Ben Brooker

Borrowing a term coined by the late Jewish Nobel Laureate and vegetarian Isaac Bashevis Singer, Charles Patterson (in)famously likened humanity’s treatment of animals to an ‘eternal Treblinka’. In his 2001 book of the same name, Patterson set the mass murder of Europe’s Jews and industrialised animal slaughter side by side, drawing a line between the production methods of Chicago’s early twentieth-century slaughterhouses, the assembly-line technology pioneered by Henry Ford – an avowed anti-Semite and Hitler supporter – and the death camps of Nazi Germany. Another Jewish writer, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno, is said to have observed that ‘Auschwitz begins whenever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals’.

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Talking animals in fiction have, for the most part, been confined to children’s or otherwise peripheral literature. Yet they often serve a serious purpose. Aesop’s fables, with their anthropoid wolves, frogs, and ants, have been put to use as moral lessons for children since the Renaissance. The ‘it-narrative’, fashionable in eighteenth-century England and perhaps best exemplified by Francis Coventry’s History of Pompey the Little: Or, the life and adventures of a lap-dog (1752), saw various animals expatiate their suffering at human hands.

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From the Man’s horse ‘blood[ied] from hip to shoulder’ in Banjo Paterson’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’ (1890) to the kangaroos drunkenly slaughtered in Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright (1961), non-human animals have not fared well in Australian literature. Even when, as in Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals (2014), the author’s imagination is fully brought to bear on the inner lives of animals, their fate tends towards the Hobbesian – ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ – reflecting back to us our own often unexamined cruelty. The rare exceptions, such as J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello (2003), incorporating a fictionalised series of animal-rights lectures, serve only to point up the rule.

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Light and The Dark Master

Ben Brooker
Wednesday, 06 November 2019

At a time of increasingly bellicose nationalism and ever-proliferating flashpoints of contested history, it’s no surprise to find multiple works at this year’s OzAsia Festival exploring, and in some cases provoking, these global fault-lines. Light (★★☆), a collaboration between writer Thomas Henning of Melbourne’s Black Lung Theatre and Malaysian producer–designer collective TerryandTheCuz, takes as its point of departure the lives of Francis Light and his son William, the first surveyor-general of South Australia. The history books tell us that in 1786 Francis laid claim to the island of Penang on the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and that, fifty years later, William set out his plan for the city of Adelaide: a grid of wide streets and large public squares ringed by parklands. Less than three years later, William was dead from tuberculosis, the bulk of his papers and possessions having been destroyed in a fire at his North Terrace office.  

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2019 Arts Highlights of the Year

Robyn Archer et al.
Thursday, 24 October 2019

To celebrate the year’s memorable plays, films, television, music, operas, dance, and exhibitions, we invited a number of arts professionals and critics to nominate their favourites. 

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There are few really good plays or films about writers. Our craft, unlike those of painters or musicians, does not seem to lend itself to the visual or aural mediums. There is nothing to look at, and much less to hear. And yet the plays and films continue to be made. Writers, and writing we suppose, are important, even if we have little idea how to ...

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When Alison Croggon’s theatre review blog Theatre Notes closed in late 2012 after eight years in existence, its demise was met with a response akin to grief. The first blog of its kind in Australia, and one of the most enduring anywhere, TN became essential reading for anyone interested in Australian performance ...

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Picaresque (Adelaide Festival) ★★★

Ben Brooker
Thursday, 14 March 2019

For the uninitiated, a maquette is an architectural miniature of a monument or building. Small, made from cardboard or wood, and often able to be flat-packed, travellers have long collected them as souvenirs of adventures to faraway places. Robyn Archer, doyenne of Australian cabaret ...

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The Cape Town-based Isango Ensemble is known for its South African-flavoured reimaginings of works from the Western canon. While Adelaide Festival audiences thrill to Barrie Kosky’s Magic Flute, others may recall the Ensemble’s version, its setting translocated to a South African township, from the 2011 Melbourne Festival ...

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That Eye, The Sky (State Theatre Company) ★★

Ben Brooker
Friday, 31 August 2018

Although his natural humility would make him dislike my saying so, Tim Winton is these days omnipresent in our national culture. Anywhere you look there is bound to be a new book, a television or film adaptation, or a stage adaptation, as with the State Theatre Company’s revival of That Eye, the Sky ...

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