Give your support to State of the Arts Media – a great service with a bright future

State of the Arts Media has just two weeks left to reach their crowdfunding goal of $4000. If they can’t reach it by November 23, they lose the benefit of the donations pledged to date. Their aim is to commission 23 stories from five local writers to continue building a record of arts and culture across western Sydney and regional New South Wales. It’s founded on their generous and audacious vision that the arts help to build understanding, innovation and social cohesion.

After much experimentation, Natalie Wadwell of south west Sydney and her co-founder Lucinda Davison of the NSW south coast established their multi platform website State of the Arts Media at the beginning of the year. At their campaign launch on October 23, they raised $1300 and are now 40% of their way to $4000. The campaign was developed under the umbrella of the international not-for-profit Start Some Good crowdfunding instigator and its Parramatta based event Pitch for Good. They help people initiate and independently finance their own social enterprises.

A year ago, I asked if there was a future for this blog Western Sydney Frontier and following Natalie’s enthusiastic response, State of the Arts Media is now a more than worthy successor. I have gladly contributed copies of my book Passion Purpose Meaning: Arts Activism in Western Sydney as rewards for donations to their fund.

Natalie writes –

There are 3 ways that you can help

Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. You can help us reach our all or nothing fundraising goal by mobilising your community to help us reach $4000 by the 23rd November. Without your support, we risk walking away with nothing.

Are you in?

  • Contribute to our fundraiser. You can choose from some awesome rewards, including copies of Katherine Knight’s book, Passion Purpose Meaning: Arts Activism in Western Sydney. There are only eight $50 vouchers for Taste Cultural Food Tours remaining. You can snap one up before they all go! Gift it to a friend or spoil yourself.
  • Share. Tell your friends why you support SOTA Media. We appreciate that not everyone can financially support our campaign, so don’t forget to include #cultureiseverywhere and we can say a BIG thank you!
  • Read. You can click here to read the talk that started it all at Pitch for Good Parramatta. I spoke about the importance of documenting art and culture from beyond major cities. Will you let me know what you think?

I’d really appreciate any support you can send our way, .
Are you feeling like a cultural crusader?

In creativity,
Natalie

It will soon be four years since Natalie addressed a TEDxYouth@Sydney forum about engaging communities through art. Already in her second year of cultural theory at UNSW’s College of Fine Arts, she was fed up with the lack of creative opportunity for young people in her home suburb of Campbelltown and the constant assumption that people in western Sydney don’t appreciate arts and culture anyway.

She was well aware that the region already had some outstanding arts facilities and programs, like Campbelltown Arts Centre, almost entirely as a result of community advocacy supported by local councils, but there was little for independent young people wanting to explore opportunities for themselves. She knew it was tough, but there wasn’t much encouragement for a career in the arts and little of a climate that welcomed discussion, ideas and experimentation that might support such development.

Rather than accept the status quo, she set out to acquire the skills and experience necessary to enable the emergence of a self-sustaining dynamic creative environment. It had to be okay to trial things and learn from your mistakes. She volunteered and sought mentorship opportunities with creative venues like Campbelltown Arts Centre, 107 Projects in Redfern and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art to analyse and develop some alternative approaches. She was accepted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs last year and completed a course that gave her more of the tools and mentors she needed.

Check out all the links in this story and support in whatever way you can. Five dollars would be a help and $35 will reward you with a copy of the book. We will all benefit.

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200th anniversary of the Appin massacre offers opportunity to reconsider

dailytele-Capt CookMost people probably saw or heard about the Daily Telegraph front page, March 29, which sent commentators into overdrive. Whitewash said the headline – UNSW rewrites the history books to state Cook “invaded” Australia. Some claimed it was political correctness gone mad. Others stated that the university’s guidelines had been around for 20 years and were just that – guidelines for student essay writing. SBS’s “Backburner” offered a satirical opinion piece under the title Outrage as University Teaches History Correctly. In The Guardian online, Paul Daley wrote It’s not politically correct to say Australia was invaded, it’s history. Paul Daley also wrote a story Lachlan Macquarie was no humanitarian – his own words show he was a terrorist.

Camden professional historian, Dr Ian Willis responded to the second story with a blog post Was Governor Lachlan Macquarie a Terrorist? The colonial frontier was a violent location,” he wrote, “and many people suffered and died. Colonialism wreaked havoc on many cultures around the globe. Was Governor Macquarie any better or worse than any other colonial administrator?” Ian considered the NSW colonial frontier and transportation, the colonial frontier wars in North America and elsewhere and the “Sugar Slaves” of Queensland and provided further related references. Among them was a link to the exhibition With Secrecy and Dispatch at Campbelltown Arts Centre. I found myself responding and then copying the response to the Professional Historians Facebook page.

ABC - Tharawal - Glenda Chalker“By chance I have just heard Ellen Fanning on ABC RN Life Matters, this morning, with Tharawal elder Glenda Chalker, reading and discussing Macquarie’s original documents at the State Library and with two historians, considering this proposition “was he a terrorist”. The issue at Appin (in April 1816 – [not 2016!]) was that the Tharawal people gave no “show of resistance” at all. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and the people were sound asleep, The fact that the military attacked in these circumstances, was quite contrary to British law and risked ending the captain’s career and Macquarie’s had it become known. Reporting was therefore oblique and secretive in style, as I understand it. The fact that Aboriginal bodies were beheaded and hung in high places to deter resistance and the heads sent to Scotland [not London], compares with the much condemned contemporary behaviour of Islamic extremists. Those heads were returned to Australia in 1991 and are currently held in a warehouse in Canberra. Dharawal elder Glenda Chalker, above, with the proclamation document ordering the Appin Massacre. (photo by Tracey Trompf on the Life Matters website)

“Arguments which seem to prevail at present,” I wrote, “are that colonial powers at the time were all behaving in similar ways, so this was no worse than any other. For Aboriginal people, context of the times is irrelevant. They did suffer from invasion and where they could, fought back. Australia’s colonial history is much more complex and nuanced than is frequently portrayed. We can’t change it, but we need to face up to it and recognise the continuing consequences to Aboriginal Australians. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, we have a great deal to learn from each other.”

Cataract DamSecretary of the Professional Historians Association, Dr Stephen Gapps, responded, “It’s certainly a 200th anniversary that not a lot of fuss will be made about. Come to the ceremony on 17th” – with a link to Federal MP Laurie Ferguson’s website. Under the heading 2016 Appin Massacre Memorial Ceremony, is written – “To honour the Dharawal people, the Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group is hosting a memorial to mark the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre – Sunday, April 17, 11am, Cataract Dam picnic area. The account given varies somewhat from the Life Matters story, though difficulty, until recently, in getting access to those particular Macquarie documents may well be the cause. Photo – the Cataract Dam as it appears on the website.

Dharawal descendants and supporters have held this annual memorial ceremony now, for 20 years and Ian Willis’s link to the Campbelltown Arts Centre exhibition is closely related. With Secrecy and Despatch has been developed as a response to the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre. New works were commissioned from six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists and are shown alongside existing works by prominent Australian Aboriginal artists. Together these works explore themes of colonial brutality, conflict, identity, culture and memory. If you can’t make it to the memorial, a visit to the exhibition would provide time to reflect on history and contemplate the steps required to share the grieving and find a shared way forward as Australians.

Dedicated individuals work with local focus, but global influence

Randa SayedAround the region, inspired individuals commit themselves to improving their skills, deepening their understanding of their art and sharing their observations and experiences. It’s a major challenge where distance isolates people from face to face contact with each other. One of those who has been on this trajectory for more than a decade is Aanisa Vylet, left. Finding herself in the last intake of students for Theatre Nepean (University of Western Sydney) in 2006, her initial disappointment became the tool that turned frustration into determination that she was going to pursue an acting career, no matter what.

Aanisa has become an independent actor, writer, director and filmmaker. She is passionate about creating new Australian work and draws extensively on her own experience and observations. After an initial foray in 2011, she undertook the professional course at the Jacques Lecoq School Of Movement and Theatre in Paris in 2014. Most recently, she has created Experience and The Girl and has performed it with Brigitta Brown. It has received rave reviews at Adelaide Fringe Festival, where it continues until February 28. Simultaneous to developing her solo careeer, Aanisa maintains a special commitment to Western Sydney where she has worked on several projects.

At Penrith, it is a similar story for Ian Zammit, below – of pursuing international training and a professional career, while maintaining a commitment to his home town. Ian established Theatre Links in the West, two years ago, with the aim of bringing together professionally-minded theatre arts practitioners and supporters of all levels of experience in western Sydney. After co-founding and operating Emu Heights Theatre Company for five years, directing a Ian Zammitseries of well reviewed productions and working with local schools, he was forced to acknowledge that to continue independently needed greater structural support. Theatre Links is the first step in that process and recent meetings have led to constructive discussions about issues that affect small productions, and the need for readings and critical support for new play writing. Ian is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Music and has a BA Hons in Drama and Theatre Studies from Middlesex University in the UK. Once he returned from the UK, he spent more than five years working at Carriageworks, Redfern, while he and his wife Michelle worked with others to establish Emu Heights Theatre Company.

Natalie Wadwell - with-roy-jacksons-blocking-out-west 1975At Campbelltown, in the south west, another person with a deep commitment to her neighbourhood and a passion for meaningful creative activity is Natalie Wadwell, right, (in front of Roy Jackson’s Blocking Out West, 1975). In growing up in the Campbelltown area, she experienced the difficulties common to many young people with limited access to entertainment and opportunities in the region’s sprawling suburbs. Once she reached the age of 18, there were not the local venues and events attractive to her age group and access to others further afield was restrictive. Natalie took a pro-active approach and began volunteering and seeking mentorship opportunities with creative venues like Campbelltown Arts Centre, 107 Projects in Redfern and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art to analyse and develop some alternative approaches. This led her to undertake a BA Hons in art theory and history at UNSW, which earned her first class honours last year.

Wadwell Initiatives logoThrough all this, she has become a cultural researcher and critic, a project director and a passionate advocate for creative initiatives that emerge from within communities. Natalie has developed the Wadwell Initiatives website to promote her ideas and community partnerships, and a blog which discusses many of these. Recently she posted: “For all the times I have written about or spoken on panels about the need to make participation more accessible, it is both exciting and overwhelming to see it finally coming to fruition. If anything meaningful is going to happen, it needs to come from small businesses and entrepreneurs operating independent of cultural policy and in tune to local relevance.”

Among other things, Natalie was referring to Live‘n’Lounging, a not–for-profit house/garden gig series supporting Australian singer-songwriters and bands. The shows have been running in a private home in the Macarthur region (an area which includes Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly Councils) for four and a half years, with opportunities to expand the popular program emerging. She also said, “Campbelltown is gearing up for its first independent Wadwell - Creative Arts Festivalcreative arts festival. Organised by Brian Laul of the Wizard of Oz Playland (Leumeah) this festival seeks to create an opportunity for Campbelltown’s creative community to have a presence. Laul has experience working in journalism, music and theatre. He is currently taking expressions of interest from creative practitioners – be that dance, theatre, visual arts or film to name but a few – to participate in this independently funded and run event. It is anticipated that the festival will take place in September/October 2016. The only guidelines for EOI are quality and 100% independent. The festival, as I imagine it, will open up opportunities for local creatives to participate in and be more visible in the Campbelltown area. Locals can send their EOI to Brian on info@thewizardofozfunland.com.”

Natalie feels optimistic about the burgeoning independent sector in Macarthur and ends her post by saying, “As always, take the local and make it global.”

A chance to reflect on Aboriginality and what it means to be Australian

Paul Keating - 2015

In marking the 23rd anniversary of his Redfern speech on Aboriginal dispossession and white Australian responsibility, former prime minister Paul Keating gave another speech earlier this month, as reported by Michael Gordon in the Sydney Morning Herald. “Aboriginal art and culture draw from the land, for Aboriginality and the land are essential to each other and are inseparable,” (Mr Keating said). “In terms of art at its best, Aboriginal art still carries sacred messages through its symbols and materials, yet manages to hold its secrets while speaking to a broader audience. More than that, it has been effective in translating an entire culture and the understanding of an entire continent.”

Rather than re-enter the debate on constitutional recognition and his support for a compact, or treaty, Michael Gordon wrote, Mr Keating explored a bigger proposition – that Australia’s potential will not be realised until the question of identity is settled.

“Whatever our identity today is or has become, it is an identity that cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia,” he said. “For their 50,000 years here has slaked the land with their resonances, their presence and their spirit.

“Our opportunity is to rejoice in their identity, and without attempting to appropriate or diminish it, fuse it with our own, making the whole richer.”

Across western Sydney there are many opportunities to reflect on what this might mean and how we can be involved.

FCMG - Jeff McMullen with Stephen Willliams

Talk the Change/Change the Talk: an exhibition of Aboriginal self-determination makes its intention quite clear. It is contributing contemporary Aboriginal perspectives to discussion of Australian constitutional change and recognition after 230 years of white colonisation. Talk the Change is a thought provoking exhibition, which can be seen at Fairfield City Museum and Gallery until February 13. Above is Catherine Croll’s photo of Jeff McMullen delivering the opening speech, on November 28, with Uncle Stephen Williams in the right foreground. For many years a correspondent for the ABC and a host on the National Indigenous Television Network, Jeff McMullen has campaigned locally and internationally for the human rights of indigenous people.

FCMG - Blak Douglas plays yidaki - Catherine CrollTalk the Change/Change the Talk is co-curated by Aboriginal descendant, artist and musician, Blak Douglas (aka Adam Hill), who grew up in the Penrith area of western Sydney and Lena Nahlous, the museum and gallery’s curator of social history and exhibitions. Blak Douglas writes in the exhibition catalogue, “We now have entire suburbs where one may be immersed within the vibrancy of cultures from abroad, and there are even festivals of specific flavours. Sadly, though, the reparation of damage to Aboriginal cultures en masse is not occurring at an acceptable rate. Thankfully, utilising art as a voice, we communicate in one of the most powerful mediums . . . .” Blak Douglas, above left, plays the yidaki at the exhibition opening.

His own contribution to the exhibition is a series of photographs taken at the fifth and tenth anniversaries of the annual Redfern march, which continues to protest the death of teenager TJ Hickey in 2004. The white coroner determined that he was not pursued by police, when he became impaled on a fence. Nonetheless, for Aboriginal people TJ Hickey’s death has become a symbol of ongoing police corruption and violence towards Aboriginal people. More than one in four prisoners in Australia are indigenous Australians, despite comprising only three per cent of the population. Between 1980 and 2011, 449 indigenous Australians died in police custody and no police officer has been convicted for these deaths.

Talk the Change/Change the Talk is a modest and quietly reflective exhibition, which includes radio and oral histories, historic photography, music and visual art. It highlights the struggles of Aboriginal individuals and communities for recognition and justice, the right to speak their own languages and to protect their children from being taken by white authorities. While often a deeply disturbing picture, it is also one of resilience and hope. There is humour and determination in statements like Auntie Mae Robinson’s when people say Captain Cook discovered Australia. “My ancestors didn’t lose it, so how could he have discovered it?” Auntie Mae was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from what became the School of Education at the Milperra College of Advanced Education (1983). She remains a strong advocate for teaching Aboriginal history and culture in schools.

1-IMG_4366Well known contemporary artists like Karla Dickens of Wiradjuri descent, display a number of works of protest in the exhibition. She is thankful for the commitment of predecessors, who established the Australian Aborigines’ Progressive Association, and pays tribute to them in a quilt, Having a Voice is Tiresome (2014) while simultaneously expressing frustration that change is coming so slowly.

Speaking of Wiradjuri, it’s worth reading Patti Miller’s The Mind of a Thief, which won the 2013 NSW Premier’s History Award. Patti is a descendant of a German immigrant, who settled on Wiradjuri country, near Wellington in central NSW in the 1850s and whose family has farmed there ever since. She too has felt a connection to land and her explorations of family history and its possible Wiradjuri connections uncover a minefield of history and legislation. She grows to understand how Wiradjuri perspectives are quite different and yet complementary to her own and how respect for elders and their wisdom has diminished, to everyone’s loss. Complexity of Aboriginal relationships is compounded by the Land Council set up by the state government to represent local indigenous people.

A series of art works by Darug descendant Leanne Tobin illustrates the difficulties. The many clans of the Darug were the traditional people of the greater Sydney region and bore the first impact of invasion. For many years, it was assumed that they had all died out. “Even now,” she says, “Darug people are often seen to be ‘too white to be black’, and the continued denial of our very existence by local Aboriginal Land Councils allows continuing selling off and destruction of our tribal lands without consultation with the rightful custodians.”

1-IMG_4367Cathie Louise Banton is a granddaughter of Herbert (Bert) Groves, president of the Aborigines’ Progressive Association. Another participant in the exhibition, Cathie recorded an interview with Lena Nahlous, in which she outlined her parent’s struggle with poverty and the brief removal of their five children by white authorities. Later, she endured a violent marriage for 26 years, before finally escaping. Now she finds comfort, support and creative liberation in the Guntawang Aboriginal Women’s Group, which she helped to found in the Fairfield area in August 2013. Guntawang was initiated by Wendy Morgan, who retired from the Commonwealth public service after nearly 30 years and their third founding member was Margaret Roberts. Now 15 women attend fortnightly Guntawang meetings.

“Guntawang’s aims are to help support and strengthen social cohesion and identity for Aboriginal people, encourage creative expression and innovation cross a broad range of arts and crafts activities, and build self esteem for participants to become involved in the wider community.” Members exhibit a series of individual quilts, see above, which tell stories of their dreaming, where they grew up, their families, community totems and belonging to the land. Two of the quilts talk about discrimination and exclusion from the constitution.

Jacinta-Tobin-LOMusician and composer Jacinta Tobin, right, provided some of the lively musical entertainment at the launch. “We can do things differently,” she said. “We don’t have to go down the same angry path as before. Two thirds of our people were lost in the first five years. . . . . . Listen to country – not all the stories you hear are true – listen to country.” Then with a laugh she added, “We won anyway, by marrying into you mob!”

Two more opportunities to immerse yourself in indigenous experience are coming in January. Dharawal Aboriginal Corporation will host the Airds Summer Film and Music Screening series, organised by Campbelltown Arts Centre across four Saturdays. It will screen films like The Sapphires, Bran Nue Dae and the premiere of Black Comedy season two. Then there is the Sydney Festival program Fire Bucket, where you are invited into backyards in Sydney CBD, Redfern and Parramatta. Here you can sit with 93 year old Mt Druitt identity and Bidgambul elder Uncle Wes Marne around the fire bucket, while he yarns with friend and theatre director Alicia Talbot. Every night will be different as they talk of stories, dreams and wisdom. Bookings 1300 856 876 or online.

And then there is the remarkable announcement this week, which has largely gone under the radar – Aboriginal languages to become new HSC subject. “At long last, the Framework for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages has been released by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority as part of the national curriculum,” writes Professor Jakelin Troy in the Sydney Morning Herald. Professor Troy is director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research at the University of Sydney and lead author of the Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages. “The success of this framework will ultimately hinge upon the level of government backing and financial support our teachers receive. There is still a huge amount of work ahead to support communities and schools to work together to create local language curriculum,” she says.

Another illuminating step towards a different response to our history.

Cross cultural music, writing and Aboriginal dance uplift and inspire

Syd Sacred Music Fest 15 - Sacred ExchangeLast Saturday’s opening night concert of Sydney Sacred Music Festival 2015, at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, was even more extraordinary than might have been anticipated. In the preceding week, two of the five featured musicians, Uyghur bard, Shohrat Tursun and Sudanese multi-instrumentalist Asim Gorachi were unable to return to Australia in time. Taking their places were Nicholas Ng on the Erhu/Chinese violin and Yolngu vocalist from Arnhem Land, Gambirra Illume. Gambirra is also an exponent of ceremony and could only confirm her presence 24 hours before the concert.

As a tribute to their skills and professionalism the resulting Sacred Exchange was seamless. Each of the musicians gave an individual demonstration of their instruments and explained their origins and roles in diverse religious or cultural ceremony. Australia’s Grand Master of the Japanese shakuhachi, Riley Lee; Mongolian throat singer and horse fiddle player Bukhu Ganburged; and Australia’s leading exponent of the Indian Tabla, Bobby Singh joined Gambirra and Nicholas in an atmosphere of meditation and transcendence. Humorous little insights were often given into the performers’ personal experience of their instruments. Bobby Singh drew laughter after the players combined in an improvised collaboration, when he reflected that this was a Sydney Saturday night. They could have been anywhere in the world, uplifted in harmony, while others were at the football, or drinking beer. On stage, above, are Gambirra, left, Nicholas, Bobby, Buku and Riley.

1-Syd Sacred Music Fest 15 - PAS - WritersThe festival continues to September 19 and includes Stories of the Sacred tomorrow night, Thursday, September 10, at Parramatta Artists Studios. Writers Walter Mason and Maryam Azam, left, will investigate the everyday revealing those sacred spaces we never usually notice. A concert at Campbelltown Arts Centre on Friday night explores Ancient Rhythms, Future Visions. It’s a collaborative performance featuring the “Godfather of Indian Electronica” DJ Coco Varma with some of Sydney’s finest South Asian performers melding sacred dance and music with Sufi poetry and electronica. At Bankstown Arts Centre on Saturday night Sacred Rituals of Sudan is a multimedia concert that features the sacred ritual and ceremonies of Sudan. The Sudanese Sufi community of Sydney comes together to showcase Sufi traditions in song, dance and video. The night will feature the Sufi Chant group Bashier and the visual art of Ghasan Saaid. Click here for festival details for the next 10 days.

Wagana - BarangarooAt the opening of the new Barangaroo reserve on Sydney Harbour, on September 6, Wagana Aboriginal Dancers, right, performed with Janawi Dance Clan, NAISDA, Matthew Doyle, Clarence & Tim Bishop, Excelsior, Thomas Kelly, Darren Compton and Koomurri.

For several weeks they have also been developing a new work Gaurii – Crow – using an area of burnt out bushland in the Blue Mountains as their inspiration. Gaurii is part one of Have you ever found a feather and wondered whose it was? The new work in progress is intended for schools and festivals later in the year and throughout 2016. Director Jo Clancy says, “I’ve been working with Jacinta Tobin and 4 dancers Becky Chatfield, David Newton, Nadia Martich and Glory Tuohy-Daniell. Now we hope to get some feed back.”

Wagana - GauriiYou are invited to join them for their first public presentation on Saturday, September 19, at 5.30pm, at Kindlehill Performance Space, Lake Street, Wentworth Falls, in the Blue Mountains. Tickets are available at the door for $10 and $5. Call 0409 651 290. The dancers would love to hear your responses and ideas. Photo above by Jamie Murray. This first development is being supported by the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture and Resource Centre and funded by the Blue Mountains City of the Arts Trust.

A designated failure becomes a model for arts and heritage success

1-IMG_4092When Dr Geoff Lee, state member for Parramatta, introduced the first “community consultation” about the future of the North Parramatta heritage precinct in November 2013, he spoke of the opportunity to unleash economic potential. He described the need of a sustainable heritage precinct and the chance to create the best exemplar of cultural tourism. There would be many competing interests involved and it was essential that everyone be prepared to compromise in the interests of a big vision everyone could share. He cited the comparable example of the old Callan Park Psychiatric Hospital site, at Rozelle, as a planning failure. Beginning in 1989, community protests had prevented development proposals from going ahead. Old buildings now lay vacant and deteriorating. He didn’t want that to happen in Parramatta.

During the 1970s and 1980s, changes in mental health care were leading to the closure of institutions, including Callan Park, at Rozelle. The Parramatta Psychiatric Centre didn’t close, but its services changed and it was renamed Cumberland Hospital – now the site of contention about the NSW Government’s North Parramatta urban renewal proposals. The southern campus of Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital was closed in 1985, and is now the Parramatta campus of the University of Western Sydney. Photographed above is one of the old Callan Park buildings currently in use. It is now the home of Sydney College of the Arts, where a new pictorial history Callan Park: Compassion and Conflict in the Asylum was launched in SCA Galleries last Saturday, before a large and enthusiastic audience.

1-Callan Park - Sandstone Jungle - Tom UlmanHistorian Roslyn Burge used images, documents and interviews to create a thoughtful insight into the former mental asylum – the patients, residents, staff, the local community, its landscape, and its importance as a place of refuge and confrontation in the past, and today. Callan Park: Compassion and Conflict in the Asylum draws from an exhibition of the same name and is published by Friends of Callan Park. Left, is Sandstone Jungle, Tom Ulman’s winning photograph in the Heritage Festival 2015 ‘Capture Callan Park’ photography competition, staged and exhibited by Leichhardt Council

In the book’s later pages, under the heading of Conflict, the stages of development of community action are outlined. In 1989, the state government’s slowness to disclose any details of its plans led to the formation of Save the Callan Park Action Group. Outraged by government secrecy about plans for a retirement home in 1998, the Friends of Callan Park was formed. It maintained a strong campaign to preserve the parkland for the mentally ill and ensure that NPRAG rally protestthe whole site remain in public ownership and under public control. Ten years later, the last patients were unceremoniously bussed out of Callan Park. In 2009, however, the present Minister for Planning (then a member of the Opposition), Rob Stokes, told a protest rally that their demands would be granted and delivered a five point plan supported by the Liberals. Nothing happened until a draft Callan Park Master Plan was presented to the now state government by Leichhardt Council. (Above, locals at North Parramatta protest about government secrecy earlier this year.)

The final entry on the Conflict page reads: 4 June, 2015 – unanimous agreement by NSW Parliament to implement a Trust for Callan Park was received with applause. . . . The decision to appoint a Trust for Callan Park is the first step in establishing a foundation which will set the course for the future appropriate care and management of this exceptional cultural landscape. The Friends of Callan Park has clear priorities and believes that the new model of care proposed in the Callan Park Master Plan 2011 could be a beacon for channelling compassion and conflict in a tranquil landscape that is already a vibrant and established resource enjoyed by the entire community for passive enjoyment, organised sport, dog walking and children’s play.

Anything but an illustration of failure, this success is an inspiration for the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct campaigners. It is a particularly encouraging model for current psychiatric patients at the Cumberland Hospital, who face an uncertain future.

COFA -The Slackers - cosmic_love_newsFrom August 15, you have an opportunity to visit SCA Galleries at Rozelle and see an exhibition co-curated with Campbelltown Arts Centre. The Slackers was a radical group of artists who took their name from the old Surry Hills slacks factory where they worked (photo above). Interdisciplinary and emergent artists, The Slackers operated from 1997 to 2002, including the core group at the heart of the space – Shaun Gladwell, Angelica Mesiti, Emma Price, Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy, Wade Marynowsky, Alex Davies, Techa Noble, Michael Schiavello, Chris Fox, Melody Willis, Lea Donnan, Simon Cooper and Laura Jordan. Many have since developed successful careers

CAC Gladwell1 - Maximus Swept Out to SeaUnder the title Cosmic Love Wonder Lust: The Imperial Slacks Project they have come together in 2015 to revisit this period. At the Rozelle and Campbelltown sites, they are exhibiting works from that earlier time and newly commissioned works responsive to their former practice. Left, Shaun Gladwell‘s Maximus Swept out to Sea (Wattamolla), 2013, single-channel digital video. The exhibitions continue to September 12 at Rozelle and October 18 at Campbelltown and include a forum on artist run spaces, collectives and collectivity as a mode of working. For more details on the program click Sydney College of the Arts and Campbelltown Arts Centre.

Western Sydney arts advocacy packs a growing political and economic punch

SMH funding imbalance

Ian Milliss‘s Facebook posts this morning say it all. He is responding to the figures above as published in the Sydney Morning Herald, February 26, 2015, and an item today Western Sydney Arts Funding an ‘insult’– a quote from Andrew Taylor’s CAC future plansinterview with Christopher Brown, chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue. Christopher was speaking in support of Campbelltown Arts Centre’s $30 million proposal for redevelopment – see artist’s impression, right.

“There is a revolt brewing for sure, this is not just rhetoric,” says Ian. “I’ve been at meetings with local councils and politicians where growing anger is palpable. Some areas like the Blue Mountains which now has one of the largest concentrations of artists in Ian MllissNSW receive close to zero funding. Basically the AGNSW Bloat has to be cancelled and the money put into something between Parramatta and Penrith, an enormous area in itself. Remember, it is the people living out west who are paying for this but can’t get to it. I recommend Billy Gruner’s idea of buying up the Marcel Breuer factory at Penrith and all surrounding buildings and using it as a centrepiece for a complex called AGNSW West.”

Ian, left, says “The Deloitte’s report that spells out the extraordinary disparity in arts funding is shocking. Basically a majority of the Sydney population is funding a concentration of arts facilities in the city centre for tourists and the eastern suburbs’ wealthy. This is not a sustainable situation and the AGNSW Bloat project plus the cancellation of the Parramatta Kings School arts precinct are really bringing it to a head. This is not a storm in a teacup and it is not going away, it is barely beginning.”

More than 2000 submissions have been made to the Senate enquiry into arts funding, including many of high calibre from western Sydney – see Carl Sciberras, July 14. The enquiry was called by the Senate as a result of the dramatic changes to funding in the last federal budget, which took $27 million a year for four years from the Australia Council budget for allocation by the Ministry for the Arts to a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). The impact in western Sydney will be disproportionately severe.

1-IMG_4031An example of successful arts advocacy at work is the now annual Funpark celebrations at Bidwill, near Mt Druitt. Held for the second time only last weekend, the achievements of the first Funpark, held as part of Sydney Festival 2014, were clear for everyone to see, right. The whole carpark had been resurfaced, the kebab shop was upgraded and a new FoodWorks supermarket had been operating for six months. This was the result after Funpark 2014, highlighted the lack of adequate shopping facilities for locals, poor public transport to access other shops, and limited recreational outlets for young people. Blacktown Council has been a great supporter of these initiatives and plans a new basketball court for Bidwill.

But the improvements are fragile. FoodWorks has been very cooperative, but to survive economically, it needs other businesses to join them to attract sufficient custom. It has trained about 20 local people to work there, but can currently employ only two. Therese Wilson, the local resident who willingly opened her home in Cuppa Tea with Therese, as part of Funpark, see below, offered insights and answered questions about life in Bidwill. She spoke of many people in public housing surviving on little more than $500 per fortnight, from which the Department of Housing takes 25% in rent.

1-1-IMG_4030-001“The half hour walk to other shops is alright, but the $20 taxi fare back home with a load of groceries is out of the question,” she said. “Careful budgeting is very important. You have to save for weeks if you need a new pair of shoes.” Therese, who is a deeply committed community volunteer, describes doing her own survey among local teenagers and finding many of them want theatre, music and dance opportunities. When offered an opportunity for young people to participate in an inner Sydney theatre company, she pointed out that they could afford neither the time nor the fares to get there. An offer from an outreach director of another company might prove more fruitful. Stay tuned.