Saturday, 31 May 2014

Eileen Joyce

Last night David and I watched the old Australian movie 'Wherever She Goes'.

Made in Sydney at the Ealing Studios in 1951, this was a biopic tale of the early life of famous Australian pianist Eileen Joyce. Typical of Australian movies made during this time, it is a bit rough round the edges but the acting is full of nostalgic Aussie charm. The lead actress, Suzanne Parrett, is naturally graceful and believable as she skips through the Australian bush and then manages to maintain her optimism as the family moves to the harsh environment of the Australian outback. She is entirely unaware of her family's penury until she discovers her passion for music and more specifically, the piano.

The story finishes abruptly as Eileen says goodbye to her family and boards a train to follow her dream at the conservatorium in Perth. Wanting to know more about this remarkable woman I was hoping for a sequel but unfortunately the film ends here. Before we saw 'Wherever She Goes' I'd never heard of Eileen Joyce but now I'm fascinated.
She was born into abject poverty, never having worn a pair of shoes. Her clothes were truly 'Sound of Music', with her mother making her dresses from old curtains. Set in Tasmania where Eileen was born,  early scenes were filmed in the Blue Mountains where the bush revealed scenic vistas and was full of exotic wildlife. The vibrant mountains contrasted with the ugly desert town of Kalgoorli where her father moved in his search for gold. Kalgoorlie was home to an army of riff raff miners and larrikin adventurers whose favourite pass times of gold digging, drinking and two up games reflected another era in the Australian psyche, of mateship, swaggies and gold digging dreamers.

Environmental degradation caused by mining is surprisingly obvious even in this early depiction of an outback mining town. I wonder what the workers and miners from the early 20th Century would make of more recent mines, with city sized holes in the earth and monstrous trucks with wheels the size of houses.

The kindness of strangers and pure, serendipitous luck combined with Eileen's extraordinary, innate gift and obsession, under extremely unlikely circumstances, created one of Australia's best loved and world acclaimed musicians.

What makes this story even more remarkable, is that she was born in a time when expectations of women were vastly different to today. Women were not expected to leave the home to excel at anything, other than perhaps nursing, typing and maybe teaching. it seems hard to believe now that in those times and even until the 1960's, women were asked to leave their professions when they married. 

Eileen Joyce at St.Joseph's, Boulder.

Eileen Joyce's full story should be told.  In these 'hard nosed', mean spirited economic times, Australia could do with some education on the possible life changing effects that being generous, looking out for neighbours and performing small acts of kindness every day can have on children and families. Such actions can have life enhancing consequences on those around us, as demonstrated by this forgotten Australian classic.

Life was desperately hard for the miners of Boulder and elsewhere  in Australia, yet they were aware of and encouraged and supported this talented young girl. Despite our hardships, when we focus on our shared humanity, notice the little things and pull together in community, we all benefit and it especially benefits our children. 

Something must also be said about the nuns of the outback. The sisters travelled to remote places and set up schools for the bedraggled populations of these mining towns in the middle of the desert. Thanks to those nuns, the miner's children were educated and Eileen Joyce learnt to play her beloved piano.

 Joyce, Eileen Alannah (1908–1991)
The Australian pianist Eileen Joyce, who died in England on March 25, rose from poverty-stricken obscurity to become one of this century's most famous concert stars.
She was one of the four children of Irish immigrants, Joseph and Alice Joyce, and she was born in a tent at Zeehan, Tasmania, in 1912. She spent most of her childhood in Boulder, Western Australia, where her father worked as a miner.
The family lived opposite a miners' saloon run by a relative and it was there that Eileen first began experimenting at the keyboard, tinkering on a battered old piano in the bar. Her love of music was encouraged by nuns at the local convent school and when she was about 10 they recommended that she be sent to develop her talents at a larger convent in Perth.
She was never to forget her father's embarrassment when he was forced to admit that he could neither read nor write when enrolling her at the city school.
When Percy Grainger was invited to the convent to hear her play, he pronounced her "the most transcendentally gifted child" he had ever met.
Another visitor, the touring German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus, insisted that she be sent to further her studies in Leipzig. The miners of Boulder passed the hat around to help her parents pay her fare and expenses.
Years later, during an interview, she recalled her long, lonely sea voyage to Europe, and her arrival in Leipzig in the 1920s, "a homesick waif and stray without warm knickers". The reception party, she said, was disappointed to find she was not an Aborigine.
But she also recalled the magnificent musical education she received in Leipzig, where her tutors included "the emperor" of pianists, Artur Schnabel.
From Leipzig she went to London. She was then about 20 and not only an exceptionally gifted young musician, but an extremely beautiful, red-haired young woman. Throughout her career she was to be admired almost as much for her beauty as her performances.
She made her London debut at a Proms Concert conducted by Henry Wood. Shortly after, the resourceful young pianist made a recording in London, at her own expense, and sent copies to all the leading conductors of the day. Offers of engagements with top orchestras followed.
In 1936 she made her first ABC tour of Australia. During that visit her proud father asked her to play his favourite Irish air, Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms. By then she knew dozens of concertos and sonatas by heart, but she had to admit she did not know the score of her father's favourite song.
"Then all your schooling's been wasted," he furiously complained at a reception in her honour. She quickly learned the piece to please him.
Although she left Australia in her early teens and never returned to make her home here, she always made a point of expressing her pride in Australia and its people overseas and she never attempted to gloss over her own humble beginnings.
Perhaps that is why she was regarded with such affection by her Australian contemporaries.
She was certainly never a victim of the tall poppy syndrome. In fact, throughout her glittering international career Australia constantly held her up as "a magnificent ambassadress" and a fine example to young Australians.
Following her return to London after her 1936 ABC tour she married an Englishman, Douglas Legh Barratt, and gave birth to their son, John.
But her first husband was killed while on active service during World War II; in 1945 she married again, this time to the immensely wealthy British film magnate Christopher Mann.
The same year she was featured playing on the sound track of two major British films, The Seventh Veil, starring Ann Todd, and the classic, Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean.
A children's book about her early life was published in 1949 by the English writer Clare Hoskyns-Abahall, who described the miners of "Boulder City" as"cowboys" in sombreros and chaps and reported that Eileen had often roamed in the hills of "West Australia" leading her pet kangaroo Twink by a chain attached to his "beautifullystudded collar".
But although the book provoked plenty of guffaws in Australia, it inspired the extremely popular 1951 film, Wherever She Goes, which consolidated Joyce's reputation as a first-rate ambassador.
It starred Suzanne Parrett as the young Eileen, and the famous pianist appeared as her herself, the grown-up star, in the final reel.
In addition to constant reports in the Australian media about her triumphs at Carnegie Hall and other famous concert venues, there were lavishly illustrated magazine articles about her increasingly glamorous lifestyle.
But even accounts of her Mayfair apartment, her seven grand pianos, her country home, Chartwell Farm ("right next door to Sir Winston Churchill's Chartwell Manor") and her concert gowns designed by the leading couturiers of the day failed to provoke widespread envy or acid media comment.
Australia always seemed of the opinion that the daughter of the battling Boulder miner had earned her place in the sun.
She ended her career in Aberdeen in 1960 by closing the lid of the piano after a recital and announcing that she was in pain from muscular problems in her shoulders and "utterly exhausted" after a lifetime of extensive touring.
There was talk of a comeback following her brief, dazzling guest appearance at a charity concert in London in 1967, but she thought better of it.
In 1971 she received an honorary doctorate of music from Cambridge University and in 1979 a doctorate from the University of Western Australia. In 1981 she was created a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.
The same year she visited Australia to adjudicate at the Sydney International Piano Competition and to attend the official opening of the Eileen Joyce Studio at the University of Western Australia.
She donated the $110,000 cost of the studio as a tribute to her parents, but during that trip she confessed that she had virtually lost touch with her siblings over the years.
She also attended the 1985 Sydney International Piano Competition and made her last trip home to Australia in 1989 when she attended an ABC concert in her honour at Sydney Town Hall.
Following the death of her husband, Christopher Mann, in 1983, she made her home at White Hart Lodge, a converted 14th-century monastery in Limpsfield, Surrey.
It was there that she suffered a fall on March 24. She died the following day in hospital. She had been in poor health for several years and friends report that she was particularly distressed by the increasing loss of her short-term memory. "Mummy's going dottie", she frequently complained during her last trip to Australia.
Her funeral was held yesterday in Limpsfield. She is survived by her son, John, her daughter-in-law, Rebecca and her grandson, Alexander.
A studio at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's new headquarters at Ultimo is to be dedicated to her memory.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 April 1991, p 14

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Why I don't Like Hugh Jackman

I really want to like Hugh Jackman and Deborra Lee-Furness. Jackman is a handsome, incredibly talented Aussie who married an older woman and has been loyal to her for 18 years and they have two adopted children. It all sounds pretty much idyllic. Maybe it is, privately, for them. 

But unlike Cate Blanchett, who is also an extraordinarily talented Australian (though I'm not sure she sings and dances like Jackman), I suspect Hugh Jackman might support the current Coalition Government. 

The reason I say this is that during the launch of his new foundation for the arts, he refrained from criticising the Abbott Government for cutting huge dollars from arts funding. He said that he thought funding should come from a number of sources. What does that mean? That it's okay for the second richest country in the world not to support Australian performing arts? We might be the second richest country in the world but if what Hugh Jackman said is true, then we're certainly not the second most cultured or civilised!

Jackman and Furness haven't criticised the Coalition Government for anything at all. I hope this is because, being ex-pats, they haven't kept abreast of the political situation in their home country and not because they actually approve of the Coalitions's actions.

I have two adopted Korean children but I felt extremely uneasy when Jackman and Furness posed proudly for photos with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, when he promised to make it easier for Australians to adopt children from overseas. 

I mean, one does wonder how people who adopt children and especially people who set up Trusts specifically to support the overseas adoption of underprivileged children, could support a government that treats refugee children so cruelly or that cuts funding to unemployed youth, or to education or health? How does that make sense? I find it strange that people are able to separate these decisions from the humanitarian and human rights consequences. 

That there are now children permanently languishing  in dreadful conditions in New Guinea and on Nauru due to the actions of both Labor and Liberal Governments, surely deserves as much response from Jackman and Furness as those languishing in third world countries due to poverty, war and persecution.

One would think that such successful and hopefully humane people would be aware of the Abbott Government's bad track record on asylum seekers, climate change, deforestation, social services, education, health and the arts.

Possibly the worst action by the present Government is their continued financial support of fossil fuels including CSG and other Unconventional Gases such as Tight Gas. Everything the Coalition Government does shouts support for the rich and a complete lack of support for basic human need and the environment.

I strongly suspect that Jackman and Furness are supportive of the Abbott Government and billionaires such as Rupert Murdoch and Twiggy Forrest. Forrest has invested in Jackman's new arts foundation. Why do I find this so very disappointing? I really do want to like Hugh Jackman because he's so talented and apparently one of the few decent, really handsome guys in Hollyweird.

Jackman has referred to taxpayer's money as being limited and that money for the arts should come from other sources. I guess it depends on what kind of arts he's talking about. Big, ridiculous, block buster movies shouldn't necessarily receive government funding but the arts as a whole are, I believe, a basic human need. 

A country without the arts becomes...well... hard nosed and perhaps even a bit sociopathic, really. The arts can help us reflect and maybe question ourselves and also our country's actions. The arts can help us become more humane and God knows, we need more humane in this cruel world.

Come Hugh Jackman, read my blog. Educate yourself about what this Government is doing and use your squillians to help us become more humane and to help save our world for our children.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Did Pyne call Shorten a 'c***'?

I'm not at all surprised that Christopher Pyne called Bill Shorten a 'c#@%'! And I'm even less surprised that he got away with it.

A friend who had flown to Canberra to hear Greens Senator Richard Di Natale's maiden speech, related this story to me.

When Richard, who is very polite and respectful of all, walked down the aisle to his new seat in the Senate chamber to give his first Senate speech in 2011, his heart was full of pride for Australia. He was in awe of the country that had given him, the young son of almost illiterate immigrants, the opportunity to achieve so much and to eventually become one of the law makers and leaders of Australia. It's a remarkable and inspiring story.

But on the way down that aisle his heart fell when Liberal Senators began to heckle him. They called him every name you can think of as well as saying to this accomplished medical doctor such things as 'have you taken yer drugs today Greenie' and 'go hug a tree bloody hippy greenie'.

But Richard took his place in the Senate and looked up at the visitors gallery to his beaming parents, siblings, wife and friends. He gave a beautiful speech and when he finished, everyone in the chamber rose to their feet to applaud him.

Both Labor and Liberal are guilty of bigotry and vilification but the Liberals have shown us that they have very little regard for anyone who is not one of their members and they have no qualms demonstrating their disdain openly and publicly. The strange thing is that they generally get away with it.

Here is Richard's maiden speech.

And here is his response to the recent budget.
Regards to all,
Lisa Owen

If not Us, then Who?
If not Now, then When?
If not Here, then Where?

Make Senator Di Natale's 'What will they eat?' video go viral!

AAww c'mon people! Help to make this video go viral, like Scott Ludlam's 'Noted' speech. Richard Di Natale is very angry about the Government's Budget and it's equally worthy as he manifests even more indignant, well focused RAGE. So share, share and share again!

The dynamic duo, Federal Greens Senator Richard Di Natale and Victorian State Greens candidate for Western Region, Lloyd Davies. My two favourite Greens!

Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Some Legislation Should Be Set In Stone

Tony Abbott spruiked fossil fuels in Texas.

Like most people, I receive hundreds of petitions. I agree with some of varying degrees... but some make me stop and rethink the issue at hand. 

One of those petitions called for a ban on wage increases to politicians.

Politicians, along with lawyers, priests and teachers seem to have fallen out of favour over the past few decades. Perhaps it's always been that way. I often feel frustrated and perplexed by those on both sides of politics and view most of them with a fair amount of cynicism but I just can't buy the 'anti-politician' sentiment that lumps all politicians together. 

Politicians are definitely not all the same. Green politicians never vote for their own pay increases, yet they work extremely hard. Admittedly their wages are substantial but Green politicians are required to tithe 10% of that income, with little or no assistance in return. They take their roles very seriously and keep to a punishing schedule.    

It may be an honour to serve your country in parliament but it's also a great sacrifice. There are long and lonely times away from family and friends and much of that time is spent in transit, travelling the continent. 

Greens Senator for Victoria, Richard Di Natale and Greens candidate for Victoria's Western Region in 20014 State election, Lloyd Davies. 

Greens Senator Richard Di Natale said in his maiden speech, that he hoped his children would one day understand why their father was rarely at school concerts, speech nights or school sports. Such denial of normal family time is hard on children and families. A large proportion of politicians suffer from depression and anxiety.

The constancy of public demand with an ever present fear of humiliation and trial by media, wear many a good person down. Politics is a hard game and it's equally hard on a politician's children, families and friends. Such sacrifices and negative impacts are rarely appreciated or acknowledged by the public and are never acknowledged by the media. Maybe, when politicians say they're withdrawing from public life to spend more time with their families, most of the time they really mean it.

Bob Brown, former leader of the Australian Greens, with partner Paul Thomas.
Many go on to serve the community on other less public platforms. 

Of course, a number of politicians are on the gravy train and do very little to earn their keep. However, that's true of any profession and yet we are not inclined to judge the entire profession for the failings some of its members.  

Voters do take a risk when they support a candidate whether they belong to a party or run as an independent. Inevitably, some will disappoint. I know I have a strong Green bias because I have never, ever felt let down or been disillusioned by a Greens candidate. But there probably will come a time! 

Most people who enter politics do it to create change for the better and to help serve their country. The rigors of running for an election, may include a loss of income over a number of years and a substantial loss of family time. A politician's wages are like danger money. They're a form of remuneration or compensation and I believe they earn every cent.
The Australian people want and deserve candidates of quality, with intelligence, a strong sense of justice and honesty. We need well rounded, well informed, balanced individuals to help run our country at the highest level. 

Ideally, parliament should represent all Australians, from every walk of life, including high powered careers, blue collar workers, academics, farmers, teachers, all adult age groups, all ethnic backgrounds, all genders, all sexual orientations, all religions and those who are not religious.


And in that mix, we want some people who may already be successful and who are prepared, for a time, to sacrifice lucrative business careers. These people are valued because they may have some understanding of the complexities of running a huge economy. But we also want them to be compassionate and caring toward those who are at the bottom of that list. 

Our parliament creates the legislation that controls our lives. Being in Government is the highest office in the land and the most responsible. That's why we ask so much of our politicians and quite rightly scrutinize their actions. 

Whether you agree with them or not, in my opinion most politicians earn their keep. In Australia, we want to attract the very best people to run our country but we can't have it both ways. We can't pay them meager or even ordinary wages and expect them all to be highly skilled and to represent us with absolute dedication and extraordinary performances. We can't really expect our politicians to be extraordinary, if we don't look after them. 

Having said that, there should be limits to how much politicians are paid because either too much or too little money seems to invite corruption. the very near future, Australians  must grow up and realize that some things are essential to our survival. We must put a limit on the power of governments and politicians to withdraw life saving legislation such as universal health care, equality in education, environmental protection and human and animal rights. These things must be set in stone. 

At the present time, such basic core value issues are being abused by both sides of politics in order to win votes and curry favour from the 'big end of town'. With each new election, all hard won gains in these important areas are easily lost, as demonstrated by the Coalition Government's retraction of the the price on carbon. 

If the Australian people decide to vote for a Government that does not protect our core values, then there should be measures set in place. The Constitution and the judicial system are meant to do exactly that but they seem to be failing us on a number of counts; on refugees, health care, education and probably the most dangerous and pressing issue facing us all, climate change.   

The Coalition Government has, with righteous gusto, introduced inequitable and unjust legislation to cut essential services, infringe on human rights and destroy our life support systems. At the same time they will afford huge subsidies to the wealthy and damaging mining and fossil fuel industry.

People need to know that the Greens are ethical politicians who, on a shoe string budget and with much personal sacrifice, fight for good and just legislation and that they NEVER vote for an increase in pay. 

When I watch Coalition Government politicians on TV, I find myself wondering if the Australian people really understand what Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne and Greg Hunt are doing to them and their country. 

If you want a better class of politician, vote Green. If you want to protect health care, education, human rights and the environment, vote Green. C'mon people, you know you want to!
If not Us, then Who?
If not Now, then When?
If not Here, then Where?

We acknowledge the traditional Aboriginal custodians of the land, the Gunditjmara Kirrae Whurrong people, whilst paying our respects to their Elders past and present.