Tag Archives: Alex Ryan

Tara June Winch’s Yield

Tara June Winch, The Yield (Hamish Hamilton 2019)

The Yield won the 2020 Miles Franklin Award, making Tara June Winch the fourth First Nations writer to win it, all of them this century. The Miles Franklin is awarded each year to a novel ‘which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases’. It’s not that ‘phases’ of Australian life that include First Nations people have been comprehensively ignored by other winners, but it’s heartening that Kim Scott (twice), Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko and now Tara June Winch have received this recognition. To echo Tara June Winch in an interview with Stephanie Convery in the Guardian (at this link), ‘It’s just about bloody time, you know?’

Ellen van Neerven, in a review in the Australian Book Review, describes The Yield as a ‘returning novel’. Like Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip it begins with a woman returning to her childhood home on the occasion of a death and re-engaging with her family’s internal politics and its history of dealing with colonisation. In this case a thirty-year-old Wiradjuri woman, August Gondiwindi, comes home after years London to the fictional New South Wales town of Massacre Plains on learning of the death of her grandfather, Poppy Albert. The painful business of picking up the threads of family life in a time of grief, facing the unfinished business that led her to leave in the first place, is made even more gruelling by the discovery that her family home is about to be destroyed by a mining company.

What makes this book stand out is that the way this story is interlaced with two other stories, each told in the first person. Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf writes a long letter to the British Society of Ethnography on 2nd August 1915, and ‘Poppy’ Albert Gondiwindi writes an annotated partial dictionary of the Wiradjuri language. The former, an Author’s Note informs us, is derived from the writings of an actual missionary who founded and ran a mission; the latter draws on the work of Dr Stan Grant Snr and linguist John Rudder, particularly The New Wiradjuri Dictionary.

As the novel progresses, with a chapter for each of these narratives, the three timelines play off against each other. The well-meaning missionary’s account of colonial violence against Wiradjuri people, and his resistance to it, is seen from a different perspective when the present day characters muse about whether he was actually a good man, or whether he was, for all his good intentions, part of the oppressive system. Though Albert tells us in the brief opening chapter what he is trying to do in compiling his dictionary, we only understand his intentions properly when we’re well into August’s timeline, and her hunt for the document becomes a key part of her story.

Contrary to what you might expect, Albert Gondawindi’s dictionary chapters are where the book really takes hold. It’s much more than a list of words and meanings. Through it, Albert (and Tara June) sets out to communicate his cultural perspective on many things, to tell parts of his personal story, and parts of the history of his place. In among the definitions, he tells the terrible story behind the disappearance of August’s much-loved sister, and he tells dark secrets of his own life. He shines through as a brilliant character, and his prose is clear and strong – with none of the awkwardness of Greenleaf’s second-language English (Greenleaf/Grünblatt hailed from what was then Prussia), or the occasional strained lyricism of August’s narrator. He has the novel’s first and last words. Here’s the opening:

I was born on Ngurambang – can you hear it? – Ngu-ram-bang. If you say it right it hits the back of your mouth and you should taste blood in your words. Every person around should learn the word for country in the old language, the first language – because that is the way to all time, to time travel!

‘Can you hear it?’ The novel ends, pretty much, ‘Say it!’

The book tells harrowing tales of colonial paternalism, genocidal violence, lateral violence, ruthless capitalism, cultural theft, betrayal: and running through it, every third chapter, is an extraordinary proclamation of survival – a language survives, and with it a world – and a challenge: ‘Can you hear it? Say it.’

The Yield is the fifteenth book I’ve read for the 2020 Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

Full disclosure: Opening the book to a map with the word Nurambang written across it in big letters struck a strong chord in me, as the short film I wrote with my son Alex Ryan, which he directed, came to be called Ngurrumbang. You can watch it on Vimeo here.

The Preatures: Ordinary

Just a quick note to draw your attention tho this video of the Preatures on tour in the USA – video made by a close relative of mine, and interestingly for a music video you can see quite a bit of the band’s relationship with the person behind the camera:

Blogging from New Caledonia 3

The heavy rain we were staring out last time I wrote was part of something that could have turned into a cyclone. The whole of southern New Caledonia was on orange alert on Tuesday and Wednesday, which meant we were advised to stay under shelter and batten down any available hatches, even though in the still of the night we could see stars. Cyclone Edna didn’t materialise, so we got up early this morning and cleaned our borrowed residence thoroughly, hoping that the proposed trip to the Rivière Bleue park would be on. But the park was closed anyhow, so no trip.

We went to town, bought some little gifts, visited the bookshop to buy some more, made an attempt to go to the Maritime Museum but decided we were happy just strolling by the water. We caught the bus home, then a shuttle out here to spend the night at the Tontoutel Hotel, just across the road from the Tontouta airport, ready for an early departure tomorrow. For the record, the hotel is quite pleasant, a little down at heel perhaps, like an old country hotel in New South Wales, but nowhere near as dire as some indignant TripAdviser reviews would make out. The swimming pool is dry, but the air is full of birdsong, the outdoor chairs are comfortable, the reggae from the bar is unobtrusive, passing children call out ‘Bonjour!’ What do people want?

Despite our plans and attempts to get out of Nouméa having generally come to nothing, we’ve had a good holiday here, spending time in a place where English isn’t the dominant language, where a very large minority of the people are not white, where the trees play a game of ‘Am I what you think I am?’ We’ve had time to read and chat and (me) blog and (the Art Student) paint and draw. We’ve met some lovely people and had our sense of the world expanded.

There have been small moments of drama. On our first night, at the tourist beach of Anse Vata, as we were passing the taxi-hire hut, we heard a dog yelping and a man shouting in French, then some thuds. On the other side of a bamboo fence, we saw a white man kick a dog repeatedly, hard, then pick it up by the scruff of the neck. At this stage we saw the dog – a black Labrador, yelping in great distress. That all took just a few seconds, and the man and the dog were both gone, leaving us and two Melanesian men as the stunned witnesses. We had been planning to hire a water taxi the next day to see the open-air sculpture exhibition on the nearby Ile aux Canards, but there was no way we would give our custom to that establishment, whatever crime the dog had committed. (Alas, the exhibition was over by the time we realised there was another water-taxi hire place a little to the north.) That was our only glimpse of the dark thread of violence that I suppose is inevitable in colonial/postcolonial societies. Other dogs, I should note, seemed happy and pampered, and even an alarmingly diseased looking creature we met on the road out here in la brousse seemed curious rather than frightened or aggressive.

The other small drama was much more benign. At the Baie des Citrons yesterday afternoon, some women were exclaiming and laughing loudly as we strolled past. A beautiful striped sea snake was in the grass near them, and a big, competent-looking man was making moves to deal with it. These snakes are shy, but their venom is very poisonous, so there was good reason to pay attention, though no one was really freaking out. It was a young woman who saved the day by finding a branch long enough to pick the snake up and hold it at a safe, non-striking distance. This is just what she did, before handing the branch to the man, who then flung the snake the 10 metres or so into the lagoon. We all watched in silence for a few moments until the snake, which had been limp until then, began to swim languidly away from the beach.

One final note: apart from being out of the country when Jennifer Maiden won the Victorian Premier’s Literature Prize, we’ve also been away when a Preatures video directed by our firstborn son won Rolling Stone’s 2013 music video of the year. The report on the awards is here. There are only two photos at that URL, and he who is known as the Film Director on this blog is in the lower one: he’s the chap on the end looking very happy and every inch not a rock star. We’re the absolute cliché of proud parents. You can watch the video on YouTube.

Our movie at Flickerfest

Flickerfest, the festival of short films that is one of Sydney’s cultural institutions, is on again at the Bondi Pavilion in the middle of next month. I confess to having appreciated it from afar until now, but this year I plan to be there. My elder son, Alex Ryan, sometimes known in these pages as the Filmmaker, has not one but two films screening.

FlickerClips, a program of music videos screening at 4.30 on Saturday 18 January, includes his video of the Cairos’ ‘Obsession‘. Given that the competition includes Nash Edgerton’s clip for Dylan’s ‘Duquesne Whistle’ we’re pretty chuffed.

The festival includes seven programs of Australian shorts. Ngurrumbang which Alex directed from a script written by him and me, is screening in Best of Australian 7 at 4.30 on Saturday 18 January.

You can buy tickets at the links.

Metro Screen Breaks Program Screening

Last night the Art Student and I and both our sons went to Metro Screen’s 2012 Breaks Program Cast and Crew Screening.

The big theatre at the Chauvel Cinema was packed out with people who’d been involved in making 12 short films funded through the Breaks Program. For all but two of the directors, it was their first film up on the big screen – the buzz in the foyer before and after the show was better than a Vietnamese fish market, and the applause after each film was clearly heartfelt, most emphatically so in a different sector of the theatre each time.

I had a great time. Some of the films were rough around the edges, some were rough in the middle, some seemed to assume that the complicated sex lives of young people are more interesting than perhaps they actually are, but every one of them had a personal stamp.

Of the First Break films (you can see a complete list  here), Destiny in the Dirt, directed by Ella Bancroft (with sublime picture book creator Bronwyn Bancroft, possibly a close relative, as Executive Producer) won my heart with its delicate play on the familiar art vs sport theme, and a plot that played completely fair but worked a sweet sleight of hand. I enjoyed, if that’s the right word, the grunge of Bjorn Stewart’s I’m Gunna Make It, in which the main character will have to clean up his act if he is ever actually gunna. Kiss Me, Deadly, directed by Colin Kinchela, treads a fine line on the edge of cheesy in its story of blind dates, and ends with a most satisfactory cross-cultural kiss. Katie Wall’s Scene 16 is a gem in which an actor figures out how to play a scene in a soap at considerable personal cost.

The other two films were ‘Breakout’ films – for filmmakers in their early careers. The first was Gimme Shelter, a tight piece about an extraterrestrial invasion directed by Tobias Andersson and starring Geoff Morell (the link is to its pozible page – the filmmakers found necessary extra funds through crowd-sourcing). It’s not quite finished – there’s a scene near the end that I expect will involve a massive shattering of plate glass, which just wasn’t there, but wasn’t hard to imagine. I hope it gets selected for Festivals.

Then, of course, there was the film we had turned out to see, Ngurrumbang, the film formerly known as  Scar, directed by Alex Ryan and written by him with his blogging father. This was the first time I’d seen the final cut, the first time anyone had seen it on a big screen. All three actors (Amanda Woodhams, Cameron Stewart and Jesse Guivarra) are compelling, the cinematography (Adam Howden) is stunning, the music (Robert Clark) and sound design (Mia Stewart) are just beautiful. I think I’m right in saying that it got sustained applause from all over the cinema. If you’re one of the many people who donated through pozible.com (yes, we did it too), I think you’ll feel your money was well spent. Jiao Chen, the producer, is organising a screening for friends of the production, including everyone who gave money, some time in February, and it’s being submitted to Film Festivals all over the joint.

So it was a big night. Congratulations all round – to the funders, the filmmakers, their families and all.

My two sons and friends

Have a look at this music video, directed by my elder son, featuring the Screaming Rapture of which my younger son is co-creator, music by a friend of them both.

If you saw the Screaming Rapture at last year’s Vivid Festival, you probably would have had no idea it was capable of the kind of complex responsiveness it shows here.

(If the embedding doesn’t work, you can see the clip on YouTube.)

Busy busy busy

It’s all go chez Me Fail just now. Here’s a brief despatch from the fronts.

Shooting the movie soon to be known as the movie previously known as Scar finished yesterday. I managed to visit the location on Wednesday for a couple of hours. Contrary to all the stuff I’ve read about writers being without honour in the film industry, I found I was very welcome on set. More than one person congratulated me. This was a sweet reminder: because I’d been out of the country for a month during the pre-production period, I’d come to think of myself as Interested Party, Supportive Parent, and Believer in the Project, and effectively forgotten I was Part of It All. This in spite of the FM’s having scrupulously consulted me over proposed changes.

What I saw of the movie looks great, the wrap party is today, and I may have a chance to drop in – in spite of being roughly twice the average age of crew and cast (more than 30 of them, not counting the cow), I’m told I’ll be welcome.

Meanwhile the Art Student is up to pussy’s bow in Hungry for Art – a festival that centres on The Gallery School (as the art department of Meadowbank TAFE is known). Last night there was a pop-up art event at the Top Ryde City mall: people were invited to break out of the lockstep shopping experience to take in a huge video screening of Todd Fuller’s Summer’s End and three pieces of Will Coles‘s street-friendly sculpture (familiar to Newtown but new to Ryde), and many did. There was also a little theatre, some beatbox and an oil painting created before shoppers’ very eyes. The big events – DrawFest and Open Day at the Gallery School tomorrow and an Art Trail through the Ryde suburbs on Sunday – are yet to come. And the Art Student is in the thick of it – organising volunteers, making signs, standing guard over sculptures under threat from sugar-high young people. I’m off elsewhere for the weekend, but if you’re in the neighbourhood, drop in. There’s more, but time is short.

PS: When I went looking for links, I realised that I have a photo of one of Will Coles’s works, taken a couple of months back. The work, ‘Laissez-faire‘, had been overwritten by graffiti, to extraordinary effect. No wonder he was so calm last night when the speedy children were doing their best to damage his ‘Finite’.

Scar! The Movie

I’ve been sitting on this for weeks, but I can blog about it at last.

My son Alex and I have been working together on a short film project. I wrote the script, and after what we thought was a gruelling process of rewriting, to the extent that Alex is definitely co-writer, we submitted it for Metro Screen funding, and it was the successful contender. The script has gone through a number of drafts since then, a fascinating process that makes what we thought was gruelling look mild. And now, while I’m away in Turkey, Alex has been finding locations, casting (the actors look fabulously right), and – as of today – setting about raising extra funding through Pozible.

I can’t figure out how to make the Pozible widget in WordPress, so here’s the link: http://www.pozible.com/index.php/archive/index/7478/description/0/0. Have a look. Its a very exciting project.]

If you give a thousand dollars you get credit as Executive Producer, $5 will get you an onscreen thank you, and somewhere in between there are free DVDs on offer. No pressure, dear readers, but feel free to make a donation.

360 Killer video

Another video with one of my creative sons behind the camera:

Byron Bay

See if this doesn’t make you want to have a holiday in Byron Bay, especially if you’re in wet wet cold cold Sydney just now: