About Emma Young

Western Australian journalist with Fairfax Media's WAtoday, and entertainment blogger with a love for all things couch-related. Tea/wine/martinis mandatory. Aspect ratio important. Paper and electronic mediums accepted. Highbrow optional.

Don’t try to be a ‘consumable product’: Minchin warns performers

Tim Minchin has shared the secrets of his success to an intimate audience of performing arts students, ahead of the second show of his BACK tour through Perth, Sydney and St Kilda.

The comedian and singer-songwriter, in Perth on the first stop of his national tour, was at Edith Cowan University’s Spiegeltent on Thursday to accept an honorary doctorate from the WA Academy of Performing Arts, where he earned his Bachelor of Contemporary Music long before becoming a household name.

The new Dr Minchin, flanked by the heads of the university.
The new Dr Minchin, flanked by the heads of the university. CREDIT:STEPHEN HEATH PHOTOGRAPHY

Garbed in doctoral robes and wearing a sheepish grin, after performances in his honour from a full complement of almost frighteningly skilled undergraduate singers and musicians, he said he was “hugely grateful and more than a little embarrassed.”

“There are artists here that just make me feel like the hack that I am,” he said.

Minchin warmed up the crowd with jokes about his free upgrade to the penthouse at Crown Towers – “like an Italian furniture showroom with so many couches that 90 people could comfortably sit in it … built for the purpose of making wankers feel like legends” – but soon got serious.

“If this were a graduation ceremony my role here would be give career advice to the grads,” he said.

“It’s not, but I’m old now, so my role is giving unsolicited advice, like all old white guys.”

He told the young faces turned towards him that being an artist required massive reserves of self-belief.

“Of course, the two years I spent here feeling unbelievably bad about myself was perfect preparation for the next eight years feeling even worse,” he said.

“Wanting to give up, cut my fingers off and feed them to a swan.

“Making coffees and pouring beers to pay my rent … my friends in the acting course all wandering around in black tights shagging each other.”

He said he often got asked for career advice, and it always reminded him of himself during this period.

“I was always thinking, what is the trick?” he said.

“There is no trick … but I will tell you three things that are important.”

Read the rest of this story here on WAtoday

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All I want to say is that, they don’t really care about us.

OPINION

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees will require nations to phase out coal by mid-century and leave most fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Even at 1.5 degrees, warmer, up to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs will die.

Oil and gas companies are pillars of our society. Requiring them to offset their pollution would amount to reckless endangerment of our jobs and economy.

Right?

The Gorgon site.
The Gorgon site. AFR

Well, let’s take a closer look at this narrative.

Oil and gas production is causing Australia’s emissions to rise even as coal pollution dropsReports last November indicated half of the increase in Australia’s annual carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to Chevron’s failure to bury the carbon coming out of Gorgon in WA’s Pilbara.

WA’s emissions have seen the most rapid increase of any Australian jurisdiction, rising more than 27 per cent in the past 15 years.

So our Environmental Protection Authority had the gall to suggest Chevron, and the other oil and gas companies causing the rise in emissions should pay to offset their own pollution.

Shell, Santos, Chevron and Woodside sent their biggest wigs into town to talk to Premier Mark McGowan behind closed doors and hours later, the EPA backed down and withdrew its guidelines pending industry “consultation”.

I’m not saying that the guidelines were perfect or that business certainty counts for nothing.

The Macquarie Group warned the guidelines could delay projects and cost WA’s LNG industry billions.

But Macquarie and now the Reserve Bank of Australia have both warned, in the same breath, that the economic risks of climate change can no longer be ignored.

And let’s not forget we are talking about companies used to measuring costs and profits in the billions.

Children protested government inaction on climate change on Friday in Perth's CBD.
Children protested government inaction on climate change on Friday in Perth’s CBD. CAMERON MYLES.

Chevron reported $2.1 billion in revenue for 2016. Gorgon is a $55 billion project. It’s reportedChevron can potentially make $32 million per day across Gorgon and Wheatstone. Canberra-based think-tank The Australia Institute has calculated – using the publicly reported potential earning above, Chevron’s publicly reported emissions and the price for a federal government carbon credit – that Chevron could go carbon-neutral for about 2 per cent of their profits.

This would drop to around 1.7 per cent if they managed to get their underground carbon storage facility at Gorgon working.

Promising they would take 80 per cent of the CO2 in the gas coming from the reservoir, and inject it beneath Barrow Island, was key to them getting their environmental approval to operate in the first place. But they have been permitted to operate without having fulfilled that promise – surprise, surprise.

A year after they began operating it still doesn’t work; they are releasing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas.

They recently told media it was going to take another nine months. This was reported on March 5, the same day Chevron announced commencement of domestic gas deliveries from Wheatstone.

The WA government put out a media statement “celebrating” Chevron’s “important milestone” getting Wheatstone going, without ever mentioning Gorgon’s little problem.

If it was a problem stopping their gas flowing, you can bet your bottom dollar Chevron wouldn’t allow that situation to continue for a year and nine months. They’d throw everything at fixing it. Maybe even billions.

Read the rest of this piece here at WAtoday.

Perth doctor’s ‘happy bowel’ guide brings him shitload of fans

Who could have predicted that one of the biggest crowds at Perth Writers Week would be the one that gathered to hear a doctor talk about bowel movements?

Nevertheless, people lined up around the building to see Perth colorectal surgeon Michael Levitt, recently appointed WA’s chief medical officer.

Dr Levitt's book has struck a chord in the community.

“I think there were about 150-200 people, and it was packed – eventually they just had to close the doors,” he said.

“It was [Perth emergency doctor and author] Michelle Johnston who interviewed me, so I guess they figured if I wasn’t entertaining, at least she would be.

“I was a little surprised by the crowd though. It’s not my first book – I’ve written three books about bowels now.”

But this book is something of a departure from the first, The Bowel Book, published in 2002 by Oxford University Press – a textbook of bowel disorders aimed at the general public.

The second, The (Other) Women’s Movement, published in 2008, focused on managing constipation and while it was more approachable than the first, Dr Levitt said it still had “too much detail for general interest”.

But The Happy Bowel, whether it’s the bright cover, engaging tone, the endearing cartoons inside or a combination of it all, has enjoyed runaway popularity.

"An empty bowel is a happy bowel."

“In the course of a career your thoughts inevitably change over time; are subtly modified, based on feedback from patients,” Dr Levitt said.

“I also wanted to write a bit more in my voice.

“This subject is about significantly troublesome systems, and I have found approaching it with a lighter heart gets people onside.

“Every person in the planet has their bowels open in their own quirky fashion. Having that on the table, as it were, I think I get more information and patients become more receptive.”

But the book is not about cancer, colitis, Chrohn’s Disease, or even haemorrhoids.

It is for people who simply find bowel actions difficult – to start, to stop or to control in general. Who struggle with constipation, incontinence and dissatisfaction.

It’s what doctors call “functional” bowel disease.

To illustrate how function fails, Dr Levitt first describes what a “good action” looks and feels like.

“Prompt, effortless, brief and complete,” he said. “And the single most important thing? The strong urge that says, go now.

“People who can generate that urge but choose to go early, like guys who grab a book and wait on the platform waiting for the train to arrive, get into trouble.

“And people who never get that urge, more often women, have another significant problem.”

Read the rest of this article on WAtoday.

‘Girl Painter also Good Cook’: The story of a (female) artist

“Until Nora entered, winning the Archibald had remained the province of male artists for seventeen years. It would be another twenty-two before a woman won a second time.”

In bookstores now.

So begins the biography of Nora Heysen, Australia’s first official female war artist and the first of the country’s biggest art prize, the Archibald Prize for portraiture.

The biography was launched this week by Perth writer and journalist Anne-Louise Willoughby.

And on Thursday, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Willoughby attended the launch of a Melbourne exhibition seeking to restore Heysen to what the author describes as her “rightful place” of prominence in the Australian art world.

Heysen worked alongside her father Hans Heysen, known for his distinctive paintings of the eucalypts surrounding their family home in Hahndorf, South Australia. But she also worked all over the world and made a lifelong friend in urban landscape painter Jeffrey Smart, who regarded her so highly he made himself available to contribute to this biography before his death.

But Heysen spent her life struggling to be recognised as an artist first, and a woman second.

“What was so extraordinary is that while her work and its historical context is covered in art collections, we didn’t know anything about her life,” said Willoughby, a writer with a background in art history.

“These things kept cropping up in my study, that nothing was known about her save a list of her works.

“Why was she the first woman to win the Archibald? How did she come to be the first war artist of Australia? Things like that don’t happen out of the blue.”

Read the rest of this story here on WAtoday.

Eight hours of power: Groundbreaking Gatz comes straight from NYC to stun Perth

Entering Perth’s Octagon Theatre on Friday night, I saw a warning: “contains cigarette smoke, open flames and use of firearms.”

Well, that’s the least I expect, I thought.

Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway in Gatz.
Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway in Gatz.

Perth Festival has brought New York Theatre Company Elevator Repair Service to Perth for the first time to perform critically acclaimed and wildly popular Gatz; to me, far and away the most exciting page in a jam-packed 2019 program.

This epic word-for-word enactment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby has toured the world to sold-out houses for the past 13 years; in 2010, the New York Times hailed it “the most remarkable achievement in theatre not only of this year, but also of this decade”.

Perth Festival artistic director Wendy Martin says it’s the greatest piece of theatre she has ever seen and she has worked tirelessly to bring it to Australia for the second time, the first time having been to the Sydney Opera House.

Coming to Perth direct from another season in New York, the production opens with a worker in a shabby 1980s office casually picking up a copy of The Great Gatsby, and starting to read it aloud at his desk.

And he just can’t put it down.

Click to read the rest of this review on WAtoday.

Markus Zusak gives glimpse behind the scenes of latest bestseller, Bridge of Clay

Some people were disappointed Markus Zusak’s latest novel Bridge of Clay, about which he will speak in hotly anticipated events at Perth Writer’s Week, isn’t more like the book that catapulted him to global fame: The Book Thief.

Zusak’s six novels have earned him ten years on the New York Times bestseller list and established him as one of Australia’s biggest authors. The Book Thief has been translated into more than 40 languages and is now a major movie.

The Book Thief has been called "the best book of all time"... no pressure, eh?
Markus Zusak

But while The Book Thief’s Nazi Germany and Bridge of Clay’s suburban Australia tell wildly different stories in almost diametrically opposed settings, they share more subtle likenesses.

Both deal deeply with grief and pain, forcing the reader to feel and recall emotions at once deeply private and universally human.

Yet both do so artfully; far from being simple stories about loss, they both employ the device of an all-important, all-seeing central narrator who shows how people’s lives become intertwined through love and shared history.

Bridge of Clay is about a dying mother; but it is about far more than that. The 600-page saga is set up like a mystery, its pages littered with clues: a mattress. A mule. A murderer. An obstacle course. A clothespeg. And the iron gamepiece from a Monopoly set. Just to name a few.

Read the rest of this story on WAtoday.

Read my story on the Perth Writers Week program: Toil, timing and a dash of luck: Perth Writers Week books the big guns

 

The insight and mystery of Everybody’s Autobiography by Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein was an American writer and art collector who moved to Paris as an adult and there established one of the world’s most famous salons, a name given to places where influential artists and thinkers once gathered to socialise and converse, share ideas and inspiration. Those who gathered with Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice Toklas, and whose art and writing she collected and/or inspired, included painters Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Picabia, Thornton Wilder, Ezra Pound, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Stein and Toklas spent World War I in France, acting as a hospital supply unit, and stayed in country France during WWII despite both being Jews; they and the art collection all survived the war.

Stein published more than 20 books and numerous plays over her lifetime but in 1933 when she was almost 60, Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas became her first popular success. With sardonic literary sleight-of-hand, she had told her own life story through the voice of her partner and this was the book that made her famous. It’s arguably her most readable work and resulted in a year-long lecture tour of America in 1934-5 that cemented her celebrity status.

I have no idea how this book fell into my hands as a teenager or why it captivated me. Maybe it was the audacious trick of writing your autobiography using your own partner as a sort of puppet. Maybe I was agape at the accounts of all these incredibly famous historical figures actually gathering somewhere to talk with friends, about art. The closest experience I had was university tutorial groups where I thought most of my fellow students were meatheads. Maybe it was the arch tone and the style utterly unlike anything I’d ever read. At any rate, it fired my imagination and a sense of nostalgia for nothing I had ever known and has survived years of successive culls, remaining one of the few non-children’s books in my more-or-less permanent collection.

Many years later in a moment of serendipity I recognised her name on the cover of a different book: Everybody’s Autobiography. 

As its intro explained, not everyone had loved The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Stein pissed a lot of her friends off, chronicling them in totally unvarnished terms. And Stein herself was somewhat troubled by the unaccustomed celebrity it had brought after years of her work being published. She was having a bit of an identity crisis and, it seemed, needed to face herself head-on and not use Alice B. Toklas as a kind of invisibility cloak.

Everybody’s Autobiography is both an account of the lecture tour through Stein’s home country of America that the success of the first Autobiography had brought, and this personal need to set the record straight. So it’s closer in format to a straight autobiography.

If you could ever call it “straight” when it performs another twist of identity in calling her own story “everybody’s”. And when its stated commitment to stay in the “present” means, in practice, a ramble through memories and the reflections they spark, in the form of largely unpunctuated streams of consciousness, pulled up with a jerk every time she needs to re-centre in the time and place of the story.

It’s challenging to read; much more so than the first Autobiography, which stuck to plain-ish English and punctuation; but it’s also much more intimate, and allows you further into Stein’s head. Sometimes with the pithy, the funny, the relatable:

When there is a great deal of unemployment and misery you can never find anybody to work for you.
~
Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.
~
Native always means people who belong somewhere else, because they had once belonged somewhere. That shows that the white race does not really think they belong anywhere because they think of everybody else as native.
~
The French women always used to say that a woman’s silhouette should change every ten years. It should not grow less it should grow more and mostly it does.
~
Sound can be a worry to anyone particularly when it is the sound of a human voice.
~
I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich.
~
I like to be driven around if I do not have to go inside of anything, and be shown anything that I do not much care for that, but I do like driving and I like seeing country.

Other times, deeper into what she’s thinking, and some of it is so deep I conclude she’s allowed to forget about commas, since she’s grappling with concepts altogether bigger.

Of genius:

Being a genius is not a worrisome thing, because it is so occupying, and then when it is successful it is not a worrisome thing because it is successful, but a successful thing does not occupy you as an unsuccessful thing does, certainly not, and anyway a genius need not think, because if he does think he has to be wrong or right he has to argue or decide, and after all he might just as well not do that, nor need he be himself inside him. And when a dog gets older there is less of it and it does not worry him. When a genius gets older is there less of it and does it then not worry him.

Of ideas:

The real ideas are not the relation of human being as groups but a human being to himself inside him and that is an idea that is more interesting than humanity in groups, after all the minute that there are a lot of them they do not do it for themselves but somebody does it for them and that is a damn sight less interesting.

Of our relationship with time:

Human beings have to live dogs too so as not to know that time is passing, that is the whole business of living to go on so they will not know time is passing, that is why they get drunk that is why they like to go to war, during a war there is the most complete absence of the sense that time is passing. After all that is what life is and that is the reason there is no Utopia, little or big young or old dog or man everybody wants every minute so filled that they are not conscious of that minute passing. It’s just as well they do not think about it you have to be a genius to live in it and know it to exist in it and express it to accept it and deny it by creating it.

Other passages deal with writing as a craft and directly with her sometimes alienating style.

They asked me to tell why an author like myself can become popular … writing what anybody feels they are understanding and so they get tired of that, anybody can get tired of anything everybody can get tired of something and so they do not know it but they get tired of feeling they are understanding and so they take pleasure in having something that they feel they are not understanding … my writing is clear as mud, but mud settles and clear streams run on and disappear, perhaps that is the reason but really there is no reason except that the earth is round and that no one knows the limits of the universe.

Yet while she defends it, she still, touchingly, after so many books and so much fame, shows that as a writer she still experiences what just about all writers do: self-doubt.

Of course naturally in the meanwhile I went on writing, I had always wanted it all to be common-place and simple anything that I am writing and then I get worried lest I have succeeded and it is too common-place and too simple so much so that it is nothing, anybody says it is not so, it is not too common-place and not too simple but do they know anyway I have always all the time thought it was so and hoped it was so and then worried lest it was so. I am worried again now lest it is so.

I can’t really sort through my reasons any better than I did when I was a teenager, apart from recognising the echo of truth in her words: sometimes what we need most is what we don’t quite understand. To test those unknown limits of the universe.

But like a glutton for punishment without punctuation, I will seek more out, hungry for more knowledge about the extraordinary lives of Stein and Toklas. Starting with the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. Yes! Toklas wrote her own books, including a cookbook. Which has a chapter on how to cook for famous painters. Don’t you just love it…