Fremantle Press is known for introducing West Australian voices to a national audience, but what might surprise is that they are overwhelmingly the voices of people aged 35 and older.
And the chatter they’ve heard across the industry suggests that a lack of young stories is not just a local problem.
This is why the organisation, in partnership with the Fogarty Foundation, has launched one of Australia’s richest literary prizes – $20,000 cash, plus a Fremantle Press publishing contract – and the first and only one exclusively for young West Australian writers.
The inaugural biennial Fogarty Award is open to a previously unpublished work of fiction, narrative non-fiction or young adult fiction from any WA writer aged 18-35, and is intended to kick-start the winner’s career, support further creative work and bring more diversity to the submissions the Press is receiving.
“We’re not really getting those younger voices,” Fremantle Press publisher Cate Sutherland said.
“It’s been a reasonably consistent problem across a long period of time.”
She said the Press had authors in their mid to late 30s, their mid-40s, even in their 80s – just very few under 35.
Many high-profile Australian authors began young, including such names as Craig Silvey and Sonya Hartnett, Isobelle Carmody and Tim Winton; but they are the shining exceptions, not the rule.
Fremantle Press publishers had speculated that perhaps the ability to find an instant online audience had taken some energy that young writers might otherwise have spent on a “longer trajectory”, Ms Sutherland said.
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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.
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.”
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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.
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 drops. Reports 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.
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.
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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.
“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.
“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.”
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“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.”
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.”
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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.
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.