For What It’s Worth/ The grass may appear greener/ This isn’t about Melissa George
There has always been something in me that has preferred the road less traveled. Perhaps it was the wild and meandering bush walks with my grandfather when I was a young girl, or perhaps the fear of suburban numbness or apathetic complacency resulting in a death bed drenched in tears of regret. And despite a socialist/atheist upbringing I’ve always held the Protestant work ethic in high regard: hard work will be rewarded, and is indeed a reward in itself. I’ve thought if something was worth having, you had to earn it eg, good bread comes from kneading, good friendships come from the quality and quantity of time spent together, the pride one has in one’s work is directly related to the amount of effort invested.
I don’t know why.
I guess it’s just how/who I am.
It’s not really surprising that I also don’t believe, nor repeat, much of the cultural-cringe worthy sentiments from my industry peers. I’ve never really followed popular beliefs about anything, really. I don’t follow fashion, I couldn’t tell you who the top rated musicians are nor what movies are out and who is in them… I’m not panicked by trends.
I’m busy thinking about other things. Not “more important” things. There’s no judgement here. I just think about other things…
Recently some of my peers/colleagues have been making noises about moving overseas to pursue their careers. Requests for letters of support/reference, and I am more than happy to oblige – after all I am proud of the community I am a part of.
What I’m not a fan of is the sledging of “Australia” as some sort of cultural desert. I don’t feel any need to compare and contrast in favour of anywhere else but here, nor do I feel the urge to enter into a discussion of why there or here is better. It’s different. Different is interesting – but that doesn’t make it better or worse.
I think a really brazen example of this is the recent outburst by Melissa George:
Its a fairly hostile reaction, really, isn’t it?
But this isn’t about Melissa George. It could be, but its not.
This is about culture.
It is true that Australia has a population one tenth of the size of the US. We have a younger (white) history than the UK. We are different. Our cultural identity is different. No doubt. That doesn’t mean its less than, or inferior.
To claim that we live in a cultural desert is to deny 60,000 years of continuing art and culture from the indigenous people of this place. To claim we are “cultureless” and without an industry is to deny and dismiss the hard work of hundreds and thousands of Australia’s artists -writers/directors/actors/producers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, founding directors, board members, arts workers that have come before us -such a statement denies history and demonstrates ignorance and arrogance. To claim that Australia is without culture, denies that culture is a living thing which is forever growing and evolving… that is is in process – not solid and finite.
Here are some things I think:
If I shit on my industry (ie my artistic community), I’m shitting on myself. I am a contributor to the industry, what I do, how I behave, what I choose shapes it. I am ultimately responsible for how it works or doesn’t work. I am not a passive recipient, but an active participant.
All places have their pros and cons – there is no perfect place. People are hurt, hearts broken, disappointments felt, artists go hungry, genius unacknowledged and unrecognised all over the world. Some places have bright orange cheese as a part of their culture – some even sell cheese in a can – not wrong, necessarily – just different.
If I am not a part of the solution, I’m part of the problem. There is one thing to be the person who spots and articulates the flaw in something, but if that is as far as it goes: If I give up and surrender, or worse – repeat the words over and over again -I would be re-enforcing what is, and not dreaming up what could be.
I’ll put my money where my mouth is: I’ll pay local, living playwrights before I buy rights for an overseas play.
I’ll put my voice where my heart is: speaking in my accent, my thoughts, what I believe – “local” is not a euphemism for “provincial.”
Sometimes it’s tough. But I think it would be tough anywhere. But I always prefer the idea of banding together, not tearing each other apart, to make things better.
I must admit sometimes I fantasize that there is a place where I don’t have to work this hard, this long, this much – and then I think – if it came easily to me, I wouldn’t value it, and I wouldn’t want it anyway.
I’m staying here. I’m going to continue to make work here.
Not because I’m scared to work in other countries, nor because I lack ambition, but because I have huge, aching ambition: one day the thought that Australian artists thought their country was a cultural desert will be a laughable notion.
I’m staying here.