Newsletter 295

Published July 15, 2019
Melati gets ready to fire another arrow

The week began in Arnhem Land where I went to see what the Art Gallery of South Australia has in store for the next installment of Tarnarnthi in October. The most memorable part of the trip was a three hour drive down a dusty, bumpy road to an indigenous community in the midst of a week-long funeral ceremony. It was a privilege to be invited, so the drive was a necessary ordeal. After three hours on site we spent another three hours driving back to Yirrkala, with the car breaking down only five minutes from the art centre! This might constitute an average day for some of the people who live in the top end, but my standards it was an adventure.

Back in Sydney all the news was about the failures of self-regulation. Gladys was admitting that the NSW state government’s policy of letting developers do what they like has been a disaster, now that a third, hastily-constructed apartment block has been declared dangerous. Meanwhile the Murray-Darling scheme was beginning to look like a scam to assist the growth of monopolies rather than protect the rivers. It seems that under the Coalition even environmental protection plans can be framed in a way that assists big corporations at the expense of everybody else.

How did we ever manage to forget what happened in the 19thcentury when industry was allowed to please itself? The past three decades have witnessed the full-scale return of laissez-faire economics, although it’s now called “cutting red tape”. To put a dampener on anyone’s profits is tantamount to socialism! Instead we get a steady concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands as the squeeze is put on small farmers and small businesses.

Some who have gone into massive debt to buy an apartment in Sydney’s overheated market now find they have bought into a condemned building. Their investment is gone and there is no chance of reclaiming anything from insurance. Meanwhile Scummo is on stage praising Jesus at the Hillsong Church…

Politics still looks pretty tame in this country compared to Indonesia, which is only starting to emerge from a very dark period of history. This week’s art column visits  Canberra, where the National Gallery of Australia is hosting the show, Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia. The exhibition contains most of the big names in the Indonesian art scene, although the list could be extended a long way yet. There is such a high level of energy and invention in this work that one can only admire the speed with which the artists have taken their chances since the fall of Suharto in 1998.

The film being reviewed is Ash Mayfair’s tale of old Vietnam, The Third Wife, which looks at the life of a 14-year-old child bride in a land where women are treated as goods and chattels. It’s a movie that might be watched for the visuals alone but there’s also a story that creeps under one’s skin little by little. There are many things about this severely patriarchal society that disturb our modern sensibilities, but also a sense that it was a world built on inalienable values we have expunged from our lives. Blame the blind juggernaut of history that crushes both the good and the bad, leaving us to grasp at whatever seems to enhance our fragile sense of security.