Thanks for a most interesting review of the short-lived Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in Adelaide. A quick correction, though: in his review, Ben Brooker quotes John McCallum as having described Richard Mills and Peter Goldsworthy’s subsequent opera, Batavia, as ‘the vilest thing [he had] experienced in the theatre’. It was Peter McCallum who said this, not John. It caused quite a furore at the time. I profoundly disagreed with Peter at the time, and I still do.
As for the Doll, it had a rather one-sided, if not biased, reception in 1996. In certain circles there was still a rigid adherence to operatic modernism, and the operatic Doll didn’t conform to the agenda. I found the original performance in Melbourne most impressive and remember well the wonderful quartet in the final act – ‘The old year vanishes, like music in the air’. Mills had, and has, one of the most lyrically beautiful operatic ‘voices’ in Australia.
Michael Halliwell (online comment)
Ben Brooker replies:
Thanks for your correction, Michael. I did indeed have my McCallums crossed!
I agree with Ben Brooker about Olive’s decision to leave behind the contemporary ideals of wife and mother for an alternative life with Roo. It is Roo’s staying home and getting a job and proposing that is the tragedy for Olive. They chose, in the first play, to deny these conventions for a life together that was progressive, and chose not to have children and marriage. Roo reneges on this promise, and Olive sees this as a betrayal. He is settling for all the conventions they had denied. This makes her mourn the loss of their wonderful alternative life and then brings into sharp relief what she has sacrificed for nothing, cradling a child. Even the strongest of feminists can mourn this instinctual yearning in the face of a pact being shattered. Seventeen years for what? It is a tragedy.
Antoinette Halloran (online comment)
Ben Brooker replies:
It sounds like we’re on the same page in regards to the nature of the play’s, and Olive’s, tragedy. But I still think the image of Olive cradling the doll in that way scans less as a testament to her ‘sacrifice’ than as an affirmation of the view that her tragedy is a failure to achieve ‘womanhood’. I think we both know this to be a fundamental misreading of the play and the opera.
The issue with IMMACULATE has nothing to do with Jenkins or their right to procreate, and everything to do with their denial of the rights of donor-conceived people, which Jenkins’s child(ren) are, like it or not. If Jenkins would acknowledge this and consider the rights of this marginalised group of people (the DCP community), there would be less outcry.
Also, it is simply unethical to use public funds for procreation – art or not.
Helen Balzer (online comment)
A more progressive and important issue here is that of donor-conceived people and the fact that, in Victoria (the world’s most progressive state in legislation of donor conception), someone can completely go outside of these laws and accept payment to create a child, use their conception for personal and professional gain, and invalidate all of the genetics that child will inherit. The very name Casey Jenkins’s project discredits the full genetic being and is some odd throwback to religion. The project is supposed to conclude when a child is conceived.
This is absolutely not a pro-choice or pro-life argument. It is about the commodification of children and the human rights that projects like this violate. The point is to create a child – the reckless, exploitative, and unethical ways they were conceived are only relevant after they are born. There are reasons why donor-conceived people have progressive laws in place to protect them for future generations.
No one is talking about the real reasons why the funding was pulled – of donor conception itself – and the worldly foresight the Australia Council has had on the matter.
Katherine Vowles (online comment)
There are significant intersectional issues that Casey Jenkins hasn’t addressed in their work. Quite separate from the pro-life arguments that give rights to embryos, there have been significant legislative changes in Victoria based on the ethical and legal recognition that donor conceived people have a right to their own genetic identity. While DIY insemination may not be covered by the same laws that clinics are held to, Jenkins has refused to consider or address the nuances given that the intentional choices she is making with their body will have inherent impacts on the child that they are actively intending to conceive. In fact, Jenkins has actively sought to personally attack and marginalise any donor-conceived voice that has posted questions or queries on their page. This is acutely counter to the progressive changes in the donor conception space. The issue goes beyond conception and into the realm of purposeful denial of best practice for donor conception.
Hayley Smith (online comment)
Lara Stevens replies:
Thanks for these responses. There seems to be a common concern that Casey Jenkins’s artwork is denying the rights of donor-conceived people, but each of the comments is elliptical about precisely which rights are being infringed. Katherine Vowles is concerned that the artwork will ‘invalidate all the genetics’, though it’s unclear what this means. Basic biology shows that everyone inherits half of their genes from each parent. This remains the same whether you’re conceived via procreation or a donor. Hayley Smith is concerned about the hypothetical child’s ‘right to their own genetic identity’ but does not explain what they are referring to here. Anyone today can send a buccal swab of cheek cells to a lab to have their genes and DNA tested and analysed for a small fee, though I don’t see how this knowledge of one’s genetic identity strengthens anyone’s human rights. It is worth noting that Jenkins never broke the law, nor did they ever accept payment to create a child. Jenkins was very explicit with the Australia Council from the outset of the submission process that they were attempting to conceive a child independently, in their personal life, and that the artwork (for which they were applying for funding) was mere documentation of this process.
The symbolic realm
I love Jay Daniel Thompson’s recognition of Geoff Goodfellow’s fine talent ‘for bringing to life the minutiae of a bygone era’ (ABR, December 2020). For me, this is reminiscent of South Australia’s late author and printmaker Barbara Hanrahan’s equally skilled use of the ‘micro-vision’ to activate people, places, and objects firmly into our fantasies and realities. Both authors elevate the ordinariness of past inner-city life in Adelaide to the symbolic realm.
Judith Thomas (online comment)
As a long-time admirer of Goodfellow’s poetry, I tremendously enjoyed this collection of non-fiction short stories. I too am hopeful of a follow-up volume. I have no doubt the author has (many) more tales to tell of a life well lived.
Daniel Howard (online comment)