Sole of a nation

“Man working” (Rufus Wilton), Nepabunna, circa 1930. © South Australian Museum

Originally published in The Monthly, May 2021

The young man looks straight ahead, both eyes fixed on the camera even as his hands feed a piece of leather through the sewing machine. Daylight streams in between gaps in the corrugated iron and pinned animal skins around him, and at the front of his workbench sits a pair of elastic-sided leather boots.

It’s a recognisable style that’s come to evoke the Australian outback, pastoralism and one name in particular: R.M. Williams. But the photograph isn’t of Reginald Murray Williams – it’s of an Adnyamathanha man of the northern Flinders Ranges named Rufus Wilton.

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Echoes of a golden age at the Piccadilly

Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, October 2020

North Adelaide’s Piccadilly Cinemas has lived through times of war, recession, home video and Netflix. It has now spent much of its 80th year closed or half-empty, but not even a pandemic can dim the magic.

“My father said there was no future in cinema,” Bob Parr tells The Adelaide Review. “Television had come, and he wanted me to get a trade. So I went to Holden’s and became a fitter and turner – but I still worked at the cinemas at night.”

One of those was the Piccadilly, where five years later a 20-year-old Parr quit his Holden job at the first sign of a full-time gig. It was 1964, a time when Parr and then-manager Clem Williams faced a “battle” to lure audiences back to suburban cinemas, which received the latest films eight weeks after city theatres.

Such slim patronage was a long way from the fanfare that greeted the Piccadilly when it opened on 23 October 1940, the “latest link” in an empire of suburban cinemas run by local theatre baron Dan Clifford. As Clifford’s 20th and penultimate cinema before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Piccadilly was built at the tail end of a boom era for suburban moviegoing, and promised a suite of mod cons making it “the most modern theatre in the Southern Hemisphere”.

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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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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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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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