Saturday, 9 November 2013

On Louis Nowra winning Patrick White

When Louis Nowra's Inside the Island received a savage review in the Sydney Morning Herald, Patrick White hand-delivered an outraged letter to the editor in support of the play and its author. When it was not published, White paid for it to run as an advertisement in the newspaper for two weeks. White later cooled to Nowra, as he did with so many others, and would sometimes refer to the playwright as 'Louis Kiama'.   

White was probably unaware that Nowra left his degree at La Trobe University over a dispute with his professor concerning his dislike of White's novel The Tree of Man.  

Louis Nowra in Kings Cross with his very clever chihuahua, Coco
Louis Nowra was yesterday presented with the Patrick White Literary Award, this year worth $23,000, for his ‘prolific, passionate, principled contribution to Australian literature across many fields’. The annual Award was established by White who used the money from his 1973 Nobel Prize in Literature to establish a trust. It’s given to a writer who has been highly creative over a long period. Nowra is only the third playwright to win in 40 years, after Alma de Groen in 1998 and John Romeril in 2008.

I’ve known Louis for over 25 years. We first met in the rehearsal room of Rex Cramphorn’s premiere production of Louis' The Golden Age for Playbox in 1985. Patrick White greatly admired Rex, one of Australia’s great directing talents, and of course also championed Louis.

Later, in 1995, I directed the premiere production of The Jungle for Sydney Theatre Company, with a fabulous Kate Fitzpatrick, whom Patrick White adored. He wrote his 1977 play Big Toys for her. I soon learned why both Patrick and Louis, and indeed Rex, had been so fond of Kate.

During rehearsals of The Jungle, she was in the throws of an infamous case in the NSW Supreme Court: Kate Fitzpatrick v Charles Waterstreet. She was suing her former lover, the famed barrister who would later become the model for the central character in the TV series Rake. She was claiming about half the value of an Elizabeth Bay flat. There was more: ‘I'll have the Brett Whiteleys, you can have the Tupperware and the Brescia beanbag,’ she offered in court. One of the Whiteleys was the portrait of Patrick White that served as the cover of David Marr’s great biography of White. It was Kate, incidentally, who had organised a lunch so that Whiteley and White could meet. On her return from court, our rehearsal room was fabulously full of Kate’s regaling – sensational stories of her many former lovers including Sam Neill, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Dalton, Eric Clapton, Tom Hughes QC and several famous cricketers, and of her close friendships with Kerry Packer, Sam Shepard, a smitten Jack Nicholson, several High Court judges and, of course, Patrick White.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

India, our mother

What is the state of what Mark Twain called the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, and the mother of history?

More than half of India’s population is under the age of 25, with 65 percent under 35. The challenges and opportunities that presents are enormous. It could drive India's flagging economy for a century, overtaking China which is now past its peak. But if the world's largest democracy can't educate, train and feed this burgeoning population, then there is peril. India is home to a third of the world's poor and to half of the world's 30 million slaves. A third of the population lives under the poverty line of US $1.25 a day. I find this frightening. How will India face the consequences of a marginalised youth population existing on a scale unprecedented in modern history?

Meanwhile, on Tuesday India launched a mission to Mars. The Mars Orbiter Mission, known as "Mangalyaan" in India, successfully began its 400 million-km long journey, making it the first Asian country and the fourth in the world after the US, Eurpore and Russia, to undertake a mission to the red planet. The mission was announced only 15 months ago, shortly after an attempt by China flopped.

India, in many ways, is our mother. Will Durant, author of the eleven-volume The Story of Civilisation, summarised:
India was the mother of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages. She was the mother of our philosophy, mother through the Arabs of much of our mathematics, mother through Buddha of the ideals embodied in Christianity, mother through village communities of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.
And again
It is true that even across the Himalayan barrier India has sent to us such unquestionable gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all our numerals and our decimal system. But these are not the essence of her spirit; they are trifles compared to what we may learn from her in the future.
Let's hope she survives.