Words by Adam Semple photography by Michelle Karas
I couldn’t imagine a more visceral window into modern indigenous life, than Eva Johnson’s performance What Do They Call Me. So often in our assuming world, can the ‘big powers’ conveniently ignore the facts behind family based circumstance, and Eva Johnson’s artwork illustrates to us how easily assumptions are made and how oppressive the consequences can be. The piece calls into attention the vicious pulling of identity of Indigenous peoples, from both the sides of white conformity, and traditional heritage.
The concept of ‘what we are,’ of being asked to confirm exactly the heritage that influences our appearance, is a fantastic metaphor for the potential superficiality of judging a person by what they look like. What Do They Call Me balances this issue so delicately, with three amazing actors all taking their turn – literally one at a time – in showing the audience their microcosm in the macro-environment of the confusion and cultural dismemberment that is racism.
The occurence of whether Indigenous culture is being torn away, or completely restricted from birth, varies vastly through the three family members tales as their stories of development have all been so drastically different. Underlying this, are the many themes of cultural confusion and racial oppression that the women experience on a daily basis. To be shown such a world of disrespect and dishonour so vividly, so up close and personal, was truly special. It was riddled with goose-bumps and left me in a state of shock that will hopefully remain for a long time.
Eva Johnson has crafted a performance that brings the audience into the very reality of how potentially unfair the judicial system is, based on prejudices and race; she has shown us how unbelievably non-judgmental an idealist society can appear on the outside, whilst subtly imbuing it’s consumerist desires below the surface; and she has shown us that whether we are black, white, gay, or straight, society wants to know exactly what we are, have us labelled and ready to slot into a preordained space for ease of judgement and understanding, and that this system horrendously, and unrelentingly, oppresses those who wish to remain uncatagorisable.
by Adam Semple Her curls seemed to fill the room. They were dense and bold, seemingly hydrophobic and certainly in some ancient culture would have been used as a protective layer, but in this instance they were there for beauty and bust, and this is exactly what they were achieving. Her personality and hair were in sync, matched like a specific wine to a specific plate of food. A certain coherence existed between her hair and her exuberance, she charged around the coffee shop in an emotionally invested state of energy, not stopping to give staff her orders but halting only to make small talk with the most handsome of customers. I imagine that the potency of her steps must at some stage of the day lead to an equally forceful crashing of energy, but we, the onlookers, certainly never witness such a thing, and are left to make the mere assumption that she must, if nothing else, sleep exceptionally well at night. Occasionally, if an oppressive customer enters the scene, The Curly Haired Machine will expose the outer edges of what could be an explosive bomb, however, wrong I was. And like the sun she not only glowed (with ambition and ability) but also controlled that inner fire and expelled it only fractionally, for the good of us all. Like a solar flare, I thought to myself. Occasional disarray takes over in the shop. People always arrive at the same time and the Domino effect comes into its prime in a team-work environment where every action is completely reliant on its predecessor. So bustling in come’s the boss and within a flash she is not so much as conquering an important task but providing what she does best, the lifting of moral, vocally and through that abundant presence of golden ringlets. It may be the tequila espresso she brings us in moments of gloom but it’s a good vibe regardless of circumstance, and that’s the sensation we all feel. Every now and then the whole cafe would rumble. An intensity of laughter so vigorous and hearty, so genuine, it engulfs all in vibrational range. Like an alarm clock, it awakens us to the sounds of life. All in our closed worlds, so easy to forget we’re on a star rolling through space and all of a sudden this penetrating injection of happiness shakes us out of our mindlessness. That’s what it does. We are focusing on what we are supposed to focus on and then it happens, that sound, those notes, and we are shaken back into the realisation that whatever it is we’re doing means nothing and really all that matters is that laugh and sharing that laugh with others. Everything that comes out of this coffee house is a reflection of those curls. The staff, those muffins, and the punch received after drinking that espresso, it’s all refracted through those ringlets. They make you want more of life, like that laugh, give me more! Needless to say the customers tend to leave in a better mood than when they arrived. Let’s be honest, that’s the nature of the beast in the coffee shop business: enter low and exit high. Here though, in this cafe, on this polished concrete and below these hanging lights, there is another force at work, those curls.
This story originally appeared in Metior Magazine, Edition #1 2014
by Adam Semple
It took me about a week to figure out what the locals were so insistent on when they spoke of “the walking track to Meelup Beach.” I mean, I’m from the city so I have to wrestle with my ego to take seriously what a salty, tanned, and beach bound country resident has to say. I’m usually comforted by clusters of shops selling me things I don’t need, and short-to-medium waiting times at traffic lights are a pleasant reminder each morning that nothing has gone too weird or changed on me. Down here though, the feeling around town is different and my normal comforts change dramatically. So with the arrogance of someone whose job is more important than their lifestyle, I didn’t take much notice about the walking track. That was until I went looking for it. That was until I found it – paradise at my doorstep. Every day now, when I walk into the reality of this overt dream, I realise that I have been taking my home country intensely and explicitly for granted.
The elusive path is deep ochre, inlaid with the density of clay, concentrated with just the right cocktail of nutrients that our native plants have evolved to crave. The track-walls are thick and harsh, not only built by a dry and hot Australian summer but ready to fend off a salty sea-breeze, ready to suck the moisture from an unprotected leaf. The bush reaches out and into the already-narrow path, looking for more light, more growth. There is so much life down here. Kangaroos the size of rugby players will cross up ahead at a moment’s notice, blue-tongue lizards tease their taut tongues, then tear away.
The walkway seems to follow the path of least resistance, shaved like a 12 year old boy’s head on the initial discovery of clippers, not easily predictable but a bald path nonetheless. The tall trees amongst the shrubbery have charcoaled trunks, war wounds from the natural cycle of regeneration – an inferno: out with the old and in with the new – but their leaves hang with a depth to their green, shouting out, “good try!” Occasionally you’ll see a thin vein, a track of footprints peeling off and down toward the water.
I follow one track down – the same track every time actually, as in the absence of maps I like to know where I am – and peel back the last line of shrubs to open a window into a new world. I see nothing less than church white sand, water so turquoise it looks ripped from a Paddle Pop stick, and then there are the rocks. Scrubbed in deep orange, painted in iron markings from the past, natures tattoo like prehistoric graffiti, they are resplendent. The only noise is a mixtape of Australian wilderness and the odd neglected leaf crunching under my toes.
It seems I have discovered this summer that a beaches without anything but yourself and your book, or your camera, or just plain old you, is bliss. How’s the serenity? It’s good. It’s serene. It appears that I may be writing this all with the enthusiasm of a shoe-in, a Perth punk just in for the summer and ready to split back to the rough and tumble of cross-walks and queues, pretentious bars. Maybe this kind of environment is completely normal, regular old soul food for anyone who has not been engulfed by city life. Maybe I am blowing it out of proportion. Sometimes it just takes loosing something, to realise how much you want it back.
Besides a degree of dream-fulfilment, Dunsborough also provides a few cafes, yoga studios, and take away Asian eateries. It’s not too small either, with two supermarkets, three gas stations, and about four fashionable clothing stores (constantly blurring the line between modern fashion and beach-appropriate nothingness). In-line with the scant nature of dress, a good percentage of the population are tanned, chiselled and healthy looking. It’s as if the whole vibe of this country town (and others like it) seems to exude a relaxed and health-conscious aura, something that is swept away when we overly wrap ourselves in the progression of career. Yes, the time and money for health can, to some extent, be a privilege in cut-throat city life, but down here it’s grounding, the salty hair and bare feet, helps the body rediscover how to feel good in the most simple of ways.
A lot can be learnt and enjoyed from this part of the world, and when it’s on our doorstep why not take advantage? If you are chasing the full trip southwest, you could always add-on an adventure into one of the ancient caves, inebriate your senses in a local vineyard, or just pause at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory to fill up on free samples, before departing for the Cheese Factory and doing the same.
There’s one last thing that you shouldn’t miss. The sunrises in Dunsborough seem to challenge my perception of colour every single day. Due to the North-East facing nature of Dunsborough’s coast, the purples and oranges run deeper than belief. Deeper than the sand you curl your toes in or the roots that feed the native trees.
This story originally appeared in Metior Magazine, Edition #1 2014.