By John Kendall Hawkins
Australia’s the kind of place where, after twenty years here, you can wake up one morning to a sucker-punch epiphany — wow! This is what it would be like if the South had won the Civil War. No slavery, but a mindset, sometimes an arrogance that comes at you like Dylan’s twisty freight train. Not a place to feel like an outsider. It can seem a bit surreal, a place where, from coast to coast, they can force their children to read To Kill A Mockingbird in the day to educate them on the banality of injustice, but then bring them along to the lynching of an Uppity that night. These are dangerous, Sam Kinison-like thoughts, and as Bobby would say, “If my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” So I cool it.
On the other hand, by comparison to America, Australia has a model social safety net in place. Bernie Sanders would be envious. Socialist Democratic values work. You can provide backbone support for public needs, and still leave plenty of elbowing room for capitalism and getting obscenely rich. They have Medicare-for-all here; while the system needs tweaks, nobody goes without necessary medical care; just make an appointment. Tertiary education can be paid for through generous government loans paid back through a sensible income-indexed scheme. (Once upon a time, tertiary education here was free.) And there is government assistance with income and housing for those in need.
It’s a self-described “clever” and “lucky” country, but also, like many other countries, full of strange and sometimes dark contradictions. Waltzing Matilda laid back, but Sam Kinison in your face, too.
Julian Assange is from this place. He spent part of his early childhood on Magnetic Island, off the coast of Queensland. One account describes his “wild…Tom Sawyer-like” childhood. And there is even a Jumping Frog of Calaveras County atmosphere to the place that Mark Twain would have smiled at. Later, he moved to the mainland and had a sturm-und-drang childhood, featuring the misfit blues and loneliness, but also self-education and computers — just as the Internet was mainstreaming. Then Dennis the Menace grew up to become an Enema of the State.
He’s a kind of Libertarian (and libertine) who wants limited corporate and governmental influence on individual lives; he loathes all the strutting, data-driven Machiavells, and champions the dying light of simple privacy, even if it must be decked out in the chainmail of be-knighted encryption. He seems to repel both Democrats and Republicans these days — leaks and hacks, hacks and leaks: the Democrats hate him for undermining Hillary; Trump seems to hate Assange for helping him get elected and seems in a hurry to get him imprisoned for espionage before Wikileaks can release the president’s tax records.
It can seem shocking at times — the mind double-takes — to think that this guy came from a nation that doesn’t especially value the freedoms he pushes on the rest of the world. Unlike most modern democratic countries, there is no Bill of Rights, or the like, to fall back on in Australia if the government decides to “crack down” on freedom. Aussies largely see themselves as “egalitarian,” and the aforementioned solid social safety net is a great quietener of political passions, but the American-driven War on Terror has begun to expose just how few protections people have here, should that ever matter to them.
Thus, a few years back, Australia passed an anti-terrorist measure in parliament, which, while providing for the necessary means to deal with incidents, used language that left open the possibility that the law could lead to serious abuses, such as torture and the undermining of the preumption of innocence. More recently, anti-encryption legislation was passed that has alarmed some citizens, who see it as an assault on privacy and journalism. And even more recently, a legislative amendment to the espionage act made trafficking in top secret information illegal — a virtual shutting down of whistleblowing in Australia.
As Senator David Leyonhjelm, expressed in a Melbourne Age article recently, “These provisions are shameful. As a nation we should be better than this. Australia is engaged in a fight against barbarism, but that does not justify becoming barbarians ourselves.” As in most places, many Australians would just see the sum of such legislation as a matter of having a contingency plan in place to prevent horrific terrorist events from happening and for dealing with them efficiently if they do. However, there are some troubling signs of suppression already at work.
Recently, the Sydney offices of the national ABC network were raided by Australian Federal Police and a huge trove of data was seized, including leaked documents, images and videos, knowns as The Afghan Files, purporting to contain evidence of the murders of civilians and their cover-up. The ABC had produced and aired a seven-part story in 2017. Two years later: No story in the future — or the past — is safe from prosecution, it seems. The ABC believes the public interest is established; the exposed events being a revelation of military war criminality gone uninvestigated. When asked for a response, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison was “dismissive.”
In a separate incident, an ABC journalist’s home in Canberra was raided in an effort to secure sensitive documents obtained by reporter Annika Smethurst which she used in a 2018 story to show Australian Signal Directorate plans to enhance its domestic spying capacity. News, because, like the CIA in America, they’re not empowered to spy domestically. So, again, it’s definitely news of public interest. The government just wants to know who leaked the story.
The besieged and shrinking media in Australia has been intimidated by legal constraints for years — even away from national security issues. For instance, back in 2014 the Israelis bombed Gaza in a much-publicized incident that brought international outrage. Israelis were captured by photographers at a Sderot hillside watching the carnage and “treating the bombing as a spectator sport.” A Sydney Morning Herald cartoonist, drawing information from various photos, depicted the scene in such a way that Jewish defamation groups attacked the cartoon as “anti-semitic” because the cartoonist used religious symbols (star of David, kippah), as well as showing an Israeli holding a TV remote control, as if viewing a Netflix streaming movie. Cowed editors pulled the cartoon, despite the political accuracy of its depiction. (Still at it. Just saying.)
Australian politicians are on record as regarding Julian Assange as a criminal; one former attorney-general even went so far as to suggest cancelling his passport and charging him with treason, and, if convicted, of imprisoning him for life. Under present laws, even possession of the brief that suggested he be charged with treason could be criminalized and a journalist reporting on it charged. In this political milieu it is amazing that Julian Assange ever grew up to be a defender of freedom — the press, individual public rights, human privacy. Amazing. Probably it helped enormously that he just didn’t fit in.
Julian Assange, like most journalists, just wants to keep the Bastards honest. It’s the job of the Fourth Estate. Like it says over the masthead of the Washington Post, (maybe ironically) “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” We need to know about atrocities committed overseas in our name (see flag). We need to know when elected representatives who promised the moon landing to put them in office are lying ot hiding facts that would interest the people who them there. And we need to know when they are “cracking down” on freedom in Australia every bit as much as when they are “cracking down” down on freedom of expression in Tiananmen Square.
In September, Scott Morrison will become the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the White House since John Howard. (Howard, no fan of a Bill of Rights at home, once demanded that the Iraqis include such a Bill in their own constitution. That’s kind of the way it is here.) Who knows what Scott and Donald will talk about. But one likely subject is immigration policy. Morrison, the architect of Australia’s current No Boat People Will Ever Become Citizens Here policy, can talk Trump through how to make Guatemala his own Manus Island, complete with compounds overflowing with toilet shit – you know, so they get the message.
In January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson presented his 14-Points to Congress, a statement of principles that became the basis for a negotiated settlement that ended World War I, including the break-up of the defeated Ottoman Empire. The speech was also meant to provide a framework for preserving world peace — an idealistic sentiment later given false teeth by the establishment of the League of Nations in 1920. Point 12 says that “the other nationalities [including Kurds] which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development….” But this didn’t happen: the Turks, under Kemal Ataturk, balked at Kurdish sovereignty, and war-victorious Britain laughed at the homeland promised to the Kurds.
Today, the Kurdish diaspora is mostly spread out over four regions in the Middle East — Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. They have been, at best, a tolerated presence, almost in a constant state of battle in their pursuit of a permanent homeland. They have been used and abused for decades by the Brits and Americans — British Petroleum discovered lots of oil in the Kirkuk region in the 1920s, making the Kurdish-held province subject to seizure by Iraqis ever since. The Americans have let them down repeatedly since President Wilson’s pronouncement, including Herr Doktor Kissinger’s realpolitik double-cross of the Kurds in 1975, after they’d gone up against the Ba’athist regime at America’s behest. “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work,” said the Nobel Peace laureate.
The Kurds have been around since the time of Saladin, Muslims and Jews pushing back against Crusaders in a holy war of the Abrahamics, one Semite beating the snot out of another, that stretches back in time to happy Ozymandias (see Hubris). The family jewels were purloined from the Holy Land long ago by Europeans (Turin, Glastonbury, Paris) and there’d be no reason for Euros to have trashed the cradle of civilization again, had it not been for a new hole-y war — the discovery of oil, with all its cachet. And here we are today. George W. Bush, an oil man, called the hellish activity in the modern Middle East a “crusade…against Terrorism,” but you get the feeling his terror is all about control of the region’s oil.
Meanwhile, the Kurds are still looking for a Kurdistan that they can call Home; still in-fighting — these days against ISIS, in a poignant and seemingly hopeless narrative of constant survival. Turmoil in the region has resulted in massive displacement and a global refugee crisis. As the late Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani asks out loud near the end of his life, “Have the Kurdish people committed such crimes that every nation in the world should be against them?” But no one seems to be listening.
Probably the most controversial narrative about one Kurd’s plight and consequent flight to freedom and stability is Behrouz Boochani’s asylum-seeking odyssey No Friend But the Mountains. In it, the 36 year old from Ilam, a Kurdish city in the mountainous northwest of Iran, details his narrow escape from Iranian religious authorities looking to arrest him for the ‘subversive’ journalism of Werya, a Kurdish cultural magazine he edits. He flees toward Australia, seeking asylum, where he hopes to find a stable life in a culture that ostensibly protects freedom, especially the fundamental freedom of expression.
Early in his award-winning memoir, Boochani wonders whether instead of heading toward Australia for personal freedom he should instead have fled to the mountains to be with his brothers-in-arms defending his people. He decides that there are different ways of being a resistance-fighter and that his weapon of choice is the pen rather than a gun. “To this very day,” he writes, “I don’t know if I have a peace-loving spirit or if I was just frightened…maybe my cowardice … redirected my thoughts to privileging the power of the pen, compelled me to pursue cultural expression as resistance.”
The problem is that for years refugees and asylum-seekers would make their way to Indonesia and then seek out traffickers who would help sneak them into Australia by boat, where they hoped to find protection from the life-threatening abuses they left behind. Unfortunately, these ‘boat people’ were often delivered in shabby vessels that sometimes fell apart at the seams, resulting in horrific deaths at sea.
In addition, from a bureaucratic point of view, these asylum-seekers were thought of a “queue-jumpers,” forcing their situation on Australian authorities busy processing the migration requests of people ‘standing in line.’ Neither the queue-jumping nor the drownings were considered acceptable, and after much political hand-wringing, the conservative Australia government came up with a poorly-named “Final Solution”: No More Asylum Boats.
Behrouz Boochani arrived in Australian waters from Indonesia just a few days after a new law went into effect that permanently excluded anyone seeking asylum who had arrived by boat. One problem solved, a new one opened: what to do with asylum-seekers who had arrived after the law went into effect on October 31, 2013?
Now without the desire to return to their countries of origin and without hope of settling in Australia, the seekers were sent to detention centers in Nauru (families) and to Manus (single males), an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. There is no plan beyond that. Boochani, and hundreds of others, have been languishing on these islands, waiting to be processed as refugees and for third countries to offer asylum. Boochani has been waiting six years.
No Friend But the Mountains details the harrowing experience of leaps of desperation and the tyranny of time, observes the processes of unwarranted confinement keenly, explores the catastrophe of dumping a first world migration policy into a third world colony’s lap. The risks asylum-seekers take are extraordinary. Boochani, a poet as well as a journalist, describes the terror of the boat ride from Indonesia to Australia:
The ruckus of our terrified group
The sound of weeping in the background
The beating of waves
The petrified, silent screaming
The tormented wailing
Waves rocking a cradle containing a corpse
Hour after hour of adrenaline waves and the fear of imminent drowning.
Boochani observes his environs with a certain poetical style; he’s tuned in to the sensual and the sensory. Stuck in the Manus Island detention center, pacing, without hope, under a sun so hot it feels like he’s being “cremated.” Multi-cultural refugees crossing paths in their pacings; united facilely by their common plight, but ultimately divided by language, religion, and tribe; assigned numbers to make it easier for the staff to avoid remembering their names. Boochani nicknames everyone he sees: The Blue Eyed Boy, The Toothless Fool, The Young Guy With A Ponytail, The Irascible Iranian, The Cadaver, Maysam The Whore, The Gentle Giant, etc. Afghan, Sri Lankan, Sudanese, Lebanese, Iranian, Somali, Pakistani, Rohingya, Iraqi, Kurdish.
Even the generator has a nickname — The Oldman Generator — and seems to be possessed by a malignant spirit, “a living being, with a soul, an organism that takes pleasure in throwing the prison into disarray whenever it feels like it.” The most meagre comfort depends on its operation — the water pump for flushing toilets. When it fails, and it does regularly, the consequences are immediate. “Within a few minutes,” he writes, “the toilets cease to function and the smell of shit and piss sweeps, the whole space from end-to-end.” The stench grows, the floor floods. The heat saps and drives them toward insanity.
Being on Manus Island means dealing with the locals, who provide much of the low-level maintenance and serve as guards. They don’t want the asylum-seekers in their community. They are resentful at having no say in details worked out by PNG and Australian citizens miles and miles away. “The imprisoned refugees feel that they are in a nightmare; their feelings about the locals are transformed into a nightmare,” Boochani thinks. Colonized, the locals have an odd presence, tribal instincts married to a rustic Australian humor gone feral, almost phantasmagorical.
According to Human Rights Watch,“[G]roups of local young men, often intoxicated and sometimes armed with sticks, rocks, knives, or screwdrivers, have frequently assaulted and robbed refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.
Details of riot and closing.” The tension mounted until a group of about 80 locals broke into the refugee compound and attacked the detainees on February 17, 2014 and Reza Barati, The Gentle Giant, was murdered by locals.
No Friend But the Mountains is in a sense a conjuring up of the evil of banality, the extraordinary dreariness of inescapable routine, of progress into some future not marked by time but by mythopoesis, a mental journey that, as you pace in the sun, or lay back looking up from your bunk in the night, dissolves your connectedness not to reality but the presumptions you once lived by, every moment of uncertainty a brand new paradigm. Doing laundry, flip-flopping through slip-slop, lining up for chow, observing the inward-looking others pacing, orbiting the yard.
As he watches his fellows drift toward depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation, Boochani muses, “These forced conditions of loneliness make everyone endure scenes of an internal odyssey that would ruin any man. The odyssey summons dark angels and secrets relegated to the unconscious; like a magical curse it positions before every prisoner’s eyes the most long-standing issues and bad blood tied up in the soul.” Hopelessness married to time begets torture.
Eventually, after being told by authorities over and over that they will never be allowed into Australia, the Papua New Guinea supreme court declares the detention center “illegal” and it is closed down on October 31, 2017. Detainees must now leave the compound. More tension erupts, as feeling unsafe in the community, some asylum-seekers refuse to leave, leading to violence during forced removals to ne, semi-open encampments elsewhere on Manus, run by Paladin, a controversial contractor, providing essential services and security to the asylum-seekers.
No Friend But the Mountains represents a new kind of intersection of social apps, poetry, academic analysis, philosophy, as well as memoir. It has been celebrated as a new form of crucial journalism — WhatsApp messages developed into a book of observations in detention. This novelty seems to have sparked enthusiasm for championing the book that followed. Boochani has won a series of Australia’s richest literary prizes for his memoirs and has been hailed as “one of Australia’s finest writers,” despite not being allowed to enter Australia. A separate documentary, using the same mobile phone, has been released. An animated glimpse into his adventure is available.
But perhaps the wildest development out of the memoir (and other accounts) is a play titled Manus written by Iranian writer Nazanin Sahamizadeh. It premiered in, of all places, Tehran. Iranian theatre-goers were treated to a play showing “the inhumane conditions and human rights violations in the Manus camp.”
John Donne once wrote that no man is an island, but what did he know? His bells were always tolling over something. Ask Boochani — he sees himself as “an island in an archipelago,” most days entire unto himself. It must seem strange, for a man coming from a stateless culture, to be left stateless by another culture trying to make a statement; taking up his pen not against the enemies of Kurdistan but of freedom.
Crawling to Rotto to See the Genet
A Play in 2 Acts
(developmental draft only)
by John Kendall Hawkins
*Note: Likenesses to actual persons, living or not, is entirely coincidental. This is fantasy. Except for the quokkas. In a future draft I unmask the “Elder” to reveal a neoliberal out making a buck as a bleeding heart for the day. In his back pocket, a dog-eared copy of Rules of the Game: How to Speak Effective Political Correctness (hint:lisp much and wear glasses aslant). See? Fantasy.
Oh what a difference a weekend doesn’t make.
At one end of the empire the ardent flame of Scottish independence, as if inspired by Mel Gibson’s cheeky Braveheart, was snuffed out by a pre-referendum BBC fear campaign and the pleading of a candid Cameron, the populace realizing it was all only a movie and that the popcorn was bland as styrofoam . Or maybe there was some widespread ‘mischief’, as some observers have claimed. Doesn’t matter. As Russell Brand said before the vote, “I’m not going to turn up and put an X in a box, like an Xbox. It’s like an illusion, it’s a temporary reality. It’s meaningless, it’s pointless. It makes no difference. Give us something to vote for, and then we’ll vote for it.”
Blue undulating ocean at dawn length of stage. It is
the channel between Cottesloe Beach and Rottnest
Island. Stage left a jut from Cottesloe. Stage
Right a jut from Rottnest.
From Rottnest jut we can make out the figure in
shadow staring out at the channel.
From Cottesloe jut two middle aged women, FRAN and
MAY stand at a coin-operated viewer looking out
The faint sound of a didgeridoo can be heard.
Overhead drones are flying in the distance,
occasionally explosions can be vaguely heard.
Oh Fran, I’m so excited. I’ve wanted to do this swim for
Looks through the viewfinder.
Look at all those people out there already, all those
boats. There must be a thousand people on that beach over
there. Christ, it’s like an invasion. Have a look,Fran.
FRAN, somewhat less excited,looks through the
What can you see?
Heaps of people alright. It’s a bigger island than I
What else can you see, Fran? Can you see any quokkas?
FRAN looks up, rather alarmed.
Quokkas? No, I can’t see any quokkas. And we didn’t some
all the way from Sydney to see a bunch of, well, rats —
— quokkas —
— quokkas, rats, whatever. My point is we’ve come to see
the Genet. It’s such a splendid idea to stage his work in
that locale; it’ll be so different.
Oh I know. I only wish Cate could be there for
(exaggerated accent) Les Paravents. She was so marvelous
in The Maids.
Indeed she was. And Isabelle was so lovely as well.
Australia puts out such wonderful actors.
Oh yes, we really are the Lucky Country in that respect.
(suddenly pensive) Although it’s a shame what happened to
Heath. Bloody New York.
Now, May we mustn’t lay the blame on New York. Some of
these actors, you know, well, they have secret sides to
them; they can be self-indulgent.
Oh but I don’t Cate is like that, surely.
By the way, did you say Les Paravents? I read somewhere
that it was to be Les Nègres.
Les Nègres? Hm. I don’t know that one.
It’s the one with the clowns.
Oh yes, that one. (petulant) Well,I do hope it’s Les
Paravents. I’m in no mood for clowns, Fran. And I do so
love the idea of staging a play in a graveyard.It’s such
Yes, that should be interesting.
Do you think the Aborigines will mind? I mean they say so
much awful stuff has happened out there. But it’s so
clever,isn’t it, to make swimming out there part of the
admission ticket to the play. Can you imagine, Fran, if
we had to swim to the opera house?
A gun sounds.
Oh quick, May, come; that’s the starting pistol. We
I do hope we make it alright. I haven’t had a good swim
in years, Fran.
Eyes on the prize, May. Come, come.
The didgeridoo continues to play, but now it is
overlaid with the sound of laughter, splashing,
bullhorns, mateship in play. The light on the
Cottelsloe jut dims and one lights up the figure
standing at the Rotto jut. It is an ELDER from the
Here they come. You could start with the naming. Some
European calling our quokkas rats and then saying of
this place: it’s paradise. And calling it Rat’s Nest
island. What kind of paradise is mad with dog-sized rats?
Here they come. What kind of people would take a paradise
and turn it into a hell hole of depravity and suffering
meted out on black human flesh? Here they come. You could
start with the naming. This black. This white. We did
not know what black was until the European showed up with
his white and black measurements of power. To look down
at my skin and see not a frame and boundary, the vessel
of my being, but shit and carcass and hell. Here they
come. You could start with the naming. Replacing our
world with maps and deeds and ink on paper, parceling us
out an offcut, southwest of the aptly-named Circumcision
line, our world the discarded foreskin of the bloodengorged European cock. Here they come. You could start
with the naming. The Quad and the Rottnest Lodge and
luxury rooms that pillow muffle the ancient screams and
rattled chains of blacks who did not know they were black
until they knew the white. Here they come. You could
start with the naming. The Rottnest Swim that began as
white man’s proof that abs could escape from this hellish
paradise by swimming the channel. Here they come. You can
hear them all the way from Freo, 20 kilometers away, with
their horns and laughter and indifferent joy, breaking
the waves, with that freestyle crawl they pinched from a
black man. Here they come. Each visit a new invasion, a
new intervention, white on black, old wounds new. Here
they come to Wajemup. If you want to start with the
The light over the ELDER dims. The channel seems
effervescent. One sees images of many swimmers
plying against waves that seem alive and swirl with
cells seen under a microscope combined with
Aboriginal dot painting. Pop music grows louder as
sailing vessels enter stage left. One hears
Australian Crawl’s “Oh no, not you again” very loud
as a ferry moves quickly across the stage. The ferry
is shaped liked the Titanic. Just as the ferry is
about to exit stage right, the music fades some, and
a sailboat enters from stage left. It is a replica
or sorts of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting “Ship of
Fools.” Three Aussie blokes (JOHNNO, NIGEL, and
DOMINIC) and two sheilas (SONYA and BELINDA) play
around raucously as the boat makes its way slowly
across the stage. Then FRAN and MAY enter stage
left swimming slowly but steadily. They see the
God, I hope they aren’t going to see the Genet.
Don’t worry, May, they aren’t swimming. They won’t be
allowed. No one’s ever crashed a Genet play.
Oh but, Fran, didn’t they almost close down Les
Paravents, because of the Arab scenes?
That was different, May. Besides, look at them. Why would
those blokes want to see the Genet?
The sailboat, with the yobbos singing the chorus
from “Oh no, not you again,” exits stage right.
I guess you’re right. I don’t think we’ll be seeing that
lot at the Genet.
When the women are nearly across “the channel,” MAY
looks back and sees, entering stage left, a bathtub
moving steadily across. There is a man, PHILLIPPE,
laying in the tub motionless.
Eek, what’s that!
FRAN looks back, studying for a moment.
What in God’s name?
What is it, Fran?
Why that man is dressed like Antonin Artaud as Marat,
murdered in his bath tub.
Oh dear, that can’t be a good omen. Surely, he can’t be
going to see the Genet?
PHILIPPE stirs in his tub.
Oh, he’s moving.
Good English, but accented.
Bonjour, good ladies. (to FRAN) You are very astute. How
could you tell so rea-dily that I was playing Artaud
playing Marat? Are you a critic? Perhaps you have a
Well, yes, I am quite a fan of the old silents, but more
a fan of Artaud.
You are? I don’t think I ever knew that about you. Why,
Fran? It seems so arbitrary.
Indeed. (to MAY) And what is your name?
May I call you May?
Mais oui. And what’s your name?
I am Phillippe.
Hold on here before I barf. This is not going according
to Hoyle. Why are you flirting with this man? You’ve only
just met him.
MAY looks at PHILLIPPE then returns to her swimming.
Are you two ladies on vacation?
(calling back over her shoulder to
We’re going to see the Genet!
I see. Me too.
But you’re in a tub. You’re breaking the rules. They
won’t let you in.
Well, I guess we’ll see about that.
How do you move that thing?
I have a small motor attached.
By the way, do you know which Genet they’re staging? I
was under the impression it was Les Paravents, but May
seems to think it will be Les Nègres?
It is a bit of a mystery. They want to keep us guessing
Why are you going about in a tub? It seems odd, even
under the circumstances.
It’s just something I do. I once sailed from Dunkirk to
Dover on a boat made of wax paper, even the sails. My
wife–at the time–took the Chunnel, which is,of course,
The women exit stage right swimming. MAY calls back.
Au revoir! See you at the Genet!
PHILLIPPE returns to his Artaud posture.
Qui suis-je ?
D’où je viens ?
Je suis Antonin Artaud
et que je le dise
comme je sais le dire
vous verrez mon corps actuel
voler en éclats
et se ramasser
sous dix mille aspects
un corps neuf
où vous …
He is startled.
The tub is about half way across the channel. Ahead
PHILLIPPE sees a woman and a young boy rising out of
the water and approaching the Rotto shore. They
don’t appear to be swimming but gliding along.
C’est quoi ce bordel?!!
On the shore of Rotto. A welcome arch for swimmers.
A local Aboriginal brother and sister, late 20s,
COBAR and BURILDA stand near the arch registering
arrivals. The Elder stands motionless, looking out
This way guys. Through the arch. Please make sure I tick
off your number.
Enter the blokes and sheilas.
Come on, girl. Give them the rego papers. Where you
hiding them? (pulls at her bikini)
Hoy! Bugger off. I’m not a Red Rooster drive-through,
Yeah, but Dom’s a drive-through cock. (The yobbos laugh.)
Whaddaya reckon, Johnno?
I reckon that’s a cock that crows more than three times
in the morning.
They laugh again.
At least I got one. You’re all soft serve, I reckon.
DOMINIC and SONYA make licking gestures.
Okay, guys, I’ve got your numbers. You can go through.
I got your number, Dom.
For fuck’s sake, stop stuffing around and let’s get to
the lodge. I need a drink, mate.
Which way to the Quad, mate?
Just that way, follow the signs.
Hey, mate, did a tall red-headed guy come through here
Daryl was on the ferry, mate.
Everyone from the ferry has already gone through.
Come on, mate. I’m fuckin parched.
They exit. Enter FRAN and MAY.
Well, they were a rather raucous lot.
Trailer trash, most likely. I’m told Perth is full of the
Luckily they won’t be at the Genet.
Will you please stop saying that? We didn’t just come to
see the Genet, May. There’s heaps to do here apparently.
Yes, I hear they have a Dome. Let’s go there and sort it
Which way is the Dome?
The path to the left. Look, I don’t see any numbers. Did
you just swim over for the fun?
Ha! Not likely. We’ve come to see the Genet.
Right. Can I have a look at your Genet rego papers?
Your papers. Can you prove you have a right to attend
that event. It’s important that you have document that
proves it. You don’t expect us to take your word for it,
See here —
(BURILDA giggles. Enter PHILLIPPE
dragging his tub.)
Are you having a go?
Madame, don’t worry, he is joking. Can’t you tell?
He’s joking? He;s joking about what? I don’t understand.
Terra nullius, madame. Terra nullius.
Terra nullius? What the fack does the Genet have to do
with terra nullius? You could tell that’s hat he meant
from there? And you’re French. What wold you know about
terra nullius? And what’s so fackin funny about terran
Don’t be upset, please. Yes, I am French, and of that
type that delights in the whims of irony; a connoisseur.
As for terra nullius, well naturally, I visit a place
like this Rotto I want to know some history, or at least
enough so that I can investigate further and interrogate
the given. I —
Ooh, are you a detective?
No, madame, not a detective. I am an intellectual and,
if I may say so, a poet. (MAY swoons. FRAN looks around
You were having a go? That has to be the most obnoxious
Oh, Fran, come on, it doesn’t matter. Let’s head off to
Dome. (to PHILLIPPE) Would you like to come?
Never mind that. May, you go on ahead.
You stay away from her, Monsieur Smart Arse. She’s mine.
Very clever, but rather cruel. They are harmless
There are no harmless bourgeoise. They make all the shit
normal. You must know that, being French, and of that
Ouch,what a bite. And so articulate.
You mean for a negress?
I mean no such thing. You are so sensitive. I like that.
But I see that it has made you so angry. What a shame.
That’s what I mean: You jump. You are so reactionary. No,
I mean it is a shame because that couple, that couple you
and your — (waits for BURILDA to offer up COBAR’s
relation to her, and when she doesn’t he continues) —
well, they may be — no, no, they are bourgeoise, as you
say, but not worth trifling with. I think you need to
pick your battles, as they say, because it’s an endless
war. (pauses) And if I may say so, you are quite
beautiful, and your fury strangles the otherwise placid
lifelines of your face. We French —
She attacks him and before long puts flat on his
back and sits on his chest.
He makes no effort to get up.
And you? (looks at COBAR)
You Nyungar are so headstrong. How did you ever manage to
lose your land to the British? They can be so slow and
It was genocide —
By halitosis. Three months of eating fish and gruel.
Even the local bacteria vacated the premises.
MOTHER and CHILD enter slowly.
Who are they? They are not wearing swim wear but they are
soaking wet, so they must have come out of the water.
COBAR and BURILDA look at each other. The Elder
turns to PHILLIPPE.
You can see them?
Well, but of course. They are standing right there.
(to the MOTHER)
Where are you from?
I’m from America. Boston.
Why have you come here, spirit?
We’ve come to see the famous quokkas.
To replay what happened until I understand.
Ah, yes, Nietzsche called that resentiment — the
feelings that won’t let go, that cling and strangle.
BURILDA releases PHILLIPPE and climbs off him. The
CHILD runs off, the MOTHER following laboriously
So you heard her, too?
C’mon, of course. Are you making fun of me, too. Like
with the ladies? Is that your hobby?
It’s just that she’s not alive, not real; she’s a spirit.
And very few people can see her and even fewer hear her.
PHILLIPPE registers perplexity and scepticism.
We must talk. You could be a European I can trust.
The MOTHER calling her CHILD can be heard off in the
distance, growing more frantic.
Somewhere in the middle of the island. Trees, dense
underbrush. A clearing with a yarran tree in the
middle. It is the same “Ship of Fools” tree from the
channel crossing. The buzz of bees coming from the
tree. In the background, behind the trees, a series
of screens is set up and we see the silhouettes of
what appear to be five 6-foot rats shadow dancing
rhythmically, meaningfully. Enter the CHILD, who
sits and watches. We hear the MOTHER calling for
him. Then she enters and quietly sits next to him,
and they watch the pantomine play for a minute or
so. We see there is another giant rat behind the
screens as well, but bounding high, not seemingly a
member of the pack, judging from his movements. Then
the creatures come out from behind the screens and
begin dancing in a ritual around the yarran tree.
Although, the bounding creature remains behind the
We hear a soundtrack reminiscent of Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring.
Mother, look: giant quokkas!
Not quite. Or, rather, yes. But they are in disguise.
See, they are wearing masks.
Yes,I see, but what kind of mask, mother, and why?
They quokkas dresses as genets.
You mean the quokka is pretending to be a genet?
I don’t know dear. It seems to have something to do with
that tree they’re going around.
It’s a special tree, then?
Yes. Look at all the bees swarming around like crazy.
And look, mother,you can see a river of red honey flowing
down from the top of the tree. Oh dear!
What is it?
Near the top, mother, is that a skull hidden in the
I don’t think so, love. It looks like a beehive to me.
I’m gonna go look.
The CHILD runs toward the tree.
No! Come back.
The CHILD runs through a gap in the dancing and
climbs the tree heading for the hive. The beebuss
briefly grows louder, then fades away altogether.
(grabbing at honey, licking his fingers)
Oh mother this is so yum.
The MOTHER runs forward to retrieve him. But the
quokka/genets knock her down.
(sees her on the ground)
The creatures creep closer to the tree. The
terrified CHILD climbs higher. The creatures shake
The bounding quokka/genet comes bouncing out on a
pogo stick, trying to make distracting sounds.
One creature’s eyes light up red and he makes a
gesture that knocks the bounder off his pogo stick.
He crawls over to comfort the near-hysterical
The creatures continue shaking the tree, until
finally the boys slips down and they grab him. They
solemnly carry him away, behind the screens, and
The bounder’s mask is partially pulled away,
revealing a human in costume.
Who and what are you?
I am Genetta Genetta.
The MOTHER faints in the bounder’s arms. We hear a
snatch of David Bowie’s “Jean Jeannie”. Then…
All is silent except for a growing buzz as the bees
return and the distinctive sound of a percussive
The Quad in darkness. We hear the sounds of galahs
and kookaburras, but also drones heading toward
China, and the occasional distant explosion.
Light comes up. We see guest room doors all around
the Quad. Two maids, with cleaning wagon, are in
front of one door gossiping.
In the back we see five tall screens set up and
behind them the silhouettes of five trees with
bodies hanging from them. Vaguely we can hear Billy
Holiday singing “Strange Fruit.”
In the middle of the Quad, a circular pit with steel
bars through which giant animal arms flail to get
out. A paper flame (streamers) of red and yellow
streams upward from the pit like a lit fire.
Occasionally, we hear moans from the pit and screams
from the rooms, but the maids and local musician pay
no attention. This effect continues throughout the
We see two men sitting at picnic table being served
beer by a waitress and quietly having their orders
Closer to front stage is a tall red-headed man,
DARYL,a friend to the yobbos. He is reading a book,
Anzac Memories, and nursing a beer.
Overhead is a screen that will project images at the
We hear the boisterous approach of the swimmers.
Enter JOHNNO, NIGEL, DOM, SONYA, BELINDA, as a
group, followed by the Sydneysiders, FRAN and MAY,
and then BURILDA and COBAR.
COBAR walks to a busker spot in a corner and idles
with a guitar.
This is more like it. Let’s grab a seat and relax.
They sit at a table.
I’m getting a beer.
Oh sit down, Belinda, and relax. A waiter will be along.
Fack that. I can’t wait.
She receives several orders for beer.
Wood’m oy yoor woytruss now?
They all laugh. Look around.
Well, this looks okay.
Haven’t you been here before, mate?
Oh, yeah, but it was awhile ago and we stayed at the
Oh this is better here, mate. The feckin barracks is a
dive compared to this.
I heard these rooms are haunted and shit from the
colonial days or some shit.
Oh yeah. They hung some abos here, and allkinds of other
shit, but that’s ancient history. Don’t give it another
thought. We came here to holiday, mate, not moan over
some ancient feckin atrocity. If even it even feckin
That’s what i was thinking, too. I mean, who knows? Just
who the feck knows?
Belinda reurns with the beers. They all take long
I told the barkeep to send out some pitchers, so drink
up, more’s on the way, mates.
She sees DARYL.
Hey, Daryl, the party’s over here. Get over here and join
He gets up with a greet ing and goes over to join
What the feck are reading? I never took you for the
literry type, mate.
(Holds up the book.)
Oh that’s alright, mate. Can’t forget our diggers.
Look you lot what I brought with me. (he retrieves a
duffel bag.) You’re going to like this.
DARYL proceeds to pull from the duffle bag the
carcass of a small, skinned lamb.
Jayzuz, mate. You brought that over on the ferry with
you? I’m surprised you didn’t cop it.
From a copper.
They all laugh.
Yeah and I see that they’ve got a nice fire going over
there, so I’m gonna go put her on the spit and get her
going, what’s say?
Good on ya, mate. I’m feckin famished.
DARYL carries the carcass over to the pit and places
the lamb on the spit. He summons a waiter and
quietly directs him to keep it rotating.
Daryl is such a card. Who the feck brings a lamb on a
boat ride to Rotto?
Light dims on the yobbos and lights up
the maids in animated conversation.
I came that fuckin close to telling Missy what she could
do with her job. She’s always like, “I’m sick and tired
of hearing complainst about your shoddy housecleaning
skills. You should see the suggestion box.” And I’m
thinking like, Missy you know what you can do with your
suggestion box. Stick it up your box. That’s my
The second maid titters.
I mean, come on. And then she says, “If you want to live
like a pig at home that’s your business, but these poiple
have paid good money to stay here and they deserve a
little cleanliness. If you can’t pick up your game,
you’re gonna have to find another job.”
Oy know, Missy’s such a bitch. Oy could kill her
soomtoims. “Do this. Hurry up. What have you got a
hernia? You move like an old loidy.”
As the lights dim on them, we hear the yobbos
singing a rousing stanza from “Waltzing Matilda.”
The light comes up on them.
Let’s get this guy with the guitar to sing a few songs.
(Nods at the Aboriginal busker)
(to the busker)
Hoy, mate,how about playing some tunes. You’re not busy,
right. Your just sitting there.
(Gets up and puts a fiver in the buskers
Here you go, mate. That should get you started. Know any
No, I’m afraid not. I can play some Crowded House.
There’s a general groan at the table.
We don’t want to hear from those poofters, mate. Play
Okay, I know a song I think you will like.
He kicks a button with his foot and begins to faux
strum to piped in “Bound for Botany Bay.” They don’t
notice that he is obviously lip-syncing.
As he finishes they clap and whistle.
Well done, mate. Very professional sound. Have you
thought of recording.
Oh you should definitely put a record out or a CD or
whatever. That was great, mate. You’re a real credit to
Hear. Hear.It takes a special talent to play that song
right. That’s an important tune in our history, mate.
That talks about the convicts going from being shipmates
In the belly of the beast, mind you —
— shipmates to mateship —
That’s it,Johnno, well said: shipmates to mateship. We’re
still on that voyage together. Once mates, always mates.
Don’t fuck with the Oz.
You know,we’re not all white devils, mate. I mean in
those eearly days some evil shit went down and I feel bad
about that, but,you know you have to get over it.
You have to.
For your sanity.
Nah, no point in dwelling on it. Besides, since
Mabo,let’s face it, mate, you people have had it pretty
easy peasy. I mean,it took awhile, but you finally became
a landlord and started collecting rent.
What’s you name?
That’s a gorgeous name. Well, anyway, Cobar, how do you
like being a landlord now?Do you like that?
(with a growly voice)
Not going to evict us now, are you, mate?
They all laugh.
I don’t know. They probably still wouldn’t take you back,
They all laugh.
Have a beer with us, mate.
Yeah anyone can play Botany like that.
Enter PHILLIPPE. He’s carrying the MOTHER. He places
her in a chair. She begins to rouse.
Can I have everyone’s attention, please. Please. This
woman’s son has gone missing.
They all look around for the MOTHER, but can’t see
Who are you talking about, mate? We don’t see anyone. You
Yeah, have a beer, mate. You must be having delusions.
No,isten, can’t you hear her crying out?
MOTHER wails profusely, loudly. Slowly, some kind of
awareness of her presence develops.
I don’t hear anyone. Is this a game?
No, shh. There’s something. Listen.
They all strain to hear. MOTHER wails hysterically.
You still can’t see her? She is sitting right here.
They all look to where he’s pointing and slowly as
they stare she appears to them and there is a
commotion. MOTHER continues to wail about her loss.
She can be heard by the audience but not by the
characters (except PHILLIPPE and the aboriginal cast
Tha’s feckin creepy.
Okay, what did you say your name was?
DYou were saying about an abduction of a child?
Yes. This woman before you has had her child abducted.
Just a few minutes ago, actually.
The yobbos rise up.
Where? Who did it? What did they look like?
Apparently, they were, uh, black fellows of some sort. I
didn’t really understand that part myself.
A nigger took her child? (growing visibly angry)
I don’t know really. She just said some dark figures.
Some niggers took this poor woman’s child.
There is an escalation of emotions.
Oh they’re a violent lot.
They’re rapists and pedos.
Out sniffing petrol half the day.
Don’t ever bathe.
Weird ass gods.
Lighting grows dimmer, red, occasional strobing like
a loose wire. The yobbos repeat what they’ve said,
growing louder and faster, like auctioneers. Until
their different voices, different registers become a
fugue of sounds instead of utterances. The overhead
sceen is playing the kangaroo cull scene from the
movie Wait in Fright. One by one they yell out:
Kill the poofters!
Kill the fatal feminists!
Kill the poly wogs!
Kill the swampy Asians!
Kill the Mabo Abo!
Kill Kill the other Other!
They all form a swarm, including waitress, barkeep
and maids, and move around the Quad like bees.
Furies. Now chanting, in military cadence,
(all together) Waltzing, waltzing, waltzing
(Dom, on a beat) Ma-till-da!
They exit, amidst the general alarm, in a kind of
MOTHER gets up and walks over the pit. The moans the
silhouettes of five treesgrow louder and more
During following monologue MOTHER’s accent changes
from American to British as she describes each
You murdered my boy in Boston, put an arrow through his
head, in a turf war over drugs. You murdered my boy again
in Manchester, a casualty of fiery riots and looting.
Dark, savage energies, un-tameable. The feral velocity of
predation. The psychopathic objectifying. You can see it
in the eyes: Your’re mine, you’re mine!
Screen shows close-ups of the eyes of the cullers
from previous Wake in Fright clip; a
But what’s worse than this grief is the loss of
compassion, the coonective tissue of pity that
understands in one glance how difficult it is to be.
Terror begets terror, an endless war of attrition, eye
for an eye for an eye.
The moans grow louder, the flailing more insistent.
She leans on despair against the spit for a moment,
then bends down and unlocks the cage.
Giant quokkas climb out. MOTHER falls back, in
despair, into PHILLIPPE’s embrace. The quokkas
proceed to the screens, go behind them, and take
down the bodies, and disappear, leaving behind 5 Y
The lights dim.
The Quad, later that day. PHILLIPPE sits with MOTHER
at a table in silence. The lamb on the spit is
charcoal and smoky and fills the air with the smell
of burnt flesh. A commotion is heard. The vigilantes
have returned. They are dragging behind them in a
net the bounder Genetta Genetta.
Belinda, go and get us some beers. We know how to deal
with this prick.
They take the net off and lay the bounder across a
picnic table for interrogation. His arms and legs
Make a mess.
You dare put your hands on a child. Well, you’re gonna
tell us what you did with him.
And what you did to him.
Make a mess.
You’re gonna tell us everything and more.
But not right away, slowly. Take your toym, mate. The
BELINDA and a waitress return with several beers and
JOHNNO who has been observing, with growing silent
rage, begins to take something out of his knapsack.
It is a massive chalice and a folded up circle of
Who wants to go first?
Let me have first go, Dom. I know how to deal with these
Make a mess.
(to the bounder)
Do you know what they used to call me back in the Viet
How’s he supposed to know that,love?
Honey,it’s a figure of speech.
They used to call me Johnny Jungle Fuck.
The others laugh.
Well are you going to stand their beating your chest,
Johnny Jungle Fuck, or are you going to deliver us from
You know, the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times and
that tough guy ended up writing poetry to his
Sounds kind of kinky.
Wish someone would write moy a poem.
Oh this guy’s gonna write the fuckin Odyssey. (to
waitress) Take this and put some water in it, will you,
love? (Hands her the chalice.)
Maybe we should let the police handle this.
The yobbos laugh.
(to the policeman seated a few tables
away, reading a newspaper)
Whaddaya reckon, Danny? Do we take this black bastard to
trial? (more laughter.)
Don’t distract me, mate, I’m busy looking the other way.
The waitress goes off with the chalice.
Come on, Johnno, make a mess.
Yeah, come on. He’s got to pay for what he did.
Just look at the black bastard. Just look at him. He
looks like a giant rat.
The WAITRESS returns with the chalice, water
sloshing over the sides. JOHNNY takes it from her.
Okay,hold him tight now. I’ve got to just lay this
eucharest over his face and the festivities begin.
Eucharist? What the fuck is going on?
Oh yeah, mate. Back in the ‘Ghan we’d go on a night ride
— I think I did moybe 20 per tour and I did seven tiurs,
so you do the math — and we’d breach some towelhead’s
little shithole of a house in the middle of the night
–usually around 3, that’s the reco — and, maaaaate,
they’d be all squirrely with fear, the little fat wife
and runty little kids, but then we’d lay out Islam’s
clown and bring out the eucharist and chalice, and they
got the idea right away, they’d see the conversion kit,
and you could see it in their eyes, the desperation, and
I’d lay the eucharist over his face and then pour the
water wine over his face, and —
That sounds pretty fucked up, actually.
Well, did it work?
Did it work? What do you think? Follow Jew boy Jesus? Ha!
Within five minutes he’d tell you about every goat he
ever lusted after. Watch this.
He pours water from the chalice over the face of the
bounder, who had been semi-conscious.
See, what did I tell you? Like a charm. (to BOUNDER)
Roight. Now you’re gonna start by telling us who the fuck
you are and then we’ll go on from there.
I’m John Pilger. I’m John Pilger. Now let me up.
There is a general gasp.
The BOUNDER begins to peel away his quokka costume.
The others begin ripping away at it.A few moments
later, a tall man in a white suit emerges from the
quokka debris. It is John Pilger. He stands up.
Like I said, I’m John Pilger.
An applause track is heard, such as when a celebrity
cameos a sit-com.
(unimpressed, grabbing at the BOUNDER)
Oy. I’m gonna do you twoice,you un-Austrayan troubleshit.
(standing up, coming over)
Now, Johnno, let him go, mate. It wouldn’t boy very
democratic to kill off the left in one fell swoop.
Besides, nobody cares. He lives in England now.
He can swim back there, if you ask moy. Put his lot in
with the bloody pommies.
Now, Belinda, we still do have a governor general. We
haven’t exactly cut the cord yet.
Governor general. Puh. Useless title. Empty.
You reckon? Better tell that to poor ol’Gough.
Oh yeah, well, that poofter had it coming, didn’t he.
(lets PILGER go)
Well, would someone tell me what the feck is goin on
What’s going here is you jumped me for no good reason.
Aw mate, you fit the description: black.
But I’m not black, am I. In any case, what right have you
to jump me, without cause, and drag me away, and commence
to torture me without so much as an accusation and chance
Well, that’s just too bad. Something very serious has
happened here — a child has disappeared — and we
couldn’t just sit here hoping it all ended well. There
was no time for due process, if that’s what you’re
getting at, we had to act, alife was at stake.
Oh fuck it,I’m with Johnno.I say do him anyway. Feckin
So you think you have the god-given right to intervene
wherever you please and just paly God with other people’s
A life was at risk.
Was? Is the person you were looking for dead?
We don’t really know. We never found him. We’re just
going by what that lady over there told us. Came in here
screaming her kid had been nicked by a blackie,and then
we saw you, and here we are.
PILGER looks around toward where JOHNNO was
pointing. The others are unsettled.
I mean, that’s where you come in. You fit the
description. How were we to know it was a skin. And, by
the way,why are you dressed as a fuckin quokka?
Sometimes it’s useful to stand in another man’s skin to
I thought that was a mocassin.
Anyway, I reckon we’d a had the information out of you
So you don’t even know if the child is alive or dead? You
don’t even know for sure that there is a child?
That lady Yank over there —
— British —
The whole group is now looking in the direction of
PHILLIPPE, where they expected to find the MOTHER
seated too, but although still seated next to
PHILLIPPE they can no longer see her.
Loik I said, will someone ploise tell me wot the feck is
The lady vanished.
Wodda yule moyn she’s deesapeared, moyt? You better
start making sense.
You could be in trouble here if you don’t start
explaining. Wild goose chasesmay be cheeky fun back in
Paris but they’re against the law here, mate.
You know, it’s true, It’s weird, but true. I could have
sworn I saw her here when we first got back, but the she
suddenly wasn’t there.
Mm, it’s like the way she arrived. Kind of suddenly.
Out of thin air.
You wanted to see her before, because she was in pain.
So says you. Tell us this, poncey Paris, do you see her
They all look at him anticipating an answer.
I’m not sure what I see or don’t see any more.
O joyzuz, look at the lamb.
It’s lump of black charcoal.
And what a smell.
Oh fuck it. Time for a beer.
Time to turn in, if you ask me.
They all go in separate directions, exiting into
rooms, out of the Quad, etc. Except for PHILLIPPE
and MOTHER who continue to sit at the table.
Why? Why did they kill my baby?
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark…
The lights go down.
A room in the Quad. On the bench a kettle on low
heat whistles softly, but shrilly. FRAN and MAY are
getting ready for bed.
What a confusing day.
How do you mean?
What I mean is, we started out all excited in the morning
to see the Genet the next day and have a swim to Rotto,
like everyone else, and next thing you know we’re in the
middle of a Hercules Poiret affair. Very weird, really.
It was rather exciting, wasn’t it?
And to jump and accost that poor man. What was his name
Yes. Well, wearing a quokka suit was weird, I must
admit. I don’t know what that was all about. But why
torture him? That Johnno was just a dreadful beast.
Well people do get caught up. I mean, even you and I were
fired up when they swarmed together to hunt down that
Who didn’t exist.
Who didn’t exist this time. That’s true.
Oh but the torture, Fran.
Fran begins fiddling with some material in an open
suitcase. She pulls out what appears to be a
uniform and a leash.
Oh come on now. I saw your face. (seductively) The lady
did make love to it. When he screamed your eyes lit up
like hardened diamonds in a spotlight. It was quite a
turn-on to see you like that.
FRAN begins to put on the jailer’s uniform
Fran, not now, not tonight. I feel so confused.
You didn’t seem too confused when the Frenchman bounced
his beachball eyes at you.
Come on, love. Get on the gear.
MAY begins stripping down, then pulls out a costume
from her own suitcase. It is a bright orange smock
with lots of velcro seams. She puts it on.
Ooh, I think I’ve put on some weight, Fran.
Nonsense, you look lovely. Botticelli.
Botticelli? In a velcro suit?
If he were alive today.
FRAN grabs the desk chair and places it in the
middle of the room. She climbs upon it and attaches
the end of a leash to the light fixture. Meanwhile,
MAY puts on a dog collar. She holds a hood in her
Okay, love, up you go.
MAY climbs upon the chair. FRAN attaches the leash
to the collar and adjusts it.
Go on. Put it on.
MAY puts on the hood. The chair wobbles slightly and
Oh that’s lovely.
FRAN turns off the other lights, so that only the
light above MAY is lit.
Are you ready?
She goes to the light switch and dims the light low.
The houselights slowly grow dark. We hear the sound
of velcro ripping and a happy sound.
How do you feel now?
I feel Genet. I feel Genet.
Inside the rather rustic interior of the Quad pub.
It has an Old West eel to it. At the back there are
swinging doors. MOBY, a lone Nyoongar man, sits at
the bar, a paper bag in front of him. The BARKEEP is
dressed as a clown and leaned over the bar, bored. A
TV reports the winner of the Rotto channel swim with
lots of hyped up excitement. In the back, NIGEL and
DARYL play ‘ping pong’, but they each have paddles
with a ball strung to it, and though they move in
anticipation of each others shots, they are actually
playing with themselves. We can hear drones overhead
and occasional explosions. At a table front and
center a group of men — BLAINEY, MANNE, HUGHES and
BOLT — are busy drinking and hashing out The
History Wars, but we can’t hear what they are saying
yet; likewise, we can the clickety-click of the
paddles, but not the ensuing conversation between
the players. That changes as a spotlight emphasizes
the action of each section, one at a time. Overhead
is a projection screen.
Mate,let me have another one. (he pushes the bag toward
Moby, your missus almost cut off my balls last time you
came in here and binged.
Don’t be a poof, mate. Get me another bag.
The BARKEEP reluctantly fetches a spray bottle
filled with petrol and prays a measured amount into
the paper bag. Takes a note from MOBY’s stash at the
I don’t like this, Moby. Your missus will have me strung
(waving him quiet))
She’s not even home. Gone to see the rellies. No worries.
(pauses) Can you turn that box of galahs off? I’m getting
a headache, mate.
BARKEEP picks up the remote and turns off the TV.
Well, what are your plans this weekend? Do you have
anyone to keep you on the straight and narrow? What are
you gonna get up to?
The straight and narrow.(smiles) What am I gonna get up
to? (takes a heavy inhale of the paper bag.)
A clip from the movie The Lost Weekend appears. It
is the barroom scene where the Ray Milland drunkard
is about to tell the barkeep his story. MOBY and
Milland speak the following word at the same time,
MOBY even imitating Milland’s finger summons
gesture. Then, after “C’mere” is uttered, the
screens shows a phantasmagorical set of images that
is like the space gate in 2001: A Space Odyssey but
with Aboriginalpatterns and designs.
The spotlight drops from bar area and now pingpong
table is lit up and we can hear the banter.
Listen to them.
Wot that poncey lot over there carrying on about Abo this
and Abo that and the tyranny of distance?
No, no, not that.(he laughs at the notion) No, the drones
overhead. A couple of years ago people barely knew what a
drone was, fewer fuckin cared, but listen to them, there
must be hundreds. There like fuckin locusts, mate.
Gonna get us all fuckin killed. Those fuckin Chinks are
just up the road, mate. Obama’s all happy horsey in his
White House, directing the drones with a joystick from
there, ten thousand fuckin miles away, mate.
Well this is just an exercise. Nothing to get worked up
about. It’ll blow over. The Yanks are just rattling their
Rattling their swords with the Chinese? That’s heaps
smart. Maybe they oughta go check out that Tarrantino
— Kill Bill?
Kill Bill. Too right. Fuckin flippin in the air upside
down and shit. HWAH!
DARYL makes a sudden dart as if playing a
particularly tough shot from NIGEL.
Nice one, mate. (pause) Anyway, it’s almost over, the
exercise, the Yanks will be packing it in in another day.
It’s gonna get worse, mate, and Perth is a fair dinkum
target — well, Freo, thanks to the collosal stupidity of
hosting the US Navy fleet. You mark my words, this won’t
end until either the Great Wall is all rubble being sold
as keychains —
— well, the Yanks do like to make a buck —
— or the whole of Perth looks like the fuckin Wave Rock.
The spotlight leaves them and comes round to the
table of master debaters.
Well, I’m not saying there were no abuses. It started
with the injustice of casting away so many souls
thousands of nautical miles away from their homeland and
families and culture, for what would be regarded as mere
I mean, can you imagine if we started putting people back
into debtor’s prisons today?
Oh, come on Hughesy, that’s a rather gross
simplification, don’t you think? It’sknown and
established that a considerable number of their lot were
real riffraff. Some of them were what we’d call
psychopaths today. Who could blame England for wanting to
get rid of them?
No, I know all that; there’s no disputing that. But what
I’m saying, Boltsy, is that a certain climate was
attached to the whole affair. Transportation divided men
between prisoners and guards, and that’s proven to have
treacherous consequences —
Oh,I don’t know. It’s given us mateship, which helped
those poor buggers survive not only the miserable long
journey — I can only imagine what thoughts they had —
but also adjusting to this desolate place full of bizarre
and frightful creatures. I mean, can you imagine thelook
on some bloke’s face the first time he saw a kangaroo
bounding or had an emu coming at him?
They laugh. We see in the background MOBY order
Struth. But what we’re neglecting —
— Sorry, Bobby, let me just finish my point. So, I’m
saying the prison-guard mentality had consequences. Yes,
it may have given us so-called mateship, but that may not
be such a blessing after all. Not if you think of it as
inmate argot and self-rule, which trumps the greater
O shut the fuck up, Hughes, you fuckin plagiarist. Who
the feck would want to be your mate anyway?
My point to the rescue.
I hear what you’re saying, Hughesy, that prisoner
mentality, especially after such a traumatizing
experience, would no doubt have had social consequences,
but I think we’re looking at the wrong data set here.
We’re getting away from the fact that from the beginning
the whole intention of transportation was exploitation.
Colonial exploitation. And as far as England were
concerned, the most expedient and cost-effective means to
laying hands on the resources was not negotiation — see,
that’s where the tyranny of distance comes in — but by
just grabbing it away and worrying about the
consequences, if any, later.
Yes, of course, and it was a policy that led directly to
genocide and the policies of the Stolen Generations.
MOBY wants another round.
Now, come on, Bobby, you Jews have that genocide theme
suffused throughout your thinking. Shit happened, sure,
but shit happens.
Sing it, Bolty.
But you’re not saying the Holocaust never happened,
Come on, Bobby. Now you’re trying to frame an
anti-semitic angle. I’m just saying —
There is a loud crashing sound as the doors swing
open in the back and the spotlight sees a man
dressed in a black Western outfit strutting in,
spurs clanging. We hear the theme from the Good, the
Bad and the Ugly. All eyes on him.
Well fuck me sideways in a submarine. It’s Keith
Oh fuck me.
There is a massive applause, a popular celebrity has
made a cameo appearance.
He jingles forward, lean and mean, toward the
debaters. Stops several feet away, about halfway
between their table and where MOBY is seated.
Vinegar and piss?
Takes another step closer and eyes the quarry.
Gentlemen. See you’re consuming more of your precious
time talking the usual shit about genocide and stolen
BLAINEY gets up, ready to strike. MANNE restrains
Once again, let me reiterate: There was no genocide.
Now both BLAINEY and MANNE make as if to lunge at
WINDSCHUTTLE but get restrained by HUGHES,the three
tumble to the floor as a result. WINDSCHUTTLE lets
out a roaring laugh. MOBY sneaks up behind
WINDSCHUTTLE with a chair.
And there was no Stolen Generation!
Look out, Windy!
MOBY smashes a chair over WINDSCHUTTLE’S head.
Oh maaaaate, you are going to pay for that.
They approach the debaters. The BARKEEP throws up
his hands, turns on the TV, watches the cricket
As the lights dim, we hear the sounds of smashing
furniture, assorted grunts and groans, cowboys and
indians at war, the sound of drones.
COBAR’S room. He stands before a mirror naked in
semi-darkness. He holds a book and reads from it. A
soundtrack plays Miles Davis’ A Tribute to Jack
Johnson. On an overhead screen we see the twerking
behind of Miley Cyrus on a loop, which changes
toward the end of the reading to the wrinkles of a
black arsehole, which seems to pulsate, and then it,
too, changes into an animation of a black hole
sucking in everything.
My ‘enwhitenment’ begins. (pauses)
“I had studied the mirror, familiarised myself with the
selves revealed there, and seen myself teasingly revealed
as I descended, feet first. I have seen my feet as
prehensile. I have seen a foot nuzzling its partner’s
ankle, and my body weight balanced on a single stem like
some wading bird frozen with concentration. I saw how I
shimmered, just like the aliens do on the television, and
although a variety of images were shown, they were all of
a kind. I turned away, turned away from the mirror. I
turned my back, showed my black hole, that last aureole
of my colour, my black insides. To think this lured
grandfather! I had repeatedly taken him inside me, in
different ways, and it was always easy, like a joke, but
it terrified him now because he understood what it meant
that he shrivelled while he remained there.”
Kim Scott, Benang. Kim Scott, my favorite arsehole.
We hear a voice from the Miles Davis track,
“I’m Jack Johnson — heavyweight champion of the world!
I’m black! They never let me forget it. I’m black all
right; I’ll never let them forget it.”
Fade to black.
An unmarked graveyard on Rotto at dawn. A sign
reads: PITCH YOUR TENT HERE. Behind screens in the
back silhouettes of the same dancing quokka/genets
as earlier, performing a ritual dance but not the
same as before. They stop and pick up a four-foot
object. They come out from behind the screens
holding aloft the body of the CHILD wrapped in a
cocoon-like sheath. They proceed to carefully lower
the body into a hole in the center. They stand
looking down at the grave in silence. Then an earthshaking sound is heard, like the footsteps of
dinosaurs. Enter three stilt people. One wears part
business suit, part dress, and has two faces: half
Tony Abbott, half Pauline Hanson. The second stilt
person wears a miner’s outfit, with cave lamp hat,
and bearing a very large badge that reads: GO GO YOU
DIGGERS GO! The third stilt person is a stout
generic pommie wearing a union jack stovepipe hat.
Overhead we hear the drones buzzing. The
quokka/genets hear the stilt people coming. A brief
slapstick chase ensues, with quokkas running this
way and that and the stilt people trying to bonk
them over the heads with mallets. The chase moves
Enter FRAN and MAY.
Are you sure this is the place? It doesn’t look like a
graveyard. I don’t see any markers.
Well, that’s what the maid said: just look for the signs
saying TENTS HERE.
I don’t see any tents either.
Probably not the season. Or maybe it’s not popular
because of all the quokkas running around. Who knows?
But this looks like the place alright.
Others enter, the ELDER, with CORAB and BURILDA, the
yobbos, the BARKEEP, WINDSCHUTTLE and the debaters,
MONSIGNOR SEAN O’SHEA, and the MOTHER, although she
cannot be seen right away by anyone except the
ELDER, who watches her move to the grave site and
stand. Other extras also enter.
(observing the entry of the yobbos)
What are they doing here? Surely they didn’t come to
Rottnest to see the Genet.
Dunno, dear. All I know is that Aboriginal bloke we saw
at the arch when we arrived just invited everyone to come
to the graveyard for a ceremony.
But what about the Genet?
Before FRAN can answer, COBAR draws everyone’s
attention with a megaphone.
Thank you everyone for coming. We’re glad you could make
it for this ceremony. We won’t keep you long. I promise.
There is a general buzz of confused anticipation.
But what about the Genet? We came to see the Genet.
Right. Well, see, the thng is, I don’t know where you got
the idea Rotto had genets. I don’t think they are even
found in these parts.
Oh god, no. They’re African. The only way they’d get here
is if they were disguised as kangaroos. Which is not
going to happen, is it? Not with the way they just go out
at night and just slaugher the poor creatures by the
Oh, do shut up, Geoffrey.
But that’s absurd. We have tickets.
I think maybe some trickster’s had a go at you. Really,
there are no genets here; just quokkas. Lots and lots of
Aren’t you going to say something?
The tickets you purchased to the Genet — may I see them?
Sure, look. (pulls out a piece of paper from her purse.)
Of course, it’s digital, you know. A bar code. They said
just have it scanned when I got here.
The man I spoke with on the telephone. Who called me on
my mobile — I don’t know how he got my number — after
we had seen The Maids — wasn’t Cate just marvelous —
and who said it was an exclusive treat for Genet lovers
only, to come to Rotto and see the Genet, like it’s never
been produced before. And of course I jumped. And here we
Yes. here we are.
There is a buzz of mockery.
Well maybe,if it all works out, the ceremony will make up
Oh, I doubt that. What could make up for a lost Genet?
Uncle, do you want to begin?
Thank you, Cobar. And thank you all for coming here this
morning, I know you are anxious to explore the island
and get stuck into your holidays, so I won’t take too
much of your time. (pause) We are standing in a place
that is sacred to the Nyoongar people. It is a burial
spot of some ancestors who died here on this island under
horrible conditions, back in a time when our Europeans
guests were less, um, enlightened —
— but more en-whitened —
Cobar, knock it off. (pause) A time of brutality and
long distance voyages and the chaos of new freedoms
merged with the opportunity for gross exploitation.Be all
that as it may, I did not invite you here today to
browbeat you or try to make yoy feel guilty. How could
you be guilty of the atrocities of the past? Of the
arrogance and indifference to suffering, the poverty of
understanding? You are a newer generation, and there is
hope, now that distances and the exploitation of yourown
ancestors are no longer relevant issues, hope that the
spirit of reconciliation that we hear so much about can
find its way to fruition on a tree of our new common
language,inspired by our common experiences of the
landscapes and unique character of this place we call
Australia. (pause) Yesterday, you were briefly startled
and engorged when a woman came to you and she told you —
through the European who could see and hear her — very
unusual, believe me– that she was in horrid grief
because her child had been taken from her. Until you
could feel her grief, you could not see her, and even
then, you could not hear her, because you are attuned to
the visceral and have little patience for the heart of
the matter, as it were, for the music of the woman’s soul
crying out from the wilderness of darkness where she was
frantically in search of her lost child. The woman is
white and her child is white and the loss came at the
hands of black evil forces. That is true. She lost a
being she loved at the hands of creatures unable to love,
unable to believe, unable to move forward into
— or enwhitenment —
— because they, too, see all around them the same lack
of love, lack of belief, lack of soul, floating aimlessly
in world without music, without stories. Shit happens,
you people say, and, it’s true: shit happens. But today I
want to go just a little bit further than yesterday. I
want to see if you can hear the woman’s grief music, as
we stand here in this place of so much buried sorrow.
Because if you can hear again this white woman’s sorrow,
there’s a chance you will be able to understand the
unresolved grief we bear for our lost ancestors, and then
we may be able to share true reconciliation. But this is
all voluntary. And if you feel that you don’t have the
heart for this, then you needn’t stay. Feel free to leave
at any time. You came for a holiday, to get away from
stress,I know. But maybe these brief moments will help
Yeah, I’m outta here. This is all bullshit.No one owes
you anything, mate. It’s like you just said: shit
happens. Just move on, mate.
I’m outta here, too.
They look around for others to follow, but no one
The woman is here with us again today. Standing here
right now amongst us. Is there anyone who can see her?
I see her. She’s standing over that open hole there.
The others look around, still unseeing.
I can almost see her.
Now listen closely, as she tells her story, and see if
you can go beyond seeing to hearing her today. Because it
is in the human voice that we are most connected. Give it
a go. What have you got to lose but the nothingness?
They look in the direction of the woman and
gradually, as she speaks, they see her and hear her.
Overhead a looped image of the mother who has lost
her child from the film, Battleship Potemkin.
It was stupid. You had people vastly different from one
another by virtue of culture, religion, language,
economic levels and race, yet the whole world expected us
all to live harmoniously in happy Christian brotherhood
overnight. Whites lost heavily. Dispossessed, really.
We feared we’d be necklaced and ran for our lives. But
they took Tracey, my precious 9 year old daughter, took
her from the car when I ran into the house to get the
last suitcase. Pulled her out of the car by her golden
hair, screaming to be free. And I tried to grab her back.
And Andrew took out his rifle, but they shot him first.
He lived, but then after what they did, he died, we died.
They took my Tracey and put an old treadless tire around
her neck and arms, a tiny little tire that looked as
harmless as a chocolate donut, and they started pouring
the petrol over her, laughing — and I’ll never forget
this — not so much out of evil, but without a sense of
the real, as though in the chaos of their own nightmare
worlds they did not really exist themselves. I don’t
know. It’s hard to explain. They lit the match. They ran
away. We watched as if the very fabric of existence was
being shredded, dessicated. I tried to put it out, to put
it out, to put it out…
There is a long moment when no one moves.
I know you can see and hear her now. I look at you and
see it. (pause) And now there is one last thing I would
ask you to do. Buried in tha hole in the ground, along
with my ancestors’ spirits, are the ghosts planted into
this hollow ground as your people slept in their tents
here. See, they are coming out now, freed by your new
vision, symbols that hold you back, that confuse. As they
leave this ground, please leave with them, guide them off
this island, bring them to the all-forgiving,
all-forgetting sea. Let them swim back to Freo and to the
One by one, several spirits climb from the grave.
Is that Jimmy Hoffa?
Holy shit. Harold Holt.
BELINDA, SONYA, NIGEL
They all exit except for the MOTHER, MONSIGNOR
O’SHEA, COBAR, BURILDA and PHILLIPPE. One last
spirit emerges — MERSAULT, from Camus’ novel The
Stranger. He is carrying a guitar buried with him
after his execution. MERSAULT plods along until he
sees the priest. He comes up behind the MONSIGNOR
and smashes him over the head with his guitar.
Is there no exit from this hell?
PHILLIPPE follows MERSAULT off, the MONSIGNOR climbs
into the grave and returns with the cocooned body of
the CHILD. He hands the body to the MOTHER and she
walks off in the direction of the sea, the priest
COBAR, BURILDA and the ELDER wait a few moments,
then follow the others offstage.
The arch on the beach where all the tourists
arrived. It is the same set as at the beginning.
COBAR, BURILDA and the ELDER arrive just as the
MOTHER is entering the sea with her child; she
continues walking until she disappears beneath the
waves. The priest exits. The three Nyoongar hosts
watch as the Titanic sails back toward Freo, the
Ship of Fools is at half-mast and the passengers
sober and still, and in his motorized bathtub
PHILLIPPE now lounges like the dead Jim Morrison.
Overhead we hear the hum of drones, the occasional
After awhile, after he has landed, PHILLIPPE appears
at the jut of the mainland looking out toward Rotto.
He is spotlighted, Rotto is dimmed.
Thank you, Burilda, for this.
The Coming of Spring
The wild, shrieking winds
From which even galahs take shelter
Gales of boomerang force and cold
That drive the insects helter skelter
In this desolation where animals huddle
And lose all memory in the now,
And one man waits in his shell of leaves
With ice for water and a smelly cow
The one day winter breaks
Cracked open by a peak of thunder
And Mayra brings her rain
And sun and splits the seeds asunder
And golden Mayra radiates
The wattle trees to flower
The clouds combust and burn away
A man lauds her gentle power
Birds fill the air and sing
And every thing and living creature
Unfurls, outstretches, embraces
Their green primordial teachert
And joy races through the heart
And passion feeds the vital spirit
And vanquishes the world’s despair
Until the world can hardly bear it
If only it could last forever
One man simmers and sighs
And yet that would prove tiresome, too
And we’d miss the blue surprise
And then Mayra moves on
As the heat begins to press
Already gone before she’s here
Already more because she’s less
There is a pause. PHILLIPPE’S light dims, Rotto
lights up. We see COBAR, BURILDA and the ELDER
standing on the Rotto jut.
Thank you for the Mallarme, Phillippe.
The Clown Chastised
Eyes, lakes of my simple passion to be reborn
Other than as the actor who gestures with his hand
As with a pen, and evokes the foul soot of the lamps,
Here’s a window in the walls of cloth I’ve torn.
With legs and arms a limpid treacherous swimmer
With endless leaps, disowning the sickness
Hamlet! It’s as if I began to build in the ocean depths
A thousand tombs: to vanish still virgin there.
Mirthful gold of a cymbal beaten with fists,
The sun all at once strikes the pure nakedness
That breathed itself out of my coolness of nacre,
Rancid night of the skin, when you swept over me,
Not knowing, ungrateful one, that it was, this make-up,
My whole anointing, drowned in ice-water perfidy.
There is a pause. We hear the softer thrum of
drones. The lights begin to dim. The lighthouse
We all go into the dark.
Fade to darkness. Curtain.
As I read Marion May Campbell’s new book, Poetic Revolutionaries: Intertextuality and Subversion, I was reminded of the still seemingly sacred notion of a democratic historical progress. This notion celebrates cultural alterity (and all that that implies), and makes an urgent appeal to textual revolution as a means to political resistance. Campbell’s work is rooted in the relativist revolution – the book is part of publisher Rodopi’s Postmodern Series – and her intense, erudite study addresses a state of disunion that has loosely bound the dwindling body of progressives ever since.
Campbell, a lecturer in literary studies and writing at Deakin University in Melbourne, opens her study by posing a seemingly innocuous, academic question: ‘What kind of critical purchase and subversive impact can textual practice have on contemporary socio-political culture?’ Despite this broad gambit, Campbell considerably narrows her focus to an analysis of just seven writers: Jean Genet, Monique Wittig, Angela Carter, Kathy Acker, Kathleen Mary Fallon, Kim Scott and Brian Castro. Campbell explains that she has chosen these authors for their ‘generic range (theatre, prose poetry, fable, novel), but more so by the fact all of these writers are informed by the French tradition of a revolutionary poetics.’ Generic range aside, one may observe that only Fallon, Scott and Castro are still alive, and that all of them are Australian. This is not arbitrary, but rather, at the heart of Campbell’s answer to the question she poses. While she presents some stellar examples of transgression at work in her own contemporary culture, the critical mass for broader socio-political change proves elusive. That tipping point should result from such heterodoxic practice, but Campbell’s study suggests that the mainstream has learned to co-opt and accommodate not difference, per se, but the comfort of academe. Worse, this presents an intellectual hegemony that may have learned to plagiarise the ideological dynamism of deconstructive practice to suit its own practice of destructive cons.
What is meant by ‘revolutionary poetics’? Firstly, Campbell acknowledges that it includes the material of verse producers such as Isidor Ducasse, Antonin Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud, Stephane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire. In a second phase, Campbell identifies the events of Paris, May 1968 (or thereabouts), with all its teeming intellectual energy working against the grand narratives of the day, as well as against the hegemonic collaboration of the French government with the American hunger machine – then at work feeding on France’s colonial leftovers in Vietnam. In this Paris, Campbell locates the radical post-structuralist review, Tel Quel, with its ‘cream of left-wing Parisian intellectuals’, as the place where the most culturally disruptive textual practice was in production. In short, it was an interrogation of what constitutes the self, through analysis, and how that self intersects (or intertexts) with the social realm to create a ‘better’ world, with more ‘equitable’ distribution of power. Thirdly, and crucial to Campbell’s thesis, is the work of Julia Kristeva, who incorporated key aspects of the works of Mikhail Bakhtin, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, among others, to develop her doctoral thesis, Revolution in Poetic Language.1
Remaining mindful of Kristeva’s thesis – with Campbell’s stage directions – proves to be a formidable task for the reader; one that certainly requires boning up on postmodern terminology and jargon. Suddenly, one is confronted with terms like bricolage, carni-valesque, jouissance, scenographic, abjection, parody, mise en abyme, palimpsest, tessellations, and so on. At times, this is like being led through a Barthian fun-house by Edith Piaf channelling Susan Sontag while strung out on Janis Joplin’s smack; a funhouse whose mirrored panes belong to the theorists in an endless feedback loop of heteroglossic différance. Nevertheless, Campbell’s production is rich and compelling, and deeply intelligent. Ultimately, its rhythms and precision present a kind of musical clarity. She moves from the openness of Paris 1968 to the austerity of Melbourne 2013, using these postmodern leitmotifs and intratextual threads.
Arguably, the key finding of Kristeva’s Revolution in Poetic Language is that subjectivity is not a static condition, and that we are each a sujet en procés (subject-in-process); caught up in an unavoidable dynamic discourse between the freewheeling, pre-lingual semiotic and the linguistic ordering and control that defines the symbolic. In order for the Bob Dylan meme – he not busy being born is busy dying – to be true, the self must constantly be in a state of becoming or revolution. But how to get there?
Campbell points out that the liberating function of the poetic – whether in the textual products of theatre, prose poetry, fable, or novel – is its call to action, to free thinking, difference and alterity. Consequently, as a preliminary answer to Campbell’s opening question, one can say with some confidence that the potential for textual practice to disrupt and subvert the grand narratives of the prevailing socio-political culture is (or, has been, up until now) profound. And, indeed, as she argues the point, ‘Kristeva sees the text’s availability to radicalism and polyphony as orchestrated by the reader’ (Campbell’s emphasis). Thus, theory is not a system but a tool, a kind of browser add-on to the world wide web of subjects in process.
Campbell takes this Kristevan dynamic and applies it across genres. In Genet’s work she shows the sujet en procés by means of abjection, parody, inversion. Campbell further elaborates on this point as it relates to Genet’s last play, The Screens, which:
reignites the sense of terror behind the theatre and all representation, which stems from the interrelatedness of life and death, of spectator and spectacle, of stage and off-stage. All these tensions are actively played out, subjected to constant mutual embedding, imbrication and inversion.
The sujet en procés is not something the textual practitioner enacts alone, but through its (somewhat) unpredictable staging in the reader’s mind. Campbell highlights it in ‘the poetics of the lesbian bodies-in-becoming that is celebrated’ in Monique Wittig’s work. In Angela Carter, one finds ‘The negation of the Erl-King will confirm for the newly liberated subject her parenthood of herself.’ According to Campbell, Kathleen Mary Fallon finds it in a kind of ‘polyphonous’ self-mockery that serves to abject herself from mate-ly communitarianism wherein lurk ‘the most violent aspects of Australian materialism, sexism, homophobia and racism,’ in an act of shedding-as-becoming. Kim Scott finds it in the ‘arsehole’ of his en-whitenment; and Brian Castro, exploring othered-culturalism in Australia, performs the subject-as-process as multiple, asymmetrical selves. Campbell suggests that the one exception to this lot seems to be Kathy Acker, who sees a corruption so devastating that all that’s left for the subject-as-process is circus, carnival, and the dirge of parody.
If the sujet en procés is the overriding theme of Campbell’s Poetic Revolutionaries, then her book argues how the techniques, methods and practices of the semiotic are the clues out of the subjective labyrinth. Campbell demonstrates how mise en abymeappears and operates in, say, Carter’s rehabbed Bluebeard fable, ‘The Bloody Chamber’, when the virginal newlywed espies her husband gazing at her with an expression of pure carnal appetency in one of the castle’s many ‘guilded mirrors’. Then, in turning away, the virgin sees herself as he sees her and understands about herself for the first time ‘a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.’ One sees here the contradictions between desire and death – Liebestod – come together in Carter’s textual victim. As Campbell further elaborates, ‘the story disturbs foremost with its emphasis on the awakening in the young bride of a desire for her own crushing annihilation.’ Similarly, in Kim Scott’s novel of miscegenation and ‘enwhitenment’, Benang, Campbell has us pause before a mirror with the novel’s subject-in-process, Harley. There, we note that the one remaining feature of his Aboriginality is his ‘arsehole.’ Campbell incisively notes:
The mirror functions like hegemony, interpellating the Indigenous subject within the dominant racist discourse. To ‘black eye’ this mirror is to resist its call to abjection and subjugation, to treat it with the contempt it deserves.
It should be noted, however, that not all critics of the postmodern find such analytically constructed moments of mise en abyme entirely convincing. Ron Moshe, for instance, details nine problems he has with the definition and function of the figure, and is persuasively unconvinced that such mirror scenes are emblematic of anything special.2 Nevertheless, Campbell’s observation is an interesting way of performing Scott’s text.
Just as Kristeva’s subject-in-process suggests an individuation that is never static, heteroglossia proffers forth a multiplicity of subjects-in-process, tentatively congealed in a kind of cultural individuation. As Mikhail Bakhtin posits:
Our ideological development is just such an intense struggle within us for hegemony among various available verbal and ideological points of view, approaches, directions and values. The semantic structure of an internally persuasive discourse is not finite, it is open; in each of the new contexts that dialogize it, this discourse is able to reveal ever newer ways to mean … (Bakhtin’s emphasis)3
Campbell demonstrates how heteroglossia is embedded in our thinking to begin with: that often we are not as ‘original’ in our ideological thinking as we like to believe we are; that our thinking in the realm of the symbolic is mediated and dialectical. This is bad news and good news: bad, because the implication is that we are largely products of conditioning, our thoughts and beliefs being part of a cultural co-dependency; good, because a secondary implication is that we can awaken from such conditioning and free our thinking. This is the work of postmodernism (just as it was the work of Socrates a couple of cosmic moments ago). All of the works under Campbell’s scrutiny – no matter the genre – shake, rattle and roll complacency and the conditioned expectation.
Perhaps Campbell’s best discussion of the power and necessity of unfettered heteroglossia comes in her discussion of Kathleen Mary Fallon’s Working Hot, where, citing feminist theoretician Donna Haraway, Campbell draws a distinction between the personal politics of heteroglossic resistance (and the need to carve out one’s own space, as it were) and that of social politics: ‘Complexity, heterogeneity, specific positioning, and power-charged difference are not the same thing as liberal pluralism.’ With its multiplicity of voices, rupturing of genre discourse and assorted registers, Fallon’s Working Hot is, Campbell suggests, a work of what Haraway calls ‘powerful infidel heteroglossia’ and, consequently, a prime example of how textual practice can work to shake up socio-political culture.
Related to this, is Campbell’s marvellous explication of how Kim Scott’s Benangexplores the way language works as a material body, that is, ‘writing as a technology of terror perpetrated upon indigenous Australia.’ Indeed, what is terra nullius if not a ‘failure’ to produce a body of persuasion, a habeas corpus in the form of a sheet of paper called a land deed? What more compelling example of the dangers of controlled, commoditised, and reified language by its ‘possessors’, than the paper lingo of colonialism? In Benang, Campbell shows, miscegenation itself becomes a papering-over of an ancient oral tradition, deeply rooted in kinship, local cadences and rhythms, by the material enslavement to paper. Harley’s body, his ‘enwhitenment’, is the message of radical miscegenation; its own silent, wordless text, a tabula rasa tragedy. And yet, as Campbell amplifies, Scott has managed to ironically, ‘masterfully’ craft a largely parodic subversion of this reality – hoiking the colonials back into their own spittoon.
In the works Campbell examines and enacts, the principal method of textual subversion is by means of staging the carnivalesque. Loosely speaking, and as the term suggests, the carnivalesque involves the staging of a second, parallel reality that is parodic, autonomous and subversive of the hegemonic. The term is derived from a nearly forgotten but then much-practiced medieval folk tradition that Bakhtin describes in ‘Carnival Ambivalence’:
Because of their obvious sensuous character and their strong element of play, carnival images closely resemble certain artistic forms, namely the spectacle. In turn, medieval spectacles often tended toward carnival folk cultures, the culture of the marketplace, and to a certain extent became one of its components. But the basic carnival nucleus of this culture is by no means a purely artistic form nor a spectacle and does not, generally speaking, belong to the sphere of art. It belongs to the borderline between art and life. In reality, it is life itself, but shaped according to a certain pattern of play. (my emphasis)4
Of course, harkening back to Kristeva, one might also say that carnival takes place in the borderline between the semiotic and the symbolic; it is the meaning of language and simultaneously its ‘infidel’. Campbell amply demonstrates how this carnival atmosphere prevails in each of the primary and/or secondary works of the authors under consideration. It can take the form of scenographic carnival, as with Genet, or in graphological fulfilment, as with Acker, or in atavistic guises, such as with Harley in Benang, where his body itself becomes a carnival of abjection. The carnivalesque serves to undermine any notions of a stable, authoritative reality; there is no text, per se, but only the hypotheses of power, the centripetal and centrifugal pulling and held together in the atomic proximity of being. Campbell reiterates throughout her analysis that the textual practices of such postmodern works serve to liberate, and in doing so hold out the inexhaustible blessing/curse of socio-political change. In short, intertextuality and subversion are a means to getting at the poetic revolution within; becoming is the revolution.
It is not only Campbell’s analysis that is trenchant and compelling. In many places she employs some exquisite turns of expression that light up the page. She uses the term rubato at one stage to describe the technique of Brian Castro at play, but it could just as easily describe her own approach: keeping her subject of scrutiny in structural suspense with her lefty handwork, while laying down some righteous, handsome melodies with the other. For example, in describing the polybiographical nuances of Castro’s Shanghai Dancing, she writes:
Here, reclaiming cultural and ethnic multiplicity means navigating a universe of stories. The tessellation of genres, modes, and registers proposes inheritance as a relay of linguistic performances in the face of severance and exile. It suggests—through the gaps and abysses of its writing, through its phantasmagoria, its memories and its amnesia, its excesses, the compensatory tempo rubato or the stolen time of its music—that such might be the ‘grounding’, of ‘identity’, whose quest is as monstrous as it is vertiginous.
In this style, through more than mere analysis, Campbell bolsters the sublime which imbues her politics of the poetic.
But in the end one wonders if Campbell has sufficiently answered the simple, straight forward query with which she begins her analytical quest: ‘What kind of critical purchase and subversive impact can textual practice have on contemporary socio-political culture?’ As stated earlier, the contemporary socio-political culture she has in mind is clearly that of Australia. The three living textual practitioners she reviews – Fallon, Scott, and Castro – certainly have put forth transgressive works confronting issues that continue to pile up bad karma in the Australian socio-political culture: gender/sexual identity, the continued marginalisation of Aboriginality, and other-cultural accommodation. Campbell, while holding out a certain degree of optimism and continuing to keep faith with the alchemical processes of the semiotic, nevertheless provides a scathing rebuke to Castro’s reception among mainstream critics, adding what can only be seen as a massive slap-down of Australian mainstream culture:
Such is the myth of Australian egalitarianism that any difficult or ‘complex’ cultural text, whatever form it takes, is condemned by the mainstream critical apparatus as being wilfully abstruse and elitist … it is tempting to see it at once as symptomatic of the continuing mainstream distrust of intellectuals and of any who fail to embrace the feel-good myths of down-to-earth Aussie ‘belonging’, and especially those who celebrate a multiplicity of inheritance, rather than sentimentalised Anglo-Celt assimilationist mediocrity.
This is one of the few places in her work where Campbell sheds her analytical ‘diamonds and furs’, as she so brilliantly puts it in her latest novel, konkretion.1 In fact, Campbell’s konkretion is the rubato and carnival that accompanies her highly structured, academic thesis. The novel features an aging lecturer who complains about the same indifference afforded to postmodern literary experimentation and who seems imprisoned by her nostalgitations on the glory days of ‘revolution in the air’. At one point, the narrative voice of konkretion notes: ‘For some of Monique’s colleagues, poetry, and while we’re at it all of so-called literary fiction, is a right wing plot, effete, aristocratic nostalgia, a stepping out in diamonds and furs.’ This highlights one of the paradoxes of postmodernism: it liberates thought, but, at the same time, like Socrates, it is functionally anti-democratic and sceptical of popular culture, and many critics would like to see it go the way of Socrates (some argue that it already has).2
Poetic Revolutionaries would make for an intoxicating postgraduate survey course in postmodernism, tracing as it does a lineage and continuity of vital processes still at work, although significantly co-opted by rebounding structuralists who want to write a neo-liberal end to history. But postmodernism hasn’t gained the purchase on culture that Campbell wants, although it continues to be a necessary and effective tool, even if not a discernible movement. It is just such a course that is unlikely to ever see the light of day at any contemporary university in Australia, as recent academic labour tensions, followed in recent weeks by substantial budget cuts in education by the Abbott regime, make all too clear.
In the end, one wonders if the seemingly inexhaustible passion of desire expressed in language can any longer be transformative. Living in a world at war with an abstract noun (terror), under surveillance, and with democracy going the way of South Pole ice caps, people of a certain age (of which I’m one) can’t help but moon nostalgically and wonder if a 1968 is possible again – whether raining money down on Wall Street brokers, levitating the Pentagon, or sliding flower stems down gun barrels. The spring and summer of 1968 saw students, artists and intellectuals around the world begin a full-throated resistance to the doings of the Man – a resistance that grew in all the years leading up to the Nixon resignation in 1973, before being subdued again. Or is that all illusory? As Terry Eagleton prefers to remember it:
Imagine, finally, the most bizarre possibility of all. I have spoken of symptoms of political defeat; but what if this defeat never really happened in the first place? What if it were less a matter of the left rising up and being forced back, than of a steady disintegration, a gradual failure of nerve, a creeping paralysis? What if the confrontation never quite took place, but people behaved as though it did? As though someone were to display all the symptoms of rabies, but had never been within biting distance of a mad dog.3
If postmodernism still had its potency one might expect to see Genet’s The Screensbeing performed in one of the Aboriginal graveyards on Rottnest Island, with Pommies and Miners (the neo-Diggers) on stilts, and swimming there being part of the price of admission and submersion. But we hesitate like Hamlets, all ‘to be or not to be’, pondering Polonius-like memes such as, ‘Neither a Subject nor an Object be.’ Can the textual productions of the likes of Fallon, Scott and Castro find that critical purchase and subversive impact on contemporary socio-political Australian culture, as Campbell hopes?
- Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984 ↩
- Ron Moshe, ‘The Restricted Abyss: Nine Problems in the Theory of Mise en Abyss’, Poetics Today, Volume 8, Number 2 (1987), pp417-438 ↩
- Mikhail Bakhtin, ‘Dialogic Discourse’, The Bakhtin Reader, ed. Pam Morris, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, p86 ↩
- Mikhail Bakhtin, ‘Carnival Ambivalence’, The Bakhtin Reader, pp197-8 ↩