Sunday, April 16, 2006

Williamson's Delusion

Isle Of Pines, April 2006. Photo by Nick Charles
Australian playwright and self-confessed 'elitist' David Williamson delivered a controversial speech in September criticising what he considered to be the ignorant and self-indulgent 'aspirational' Australians he was forced to mix with on a South Pacific cruise.

Having just completed that route ourselves leads Nicky and I to the conclusion that Williamson has lost touch with the real Australia and worse still, lives in a rarefied world befogged by his own arrogance that any contribution he might have to offer to public discourse founders on its own irrelevance.

While a mere 20 of 2000 may have joined Williamson on the tour of Renzo Piano-designed Tjibaou Cultural Centre, perhaps he may have learned more about Noumea, its history, culture, lifestyle and people had he and his wife rubbed shoulders with the many hundreds of their fellow Australians who took the 90 minute Le Petit Train journey from the Harbour up to the Ouen Toro Lookout and the monument dedicated to the Allies that defended New Caledonia and the South Pacific from Japanese invasion.

Perhaps if Mr and Ms Williamson had stepped out of their air conditioned tour bus to actually walk around Noumea itself they will have seen another group of aspirationals - Noumean locals, predominantly Melanesians, who were walking around the city block street markets buying and chatting about their purchases, just as the white Australians tourists were doing.

It seems Williamson is too ignorant to appreciate the egalitarian nature of commerce. Perhaps he is too ignorant of history to know that every great leap in cross-cultural understanding is transacted in the free and frank exchange of goods and services - just ask the good people of Port Vila, Mystery Island and Wala.

If travelling broadens the mind, it seems to have shrunk Williamson's to a palmnut.

His narcissistic, insular beliefs don't embrace people, it keeps them at arms length. People are there for his amusement or fodder for increasingly bitter and depressing plays.

One of our fellow travellers is a person that Williamson would undoubtedly hate.

He doesn't know Rubens from a Renoir, a John Fowles from a John Steinbeck. He's never heard of David Williamson, let alone seen one of his plays, but as a keen veteran AFL player this man might appreciate The Club.

But in parting with some of his filthy lucre for a pleasure boat ride with one of the locals on Mystery Island, he learned that two years earlier (a mere 18 months after Williamson's cruise) that 200 of the 1000 inhabitants of the nearby islands had died of malaria.

As we caught up with him for dinner each night he shared with us what he had learned on each of the island stops - the cannibalism may have stopped but the young men still get themselves into serious internecine fights, a young woman with a bracelet on her upper arm is married, Walans face a sustainability crisis if their permanent population swells to 500 from its present 300.

Williamson obviously spent so much time looking down his considerable proboscis to have learned anything of this.

One of our National Living Treasures wonders about the concern for 'the Indonesian and Filipino crew members who were away from their families on low-wage contracts for up to 10 months, or queried why they had one kind of lifestyle and we had another.'

Perhaps if Williamson had actually participated in conversation with his fellow cruise passengers he might have learned as we did, our table waiter Hermies has a young son that he hopes to see in a few months time, that he has worked for the cruise company for four years and loves his job, not just the money it brings.

Maybe there was a Neilen he might have bumped into from a previous cruise who had been promoted from drinks waiter to table waiter who has his eyes set on a further promotion to an even larger ship.

If he had spoken to one of the Australian crew, he could have learned that the assistant cruise director Ellen had completed her Master degree in Tourism and Hospitality and is considering a PhD in the subject.

But no.

The truth of the matter is Williamson, like all cultural elites, are misanthropes at heart.

Cocktails Mr Williamson? Here's one especially for you:

Midori Illusion
1 oz Midori melon liqueur
1 oz vodka
1 oz Bacardi white rum
1 oz Cointreau orange liqueur
1/2 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
pineapple juice
Pour the Midori, vodka, Bacardi white rum, Cointeau, blue curacao and pineapple juice (to taste) into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Stir well. Top with lemonade, stir again gently, and serve.
-- Nora

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