Author: erinahandley

The scream with Hazelwood mine fire in background

Morwell artists hit hard by Hazelwood mine fire

By Troy Nankervis and Erin Handley

Published in ArtsHub on Friday 21 March 2014.

Local artists are worried about the overall cultural impact on what is the only gallery space running in Morwell and the Greater La Trobe region. Latrobe Regional Gallery (LRG) has declined to comment on disruptions to its functioning or the effect on its collection. The La Trobe City Council said it would issue a formal statement but has yet to do so. Read full article.

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A Call to Disarm

By Erin Handley.

This article was originally published in Right Now on 31 October 2013. 

Gun violence is seemingly far removed from Australia. Since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre and the ensuing gun reform laws, Australians have dwelt in the smug knowledge that we could teach the US a thing or two about weapons. News of the drug wars in Mexico occasionally ripples to our shores, only to be washed over in the next news cycle.

However, what Australians fail to recognise is that through our use of recreational drugs – not to mention our investment in arms companies – we are complicit in the deaths of thousands of Mexicans. In 2006, former President Felipe Calderón sent federal troops into the state of Michoacán to stop gun violence. Since then, the drug war ravaging Mexico has killed 60,000 people.

In 2011, Liam Pieper wrote an incisive piece for The Lifted Brow about the tendency of ethically-minded Melbournians to fastidiously calculate food miles and research Fair Trade products, but at the same time, they cast a blind eye to the origins of the cocaine they snort into their systems.

“It’s an issue I felt could be addressed with art”

Pieper explores the fate awaiting many ‘drug mules’ who are paid to ingest packages of cocaine, smuggling the drug into Australia. If a package should rupture inside them, they are usually dead within two hours. Pieper also cites instances of violence in Mexico, targeted towards children: 12 bodies, tongues cut out, were piled high in front of a Tijuana elementary school in 2008; and, in Pieper’s words, a “disembodied head was recently found alongside its face – which had been peeled away from the head and stitched onto a soccer ball.”

In comparison to the horrific creativity of such acts of violence, the majority of drug-war deaths occur at gunpoint.

A large shipment of guns arrived in Melbourne earlier this month, in the form of the art installation Disarm, put together by Mexican sculptor and artist Pedro Reyes. It is precisely this gun violence that Reyes is railing against in his art. The exhibition – held at the NGV during the Melbourne Festival – featured 47 instruments on display; each instrument fashioned out of weapons seized from criminal cartels by the Mexican government.

“It’s an issue I felt could be addressed with art,” Reyes told Right Now Radio’s Anna Dorevitch.

Essentially Reyes has taken instruments of death and destruction and transformed them into musical instruments. The instruments are functional, and for the past three weekends, have been played as part of live performances. Right Now Radio’s Ev Tadros spoke of the shock facing these musicians – one flautist expressed the absurdity of putting a shotgun in his mouth, only to try to play it like a flute.

“I believe that someone who kills with a gun is guilty, but much more guilty is the person who invests their money in a company that fabricates weapons”

For Reyes, music creates gathering and community – there’s a certain shared experience through music. This is life-affirming and creative – just the opposite to a gun culture that instils fear and isolation.

Disarm is simultaneously an art installation and a campaign to raise awareness of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the weapons industry. “I believe that someone who kills with a gun is guilty, but much more guilty is the person who invests their money in a company that fabricates weapons,” Reyes said.

“These companies are fully aware that their weapons will be used around the world in crime and war, and war is a business”. Individual investors in arms companies, Reyes suggests, are “responsible for not tens but thousands of deaths”. Sharing such a vast border with the US makes Mexico especially vulnerable to gun violence – their proximity makes it easy to find and purchase guns.

Both Australia and Mexico recently signed the Arms Trade Treaty, adopted by the UN earlier this year. Mexico ratified the treaty in September, making it one of only eight to do so, but Australia still has not taken this crucial step. A legal framework such as the Arms Trade Treaty regulates the lucrative trade in weaponry, but perhaps Reyes, through art and music, has tapped into a more powerful way to disseminate the message that gun violence is an affront to human rights.

Repurposing weapons for art is not a new concept for Reyes – in 2007, he melted down 1500 guns into shovels to plant 1500 tress. The Mexican government heard of his project and offered up seized weapons to create something new; this is how Disarm came to be. Right now, Reyes is working on a large public clock that will chime on the hour. It’s composed out of gun parts, and the message – Reyes chuckles at the pun – is that “it’s time to disarm”.

The way guns are portrayed in film and video games – as sexy or cool – is divorced from their effect in real life, Reyes emphasises. He discourages the perception that guns are the only way to gain respect from a community. “There has to be a cultural shift that may take many years, but nevertheless has to be done,” Reyes says.

Disarm was held from 12 – 27 October at NGV International, Federation Court as part of the Melbourne Festival. You can listen to the whole podcast here. To download, right click and Save Link As.

 

Woman and maid

A Woman of Many Parts

By Erin Handley.

Published by Barcelona Metropolitan on 27 June 2013.

A Woman of Many Parts, the latest project from playwright and director Hunter Tremayne, generously lathers intrigue upon plot twists. It’s a humorous and daring piece of theatre that throws bizarre characters together and doesn’t shy away from absurdity. Read article.

Football stadium

Taking the Mark: Homophobia and the AFL

By Erin Handley.

This article was originally published in Right Now on 10 May 2013 for the Sport and Human Rights issue. Download a PDF version of this article: Taking the Mark.

Jason Ball has been playing AFL football since he was five years old. He said “it’s always been a big part” of his life, but there was a time when he thought he would be cut off from the football world. Not because he wasn’t good at footy, but because he was gay.

“I figured out that I was gay when I was about 12 or 13 years old,” Ball said.

“I fought it for a very long time, and it took me quite a while to come to terms with it because I felt that I would be letting my … community down.”

Jason developed his football skills and began playing for the Yarra Glen Football Club. He dreaded the prospect of coming out to his teammates, because the language and culture of footy made him expect the worst. The jokes and slurs in the football club were tinged with homophobia, and for Jason, they served as a constant reminder that if he came out, he wouldn’t be accepted.

“I had nothing to go upon. I had no examples of gay football players”

“The football club was kind of this bastion of homophobia in terms of the types of language and slurs used around the club,” Ball said.

“Faggot was the first word of every sentence. That was just part of how they talked. And it was used to mean ‘soft’ or ‘weak’. As I got even older there were jokes about how disgusting gay people are – it was this sense of joking around to assert your heterosexuality.” Jason said that players would act ironically in a “gay” way to highlight that they were not.

“I feared getting bullied, I feared getting kicked off the team, and so it was this constant battle for me to hide that side of who I was.”

Although Ball expected to be ostracised, he says that in all honesty, he didn’t know what to expect. “I had nothing to go upon. I had no examples of gay football players, I had no examples of anyone within footy talking about this issue … all I had to go upon were the slurs and the hostility.”

Ball has now become a gay football icon. In speaking out about homophobia in the AFL, Ball has become precisely what he needed as a teenager. He admits that it “would have made a world of difference to me when I was young if I had of known of gay AFL players or if I’d seen the AFL playing the No To Homophobia ads … that would have completely transformed my outlook.”

Jason has received overwhelming media attention in the past few months due to his campaign for change.org. The campaign involved a petition calling for the AFL to air No To Homophobia advertisements during the 2012 grand final, and to hold a “Pride Match”, which would help create a more inclusive and respectful culture towards the LGBTI community within the sporting arena.

The timing was significant – homophobia had been a sore spot for the AFL following an incident where St Kilda’s Steven Milne levelled a homophobic slur at Collingwood’s Harry O’Brien in August last year. Milne was fined $3000 for reportedly calling O’Brien a “fuckin’ homo”, although the Magpie did not make a complaint.

Ball saw this as a missed opportunity for O’Brien to point out that although he is not gay, homophobic insults have no place on the football field.

Ball’s personal story of homophobia he experienced in the country football league made an impact. The petition gained over 28,000 signatures, Ball received a call from AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, and the No To Homophobia advertisements were played during the two preliminary finals.

Anna Brown, from the Human Rights Law Centre, and a convener for the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, played a vital role in the development of the No To Homophobia ads. She was impressed that the AFL was the first sporting organisation to announce their support for the campaign.

“The AFL is really a microcosm or a reflection of attitudes in the broader community,” she said. “Playing the ads in the finals means that more people hear our message.”

Brown said that the advertisements were developed as part of a “two-pronged approach to tackling homophobic harassment”. The first prong was law reform – outlawing homophobic, transphobic and biphobic harassment and vilification. The advertisements are the manifestation of the second prong – a social marketing campaign to encourage individuals to take a stand against homophobic harassment.

Legal and social change is crucial, Brown intimates. “At the moment we don’t have any Federal Protections against discrimination, although hopefully this will change soon,” she said. “That’s something that gets lost in the marriage debate. Discrimination has very real impacts on the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgener and Intersex (LGBTI) people. LGBTI people lose their jobs and are denied access to critical services simply because of who they are and who they chose to love.”

The advertisements deliberately focus on everyday scenarios and the homophobic comments that are uttered regularly in the workplace.

“Everyone knows that punching someone in the face and calling them a faggot is horrific, a hate crime,” Brown said. The No To Homophobia campaign instead targets less overt types of harassment that can accumulate and prove all the more detrimental for their subtlety.

For many LGBTI people, such harassment is “extremely damaging … it can actually lead to depression, self harm and even suicide, and that’s why we see such high rates of suicide in the LGBTI community as compared to the mainstream population,” Brown said.

Brown is hoping for “an increase in people in normal, everyday situations actually speaking up and saying ‘Hey, that’s not on’ – resolving these sorts of issues in a way that doesn’t necessarily lead to expensive legal proceedings or a formal complaint.”

Screening the anti-homophobia advertisements was a positive step to tackling homophobia in football, but as Ball points out, “that’s not going to solve the problem on its own – there’s still a lot more that can be done.

For Ball, the AFL has been reactionary rather than leading the fight against homophobia, unlike the English Premier League, which has “really owned the issue”.

In the past, the AFL has taken a stance against issues such as racism and violence against women. Homophobia appears to be the next frontier to triumph over.

The AFL has more reasons to publicly condemn homophobia than other subcultures. The football world is peppered with homophobic taunts and stereotypes, and this in turn influences societal perceptions about the gay people.

Ball holds that if the AFL are not part of the solution, then they are part of the problem. “We’re not asking them to tackle global warming or solve poverty in Africa or anything like that. So long as homophobia is part of football culture … it’s in their court to do something about it or else they are part of the problem,” he said.

Ball thinks that “almost without a doubt that there would be gay AFL players” who are unwilling to come out in the current football climate.

“I think that statistically they have to be there,” he said. “I always thought maybe I was the only one, but since launching my campaign I’ve heard from a lot of people at different levels of football who are gay, whether they’ve come out or not.”

The AFL are currently looking into the possibility of holding a Pride Match between last year’s grand finalists, Hawthorne Hawks and Sydney Swans, although there is scope to include more clubs.

Ball isn’t confident that the AFL will hold a Pride Match this year, but says “I’m willing to be patient for the moment.” The AFL, he says, “don’t want to be seen as tokenistic or grandstanding” – they want to be able to substantiate a big event like a Pride Game with policies, education, and training for players. Developing these programs and consulting with the gay community will take time, Ball says.

Ball was invited to address the new draftees at the AFL Players Association induction camp in January this year, but outside of the AFL, he has been focusing on grassroots footy events to involve the wider community. One such project is the Rainbow Cup, organised by Global Footy, who for the past five years have held the Harmony Cup (which promotes multicultural participation in footy).

Ball’s own Yarra Valley Mount District football league is also considering its own pride round in the Yarra Valley. “I think that’s going to be quite substantial … the fact that this is country footy and they’re doing it off their own back – it’s not the AFL forcing it on anyone. They want to do it. They feel a sense of ownership over me and Yarra Glen.”

The issue of homophobia and the AFL gained even more attention when Brock McLean from the Carlton Blues and Dan Jackson from the Richmond Tigers decided to walk alongside Ball and his teammates in Victoria’s Pride March, held in February this year. It was an historic step, with McLean and Jackson becoming the first AFL players to take part in the march.

McLean’s sister Ellie is gay, and though her agonising decision to come out to her family, he witnessed the acerbic culture of shame and silence surrounding homosexuality.

“I’ve always supported my sister no matter what,” he confided.

For McLean, the problem with homophobia reaches far wider than the AFL: “Society has a problem with homophobia,” he said. “We’re still living in the dark ages so to speak … and the fact that we’re still having this conversation is quite sad really.”

“Some of the language that we use that people think is harmless but can have a massive effect on someone who might be hiding their sexuality,” he said.

McLean acknowledges that his high-profile status as an AFL player presented him with an opportunity to take a stance against homophobia. “The AFL is such a powerful tool in Australia, it’s almost like religion. They’ve got the opportunity to do some wonderful things in terms of stamping out homophobia – not just in sport but in society.”

“Personally I don’t feel like I’m going out of my way to do anything different. I’m just standing up for something that I truly believe in,” he said.

Likewise, Daniel Jackson is humble about the impact he made in his decision to march with Ball and McLean and the Yarra Glen Football Club.

“Initially I was probably a little bit hesitant – I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, I wasn’t sure how it would be perceived,” he admitted. “I was amazed at the support we got and the appreciation everyone gave us, just for going and attending – we really didn’t do that much.”

He said that the Pride March was an enlightening experience, where it became especially apparent to him that “calling someone gay or calling something gay is really offensive for the gay community”.

“I think it’s something that a lot of straight people never really consider,” he said. “They do it in such a nonchalant way and they just assume that it’s not hurtful to gay people.”

Jackson’s decision was also informed by his work with headspace, Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Organisation. The statistics around youth suicide and young people requiring psychological and psychiatric treatment alarmed him.

“When I found out the rate of suicide among young people who were gay was even higher, that shocked me, and saddened me as well – that young people couldn’t be proud or comfortable with who they are. And they’d hide it, and that in itself was creating all these distresses.”

In 2010, Jason Akermanis opined in his The Herald Sun column that gay AFL players should “stay in the closet”, claiming that “Locker room nudity is an everyday part of our lives and unlike any other work place,” and that coming out “could break the fabric of a club”.

Jackson disagrees, and suggests that it’s not worth adding fuel to the fire of negative comments made by an older generation of footballers.

“I personally think that if someone was to come out at any club they’d be fine,” he said. “We have such a close bond with all our teammates. We already accept them for who they are, so if they were to come out and say they were gay … it would just be taken in its stride and it wouldn’t really change anything.”

This optimistic outlook proved true for Ball, whose fears of rejection and harassment weren’t realised. He didn’t come out to his teammates, but it slowly dawned on them that he was gay. One by one, they let him know that they knew, and that it wasn’t a big deal. “That was the start of a new phase of my footy life where I felt like this huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I could talk to these guys about anything now and I never felt more a part of the club than after that moment.”

“I had been involved in the club for so long and they’ve known me for so long that they don’t necessarily see me as gay or straight – just Jason, I’m just their mate,” Ball reflected.

Ball clearly has a bond with his team; he described them as “real heroes” for their decision to walk alongside him in this year’s Pride March. This camaraderie is exactly what Ball, McLean and Jackson all love about footy.

“The thing that I love the most is just the camaraderie,” Jackson said. “Going in there every day and hanging out with your best mates.”

“It’s sort of like having 40 brothers or 40 best mates,” McLean said.

McLean aptly pins down the main issue for gay AFL players: “I think it’s just a fear of the unknown – how they’ll be received, what sort of reaction they’ll get from their teammates, from fans, from sponsors, from fellow competitors, from the leagues that they play in.”

For him, there needs to be a cultural shift. “It’s up to everyone involved to be able to create an environment … that says ‘Well we don’t care what race you are or what your sexual preference is – we’re going to treat you the same as everyone else,’” he said.

Until that culture can be formed, AFL players grappling with their sexuality will continue to be gripped by a fear of the unknown, as Ball was.

For more information about the No To Homophobia campaign, visit their website.

 

Book cover of Courtney Collin's The Burial

Unearthing herstory: Courtney Collins’ The Burial

By Erin Handley.

Published by Crikey‘s literary blog, Liticism, on 27 February 2013.

“If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell?”

In her debut novel The Burial, Courtney Collins supposes that the earth would favour the stories of those who are furthest from it, ‘the ones who are suspended in flight’. The dirt must long for these distant stories the way a child yearns for an absent mother. Collins chooses to literalise this longing; her fictional tale about the historical Jessie Hickman, Australia’s last bushranger, is told through the dead eyes of Jessie’s newborn child. Read article.

 

Australia Post shop front at Melbourne University

Return to Sender

By Erin Handley.

First published Friday 9 November 2012 in Farrago.

The Melbourne University post office will close up shop today, like every Friday afternoon, but this week it may be for the last time. The post office needs to relocate due to the demolition of the Architecture building—but in a controversial decision by Australia Post, the post office will be closed permanently and will not be re-established elsewhere on campus.

The decision comes as a shock, as the post office services 30,000 staff and students. The Melbourne University post office was the 6th most profitable out of 190 post offices in Victoria and Tasmania in July this year, according to Shirley Winton, organizer from the Victorian branch of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

But Sarah Gordon, spokesperson for Australia Post, said that this figure on the profitability of the post office was “incorrect and misleading,” although she did not cite an alternative figure.

Australia Post “are seeing year on year declining customer numbers,” Ms Gordon explained. Many services including letters, bill payments and banking “are impacted by digital substitution,” she said.

“With this trend continuing it is not sustainable to continue to provide our services in the current format,” Ms Gordon said.

John DuBois, director of Communications at Melbourne University, confirmed that “several sites were considered around the campus” for the relocation of the post office, but ultimately, the closure “was a business decision for Australia Post”.

As outlined in their own policy, Australia Post is obliged to balance its commercial obligations with its obligations to community service.

Australia Post intends to meet this obligation by replacing the post office with a Community Postal Agency (CPA). The CPA will operate as part of the Uni Store in the basement of Union House, and will offer some postal services, such as stamps and packaging products. Australia Post will also provide a new 24/7 postal outlet at Building 161, Monash Road. According to Australia Post, this outlet “will house post office boxes, a postal vending machine and 24/7 smart parcel lockers” but not the full range of services that the current post office provides.

The dramatic reduction of the services on offer is expected to negatively impact the Melbourne University community, as many staff and students use the post office on a regular basis.

The postal services that will no longer be provided at Melbourne University, or will be limited in their availability, include weighing and assessing articles for domestic and overseas postage, bill pay, banking and EFTPOS transactions, passport photos, purchase of foreign currency, issuing and paying money orders, mobile recharge, and stationary.

The CPA will be unable to lodge 100 point ID verification, Working With Children Check applications, Work Safe applications, or passport applications.

Other limited or discontinued services will include acceptance of mail redirection and PO Box applications, fax services, money orders, and the purchase and lodgement of parcel post, plus registered, express and courier products and services to domestic and international locations.

Joan Doyle, Secretary of the Victorian branch of the CWU, described the diminished service as “bloody useless, really”.

Ms Doyle also confirmed that Australia Post staff and the Melbourne University community did not receive consultation in regards to the closure. This is a breach of the Australia Post’s Community Postal Agency Agreement, which states that the closure of an outlet requires community participation and consultation, and that this consultation process should take place at least six weeks prior to implementing the change.

“They’ve quite deliberately left things until the last minute so that we couldn’t find a solution,” Ms Doyle said.

The breach prompted the Communication Workers Union to lodge a dispute with Fair Work Australia, heard last week on 1 November. Ms Doyle said the outcome of the dispute was that “the commissioner asked Australia Post to provide us with more information, which we’ve got.”

Ms Doyle suggested that “Australia Post have really not acted in good faith with this at all,” as “the local postal manager wasn’t consulted on any of this—they put out a letter under his name and he never even saw the letter.”

There are also concerns for the staff at the Melbourne university post office. “The current staff want to stay where they are,” Ms Doyle said. “They don’t want to be relocated to other places and they’re very attached to their customers.”

One member of the post office staff, who has been working at the Melbourne Uni outlet for a number of years, said that there wasn’t much to say about the closure, and that they were as surprised as the rest of the university community by Australia Post’s decision.

Australia Post believes that “the Parkville area is well serviced with a number of post offices within less than one kilometre radius.” However, Ms Winton of the CWU said “when you’re looking at a community of 30,000, it’s not really satisfactory.”

“Our understanding is that they don’t want to spend any of those profits made at the Melbourne University Post Shop on the refurbishment—refurbishing a new retails centre,” Ms Winton added.

This is not the first time that the post office at Melbourne University has faced closure.

“Two years ago, Australia Post tried to close down the retail shop, but with the intervention of staff and students and the university administration—and Adam Bandt from the local Greens—that was stopped,” Ms Winton said.

The CWU and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) are urging Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis to keep the post office open until mid-December to allow time for all the parties to find an alternative solution. Ted Clark, Melbourne University NTEU Branch Secretary, said that he had received confirmation that the Vice Chancellor was looking into the situation.

 

Yellow tape reads 'Danger! Asbestos Hazard' behind chain link fence

Yet More Asbestos

By Erin Handley.

First published Monday, 8 October 2012 in Farrago.

The George Paton Gallery has temporarily closed its doors to artists while the air is monitored for airborne asbestos fibres. The Gallery, situated on the second floor of Union House, expects to reopen in late October once it has received a full clearance certificate.

Trevor White, CEO of Melbourne University Student Union Ltd (MUSUL), specified that the closure of the Gallery is “a precaution [because] there’s some asbestos in the ceiling of the Union Theatre and the Theatre wall abuts the Gallery”.

Mr White confirmed that “more than likely there will be” future asbestos discoveries in Union House.

“It’s probably an issue that will go on for some time, to try and find out and eradicate the asbestos from the university,” he said.

He specified that so far the asbestos levels are “all in the allowable limits”.

“There were audits done in 2008 so we know where the stuff is and it’s contained so now they’re doing a new audit.”

“There’s probably asbestos in every building in Melbourne. It’s a matter of making sure it’s contained. The trouble was the stuff in the ceiling has broken down,” Mr White added.

Student exhibitions booked into the Gallery from the start of September until the end of October will be forced to find alternative venues to showcase their art. Jake Preval’s series of sculpturally informed photographs, Costumes for the Ark, is one such exhibition, along with Georgia Anson, En-En See and Erin Tily-Laurie’s Come with us, Claudia Phares’ It’s conceivable!, and Alex Jaunozols, James Tunks and Kalinda Vary’s Seeing the Unseen.

Preval admitted that the George Paton closure was a setback for his exhibition: “It’s really unfortunate but as it’s beyond anyone’s control you just have to roll with it,” he said.

Preval confirmed that it’s been difficult to find an alternate space for his exhibition “due to the tight timeframe”.

Nonetheless, he expressed his gratitude to the George Paton Gallery team. “They have been incredibly helpful in attempting to locate a new space for the work and have also been very supportive. They were very open about the situation and contacted us immediately,” he said.

The recent discovery of asbestos has been unfortunate for the cultural arts at Melbourne University; the George Paton Gallery is the third closure of a cultural space in Union House this semester. Farrago reported that the Union Theatre was closed in August for asbestos removal. The Des Connor rehearsal room will also be closed until the end of semester, as the entrance is inaccessible “due to the asbestos removal work in the Union Theatre,” according to Union House Theatre eNews.

Fortunately, all eight productions booked into the Union Theatre this semester have been able to find alternative venues.

Building at Melbourne University

Union Theatre Asbestos Scare

By Erin Handley.

First published 5 September 2012 by Farrago.

Union Theatre has been closed to allow for the removal of asbestos in the ceiling. It is anticipated that the theatre will remain closed until the end of October. As many as eight productions were booked into the Union Theatre during this period and have been forced to find alternative venues.

On 10 August 2012, suspected hazardous building materials were analysed by LRM Global, an independent hazardous materials consultant. They found that asbestos was present in the ceiling space above Union Theatre and the projector room. Further analysis found that asbestos was also in the ceiling and internally within the projector room.

Further samples were taken from the Union Theatre stage and front of house for testing, but no further asbestos was discovered in these areas.

It is likely that those who have entered the ceiling spaces above Union Theatre will have been exposed to friable asbestos, Diane Spires, a University spokesperson for the OHS and Injury Management Department, confirmed.

“We are continuing to seek advice from the hazardous materials consultants as to the potential level of exposure,” Spires said.

When asbestos is crumbled or reduced to powder it can release airbourne fibres that pose a health risk. Friable asbestos can be disturbed by light pressure, while non-friable asbestos is unlikely to release airbourne fibres unless damaged by significant force, such as drilling or sawing.

She stated that so far “airborne asbestos fibre levels have not exceeded 1/10th of the occupational exposure standard.”

Productions previously booked into Union Theatre now seeking alternative theatres include Union House Theatre’s own 1938: An Opera, Ormond College’s Spring Awakening, Chinese Music Group’s December Rains, MU Chinese Theatre Group’s Sand and a Distant Star, St Mary’s College’s Back to the 80s, Queen’s College’s Fawlty Towers, the 2012 Med Revue: Lawrence of the Labia, and Flare Dance Ensemble’s Revelation.

Fregmonto Stokes, writer of 1938: An Opera, said that “obviously it’s a disappointment not to be able to use Union Theatre.” Despite this setback, he acknowledged “asbestos is such a notoriously dangerous material” and “if it’s discovered and it can’t be safely encapsulated it should be removed straight away.”

The opera has sought out a number of theatre options and will have confirmed one when Farrago goes to print. Stokes specified, however, that “the most important element [of the opera] is the cast, not the space.”
Further updates can be found at https://safety.unimelb.edu.au/uniontheatre/

A Leisurely Stroll

By Erin Handley.

First published by in Brief Issue #2. 

“Paris is in truth an ocean that no line can plumb. You may survey its surface and describe it; but no matter what pains you take with your investigations and recognizances, no matter how numerous and painstaking the toilers in this sea, there will always be lonely and unexplored regions in its depths, caverns unknown, flowers and pearls and monsters of the deep overlooked or forgotten by the divers of literature.”

 This is Paris in 1819, in the novel Old Goriot  by the French writer Balzac, known for his detailed representations of society and for his contribution to realism. The protagonist, Eugene de Rastignac, has moved to the city from the Southern provinces of France. For him, Paris represents hope and opportunity – he can make a fortune here.

Such nineteenth-century individuals had been released from the historical bonds of the feudal system and were free to move – Rastignac’s move is to the city, and the city itself is characterised by movement and flow. The metropolis is enticing in its promise of upward social mobility.

Rastignac’s arrival in Paris opens him up to the world of the flâneur. The term ‘flâneur’ comes from the French verb ‘to stroll’, and refers to someone who leisurely walks or wanders through the city. The two vital characteristics – ‘strolling’ and ‘leisurely’ – mean that in nineteenth-century literature, flâneurs were always upper-middle class men. Men and women of the lower classes were able to traverse the city, but not at their leisure. Women of high social status were generally not permitted to walk in the city streets unaccompanied, lest they should faint.

Despite the flâneur’s capacity to forge his own path in the sprawling, intricate twists and turns within the cityscape, he is nonetheless restricted to the city. Men who stroll leisurely in the countryside are not called flâneurs. Indeed, they’re often not called men. It’s usually women such as Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Eyre who tend to stroll through fields and across the moors – their male counterparts are often on horseback.

The city is a text to be deciphered. A flâneur saunters through the city just as the reader navigates through a text. Another literary Eugene – Eugene Wrayburn from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend – is a wry and languid lawyer who has mastered his city. Aloof, he verbally destroys his rival in love, Bradley Headstone, and proceeds to mentally torment him by twisting and winding his way through London, knowing that Headstone is trailing him. ‘I seek those No Thoroughfares at night, glide into them by means of dark courts, tempt the schoolmaster to follow, turn suddenly, and catch him before he can retreat. Then we face one another, and I pass him as unaware of his existence, and he undergoes grinding torments’.

The city is also the site of reason. Wrayburn might dominate the city sphere, but when he is removed from it, he is at danger of attack from his lower-classed rival, who is driven by emotion and madness. The metropolitan man, who has to deal with constantly changing stimuli, removes himself from emotion and deals with the rapidity of change on a purely intellectual level. Sherlock Holmes, who represents the pinnacle of reasoned thought, initially seems to face the same problem as Wrayburn. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, set in the English countryside, Holmes faces the challenge of irrationality, nature, and a ‘curse’.

But rationality, articulated through Holmes, always triumphs in the end. The figure of the flâneur in nineteenth-century literature, as a reader of the city, is also often a detective – he understands the labyrinth and can render clues intelligible. Holmes is not a professional policeman; rather, he can afford to be an amateur detective. He has the status and means to investigate cases at his leisure, to observe and read the city as he wanders through its many passageways and signs.

However, the metropolis destabilises and divides the individual, and flâneurs become ‘doubled’. They can either find a double in another who is similar to themselves, or in one opposite to themselves. Wrayburn’s likeness is in his law-partner Mortimer Lightwood, and he meets his opposite in Headstone. Holmes’ likeness and opposite is encapsulated in Professor Moriarty. But the flâneur is again doubled within himself – two parts of the self coexist within the one. When Holmes isn’t engaged in a stimulating case, he’s nurturing his cocaine addiction, verging on the ‘other’ side of the law.

The idea of the double culminates with Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson renders physical the split between the two parts of the self. The city’s ideals of reason and rationality are represented in Professor Jekyll, and the notorious Hyde seeks his pleasures by wandering through London at night. Hyde exerts full freedom in his actions precisely because Jekyll exercises social constraint. Jekyll’s freedom for flânerie is in accordance with his social class, but he is also constrained by the social customs demanded of his position.

At the heart of the metropolis lies paradox. The dense crowding of a city allows for a sense of anonymity; individuals can slip through cracks and create their own identities. At the same time this perceived freedom is permeated by a sense of constant surveillance – like the Panopticon, in the city, anyone could be observing your movements at any time. The concept of the metropolis is dual in nature, and the flâneurs who amble through it likewise become duplicitous.

Melbourne Town Hall during the comedy festival

Celebrity Theatresports

By Erin Handley.

First published Monday 16 April 2012 in Farrago.

Theatresports is an oxymoron. The unholy union of ‘theatre’ and ‘sports’ is akin to the combination of milk and citrus—chocolate and orange, in theory, simply shouldn’t mix. But like Theatresports, it just works.

Celebrity Theatresports has been a comedy festival favourite for more than a decade. It’s a one-off show that pits comedians, actors and Theatresports Champions against each other in short scenes. The performance was set up like a game show, with sparkly-blazered Patrick Duffy as our host.

In Theatresports, teams of three or four players perform within a four-by-four metre taped square. Players cannot step outside this stage while improvising. Each team performed scenes which were given a score out of 15 by the judges Noni Hazlehurst, Kristy Best and Christof the clown.

There are different rules for each ‘event’. ‘Subtitles’ is a game where two players speak and act in Gobbledygook (nonsense language, not the official tongue of Gringotts’ goblins), while the two others ‘translate’. In ‘Swapsies’, whenever the host calls out ‘Swap!’, the players must rotate into different roles and continue the scene. Additionally, whenever the host calls out a certain accent, the actors must all adopt it. In another event, actors must replay the same scene multiple times, but tinged with a different emotion. There’s mime, ballet, opera and stories told one word at a time. All 100% improvised.

Because it’s all off-the-cuff, Celebrity Theatresports was always going to be a hit-and-miss performance. It’s both the beauty and the limitation of Theatresports—you’ll get some fairly average scenes, but you’ll also get never-to-be-repeated nuggets of comedy gold.

One golden moment was the slow-motion commentary of the thrilling activity ‘cleaning the trophy cabinet’— Michala Banas was hilarious as she applied her tongue to the task. I was impressed by the players who managed to compose and sing rhyming lyrics on the spot, as well as the keyboardist’s seamless accompaniment. The audience was treated to a modern-day opera entitled ‘Charging My Phone’ (in which Nicola Parry was particularly brilliant) and a Kanye-style rap performance by Yoda (played by Rik Brown, with Scott Brennan using his hands for Yoda’s ears).

It was also amusing to watch Duffy bounce up and down, wondering if he should stop Rusty Berther mid-scene because he stepped over the taped line. That’s another paradox of Theatresports—you’re encouraged to think outside the square, yet never step beyond it.