Pandemic and politics: Writers’ Week begins with some big questions

Thinking about how to end the world for her 2014 novel, Station Eleven, US writer Emily St. John Mandel decided on a pandemic. Hers was a fatal flu that killed 99 per cent of those infected but the eerie parallel has made her in demand during the past year.

Speaking on the opening morning of Writers’ Week, streamed into the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden from wintry New York, Mandel says she at first resisted the rush of requests to write or speak about pandemics.

“I had this queasy feeling that if I said ‘yes’, and sort of leaned into it, it would seem like I was monetising the pandemic to sell copies of Station Eleven, which I found gross,” said Mandel whose novel follows a troupe of actors surviving in a post-apocalyptic world.

“But after about a week, I thought ‘this is really silly, of course people want to talk about pandemics, we are in this wild historical event’ so I’ve been talking about pandemics for a year and it’s fine.”

But writing about a pandemic was no preparation for the real thing. With a new book, The Glass Hotel, released into the shutdown last March and a 25-city promotional tour cancelled, coping with the daily problems felt very new. New York at the start of the pandemic was also a difficult place to be and it was too stressful to write with 700 people a day dying and a background of ambulance sirens.

“It was this constant soundscape, all through the day and night, and at any given moment you would be hearing more than one at a time from different directions,” she said.

Australian writer Laura Jean McKay, who also streamed into the event from her home in New Zealand, was researching pandemics for her book, The Animals in That Country – winner of this year’s Australian prize for literature – when she fell ill with an obscure disease caused by a mosquito bite.

“The pandemic was a plot device at first, I needed a lot of people in my novel to get sick all at once,” she said. “But there was a parallel to that in that I became sick at the same time.”

Stricken with arthritis, eye lesions, and with the skin peeling from her body, illness permeated her novel.

“We became sick together, as I became sicker the characters became sicker too,” she said, although her pandemic’s primary symptom was a novel ability to communicate with animals. “It helped me to understand what the characters were going through.”

Mandel said she hoped some of the COVID precautions would endure when the pandemic was over.

“We used to shake hands with strangers during flu season, did that ever make sense?” she said. “It’s so hard to imagine a return to normalcy in New York, although it’s better than it was. I’m watching all these people (in Adelaide) gathering in one place and not wearing masks and it feels science-fictional, I have to say.”

Julia Gillard’s rockstar session yesterday – which ended in a two-hour book signing – strained the limits of COVID protocols with social distancing all but impossible and largely ignored.

Julia Gillard told the crowd she was appalled by the Government’s handling of rape allegations against a staffer. Photo: Tony Lewis/InReview

Writer’s’ Week director Jo Dyer asked audiences to “keep Nicola happy” and said later Gillard’s session, where she talked about her book on leadership Real Lives, Real Lessons, would be the largest of the week.

“We are making more announcements from the stage before each session asking people to socially distance,” she said.

Gillard, Australia’s 27th Prime Minister, did not disappoint and confessed she almost called her book She’s a Bit of a Bitch, but her co-author, Nigerian economist Ngozi Okanjo-Iweala, who was this month appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, said no.

Gillard, the inaugural chair of the Global Institute for Women’s’ Leadership at Kings College which has opened a base at ANU, spoke first about the rape allegations made by Brittany Higgins and the Morrison Government’s response. On the day after South Australian federal Liberal MP Nicolle Flint said she would leave politics because of the toxic gendered politics, Gillard said there were special factors within Parliament House that put women at risk, including the way in which staffers were employed.

“There is the fact that you go to this place, physically remote from your home and you are there for astronomically long hours,” she said. “Then there is the question of patronage in the political system.”

Gillard, who said she was appalled by the Government’s handling of the Higgins allegations and its aftermath, offered to assist an independent inquiry into workplace culture at Parliament through the ANU.

“We are in the middle of an incredibly important and revealing discussion and one that I hope is a huge impetus for change,” she said.

Check InReview each day this week for our reports from Writers’ Week.

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Boothby residents saddened by Nicolle Flint’s decision to quit politics amid culture of sexism

Residents in the Adelaide electorate of Boothby have expressed sadness Liberal MP Nicolle Flint will not recontest her seat at the next election, lamenting the prevalence of sexism directed at female politicians.

Ms Flint announced yesterday she will not re-nominate for the seat, one of the Morrison government’s most marginal electorates.

The second-term MP has previously spoken out about sexist abuse she has suffered since becoming an MP, including being targeted by a male stalker and having her campaign office defaced with graffitied words “skank” and “prostitute”.

Her announcement comes amid the fallout from Brittany Higgins’s allegation a Liberal staffer raped her in a ministerial office and as an unnamed serving Cabinet Minister is accused of a historical rape.

The Prime Minister acknowledged Ms Flint’s “efforts to stand against the bullying and nastiness of particular groups and individuals” in a statement yesterday.

Boothby elector Dawn Eastwood said Nicolle Flint had been a great local member.(ABC News: Mahalia Carter)

Boothby electors said today that Ms Flint was a hard-working local member and many were saddened by her departure.

“I think she’s a great local member.”

Leigh Fopp said Ms Flint had been a responsive and hardworking MP who was actively involved in her community.

“She’s really good to work with,” the Boothby elector said.

“She communicates with us, she returns emails … I think it’s a real shame [Ms Flint is not recontesting],” he said.

A man wearing glasses, with grey hair, standing in front of a white brick wall.
Boothby elector Leigh Fopp said Ms Flint had been a responsive member who was active in the community.(ABC News: Mahalia Carter)

Resident Warren Lloyd said he was “very sad really because I think she’s a good representative of the electorate”.

“She’s leaving through no fault of her own.”

Last year, Ms Flint posted a video to Twitter wearing a garbage bag and calling out sexist “rubbish” that she and other women in politics are forced to deal with

It was a reference to ABC radio host Peter Goers, who wrote a column criticising the glossy brochures issued by MPs, at taxpayers’ expense, to their constituents.

In his column, for The Advertiser, Mr Goers referenced Ms Flint’s “pearl earrings and a pearly smile” and “vast wardrobe of blazers, coats and tight, black, ankle-freezing trousers and stiletto heels”.

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Federal MP Nicolle Flint hits out at “sexist rubbish’ in a Twitter video

Flint’s departure leaves Liberal Party more vulnerable in marginal seat

Nicolle Flint was re-elected on a slim margin of 1.4 per cent to the suburban seat of Boothby, just south of Adelaide’s CBD, in 2019.

Flinders University politics expert Dr Rob Manwaring said Ms Flint’s exit would harm the Liberal Party’s chances of retaining the seat.

He said it was also a significant blow to efforts to improve women’s representation in the Coalition and in Parliament more generally.

“Many senior Liberal women have spoken out about some of the problems within the culture of the party,” Dr Manwaring said.

A woman stands up holding a piece of paper in Parliament
Liberal MP Nicolle Flint will not contest the marginal seat of Boothby at the next federal election.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

He said it remained a tough ask for the Labor Party to flip the electorate, which successive Liberal MPs have held since 1949.

“On the one hand, the Liberal Party have an incumbent which they’ve lost [so] it’s much harder for a new candidate to get traction,” Dr Manwaring said.

“[It] makes it much more difficult now for the government to built momentum and hold onto [and] secure a majority.

“[But] the Labor Party has not won the seat in its various different forms since the second world war. They will see this might be a change or an opportunity, but it still seems a hard ask.”

The Coalition was last week reduced to governing by a one-seat majority when Craig Kelly shifted to the crossbench.

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Festival review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The light aspects of its story, with mishaps and a play-within-a-play, offer desirable if temporary relief from some of the bad news that is about us these days. Griefs might be put aside for the three hours of a show that asks us what is dream and what is real while toying playfully with ideas of love and desire, albeit quite repressed.

Two obvious aspects of a staged operatic performance demand attention. Firstly, of course, the sound – voices and music – and, secondly, the set. Armfield’s dog features in the play, incidentally, though in a non-singing role (a hit with the audience, nonetheless).

The young and well-credentialled US counter-tenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen plays Oberon, King of the Fairies. His singing is finely pitched and phrased throughout, though the choice of a counter-tenor for this role will possibly surprise some opera-buffs expecting something a bit more gruff.

Rachelle Durkin swishes elegantly in a long-trained gown, and her soprano is power incarnate. She has a stage presence well-suited to Tytania, Queen of the Fairies. Among the love-crossed humans, soprano Leanne Kenneally (as Helena) stands out with control and purity of tone.

Mark Coles Smith plays Puck, the narrating link rather than a singer, who acts as the energetic and engaging sprite serving Oberon. And with mostly acting rather than singing in mind, the Mechanicals are a pleasure to watch, especially when the human characters converge at the end. Warwick Fyfe as a weaver and, importantly, as the magic-afflicted Bottom earlier on, is a booming comical character in this group. Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Theseus, Duke of Athens) and Fiona Campbell (Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons) also feature here.

Photo: Tony Lewis / Adelaide Festival

Paul Kildea conducts the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, with the Young Adelaide Voices (as the Chorus of Fairies). The score is full of abrupt ta-da embellishments as if to ensure the listener will not miss a humorous line or to draw attention to a bit of slapstick. In that respect, it could be almost vaudevillian, the musical equivalent of a flourish in a magic show, and is a reminder of the play’s origins as a fun piece performed in the round to an audience of all kinds. The Chorus of Fairies adds vital atmosphere. Directed by Christie Anderson, their choreographed movements, voices and costumes are “enchanting”.

The set evokes a submarine world as much as a fairy dell. Constantly billowing plastic is a distraction, though it has immediate value on occasions when characters need to hide. It is meant to suggest the moving layer between worlds of dream and wakefulness. The backdrops are well-made, if lacquered in appearance. The whole effect is a bit too much of a green shower curtain rather than a natural world.

Oberon’s constant form of transport (no spoiler) is intriguing, too. The logic of it makes some sense since it conjures qualities one might associate with a fairy, but it is cumbersome and draws attention from the singing.

Thanks are due to Damien Cooper for the way that shadows and light are used so effectively; it is carefully nuanced work.

The story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is often played with a more overt erotic edge than in this production, which is wink-wink / nudge-nudge in that regard. Why it should be so coy is hard to fathom, especially when true love and pairing off are at the heart of the plot.

Photo: Tony Lewis / Adelaide Festival

In the end, one has to ask whether this production is particularly novel and whether it is satisfying. The answer? While not especially compelling, the opera doubtless has some highlights. The singers are polished in performance and Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen is memorable. On the other hand, casting a counter-tenor as Oberon prompted several querulous comments after the show.

Pitched as one of the big look-forward-to productions of the 2021 Adelaide Festival, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is indulgent and provocative. Maybe that combination is just what some opera buffs will relish.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being presented again on February 28 and March 2-3 at the Festival Theatre. It is a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Canadian Opera Company and Adelaide Festival, in association with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Read more Adelaide Festival stories and reviews  here.


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Experts say this is what Australia needs to do to solve the housing crisis

What can we do with Australia’s property market, with soaring prices and rental shortages in many regional areas of Australia, from WA’s Pilbara to Hobart in Tasmania?

While more than 60 per cent of Australians own their own home, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows home-ownership rates for people aged under 40 are declining, part of a trend of intergenerational inequality and a growing gap between the haves and have nots.

Building more houses is often given as the answer to easing housing stress in areas of high demand but it’s not that simple, argue the four housing policy and economic experts the ABC spoke to.

Here are three policy areas they suggest Australia needs to address if we want to solve the housing crisis.

A national housing policy

One housing policy expert said Australia had not had a national strategy since World War II, and the federal government needed to act quickly to form one and not leave it up to the states.

Professor Pawson, at the City Futures Research Centre UNSW, went on to say: “We don’t necessarily need to spend more money on housing as a country, we need to spend more smartly”.

“We have to measure the problem and commit to a strategy which addresses what we find.”

We also need to have “brave conversations” according to Swinburne University Professor of Housing Policy, Wendy Stone, who said just building more housing did not help to address inequality.

She pointed to Australians generating their wealth from housing, and said we should explore “setting boundaries” around that investment.

“How can we retain existing housing stock in regional areas for housing and home, rather than so much of it being held as vacant investment or being used as tourism investments?” she said.

“We need some urgency to establishing some parameters to reduce spiralling inequality.”

She argued a limit of how many properties any one person could own could help keep house prices lower and could take the pressure off rental shortages — especially as the federal government’s COVID support measures come to an end.

What about rental relief?

COVID has seen a shift in rental pressure with vacancy rates increasing in inner city Melbourne and Sydney but drastically dropping in regional areas as people are moving out of the major cities.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

Professors Stone and Pawson argue that in the short term, the federal government needs to keep COVID emergency interventions such as JobKeeper. and rental eviction moratoria to prevent thousands of people becoming homeless.

“What we can see in our data and our analytics, is that a very large number of households are still heavily dependent on these crisis COVID response mechanisms and it is absolutely premature to withdraw these mechanisms,” Professor Stone said.

A recent survey conducted by Professor Pawson’s team estimated 75,000 tenants across Australia had accrued rent debt and he argued the Australian economy was yet to feel the full impact of COVID shutdowns.

“By the middle of this year, we may see some of that sort of stored up trouble … we know that at least a quarter of renters did lose income,” he said.

Rachel Ong ViforJ, Professor of Economics at Curtain University, said she would like to see rental reform for longer-term change, including increasing the Commonwealth Rent Assistance, and making sure it was better targeted to those who need it.

“Another major issue has to do with tenure security within the private rental sector,” Professor Ong ViforJ said.

“More Australians are renting, including older Australians. However, Australia’s private rental sector is lightly regulated and landlords are allowed ‘without-grounds’ lease termination.

“If the government can implement policy reforms that would make home ownership more affordable, that would also free up some rental properties as some renters became homebuyers.”

Subsidise home buying, like Singapore?

Economist Cameron Murray said there was little political will to act to decrease housing prices, particularly among households that use property as investment.

“The political reality is that we want higher and rising house prices, it’s a political winner and doing something to stop that is political suicide,” he said.

“Australian housing is worth about $7 trillion and a policy that effectively reduced the price of housing, even 20 per cent would wipe off $1.5 trillion of value from those 70 per cent of households who own their own home.”

Dr Murray said in the next 20 or so years as the Baby Boomer generation died, more houses would be moved through the market as inheritances were divided and sold, but that would not be leaving everyone with a house.

Increasing stock in social housing should be part of a national housing policy, said Professor Pawson, who pointed out that Australia’s social housing numbers had remained stagnant over the years despite a growing population, meaning its capacity to house those in need had reduced over the years.

Professors Stone and ViforJ agreed that increasing social housing stock was needed to help those most in need of secure housing, but Dr Murray said perhaps Australia should rethink its whole approach to subsidising housing.

He pointed to Singapore where about 80 per cent of the population was able to buy a subsidised home through the government.

“To me, Singapore’s public housing model is probably one of the best interventions,” Dr Murray said.

“It’s essentially a public, subsidised doorway to get into the market.”

Without change, inequality will grow

House prices and rising rents are a major problem if you are a renter who can’t afford to buy a house, but are probably not your concern if you own property.

However, all four experts warn that if we let housing inequality continue to grow unabated, it will affect everyone.

“A continual upward trend in house prices that outstrip wage growth should be a concern for homeowners, especially those carrying a mortgage,” Professor ViforJ said.

“Highly indebted homeowners are more likely to fall behind on mortgage payments if they were, to say, become unemployed or go through a period of financial difficulty.”

Professor Stone said if the federal government did not do more to balance the housing market, Australia would have an “increasing pool of losers and a smaller, wealthier group of property winners”.

“Without intervention we will see an increase in homelessness.

“We know that an unequal society with a high degree of economic polarisation is going to undermine our economy in the longer term.”

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Walker Corporation pushes ahead with project to build new suburb at Buckland Park

A project to create 12,000 homes in Adelaide’s northern outskirts will drive unnecessary urban sprawl, according to the SA Greens — but the billionaire developer behind it says it will help improve housing affordability at a time of record prices.

After more than a decade of planning, work is now going ahead on the Walker Corporation’s Buckland Park project near the towns of Virginia and Angle Vale and their surrounding market gardening communities.

The corporation said the $3 billion project, called Riverlea, would create the state’s “largest master-planned community” and assist with “post-COVID economic recovery”.

But the project has attracted criticism since its inception, because of its proximity to the flood-prone Gawler River and concerns over urban sprawl.

Developer and executive chairman Lang Walker said the intention was to create a community that would drive economic growth outside of Adelaide’s CBD.

“Not everyone’s going to be working in the CBD. We’ve got another very large industrial estate out there in the vicinity,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“This will generate self-employment in that whole region itself. It’s a community within a community.

“This project has a life of 20 years, maybe 25 years, and that brings shopping, it brings 10,000 jobs over the period of the house-building and all the trades.”

The Walker Corporation says the project includes 450 hectares of open space.(Walker Corporation)

Adelaide property prices have hit record highs in recent weeks, and Mr Walker said house and land packages would be available for less than the price of “a block of land in Sydney and Melbourne”.

“We’re pitching into the affordable market and bringing in all the community benefits there,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity to get people into houses.”

But Greens MP Mark Parnell has previously labelled the project a “ghetto in waiting” and said planning experts had consistently flagged problems with it.

“They knew it was a rotten project 14 years ago, and it’s still a rotten project,” he said.

“This is a bit like a zombie movie. I thought it was dead and [then] you look and it’s come back to life.

“There’s a whole range of issues … it’s a flood-prone area.”

Local teacher Robyn Lewis said some produce growers were worried about the impact on an area she said was “called the ‘salad bowl’ for a reason”.

Buckland Park resident Robyn Lewis.
Buckland Park resident Robyn Lewis says the project will bring major benefits.(ABC News: Candice Prosser)

But she said the area was “blossoming” and that the project would deliver much-needed amenities.

“We don’t have a lot of public transport out here and I’m sure, in the infrastructure [plan], that will be looked at,” she said.

“Schools are going to be built in the area [which] is fantastic for parents — they don’t have to load their children onto a bus in the morning, with all the worries that come with that.

“The fact that there’s going to be shopping centres will be great.”

Existing roads to be upgraded

Mr Walker said the project would include more than 450 hectares of open space and 50 hectares of lakes and waterways.

“There’s close on 40 kilometres of bike paths,” he said.

“We’re investing $3 billion in it so we’re very confident that this is what Adelaide needs.”

Gawler River at Baker Road in Virginia
The Gawler River at Virginia burst its banks and flooded in 2016.(ABC News: Tom Fedorowytsch)

But Mr Parnell likened it to the infamous Mount Barker development, which then-planning minister John Rau in 2011 conceded had been poorly handled.

“Mount Barker has now become a case study in appalling planning,” Mr Parnell said.

“As a city, Adelaide — the idea that we’ve come to is that they’re should probably be some limit to urban expansion on the fringe.

“Unless we want urban sprawl forever, unless we want Los Angeles and to be like that, we do need to have a containment boundary.”

An artist's impression of a new suburb.
Developer Lang Walker says the project will create affordable housing.(Walker Corporation)

A spokesperson said the Department for Infrastructure and Transport would “continue to monitor population growth” and “assess public transport requirements” in the area.

“Roadworks are being undertaken to construct a signalised intersection at the junction of Port Wakefield Road and Angle Vale Road as part of the residential community development Riverlea,” the spokesperson said.

“Traffic lights at the junction of Port Wakefield Road and Angle Vale Road are expected to be installed in mid-2021.

“The works will include some road and speed restrictions to facilitate construction.”

Ms Lewis welcomed the installation of the traffic lights at the intersection.

“There have been a few accidents on that corner and with more traffic there’s a possibility of more,” she said.

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Royal Adelaide Show officials approved ride that killed Adelene Leong despite operators never returning safety checklist

A ride that caused the death of a young girl at the Royal Adelaide Show should not have been cleared to run because its operators had not returned a final safety checklist, a coronial inquest has heard.

Eight-year-old Adelene Leong died in hospital after she was thrown from the Airmaxx 360 ride at the Royal Adelaide Show in September 2014.

South Australia’s Deputy State Coroner Ian White is currently hearing an inquest into Adelene’s death.

The inquest was told on Friday that the operators of the ride were required to return a safety checklist created by the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society, which runs the Royal Adelaide Show.

The inquest heard the checklist, which was intended to confirm that an engineer or so-called “competent person” had inspected the ride, was never returned.

Judith Noble, project manager for the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society, told the court she only became aware after the incident that the checklist had never been returned by the Airmaxx 360 operators.

Ms Noble told the court it was one of several documents required to be returned by all operators.

She said she could not recall if there were any other ride managers that also did not return the checklist.

She agreed with a proposition by the coroner that the Airmaxx 360 should not have been cleared to operate by the society without the checklist.

There were several complaints made about the Airmaxx 360 before it went to Adelaide.(ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

Harness and seatbelt checked twice

The court also heard evidence from Amanda Minniken, 36, who said it was her job to “lock and load” customers as the only official deck attendant on the ride that day.

Ms Minniken told the court she checked Adelene’s harness and seatbelt at least twice before the ride began.

“I recall checking her two, maybe three times, I recall twice asking her to go all the way back [on her seat], I realised she didn’t speak English,” she said.

“I tried to explain slowly, she didn’t quite understand … I pushed the harness down, locked it in.”

Ms Minniken told the court a mother on the ride, two seats away from Adelene, was yelling at her at the time.

She said after that she gave the ride operator a ‘thumbs up’.

Ms Minniken told the court she only realised something went wrong when the ride came to a very quick stop.

The inquest has previously heard that the Airmaxx 360 ride had been plagued by complaints before coming to the Royal Adelaide Show with 22 injury reports made in three days at the Royal Melbourne Show.

It heard the ride had some design and condition flaws that should have been identified and that it was operating at a height limit of 120 centimetres which was 20 centimetres less than what was suggested by the ride manufacturers.

The inquest continues.

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Seeing the world in a different light

The art world loves a feel-good story. Clarice Beckett is one of them.

Beckett was an active member of a group of Melbourne artists in the 1920s and ’30s, known as the Tonal Realists. The group’s leader, Max Meldrum, was a forceful personality who articulated theories and methodologies for depicting the observed world.

In the afterglow of heroic pastoral landscapes exemplified by Arthur Streeton, Hans Heysen and others, the idea that thinking about how and why you paint had a cut-through message that appealed to young enquiring minds, including Beckett’s.

Tonalism made serious inroads into the Melbourne art scene and challenged the conservative authority of the National Gallery School. Art establishment hostility meant that Beckett’s work, along with that of fellow “Meldrumites”, was openly ridiculed and patronage was limited. But Meldrum was a force of nature and led his troops from the front, giving public lectures, publishing his writing and organising three significant exhibitions (1919, 1920 and 1921) of his work and that of his students and adherents.

Debate and interest concerning the tonalist approach cooled around the mid 1930s. But a recent perspective holds that most modern Australian artists who reshaped art in this country in the post-World War II years owed a debt to the discipline that Tonalism provided in their formative development.

Beckett, Meldrum’s star student, who painted what he preached – namely, as Beckett said, “to give as nearly as possible an exact illusion of reality” – deserved her share of the spotlight. But, since her a tragically early death in 1935, Beckett disappeared from the art history narrative for 35 years.

As promised, however, there is a feel-good story. Dr Rosalind Hollinrake, in the late 1960s, discovered and rescued hundreds of the artist’s neglected canvases from a shed in rural Victoria. This trove of paintings has enabled art historians and curators to better appreciate the breadth of Beckett’s work and, when drawn together with work in institutions and private hands, has led to the artist’s recognition as one of Australia’s most significant artists of the inter-war period.

The Art Gallery of South Australia has been in the vanguard of this recognition. Its purchase of Morning shadows in 1979 was the earliest purchase of Beckett’s work by a major state art museum. Significant donations culminating in the recent acquisition (with the generosity of Alastair Hunter OAM) of 21 oil paintings from the Hollinrake collection have inspired the gallery to produce the most comprehensive retrospective ever staged of Clarice Beckett’s work.

Clarice Beckett: The present moment, installation view, Art Gallery of SA, 2021. Photo: Saul Steed

The groundwork for The present moment has been laid by a previous (2008) Art Gallery of South Australia exhibition, Misty Moderns: Australian Tonalists 1915 – 1950.  As curator of both exhibitions, Tracey Lock has built a comprehensive narrative about Beckett’s work and context within Australian art.

Apart from offering a detailed analysis of Beckett’s iconography, through the thematics of “Light and dissolve”, “The horizontal and the vertical”, “The possibility of something” and “Veiled modernism”, the content of Lock’s The present moment essays encompasses wider contexts, particularly the artist’s abiding interest in theosophy and universal belief systems. Lock expands on this aspect and identifies many associated sources, world views and thinkers that influenced the artist.

Beckett emerges from this scrutiny as a sophisticated and inventive artist who taught herself, essentially, to reconcile her image making with the capacity of everyday experiences to give rise to transcendental insights. There is much to reflect on in Lock’s text which may lead the more curious reader to consider Beckett’s place in wider Australian and international contexts. It is all in the beautifully designed and richly illustrated book accompanying the exhibition.

The present moment invites the viewer to spend a day in the life of Clarice Beckett. From day break to morning, afternoon, sunset and evening, Beckett’s gaze can be tracked, responding to the nuances of light and the specifics of locations.

The artist’s trademark depiction of forms, stripped of details and modelled with thin applications of pigment, applied with a round-headed brush, creates a beguiling dynamic. It is as if the viewer is being invited to share thoughts with the artist about the wonder and also the uncanny nature of the visible world.

Clarice Beckett, Motor lights, 1929, Melbourne, oil on board; Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019, AGSA.

There are visual devices embedded within such works as Motor Lights, where vertical poles are echoed in the verticality of car headlamp reflections – small games to reward alert viewers. But such devices are never formulaic and always subject to the needs of the image.

The bare-boned, minimalist coastal landscapes, Wet sand, Anglesea  and Tranquillity, the haunting Whistlerian bay views and the Naringal landscape group – including The plains that Fred Williams admired over 50 years ago – deserve the kind of contemplative gaze normally reserved for a Georgia O’Keeffe, a Mark Rothko, or Fred Williams. That’s a big call. But Beckett’s whispered images, while diminutive, are big on vision. Their time is now.

Clarice Beckett, The plains, 1926, Naringal, Western District, Victoria, oil on board; Gift of Alastair Hunter OAM and the late Tom Hunter in memory of Elizabeth through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019, AGSA.

Clarice Beckett: The present moment is showing at the Art Gallery of South Australia from February 27 until May 16. It is part of the 2021 Adelaide Festival program.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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South Australian public servants allowed to get COVID-19 vaccination while on the clock

Public sector workers in South Australia will be able to attend COVID-19 vaccination appointments during paid work hours under a new provision by the state government.

Under the new provision published by the commissioner for public sector employment, public sector workers can attend scheduled COVID-19 vaccination appointments during their normal work hours, including travel time.

They will also have access to their paid sick leave entitlements if they experience an adverse reaction.

The provision also includes that employees who have used up all of their sick leave can potentially access special leave with pay.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said ensuring the timely delivery of the vaccines was a priority.

“The government is doing all we can to support those public sector workers who choose to have the COVID-19 vaccination when their turn comes,” he said.

“These new provisions will ensure they are not out of pocket while doing so.”

About 14,000 people have stayed in Adelaide’s medi-hotels since March last year.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

SA waiting on $6 million in medi-hotel bills

Meanwhile, the state government has issued about $10 million worth of medi-hotel bills since the pandemic began.

The state’s COVID-19 response select committee held a public hearing on Thursday.

Lynne Cowan, deputy chief executive of SA Health, told the hearing 14,000 people have stayed in South Australia’s medi-hotels since March last year.

“These include around 12,200 people arriving to Australia from overseas, 1,500 people arriving from interstate during periods where there have been interstate outbreaks and 400 local people who have been close contacts,” she said.

Ms Cowan said $3.6 million of the invoices issued had been paid.

“That doesn’t mean all of those are overdue, some of them are actually recent bills,” she said.

“There will be people who have had payment options as part of that process.”

She said payment exemptions had also been granted in some circumstances.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Emily Kirkpatrick told the hearing that close contacts were not charged when they were required to stay in medi-hotels.

“There is no specific financial arrangement that we have within the medi-hotel operational structure for individuals who are placed as close contacts,” she said.

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Gunsmith gives evidence at Domenic Perre NCA bombing murder trial

National Crime Authority bombing accused Domenic Perre went into business with a self-taught gunsmith to convert semi-automatic firearms to be fully automatic in the year before the 1994 explosion, a court has heard.

Allan “Gadget” Chamberlain is giving evidence in the Supreme Court against Mr Perre, 63, and is expected to be on the witness stand for the next two weeks.

Mr Perre has pleaded not guilty to murdering Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Bowen and attempting to murder lawyer Peter Wallis in March 1994.

It is alleged that Mr Perre sent a parcel bomb to Sergeant Bowen at the Waymouth Street headquarters of the National Crime Authority (NCA), which killed the officer and injured the lawyer once it was opened.

Prosecutors allege that Mr Perre’s hatred for the NCA and Sergeant Bowen started when Northern Territory police seized a $20 million cannabis crop at Hidden Valley Station in August 1993 and started investigating organised crime within the Italian community.

It is part of the prosecution case that Mr Perre handed his cache of weapons, bomb-making books and detonators to Mr Chamberlain for “safekeeping” ahead of the blast.

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The aftermath of the NCA bombing.

Mr Chamberlain today told Justice Kevin Nicholson that he first met the accused while working at Central Firearms, in Prospect, when he asked to buy body armour in January 1993.

The 66-year-old said Mr Perre was part of a group of regular customers called “The Backdoor Boys” and he would restore firearms for him.

He said by late 1993, Mr Perre had told him about the police raid at Hidden Valley Station.

“He brought the subject up and he was essentially telling me that he was under pressure — I believe, financial and mental stress,” he said.

Domenic Perre in handcuffs in custody.
Domenic Perre (left) is accused of sending a parcel bomb to the victim.(ABC News)

Prosecutor Sandi McDonald SC asked Mr Chamberlain if he and the accused discussed “going into business together”.

Mr Chamberlain told the court that he gained the skills and knowledge to convert semi-automatic firearms to be fully automatic by using a small plate as a “drop in”.

“I agreed to that. He would arrange to have these items laser cut. For doing that, we would effectively go 50/50 on the profit of the conversion.

“At that stage, I was charging $100 for a conversion on a SKK — it was a very easy conversion.”

Witness imported body armour from US

He told the court that he was nicknamed “Gadget” by the owner of Central Firearms because he was “always tinkering with something” and his firearm conversions were considered “magic”.

A shop with a green and yellow colourway called Central Firearms
Central Firearms in Prospect is where Domenic Perre and Allan Chamberlain met in 1993.(Supplied.)

On Wednesday, Mr Chamberlain told the court that he was a volunteer in the Country Fire Service during the 1980s and became an agent for US companies so he could import fire-fighting and rescue equipment into Australia.

He said over the years, he branched out and was in contact with corrections and police about importing other items, including body armour.

“In all, over the years, I think I was an agent for 167 American companies,” he said.

Geoffrey Bowen was killed by the bomb
Geoffrey Bowen was killed by the bomb at the NCA office in March 1994.

He told the court that in 1990, he reached out to a company called Second Chance — that was based in Michigan — about whether he could have the rights to import body armour to Australia.

“To me, it was exclusive and at that stage, they were higher-priced items than what I was used to,” he said.

He said he was given approval to do a demonstration at the now defunct Hindmarsh police station in front of officers in December 1990.

“I used an officer’s pistol to highlight the fact that, in their job, probably their greatest threat was their weapon being taken and used against them.

“It was pre-arranged that I would demonstrate the vest, but I had not informed them that I was going to shoot myself.”

Mr Chamberlain told the court that the demonstration was “dramatic and successful” because he sold 22 vests worth $28,000.

The trial continues.

Debris from the 1994 National Crime Authority blast on Waymouth Street.
Debris from the blast on Waymouth Street.(Supplied: SA Supreme Court)

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