Thursday, 19 September 2013

Australia: The Thorn Birds, Nick Cave and the Royal Academy

Retrospectively, I was embarrassingly dismissive of all those who headed to Australia for their Gap Year.  If one hadn't felt the tremors of India testing their nuclear weapons while riding camels across the Rajhastani desert, or accidentally found oneself stuck in Pakistan with only a hazy understanding of the political situation that had temporarily closed the land borders, the eighteen year old me wasn't very impressed.  When recounting my glorious travels (which I think I probably did to anyone who'd listen) I would conveniently omit that when I reached comparable civilisation (Vietnam) I immediately holed up for three days with a selection of Hollywood romantic comedies and bumper packs of Pringles and Mars Bars.

The truth is that I just wasn't very imaginative.  My impression of Australia was formed entirely by being made to read Walkabout (which seemed way too weird for me to be able to relate to it in any way) and from watching Neighbours and Home & Away.  And my shortsighted and mistakenly superior self didn't bother researching any further.

Over the years, there have been occasional little prompts.  I watch The Thorn Birds with a biannual regularity.  It's one of my favourite film sagas of all time, up there with Gone With The Wind, The Jewel in the Crown and Brideshead Revisted.  It's got it all:  overpowering love, insane ambition, total devastation, Catholic guilt, arguments over wills, illegitimate children and stunning scenery:

And then of course there's Nick Cave, with his incredible haunting lyrics, and his film, The Proposition:

(Australia is pretty much the only thing the two films have in common, incidentally, which you can probably deduce from the images. . . . )

And now the Australia exhibition has arrived at Royal Academy, and oh my God I want to go.  I'm even considering a twenty four hour flight in economy with both children, that's how much I want to go.  Why, why didn't I feel this way when I was unencumbered by the world's least agreeable travelling companions?  Those inhospitable landscapes; take me there!  

Sydney Nolan, Ned Kelly - I've always been fascinated by Australia's most infamous outlaw.

Eugene von Guerard, Bush Fire

Shaun Gladwell, Approach to Mundi Mundi.  I want to motorbike through sacred Aboriginal landscapes.  This is actually a clip from a great video piece. I watched it for ages.  And there wasn't even a bench to sit on.

But there's far more the exhibition than just these - it fully explores Australian art, the movements, and the stories behind the paintings. I don't feel equipped to try and give you a brief surmise, and the current RA Magazine does a much better job than I would - all I can say is that I haven't felt as enlivened or inspired by an exhibition in ages.  I knew virtually nothing about Australian art - who does?  Except, perhaps, those who had the foresight to go there on their Gap year.

Australia is at the Royal Academy opens on Saturday and is on until the 8th December.  Go, go go!