Category Archives: politics

Love Letter to Lisbon (OR Art in the Time of Recession).



Recently I was travelling with an economist, an artist and a doctor. I know that sounds like the set up for a joke, but it’s actually just the first sentence of a love letter. (Or possibly essay. Or a tweet in need of serious editing, I don’t know you, read it and let me know). One morning over breakfast in our temporary Lisbon apartment in the heart of the thriving night life district Bairro Alto, Gretchen (the economist) turned to me and said “I don’t get it. This country is in recession. But there’s art everywhere. There’s all these concerts and festivals. How can they afford to pay artists? Why are artists still working?”


I told her that artists are, in a sense, recession proof. But only in the sense that for most of us what we earn from our art in our best years is what many people in professional jobs would earn in a couple of weeks. Also no benefits. Or rehearsal time. Or sick pay. Or company car. (All this and people STILL want you to work for free all the time.) In the same way that once you’ve jumped in a pool, a little rain isn’t going to bother you, if you’re used to being poor, then (on the individual level) a recession is basically just maintaining the status quo.


Secondly, artists love what they do and will always find creative ways to make their projects happen with limited resources. I know plenty of doctors and lawyers and teachers and chefs who love their jobs too, but most artists have the added benefit of being able to do things on their own terms. I was reading an article recently that advocated the arts in education and one of the key points it made was that artists are resourceful and innovative. They are used to doing things on limited budgets. Sometimes when I work as a creative advisor for commercial companies I have to keep myself from laughing because it takes them twenty times the cost and a hundred times as much paperwork to achieve what I’ve seen friends do on a shoestring budget in their spare time.

IMG_20130628_201640  IMG_20130628_200706  IMG_20130628_202511

Here in Lisbon, I’ve seen abandoned buildings (and there are a lot of them) turned into things of beauty. Three storey murals, prisons turned into art galleries, rubbish bins used as canvases, markets turned into concert venues and a bank turned into a design museum. This last one was my favourite, walking through a two foot thick steel vault door to be surrounded by thousands of tiny boxes that once held immeasurable wealth but now served as a backdrop for art and design felt like stepping inside of some kind of post-capitalist art utopia. Entry was free, by the way.


There are statues of poets all over the place, people shove tiny boats on top of light poles for no apparent reason and music fills the air (Lisbon has a distinct style of music called Fado which is recognised by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity). But more than any of these logical, rational arguments, the real answer is that in times of crisis, people need hope, they need comfort, and they need escape. Art can give you all of this and more, sometimes all in one serve. We shouldn’t be asking ‘why are people still making art in a recession?’ we should be asking ‘why does it take a recession to make us realise the value of art?’




Vandal Newman

My Dearest BCC,

I am writing to commend you on your extremely well thought out allocation of 13.5 million dollars to the anti-graffiti campaign. Although I must say, whilst I was overjoyed that such a vast sum is allocated to the aggressive removal of the inexplicably pandemic desire for human beings to express themselves creatively, I was confused as to how $13.5 million appeared out of nowhere when the state of QLD is reportedly broke? vandal newman I am often broke, and yet can never seem to find a spare $13.5 million lying around for anything. Please advise me on how to make $13.5 million appear from betwixt my couch cushions, which normally only yield lint and Canadian pennies, (which is curious as I have never been to Canada). I also really admire the fact you are doing this in the interest of protecting and beautifying public spaces (such as parks), whilst sensibly spending only $6.2 million in total on upgrades to city parks. I intend to follow this avant garde economic example when I buy my next car. I will spend $2 000 on the car itself, and $4 000 on grey paint to repeatedly paint it with.

Now, I know that some of those whiny lefties might be claiming your fiscal prioritisation is somewhat curious, given that you’ve placed funds for graffiti removal ahead of, oh, I don’t know, schools hospitals roads counselling services housing programs rehabilitation programs disease preventation initiatives with a well proven track record indigenous advocacy services well established literary awards emergency services etc etc etc.


Those silly graffists can’t even spell ‘terrific’ right!

I, however, fully understand that a government always acts in the best interests of its people, even the people who ungratefully use spray paint can devices to graffiti-ise the Premier’s office just a few months before the graffiti budget suddenly skyrockets to unprecedented levels. Sure, conspiracy theorists might want to make a connection there, but you and I, we’re reasonable, rational people who just want to use large amounts of public funding to support the establishment of a militarised task force to ensure the systematic destruction of artistic expression, whilst simultaneously funding programs of real cultural value, such as Big Brother.

big brother

The secret is: they’re all annoying!

I also agree with the honorable Mr Quirk’s statement that graffiti artmakerists ‘are not welcome in this city,’ as the best way to deal with disaffected youth who wish to express themselves creatively is assuredly to banish them beyond the city walls. However, I was wondering if there were limits to this mandate? Like, if someone who regularly saves kittens from trees also does graffiti making, would they still be banished? Is there some sort of ratio? Perhaps one graffiti piece per half dozen successful diminutive feline rescues?

bunkwaa-spray-cans  X 1    =    6 X  kitten

Or would they have to achieve a more impressive feat, such as saving someone from being stabbed in an alleyway? What if the only way that they could overpower the assailants was by obscuring their vision with their spray paint cans and they inadvertently got a small amount of paint on a wall in the process?

translink The other day I was walking home and saw this very tasteful and well designed ad stencilled on the footpath. I was wondering if Translink, as an official government partner, has some kind of graffiti license? Or a big shiny badge that they can flash like the cops on TV? If they forget their badge and are out graffiti-making do they get fined $1 000 (roughly the cost of a return trip to the city on a translink service)? lister-graffiti Finally, I was wondering if you would be continuing your proud tradition of going beyond the call of duty and also removing commissioned work by illegally entering private property and painting over commissioned murals by world famous artists?  And of course maintaining your admirable practice of physically subduing artists who have obtained legal permission for their work? This continues to set a world class standard in art control.

Perhaps you could even extend your forces of artistic suppression into other mediums? Sometimes I see youths listening to their ipodphone machines singing and dancing in the street for no reason at all! I find this quite disconcerting. Maybe you could find another $13.5 million for an Unlicensed New Juvenile Undulation Suppression Team. You might even be able to come up with a catchy acronym for that one, but I’ll leave that up to you!

Swarm regards

JM Donellan




Dearest Ministers of Education: please buy 2 million copies of Zeb and the Great Ruckus.

Dear Mr Langbroek (State Minister for Education) and Mrs Collins (Federal Minister for School Education),
I’m sure that your political parties are very busy dismantling essential health services and implementing draconian internet security protocols respectively. I would, however like to borrow a few moments of your valuable time to talk about an important issue, which is the dire lack of fictional texts featuring clockwork birds, obscure musical references, weaponised toffee and bewilderbeasts in the national school curriculum. Currently the new QLD curriculum has Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda as one of the required year 4 texts. Now, I’m sure Emily is a lovely person, and some of my students do genuinely enjoy her work. However, many of them, when faced with the task of reading her work, make a face like this:
Here is an actual quote from an actual student at an actual school:
“It’s boring. And when it’s boring I can’t concentrate and then I can’t do my work. Reading it makes me feel like my brain is made of grey jelly and the grey jelly is tired and grumpy. Also Jill said I smell like a sweaty bear. Can I throw my scissors at her?” Actual students may, to you, resemble strange mythical beasts, given that in your role as two of the most influential people of education in the country you are not at any time required to talk to actual students so much as read reports and analyses written by people who have met them in an academic capacity, which one can only assume is far more efficient.
“Roar! I’m a dragon! Roar! I make no more than a cameo appearance in this book! Roar!”
I’ll admit that Rodda got it right with the bit about dragons. Kids love dragons. I mean, hell, who DOESN’T love dragons? There aren’t nearly enough animals, mythical or otherwise, that can projectile vomit fire. But despite the fact that there is a dragon on the front cover we don’t get to meet the damn thing until the last 20 pages, and even then it only sticks around for a couple of dozen paragraphs before never being seen again. That’s false advertising if you ask me. If you applied the same approach to film advertising then the poster for The Dark Knight Rises would have looked like this:
Now, I understand that politics can be a messy game with few obvious solutions. Sometimes you have difficult decisions to make, like when you have to figure out how to justify extreme cost cutting measures like killing literary awards during the National Year of Reading and essential housing programs for underprivileged members of society whilst still getting away with giving yourselves a pay rise and a multi-million dollar office upgrade.
Luckily, I have an easy solution for you. Simply give the ol Rowan of Rin a rest for a little while and try out this really great new book that I wrote read recently called Zeb and the Great Ruckus. It’s got everything a kid could ever want! Explosions! Guitars! Bewilderbeasts! Action! Magic!  An allegorical warning about the dangers of an overly authoritarian government  valuable life lessons!
As you can see in the chart below, Zeb and the Great Ruckus outscores Rowan of Rin in all five essential learning categories. It also beats War and Peace and Macbeth by a phenomenal margin. Based on these criteria, Zeb’s literary prowess and educational potential is empirically clear. Plus, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, and we all know that your parties could certainly stand to improve their efforts in regards to Indigenous education now don’t we? On an unrelated note, I’d never realised what a clearly terrible novel War and Peace is until reading this chart just now. Sheesh.
Data analysis courtesy of the Ministry of Truth
I urge you to make Zeb and the Great Ruckus one of the required texts for the national curriculum. I suggest that you put in an order for say, I don’t know, 2 million copies sometime with the next fiscal quarter, and I look forward to seeing a generation of children making this face:
PS: The official Zeb and the Great Ruckus launch party is on the 21st of September at Black Cat books. It will be loud, messy and amazing. Facebook event here, everyone in the world is invited.