© 2012 Rjn

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A note by Rjn to introduce correspondence held with the shire council at his last place of dwelling some years ago.

Ever since I was introduced to the idea by the wonderfully pro active Gosford, NSW, city cultural development officer  Mr Elio Gatti, I have for many years advocated the idea of Citizen's Cultural Exchanges. Like a Stock Exchange or Money Exchange, a Cultural Exchange is a place where people can exchange, share, buy or sell differing cultural gifts of performance, of artifacts, of lifestyle or belief. Simply put, these Exchanges encourage artists of every stripe and hue to come together and create events where residents of an area can enjoy an interchange of all forms of culture, be it visual, kinetic, singing, drama, dance, poetry recital or even olfactory. Such events would improve community connectivity, bolster social inclusion (particularly for newcomers to an area), and give interested participants and spectators access to art forms they may only have heard about previously (or did not know existed at all). People from all walks of life would converge and be given time to showcase their talents and wares in a nurturing, sharing and constructively critical environment.

When I moved to Nhill in Western Victoria some three and a half years ago, I thought it the ideal place (being a remote rural village located on the main road between Adelaide and Melbourne) to institute such an Exchange. Accordingly, the Hindmarsh Shire Council, supposedly responsible for the health and wellbeing of some 6000 residents (how else would you describe the benefits of regular exposure to cultural events other than as a marvellous fillip to one’s ‘health and wellbeing’?), was sounded out about making its Community Memorial Hall available for a regular series of such Exchanges. What I am writing now testifies to the consequences of my overtures and serves as a brief introduction to the correspondence exchanged with the Council.

As you will see from the letters received from the Council and now posted on this blog, I was met with ignorance, incredulity, hostility and recalcitrance at every opportunity. I was accused of being rude, my idea was flatly rejected for being unviable economically, the Council refused my modest request for ‘funding’ to help inaugurate the project, I was personally abused, discriminated against and psychologically battered by a council supposedly there for the benefit of its citizens. I had tried to think locally for the global benefit of mankind and give all and sundry a chance to tell their own intrinsic stories through performance. I had tried to bring some sort of renaissance to a town often mired in petty internecine political squabbles, beset by the dislocations caused by ‘cliques’, ready always to fund and promote sport (especially Australian Rules Football) but averse to sponsoring anything else, insisting time and time again that only old-fashioned, ‘time-honoured’ cultural pursuits like tired musicals and operettas or Jazz festivals designed more as a sly means of advertising a local industry than as a real way to engage people with culture were what people in the village and surrounding areas needed or wanted.

I was denied viable access to the Memorial Hall, even though the ‘money’ required to hire it was available from the Council (they ultimately own the building anyway, and so could easily afford to rent it to me with ‘moneys’ that would simultaneously be received back into the council's bank account or simply be effected by a book keeping contra-entry recording the "gift" to the citizens). I was told there weren’t enough people in the Hindmarsh Shire to justify such an audacious programme. I was informed that my scheme would pressure performers into producing works of little or no interest....

When I rightly queried the basic ignorance and biases behind such a response, I was accused of being rude and effectively silenced by the Council. At no stage did I become pettily personal and name wrongdoers in some sort of orgy of peevish retaliation. I merely argued that such wrong-headed refusal to countenance my idea spoke to the unsophisticated ignorance of a selfish cabal of high-powered locals who have little interest in culture and no desire to support it (especially not when it is being spearheaded by an alien of foreign appearance, who had not ‘paid his dues’ in the shire). What such people failed so spectacularly to realise, what UNESCO has enshrined in its desire to engage all people with cultural activities at a grass-roots level, is that culture need not only refer to the reified artefacts and habits of the past. One does not need to go to an opera house or a museum or gallery to be exposed to ‘culture’. It is all around us, everyday, everywhere, in the stories and skills all of us have. Such stories and skills only need an environment in which they are encouraged and allowed to be set free. This I tried to do and in fact am now doing with this segment of the blog. Whether it be defined as tragedy, comedy or drama I do not know. The results you will see in more detail below. I think you will agree with me that it augurs very badly for the continued future of cultural creation in Australia and the world at large. If the attitude of the Hindmarsh Shire Council is allowed to spread unchecked like some kind of totalitarian virus resulting in the stifling of creativity. Whenever I re-read the Council’s correspondence I am reminded of Joseph Goebbels’ famous dictum: “whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun”…..For the sake of our continued investment in the future of this planet, we need to overcome the prejudices of people like the Shire Clerk….though I am not by nature a man with Utopian proclivities, who would dispute with me that culture of the sort described above and nurtured by things like the Cultural Exchange isn’t absolutely vital to our ongoing survival and humanist development?

Here is the correspondence:-

And the reply five months later :-

My Response to Mr Miller:-

 Mr Miller's Christmas Eve Reply :-
And to this day the Shire's residents continue to be denied such benefits.

1. As submitted to the November 2011 Issue of Australia's own  folk music magazine Trad & Now - 

News from Western Victoria – “Songs with Legs

Ee by gum. It's gradely to be back in Trad & Now with a few lines. This time about a couple of brave troupers: Fay White and Jane Thompson. They were encountered last Saturday night in the wheat-lands of Western Victoria at Rapunyup. An area that more frequently hears, clear my throat and expectorate, plagiarists of American country & western music and singers ashamed of their Australian accents.
Fay & Jane were performing as the duo "Songs with Legs". They sing songs that in the old troubadour idiom are going places. Going not only into your mind to stimulate your imagination but, swaggie-like, they are travelling around with Fay & Jane to bring the songs to the people in their village & church halls and homes. Many of these are also songs destined for the future to become tomorrow's folk songs from our today.
I have been aware of Fay White for getting on for twenty years through her performances at the National Folk festival. Aware as in attending one or two rare concerts with a lack of in depth understanding of what she was trying to achieve. Time and my ageing like smelly tasty Lancashire cheese has lifted my understanding. Alongside people like Margaret Bradford, John Dengate, Eric Bogle, John Warner, Ulick O'Boyle or Utah Phillips, Fay is a wizard at recording in song the life experiences, emotions and history of those who are most important to us individually. Not the kings and queens, the prime ministers, presidents or generals but the mums & dads. The every day people who ensure that the children safely cross the street to school each day. The firemen and SES workers. The farmer who produces milk for our breakfast porridge and a raft of other similar VIPs. In other words, those who are fundamentally responsible for much of our minute by minute existence, well being and experience.
Jane Thompson should be remembered from being an integral part of Blackwood with the Rigby brothers. They have quite a few CD's to their credit (see the Trad & Now 'shoppe') and have toured extensively in the past. Jane is also part ofThe Rainmakers”. I will take great pleasure in airing on the Gypsy Jack Boggle Showthe Rainmaker's“ new CD “Yandoit, Songs of Hope & Peace” during the upcoming festive season. It will also enable me to rub some perspiring local C&W singers' ears in the sound ofThe Rainmakerssinging abilities.The Rainmakers” recently won the Liz Johnston Award at the National Festival. Jane has only recently joined with Fay to create this new duo “Songs with Legs. Fay not only specially mentioned to me her thanks for being joined in the duo by Jane's vocal and playing contributions but also her song writing and awesome arranging skills.
I hope that the duo continues as they not only skilfully harmonise their beautiful voices and complimentary musical skills but also, at times, bounce their repartee like squash balls off the solid foundation and concrete walls of their respective life experiences. I suggest that the pairing of these two artistes can only substantially improve theCollective of Australian folk song and live performance for the betterment of fellow artiste and listener alike. I for one appreciated the fact that Jane, together with James Rigby have undoubtedly shared their skill & knowledge with the younger group members in “The Rainmakers. A move that the future will hopefully fully appreciate and give appropriate thanks to them and all who have contributed to the continuance of the art. If not it will be another sad day for humanity and folk music.
Many thanks both Fay and Jane for your siren songs. You can listen to many of Fay White's on her current album “These people, this place: everyday grace” made with the help of a lot of friends. Siren songs that are only dangerous if you are a listener who habitually and exclusively listens to lyrics containing the guile and the short lived inconsequential pap that many favour. Fay & Jane's lyrics are about the real stories of humankind. The kings and queens and their kind frequently do not wish to hear or allow songs like these. Fay and Jane's songs contain too many inherent truths and lack the guile demanded by those wanting to control history. Learn more at aboutThe Rainmakersand simply contact Fay through .
To you dear reader, thank you for joining me, and please do so in person when you are driving through Horsham in Western Victoria so that I can record a chat for the radio. The Gypsy Jack Boggle Show is themed each week of the month. The themes are Australian, Celtic, English and World: folk and traditional music. The weekly classical music show is taking a break at the moment. As I sometimes say to exit the programmeDrive carefully and don't drink & drive, 'cos we don't want more cripples like me in the world. And........tune in next Sunday or chew your own ears off! Make yours an f.cubed (f.f.f.or f.3) f.f.f.folking good week. Gypsy Jack
©Rjn 2011