A Tribute to Carol Burns

Last night there was a gathering at the Playhouse Theatre to honour the memory of a great member of the artistic community. I was one of many who spoke of Carol’s life in the theatre, and of our friendship which began as young actors in the founding years of Queensland Theatre Company.

This is what I said. Continue reading “A Tribute to Carol Burns”

Reviving the blog

The last time this blog got any attention was over a year ago … and how time has flown.

What was once a busy blog site has become one of those abandoned, archived, lonely corners of the great web. I’ve been working harder at another, niche blog – Greenroom – and using Tumblr and Posterous (before its demise earlier this year) as ways to get material out there quickly. With the loss of more and more third-party sites as repositories of material, it’s apparent that having one’s own self-managed site is no bad idea. So, it’s back to the former Groundling. The site also has pages to my professional c-v and an archive tab in the navigation bar.

What is going to appear here? That, dear reader, depends … on how the mood takes me and whether or not I find the time.

Just dusting down the shelves for now …

… of drought and flooding rains (Part 3)

This is something of a coda to my earlier couple of posts with the same title.

Last night I read My Country during the Road to Recovery concert held in a paddock at the tiny township of Murphy’s Creek, outside Toowoomba. This was one of the settlements devastated during the flood on January 10, 2011.

The family day and community concert was organised by locals and the Red Cross. I was asked to contribute to the concert by a friend who works for the Red Cross. He pitched, I caught. The trick was to find the right poem or reading appropriate for a reflection. It didn’t take long to come up with the work that had its way with me some months back, Mackellar’s anthem to love of a country that is extreme – both wilful and lavish as she puts it, and one that is terrible and beautiful by turn.

As I drove on dusk down the bush road to Murphy’s Creek I noticed bunches of balloons tied on fence posts and trees. Hand lettered signs read ‘Road to Recovery.’ It had the festive feel of a birthday party and a reminder that things are not over yet for the people who live here. It also felt good, I have to say. One of the reasons I took the gig was, in part, a healing for myself.

People came with their kids and friends. Barbecues and a roped off bar area (‘No kids’ as the MC kept reminding parents) did a roaring trade. The carnival rides were up and in full swing on the floodlit paddock perimeter, and a magician, country music artists and roving mimes – members of Brisbane’s Zen Zen Zo – amused and, I think, probably bemused a lot of the audience. The faery-goth look hardly blended in with the big hats and boots that dominated, but the cameras flashed and the kids stared in wonder. Faces painted, little kids raced around with lit ‘Jedi swords’ and dashed through bubble machines. They had a great time.


Those affected lost pretty much everything back in January and the sobering reminder of the ongoing cost was plain to see. There was a ute loaded with shoes beside a tent with a sign ‘Jumble Sale’ which said it all – that, and the small groups of families who sat quietly on plastic chairs around tables with their drinks and steaks. It wasn’t a boisterous affair but a peaceful one – I suspect the right kind.

Last night was also Earth Hour from 8.30-9.30. The concert paused at this point, candles were lit and a minute’s silence was observed for those who had lost their lives and livelihood to the flood waters. It was a time for reflection and for emerging from the dark. The fireworks that followed marked the light and determined spirit of the future.  Recovery is going to take a long time, but it has begun.

On telling tales and mythbusting

The Toowomba community, of which I am a part, is in a kind of collective post-traumatic state right now. I am sure we are not alone, and that other places are going through the same ordeal. It’s understandable, given the events of this past week; the horror began here last Monday with a deluge that is now the stuff of history.

The unfolding disaster – the death and destruction of lives, property and confidence – here and throughout the Lockyer Valley, Ipswich and Brisbane went on and on throughout the week. Our collective anxiety, which still remains, is being worked through and soothed in story-telling and the sharing of our experiences – friends we have lost, friends of friends, stories of survival from the day. Most, in fact all of these end with an affirmation of support for one another. We are being told to talk to friends and neighbours. It’s a more informal way of saying, seek counselling if you are troubled. Don’t bottle things up – good advice.

Many have sought a healing in the past week by speaking the unspeakable out loud. Whilst we understand the talking out to be part of the grieving process and the healing, not all of it is.  Fear and uncertainty are tackled sometimes from other angles, from a darker side, and the stories that emerge can become nightmarish.

Last week an unsubstantiated story did the rounds in the city. It goes like this: there are between 40 and 50 bodies in the Toowoomba morgue. The number varies, but the source has always been ‘a nurse who works at the hospital’ or someone that someone knows. That’s it. These bodies are supposed to have been in the morgue since Monday or Tuesday.

#mythbuster: The death toll since 10 January stands at 20, with 12 people missing. As police take custody of a body, it is added to the toll. #thebigwet #qldfloods QPS Media

I first heard this tale on Wednesday. Why the public would not be told is, of course, the part which unnerves the listener. Speculation is rife as to why the numbers of dead were not being released by the Queensland Police Service through the agency of the state’s Emergency Services Management Centre which has been meticulous via regular press conferences and media reports. The community has been kept updated on progress in search and rescue and on the number of bodies recovered on an almost hourly basis. ‘They’ don’t wish to frighten people,’ I was told at first. ‘They haven’t identified them’ is another. Neither of these explanations makes sense.

There are all kinds of unfounded rumours about the death which are totally unfounded and unhelpful. QPS Media

I find it both alarming and puzzling since those who have swallowed this story are intelligent people who, in the normal course of events, can spot a tall yarn and a conspiracy theory a mile off.  Yesterday morning another friend mentioned the matter to me yet again. Once again, that ‘reliable source’ – was quoted. The supreme irony in the rationale of not wanting to frighten people by suppressing the truth seemed lost on those who passed the tale along.

The fact that the story has been tolerated for so long and gone unchallenged speaks volumes about the state of mind of the community. It’s been hinted at in coded comments in the social media – Chinese whispers rampant. If it weren’t so disturbing, it would be funny. Of course, these times are hardly normal, not even next to normal.

Whilst in my own mind I dismissed this story out of hand, and not without some anger, I understand why it has been created for, at the deepest level, this is how drama works. As a horror story, and that’s exactly what it is, this blackly comic tale is an expression of the community’s anxiety, its powerlessness and the lack of closure which we are all craving. This story speaks of our fears and to our fears, and we have let it run wild. It needs to be killed off.

We’re feeding our deepest fears with this story; it needs to be killed off.

I believe I now understand what triggered the rumour. The story, born out of anxiety, attempted to make sense of something which may, perhaps, have been half-heard in a conversation by that ‘reliable source.’ It didn’t take too many questions in the right places to winkle out a few facts. Apparently, a spare morgue had been placed beside the permanent one at the Toowoomba hospital in readiness for up to 40 bodies. However this facility is not functioning, is not even turned on. I understand that neither the local hospital nor the John Tonge Centre (Forensic and Scientific Services) in Brisbane would be capable of dealing with so many bodies at once.

12 people have been reported missing. The death toll is expected to rise, but at the moment, we have found 20 bodies. Not sure we can make it any simpler. QPS Media

This afternoon the Queensland Police Media Service acted to dispel this myth. You can see their statement on the QPS Media Facebook page. It is hashtagged #mythbuster. Most of the blockquotes in this post are taken from the QPS Media stream.

I feel an enormous sense of relief in this reassurance from the efforts of the state’s disaster management team who have acted with great integrity, sensitivity and professionalism during the past week. The community has rightly gained confidence from the trust they engendered in us.

These conspiracy theories do us no good. They serve to aggravate the distress we are all feeling and to undermine the confidence we have in those who are serving us so well in such an awful time. This is a story that needs to be hosed away as something as toxic to the mind as the mud that has crept into the other places in which we live.