Friday, 24 May 2013

Friday Five: Looking Back

The most-hyped film of 2013 is due for Australian release next weekend. In the lead-up to Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic take on The Great Gatsby, there has been a general scramble to show appreciation of the jazz age. This includes many folk opining how much they would have liked to have lived in the 1920s, when glamour was de rigueur and showgirls were awash with champagne.

I’ve never really got this ‘born into the wrong era’ thing. For one thing, if you were lucky enough to be a Bright Young Thing in the 1920s, you had a great depression, another World War and the chilling spectre of fascism looming on the horizon. As for fashion, those dresses (not to mention those dances) aren’t at all becoming for larger-chested women. And women (aged 21 and above) did not achieve the right to vote until 1928 in the UK. (The Representation of the People Act of 1918 only enfranchised women over 30 who met minimum property requirements).

Herein lies much of the problem. When people look back longingly at bygone eras and imagine themselves in such times, they are thinking of the rich, the male and the white. Admittedly there is still a long way to go (and many of today’s young women are actually retarding the cause by assuming it is no longer an issue) but there has never been a better time to be a woman than right now in the Western democratic world.

I have the right to vote; to work; to be educated; to be healthy; to live how I want and love whom I want. So when people ask in what decade you would most like to live, I have to say now. Many people seem to like to wallow in nostalgia, and I have recently come across many examples of this, but I will not play that past is better game.

5 Examples of Moribund Nostalgia:
  1. The Hollow by Agatha Christie – I recently performed in this play which includes many lines about memory and going back to our roots. “The past is sometimes a very good place to live.”
  2. Midnight in Paris – fellow cast members had a discussion about this film, which illustrates in a surprisingly gentle way how even those who live in the so-called halcyon days don’t see them as such as yearn for something else.
  3. The Past and Other Lies by Maggie Joel – a book I was reading at the time of the run, which follows three sets of sisters in London from WWI until ‘now’ and includes this quote:
    “You were meant to get nostalgic for the past once you reached a certain age, but it hadn’t happened. And why would it? The past wasn’t somewhere any right-thinking person would wish to dwell. It contained far too much that you were sad had gone forever, and so much more that was just plain unpleasant. And it got no less unpleasant just because the years had passed. You just felt the pain of it less, that was all.”
  4. An article I read in The Word magazine by Rob Fitzpatrick about our attitude to young people’s music, in which he writes,
    “Don’t waste your life trying to steal back the past. But just as importantly, don’t try and trash the future either – because it’s not ours to trash. The people it belongs to don’t care what we think anyway.”
  5. “The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there” – the opening line from L.P Hartley’s The Go-Between, and a great quote.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Get Carta: Magna Carta Place

The Magna Carta monument in Canberra was unveiled in 2001. It celebrates both the Centenary of Federation and Australia's special relationship with Great Britain. The funds for the project were raised by the Magna Carta Committee, a part of the Australia-Britain Society. It is heartening to see the countries supporting and respecting each other in relation to such an important issue as government and democracy.

The materials used apparently convey a sense of timelessness - bronze, bluestone, granite and ironbark. The design by architect Alastair Falconer was inspired by history, myth and geology. It consists of a three-tiered pavilion with a hill at the back referencing ancient burial mounds. It is designed as though the hill is slashed open and the pavilion is revealed at the heart.

The mound is shored up with a wall along which runs a time line through a series of murals (by Silvia Velez and Chris Meadham) tracing the events that led to the emergence of the Magna Carta in England and its relevance to Australian law and civil rights.

The time line then spirals through the centre of the monument with tenets of the Magna Carta imprinted on it, such as Justice; Equality; Freedom; Rule of Law and Trial by Jury - all noble sentiments and fundamental to the British (and, hence, Australian) justice and legal system.

A time capsule is buried in the middle to be opened in 2101. Meanwhile, back in the present (and past), the pavilion is crowned with a golden ring incised with the Latin wording of Chapter 29 of the Magna Carta (one of the four remaining copies of the 1297 issue of the Magna Carta is displayed at Parliament House). The English translation is found on a rubbing plaque in the pavilion:

"No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemnation, but by lawful judgement of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right"

These legal terms are stirring and impressive, and make me feel proud to be a British (and New Zealand) citizen.