AUSTRALIA’S GAS CRISIS

As we head into winter, the cost of surging gas prices are expected to hit households hard. 

The consumer watchdog has been told to investigate Australia’s gas market and compel industry figures to provide information in a bid to guarantee cheap and affordable energy.  This morning the climate council are calling on the government to look at alternative energy sources to help ease the financial pain.

The Turnbull government wants to tackle the gas crisis by building more gas plants for domestic consumption.  More gas plants for domestic consumption means increasing our alliance on gas. What we do know is that the upward pressure on gas prices is only going to continue to increase over the unforeseeable future.

Already gas prices have jumped enormously for consumers and businesses in the last few years so the time has come to look for alternatives, particularly renewable energy such as large scale solar and wind which is currently much cheaper than gas and comes with no fuel cost as both the sun and wind are free.

Increasingly a huge portion of Australia’s gas is going to countries overseas, and gas companies have locked in contracts that promise even more gas following suit. That brings on the issue of increasing supply, and gas companies will continue to search for the highest price they can get. Now that Australian Gas Markets are linked to the international market, they will continue to search for those higher prices overseas which pushes prices up in Australia.

The era of cheap gas in Australia is now over and expensive gas is here to stay.  So we need to find solutions and find other sources for our energy consumption.

Currently as stupid as it may sound, Australian gas is cheaper overseas than it is here at home. Its a big issue that is hitting the back pocket of every Australian.

Natural gas has a range of potential environmental impacts associated with its extraction, transportation, and combustion, including water use, pollution, global warming emissions, effects on land use, wildlife, and air pollution.

 

BRISBANE PRAWN CONTAMINATION

Potentially hundreds of Australian families have been affected by contaminated Prawns over the Easter break.

South-east Queensland prawn fishers already financially crushed by white spot disease are reeling after learning their catch could now be affected by last week’s airport chemical spill.

It has been revealed that 300 kilograms of prawns that were caught, sold and eaten over the Easter break were potentially contaminated.  This follows a leak from a Qantas hanger last week that resulted in toxic firefighting foam spilling into the Brisbane River.  Twenty two thousand litres of it.

Commercial fishermen are furious about this stating that they weren’t given enough warning and many of them have only just been told they were fishing in the contaminated zone. Trawler Michael Wilkinson said he was not told for almost four days that firefighting foam, containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), had leaked at the Qantas hanger at Brisbane Airport potentially costing him a loss of $800 a day.  During that time Mr Wilkinson sold 135 kilograms of potentially contaminated prawns, mostly Moreton Bay banana prawns, to local shops and suppliers.

“It’s been consumed by humans and there was no media release to tell us to stop working and stop selling these prawns,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“So now we’ve potentially sold prawn that could affect people.

The extent of this situation is still yet to be determined, whilst water samples are still being tested.

The chemical spill is believed to be responsible for the death of nearby marine life and prompted an investigation by Queensland’s environment department.

It has been another hit for an industry already affected by restrictions from white spot disease.

The blame game has also begun with the state environmental minister writing to the Federal Government saying that those responsible must pay compensation.

Plenty more to come from this environmental disaster.

The passing of an era : The passing of Chuck Berry

The man who did so much to help form what we know as Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead!

St. CHARLES, MO (KTVI) – Reports coming in confirm that police have reported that legendary rock n’ roll musician Chuck Berry has died at the age of 90-years-old.

First responders were called to a medical emergency on Buckner Road at about 12:40pm Saturday. They found an unresponsive man inside the home. They started administering lifesaving techniques. St. Charles Police say he could bot be revived. Berry was pronounced dead at 1:26pm.

St. Charles Police sat they have confirmed the identity of the man to be Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr., better known as legendary musician Chuck Berry.

The family requests privacy during this time of bereavement.

Berry was born in The Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis in 1926, where he attended Sumner High School. His home, on Whittier Avenue, is on the National Register of Historic Places. That’s where he lived in the 1950’s when he recorded many of his biggest hits.

Berry just released his first new studio album in more than 35 years. The album called “Chuck” was recorded in St. Louis-area studios.

Jimmy Marsala, a bassist in Berry’s longtime band, suggests the new album took so long to come together because Berry wanted to make sure it lived up to everyone’s expectations. His last studio album was “Rock It” in 1979.

 
The classic Berry “Duck Walk”
 
 
We will not see his like again.
 
Vale Chuck Berry
 

Can poetry stop a highway? Wielding words in the battle over Roe

Can poetry stop a highway?

On the face of it you wouldn’t think so. But this idea is being put to the test in Perth’s southern suburbs in the protest movement that has sprung up suddenly and forcefully against “Roe 8”. The West Australian government has long planned to extend the Roe Highway in stages, ultimately reaching the port of Fremantle, and facilitating heavy haulage to and from the harbour. The “Roe 8” section is particularly contentious because it traverses through the sensitive Beeliar wetlands and involves substantial clearing of remnant urban bushland.


Police cars lined up on the disputed road.

The protest began in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The government announced plans to begin clearing bush after lengthy delays caused by legal difficulties in regard to environmental approval. The delays meant that work was commencing just 13 weeks before a state election that is expected to be a very difficult one for the WA government, with the resources boom well and truly over and the state’s finances in deep trouble.

In the heat and flies of a hot Perth December, protesters began assembling in tents and organising through social media. Police also appeared in anticipation of conflict. It was initially unclear where the clearing would begin in the 5km stretch of bushland, but the protesters noticed machinery beginning to assemble on North Lake Road and this became the “front line” of the action.


A protester.

On December 6, about 30 protesters, and as many police, faced off at temporary fencing designed to keep out the public during the planned works. One Perth poet, James Quinton, who arrived to voice his opposition, found himself increasingly drawn into the struggle to save the bushland. His blog has provided a series of updates widely followed by the protesters as the movement began to evolve.

On December 8, Quinton wrote a prose poem, Roe8#1, the first of a series of poems documenting the protest and asking questions that go to the heart of the issues the road has raised. It begins:


To stand in the way of the Roe 8 highway feels wrong. To take a day off work to hold a banner feels wrong. You’ll be called a bum. They’ll say you’re unemployed, have nothing better to do. The “mainstream” will tell you the “development” is going ahead, the “plans” have been in the “works” for years, that clearing native bushland is necessary for “progress”, that the correct environmental protection measures have been taken, don’t worry friend.


Quinton’s poetry rolls uneasily through the non-sequiturs and surreal juxtapositions that happen as the protesters find themselves in heated confrontation with police and earth-moving contractors.

 

In Marginata shade, with the depleted ozone
at Malvolio Road, the sandy verge is compacted
by sandals and sneakers, citizens sing
get up stand up, stand up for your rights
and a mum tells her son off for breaking black boy fronds,
and the patrolling police ask us to stay off the street
and the Federal Member for Fremantle stands with us, getting grey sand in his shoes
with his Ray Bans in his back pocket
.
 

Quinton’s poem, Hope Road (after Garcia Lorca) was written about a young woman, Barbara, who halted clearing works for four hours by locking herself beneath a survey truck.

 

In grey sand on Hope Road, is where she laid, she was not asleep,
the earth was no longer flat.
A dragonfly sniffed the truck fumes, she was not asleep.
And a comb eared skink bit through the bedsheets
of the men who do not dream.
Inside the red festoon, trespassing was a kind of parallel.
Here the surveyors’ spirit was broken
and the unbelievable turtle was quiet beneath the tender mud of protest
.
 

It is unusual to have art transpire in the real time of political action, but when it does, it carries a particular charge. The British War Poets who wrote in the trenches and hospitals of the Western Front, or Picasso’s Guernica (1937) depicting the aerial bombing of a Basque village in the Spanish Civil War, carry an aura that comes from both the moral outrage of the event and the terrible beauty of the art that is depicting it.

James Quinton.

Quinton’s poem Hope Road pastiches Federico Garcia Lorca’s famous surrealist poem City that Does not Sleep (Ciudad sin sueño) written in 1930. Garcia Lorca’s poem takes the form of an incantatory warning — “Be careful! Be careful Be careful!” —that repeatedly insists that no one ever sleeps, and someone always watches. It is not a poem of paranoid surveillance, but an urgent plea for the sanctity of witnessing horror:

 

Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before
.

The conceit in Garcia Lorca’s poem that links the “open eyes” with “bitter wounds” is taken up in Quinton’s poem. Here it is the “wounds” to the land created by the bulldozers, linked to the eyes of the protesters determined to witness an event that the road builders would prefer to have kept hidden. Quinton writes:

 

those who stood in front of the bulldozers kept everyone awake
and those who closed their eyes
allowed the landscape of cameras;
and there the bitter wounds began.


As the bulldozers began their work, Quinton was joined on the front line by fellow poets John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan. Kinsella is a long-time advocate of activist poetics. His poems testifying to the ecological cost of WA’s wheatbelt defiantly deconstruct the pastoral mythology of south-western Australia. His poems abandon the historical safety of reminiscence and instead strike their reader with jagged immediacy.

On three separate occasions on 19 December, Kinsella read his Bulldozer Poem, written for the Roe 8 protest, with the bulldozers in action behind him.

 


The debate surrounding Roe 8 reached a significant turning point on January 4 when the state Labor opposition announced, following legal advice, that it would tear up the contracts and stop the highway extension. Roe 8 is now a major election issue.

It may seem that poetry is but a small sideshow to a protest that is being fought in the mainstream and social media, the High Court, and the highest echelons of state and federal politics. But poetry draws its power from its ability to thrust language out of the gridlock of everyday discourse.


Protesters hold placards in Perth on Monday after losing a Federal Court bid to stop work on the road. Gregory Roberts

Poetry speaks to something else and, even though it is written by real people like Quinton and Kinsella, it also speaks from somewhere else. It is this otherness of poetry that the philosopher Heidegger sought to emphasise when he announced that “poetically man dwells”.

This reminds us that radical protest poetry — whether it be from the Vietnam War, Apartheid South Africa, or from dissident writers behind the Iron Curtain — is not simply a mantra to be chanted at picket lines, but an invocation of the power of language to speak to a higher law, to a judgement that has no official courts, but nevertheless holds each of us accountable.

Australia’s most famous modern poet, Judith Wright, was also one of the founders of the contemporary environmental movement and helped halt the sand-mining of Fraser Island in 1977. Her good friend, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (know then as Kath Walker), was the first Indigenous poet to publish her writing in English.

Her poetry, sometimes bitter, often wry, was initially dismissed by critics as mere “protest poetry”, but poems like No More Boomerang (1966) now stand as stark reminders that perhaps the single most significant achievement of Western civilisation was to create machines capable of annihilating the planet.

Oodgeroo’s poems destabilised a contemporary readership that was not used to finding themselves viewed from the position of the other. This is what poetry can do.

This article was written by Tony Hughes-D’Aeth [Associate Professor, English and Cultural Studies, University of Western Australia]

Tim Finn’s White Cloud at the Art Centre Melbourne

By Tim Finn and Ken Duncum with film by Sue Healey

“Salvage something that we need to remember From the wreck of history
Family images of fading splendour
Where they lead I’m following…”

– Tim Finn, White Cloud

Tim Finn, legendary New Zealand singer-songwriter, member of Crowded House and founding member of Split Enz, will perform White Cloud – a musing meditative performance about family, identity and home – this January at Arts Centre Melbourne.

White Cloud alchemises observation and contemplation, photographs and journals, narrative and music to deliver a potent celebration of family, ancestry and what it means to be Pakeha (a Māori language term for New Zealanders who are of European descent).

Through songs and stories, Tim introduces us to family members past and present, whose voices echo through journals, letters and memoirs – matched by dreamlike imagery drawn from 8mm home movies shot largely by his father, Richard Finn.

An inspired collaboration between Finn, leading New Zealand playwright/screenwriter Ken Duncum and video artist Sue Healey, White Cloud has moved audiences and critics alike in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the UK.

 

Tim Finn
Tim Finn

“We always envisaged White Cloud as an immersive experience, not a narrative in the traditional sense. More a series of impressions of people, places and our family backgrounds, which together tell a larger story,” explains Duncum.

A richly textured blend of beautifully melodic music and poetically evocative prose brought to life in the intimate confines of the Fairfax Studio, this inventive reflection on the lives of families growing up in New Zealand, loosening ties to the UK and encountering Maori culture is not to be missed.

Arts Centre Melbourne presents
White Cloud: Tim Finn
Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
13 – 15 January, 2017
Book at artscentremelbourne.com.au

A Tibetan monk walks into a bar … the future of creativity

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Thangka painters have an entirely different conception of art to most Western painters. What should art do for us?

Beyond questions of its value and its sources there is a question less frequently contested about creativity: its relationship to us.

One evening some time ago, I was walking down Chapel Street in Melbourne’s South Yarra with a Tibetan monk who had just arrived in Australia. Namgyel had been brought out from China by a Buddhist centre in Melbourne and it was one of a number of outings we made as he got a feel for the city he had been transplanted into.

Noticing a small gathering inside a brightly-lit shop across the road we went over to take a look. It was a small boutique-y gallery and there was an opening underway, people standing around inside the white cube holding glasses of chilled white wine. “You might find this interesting,” I said, knowing he was a painter. “Let’s go in.”

We didn’t take a glass of wine – he was a monk and we were interlopers anyway. We made our way around the wall. There were about 20 watercolours, seascapes, in a style usually described as “realistic” or “traditional painting” in Australia, as opposed to modern, abstract or contemporary. They were all of modest size, a little bigger than a laptop screen.

Back on the footpath he asked me, “What was that for?”

“It is the first night of the exhibition,” I explained.

“No, what are the paintings for?” “They’re for sale,” I said.

“I know that,” he replied, “but why? Why do people buy them?”

“They’re nice to look at, aren’t they?” I said. Namgyel is an artist, but he had never been in a gallery, and had never before come face-to-face with art that was not religious. His painting practice has a clear purpose, and it isn’t the reproduction of pretty scenery.

I recount this episode as a reminder of the many ways art is viewed across the range of contemporary publics – local, national or international. Where does that diversity leave us?

In answer we might want to head somewhere below any temptation to announce that it is simply a matter of “each to his or her own,” “let a hundred flowers bloom,” or the market logic of “sink or swim”. Familiar responses like these sidestep the question of our relationship to art.

The three eras of art

In the recent history of art in the West there have been, broadly speaking, three eras.

French philosopher Jacques Rancière called them “three regimes of art”:

  • the ethical
  • the representational
  • the aesthetic

We might take the art of the thangka painter Namgyel as an example of the ethical regime, where images are “questioned for their truth and for their effect on the ethos of individuals and the community”. The watercolour seascapes belong to the representational regime and its “sphere of imitation … subject to a set of intrinsic norms”.

With the aesthetic regime the previous norms are overthrown and a form of autonomy emerges that is not that of the work of art, but of a mode of experience.

In this latest mode we have left Namgyel and the water-colourist, the icon and the image, behind. We can understand historical forms of art as meaningful, but right now we want something else. We want, essentially, to be transformed.

According to Rancière, three further scenarios ensue.

Art can become life. Life can become art. Art and life can exchange their properties.
 

The exchange between life and art

The question of the overlap between life and art can be understood in a number of ways. And it is a paradoxical question too, in that art had to be separated from life before it could return to the kind of relationship with life that Rancière identified.

Compartmentalised, religion went into Sunday, art went into museums.

A life lived as an artist means giving up the dominant norms of success that prevail around us. For those who are making the sacrifice it can seem very unromantic, particularly when curators and administrators are bringing in “highly desirable” salaries – but what about if it applied to all of us?

And so we turn to the surrealist economics of Georges Bataille and The Accursed Share, a theory of economics first published in 1949, in which he engages with the question of “excess energy, translated into the effervescence of life”.

A convoluted and lapidary argument, his reflections grow from a single realisation:

it is not necessity but its contrary, luxury, that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems.


What does this have to do with the artist and creativity?

Throughout The Accursed Share Bataille is conscious of the co-option of the artist in service to a “traditional sovereign world” in which non-sovereign art produced the appearance of the splendour of the king, a splendour that was “the domain of the architects, painters, musicians and writers that surrounded him”.

Only a few artists glimpsed the possibility of art beyond appropriation, a sovereign art free of subjection.

The price for this? In Bataille’s words:

In this world, the man of sovereign art occupies the most common position, that of destitution … [T]he sovereignty of art requires that anyone who bears that sovereignty within him comes down in the world.


There is no other way of resisting what Bataille calls “the immense hypocrisy of the world of accumulation”.

Why does art appear to offer a solution?

Holding onto Bataille’s theme of sovereign art and non-appropriation, let’s finally turn to the place of poverty in Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life(2013). Agamben’s purpose is to challenge the absolute institutionalisation of production, consumption and instrumentality, taking the legacy of the Franciscan friars as a counter-model that invests in use over ownership, in form-of-life over alienation.

And art?

Agamben suggests that “the monastery is perhaps the first place in which life itself – and not only the ascetic techniques that form and regulate it – was presented as an art”. Use and form-of-life also reside in art.

Agamben’s pointing to the possibility of raising use over ownership, form-of-life over alienation, runs close to Bataille’s concern with art’s subversion of the usual relationship between labour and consumption, and also close to challenges we shall all face “when all the West’s forms of life have reached their historical consummation.”

This challenge is not upheld as the measure of the artist; the existence of the artist becomes a challenge to the way we each measure ourselves.

This article was written by Mark Stevenson [Senior Lecturer, College of Arts, Victoria University]

George Michael and Rick Parfitt: two ends of a rich cultural mainstream

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The deaths of pop superstar George Michael and Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt within a two-day period over Christmas might once have seemed extraordinary for the world of popular music.

But it capped a year strewn with such losses.David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen were major-league headliners. But the list is long: George Martin, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey, Sharon Jones, Earth, Wind and Fire founder Maurice White, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake. From top-billed stars, to producers and session players, few genres are left that have not mourned an important loss in 2016.

Social media has an amplifying effect, as shared clips and memories drive awareness, encourage public responses and magnify a sense of epidemic.It’s also possible that the post-war baby boom generation reaching old age – and the growing number of entertainers attaining household name appeal with the increase of mass media since the 1950s and 1960s – means that sheer demographics play a part. There are simply more celebrities around, more ways to find out about their death and a larger public space in which to respond.

Any way you cut it, though, 2016 has been a grim year for music – and indeed popular culture at large. TV and cinema have fared no better – as I write this, news has just broken of the death of one of Hollywood’s favourite daughters, actor and writer Carrie Fisher.

Rick Parfitt of Status Quo on stage at the Isle of Wight Festival, 2016. David Jensen PA Wire/PA Images

That’s entertainment

The widespread posting of recollections and thoughts of Parfitt and George Michael also illustrates an aspect of popular music that can get lost in eulogies to genre defining (or defying) “genius” – entertainment pure and simple, as a good in and of itself. Ascriptions of “authenticity” in popular music are often attached to a sense of folk roots – speaking a broader truth – or aspirations to “high art”, pushing the boundaries of a field. Both Rick Parfitt and George Michael, though very different, travelled at an oblique angle to these categories.

Status Quo evolved from psychedelically infused rock to the straight ahead, 12-bar based, boogie-driven hits for which they became best known. Often noted for their lack of variety, including in their own self-mocking references, they exemplified instead another, less frequently celebrated, aspect of the popular music continuum – reliability.

There was almost a pantomime quality to the instant familiarity of their work. But, like it or not, pantomime is a staple of the British entertainment pantheon. Though hardly at the vanguard of musical invention, their “end-of-the-pier” appeal remained undimmed and saw continuing healthy audiences for live shows.

George Michael’s trajectory was different, and hinged on an overt effort to move from teen idol status with Wham to being taken seriously – his second solo album was titled Listen Without Prejudice – as a songwriter and record producer. His success in doing so helped to seal the idea that crossing over between markets was a part of the pop process.

To an extent, his greatest lasting effect came outside of his music, though very much dependent on it, as his candour and humour in response to revelations about his sexuality drove forward the mainstream acceptance of gay pop icons. Likewise, if his lawsuit against record label Sony was ultimately unsuccessful in court, his public battles helped to shine a light on the inequities of major label deals.

Cultural currency of the mainstream

Parfitt and Michael occupied different spaces within the mainstream, though illustrated just how wide it has become. If Status Quo were the exemplars of pre-punk 70s straight ahead rock shorn of frills, Michael’s tight productions laid down a marker for the glamour of 80s and 90s post-Thatcherite pop (somewhat ironically, given Wham’s support for striking miners and the ambivalent stance on consumerism lying beneath the sheen of his music).

But, despite the differences between Parfitt’s unadorned rhythm guitar chug and Michael’s crafted pop confections, their work was characterised by an underlying factor: accessibility – something that is often overlooked but deceptively difficult to achieve and a necessary condition for the mass appeal that they sustained.

Certainly the tragic, early passing of entertainers is nothing new. When music hall singer Mark Sheridan took his own life in 1918, it was after a period in the commercial and critical doldrums, as the popularity of music hall waned. Yet despite his comparative obscurity now, his hit “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside” has passed into the national consciousness.

Simon Frith – sociologist, music critic and founding chair of the Mercury Prize – has argued that popular music helps us to negotiate the relationship between our inner and public lives – that: “Pop tastes do not just derive from our socially constructed identities; they also help to shape them”. From music hall through rock ‘n’ roll to Top of the Pops and televised extravaganzas such as Live Aid, one of pop’s abiding functions has been to serve as common cultural currency.

Status Quo and George Michael may not have been marked by Bowie’s chameleon-like propensity for redefining pop’s aesthetic limits. They may not have matched Cohen’s lyrical intricacy or Prince’s virtuosity. But large swaths of the British public will have danced and sung along enthusiastically and unironically to: “Whatever You Want” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” – threaded through the fabric of their social lives, from school discos to Christmas parties and weddings.

If the bad news is that the loss of beloved entertainers appears remorseless, the good news is that this shows how our stock of shared cultural memories is larger and richer than ever before.
This article was written by Adam Behr – [Lecturer in Popular and Contemporary Music, Newcastle University

Sunday essay: Christmas poetry – a reflection

Poets are drawn to the time between seasons and to the time when both death and life, endings and beginnings, merge into each other and confuse us. It’s no surprise then, that Christmas is often written about.

I see finches blown by a gale from the roof of my house onto the road outside this window. They crouch there on the sand facing into the wind, hoping not to be tossed again into the wild air.

From haiku masters to romantic bohemians, poets pay attention to the seasons. Often poets are drawn towards the time between seasons, the time when both death and life, endings and beginnings, merge into each other and confuse us. Christmas, too, has its seasonal place deep in winter or deep in summer when the old year fades and a new one beckons. It seems fitting that we celebrate the birth of a famous baby at this time, a baby born in poverty as the story goes, born under a star that promised celestial light for everyone – but only through an ultimate sacrifice.

Birth and death are entangled here too.

New York poet, Marianne Moore, expressed her dislike for the holiday in her poem, Christmas. Carl Van Vechten

No surprise, then, that poets write so much about Christmas. At this time of year there seems to be nothing but Christmas to think about. Streets are festooned with it. Airwaves, the internet, televisions and the Google logo have all gone christmasy on us. The beauty and delicacy of the Christmas story become in our consumerist hands a recipe for crassness and sentimentality. No surprise that poets might be sickened by it and be drawn to try to rescue it.

The mid 20th century New York poet, Marianne Moore might have been a grump, but she had good reason. “I, too, dislike it,” she wrote in her famous poem, Christmas. She went on to say, as we know,


there are things that are important beyond all this tinsel.
Celebrating it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in it after all, a place for the genuine.


In seeking that place of the genuine she wished, enigmatically and unforgettably, for a Christmas of “imaginary elves with real noses on them”.

So many of our poets have suffered Christmases that go like nightmares through them. T.S. Eliot put himself into the shoes (slippers?) of one of those Three Wise Men and reported,


There was a birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
After that, there could be no easy return to the usual Kingdoms and their old dispensations.


We do need the poets to bring us back to awareness of Christmas as a time of change, after which nothing can ever be the same again. We long for these kinds of moments and dread them, and that’s why we drain Christmas of its bitter truth. When the poor jaundiced Philip Larkin put himself into the rough cloaks of those shepherds on a hillside on Christmas Eve, he made them speak of the troubles this birth brought to them and all the poor to come:


They fuck you up, those holy saviours.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They light you up with promised favours,
and add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By Holy fools and raving prophets
Who prayed for every bush to burn
and took the coins from shepherds’ pockets.
Gerard Manley Hopkins describes the neon scenes of nativity in the suburbs.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, possibly one of the most original poets to write in English, was also a poet of the seasons, of nature, of the times when change comes upon the world, when everything is doubtful, dappled, rung upon the rippling of dawn-drawn light or down-dropped dusk. His Christmas was a lighter one, a more celestial celebration, but no less desperate than other poets when it comes to making Christmas a deeper shade of Christmas. He too has his famous Christmas poem, much loved and much recited along the streets of bright-lit scenes of nativity after nativity in our city’s Christmas suburbs:


Glory be to Christmas for wrapped-up things—
For cellophane pocked parcels ribboned as a matron’s corset;
Toppling over angels, young pine trees bucketed; stippled lights
In neon windows sungstrung on star hung boulevards that bring
The red-eyed tourists in to see reindeers run a red nosed orbit,
Dazzled, dim, stable birthed blessedness. Praise Him—and all the little mites.
 

This fascination with the paradox of a saviour born in the muck of a stable to a teenage mother who was wise beyond her years, the fable-like arrival of a criminal who was a king, the oxymoronic wanderings of a carpenter-philosopher and someone called Santa coming in late on the scene like a bear from the woods, continues down into the late 20th century via that American grandfather of the bizarre, John Ashbery:


This Christmas is concerned with packaging on a soulful level.
Look at it waving to you from a department store window
Where gadgets fidget with tinsel and stardust. You have it
And you miss it. It is here and always gone. You love each other.
The angel is plastic because it wants to be you, and cannot.
What’s a soulful level? It is plastic and other things,
Bringing boxes, piles of them, into play. Play?
Well, actually, jingles, yes, but I consider playing jingles
A deeper winter thing, a dreamed soul-pattern,
As in the divisions of grace these long December nights
Without whiskey. Star-suspended. And before you know
It gets to be Christmas here in the fog and tatters of types of writers.
 

We don’t need to know what this means to know what this means. Famously Ashbery described Christmas as “unknown quantities”. It is enough to know he said this; and what it meant and whether he meant it, are merely questions outside the question of the structure and architecture of reality. The point here is that poets have not been able to keep away from Christmas, from its world changing moment on the cusp of a year that will be gone forever and a new one not yet invented.

We know Santa actually did lean in Frank O’Hara’s open window one Christmas Eve and Frank scribbled down his conversation with the great man (O’Hara being only the second poet ever to have a conversation with Santa), who said to him,


I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you’re okay. You may
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you’re different.

Frank O’Hara scribbled down his conversation with Santa, who appeared at his window one Christmas Eve.

That was enough for Frank — he asked Santa in to stay a while and talk some more. But Santa said that others were calling him. He didn’t say exactly who these others were, so Frank was able to leave a mystery at the end of that tiny poem in his brain.

The last word on Christmas must be given to Elizabeth Bishop, that perfectionist of privacy and sublime poetry. Her Christmas poem was almost lost more than once, and if it had been it would have been (Write it!) a disaster. You know it well, I am sure, but I will reproduce the whole poem here nevertheless. I know no one sings the whole of the national anthem. The beginning seems to stand for the rest of it perfectly well, but somehow this anthem of a villanelle refuses to have even one part of it lost to implication or intuition:


The art of Christmas giving isn’t hard to master;
so many boxes filled and wrapped with intent
to be posted, or tossed across a room faster.
Give something every Christmas despite a flutter
of your heart at money badly spent.
The art of Christmas giving isn’t hard to master.
Then practice wrapping faster, tossing faster:
aunts and uncles, siblings and others you meant
to placate with baubles, ignore the disaster.
I gave my mother’s watch away once or twice, or
did I offer it, with my house, for rent?
The art of Christmas is sometimes hard to master.
I gave away something pretty once, and some pasta
got from Italy, two gingers and a continent
-al sausage or two. I miss them, what a disaster.
Even giving Christmas the boot (what a gesture,
I loved it) is still some kind of giving it is evident.
The art of Christmas giving isn’t hard to master
though it may look like (take that) someone’s cruel laughter.
 

Christmas is the ritual we succumb to at the same time as we rebel against it in our souls. The poets know this and have said it better than any of us could have. Yet they have no answers, only these ironic questions they perfect on our behalf as we swing from one way of being to another, always hoping everything will change this time.

I see heavy clouds draped across the horizon out there. Crows complain about something in the air. The wind is at rest out behind the hills, camping quietly by itself, waiting for a sign.

This essay was written by Kevin Brophy [Professor of Creative writing, University of Melbourne]

Productivity Commission re-ignites copyright wars by recommending ‘fair use’

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They’re still often more expensive overseas than in Australia

The Australian Government has just released the Productivity Commission’s report into Australia’s Intellectual Property Arrangements.

It’s a move that appears to have been designed to avoid some of the controversy of the copyright wars by releasing the report just before most Australians settle into their summer break.

The report does something that is very difficult in copyright debates: it sets out a rigorous, evidence-based case for reform. Academics have praised the “independent and systematic study that has assessed the effectiveness, efficiency, adaptability and accountability of Australia’s IP [intellectual property] laws”.

Good evidence about how well intellectual property laws are working is sometimes hard to come by. Intellectual property laws, including copyright and patentlaw, have to be very carefully calibrated. If they are too weak, it is difficult for investors to recoup their expenses in bringing new inventions, books, music and films to the market.

But when intellectual property laws are too strong, they restrict innovation and access to knowledge. They prevent people from making new inventions and creating new works, because access to existing materials becomes too expensive or difficult.

For consumers, they can make access to knowledge and culture much more expensive, and they can get in the way of education and the legitimate needs of disadvantaged members of society.

Scholars have pointed out for many years that the optimal balance between protection and access to knowledge is extremely difficult to pinpoint. As a result, intellectual property policy is a deeply controversial and emotional political arena. In the past, decisions about IP policy have been made on the basis of heavy corporate lobbying, gut-instinct, hunch and guesswork.

The Productivity Commission’s report is important because it reviews the available evidence and provides recommendations that we have good reason to think will improve Australia’s intellectual property laws.

After reviewing the evidence, the Productivity Commission’s view is that copyright law is not balanced, and that our laws:

[…] are skewed too far in favour of copyright owners to the detriment of consumers and intermediate users.

Making Australian copyright law ‘fair’

Probably the most significant – and controversial – recommendation is that Australia should introduce a “fair use” exception for copyright infringement.

Fair use allows people to use copyright material in ways that are fair, without asking for permission first. It has been extremely important in the United States for many different industries.

Filmmakers use it to make documentaries, libraries use it to digitise and preserve their collections, scholars use it for important data- and text-mining research, and search engines use it to index the web.

The Productivity Commission’s report is just the latest in a string of reports to recommend that Australia introduce a fair use exception. It found that Australia’s current exceptions to copyright:

[…] are too narrow and prescriptive, do not reflect the way people today consume and use content, and do not readily accommodate new legitimate uses of copyright material.

Balancing intellectual property laws is a thrilling challenge. J Mark Bertrand

Other recommendations

The report is detailed and comprehensive, and covers a lot of ground. The Productivity Commission recommended a raft of other changes to modernise Australia’s copyright laws, including:

  • preventing copyright owners from overriding consumer rights through restrictive contractual agreements
  • allowing Australian consumers to break digital locks on content that prevent lawful activities (like fixing a tractor)
  • fixing a decade-long oversight in our “safe harbour” regime that makes it extremely difficult for home-grown equivalents of YouTube or social media platforms to host content in Australia
  • clarify the law to ensure Australian consumers can use VPNs to access content lawfully available in other countries
  • ensure that the results of publicly funded research are made freely available to the public under Open Access policies
  • remove an exception from competition law that allows software and content companies to create exclusive deals and other restrictive licensing agreements that would otherwise be anti-competitive.

Restarting the copyright wars

The timing of this report seems to be designed to minimise some of the controversy that it will generate. The commission’s report warns that it will be extremely difficult to “pursue change in the face of strong vested interests”.

The Copyright Agency, the Australasian Performing Right Association and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (APRA AMCOS), prominent players in the book industry and several authors have all issued statements that are highly critical of the commission’s report.

Their essential concern is that the expansion of user rights will result in reductions in revenues and investment in Australian creative industries and Australian creators.

The great difficulty here is that copyright law is extremely complex, and the debate is so emotive that the details often get lost in the heated arguments. What little empirical evidence we do have to guide policy is glossed over in a strong reaction against change.

The reaction of the established copyright industries is understandable. It has been very difficult for publishers and distributors to adapt to the internet, and they are only now beginning to develop business models that work in the digital age. The process has been painful to say the least.
In this context, many publishers, distributors, and creators feel besieged by efforts to reform copyright law for the digital age. But it is too late now to go back to a pre-digital world.

The restrictions on parallel importation, which have kept prices high for books in Australia, are a good example of laws that just don’t work for digital markets. If we expect consumers to obey copyright rules, it is clear that we need to work to make sure that the law and business models treat them fairly.

The great shame about the copyright wars is that sensible, evidence-based proposals for reform get mixed up with highly emotive reactions to “piracy”. The proposals by the Productivity Commission are careful and well justified. The evidence we have is that they are not likely to harm the actual revenues of Australian creators.

There is no doubt that we need new business models – and public funding – to support creators in the digital age. This is the hard work of real practical change that needs to happen to enable our creative industries to thrive.

The good news is that overseas examples show that it is possible for creators to make money in the digital economy. The Productivity Commission’s recommendations are a bet that digital is the future, and that making Australia’s laws more efficient and effective is critical to the health of our future industries.

We’re looking forward to the government’s plans to implement these recommendations, but it looks like 2017 will be a heated year for copyright debates.


This article was co-written by:
Nicolas Suzor
[Associate professor, Queensland University of Technology] and
Shereen Parvez
[Graduate Research Fellow, Intellectual Property & Innovation Law Research Program, Queensland University of Technology]

Sunday essay: can looking at art make for better doctors?

Students ponder the meaning of Jinamoom by Peggy Griffiths at the Ian Potter Museum of Art

In 1984, artist Jon Cattapan’s sister Adriana died in a car accident. His painting, titled Sister, and some accompanying drawings, were a response to this tragedy. Sister depicts a grey-shrouded body lying on a bright red structure. Behind it are five figures in two separate groups. One represents living relatives and friends; the other, the spiritual world.

Sister’s distorted figures reflect Cattapan’s interest in primitivism and animism. Its colours and twisted forms project his anguish, and express the heightened intensity of the state of grieving. Cattapan has written about the disorientation experienced in grieving and also how the “topsy-turvy” space in all the Sister images represents his sister’s schizophrenia.

One day, a few months ago, a group of third year medical students spent a long time looking at these works, which were on display at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University.

They were encouraged by the Museum’s Academic Programs Curator to describe aspects of the painting as objectively as possible – its style, colours, content. Then they began to share their personal interpretations of the narrative.

Jon Cattapan, Sister, 1984 (oil on canvas). The University of Melbourne Art Collection, Gift of Jon Cattapan 2008.

Was the prone figure in the foreground dead or dying? What elements were more powerful? The Christian iconography and emotion on the figures’ faces? Their gestures? The insistent vibrancy of the colours? Or the apparently chaotic mix of formal elements? How did their interpretation change when the examination shifted to the Sister Drawings, hung alongside the painting, which are like snapshots of aspects of the story?

And how did the students’ initial gut reaction to the painting compare to the feeling it conveyed after 20 minutes of close, shared attention?

The aim was not to reach a consensus on what was going on in the artwork; rather it was to explore multiple alternative meanings. This was a practical demonstration of the medical method called differential diagnosis and the problems of rushing to a premature conclusion.

In response to the experience, one student wrote:

Objective things can have a number of different subjective meanings. People can have different perspectives. There is a lot of empathy required in order to extract these thoughts.

Teaching empathy

Healthcare professionals – doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, audiologists, optometrists – are now expected to have cultural, social and technical competencies that reach far beyond their biomedical training. And some clinical teachers have observed that graduates lack the capacity to demonstrate empathy or the skill of visually differentiating and prioritising what is important.

Can empathy be taught to these students? How can we ensure that they pay full attention to “the whole person” rather than just the disease?

Over the past two decades, there has been growing interest in the use of the humanities as a way of raising students’ awareness of emotions and the ethical dimensions of health care. Known as the “Medical Humanities”, many programs across the US and elsewhere engage students with theatre, literature, film and dance, as well as the creative arts.

The University of Melbourne began a pilot program at the gallery in June 2012 for six students in their Palliative Care rotation at Peter McCallum Hospital. It now provides programs to over 1000 students a year over 13 different areas in the health sciences, including Medicine, Dentistry, Optometry, Physiotherapy, Audiology, Nursing and Clinical Teaching. Unlike most such overseas programs, engagement is compulsory.

Most healthcare students entering the gallery are immediately out of their comfort zone. Jodie Hutchinson

Medical students visit the gallery in First Year, and again in Third Year, when they are studying and doing hospital placements in areas such as Geriatric Medicine, Rehabilitation Medicine, Palliative Care and Psychiatry of Old Age. Over three hours, they work on attentiveness, interpretation, reflection and consideration of their emotional response.

Medical students particularly, and health students generally, tend to believe that there is a right and wrong answer to everything. This comes from their early training in pathology, anatomy and physiology, which is delivered under the bio-medical model, as compared to the bio-psycho-social model that the art museum sessions address.

Most healthcare students entering the gallery are already out of their comfort zones and in a state of alert curiosity. Their experience there, and particularly the diversity of perspectives that emerge in group conversations, demonstrates that you can have different interpretations of the same thing, without either of those positions being “wrong”.

Their teachers hope that students are beginning to realize that medicine is not black and white, but many shades of grey. The museum sessions are designed to get these students thinking about the importance of a diagnosis that is not just based on physical symptoms, but also on the larger narrative that informs a patient’s health story.

Moral imagination

Final year Physiotherapy students, for instance, were asked to draw upon their visit to the gallery to explore the question of ethics in healthcare provision, and develop what’s known as “moral imagination”.

The idea is for students to increase awareness of their emotional reactions to ethical issues, through looking at art, and enhance their capacity to recognise the moral dimensions of clinical experiences.

Students then write assignments based on their visit, incorporating both an analysis of ethical principals and reflection on their emerging professional identity.

Julia Robinson, Twitch, 2012 (boiled wool, thread, timber, press studs, and fabric). courtesy of the artist and GAGPROJECTS | Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide

After looking at the sculpture Twitch by Julia Robinson, which takes the form of a pair of soft, cream-coloured Long Johns with one apparently mis-shapen, exposed wooden leg, one student wrote:

There was no right or wrong way of deciphering the art piece and for once that was freeing. I left the museum somewhat changed…


Responding to a ceramic artwork by Stephen Bird – depicting a hand pointing to a bird on a branch accompanied by the inscription, “Singing not allowed!” – another student wrote:

The innocent looking bird, perched on a branch and trying to sing in its natural environment prompted me to think about a patient I saw lying in bed, calling out to medical staff, only to be dismissed as they are told that they are ‘doing fine’ or ‘need to continue with their course of treatment’.
This made me feel a little uncomfortable, as we are taught to practise with a patient-centred approach, listening to what others have to say and respecting their autonomy. What if the bird too, was singing out for help, only to be silenced?

Indigenous perspectives

Cultural understanding, particularly in the context of indigenous health, is vital for graduating doctors. Students are aware that they need this knowledge, but they sometimes consider the teaching to be guilt-laden. They have challenged us to provide more innovative ways to engage with this part of the curriculum.

One medical student, Mahesha Dombagolla, noted that

a unanimously held sentiment by medical students is that we would find it valuable to gain some practical advice on how to provide care for Indigenous patients. Perhaps we can use Indigenous art to better understand their values and how we can incorporate these values when treating Indigenous patients?

For example, what are the Aboriginal perspectives on death/palliative care, caring for the elderly, women’s health, mental health, community and family, what things are respectful or disrespectful…?

In our programs, we now explicitly address Indigenous health, drawing upon Indigenous art to prompt discussions around cultural understanding and cultural determinants of health.

Looking at My Life My Family (2013) by Shirley Purdie. Jodie Hutchinson

In recent months, we were able to engage students with the touring exhibition In the Saddle – On the Wall, which included both visual art and digital stories of Indigenous Elders from the Kimberley.

What students might assume as homogeneous experience of Aboriginality, and a “sameness” in life stories, was turned on its head as they explored the diverse life experiences of the 13 artists in the exhibition, and the different ways they expressed their life narratives and culture through paintings and interviews.

Our sessions focused on “other ways of seeing”, and the power of place in health and wellbeing. One painting the students examined, My Life My Family by Gija artist Shirley Purdie, gave a rich context for these conversations. A large square artwork created with natural ochre and pigment, it depicts aspects of the life of the painter, her parents and grandparents.

The visual narrative moves from the top right in a clockwise direction. A series of vignettes trace the violent events that caused Purdie’s family to move from Violet Valley Station to Mabel Downs station in the Kimberley, where they eventually settled and created a more peaceful life.

The work is testament to the agency and survival of Purdie’s family in a brutal, colonial world. The power of this story can only be unpacked by students through long and careful attention to both the artwork and the artist’s accompanying digital story. This is a great parallel to the care and attentiveness needed to provide professional, compassionate, and culturally appropriate care in Indigenous health contexts.

This narrative painting was in great contrast to many others that depicted Dreamtime stories and lore. Most students found these more abstract works harder to understand and interpret.

Looking at these paintings, students talked about the need to be patient, attentive, and to learn how and where to ask appropriate questions. While practising these skills with the artworks in group discussions, students considered their wider application in healthcare settings.

In contrast to the visual complexity of many of the artworks, the personal stories of the artists in the digital narratives were delivered in “matter of fact” style. This contrast prompted students to consider the different communication styles of people of different backgrounds – which will be relevant in their professional lives.

Students drawing their idea of ‘place’ at the end of a session. Jodie Hutchinson

Students’ reflective essays give us great insights into the transformational experiences they had while viewing exhibition. One student said it “challenged my assumptions”. Another said the experience:

enriched my knowledge about the hardship and troubles Indigenous Australians encountered. Whilst I was aware of the discrimination, abuse, and abduction, among other things that have occurred, it was still difficult to process these events, especially when hearing it from those who experienced it firsthand. I found it challenging to comprehend how the events happened and how these artists coped, as their lives are polar opposites to my own


The combination of digital audio stories and paintings was especially powerful for the Audiology and Optometry students. One student observed that the way an artist spoke about his work was very different to the emotions expressed in his artwork.

The artist I chose was discussing his childhood working on cattle stations and how it was a time of purpose and fulfilment for him. However, his body language in the video and the emotion in his artwork conveyed a more melancholy nostalgia. He talked in depth about how it gave him a purpose in life but skimmed over how he had to leave his family to do so. This example illustrates how in our profession we have to really listen (to verbal and non-verbal cues) to get the more personal information because people are not naturally comfortable opening up to strangers


This exhibition also challenged students’ conceptions of ageing and agency by showing the influence the Elders exert both within their communities and beyond, in contexts that include health, welfare, and culture.


As one of the Mental Health Nursing students later tweeted,

Every painting is like every patient … they all harbour a story which we need to explore to better appreciate & understand them.

How effective is it?

While we know that museums can be agents of social change, there is as yet very little research around the pedagogical utility of art museums in intercultural understanding. Program evaluation is essential to convince academics and students alike that there are tangible as well as intangible benefits to their art museum visits.

At the Ian Potter Museum we have begun three ethics-approved research projects. The first is in Special Needs Dentistry, where we sought to develop students’ capacity to pay closer and more empathetic attention to patients, “beyond the tooth”.

Our research sought to identify any changes in empathy in the students, with tests done before and after the museum intervention. It found that the second year dental students had significantly high levels of empathy and generally perceived the art museum session as a worthwhile experience in terms of widening the scope of core clinical skills including observation and empathy.

Whilst the intervention itself did not alter empathy levels at a single time point, the findings did highlight the need for further investigation into dental student empathy over the course of their studies, and opportunities for increased targeted humanities interventions.

Students at the In the Saddle – On the Wall exhibition. Jodie Hutchinson

A qualitative survey of medical students’ experience of the program in the year following their gallery experience included interviews with museum and health practitioners about their perception of the educational value of these encounters.

Student responses in this study showed they valued the opportunity to learn observational, critical thinking and intra/interpersonal skills, but acknowledged difficulties in incorporating the humanities into the heavily scheduled and bio-medically-focused curriculum.

Another project in Medicine records students’ immediate responses after gallery sessions, followed by an online survey a few weeks later, exploring Indigenous health contexts as well as engagement more generally. Results from this study will be explored by a fourth year Medical student in 2017.

Clearly, for the majority of students, the experience is seen to be a valuable and memorable one. Fourth year Medical Student Kim Pham wrote that her sessions at The Ian Potter Museum of Art taught her about “taking the time to observe”. They also enabled critical discussion, which is essential to science but “often ignored during a packed medical curriculum”.

I left feeling more capable of engaging with the emotional narrative of my patients and being more open to their perspective.

Other universities around Australia are now creating their own programs for health students using their art collections. Flinders University, for instance, is teaching psychiatry students utilising works that include those in their rich collections of Indigenous art.

But in a crowded curriculum, sceptics might ask, is a visit to an art museum really a good use of students’ time?


We can’t yet prove conclusively that it is, but let’s end with more words from Kim Pham. Art, she says, has,

a capacity to make us critical and deep thinkers, using our capacity to observe to the full extent. And this should be a defining part of university education.

This article was written by Heather Gaunt [Curator of Academic Programs at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne]
with the assistance of A/Prof Eleanor Flynn, A/Prof Clare Delany, A/Prof Mina Borromeo, Ms Bronwyn Tarrant, Dr Caitlin Barr and Ms Anthea Cochrane, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, all of whose students participated in engagements at The Ian Potter Museum of Art.