Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Blog

October 18

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

This Thursday night (October 22nd) I’ll be reading a couple of my published ‘dodgy travel’ columns for the Visible Ink writers event ‘Read You Bastards’ at the Empress Hotel in North Fitzroy – all comers welcome. If you’re on Facebook you can check them out here.

On Saturday October 31st I’ll be running a workshop on non fiction writing for the Northern Rivers Writers Centre in Byron Bay. Hardship posting, i know… give me a wave in the surf if you’re up there too.

And i’ve been offered a work space for 2010 at the Glenfern Writers Studio in East St Kilda – hooray. Last weekend i went to a recital at Glenfern which was raising funds for the Dili Hospital in East Timor. I had the privilege of hearing some teen geniuses (genii?) performing on a Schimmel grand piano belonging to The Team of Pianists and I decided that listening to a Bach fugue was the closest i will ever get to understanding the beauty of mathematics.

October 2

Singing in the Mother Tongue

The Melbourne International Arts Festival begins on October 9th, and one of the highlights promises to be dirtsong, the latest creation of The Black Armband. This innovative musical ensemble features many of the best indigenous singers and songwriters in the country, and dirtsong can be seen on October 24th and 25th at the State Theatre. The musical coordinator of the project this year is Iain Grandage, who received the $20,000 Emerging Composer award at the 2009 Ian Potter Cultural Trust Music Commissions awards night that i hosted this week (to hear a broadcast of the award ceremony and a performance of music by some of the winning composers, listen to the audio streaming of ABC Classic FM’s New Music Up Late for Friday October 2nd).

Earlier this year i did a research project for the Black Armband, locating approximately fifteen songs in indigenous languages that could be considered for inclusion in the dirtsong program. Around eighty percent of the songs will be performed in language, and i look forward to hearing which ones made the final cut.

Here are a couple of quotes that informed my research:

‘Language is politics – it is the ‘earth tongue’ or ‘mother tongue’ that speaks the body and constructs dialects of ownership and knowledge. Song in Indigenous cultures is a key mechanism for enculturating land’ – Liza Lim, Australian composer, from notes for her work ‘The Compass’.

‘The world’s languages are melting away. According to UNESCO, they disappear at a rate of one every two weeks. And if we don’t stop the decline, 90% of the world’s languages will be gone by the end of this century…

Languages are part of the world’s intangible heritage. The inexorable march of English across the globe is partly to blame for this shrinking pool of language diversity. And this is nowhere more evident than in Australia. We have the worst record of language extinction on the planet. Before the arrival of Europeans, there were more than 250 languages spoken here. But only half of them are left, and all of them are critically endangered. This means they’ll cease to be spoken in the next generation if nothing is urgently done to save them…

Once a language tips into ‘extinction’, the process of bringing it back… is a long and very challenging journey. But that hasn’t stopped Aboriginal people from undertaking this project’ – Hindsight program, ABC Radio National, ‘Holding Our Tongues’.

September 11

Art in Alice, Stone Brothers at the cinema, music at the Melba Hall

Just back from five days in Alice Springs, where i had the pleasure of visiting the Desert Mob Art Market at the Araluen Arts Centre. Four hours, four gazillion works of Aboriginal art, all for under four hundred dollars each. I was counselled to avoid going early as the bunfights between serious art dealers over these bargains have been likened to the Myer post-Christmas sales – only uglier. So when i arrived at about midday it was busy but not bestial, and i was able to browse (like a child in a lolly shop) and pick up a few small hand-painted plates, mirrors and diary-covers – the only artworks i could justify purchasing given the lack of wall-space at my place.
I was also privileged to visit the Santa Teresa community, about an hour out of Alice, where they were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Keringke Art Centre and the launch of a book about one of the most exciting artists to emerge from that centre – Kathleen Wallace (published by IAD Press). There was musical entertainment from Paul Kelly and some local musicians, traditional dancing, a big barbecue lunch, all followed by the cutting of a giant birthday cake for Keringke Arts.

And to top it all off, i got in a walk around Ormiston Gorge and a freezing swim in Ellery Creek, where the rainbow bee-eaters were having a feast on a tree branch above our heads. Hard to come home to Melbourne…

The consolation prize for heading back to the chilly south was an opportunity to see a preview of Richard Frankland’s new feature film ‘Stone Brothers‘ at the Nova Cinema in Carlton. It’s a kooky road movie featuring two Aboriginal cousins from Kalgoorlie, one Italian stallion, one transvestite and one big hairy spider journeying together across the Western Australian landscape in search of ‘home’. Plenty of giggles, plenty of hope and a feel-good ending make this a fascinating contrast to ‘Samson and Delilah’, the other impressive indigenous movie to come out this year. Next up – Rachel Perkins’ film adaptation of ‘Bran Nue Day’. Can’t wait.

If you’re interested in hearing The Conversation Hour that i recently co-hosted on 774 ABC Melbourne with Jon Faine (September 10th), you’ll hear us chatting with guest authors Jack Marx and Paul Kelly (from ‘The Australian’).

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

And on October 1st I’ll be hosting the Ian Potter Foundation Music Commissions awards night at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Two new Fellowships will be awarded to Australian composers, and there’ll be a special recital from musicians Michael Kieran-Harvey, Merlyn Qauife and Vanessa Tomlinson of works by previous award-winners.

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.