by Iain Grandage
Presented at the Perth Day of Ideas, Holmes a Court Gallery, Saturday 2nd August 2003
Thank you Margo. I hope I don't disappoint. If I do, she was my teacher.
When I was asked by Janet to talk here today about fear, and the list of fellow speakers was revealed to me, a very personal and deep rooted fear took hold. I was/am/will probably continue to be fearful until about 5pm tonight when this talk ends.
The fears are many.
There's the fear of speaking to some of my idols and not wanting to waste their time, there's the fear of playing my cello out of tune, the fear of forgetting the next phrase - be that musical or grammatical, and finally that overriding fear - the fear of being found out. The communal discovery amongst an audience that, actually, you have nothing to say. Your music transcends nothing, has no subject, teaches you nothing about yourself while listening.
See I've been going a whole paragraph now, and still haven't said anything.
However, on Janet's request I am here to speak about a much more communal fear than my own personal anxieties, and specifically to address the notion of artists as liberators.
I am going to play a piece today which encapsulates a sense of liberation for me personally as an Australian the moment I felt more Australian than ever before. It stems from my meeting the most extraordinary group of people from the Western Desert called the Spinifex .
During the course of putting on a production for Black Swan Theatre Company, I travelled with a group of 15 members of the Tjuntjuntjarra community from their homeland just north of Eucla, 800 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie, to Adelaide, Perth, the North-west and finally to Germany. During the course of this show, elders of the community taught a number of us younger men (both black and whitish-pink) various dances or as they call them Inmar - both the intention, the steps and the ritual painting.
This work I am going to play contains a number of these Elders: Mr Underwood, Mr Jamieson and Mr Grant, three Spinifex Elders of the community Kalaya Inmar (emu dance). The recording is used with their permission. It is for amplified cello and tape and is entitled Inma Kutju - literally - First song.
[Performance of Inma Kutju for Amplified cello and CD].
Now that song was sung on stage every evening and it is apparently performed for various ceremonies in and around the community and across the Western Desert. When presented in this traditional manner, it is not dissimilar to the Western notion of performing arts or organised religion - a ritual gathering of community within which a performance is presented.
However, singing pervades more than just these formal environments.
In travelling by four-wheel drive convoy back to the community from Kalgoorlie I was lucky enough to be present as the Elders in our car sang their country as it passed.
It wasn't a performance - I wasn't even sure if I was allowed to be hearing it. It seemed to be part, one and the same with the landscape that we were travelling through. But it had no performative edge, they weren't doing it for anybody. It was an internal dialogue that was happening and that was the remarkable thing for me about all of the elders of that community and with many Indigenous artists I find. There is no imposition of will, no domination of belief, no need to impress, there is just being. This is not to be confused with weakness or uncertainty. There is a right and a wrong way to do things. In other words there is a moral certainty about their cultural practice. In a world where moral certainties rarely intersect with politics, where pragmatics and national interest (often not our own) colour decisions, this benign certainty shines with truth.
To return to fear for a moment - I am not scared of what is happening in the world at the moment - just sad. Sad because there seems to be a lack of truth. Sad for opportunities lost and priorities changed. Sad that separation seems to have over-run the need to build a community. Sad that exclusion and isolation is deemed to be easier to police than building togetherness.
And looking for a way forward?
Well, I had this idea from the old men about Singing your country. Sing your country. Sing your culture.
Not as an act of cultural appropriation, not in reference to geography but to think of singing you country - not even vocalising, but internally as a reminder of who we are and what we stand for.
We as Australians. Not as some subset of a coalition of domination. Not in any nationalistic, triumphalist way, but with assured and benign voice of humanitarian reason.
So, more so than in any performance of Bach or Mozart or Adams or Grainger delivered by fantastic Australian musicians in concert halls or outdoors, hearing these men sing to themselves in a Toyota on a track in the middle of the desert remains, on reflection, a defining moment of my life.
My hope is that as many people as possible from as many backgrounds as possible get to experience an equivalently magnanimous gift of culture - one without imposition of will, or sense of ego. A gift which, as theatre director Neil Armfield so wonderfully puts it, defines that moment of transition from the individual to the community.
Because that's what we are - a community and not a fragmented group of fearful individuals.
That bond of community is the liberation that lies at the core of the arts.