Parwana’s plated history: ‘It’s an act of reclamation, an act of preservation’

Farida, Zelmai and Durkhanai Ayubi. Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, October 2020

For just over a decade the Ayubi family has won hearts, minds and bellies at Parwana Afghan Kitchen. In a new book of stories and recipes, Durkhanai Ayubi shows how each dish is steeped in history, loss and preservation.

When you look at the arc of history, it’s so short-sighted, right?” Durkhanai says. “I just knew it was so important that if anybody was going to engage with Afghan food and our story, I wanted it to be from a place that was much deeper. It wasn’t just this superficial, ‘Aw, refugees come good’ story, but actually challenging myself and everyone who reads it to think about our place in the world today in a much broader context.”

Between her mother’s vividly photographed recipes, Durkhanai weaves together the broader story of their homeland – the longue durée of an oft-misunderstood ‘graveyard of empires’, that for centuries sat at the juncture of continents, trade routes and conquerors.

Durkhanai writes that the modern nation state of Afghanistan is simply the current label applied to “a bricolage of unlikely races and cultures, each with its own gods, languages and customs”. On such a scale, Parwana’s blend of dumplings, curries, rices and sweets becomes nothing less than centuries of history and exchange served up on a plate.

“Our histories are so intertwined, all this imperialism and this redirection of resources, occupation of peoples’ lands… that stuff’s still playing out and we haven’t reckoned with it in so many ways. I really needed to write everything from a place that factored it all in – and that’s not necessarily history, that’s alive. You can’t separate the past from the present.

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The last days of the family-owned fun parks

Greenhills Adventure Park, Photo: Sia Duff
Greenhills Adventure Park, Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Saturday Paper, November 2016

It’s an overcast Friday morning on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula and Greenhills Adventure Park, one of the state’s last outdoor fun parks, is being quite literally carved up for sale.

Since opening its doors to the public in 1982, this once inconspicuous patch of rolling grassland has provided generations of children with peeling sunburn, countless rounds of mini-golf and that brief flood of endorphins as you head into the final dip of a waterslide.

But time has not been kind to Greenhills, or its business model.

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Herbs give New Zealand’s 1980s land rights movement a reggae soundtrack

Protesters occupy a rugby pitch during the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand, Photo: Robin Morrison, courtesy Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira and Morrison estate

Originally published by Lindsay Magazine, July 2020

Sometimes it’s actually pretty easy to judge a record by its cover. Musically, Herbs’ 1981 debut Whats’ Be Happen? is a stirring example of the spread of reggae across Oceania in the 1970s. But it’s also a vivid political document, from the second you glimpse the black and white photograph on its sleeve. The aerial shot of the final standoff between police and protesters at Bastion Point in May 1978 captures the moment government forces ended a peaceful five hundred-day-long occupation of Ngāti Whātua ancestral lands north of Auckland earmarked for development.

These political tensions are entwined with the band’s early music, starting with the needling guitar riff of opening track ‘Azania (Soon Come)’. It’s a song that traces a line between the civil rights battles facing Pasifika and Māori communities in Aotearoa and the oppression of South African apartheid, all over a rocksteady beat. After name checking Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, the chorus offers a call to “bow to the freedom fighters” and “send racists on the run”a message of decolonisation sounding across the southern hemisphere.

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Road to repatriation

Repatriation ceremony at Tennyson Dunes, August 2018. Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, May 2019

As institutions around the world work to return Aboriginal ancestral remains to Country, more than 4600 Old People wait in storage at the South Australian Museum. A new Museum policy has committed to their repatriation, but to complete this massive task will require non-Indigenous South Australia to join the journey – and reckon with its own complicity.

“No one wanted to be accountable; once these burial grounds got dug up or our Old People were found, they’d quickly bring them to the Museum,” Kaurna Elder Jeffrey Newchurch explains.

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COVID-19 and years of neglect have created a perfect storm for the arts in Australia

Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, May 2020

COVID-19 has left Australia’s theatres, galleries and rehearsal rooms shuttered and its arts community reeling. But the unfortunately timed announcement of the Australia Council’s four-year funding cycle in April has shown just how this already underfunded sector is being pushed to the brink. 

It’s up there with one of the worst days of my life, I think,” Restless Dance Theatre artistic director Michelle Ryan explains. “We’ve really built our reputation, especially over the last three years, and we’re seen as a leader in disability and arts.” 

On 3 April, Restless Dance Theatre was among 160 organisations awaiting the results of the Australia Council’s 2021–2024 four-year funding program. While 95 organisations were successful nationwide, Restless was among those that failed to secure a stake in the $31.7 million pool

For Ryan, the “heart-wrenching” news was made more bewildering by the Australia Council’s celebration of her work in March. “I was just a bit blindsided because three weeks earlier I had been given the Australia Council Award for Dance,” she says. “For me, it was sending quite mixed messages – I was shocked. We’ve won a bunch of awards, I seriously don’t know what more we could have done. 

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Alia Shawkat: ‘I got a lot of shit that I need to work out too’

Photo: Tamara Hardman

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, April 2019

In Animals, Alia Shawkat explores a different kind of arrested development as an elegantly wasted twentysomething who can’t quite let the party, or her closest friendship, end.

“I had never played a character like that before,” Shawkat explains. “In the past I’ve played characters who to some degree or another are a little more genuine or relatable. I was excited to play someone who was so fun, but so damaged.”

Shawkat’s Tyler is the sort of character you’ll find in any university town, still haunting the same bars and citing literary references from a second-year modernism course years after graduating or dropping out. There’s probably a Tyler at The Exeter right now.

“At first you’re like, ‘Is she a cartoon character? Does she think people are on board?’,” Shawkat says. “And they are sometimes, but she lives in her own world. When she was younger people were more charmed by her, but she never evolved. It almost rings a little false, comes off a little ‘ooh I don’t think she knows there’s something in her teeth’.

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Grizzly Bear: ‘I can’t imagine starting our band in this climate’

Photo: Tom Hines

Originally published in Broadsheet, January 2018 

A decade ago, Grizzly Bear’s blend of jazz-camp precision and ’60s pop harmonies made an unlikely candidate for crossover success. Back on the road with fifth album Painted Ruins, it seems no one’s more surprised by the band’s staying power than their founder Ed Droste.

“Honestly, what I sometimes think when I’m walking around onstage is, ‘I cannot believe I’m still doing this’,” he says, laughing. “And it’s a mixture of complete gratitude and ‘Oh my God, I’m here again for the 12th time’.”

But before Painted Ruins could be built, the band first needed to escape the endless string of studios and green rooms they had inhabited since Droste launched the project from his Brooklyn bedroom with 2005’s lo-fi debut Horn of Plenty. The band needed a circuit breaker: they had to let real life back in.

“We’ve been touring, recording, touring, recording, touring, recording pretty relentlessly ever since we started,” he explains. “People were moving, three of us now live in LA, a bunch of us got married, people got divorced, there were babies born. Regular life became a priority over music for a few years, and I think it was good. [We] were just too afraid and tired, and just kind of done. So when we started working together again, we came back really refreshed in a more mature way.”

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Bill Callahan on birth, death and the unstoppable quest

Photo: Hanly Banks

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, March 2020

“I’ve kind of tuned it out lately,” Bill Callahan says, making small talk about politics as he dials in from his home in Austin. “It seems like the full Trump thing has moved like an iceberg; nothing ever really seems to happen, it’s just both sides threatening for something to happen. So I’ll tune in when something’s actually happening.”

Callahan has had other things to tune into in the half-decade between his 2013 album Dream River and last year’s Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest; he got married, became a parent, and farewelled one. 

“Music was my baby – then I had a baby,” he ponders in the low, slow, considered baritone recognisable to anyone who’s paid attention to his decades-long output, first through the noisy, anti-folk moniker Smog and since 2007, the critically acclaimed brand of neo-Americana released under his given name. 

“I think it’s still the same guy, but there’s also another guy in there standing next to me. The old me. That’s what I think took so long, to find him. I knew there was really only one person inside me who could make a record – I had to re-find him again after all the changes. I don’t think that guy has changed… he’s just got company.”

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The golden hands of Olivia Kathigitis

Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, January 2019

From a backyard shed in Goodwood to a secluded arctic island, artist turned jeweller Olivia Kathigitis is making it big by making things small.

“Essentially it’s just miniature sculpture,” Kathigitis says as she saws the outline of a small hand from a sheet of recycled silver.

An accomplished visual artist whose work has been exhibited at Fontanelle, CACSA and FELTspace, Kathigitis’ turn as a jeweller was at first an unexpected extension of her art practice.

“I couldn’t find any jewellery that I liked, that wasn’t too heavy to wear,” she explains. “So I just started making it with the skills I learned from university. From word of mouth it just became a viable stream for me.”

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Medieval Christianity and Star Wars fandom collide off Ireland’s coast

Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, December 2019

1000 years ago Skellig Michael represented the harshest extremes of religious devotion marooned off Ireland’s southern coast. Now the island finds itself the focus of a new breed of reclusive fundamentalists: Star Wars fans.

Miles out from Ireland’s south-western tip Skellig Michael peers from the mist, a triangle of rock jutting out from the Atlantic. Along its side, two staircases of roughly hewn stone snake their way up a sheer face of rock and grass. On a plateau near the peak sits a group of weathered stone huts, huddled together and looking out at the sea.

For centuries this outpost was home to a tiny colony of Catholic monks, a dozen men at a time pitting their faith against wild weather, Viking raids and isolation at the edge of their known world. But recent years have seen Skellig Michael become popular among a different kind of pilgrim, and those generations of nameless monks overshadowed by another robed holy man — some guy called Luke Skywalker.

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