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  Issue No 11 Official Organ of LaborNet 30 April 1999  





Performers on the World Stage

By Michel Hryce - NSW Branch Secretary, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

Australian performers know better than most the importance of identity, self and place. That's why they are committed Republicans.

The notion that Australia is an English Colony heading into the 21st Century is an absurdity and contrary to our own strong cultural identity and real place on the world stage.

Just as absurd is the notion that Great Britain is our Imperial governor. British Imperial Colonies, rightly or wrongly belong to the Nineteenth Century, not the Twentieth and definitely not the Twenty First Century. Royal Britainia no longer rules the waves nor should it rule Australia.

As NSW Secretary of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance I am elected to represent the people who entertain and inform Australians and indeed was re-elected yesterday for another term. The Alliance is the Australian professional and industrial organisation for actors, journalists, musicians, theatre workers, film makers, artworkers, opera, ballet and independent performers, orchestra members, cinema and sports ground workers and professional sports persons.

Our members, as Matt Carroll says, "are charged with telling Australians their stories", of articulating and defining the Australian experience, of informing and updating the nation about Australian news and interpreting and relaying world events as they happen.

To assess our growing confidence in ourselves as a Nation and our entrepreneurial prowess on the world stage we need to look no further than our entertainment and media industries.

Over the past fifty years we have witnessed the development of a uniquely Australian form of journalism, what Alan Kennedy, the President of the Alliance, describes as our "tradition of excellence in investigative reporting with an edge of ratbaggery: this is internationally acclaimed through the works of the likes of Germaine Greer, John Pilger and Clive James". Unlike journalists in other countries Australian journalists have not stooped to the lowest depths of scandal obsession. Mind you, Strewth is a good read. To quote Rupert Murdoch, "Australian journalists are the best in the world". The Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald still rate amongst the top twenty newspapers globally.

Fifty years ago Australian journalists were employed on the Mason - Catholic divide. (No Catholics at the Sydney Morning Herald please) and Australian journalism focussed on issues other than a sense of their Australianism. A growing sense of confidence in Australian journalism has developed over the years and is reflected in quality investigative journalism, ongoing battles for press freedom in Australia, diversity of ownership in our media, campaigns to maintain a strong independent public broadcaster and fights for editorial independence.

In 1998 who will forget Pamela Williams' Gold Walkley winning piece in the Financial Review, "The plan to smash a union", which revealed the detailed planning the Federal Government had secretly undertaken to stymie the MUA; Christine Lacy's story also in the Financial Review on the Crown Casino's failure to meet its contractual obligation to the Government and Belinda Hawkins Award winning documentary "Kicking the Dust: the Wik People" which offered unique insights into the political process, past and present, that have impacted on the lives of the Wik People.

In entertainment, the increasing number of new Australian works on our stages and their box office successes highlights a respect for our own culture and a demand by Australian audiences to be entertained through our own stories, by our own performers.

In the early 1960's when a foreign artist playing the lead in a theatrical production of "Funny Girl" was unable to "go on" she was replaced by her Australian understudy Jill Perryman. Australian Theatre audiences embraced their own first theatrical star. Until that event it was chorus - understudy parts only for Australian performers. Foreigners automatically got the leads. Thirty years later the controversy over casting Tom Conti in "Art" reflects our respect and confidence for our own performers. Do we really need him? Haven't we got some one here?

Last year Tod McKenney playing Peter Allan, opened in a new Australian commercial musical, "The Boy from Oz". Whilst other commercial musicals languished the Boy from Oz became an overnight box office success. Part of the sheer joy of seeing this production is to sense the excitement of the audience as they embrace an Australian story and respond to Tod's electrifying performance as if Peter Allan was resurrected and on stage before us. Isn't it ironic that Peter Allan had to travel to America to grab success and reach the heights of his career whilst in the 1990's Tod McKenney is becoming our newest star playing Peter Allan to home grown audiences.

In the 1990's it is hard to find an Australian Theatre Company which is not producing an Australian work. An STC (Sydney Theatre Company) season is not complete without at least one Williamson, "The Stables" reputation for developing new Australian works is legendary and currently Leah Purcell's extraordinary performance in "Box The Pony" is wooing audiences with an Aboriginal experience.

Through the mediums of film and TV Australian stories are travelling the world. Those of a distinctly Australian flavour are becoming box office successes and rating well overseas. Strictly Ballroom, Priscilla, Muriel's Wedding, Shine, Water Rats sold to 120 Countries, Frontline to American Pay TV and even Icelanders can't escape Neighbours, Breakers or Prisoner.

In fact we are so good at telling our own stories other nations are coveting Australian's to tell their stories.

In the context of the Republican debate none is more Poignant than our own Cate Blanchett playing Elizabeth 1st.

On a trip to Europe fifteen months ago it struck me how much Australians are respected on the world stage in our industries. During the course of that trip I attended an International Journalist Council and International Performers Conference. Thirty years ago Australia was not considered a force in the international trade union movement. International trade unions were governed by American or European representatives. In the late 1980's our very own Michael Crosby was elected as Secretary to the International Federation of Actors. Currently one of the Alliance's Joint Federal Secretary Chris Warren is the President of the International Federation of Journalists and the other Alliance's Joint Federal Secretary Anne Britton is an Executive Officer of the International Actors Federation.

More and more Australians in the international labour movement are seen as the pivotal connection between first and third world countries between east and west, north and south.

What I also noted during my last European trip was that the English no longer treated Australians as convicts or poor colonial cousins. In the 1990's the English respect Australians and are in awe of our fighting spirit, our entrepreneurial aggression and ability to move with the flow. Rupert Murdoch beat the Poms and went on to build his international media conglomerate on the back of Australian newspapers.

At an International Conference on performance in Paris I was invited to speak on Performers Copyright in Australia. As I took to the podium I was introduced by name (pronounced correctly for once), my organisation then with the words, "from the land down under", the audience cheered warmly and I suspect not one of the delegates at the conference gave a thought to the Queen of England.

This speech was delivered to the Women and the Republic Series on April 20


*    Visit the MEAA

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 11 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: The Young Republican
Jason Yat-Sen Li stole the show at the Constitutional Convention with his community consultation compromise. Now he faces a bigger challenge, convincing Australia to vote Yes.
*  Unions: ACTU Moves on the Republic
The ACTU Executive has endrosed the Australian Republic -- but it's given Howard's Preamble the short shrift it deserves.
*  History: And A Hundred Years Ago
Just as it was a hundred years ago, it is important that trade unions and their members are actively involved in the current republic debate.
*  Reader's Forum: John Passant
A Workers Online reader explains why he'll be voting "no".
*  Review: Mountain Men and Women Framed
Working Lives, a history of working people from the Blue Mountains, looks back to illuminate future challenges.
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
View the latest issue of Labour Review, Labor Council's fortnightly newsletter for unions.
*  International: Performers on the World Stage
Australian performers know better than most the importance of identity, self and place. That's why they are committed Republicans.

»  Unions Challenge: Reclaim the Republic
»  Freeloader Legislation on the Agenda
»  Unions� New Years Eve Plea
»  Skill Shortage Leads to Tiling Crisis
»  Apprentice Chefs Get Fairer Share of the Pie
»  Rail Workers Strike for Passenger Safety
»  Living Wage Sparks New Activity
»  ACTU Endorses East Timor Action
»  WorkCover Troubles Can�t Hit Injured Workers
»  NSW Young Labor Turns 50!

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  Computer Decision Can;t Be Taken Lightly
»  Unionists Return From Timor
»  Latham Misses the Marx
»  Help Another Student

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