreds of positive media stories, a documentary, two theatre shows, the Peace Garden and now every year the community as a gesture to Australia is staging Songs for Peace. And they want to do it for at least five years and it's to become a centre for discourse around peace in this country as a legacy to John and his family and what they've endured. There's two songs here that we'll show you and they are interesting.
One was written in the prison and the other is a kind of anthem of the community and it's a picture of the nations across the Pilbara and saying the names of country. And it's hard for us to imagine in this … it's a bit like creating songs based on the European Common Market and naming the languages and the places. And that's what our continent's like, that we miss that — we miss the complexity of that. So here's straight out of the edit suite, Songs for Peace and then I'll wrap it up with a anecdote or two or maybe ten. I don't know.
Welcome to the Ngurin Cultural Centre for the very first Songs for Peace, here in Iremugadu — Roebourne.
Clouds are rollin’ in, holdin’ on, such a lonely road ... lightnin’ strikes, it wakes the land, what a lovely sight.
Sit back, relax, be chilled and please give a big Roebourne welcome to the Murri Band for Songs for Peace.
We are going to play some short films we made here at the cultural centre with [inaudible].
Paintings on the wall with stories to tell. Reflections on the way you used to be. Images of the past.
These are our ways, these are the stories. Our history is painted on the wall, in all the glory.
These are our ways, these are our stories. These are our stories.
From the rusty ranges up in the [inaudible] and the rivers flow down to the lowlands.
From there the waters flow down the coast to river valleys, where the Yindjibarndi have [inaudible] and the [inaudible] song echoes in the nighttime.
This is my land [Indigenous language] from the rusty ranges to the deep blue sea. This is my land [Indigenous language]. My land, my land [Indigenous language].
One more time. This is my land [Indigenous language] from the rusty ranges to the deep blue sea. This is my land [Indigenous language]. My land, my land [Indigenous language].
How amazing was that, everybody?
[MUSIC RESUMES BRIEFLY, THEN FADES OUT]
SCOTT RANKIN: Got to be careful saying this because I don't want this to be about ‘either/or’ or anything to do with envy. I just want to point out a justice issue. Karratha has just built a cultural centre. Jillian's seen it. Taxpayer money. It's a very well-resourced town and they built a 60 million dollar cultural centre. Wickham, it's another town up there. It's a Rio town. They needed a bit of extra facilities for activities. Rio funded a 16 million dollar cultural centre. This cultural centre that you're seeing there, which is half finished — smashed windows — all kinds of difficulties for making work there. They're performing outside. Very beautiful by the river.
Six million dollars, entirely Aboriginal money, no government assistance. Their own money from businesses, not from native title. It's outrageous ... anyway.
I'd like to just kind of bring it to a close with a very different voice from a lady who you saw up there. The most senior Ngarluma woman Nanna Pansy. Jonathan Holloway, probably quite a few people know him — he's the current director of the Melbourne Festival. A very ebullient fellow. Fantastic vocabulary. He kind of comes across like a schoolboy stand-up on speed. A great guy. He was running a session to look at how to amplify the cultural work in this great part of Australia and to come up with ideas. And there's a lot of us, you know, dudes like me with our loud voices, etc. and we were having the most magnificent ideas and it was all being ‘whiteboarded’ and he turned to Nanna Pansy, the senior Ngarluma woman and asked her for her most important idea for the Pilbara. And she answered, and he was momentarily lost for words, which is unusual. And Nanna Pansy said that she felt the most important cultural idea for the future of the Pilbara was the word ‘forgiveness’. And she is an important custodian of high Aboriginal culture. She has watched as her knowledge of this high culture has been ignored, trampled, resisted, appropriated and damaged by the current dominant victor narrative of the prevailing settler culture, which is us. It has cost her family dearly since the time of Septimus Roe, through imprisonments, slavery, suicides and poverty. And yet Nanna Pansy chose this most radical of words for the Pilbara, 'forgiveness'.
Now everyone, all of us, think of change as a good thing provided it's the change that we want. But change walks a knife edge with salvation and fanaticism, and therefore we have to be very careful of concepts of change, because in fact all communities are changing all the time both positively and negatively. And we can only ever participate in the flow of change. And this change is driven by the cultural discussion that allows hidden stories to emerge and flow to the top and which therefore allow justice to emerge and flow to the top. And this is driven to a large degree by the settings of cultural policy and the funding. And as Mr King said — Martin Luther King — ‘The moral arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice’. He was an elder, Nanna Pansy's an elder. And I think her word is in that statement — ‘The moral arc of the universe is long …’ — it's hard work but it bends towards justice. Therefore justice requires that we are very careful not to tie up the majority of arts funding uncontested in perpetuity, in practices and policies which uphold one form of cultural heritage, one form of virtuosity as a commodity for a small, homogenous and mainly metropolitan demographic, who essentially have the means to pay for its preservation and consumption themselves. We must stop talking however about the dollars and start talking about the priorities for cultural justice.
We must make our argument clearly to our cultural ministers, that culture can be a powerful force in the flow of community change with many outcomes across many portfolios because, although legislation is an okay stick for change, culture is a powerful flowing carrot — not sure that metaphor works. So now is a time for courage and cultural leadership. And to … have a look at the ACT. See what's happening. Speak passionately and with forgiveness and without self-righteousness at those who have the difficult job of cultural change and working on cultural policy. But I will say that if we care about cultural justice, we need to use all the persuasive language of the law to argue for cultural justice and we must not be swayed by cheap ‘either/or’ arguments.
We must bring the maturity of the Nanna Pansys. We mustn't just get into territorial claims based on scarcity and scarcity culture and scarcity of funding and resource or trivial distractions such as the intrinsic or the instrumental value of the arts. We must argue for the arts as a rich part of culture and culture reaching across the whole of life. And it can therefore be influential across the whole of government and across the narration of the nation of which we are part and if we don't do that we'll be flogging a dead horse. Thank you.
Thank you. Thanks very much.
I know we're right on time but it wouldn't be culturally just if there wasn't room for a question or two, it's up to you Luke. Look I'm easy. So yeah whatever you like but if you need to go please do.
Your time is very valuable, so if there are any questions feel free and I'll throw them to Mikel. We'll bring a mic so everyone can —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi my name's Katie Russell.
I'm from the National Gallery of Australia. ACT is seen as a socially progressive community and that's reflected in some of our recent initiatives such as the first territory to have a public holiday for Reconciliation Day and the same-sex marriage vote was very strong in this territory. But there's a paradox about Canberra in the fact that the federal powers have a different agenda. How do you think the local can influence the bigger sphere?
SCOTT RANKIN: Thanks. Good question. And it's a dramaturgical question I would say — to use the tools of the playwright. What we tend to do is take this idea seriously that the power of the story and the power of the participation of the canary in the coal mine. The person going through the issue — and then we take that and we go ‘Michaelia Cash. She wears helmet hair. You know she looks tough. She's trying to survive in that government. She's surrounded by advisers. She may not be particularly popular currently but who is she? And what is her relationship to these storytellers? And where is the place in which you can crack open someone's heart and someone's mind?’ And we kid ourselves, sorry Canberra, the rest of the country is sucked in by the idea that most policy is based on evidence and most policy is based on evaluations, etc. Some of it, yes. Most risk mitigation for ministers is based on that. But you know I'm not sure of all the policy work that went into the movement of embassy to Jerusalem for instance. So we know that the survival of politics and the possibility of politics that there are cutthroat decisions made. So I would say, ‘Look, love the person who's in the position of responsibility’ — I would not want to be that person. Love the advisers that are around them. Research — find out the margins that they're sitting under. Find out the career trajectory of advisers and then bring important storytellers to a critical audience. And you can get diverted, we've done a lot to festival audiences for big shows and we'll want to take Tjaabi to the nation. But Patrick speaking and the young people that you saw there speaking one on one about their own stories is a really refined … it's like The Ring Cycle — it's a 3000 dollar seat that that person’s getting … Bill and Chloe Shorten will be meeting two young women that you would have seen in there to talk about primary prevention in their community and what those young women are doing about it and those young women and their peers are going through some of the most serious issues in that domain in the country. I should point out that that project run by women for women I'm conceptually part of creating the space for it but that's all. So see the dramaturg you see the power of story and lose I think because of what Nanna Pansy is saying ... lose the adversarial.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. Thank you. This is Isaac. And I'm Amelia from Goulburn, just down the road, considered a regional centre, I guess — technically a city but we consider it probably more of a town. And I guess for those of us who've been part of small communities and small arts organisations for many years I'm wondering — and having very similar conversations to the one that you're raising nationally at the moment which we really appreciate — are there some actions that you think we can take in those sorts of small areas to get behind that conversation as well as telling those stories as we do from the Lieder Theatre in Goulburn where we do that each year in in different ways? But are there ways we can get behind what you doing at the moment or what actions we can take from different communities around Australia to kind of further this conversation?
SCOTT RANKIN: Yeah, I mean I think there's some similarities in the question, in actual fact Lindy Hume's written quite recently about regionalism and the magnetism of regionalism and that there is a, you know, a shift of people moving out, that's more than sea or tree change. And the regions — if you look at the regions and you break it down into electorates — I'm not saying all this is political — but break it down into electorates and then you can go and you can break it down into the polling booths … I don't know where you vote, which primary school … and online you can find the difference between the last election the margins in that particular polling booth. Now in Whitemore in Tasmania there was six votes between the two major people at one primary school and so part of it is about being smart and being … and leveraging in ways that are serving not grandstanding. And if you go, ‘I want to change the mind of this person’, that's one approach. If you, if you go ‘I want to provide this person who is working’… usually very hard in politics … ‘with a moment where they'll get a rush of endorphins as they understand things in a new way’, then you're moving in gestures that are inclusive of them. I mean if an organisation like mine is adversarial and cruel and top-down, top-heavy in that community of Parliament House and yet the opposite in community, I'm a hypocrite. So but it's hard to maintain that you heard it in probably my voice. It's hard to maintain the sameness of us all in this world. And I think Australia in its current 10 generations we're panicking because we haven't — you know I could have read out Jacinda Ardern’s recent statement about the arts which is really fantastic. We don't have great leadership there. We don't have a treaty, so we can't do anything with the guilt and the guilt, if you're a human being not a nation is going to drive some of their primary and secondary emotions — it's going to drive some things that will be come out as unhealthy. And we're being … we're in a country ten generations old where we haven't done good work there in that domain.
But essentially our inner voice is different to our outer voice. And I think that Australia is clumsy rather than cruel and people want to know and when people know things shift and you can see television — common television reality TV shows based on that principle — Go Back to Where You Came From — those kinds of shows are about that phenomenon that people who … they choose the hardest edge viewers. And yet as the story emerges it becomes harder to hurt someone when you know the story and it's just a very human thing. And I think that goes back to the beginning of consciousness and that statement by Jung so I managed to avoid being terribly pointed about that. There are structures to assist with that. The major thing is to move out ... to think broader than the arts, to think of the whole of life, think of Isaac and what is his early childhood. Will he be protected from Bill Shorten's clumsy desire to bring educational play closer to cramping early childhood? The work of Isaac for the next three to five years is play. Let's not cram it with educational play. That's a desire to create drones, Isaac. I hope you're listening to me. Drones for business. That's not his future. But that is an art and culture question and we've got to de-silo all that and I think we need to be able to speak powerfully — if you're involved in the arts and culture — speak powerfully and demand a seat at Cabinet. Isaac, that's enough.
Thank you very much for your time today appreciate it. Thank you.
I want to do an interview with you please. Can we do an interview about yesterday? Hi. What are you doing there?
It's fun. We have good fun. What do you think of what song means. What you see …
The importance of the children being involved in this project. There is this intergenerational way of passing on information. you can amalgamate storytelling … visual … immerse in culture … bring it back this way and encourage children to become part of the storytellers and then they hold the stories That would be passed on to them through this process.
So, one more night and all the community are going to be here watching.
It’s a kind of tapping into the magic desire in the community for good things. That's what we’re privileged to be part of.
We’re going to go on a journey now, across the whole of the Pilbara and we're going to tell that journey in song.
Through a [inaudible] careful way of teaching language and using a mixture of Aboriginal English and language helps our kids make sense of being able to put the joey in context of who they are. I know who owns that joey or where it's come from. I now recognize this as being my great-great-grandfather.
I can see that to go forward you know and make things right in a community. And if language culture and something positive like this project is doing it and let's keep it going.
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Date published: 03 May 2019