Transcript: Frank Moorhouse | Jan 24, 1989

(violin music plays)

In animation, a marble entrance with two columns floating on misty mountains opens up to reveal a small bookshelf. Book covers from the collection flash by, including Cat’s eye by Margaret Atwood and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
The title of the show appears as a book cover with a picture of the marble entrance: “Authors at Harbourfront.”

The Narrator says THE FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS AT
TORONTO'S HARBOURFRONT IS ONE
OF THE WORLD'S FOREMOST
LITERARY EVENTS.
NOW ENTERING ITS TENTH YEAR,
THE FESTIVAL ANNUALLY ATTRACTS
50 OF THE WORLD'S BEST AUTHORS
TO THE STAGE, TO READ FROM
THEIR WORKS AND PARTICIPATE
IN INTERVIEWS AND DISCUSSIONS
WITH THEIR PEERS.

The screen turns as if it were a book page and a male narrator speaks as clips of different authors speaking at Harbourfront flash by.

The Narrator continues FRANK MOORHOUSE LIVES
IN SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.
HE'S BEST KNOWN IN NORTH
AMERICA FOR THE FILM
“THE COCA COLA KID,”
WHICH WAS BASED
ON SOME OF HIS
SHORT STORIES.
IN THIS PROGRAM, HE READS
FROM A WORK IN PROGRESS
AND FROM A COLLECTION
OF SHORT STORIES
PUBLISHED IN 1985
ENTITLED “ROOM SERVICE.”

The author’s books appear one next to the other. A caption reads “Frank Moorhouse. Australia.” On the top right corner of the screen, a paused clip featuring Frank zooms out.

Frank Moorhouse sits in a chair. He’s in his fifties, clean-shaven with short gray hair. He’s wearing a blue and red plaid shirt and a dark blue cardigan.

Frank says IF YOU'D ARRIVED IN AUSTRALIA
BEFORE MY FIRST BOOK,
YOU WOULD HAVE HAD
TROUBLE WORKING OUT
HOW WE PROCREATED
DOWN THERE.
AND THAT YOU WOULD
HAVE PERHAPS ASSUMED
THAT WE HAD POUCHES.
[laughter]

A male host says I ASK YOU TO WELCOME
PLEASE FROM AUSTRALIA,
FRANK MOORHOUSE.
[applause]

Wearing a striped jacket and a white sweater, Frank comes to the stage and says GOOD EVENING.
TONIGHT I'D LIKE
TO READ TWO PIECES.
SHORT STORIES, THEY
ARE, BOTH ARE INTENDED
TO BE FUNNY.
WATCH MY FACE.
[laughter]
THE FIRST IS A
WORK IN PROGRESS.
AND THE SECOND IS A WORK
THAT'S FROM “ROOM SERVICE.”
WHICH IS ON SALE
IN THE LOBBY,
OR FROM ME DIRECTLY.
[laughter]
THE FIRST PIECE IS CALLED
THE THIRD MESSAGE
AND IT'S A MESSAGE LEFT ON
A PHONE ANSWERING MACHINE.
IT'S DEDICATED TONIGHT
TO GREG GATENBY AND
HIS CREATIVE STAFF,
AND YOU'LL SEE WHY
WHEN I GET INTO
THE STORY.
He reads TOM, I'LL ADMIT TO THE
EXISTENCE OF SOME BAD
FEELING FOLLOWING MY SESSION
AT LAST YEAR'S FESTIVAL.
BUT THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL
INQUIRY INTO MY CHAIRING
WHICH RESULTED IN A
LIFE BAN FOR ME WAS NOT
CONDUCTED ACCORDING TO THE
NICETIES OF BRITISH LAW.
[laughter]
IT WOULD MADE A GOOD
PROGRAM FOR A LAW REPORT.
I AM NOT THREATENING YOU
BUT I WOULD LIKE TO SEE
WHAT A GOOD INVESTIGATIVE
REPORTER WOULD DO WITH IT.
I'LL REMIND YOU THAT
YOU DID NOT ALLOW ME
TO HAVE MY OWN COUNSEL.
YOU DID NOT ALLOW ME TO
CALL EXPERT WITNESSES
ON MEETING PROCEDURE.
YOU DID NOT ALLOW ME
TO TENDER THE GOAT
WHICH CAUSED THE RUMPUS.
[laughter]
YOU DID NOT ALLOW ME
TO USE THE SERVICES
OF FORENSIC SCIENTISTS.
AND YOU WOULDN'T FLY
NUWAK, THE ESKIMO WRITER
BACK FROM BAFFIN ISLAND.
[laughter]
IT IS USELESS TO GO
OVER THE GROUND AGAIN,
BUT BELIEVE ME, THERE WAS
A POINT TO HAVING THE GOAT
ON STAGE, EVEN IF IN
THE SUBSEQUENT UPROAR
THAT POINT WAS LOST.
FOR ME NOT TO HAVE HAD
THE GOAT ON STAGE
WOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE
AIDA WITHOUT THE CAMELS.
I STILL MAINTAIN THAT
STAGE SCENERY IS USEFUL
IN CREATING A MOOD OF SURPRISE
IN INTELLECTUAL ACTIVITY,
AND THAT IT IS A
CHAIRPERSON'S PREROGATIVE
TO BRING TO A PANEL
SESSION THOSE PROPS
OR ENHANCEMENTS WHICH
HE OR SHE THINKS
WILL BE THAUMATURGIC.
TO BEGIN WITH, THOSE
CHILDREN SHOULD NOT
HAVE BEEN ALLOWED ANYWHERE
NEAR THE WATERFALL.
[laughter]
I HAD SECURELY ATTACHED THE
HOSE TO THE FIRE HYDRANT
OUT THE FRONT OF THE
FESTIVAL HALL.
I HAD PERSONALLY PLACED
THE WITCHES' HATS
ON THE ROAD AROUND
THE HYDRANT.
BY THE WAY, THEY WERE NOT
DEPARTMENT OF MAIN ROADS'
WITCHES' HATS.
I HAD MADE THOSE
WITCHES' HATS MYSELF.
IT'S A MINOR THING BUT
THOSE WITCHES' HATS
SHOULD BE RETURNED
TO ME AT SOME TIME.
[laughter]
DIRECTOR, THERE IS A TIME FOR
GOING THROUGH THE CHANNELS,
AS YOU WOULD PUT IT,
AND A TIME TO JUST
GET ON WITH THE JOB.
I ALSO ARGUED AT THE
TIME THAT UNDER LAW
IN AUSTRALIA THE CHAIR
AT A PUBLIC MEETING
CARRIES CERTAIN AUTHORITY.
FOR EXAMPLE, YOU MAY
REMOVE SOMEONE FROM
THE HALL AS I DID ON THREE
OCCASIONS IN THAT SESSION.
IT WAS THE AUTHORITY
OF THE CHAIR,
BOTH WRITTEN
AND UNWRITTEN,
THAT ALLOWED ME OR
PERMITTED ME TO GO
AHEAD WITH THAT SCENIC
ILLUSTRATION OF BARKLEY'S
PROPOSITION AGAINST THE
EXISTENCE OF MATTER.
WHY WASN'T ANYONE ON THE
COMMITTEE PREPARED TO TRUST ME?
NATURALLY THE FESTIVAL HALL
ATTENDANTS WERE GOING TO BECOME
ALARMED, BUT THEY WERE NOT
PAID TO HAVE AN IMAGINATION.
MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE
ARE EXPECTED TO HAVE
IMAGINATION AND FAITH IN
THEIR CHAIR PEOPLE
AND THEIR THAUMATURGIC
JUDGMENT.
TEMPERS WERE SHORT.
I HAD BEEN IN THE FESTIVAL
HALL SINCE ABOUT 3:00 A.M.
PREPARING FOR THE
SESSION, HAMMERING AWAY,
WHICH IS EVIDENCE OF
HOW SERIOUSLY I TAKE
THE POSITION OF CHAIR
ON A PANEL SESSION.
OF COURSE, THESE DAYS THE
CHAIRING ROLE IS SEEN
SIMPLY AS A PERFUNCTORY
INTRODUCTION OF THE SPEAKERS.
MY IDEA OF A FEW SLIDES OF
THE HIGHPOINTS OF THEIR
CHILDHOOD OF EACH OF THE
SPEAKERS AND A LITTLE
OF “THIS IS YOUR LIFE.”
IN THE INTRODUCTIONS
DID NOT SEEM TO ME TO BE
EXCESSIVELY INTRUSIVE OR,
TO QUOTE YOU, HIGHLY
EMBARRASSING TO ALL CONCERNED.
[laughter]
NOW THAT I'M FORCED TO
RAISE ALL THIS A YEAR LATER,
IT SOUNDS TRIVIAL,
BUT IN THE CONTEXT OF
WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO DO,
MY VISION AS FORMER TERJE,
AND I HOPE YOUR
VISION TOO, DIRECTOR,
IT DID NOT
SEEM SO SILLY.
THE POINT OF HAVING SOME
OF THE CAST FROM AIDA
THERE AT THE SESSION...
[laughter]
BUT ONLY THE KING,
AIDA, RADAMES,
CAPTAIN OF THE GUARDS;
RAMFIS, THE HIGH PRIEST;
AND SOME OF THE ETHIOPIAN
PRISONERS ON LOAN
FROM THE AUSTRALIAN OPERA,
THE POINT OF THIS WAS
TO ILLUSTRATE SOMETHING
ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN THE ARTS AND THEIR
DISTINCTIVE APARTNESS.
THE ARTS IGNORANCE
OF EACH OTHER.
I ASSUMED THAT AS CHAIR,
I WAS AT LEAST
AUTHORIZED TO HIRE
A FEW SINGERS.
IT WASN'T AS IF IT WAS GOING
TO BANKRUPT THE FESTIVAL
AND REMEMBER, IT WAS GEORGE
GERSHWIN'S BIRTHDAY.
OR HAS THAT, TOO,
BEEN FORGOTTEN?
[laughter]
SO INSTEAD OF BEING
APPLAUDED FOR MY EFFORTS,
WHAT HAPPENS?
IN MID-SESSION, IN FRONT
OF HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE,
I FIND ATTENDANTS THROWING
A NET OVER ME AND THE GOAT.
[laughter]
I SEE THE SCENERY,
WHICH I HAD CONSTRUCTED
WITH MY OWN HANDS, FALL
FORWARD ONTO THE CROWD
SIMPLY BECAUSE TWO STUPID
CHILDREN FIDDLED WITH
THE FIRE HOSE CONNECTED
TO THE WATERFALL.
WHAT DOES IT MATTER IF A
FEW PEOPLE IN THE FRONT ROWS
WERE BECOMING A
LITTLE DAMP?
THAT WAS NO REASON TO STOP
THE SESSION OR TO HAVE
A NET THROWN OVER ME.
IF I'D BEEN GIVEN THE TWO
AIDES AND THE WRANGLER
AS I REQUESTED, NONE OF
THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED.
[laughter]
TEARING THE WALKMAN
EARPHONES FROM THE EARS
OF THOSE TWO TEENAGERS
WAS NOT THE ISSUE.
I HAVE APOLOGIZED TO
THEM PUBLICLY BY LETTER,
BUT FROM THE OTHER
ISSUES, I DO NOT RESILE.
I THINK IT IS UNWORTHY OF
ALL OF US TO BRING UP
THE MATTER OF NUWAK, THE
VISITING ESKIMO WRITER.
I WOULD NOT RELEASE HIM
FROM DISCUSSION TO DO
A TV SHOW BECAUSE THAT'S NOT
WHAT WE DO IN THIS COUNTRY.
IT WAS NOT WHAT WE DID
IN THE OLD WORKER'S
EDUCATIONAL ASSOCIATION.
WE DO NOT DELIVER A PAPER
AND THEN DASH OFF TO DO
A TV SHOW BEFORE ENTERING
INTO DISCUSSION
WITH THE AUDIENCE.
WE DO NOT DELIVER
A PAPER THAT WAY.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE
RULES ARE IN BAFFIN ISLAND,
LAND OF THE CARIBOU.
BUT IN SYDNEY, YOU
GIVE A PAPER AND THEN
YOU STAY TO DEFEND IT.
YOU DO NOT DASH OFF
TO DO A TV SHOW.
I DID NOT USE UNDUE FORCE
IN RESTRAINING HIM.
[laughter]
YES, HIS FUR COAT DID
COME APART IN MY HANDS,
BUT THAT HAD TO DO WITH
THE AGE OF THE COAT.
AND WHILE WE'RE
ON THE MATTER,
YOU DID NOT HAVE TO
SIT NEXT TO THE MAN
IN HIS FUR COAT.
THAT WAS NO
ORDINARY FUR COAT.
THAT FUR COAT HAD PASSED
DOWN IN HIS TRIBE
FOR 500 YEARS.
I ACCEPT THAT THE COAT HAD
A LIFE FORCE OF ITS OWN
AND CARRIED THE SPIRIT OF
THE PEOPLE WHO CREATED IT,
AND OF THE BEARS
FROM IT WAS MADE,
I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT DRY
CLEANERS ARE FEW
AND FAR BETWEEN IN THE
LAND OF THE CARIBOU,
BUT I DISPUTE THAT
IT LOSES ANY OF ITS
SACREDNESS OR MANNER BY BEING
HANDWASHED IN A MILD SOAP.
[laughter]
THE DISINTEGRATION OF THE
COAT WAS UNFORTUNATE AND
THE SUBSEQUENT BEHAVIOUR
OF THE GOAT WITH
THE COAT WAS UNFORTUNATE.
I WAS HAPPY TO SEND A
CHEQUE TO GREENPEACE
AS PART OF THE INQUIRY'S
TERMS OF SETTLEMENT.
BUT ISN'T THAT ENOUGH?
AM I TO BE PUNISHED
FOREVER OVER
PETTY INCIDENTS WHICH
OCCURRED A YEAR AGO?
WHY DOES PATRICK WHITE
ALWAYS TAKE THE SIDE
OF THE ESKIMOS?
ESKIMOS CAN BE
WRONG, YOU KNOW?
I AM NOT, QUOTE, AGAINST
ESKIMOS, END QUOTE.
AS IT TURNS OUT, IT WAS I
WHO WENT WITH NUWAK UP
TO AROUND MIDNIGHT WHERE WE DID
SOME DIRTY DRINKING TOGETHER.
AND I WAS NOT TRYING TO
BE QUOTE IRONIC UNQUOTE.
THE COMMITTEE HAS TO
STOP SAYING THAT I
WAS TRYING TO BE IRONIC.
EVERY PART OF MY COSTUME
HAD A POINT TO IT.
FOR EXAMPLE, THE
KADAITCHA SHOES.
YOU REMEMBER I WAS WEARING
THOSE KADAITCHA SHOES
MADE FROM WOMEN'S HAIR
AND STUCK TOGETHER
WITH HUMAN BLOOD?
[laughter]
THE FRONT OF THE SHOE IS
IDENTICAL TO THE BACK.
THIS IS TO
PREVENT TRACKING.
I WAS WEARING KADAITCHA
SHOES TO MAKE A POINT ABOUT
LONG INTERVIEWS WITH
WRITERS WHICH SEEMED
TO BE THE FASHION.
WRITERS SOMETIMES SEEM TO
HAVE TO ANSWER QUESTIONS
TO WHICH THEY HAVE NO
ANSWERS AND THEY SHOULD
NEVER HAVE ANSWERS TO,
BUT THESE INTERVIEWS
CAN BECOME A WAY OF
COVERING YOUR TRACKS
OF NOT BEING TRACKED.
WHY DOESN'T ANYONE SEE THE
POINT OF THE KADAITCHA SHOES?
I GAVE THE SHOES TO NUWAK
AS A PARTING GIFT IN PLACE
OF HIS FUR COAT.
HE WORE THEM AROUND KINGS
CROSS INTO THE NIGHT CLUBS.
THEY GAVE HIM GREAT
PLEASURE, BUT I WAS NO,
QUOTE, TRYING
TO BE IRONIC.
I DIDN'T THINK THAT I
WOULD BE DRAGGED BEFORE
AN AUSTRALIA COUNCIL INQUIRY
AND TOLD I WAS BEING IRONIC.
AS I SAID, IT ALL SOUNDS
RATHER SILLY NOW,
BUT AT THE TIME,
IN THE CONTEXT,
IT MADE PERFECT SENSE.
NUWAK SAID THAT MY
QUESTION ABOUT DID HE
FEEL THE COLD WAS NOT
OFFENSIVE TO HIM.
WHY SHOULD IT BE OFFENSIVE
TO THE AUSTRALIA
COUNCIL INQUIRY?
I ALONE REALIZED THAT
NUWAK WAS SUFFERING
FROM “PIRLAWARNIK.”
WHICH MEANS IN ESKIMO
THE ICY WEIGHT OF LIFE.
IT IS A DEPRESSION WHICH
COMES FROM BEING IN THE DARK
SO LONG, IN THAT
COLD, ALL THAT TIME.
A WINTER OF THE SOUL.
I WAS TRYING TO JOKE
HIM OUT OF THAT.
HENCE MY COMMENTS ABOUT
US ALL BEING SIMPLY
NIHILISTIC THOUGHTS EXISTING
WITHIN THE BRAIN OF GOD.
I WAS TRYING TO SAY THAT
IN MY BROKEN ESKIMO.
WHY AM I FOREVER
BEING MISUNDERSTOOD?
BUT TO RETURN
TO THE POINT.
I MERELY WISH TO SAY THAT
I WOULD BE HAPPY TO RETURN
TO THIS YEAR'S FESTIVAL
IN ANY CAPACITY
THE COMMITTEE SEES FIT.
THANK YOU.

[applause]

Back in the interview, Frank says I BELIEVE THAT EVERYTHING
I WRITE HAS A POLITICAL -
WILL END UP IN THE
POLITICAL SOIL,
THE CULTURAL SOIL,
IF I'M TO CONTINUE
WITH MY FOLKSY MAXIM ABOUT
THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN
THE WEATHER AND THE SOIL.
BUT IT'S THE DIRECT
OPINION GIVING A STATEMENT,
GIVING A SOLUTION
TO WORLD PEACE,
GIVING A SOLUTION TO THE
ENERGY CRISIS, TO POVERTY,
AS A FICTION WRITER
WOULD BE A HORRENDOUS
ARROGANCE ON MY PART.
I'M INTERESTED IN PROCESS,
POLITICAL PROCESS.
I GO TO THE U.N.
I AM WRITING A BOOK ABOUT
THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS,
FICTION BOOK.
WE HAVE IN AUSTRALIA COMIC
CHARACTERS CALLED
THE RUDD FAMILY AND THE
RUDD FAMILY WAS A SET
OF STORIES WRITTEN IN THE 19TH
CENTURY ABOUT SETTLEMENT,
AND THE RUDD FAMILY
WERE PEASANTS,
FARMERS IN A
WAY, AND SETTLED.
THEY SETTLED IN THE
WILDERNESS AND CARVED OUT
A FARM AND THE
SON, DAVE RUDD,
WHENEVER ASKED A
QUESTION, HE EXPRESSED,
FROM MY POINT OF VIEW,
THE ABSOLUTE AUSTRALIAN
EXISTENTIALISM.
WHENEVER ASKED A
QUESTION, HE ALWAYS SAID,
IT ALL DEPENDS.
BUT THEN GO ON
TO TELL A STORY,
AND I THINK THAT TELLING
STORIES IS A VERY CRUCIAL
AND VITAL AND
ENRICHING THING.
I THINK DOING
THAT IS ENOUGH.
I DON'T HAVE TO HAVE
SOLUTIONS TO THE ENERGY CRISIS.

[applause]

Standing on the stage, Frank says SO THIS IS - OR
PURPORTS TO BE ANYWAY -
A PAPER BY AN ITALIAN
STUDENT WHO HAS COME ACROSS
THREE INTERESTING
PIECES OF AUSTRALIAN ART
AND AN INTERESTING
THEORY ABOUT THEM.
THIS IS THE PAPER.
He reads THE WRITING OF A STORY
CALLED “THE DROVER'S WIFE.”
BY HENRY LAWSON IN 1893.
THE PAINTING OF A PICTURE
CALLED “THE DROVER'S WIFE.”
BY RUSSELL DRYSDALE
IN 1945,
AND THE WRITING OF
ANOTHER STORY CALLED
“THE DROVER'S WIFE” IN
1975 BY MURRAY BAIL
DRAWS OUR ATTENTION TO
WHAT I WILL ARGUE IN
THIS PAPER IS AN ELABORATE
EXAMPLE OF A NATIONAL
CULTURE JOKE, AND
INSIDER JOKE FOR THOSE
WHO LIVE IN THAT COUNTRY.
THE COUNTRY OF AUSTRALIA.
EACH OF THESE WORKS
HAS THE STATUS OF
AN AUSTRALIAN CLASSIC,
AND EACH OF THESE WORKS,
I WILL SHOW, CONTAINS
A JOKING WINK IN
THE DIRECTION OF THE
AUSTRALIAN PEOPLE WHICH
THEY UNDERSTAND, BUT WHICH
NON-AUSTRALIANS DO NOT.
THE JOKE DRAWS ON THE
COLLOQUIAL AUSTRALIAN HUMOUR
SURROUNDING THE IDEA
OF THE DROVER'S WIFE.
FIRST, A FEW NOTATIONS OF
BACKGROUND FOR THOSE
WHO ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH
AUSTRALIAN FOLKLORE
AND THE OCCUPATION
OF A DROVER,
WHICH A CORRUPTION
OF THE WORD DRIVER.
THE DROVER OR THE DRIVER
OF SHEEP LITERALLY
DROVE THE SHEEP
TO MARKET.
THE SHEEP, BECAUSE OF
HEALTH REGULATIONS GOVERNING
STRICTLY THE TOWNS AND
CITIES OF AUSTRALIA
WERE KEPT MANY
KILOMETRES INLAND FROM
THE SEA MARKET TOWNS.
THE SHEEP HAD THEN TO BE
DRIVEN BY THE DRIVER
OR DROVER FROM INLAND TOWNS
TO - INLAND TO THE TOWNS
OFTEN MANY THOUSANDS
OF KILOMETRES,
TAKING MANY MONTHS.
I AM TOLD THAT THIS
PRACTICE HAS CEASED AND
THE SHEEP ARE NOW
HOUSED IN THE CITIES
IN HIGH RISE PENS.
[laughter]
THE METHOD OF DRIVING THE
SHEEP WAS THAT EACH SHEEP
INDIVIDUALLY WAS PLACED
IN A WICKER BASKET
ON THE BACKS OF A
BULLOCK DRAWN WAGON
KNOWN AS THE WOOLEN WAGONS.
THIS PRESERVED THE SHEEP
IN GOOD CONDITION
FOR THE MARKET.
THESE BULLOCKS,
IT IS SAID,
COULD PULL THE SHEEP
TO THE COAST WITHOUT
HUMAN GUIDANCE IF NEEDED,
BEING ABLE, OF COURSE,
TO SMELL THE SEA.
BUT THE SHEEP HAD TO BE
FED AND THE DROVER
OR DRIVER WOULD GIVE WATER
AND SEED TO THE SHEEP
DURING THE JOURNEY.
THE WAGON IN THE DRYSDALE
PAINTING IS A HORSE-DRAWN
WAGON DENOTING A POORER
CLASS OF DROVER.
THE WAGON IN THE PAINTING
WOULD PROBABLY HOLD
A THOUSAND SHEEP IN
WICKER BASKETS.
[laughter]
NOW THE LENGTH OF THE
JOURNEY AND THE HARSHNESS
OF CONDITIONS PRECLUDED
THE PRESENCE OF WOMEN.
AND THE HISTORICAL FACT IS
THAT FOR A CENTURY OR MORE
THERE WERE NO WOMEN IN
THIS PIONEERING COUNTRY.
THIS UNDERSTANDABLY
LED MEN TO SEEK OTHER
SOLACE IN THIS
STRANGE NEW COUNTRY.
AUSTRALIAN HISTORIANS
ACKNOWLEDGE THE CLOSENESS
OF MEN UNDER THE
CONDITIONS OF PIONEERING
AND HAVE DESCRIBED IT AS
MATESHIP OR A PLEDGING
OF UNSPOKEN ALLIANCE
BETWEEN TWO MEN,
A MARRIAGE OF
VOWS UNSPOKEN.
QUITE NATURALLY, TOO,
WITH THE DROVER OR DRIVER
A CLOSE AND SPECIAL RELATION
GREW BETWEEN HIM AND
HIS CHARGES WHO BECAME AN
OBJECT FOR EMOTIONAL AND
PHYSICAL DRIVES, BUT THIS
REMAINS UNACKNOWLEDGED
BY HISTORIANS AND FOR REASONS
OF NATIONAL SHAME BUT
IS WIDELY ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE
FOLK CULTURE OF AUSTRALIA.
HENCE THE JOKE IMPLICIT IN
THE WORKS OF ART BY TWO WRITERS
AND THE PAINTER
TITLED “THE DROVER'S WIFE.”
THIS IS THE ENTRY OF AN
UNACCEPTABLE HISTORICAL
TRUTH FROM THE ORAL
CULTURE TO HIGH CULTURE
BY A CODED HUMOUR AND
UNTIL THIS PAPER,
WHICH I MODESTLY
CONSIDER SOMETHING
OF A BREAKTHROUGH, HAS BEEN
ABSENT FROM ACADEMIC PURVIEW.
I ELICITED THE FIRST
INKLINGS OF THIS FROM
ANSWERS RECEIVED TO
QUESTIONS ASKED OF
AUSTRALIAN VISITORS TO ITALIA
ABOUT THE SHEEP DROVING.
FIRST I SHOULD EXPLAIN.
UNFORTUNATELY, I'M
A POOR STUDENT.
I LIVE IN A HUMBLE
TWO-ROOM APARTMENT.
IT IS NECESSARY FOR ME
TO WORK IN THE BAR
OF THE GRITTY PALACE
HOTEL IN VENEZIA.
IF THE AUTHORITIES WOULD
PROVIDE MORE FUNDS FOR
EDUCATION IN THIS COUNTRY,
MAYBE ITALIA WOULD REGAIN
ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE AT
THE FOREFRONT OF WORLD
CULTURE, BUT I WANDER.
I WANDER FROM MY POINT.
THE EXPERIENCE IN THE BAR
GAVE ME THE OPPORTUNITY
ON MANY OCCASIONS TO TALK
AND QUESTION VISITING
AUSTRALIANS,
THOUGH ALWAYS MEN.
THERE IS AN AUSTRALIAN
HUMOUR OF THE COARSE
PEASANT TYPE NOT
UNKNOWN IN ITALIA.
WITHOUT BECOMING INVOLVED
IN THESE DETAILS,
IT IS NECESSARY FOR
ME TO DOCUMENT SOME
OF THE INFORMATION HARVESTED
FROM THE CONTACT WITH
THE AUSTRALIAN, NOT HAVING
BEEN TO THE COUNTRY
AT FIRST HAND, THANKS
TO THE INSUFFICIENCY
OF FUNDS FROM THE
EDUCATIONAL AUTHORITIES.
HOWEVER, MY BROTHER
GIOVANNI IS LIVING THERE
IN ADELAIDE, BUT HE'S NOT
ANY HELP IN SUCH MATTERS,
KNOWING NOTHING OF THE
DROVING OR CULTURE,
AND KNOWING ONLY THE PRICE
OF THINGS ON THE HOLDEN
AUTOMOBILE, NOTHING OF THE
THINGS OF THIS SPIRIT.
YOU ARE WRONG, GIOVANNI.
YES, BUT TO CONTINUE.
A RUBBER SHOE OR BOOT
USED WHEN HUNTING
IN WET WEATHER,
CALLED THE GUM BOOT,
WAS USED BY THE DROVERS OR
DRIVERS AND FOUND TO BE
A NATURAL LOVE AIDE, WHILE
AT THE SAME TIME A SYMBOL
USED IN A GESTURE OF
VOLUNTARY SUBMISSION
TO THE DROVER
BEFORE HIS CHARGE.
THE BOOTS WERE
PLACED, I AM TOLD,
ON THE HIND LEGS OF
THE FAVOURED SHEEP.
THE DROVER WOULD BE
SHOELESS, LIKE THE SHEEP,
AND THE SHEEP WOULD
WEAR THE BOOTS.
COMPARE THIS WITH THE
ENGLISH EXPRESSION WEARING
PANTS IN MARRIAGE - WHO
WEARS THE PANTS IN MARRIAGE.
THE TOE OF THE BOOT WOULD
BE TURN TOWARDS THE DROVER
WHO WOULD STAND ON
THE TOES OF THE BOOT,
THUS HOLDING THE LOVED SHEEP
CLOSE TO HIM IN EMBRACE.
THESE DETAILS SUFFICE.
[laughter]
ACCORDING TO MY
AUSTRALIAN INFORMANTS,
THE SHEEP OFTEN FORMED
AN EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT
TO THE DROVER WHO
RECIPROCATED.
BUT THE JOURNEY TO THE
COAST HAD ITS INHERENT
ROMANTIC TRAGEDY.
THE LONG JOURNEY AND
SHARED HARDSHIP,
SHARED SHELTER, THE
KILOMETRES OF COMPANIONSHIP,
DAILY TOOK THEM CLOSER TO
THE TRAGIC CONCLUSION
WITH THE INEVITABLE
DEATH OF THE LOVED ONE
THROUGH THE WORKINGS OF
CAPITALIST MARKET FORCES.
[laughter]
BUT ALSO THE RETURN OF THE
DROVER'S NATURAL DRIVES
TO HIS OWN SPECIES AS HE
REENTERED THE WORLD OF PEOPLE.
WHY NOT DOGS?
THE QUESTION COMES.
[laughter]
CLOSE QUESTIONING OF
MY AUSTRALIAN SOURCES
SUGGESTS THAT THE DOGS
AS BED COMPONENTS
WAS CHARACTERISTIC
OF THE ABORIGINAL
AND THUS FOR REASONS
OF RACIAL PREJUDICE
BENEATH THE
AUSTRALIAN WHITE MAN.
THE SHEEP FROM EUROPE WAS
A LINK WITH THE HOMELANDS
FROM WHENCE HE HAD
MIGRATED AND FURTHER,
I SPECULATE THAT
THE MATERNAL BULK
OF THE MERINO SHEEP,
WITH ITS WOOLLY COAT AND
LARGE SOFT EYES, ITS
COMFORTING BLEAT,
OFFERED MORE
FEMININE SOLACE THAN
THE LEAN DOG WITH FLEAS.
[laughter]
AGAIN, ON THIS
AND OTHER MATTERS,
GIOVANNI IS OF
NO ASSISTANCE,
BEING CONCERNED ONLY WITH
HIS HOLDEN AUTOMOBILE
AND THE SOCCER FOOTBALL.
THE UNIMAGINATIVE REACTION
OF EDUCATIONAL AUTHORITIES
FOR RESEARCH FUNDING FOR
THIS PROJECT INDICTS
THE WHOLE SYSTEM OF
EDUCATION IN ITALIA.
OH, I'M SORRY.
RETURNING NOW TO THE
ARTWORKS UNDER STUDY.
IN HENRY LAWSON'S STORY
THE WOMAN CHARACTER
LIVES OUT HER LIFE AS
IF SHE WERE A SHEEP.
SHE IS NOT GIVEN A NAME.
IN ENGLISH ANIMAL
HUSBANDRY IT IS CUSTOMARY
TO GIVE COWS NAMES
(FROM BOTANY) DAISY,
FOR EXAMPLE, AND
DOMESTIC PETS ARE NAMED,
BUT SHEEP ARE
NEVER NAMED.
THE SCHOLAR KEITH THOMAS
SAYS THAT THE SHEPHERD,
HOWEVER, COULD RECOGNIZE
HIS SHEEP BY THEIR FACES.
IN THE STORY SHE IS PENNED
UP IN HER OUTBACK FOLD,
UNABLE TO GO ANYWHERE.
HER ROUTINES OF THE DAY
RESEMBLE CLOSELY THE LIFE
OF A SHEEP, AND IT CAN BE
TAKEN THAT THIS IS
A LITERARY TRANSFORMATION
FOR THE SAKE OF PROPRIETY.
SHE TELLS IN THE STORY HOW
SHE IS TAKEN TO THE CITY
A FEW TIMES IN A COMPARTMENT
AS IF SHE WERE A SHEEP.
IN THE ABSENCE OF
HER DROVER HUSBAND,
SHE IS LOOKED AFTER BY A DOG
AS IF SHE WERE A SHEEP.
THE CLIMAX OF HENRY LAWSON'S
STORY IS THE KILLING
OF THE SNAKE WHICH
NEEDS NO DOCTOR FREUD,
BEING THE EXPRESSION OF A
SAVAGE AND GUILT-RIDDEN
MALE DETUMESCENCE.
IN AUSTRALIA THE MALE
GENITALIA IS REFERRED
TO IN FOLKLORE AS THE
ONE-EYED TROUSER SNAKE.
[laughter]
THE AUSTRALIAN FOLK
LANGUAGE IS MUCH RICHER
THAN ITS EUROPEAN
COUNTERPART WHICH
IS IN A STATE OF DECAY.
I AM TOLD THAT TO THIS
DAY AUSTRALIAN MEN
ARE FOREVER
KILLING THE SNAKE.
THE DROVER IS ABSENT
FROM THE STORY,
A POINT TO BE
TAKEN UP LATER.
IN THE DRYSDALE
PAINTING (1945) ODDLY,
AND FASCINATINGLY,
THERE ARE NO SHEEP.
THEN WE REALIZE UNEASILY
THAT IT IS AS IF
THEY HAVE BEEN SWEPT UP
INTO A SINGLE IMAGE
OVERWHELMING THE FOREGROUND,
THE DROVER'S WIFE,
THE SECOND DROVER'S WIFE.
THIS UNUSUALLY
SHAPED WOMAN IS,
ON SECOND GLANCE, IN THE
FORM OF A MERINO SHEEP.
THE PAINTER HAS GIVEN HER THE
SAME MATERNAL PHYSICAL BULK.
HER SHADOW FORMS THE
SHAPE OF A SHEEP,
BUT THE DROVER
IS ABSENT.
THE SNAKE, YOU ASK?
WHERE IS THE SNAKE?
LOOK TO THE TREES.
IN THE TREES WE
FIND THE SERPENTS.
THEY WRITHE
BEFORE OUR EYES.
MURRAY BAIL, IN A MODERN
AUSTRALIAN STORY,
LONG REMOVED FROM THE DAYS
OF PIONEERING AND DROVING,
PAYS HOMAGE BOTH TO
THE DRYSDALE PAINTING
AND THE LAWSON STORY.
IN THE BAIL STORY, THE
WOMAN IS REFERRED TO
AS HAVING ONE
DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC:
SHE IS WOOLLY MINDED.
[laughter]
THE WOMAN FIGURES
IN THE BAIL STORY,
OR THE SHEEP FIGURE,
WANDERS IN A MOTIVELESS WAY
AND STRAYS FROM THE CITY
AND HER DENTIST HUSBAND.
CURIOUS IT IS TO HE NOTE
THAT SHE FLEES THE MAN
WHOSE WORK IT IS TO CARE
FOR THE TEETH WHICH ARE
THE INSTRUMENT USED
TO EAT THE SHEEP.
[laughter]
IN THE BAIL STORY, THE
WOMAN GOES FROM THE ARMS
OF HER NATURAL PREDATOR,
THE MAN WHO CARES FOR
THE TEETH, INTO THE ARMS OF
THE NATURAL PROTECTOR,
THE DROVER.
SO IN THREE WORKS OF HIGH
ART UNDER DISCUSSION,
WE HAVE THREE WOMEN
CLEARLY SUBSTITUTING
FOR SHEEP BUT CODED IN SUCH
A WAY TO LEAD US THROUGH
THE TERM DROVER'S WIFE BACK
INTO THE FOLK CULTURE
AND ITS JOKE, AND WE NOTE
THAT IN THE THREE WORKS,
THERE IS NO DROVER.
THIS IS A REVERSAL
OF THE SITUATION,
AN INSIDE-OUT-TRUTH, FOR
WE KNOW HISTORICALLY
THAT THERE WAS A DROVER,
BUT HISTORICALLY NO WIFE.
THE QUESTION COMES, GIVEN
THE DROVER HAS A THOUSAND
SHEEP IN HIS CARE, HOW
DID THE DROVER CHOOSE
FROM THE THOUSAND
JUST ONE MATE?
THIS QUESTION, INTRIGUING
AND BIZARRE AT THE SAME TIME,
WAS PUT TO MY
AUSTRALIAN SOURCES.
HOW WAS THE SHEEP CHOSEN.
BUT AS IN ALL MATTERS OF
THE HUMAN EMOTION
THE ANSWER BECOMES
BLINDINGLY PLAIN.
IT WAS EXPLAINED TO ME
THAT IT IS VERY MUCH LIKE
BEING IN A CROWDED
LIFT, OR IN A PRISON,
OR ON BOARD A SHIP.
A SITUATION OF
CONFINEMENT,
IT IS INSTINCTIVE FOR
PEOPLE TO SINGLE OUT
ONE ANOTHER
FROM THE HERD.
YES, AND THE
QUESTION COMES ALSO,
WAS I BEING
FOOLED ABOUT
BY THESE AUSTRALIANS
IN THE BAR?
PERHAPS THEY HAD
DRUNK TOO MUCH.
WAS I BEING TAKEN
IN, AS THEY SAY?
I ASK IN RETURN, WERE
THE AUSTRALIAN VISITORS
TELLING MORE THAN THEY
KNEW OR WANTED TO TELL?
THAT JOKING IS A FORM
OF TRUTH TELLING,
A WAY OF CONFESSION.
THEY WERE ALSO BY JOKING
WITH MY QUESTIONS
TRYING TO MAKE ME LOOK
AWAY FROM MY INQUIRY,
BUT THEY WERE ALSO TELLING
ME WHAT THEY DID NOT WISH
ME TO KNOW AS AN OUTSIDER
FOR THE CONFESSION
IS PRECISELY THIS,
AND IT BRINGS RELIEF.
THEY EXPERIENCED UNDEFINED
RELIEF FROM THEIR JOKING
ABOUT SUCH MATTERS.
THAT IS THE RELIEF
OF CONFESSION.
I LET THEM JOKE AT ME
FOR IT IS THE JOKE
WHICH I LISTENED
TO, NOT THEM.
THIS IS THE MANOEUVRE
OF THE NATIONAL JOKE,
THE TELLING AND THE NOT
TELLING AT THE SAME TIME.
TODAY SUCH RELATIONS
BETWEEN MEN AND SHEEP ARE,
OF COURSE, RARE
IN AUSTRALIA.
HOWEVER, THE RACIAL
MEMORY OF THOSE STRANGER
AND MORE PRIMITIVE DAYS,
DAYS CLOSER, CAN WE SAY,
TO NATURE IN A STATE OF
GRACE STILL LINGERS.
IT IS PRESENT IN A NUMBER
OF WAYS, AS ILLUSTRATED.
IT IS PRESENT IN THE
ELABORATE CULTURAL
JOKE OF HIGH ART,
THE ART WHICH WINKS.
IT IS THERE IN THE PEASANT
HUMOUR OF THE MALE AUSTRALIAN,
THE JOKE WHICH CONFESSES.
IT IS PRESENT,
I WOULD ARGUE,
AND HERE I WORK FROM
PHOTOGRAPHS AND CINEMA,
IN A WEEKLY RITUAL IN
AUSTRALIAN SUBURBS
CALLED MOWING THE LAWN.
ON ONE AFTERNOON
OF THE WEEK,
THE AUSTRALIAN MALE
TAKES OFF ALONE,
CUTS THE GRASS FROM
HIS SUBURBAN GARDEN,
WHICH IN EARLIER TIMES
WOULD HAVE BEEN FODDER
FOR THE SHEEP, AND THIS URBAN
HAY-MAKING RITUAL OCCURS,
AND CONTINUES TO OCCUR.
THE AUSTRALIAN CITY
MAN'S LAST CONNECTION
WITH AGRICULTURE.
BUT ALAS, HIS SHEEP IS
GONE AND THE GRASS,
THE HAY IS BURNED, AND A
MEMORY TO AN ASSOCIATION
ALL BUT FORGOTTEN.
FINALLY I AM TOLD THAT
THERE IS A AUSTRALIAN
NATIONAL ARTIFACT, THE
SHEEPSKIN WITH WOOL ATTACHED.
IT IS OFTEN USED AS A SEAT
COVER IN THE AUTOMOBILE
THAT TODAY THE DRIVER OR
DROVER OF A CAR SITS
OR LIES WITH THE SHEEP,
AS IT WERE, UNDER HIM,
WHILE DRIVING, NOT A
FLOCK OF SHEEP,
BUT THE FAMILY IN
THE MODERN AUTO.
IT GIVES COMFORT THROUGH
RACIAL MEMORY FAR EXCEEDING
THE NEED FOR WARMTH IN
THAT TEMPERATE LAND.
THE SHEEPSKIN COVERING
OF THE CAR SEAT IS
AN EMOTIONAL TROPHY FROM
THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD
OF THE AUSTRALIAN PAST.
IT IS THE ARTIFACT
WHICH REMEMBERS.
NATURALLY ALL THIS IS
NOT AN OPEN SUBJECT
FOR ACADEMIC EXPLICITNESS
IN AUSTRALIA,
BUT WE HERE IN ITALIA,
WHERE SUCH CANDOR
CAN BE ENJOYED, AND OUR
PERSPECTIVE OF CENTURIES
CAN ACKNOWLEDGE
SUCH THINGS.
BUT I SAY, AUSTRALIA,
BE NOT ASHAMED
OF THAT WHICH
IS BIZARRE.
SEEK NOT ALWAYS
THE GENTILE.
REMEMBER THAT WE,
THE OLDER CULTURES,
HAVE MYTHS WHICH ALSO
ACKNOWLEDGE SUCH HAPPENINGS,
JASON AND THE SEARCH
FOR THE GOLDEN FLEECE.
SEE IN THESE HAPPENINGS
THE BEGINNINGS OF
YOUR OWN MYTHOLOGY.
SEE IT AS AN AFFIRMATION
OF THE BEAUTIFUL TRUTH,
THAT WE SHARE THE
PLANET WITH ANIMALS
AND WE ARE PARTNERS
WITH THOSE ANIMALS
AND WE SHARE, THEREFORE,
IN ITS DESTINY.
THANK YOU.

[applause]
A view of the auditorium appears.

(classical music plays)

The end credits roll.

Produced and Directed by Tracey Fisher.

Executive Producer, Michael Vaughan.

A Production of TV Ontario.

Copyright The Ontario Educational Communications Authority 1988.

Watch: Frank Moorhouse