Category: miscellaneous

David Pocock leads sporting charge on emissions

Wallabies flanker David Pocock, along with teammates Bernard Foley and Dane Haylett-Perry, have announced their partnership with a scheme that aims to compensate for the carbon emissions associated with travel.

Earlier this year, musician Heidi Lenffer, from Australian band Cloud Control, launched FEAT. (Future Energy Artists), an initiative that would allow musicians to invest in a solar farm on Queensland’s Darling Downs.

Lenffer was concerned about the carbon emissions generated by her group’s touring schedule and what she saw as her own contribution to the climate emergency. Now, FEAT. is opening up to other sectors and individuals.

When FEAT. was announced, Pocock responded via Instagram – “he was putting enthusiastic emoji responses on a lot of our posts,” Lenffer said – and contacted another songwriter, Jack River, who put the two of them in touch.

Pocock, currently with the Wallabies in Japan for the Rugby World Cup, told the Guardian that “as an athlete, you’re in a somewhat similar position to artists in that there’s no escaping what you do requires travel, and I’m very conscious of my personal contribution.

“To see what FEAT. was doing, and to see people like Heidi getting on with it and trying to harness that energy into actually building the future we know is coming and we all want to see, but need to speed up, that was really exciting.”

Lenffer said that while FEAT. started and would always be identified with the musical community, she was keen for the scheme to expand and be inclusive. “We see allies in other industries as being critical to the success of what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Money invested in FEAT. is being used to buy ownership stakes in a solar farm called Brigalow, near the town of Pittsworth in south-east Queensland. The floor price for investment is low, just $5. The farm will power the equivalent of over 11,000 homes for 30 years.

The former Wallabies captain presented the scheme to his teammates, trying to impress upon them the carbon footprint of a rugby tour. “It’s like any slice of the population. There’s some guys who were interested in it, others didn’t really see it as an issue,” he said.

“I just presented the guys with what FEAT. was doing, giving them an idea of the Wallabies’ emissions this year and suggesting we team with them as a way of investing an equivalent amount into renewable energy.”

He convinced Foley and Haylett-Perry to come on board. “They’re excited about seeing solutions to these problems that we’re facing … It’s ridiculous to think that changing lightbulbs and that sort of things is enough. Those days are over. We need a big system change.”

Pocock has been a vocal campaigner about the climate emergency, and has extended that to direct action: in 2014, he was arrested in a protest against Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine in northern New South Wales.

He extended his support to the wave of school strikes started by Greta Thunberg. “If you look at social change, it very seldom just happens. It ends up taking a percentage of the population actually willing to give up their freedoms and engage in civil disobedience,” he said.

He also highlighted how global heating was already impacting on world sport, with a sharp message for rugby’s governing bodies. “I’m not playing rugby in Australia next year, but round one of Super Rugby is in January next year,” he said.

“Can you imagine, in the last weekend of January, playing 80 minutes of rugby? That’s the way that change is going to happen in sport, when a few players get together – and our player’s unions – and say, hang on, this is an issue that’s going to affect our sport.”

Asked what he would say to those who tell him to “stick to sport” – and many have – Pocock said “first and foremost, we’re all humans, and this is a much bigger issue than sport … It’s an existential threat.”

“Rugby’s a big part of my life and I’m doing absolutely everything I can to be playing at my best to be contributing to the Wallabies working towards us winning the World Cup and taking it back to Australia, that’s what we’re all working for.

“But I really believe that sport is at its best when it’s challenging society to be more inclusive, to be more forward thinking, and hopefully this is an area where sport can play more of a role, because we certainly aren’t getting the leadership from our politicians.

“When young people who are too young to vote tell us their futures are on the line, you’ve got to listen to them. They’re not making it up, they’re listening to the best of the available scientific projections. Ignoring the issue doesn’t make it go away, unfortunately.”

First published in The Guardian, 10 October 2019

Tribute to Andrew McGahan, Brisbane Writers Festival

I’ve said for a long time that Praise was to Brisbane literature what the Saints’ album (I’m) Stranded was to music. In fact, I first made this analogy on the last page of my first book Pig City, a book in which I quoted Andrew at several key points.

Why the comparison to Stranded? It seems pretty obvious to me. The rawness. A voice that blew away all the surrounding bullshit – the boredom and stasis and sweat of Brisbane – with short, bullet-tipped sentences.

Demolition girls, nights in Venice. Paralytic tonight, Pig City tomorrow.

Praise described a town I recognised, but hadn’t been in for very long. I got here on Christmas Eve of 1986 on a Greyhound bus. It took a while to find my feet, and my way around. On the surface, there didn’t seem to be much happening. Underneath it was a different story.

Praise is a bit like that, too. There wasn’t much of a plot, but all the main characters seemed to be in various stages of losing it. That was a good metaphor for Brisbane around that time. Those characters and Andrew’s language were what gave his debut its narrative propulsion.

There was, naturally, a precedent.

“Brisbane is so sleepy, so slatternly, so sprawlingly unlovely! I have taken to wandering about after school, looking for one simple object in it that might be romantic, or appalling even, but there is nothing. It is simply the most ordinary place in the world.”

That was David Malouf, in Johnno, which I didn’t read until many years later. His book was celebrated, but spoke of a time decades before my arrival in town. I confess I found it harder to connect with, but I suspect that was mainly generational.

In Praise, though, there was this corresponding passage:

“Look at this city. There’s nothing happening. There’s no one on the streets. How can you stand it?”

“Things are happening, you just have to look a little harder. At least no one bothers you. There’s worse places than Brisbane.”

“There’s better.”

To a degree, I was still seeing Brisbane through my Melbourne eyes. After a few more years, I did what so many young people in Brisbane do: I left, this time for Sydney in early 1997, shortly after Andrew’s second novel 1988 was published.

I interviewed Andrew around this time, for a Sydney magazine called Juice. (That would, by the way, be the very same magazine that JB here once paid a personal visit disguised in the character of Jack Podesta, from the Never Fail Debt Collecting agency.)

Andrew was legendarily shy, but that didn’t make him hard to talk to. He was generous with his time and encouraging of my writing. That said, at that stage, he was unsure whether or not he would stick it out as a writer himself. 1988 could have been his last book.

I’d needed to get away from Brisbane, even though it was exploding with new energy. I came back a few years later, my tail between my legs. But I’d also been surprised by my adopted home town’s gravitational pull.

Maybe Queensland, as Andrew wrote in Last Drinks, was an addiction. “Maligned and scorned by the rest of the country – but still, it infected the soul somehow, [demanding] love of those it bore and bred,” he wrote. It got under my skin, too, and I was just a blow-in from the south.

I needed a reason to be back, though, and had an idea centred on the town’s music history, intertwined with politics. Around the same time, Last Drinks came out. Andrew’s book told me I was onto something. Brisbane had started picking at the seamy threads of its own past.

Coming after 1988, Last Drinks proved a few points, perhaps most of all to Andrew himself. He could write a plot, and his dramatic and linguistic range was bigger than anyone realised, himself included.

I wrote about Last Drinks in 2001, in a small UQP journal of new writing called Imago. It wasn’t coincidental, I wrote, that the character of Charlie died in a power station, for the genesis of Last Drinks was in the SEQEB dispute that paralysed Queensland in 1985.

But that, as Andrew explained, was about more than union bashing on Joh’s part. It was about business contracts and big money. Or, as the character of Marvin McNulty put it, “Favours, George. It was all about doing favours.”

A game of mates. A joke. The joke. Marvin was like a cartoon character, but then, Queensland was governed by people who made Yosemite Sam and Wile E. Coyote look like super-brain geniuses. It was a genre-busting mash-up of historical fiction and murder mystery.

That sort of hybrid was a direct inspiration for Pig City.  These days I describe that book, in shorthand, as a book about Brisbane, a love letter to my adopted home town. I’m not sure if Andrew would have regarded Last Drinks as a love letter. You could even read it as hate mail.

But he cared deeply about Brisbane, and this state, even as he describes its shimmer of light and haze and heat and the familiar itch of sweat on his scalp. You had to love Queensland, he wrote, for all its peculiarities and contradictions.

Again, I’m reminded of the Saints. Take it two albums down the line, from (I’m) Stranded to Prehistoric Sounds. Of Brisbane (Security City): “Thirteen hot nights in a row. The cops drive past, but they move slow.”

Like the band, Andrew had expanded his vocabulary. The sentences were getting longer. The writing seethed with atmosphere. The heat, he wrote, “took on a moral quality as well, it sank into your limbs and your heart, made everything slow and confused”.

But there was nothing confused about the prose. Andrew’s vision had sharpened. Time and growing confidence seemed to have given him perspective and clarity on his work, and on Queensland. Last Drinks contained this description of the state’s parliament:

“Queenslanders were always wary of the more sophisticated types – they liked their representatives to be awkward and stumbling. They mistook it for honesty. So much so that the Queensland parliament sometimes bordered on a sideshow collection of the ugly, the misshapen and the incoherent.”

At the time of Last Drinks, Peter Beattie was the premier. Beattie, never one to maintain the rage for long, had encouraged a rapprochement with the state’s history. Federally, though, Pauline Hanson was the member for Oxley, Bill Hayden’s old federal seat.

The prime minister, John Howard, had won power in 1996 on a slogan perhaps many have forgotten: “For all of us”. Liberal historians saw it as a modern appeal to Menzies’ “forgotten people”. Others heard a dog whistle: “For all of us – but not for them.”

Hanson had been disendorsed by the Liberal Party prior to Howard’s election, but her narrative – incoherent though it was then, and remains now – was an early expression of white victimhood, co-opted by Howard to devastating effect.

The narrative goes that the opening of opportunities to those who had been marginalised – women, Indigenous people whose ownership of the land had been recognised in the Mabo and Wik decisions – posed a direct threat to the country’s white colonisers.

And for those who’d come across the seas, our plains were no longer so boundless, and we weren’t about to share them quite so willingly, as Howard made clear post-Tampa: “We will decide who comes into this country, and the circumstances in which they come.”

This was all grist for The White Earth – for many, Andrew’s greatest book. It’s hard to argue, even if the scene of a Neo-Nazi rally on the Darling Downs, country that Andrew knew intimately, seemed to me to be a slight overreach at the time.

Fifteen years later, it looks downright prophetic. We haven’t had a Neo-Nazi rally on the Downs yet, to my knowledge. Instead, we had one on St Kilda Beach.

Not that The White Earth was any kind of polemic. Andrew by then had moved to Melbourne with his partner Liesje, but his language, shapeshifting and subtle, remained rooted in the strange poetry of Queensland. This was some new kind of (Deep) Northern Gothic:

“The great House groaned, a long, anguished sound, the wrenching of timber and stone. And then, with slow majesty, the blazing line of the roof began to sag inwards. For a tortured moment it held, and then thunder filled the air as it collapsed from one wing of the House to the other. Flames exploded from the windows, and a great fireball belched out through front doors and across the garden, black with smoke and flying debris. Then only a great bonfire remained, roaring within the roofless walls, towering up into the night, and defying the rain-drenched sky.”

He eschewed poetry and subtlety in Underground. The book sees Canberra obliterated in a nuclear attack. There was a glee in Andrew’s writing at this point, not just at the idea of metaphorically obliterating Canberra, but pushing the limits of what he could get away with.

“True, normally I’d be wary of being so overtly political with a novel,” he wrote on a website attached to the book. “But this no longer seems the time to be polite or indirect in fiction, or artfully diffident. It’s time to confront the danger of what’s going on here, head-on.”

The book was, he told me in an interview at the time, “a very cartoonish kind of thriller, chock-full of conspiracy theories”. Published in 2006, with the Cronulla riots still fresh, Underground was a worst-case scenario of where a never-ending war on terror might be taking us.

Not that he was Nostradamus. A new values-based citizenship test featuring Donald Bradman was already on the agenda. But how could Andrew somehow predict a scenario where, for a time, no one even wanted to play cricket with us?

That interview was the second and last time I spoke to Andrew. I lost touch with his work after that, as his work shapeshifted again, into science fiction and the Ship Kings series for young adults. And I went back to driving cabs, for a long while.

But my acknowledgement of my debt to Andrew is long-standing. I’m not sure if Pig City would have existed if not for Last Drinks, and I’m not sure I would have started writing seriously at all, particularly from and about Brisbane, if not for Praise.

I couldn’t have imagined, 15 years later, I’d be asked to pay tribute to him here. I’m honoured to, but I also wish there’d never been such a reason to do so. Perhaps we should pay tribute to the living more often.

Quoting the Saints one more time, his work hit me like a deathray, baby, from above.

Speech for Andrew McGahan tribute at Brisbane Writers Festival, 6 September 2019

The pop art legend hiding in the hinterlands

In the lush subtropical hinterlands behind Noosa Heads, 90 minutes north of Brisbane, a short dirt road takes you to the home of one of the pre-eminent artists of the last century.

In a large, bright studio, down a short incline from the home he shares with daughter Zoe and her partner, Peter Phillips – who made his name in the early 60s in the vanguard of British pop artists along with Derek Boshier, Allen Jones and David Hockney – continues to paint.

Along with large, more abstract recent works and some of his earliest sketches, a few of his most famous pieces are here, including the giant Art-O-Matic Riding High (another painting from the same series, Art-O-Matic Loop-Di-Loop, was used as the cover of a 1984 album by the Cars called Heartbeat City).

But Phillips left behind the style which made him famous, and which he helped pioneer, a long time ago. “I definitely don’t favour the early work,” he says. “I am excited about some of the newest pieces, possibly because it is what interests me most at the moment.”

Recently,  Phillips, who is celebrating his 80th birthday, opened his studio to the public as part of the Noosa Food and Wine Festival. And in spite of whatever misgivings he may have, the event was called POP!, even though the work on display spanned his entire career.

Phillips will always be associated with his early work, even if he refuses to be defined by it. But that’s not his concern. “I’ve continuously evolved and done what I wanted to do, not what other people wanted of me,” he says.

Phillips grew up in Birmingham during the Blitz. “I still get chills when I hear the resemblance of an air raid siren,” he says. “I don’t recall much detail from those early years, but I do recollect burning houses.”

Militaristic themes appear in his latest work. On an easel in the studio, a new painting depicts a fighter jet being loaded with ammunition on one side. On the other, a grinning Ronald McDonald holds a microphone; in between, a young woman poses for a selfie. Two men in overalls carry a crucifix; a piglet suckles from its mother; small explosions erupt in the background.

In work like this, Phillips appears to be exorcising old fears. In 1980, he says, “I composed a painting called Mediator 3 which features a rather large python, the taxidermy model of which was in my studio at the time. I had a profound fear of snakes, and thought if I painted one in detail, it would help. It didn’t help. In that same piece, I also painted a burning house. That didn’t help either.”

His early work wasn’t so grim. In the late 1950s, he attended the Birmingham School of Art, where he learned to paint, before moving to London and the Royal College of Art. There, he says, he was told how not to paint.

He rebelled. So did many of his peers. Allen Jones was thrown out, and Phillips came close. “If you were a talented artist at the time, you were expected to paint landscapes, still life, portraits, and so on,” he says.

Instead, Phillips and his friends began creating work that was vibrant, eye-catching and obsessed with popular culture and commercial iconography – a reaction to the stuffiness of the times.

His teachers were aghast. “They couldn’t believe people would be concerned with this stuff. Some were irrationally angry,” he says. Art critic Lawrence Alloway dubbed it pop art “because it was popping off the walls”.

Phillips says “I was very stubborn – still am. I knew what I wanted to do, but I also knew I needed to be a good boy and play the game. If you win, you get to make up your own rules.”

By that definition, Phillips has won. In Australia courtesy of a Distinguished Talent visa from the federal government, he ironically now works on large landscapes with abstract features, as though rebelling against his past, even if some of the old obsessions still feature.

Don’t ask him what any of it means, though. “What you see is what you get. Don’t even try,” he advises. Much of its power, though, lies in its ambiguity and juxtapositions of contradictory imagery and information.

Everything on display in Phillips’ gallery is from his own personal collection. Some of it, he says, is sentimental, while other pieces are unfinished. The rest is in galleries and private collections in Europe and America. “This is the first time so much of my art is in Australia.”

Previously, he’s lived in Majorca, Costa Rica and Switzerland. Why Noosa? “The weather. The people. The nature. The food. The clarity of light,” he says. “The older I get the more I like the quiet and prefer nature over cities. And I don’t like neighbours.”

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 2019

David McCormack on being Bandit, Bluey’s dad

As the frontman for Brisbane band Custard, David McCormack was an anomaly in the ultra-serious early-90s world of indie-rock. In an ocean of angst, he was a goofball: whimsical, absurd, childlike and funny.

He can still be all of those things. But McCormack, who turned 50 last year, has two young daughters now, and around a successful soundtrack career as well as occasional reformations of his old band – now more of a hobby – he lives the dad life.

He’s also living it out in cartoon form: McCormack is the voice of Bandit, the dad dog in the ABC Kids animated short series Bluey, which chronicles the adventures of an irrepressible six-year-old blue heeler, her younger sister, Bingo, and her mum, Chilli.

Since premiering last October, Bluey has been a runaway success – with over 75 million plays, according to the ABC, it’s the most-watched show on ABC iView. A series of three Bluey books will be out in time for Christmas, and on Thursday it was announced that Bluey has been renewed for a second season. And it’s brought McCormack a very different kind of new-found fame.

Bluey is aimed at five- to seven-year-olds: that age when kids, like dogs, just want to play all day. Bandit and Chilli (voiced by Melanie Zanetti) are the perennially exhausted but loving parents doing their best to keep up with them.

The episodes are sweet six-minute adventures as relatable for parents as they are recognisable for kids: looking for a lost soft toy (Chickenrat); discovering the natural world (The Creek); making grandma dance (Grannies); a trip with dad to the dump (The Dump).

“How good is going to the dump!” says McCormack. “I relate to that totally, because I do love going to the Refuse Transfer Station, as it’s called now, with the kiddies. They gave me the script and I’m like, ‘yeah!’ I don’t have to try too hard to get in the vibe of it.”

Another favourite is The Pool. “The dad takes the kids to somebody’s pool, but in that sort of laissez-faire dad way, forgets to bring all the important things, like sunscreen and flotation devices and thongs to wear on the hot concrete and towels and all that sort of stuff.

“And then the mum turns up and saves the day, she brings all the boring stuff that’s essential. And that’s pretty accurate for my life. My wife is like, do you tell them what’s going on? It’s pretty much like they’ve peered into my life and written it. But it’s universal, right?”

McCormack’s involvement with the show came about by chance, via contacts made with his soundtrack company Sonar. “I thought it was just going to be reading a couple of lines, but I ended up reading all of them for the pilot.”

Initially, he had very little idea what he was reading for. He’s based in Sydney, and voices the part of Bandit remotely, in isolation. The rest of the show is produced in Brisbane, his home town.

“They send me the script, they highlight my lines, and I just read my lines,” he says. “I don’t have to act, I don’t have to change my voice or anything. I don’t hear anybody else talking; all I do is literally read what they tell me to and that’s it. And they do all the animation and all the other voices and the music.

“So I had no idea what it would look like. And then they sent me the pilot and it was like hey, this is pretty good! And it’s a very Brisbane-looking show, it’s all classic Brisbane skylines and architecture and animals, which takes me back to my formative years.”

Another Brisbane band from the same era and with a similar sense of play, Regurgitator, have recently released a children’s album. “When you hear about it you go, of course, Regurgitator would do a kid’s record,” McCormack says.

He marvels at the turn of events himself – “Who would have thought in 1992 that we’d be talking in 2019 about me being the voice of a parent dog?” – but says his parents got the rudest shock. “They’re like, what’s this dog show kids are saying you’re doing the voice to?”

Voicing Bandit, and having daughters of a similar age profile to Bluey and Bingo, has opened McCormack’s eyes to the enormous children’s entertainment market: a world away from the slim pickings available to Custard, now practically a heritage-rock band.

“Kids get involved and suddenly you go, ‘wow – there’s eight different kids’ channels on Foxtel!’ There’s this whole world of bizarre kids’ stuff out there,” he says.

“I’m yet to find out whether it’s the path to riches, but it is the path to being popular at school drop-off time. Lots of other parents are like, ‘Hey! Did I hear your voice on…’ It’s sort of like 1994 all over again, but in the primary-school world.”

First published in The Guardian, 16 May 2019

21 July 1969: The day that stopped the clock in Vietnam

Bill Wilcox’s watch stopped dead at 2.20pm on 21 July 1969 and never restarted. A field engineer in 1 Squadron in the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) in the Australian army, he’d been up in the Long Hai hills in south-eastern Vietnam for about 10 days. He and his mates were due for a break.

It had been dirty work, even by wartime standards: dropping into active tunnel systems used by the Viet Cong, at risk of underground combat or possible asphyxiation and mine demolitions.

The irony was the engineers were mostly destroying their own mines, laid two years earlier. Nearly 23,000 US M16 “jumping jack” mines had been buried in a barrier aimed at isolating their enemy combatants in the jungle.

But the field hadn’t been properly secured. At enormous risk to themselves, with many soldiers lost, the North Vietnamese army learned to excavate and redeploy the mines against Australian forces.

Wilcox and the rest of 1 Squadron were heading back to base in a helicopter when they received the news that members of the 6th Battalion, of the Royal Australian Regiment, had strayed into a minefield in the “light green”, with one killed and many more wounded.

The “light green” was an area on the map that had been partially cleared – where defoliants including Agent Orange were used to strip the forest canopy of cover and where mines were likely to have been buried.

With nowhere for the helicopter to land amid the rubber trees, Wilcox and five others, including medical officer Capt Robert Anderson, were winched down. Another was Sapper Dave Sturmer, who spotted a three-pronged stick in a tree indicating that three mines were in the area.

But only one had gone off.

After they landed, the first person Wilcox came to was Frank Hunt, later immortalised in Australian folk group Redgum’s song I Was Only 19: “Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon.” Along with other members of his battalion, Hunt had been listening to a broadcast of the moon landing the previous evening.

But Hunt had survived. In the song, written by John Schumann, his name had replaced that of Lieutenant Peter Hines. Hines’ body lay several metres away, though he too had survived the initial blast and had been giving directions until his death.

Hunt was in a bad way and was one of the first to be “dusted off” – slang for medically evacuated. “He copped it in the lower body and legs and he was smashed up real bad,” says Wilcox, now the president of the Oberon and Blue Mountains RSL sub-branches.

In the meantime, one unexploded device was located nearby. One more remained. Wilcox and company taped off safe areas, trying to clear enough space for a helipad so the remaining injured could be airlifted out.

Then the medical officer, Captain Robert Trevor Anderson, took a step outside the tape.

Jumping jacks, when disturbed, would spring from the earth into the air before detonating around waist height, but this one blew up beneath the soil, directly under Anderson. Somehow, he remained standing, still conscious, his clothes torn off.

“I was thrown probably 10 metres away, after the explosion, and I didn’t black out, I was still conscious,” Wilcox says. “I looked back and all I could see was red – like a stump – and it was Anderson.”

Corporal Johnny Needs was about 20 metres from the blast but took a single piece through the heart. He died in a comrade’s arms. Wilcox took more of the metal, mostly in his left side and knee.

Some of his own equipment saved him. “A heap of pieces went straight into a battery box, which saved my left hip, otherwise it would have smashed it as well as my knee.” His watch also took a hit for him.

Within 45 minutes, Wilcox had been dusted off himself to the military hospital in Vung Tau. With the chopper full, he was strapped to one of the landing runners. Still fully conscious, he watched for sniper fire as they lifted above the tree line.

“I thought, ‘Jeez, if I’m not dead now, I soon will be,’” he says. “I’ve got a little model at home of a chopper with a stretcher on the outside with a little dummy in it – that was me.”

Schumann was a left-wing firebrand and the singer and songwriter of Redgum, one of Australia’s most popular and political bands in the 80s. The song was written from the point of view of Schumann’s brother-in-law, Mick Storen, a veteran from the 6th Battalion. When he wrote the song, Schumann was going out with Storen’s sister, Denise – “Denny” in the song – and he figured he might have a tetchy relationship with Storen.

One night Storen surprised him by coming to a Redgum gig and, after the show, “on the wings of a six-pack”, Schumann asked him to tell him his story.

Denise had warned him not to. History had not been kind to the Vietnam war or those who took part in it. “It was Mick Storen’s courage and trust to step outside the closed circle of Vietnam veterans that [propelled] 19 into the world,” Schumann says.

In 1983, after the song’s release, Wilcox was driving trucks. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and had been unable to settle into regular work. It was on long-haul shifts that he first heard I Was Only 19 on the radio.

It took a while for the penny to drop as to what Schumann was singing about. “It never hit me until it was pointed out to me that it was about our set-up. It might have been weeks before I even realised. It’s still a very moving thing when I hear it.”

Anderson, who was blinded by the mine that blew under his feet, became a celebrated psychiatrist in Melbourne, served on many veterans’ committees and was the RSL Anzac of the year in 1991. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2004.

Hunt lives on the far south coast of New South Wales. He didn’t kick the mine himself – that was Hines – but was written into the role by Schumann, with consent. “Everyone is Frankie,” he told the ABC in 2015.

These days Schumann is a little tired of talking about 19. He has written a new song, Graduation Day, about police suffering from PTSD. It hits a similar nerve to his classic, and he finds himself fielding unusual media invitations from the likes of Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.

“Having a song like 19 in your catalogue is like having five kids, and you love all of them equally, but one of them plays AFL footy – and the only kid of yours that anyone outside the family wants to talk about is the AFL footy player,” he says now.

But he’s also proud. “A songwriter gets to write something like 19, if they’re lucky, once in their life. I researched it really well and I thought about it a lot, but it was one of those songs I wrote in five minutes … I look back and I go, ‘Wow, that was something else.’”

In 2010 Wilcox revisited the site where he nearly lost his life. This year he hopes to go back on 21 July, for the 50th anniversary of something more significant than the moon landing. At 2.20pm, his stopped watch will be right again.

First published in The Guardian, 25 April 2019

Kat Roma Greer: Taking art to the streets

Musician Frank Zappa once said that the most important thing in art is the frame, for without it you can’t tell where the art stops and the real world begins. Extending that logic, the art gallery itself is a frame where art is displayed, bought, sold – and for many, effectively sealed off.

Kat Roma Greer (MA(Res) ’14 MA ’14), founder of the travelling art festival Micro Galleries, aimed to break art out of its frames and take it to the streets. Starting from the chaotic precincts of her base in Hong Kong in 2013, her aim was for “people to stumble over it. That’s when they begin to shift their perceptions and believe they should have access to art as well,” she says.

Since then, Micro Galleries has exhibited everywhere from Kathmandu to Cape Town, using local and international artists to blur the line between street art and fine art and bring a sense of wonder to unexpected, often disused and neglected spaces. Along the way, she’s touched thousands of people who may otherwise never set foot inside a gallery.

One of them was Robbie, a street kid from Denpasar in Bali. In exchange for meals, Robbie cannily worked his way into the Micro Galleries crew, starting by stirring glue and minding the equipment, which he became obsessed with. By the end of a 10-day tour, Robbie had learned so much about the works on display that he was giving guided tours to other kids.

Roma Greer understood that if you live in poverty or disadvantage, even public art venues can feel like inhospitable and remote places. Her idea was informed by her own upbringing in the Illawarra region, on the New South Wales south coast, during the recession of the 1990s, when both of her parents found themselves unemployed and living in housing commission accommodation.

At her school, art wasn’t a priority: the resources weren’t available. “I really wanted to do music, and my school didn’t offer the subject,” she says. Pursuing glimpses of another world meant “my English teacher staying back after class to continue unpacking Yeats with me, or my music teacher taking less of a fee because we couldn’t afford to pay more.

“But it was those sorts of intersections that gave me a really positive adolescence, helped me access subjects I maybe couldn’t have understood as well, and gave me a huge support network … Without that I probably wouldn’t have gone on to have a nicely successful career. I want to provide those opportunities for other people.”

Roma Greer moved to Sydney with her partner in 2003, then went to Hong Kong in 2010, completing her Master of Arts at the University of Sydney externally, graduating in 2014. Though not Indigenous, her focus was on First Nations Peoples. Learning more about Indigenous performance increased her interest in the limited opportunities for artistic exposure, both for creators and consumers.

“It refined the way I engaged with and thought about dealing with minorities and disadvantaged communities and understanding the exceptionally privileged position that I come from,” she says.

In Hong Kong she met Bess Hepworth, who was curating a TEDx project which she wanted to culminate in a low-budget art project. Hepworth commissioned Roma Greer to devise something that would engage the community more closely than other art installations and galleries in Hong Kong. Micro Galleries, driven by the overriding idea that art was for everyone, was the result.

“There are a lot of high-end art galleries here that are very pristine, with great curatorial teams and wonderful resources, and at the other end of the spectrum is the Hong Kong Art Fair. So there’s a huge industry here in terms of art and phenomenal artists, but the people who are accessing the art are usually educated, resourced, and they have the time and the ability to physically get there.”

By comparison, in Sham Shui Po – described as a “down to earth” neighbourhood on the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website – “people still live in cage houses,” says Roma Greer.

“They’re not going to the art fair and they’re certainly not going into art galleries. And if they are, I’m sure they don’t feel welcome, and there’s possibly no way for them to engage on a level that is potentially useful for them.”

Roma Greer has just returned from Kathmandu, in Nepal. “It’s one of the poorest countries of the world, but it has a dynamic art scene,” she says. It was an intense few days that included murals, stencils, photography, painting, installations, sound art, projection art, live music and performance, and showcased the work of local artists and others from as far afield as Finland, Norway, Indonesia and South Africa.

“The best way I can explain the experience is ‘epic, and depleting’, meaning we do a lot, intensely and in a short space of time. Like most non-profit organisations, we are under-resourced but still trying to do everything we dream of.”

The community where the Kathmandu art event happened has kept the dream going. A week after the event, Roma Greer was sent photographs showing how the local people had used some of the art elements to turn their laneway into a garden.

It’s all about bringing art to the places that need it most, including the disadvantaged communities where Roma Greer herself grew up. In 2015, she brought Micro Galleries to one of those places, Nowra, a town she says people “drive past to get to the beaches on the other side of it”.

“It went from a town that was very confused as to why we were there to being excited and fascinated. We had to beg people to allow us to use their walls – but by the end they were maintaining the works themselves with pride. Later, a radio station declared Nowra the artiest town in New South Wales; the local MP talked about it in parliament.

“Art historically has been set up for one institutionalised purpose or another – religion, patronage or for commercial purposes. Micro Galleries is a disruptive process. It’s about providing artists with opportunities, and being in communities in a way that can have a meaningful impact.”

First published in Sydney Alumni Magazine, 10 April 2019