Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Blog

August 14

Back from Byron, Watching Balibo, Singing for the Planet

Just back from the Byron Bay Writers Festival on the northern coast of NSW where i hosted two panels of writers and was interviewed by Meanjin journal editor Sophie Cunningham (click here to read Sophie’s Byron Bay blog). Delightful weather (cf. last year when apparently Noah’s Floodes sent everyone packing) and an eclectic mix of writers (from former undercover cops to sexagenarian rock stars to controversial bio-ethicists) combined to create an entirely enjoyable three days of words words words can’t get enough of those words.

My next essay for Meanjin is on the topic of the Balibo Five, the five newsmen murdered in East Timor in 1975 whilst reporting on the Indonesian invasion for Australian television. If you haven’t been to see the new Australian feature film ‘Balibo’ yet (directed by Rob Connolly), get onto it. One of the best films made in this country for years.

Looking forward to catching the fabulous King Curly on Sunday afternoon (16th August) at the Oakleigh Bowling Club before they head off on a tour of the US of A. If they don’t play ‘Sometimes i wish i was a girl’, this girl will weep.

And next week i’ll be getting my regular fix of Handel opera with the Victorian Opera’s new production of ‘Xerxes‘, being performed at the benighted new Melbourne Recital Hall.

If you’re interested in hearing a musical line-up including Paul Kelly, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter, Katie Noonan and the Cat Empire (and who wouldn’t be), come along to the Melbourne Town Hall on Tuesday 25th August for a concert to raise funds for an Indigenous Literacy Project.

I’ll be co-hosting The Conversation Hour on 774 ABC Melbourne with Jon Faine at 11:00 am on Thursday September 10th – guests include journalists Jack Marx and Paul Kelly (the other PK).

On the same day i’ll be running the third of five non-fiction writing workshops for the Victorian Writers Centre in the Nicholas Building on Swanston St, Melbourne.

And on September 18th i’ll be singing in a concert in the Melba Hall at the University of Melbourne, Parkville. Called ‘Songs for a Changing Planet’, it features musical settings of poetry by Michael Leunig, David Howard and Graeme Ellis by local composers Natalya Wagner and Johanna Selleck, and is a fund-raiser for the Australian Conservation Foundation. For bookings phone (03) 9758 2641.

July 17

Festivals, Photographs and Non Fiction

– Next weekend from Thursday 23rd July to Sunday 26th July i’ll be performing nightly with singer/songwriter Paul Kelly in Christchurch, New Zealand for his A to Z concerts during the Christchurch Festival. I’m looking forward to catching some other events in the Festival and will report back on my return.

– From Friday August 7th to Sunday August 9th I’ll be appearing at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, ‘In Conversation’ with Sophie Cunningham, editor of Meanjin, about my essay on shyness in the June edition of that journal. I’ll also be hosting a range of forums with guests including songwriters Don Walker, Brian Cadd and James Griffin, and authors Tom Keneally and Bob Ellis. I’ll also be running some writing workshops in Byron Bay later in the year, via the Northern Rivers Writers Centre.

– On Saturday August 30th I’m hosting the launch screening of the new Australian feature film ‘Balibo’ at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre, and interviewing writer/director Robert Conolly (The Bank, Romulus My Father) and several cast members. The event is part of the Travelling Melbourne International Film Festival. The film will have an Australian cinema release some time soon after that, and i highly recommend it as a gripping and intensely moving cinematic experience. Keep an eye out also for my essay about the Balibo Five (the five television newsmen murdered in East Timor in 1975) in the September edition of the Meanjin journal.

– My next Victorian Writers Centre workshop on Writing Non Fiction will be held on August 13th, followed by one a month until the end of the year. Contact the VWC for more information.

– Anyone interested in applying for the excellent RMIT Professional Writing and Editing course (in which i teach journalism and non-fiction) would be well-advised to do so as soon as possible, before TAFE fees rise hugely (starting in 2010) for students who already have a degree or diploma – from approximately $800 a year to $8000!

– If you have a chance, take a look at the new interactive exhibition of photographs by Stuart Spence at the Mars Gallery (418 Bay Port Melbourne). The images are exquisitely beautiful and infinitely sad. Several talented Australian songwriters have composed songs to go with the images, which you can listen to through headphones as you wander round the gallery space.

July 6

Benalla Recital postponed

Apologies but my French recital in Benalla on July 12th has had to be postponed due to ill-health. I will post all details of the new recital date when it is finalised.

June 21

SP – What’s Happening

– On Monday June 22nd i’ll be hosting a community forum for the City of Maribyrnong to discuss the future of Jack’s Magazine, an exciting new arts space in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

– At the end of June i’ll be re-visiting East Timor (my last trip was in 2005) to attend the 2009 Timor-Leste Studies Association Conference, ‘Understanding Timor-Leste: A Research Conference’ in Dili from 2-3 July. I plan to produce some radio features from this trip.

– On Thursday July 9th I will be conducting the first of five monthly workshops for the Victorian Writer’s Centre on writing non-fiction. Places are still available if you’re interested in coming along but bookings close early in July so best to get in touch with the VWC soon.

– I’ve been invited to give a recital of French art songs and clarinet works at the Benalla Art Gallery on the afternoon of Sunday July 12th. Starts at 2:30 pm and composers will include Hahn, Poulenc, Satie, Bozza and Faure.

– From Thursday 23rd July to Sunday 26th July i’ll be performing with singer/songwriter Paul Kelly in Christchurch, New Zealand for his A to Z concerts during the Christchurch Festival.

– And from August 7th to 9th I’ll be appearing at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, hosting a range of forums and being interviewed ‘In Conversation’ by Sophie Cunningham, editor of Meanjin, about my essay on shyness in the June edition of that journal. Keep en eye out also for my essay about the Balibo Five in the September edition of Meanjin.

– Anyone interested in applying for the excellent RMIT Professional Writing and Editing course (in which i teach journalism and non-fiction part-time) would be well-advised to do so as soon as possible, before TAFE fees rise hugely (starting in 2010) for students who already have a degree or diploma – from approximately $800 a year to $8000!

March 17

From Sicily to Stonnington

I’m heading to Italy in April for a couple of weeks to visit northern Sicily and the Amalfi Coast, so this blog may go quiet for a little while. Ma ritornero!

In the meantime, you might like to consider coming along to the next City of Stonnington forum that i’ll be hosting on Thursday April 30th, 7 pm at the Malvern Town Hall. The topic is ‘Sustainability’ – and I can’t think of anything more important in these environmentally frightening times.

And if you’re looking for an intensely moving night out at the theatre in Melbourne, check out ‘The Year of Magical Thinking‘, a one-woman play by American writer Joan Didion performed by Robin Nevin for the Melbourne Theatre Company (until April 11th).

Better still – read the autobiographical book of the same name which inspired the play – it won a Pulitzer Prize. (Published by Random House)

February 26

Latin Lover on Lingua Franca

This Saturday (28th February) the Lingua Franca program on ABC Radio National will feature an interview I did recently with Lorna Robinson, the author of ‘Ad Nauseam: A Miscellany of Latin Words and Phrases’ (pub. Simon and Schuster). She’s a passionate advocate of learning Latin as a way of gaining a deeper understanding and love of language, and has been teaching it to all comers in English parks and gardens. The program goes to air at 3:45pm, but will also be available as a podcast after the broadcast.

On the evening of Thursday 12th March I will be hosting a public forum for the City of Stonnington on ‘Creativity and Innovation in the Fashion Industry‘ at the Malvern Town Hall. Guests will include Just Jeans founder Craig Kimberley, Kate Hannaford from Moth Design and fashion industry insider Ko Kellock. The forum will also be available as a podcast after the event.

Keep an eye out for my forthcoming essay on the topic of shyness, which will be published in Meanjin literary journal in the June 2009 edition.

And I have been invited to be a guest speaker at the Byron Bay Writers Festival which will take place from 7th – 9th August this year. Full program details will be available from June 5th.

January 23

From Frankston to Baltimore

‘Frankston Lights’ is a new musical written by Bobby McHugh (with additional songs by Maddy and Memphis Kelly) and directed by Kaarin Fairfax, premiering this week in The Cube performance space at the Frankston Arts Centre. With their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, the creators have crafted a musical in the fine tradition of a-show-all-about-being-in-a-show. In this instance, it’s a Frankston ‘follies’ show, desperately in need of a juvenile male lead, but (temporarily) thwarted by an evil producer with a grudge against the family of (clearly) The Most Talented Juvenile Lead in the Southern ‘Burbs!

As community theatre it works beautifully – it’s about a specific place, it’s full of in-jokes about that place, and it has used the wide-ranging skills of a bunch young performers from that place. (Have you ever heard a pretty French woman try and pronounce ‘mullet’? Hint – it rhymes with creme brule) There’s a team of young hip hop dancers who almost steal the show, some sweet singing from the talented Kelly gals, and the juvenile male lead is indeed Most Talented. Final performance is this Sunday night, 8 pm.

Speaking of place, this has been the summer of ‘The Wire’, the astonishingly well-written HBO series set in Baltimore. Night after night i have been drawn back to the TV to find out what will happen next in the lives of the police, politicians and drug-pushers on the streets of this fictionalised city. The stories are complex and interwoven, the number of key characters is vast, much of the language is pure dialect, and there are more gruesome murders per episode than this squeamish viewer has ever been able to stomach before – and yet it is irresistible. It is an insightful study of how criminal underclasses are formed and become self-sustaining, through the creeping corruption and blind ideological rigidities of local and national politics. But mostly it is quality screen entertainment. Warning – don’t get too emotionally involved with any of the potentially redeemable crims. They usually come to a bad end.

Available on DVD from an increasing number of retail outlets (if you want to avoid joining the criminal underclass of DVD burners, lenders and borrowers).

Having praised HBO’s latest screen gem, nothing could possibly be as diverting as the televised inauguration of US President Barack Obama this week. Can it be true? Or is this an elaborate hoax by the creators of ‘The West Wing’, who will soon reveal that the handsome young Kenyan-American is merely the latest incarnation of the Jed Bartlett-style fictional liberal President, played by a really really really good English actor with an ear for accents?
i hope not.

December 11

Australia versus Shane Warne – who wins?

Team A – Oscar award-winning credentials, celebrity cast, massive budget, humungous publicity campaign, and a story that draws on the dust-laden history of this wide brown land.

Team B – Green Room award-winning credentials, celebrity subject, meagre budget, modest publicity campaign (helped along by surprise endorsement from celebrity subject) and a story that draws on the dirt-laden history of this wide brown land’s best ever bowler.

For my money, Team B – ‘Shane Warne the Musical’ – wins hands down.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy ‘Australia’, the movie-cum-tourism campaign – to be honest, I found it completely fascinating. Baz Luhrmann has an astonishing gift for collecting images, narrative fragments and audio ear-worms from a vast range of sources and creating a kaleidoscopic cultural product which sets off little penny-bangers in your head.

For example, most of the actors he has cast have starred in at least one iconic Australian film, including Jack Thompson (Sunday Too Far Away), Bruce Spence (Stork), Max Cullen (Sunday Too Far Away), John Jarratt (Wolf Creek), David Gulpilil (Storm Boy) and Arthur Dignam, who played the dodgy priest in Fred Schepisi’s ‘The Devil’s Playground’.

Dignam once again plays a priest in Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’, and there is a scene in which this priest is taking a group of young Aboriginal boys away in a small boat to an island mission. Nullah, the boy who has been informally adopted by Nicole Kidman’s character, is standing on the back of the boat with the priest looming over him, and as you watch his face crease with fear, suddenly the whole claustrophobic, sexually-abusive world of ‘The Devil’s Playground’ explodes in your memory. That’s just one small example – but these moments of recognition, of drawing on authentic moments from other texts, happen about once every three minutes, so by the end of almost three hours in the cinema, my head was aching with an overload of imitation, mimicry, borrowing, stealing, post-modern referencing, re-using and recycling – call it what you will.

The script is pretty naff, and the central premise – that we’ll engage with the tragedy of the stolen generation if it’s a story about an Aboriginal kid who has been stolen away from a white woman – is dubious, to say the least. But it looks amazing, and if you don’t mind running the risk of laughing out loud at inappropriate moments (as I did, often), go and see it.

But you MUST NOT MISS ‘Shane Warne the Musical’!

If you enjoyed ‘Keating the Opera’, you will enjoy Eddie Perfect’s new show about the hapless Australian spin bowler who we love to love/hate. Eddie plays Shane and is definitely the star of the show, but the cast members are all excellent, including Rosemarie Harris who plays Warne’s ex-wife Simone, Sally Bourne who plays his mum, and Mike McLeish (Keating) who plays a range of supporting characters. They’re directed by Neil Armfield (who directed ‘Keating’) and even Shane himself likes the show!

The lyrics are as funny as they are clever, the story is told as sympathetically as possible (given what a balls-up Warnie seemed to make of everything other than cricket – excuse the pun) and the ever-changing musical styles in this show range from a gospel song about beer to a Bollywood dance dnumber about corruption in cricket – and everything in between. It’s on at the Atheneum Theatre until at least January 11th 2009, and it’s heading to Perth in March.

November 28

Flying Sheep and Talking Washing Machines

As a tragic fan of Handel, I’ve been looking forward to Opera Australia’s 2008 production of Orlando which opened at The Arts Centre last night – and I was not disappointed. Soprano Emma Matthews was a suitably glamourous Angelica, and her voice is simply perfect for this Baroque repertoire – creamy, agile and powerful enough to carry to the top balcony of the vast State Theatre. Mezzo soprano Dominica Matthews (any relation?) was also in fine form as Orlando, the unrequited lover torn between love and war. I almost believed she WAS a man, especially when she allowed herself to sound less than beautiful in attacking certain key phrases in the second half of the opera, when Orlando is going stark raving bonkers. But when beauty and clarity of vocal line was required, she always delivered.

The real star of this production, though, was the set design. Delightfully playfully post-modern, it encompassed a huge, fragmenting map of the world (which also served as a series of ‘doorways’ worthy of a Feydeau farce), a giant telex machine, an even more giant desk lamp, and innumerable life-sized plastic sheep which rolled across the stage, leant up against a desk and even flew through the air. Bravo to set and costume designers Kimm Kovac and Andrew Hays for imagining it all – and then finding a way to make it happen. Orlando is on until December 13th.

And at the Carlton Courthouse this week i’ve seen the La Mama production of Cynthia Troupe’s new play Care Instructions. Part Beckett, part Gertrude Stein, part C.S Lewis, it features a talking frontloader (courtesy of video footage of a Liz Jones monologue projected onto the door of the washing machine – hilarious) and three women in large laundry bags, reciting, dancing, singing and laughing their way through a text about – oh i dunno – washing, worrying, wondering, wishing, and that spiteful spindle from Sleeping Beauty. Clever, funny, absurd, and yet also somehow strongly feminist (for this audience member, anyway) – a great combination.

If you’re reading the A2 section of The Age tomorrow (Saturday 29th November), keep an eye out for the print version of my Lingua Franca essay about platitudes.

And only twelve more sleeps till the opening of Shane Warne The Musical, directed by Neil Armfield and written by (and starring) the amazing Eddie Perfect! Be there or be out for a duck.

November 19

Platitudes, Playing Perth and a World Heritage Park

You might like to check out my latest Radio National program – a voice-piece for Lingua Franca broadcast this week – an essay in defence of platitudes. There is a transcript available on the RN website and for a while you can also listen to the program online.

I had a very enjoyable, if somewhat rain-drenched, week of gigs with Paul Kelly at The Quarry in Perth recently. (click here for a review of the A-Z shows in The Australian newspaper). The Quarry is a stunningly beautiful outdoor venue and will be well-used in the forthcoming Perth International Arts Festival, February/March 2009. If you’re flying Qantas early next year, keep an eye out for an article i’m writing about the Perth Festival for ‘The Australian Way’ inflight magazine.

Also just back from visiting Mildura and Mungo National Park in southern New South Wales. We took a tour of the park with Graham Clark, a traditional owner who runs Harry Nanya Tours, who told us all about the history of the lake as one of the oldest sites of human occupation, dating back around 60,000 years. You can still see ancient Aboriginal middens revealed by the winds blowing across the dry lake bed to the Walls of China, a crescent of white sand dunes which turns a lurid shade of orange/pink at sunset. Amazing place.