24 March 2009

Writing about Milwaukee

Lithgow, Detroit, Kellyville, Goff's Oak ... Continuing my preoccupation with ‘crap places’, I’ve been writing about Milwaukee ...

Downtown Milwaukee

According to my brother, who lives in the US, the best thing about Milwaukee is its proximity to Chicago—about an hour and a half’s drive. But I disagree, I like the place.

Jones Island, Milwaukee

Those old industrial towns and cities have a particular geography and civic architecture that remind us of the forgotten social contract between the ‘brotherhood’ of workers and the company bosses.

18 March 2009

Writing Matters

In the wake of another blokey take on Australian history from ABC television, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between politics and writing. Not so much ‘political theatre’ which tends to get narrowly defined, but the broader notion of writing as a social practice. The role of writing—and not only journalism and reportage—in the circulation of ideas.

‘ … in many ways, I think what playwrights do is more important than what most politicians do. Being a dramatist isn't just about writing. That part often takes just a few weeks. But we do spend a long time thinking about how people behave, how they live together, how they might live together better—as well as the great cruelties they are capable of. And we're constantly testing language, time and space in our work, to extend the possibilities of human experience. Politicians are concerned with the pragmatic business of running the world; artists, meanwhile, dedicate themselves to finding new insights into our existence. Most of the insights are feeble or crackpot—but some are visionary.’

Read the rest of Mark Ravenhill’s piece here.

In the meantime, as I begin to formulate my 7-ON Old Texts Revisited project, I'm thinking about Australian history. Having neither grown up here, nor gone to school here, my ignorance of this subject is admittedly vast, but there's got to be more to it than a chronology of important men and portraits of men at war—surely? So how about adding a bit more of the female experience to the picture? And let's think past the predictable (prostitutes and gangsters’ molls). What about the domestic workers, the shop girls, the milliners, the midwives, the music teachers, the post office clerks, librarians, hospital cleaners, social activists, florists and baby-sitters, the back-street abortionists, book-keepers, barmaids … ?

10 March 2009

Excerpts x 2 from Eyewitness Blues

2 excerpts from my radio script Eyewitness Blues which was produced by the BBC as part of their The View From Here project.

Fifty-something jazz musician, Jac, and 15-year-old schoolgirl, Gia Nghi, both witness a botched robbery at an outer suburban 7-Eleven. Their statements to the police however, reveal more about themselves than the crime.

Excerpt 1:

The loan that built the house for me and the ex, wasn’t big enough to buy the paint or plant the garden, so I took a second job. For extra money. To put down roots.
Pig Face, Acacias, Native Fuchsias. Not that you’d know that to look at it now. Wind-blown rubbish and dandelion clocks, more like.
But nothing took, no water-wise plants, no family, no tree.
And she’d say: I never see you these days.
And I’d say: It’s only temporary. Til we get on our feet.
And then she was gone, along with the kids, leaving me alone with the desert and the Camels …

Excerpt 2:

Sometimes, the wind off the desert makes it hard to swallow.
Over there’s where you get the bus to the city, and that way—nothing. Few kilometres north, the land crumbles to desert. It used to be under the sea or a lake or something. Before it dried up and went salty.
Sometimes, at night, I imagine the extinct animals in a sort of reverse Noah’s ark. Leaving 2 by 2, through a door in the back of the world.
Or the camel on the cigarette packet walking off in search of water.
Ghosts have trouble with water, my Gran says. I reckon Australia must be ghost paradise then. Because it’s so dry.