Christine V. Courtney’s first career was as a professional dancer, moving from Adelaide to Britain to dance with the Ballet Rambert and directing her own small ballet company before returning to Australia to work as a teacher and producer. She first visited Venice while leading fine arts tours to Europe in the 1980s. The city provided the inspiration for her first book, Venetian Voices.
What is your favourite memory from your time in dance?
My favourite memories are of the incredible camaraderie we shared under difficult conditions in the Ballet Rambert. We were on the road 42 weeks a year, in a different city each week, and travelled by train on Sunday between venues. Our six-week tour of the Middle East in 1963 opened my eyes to the world of Islamic sculpture, architecture and the history of that extraordinary area. We all coped with Dame Marie Rambert’s quixotic nature and those she did not break grew stronger. Fortunately I fell in the latter camp. The six years I spent with the company as a young artist (joining at age 19) were the most exhilarating of my life. I was doing what I believed I was born to do, and travelling, two of the four pillars of my life. I will leave you guessing as to the other two.
Would you ever move to Venice?
I would love to have the opportunity to move to Venice for a year simply to gather material for a second volume on the city. Ideally, I would move from district to district and island to island soaking up the atmosphere and local stories. To live in a Palazzo on the Grand Canal for a month would be a dream come true as I would be following in the footsteps of Richard Wagner and Marie Taglioni, the famous Italian ballerina, and many others.
What do you find to be the most difficult thing about writing poetry?
Distilling the essence of what I want to say, working as many drafts as needed, then being disciplined enough to put it aside to rest for some days. Coming back one sees the work with fresh eyes. Some poems came in one rush while others involved an arm wrestle to forge them into shape. When time and circumstances opened up in 2000 and I wrote my first poems I did not have a clue what I was doing except that some imaginary door opened and I stepped through it into the world of words. I’d found a pathway back into the exhilarating feeling of being creative and truly alive. It has been a struggle to find my ‘voice’, and I am still not sure I am there, wherever ‘there’ is. I’ve been plagued by self doubt, but upheld by a belief that I have something to say and needed to find a way to express myself.
What will you be working on next?
This is hard to predict. A new poem about Venice flew into my mind last week following an exchange with a friend relating an experience when he and his wife visited the city. Another local poem jumped out during the Wonder Walls event at Port Adelaide. Dr John Couper-Smartt wants me to again get involved in the reprint of Port Adelaide Tales from a ‘Commodious Harbour’ which we co-authored in 2003. For the time being I am enjoying reading other poets and keeping all my options open.
What is your favourite Italian food and why?
That’s simple: it is whatever I am eating at the time. I adore Italian food. The first orange gelatti I ever tasted was in Spoleto and had the ice-cream poured inside a whole hollowed out orange skin. It was the most beautiful refreshing juice I had ever tasted. One just squeezed the orange and sucked; a sensual experience. Likewise the Baccala Manecato provided at the launch of Venetian Voices was absolutely delicious and a food fit for the Gods. While reading Donna Leon’s books on Commissario Brunetti I become inspired to cook some of the dishes she describes.
What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
As an admirer of C.J. Dennis’s work, I loved every aspect of An Unsentimental Bloke. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the works by Dr Philip Jones such as Boomerang and Ochre and Rust. The monographs on artists like Robert Hannaford and Nora Heysen are always a pleasure to peruse. If I could read everything Wakefield produced it would be wonderful, but my life is now running short and I still have much to do, so it is a case of balance!
Award-winning journalist Michael McGuire has worked for more than twenty years at the Australian in Sydney, and the Adelaide Advertiser where he is now senior writer. He has also dabbled in state and federal politics. His first foray into fiction, Never a True Word, has been called ‘a political novel for our times’ (Australian).
What were you like as a child? Did you ever get into trouble?
Mostly okay, I think. There were two parts to my childhood. Up until I was 10 I lived in Glasgow, Scotland. Most of my memories from that time involve playing football or watching my dad playing football. I was fairly obsessed. Most people would say that hasn’t changed a great deal. It’s that old Jesuit saying – give me a boy until he is seven and I will give you the man. Just substitute the Jesuits for football and Celtic.
After we left Scotland we moved to Naracoorte for around four years. That was a great place to grow up. Lots of freedom and days running around the streets with friends. Being the country there was also lots of sport. Footy on Saturday and two games of soccer on Sunday. Bliss. It also gave me my first introduction to cricket. I couldn’t bat or bowl so I became a wicket keeper.
The other memories of childhood revolve around books. Famous Five, Biggles, Hardy Boys when I was younger then lots of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth. I always had my nose in my book. When I was eight I went to the Louvre in Paris with my family and caused some bemusement by reading a Peanuts book the whole way around. ‘Look son, there’s the Mona Lisa …’
What prompted you to write Never a True Word?
Probably several things. There had been a long-held desire to write something, anything. But I either didn’t have an idea I liked or just blamed the fact that life was too busy. Eventually, I decided I should just stop complaining and get on with it. By this time I had turned 40 and thought unless I start something soon, I will never get around to it. I had worked in politics for a while and found it tough, but fascinating. The personalities, the power, the egos. All the stuff that is hidden away generally from public view. I had loved shows like Yes Minister and, in particular, The Thick of It, but I hadn’t really read anything explained politics as I knew it to be. I wanted to write a book about how politics worked for people who were outside that world.
What is the biggest difference between working in journalism and politics?
They are two sides of the same coin. Now that I am on the side of the angels again in journalism, it’s all about holding politicians and politics to account. Politicians are not the enemy as such but you have to be wary. There’s different mindsets at work. Journalism is more about holding an attacking mentality – we are always chasing a story, pursuing a lead. Politics is often about defence. Killing that story, plugging the leak. There is much more paranoia in politics than media. The bunker mentality is the prevailing mindset in most political offices. Everyone in politics thinks the media is out to get them at all times. There may be some truth in this, but it also breeds an unnecessarily narrow world view and is responsible for much of the short-term thinking you see in politics at the moment.
What’s been the best reaction you’ve had so far to the book?
Lots of people have been very supportive which has been lovely. It’s been well reviewed in the Australian and the Age. On the ABC Peter Goers said many positive things about the book. As a journalist, it’s a bit weird when people are nice to you. It’s hard to know how to handle it.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Can I be seven again? I would come back as one of the great Celtic players. One of the European Cup winners of 1967, maybe Jimmy Johnstone, or my hero growing up, Kenny Dalglish. Although, unlike Dalglish, I wouldn’t have ruined my career by joining Liverpool.
What are your favourite Wakefield Press titles, aside from your own, and why?
I couldn’t possibly go past the excellent Red Silk: The Life of Elliot Johnston QC by my friend and colleague Penny Debelle. Although, for a story from the other side of the legal tracks, Dead by Friday by another colleague and friend, Derek Pedley, is also a cracking read.
For NAIDOC Week, we are sharing this story from Phoebe and Savannah Brice, two of the many inspirational activists in Breaking the Boundaries.
We live in South Australia in a small, close-knit community about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide.
Our story started in 2007 when our Mum explained to us what being Aboriginal meant. She told us we were different from other people. When we asked how, she said, ‘It’s simply because our skin colour is different and we have a different flag. When you’re older you will understand better.’
We went to school the next day and when I noticed that our flag wasn’t flying proudly next to the Australian flag I started asking questions. I asked my classroom teacher why and she decided to follow it up. She spoke with our principal and they both decided I should contact Mr Rowan Ramsey, our federal Member of Parliament, and ask for an Aboriginal flag. I was successful and also received a medal for my achievement and initiative. Sadly, the flag was never flown because we didn’t have a flagpole to fly it on, and later, mysteriously, the flag disappeared.
After a few years, in 2012, my sister Savannah and I wanted to review this problem. We discussed it with our new principal, Maceij Jankowski, and our new classroom teacher, Katie Deverall, and decided that we would again write to Mr Ramsey asking for a new Aboriginal flag and an Australian flag too, as the old one had been put through quite a bit. But to prevent the dilemma we were earlier faced with, Savannah wrote to Mr Ramsey also asking for a flagpole.
About two weeks later we received a letter in the mail each and a parcel containing an Australian and Aboriginal flag. We had successfully gained two new flags for our school. But there was still the problem of the flagpole.
Phoebe was lucky. Her letter came with a parcel of two flags. My letter was a disappointment. It said that the flagpole fund had ceased but the good news was that my request had been forwarded onto Mr Geoff Brock, our state MP, to see whether he could be of assistance.
I waited for around two months to get a reply from Geoff, and when I finally got one it said that he was trying and he had sent my letter on to other people.
Then it was the September school holidays and my family and I went to the Port Pirie Smelters Picnic. As we were walking along Sideshow Alley my mum spotted Geoff Brock and she told Phoebe and me to go over and talk to him. So we did. We shook his hand and told him about the school and the flagpole. He told us that he was planning to visit our school in the last term. When school started again, I told my teacher and the principal and they were very excited.
It was Monday of the last week of term for the year and Geoff Brock still hadn’t come to visit, so I asked my teacher and principal for permission to send an email telling him how upset I was that he hadn’t come. The next day the principal asked for me in his office. I thought I was in trouble but it turned out that Geoff Brock was going to be at my school at 10 am that day. When he arrived, the principal, Geoff and I had a short meeting updating me on what was happening.
Then it was 2013. Phoebe had started at high school. We didn’t hear from Geoff until early in term two, when the principal called me into his office. He said that we had finally got the pole. I was so happy I started crying. A few weeks later the pole arrived and by that time some of the local reporters heard about the story and by the eighth week of term two, I had already been in six newspapers. In the last week of school we had a NAIDOC celebration where one of the other Rocky River schools came to celebrate with us. We had a huge flagpole ceremony. All the parents came, and both Geoff Brock and Rowan Ramsey were there along with news reporters. After Rowan and Geoff read their speeches, the school captain and I raised both the Australian and Aboriginal flags. For the first time in all my life at that school I saw my flag rise.
I would like to thank all of the people who were involved with getting the flags and pole, and all of my friends for their support, my teacher and my principal and, most importantly, my mum, dad, sisters Phoebe and Samantha, and my older brother Mathew. At primary school it’s a tradition that the Year 7s leave their mark. As I go into my last year here, I feel my mark has already been made.
Find out more about Breaking the Boundaries here.