Subject: AGE: Haunted By Loss Of Idealism

The Age

May 20, 2003 Tuesday

Haunted By Loss Of Idealism

Robin Usher

Events almost 30 years ago continue to haunt the Australian psyche. Robin Usher reports.

Many people can still remember where they were on November 11, 1975, when the Whitlam government was dismissed by the then governor-general, Sir John Kerr.

For them, it was the shameful end to Australia's first reformist government in more than 20 years. But for others, the death of idealism had occurred a few weeks before, killed by Whitlam's tacit support of Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.

For Irine Vela, writer of 1975, the latest show by Melbourne Workers Theatre and the community choir Canto Coro, the complicity with Indonesia was the first step leading to the current widespread cynicism about politics.

"The government knew five journalists had been killed at Balibo, but the news was deliberately kept from the public to protect relations with Jakarta," Vela says.

"I believe that was an act of appeasement, and it didn't matter that genocide would follow. Part of East Timor's tragedy was that it's a small country and no one thought much about it." Vela acknowledges that the political mood of today is the opposite of what it was nearly 30 years ago. "Everyone is so cynical now. No one believes in the political process any more, that's all gone," she says. "The problem when idealism is lost is that there is no party left to represent the weaker people in society." But she is still impressed by Whitlam-era reforms, particularly the decision to make university study free. Without that, she doubts her parents could have afforded to send her to university. "The Whitlam government promoted its belief in moves to make a fairer society, but what happened over Timor shows the limits of idealism . . . the point where idealism is sacrificed because of complex forces that are really beyond us." Vela says that if news about the killing of the Australian journalists had got out, "the holocaust that was to come in East Timor could have been avoided . . . As many as onethird of the population (about 600,000 people) was killed".

Vela sees 1975 as a metaphor for the ending of faith in politics. "I've written it as the end of hope," she says. "The show finishes before the government's dismissal and before Dili is overrun by Indonesian troops. But we know what is going to happen.

"I think the work will connect with the way people are feeling now when there is no room for hope," she shrugs.

"There is just this feeling of powerlessness." Actor Melita Jurisic is back in Melbourne after working with Barrie Kosky in Vienna for two years. She plays a single mother who is one step away from Labor Party preselection when her journalist son is murdered and his body burnt by Indonesian troops.

Because of Australian government pressure, she is forced to agree to having him buried in Jakarta. Jurisic says the play continues her musical education that began in Vienna. "I had to reinvent myself there because Barrie is such an enthusiast for musical theatre." Kosky directed her in four productions before he left Australia and invited her to Vienna to star as Medea in his first Viennese production.

Since returning to Melbourne, Jurisic has rediscovered the extent of the collaboration from different areas of the arts that is necessary to produce a show such as 1975 on a tiny budget. "I think it's an amazing achievement to produce a new musical in Australia." The director, Wesley Enoch, describes the production as a challenging combination of text, lyrics and music. "Canto Coro is a fantastic social group and they bring plenty of passion to the talk about politics," he says.

Enoch is best known as the director of Jane Harrison's play, Stolen, and is now based in Melbourne as artistic director of Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Theatre.

Although he is too young to remember the '70s, Enoch says it seems that since the fall of the Whitlam government, people have lost the art of arguing for causes they embrace. "There has been this dumbing down because everyone just accepts that arts are no longer important, and can't argue against that sort of reasoning," Enoch says. "In the same way that universities lost the argument about teaching knowledge for its own sake, no one is now articulating the need for a vibrant arts community." He agrees that the widespread disillusionment with politics began with Whitlam's dismissal. But he remains optimistic that idealism can return.

"People have been responding to the climate of fear and greed that has been widespread for the past 10 years," he says. "But you have to have enough faith in humanity to believe that this will change if there is a new emphasis on social responsibility." 1975 is at North Melbourne Town Hall from Wednesday to June 7, at 7.30pm. Book on 9326 8371.


Preston Leader (Australia)

May 21, 2003 Wednesday

Operatic take on war

By Julia Irwin

WAR in Iraq has brought new relevance to a populist opera about the effect an invasion has on ordinary people's lives, says production choir chairwoman Nancy Atkin.

The opera titled 1975 is a Melbourne Workers Theatre and Canto Coro choir collaboration written by Irine Vela and featuring many Darebin residents such as lead actor Michael Lindner from Preston and Atkin from Northcote.

Atkin said 1975 was an exciting work about social and political issues arising from Indonesia's invasion of East Timor and the crisis in the Whitlam Labor Government at the time.

Actor Michael Lindner, who has performed in musicals such as Grease, Miss Saigon and Hair, plays the part of an Australian journalist missing in Balibo in East Timor during 1975.

"This is a fictional piece but it's based on a true event so I did a lot of research about East Timor at the time and about the (Australian Government's) cover-up about the disappearance of journalists," Lindner said.

He got first-hand information about East Timor from fellow actor Cidalia Pires, who also had a major role in the production and is a member of Melbourne-based East Timorese performance group SURIK.

1975 will run from Wednesday, May 21 to June 7 at the North Melbourne Town Hall Arts House, corner of Errol and Queensberry streets.

Bookings: 9326 8371, or e-mail

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