…extremely funny and bitingly serious about the state of the arts in Australian society.
Wayne Macauley, Caravan Story, Melbourne: Text, 2012 (2007)
Paperback from $15. Kindle $11.96
Reviewed by Ted Witham
The humour is Australian; the settings are banally Australian. There is a lot to like in this savage satire by Melbourne writer Wayne Macauley. Caravan Story was his second novel.
Since the original publication of Caravan Story in 2007, Macauley has published The Cook (2011)and Simpson Returns (2020). A book of stories Other Stories was released in 2011. He has received a number of prestigious prizes for his writing.
In Caravan Story, the writer, ‘Wayne Macauley’, wakes up one morning in a caravan being towed away. The destination is a country town on the footy oval turned into a caravan park.
He finds himself in an oval full of artists, carted here by the Government. They are instructed to make themselves useful members of society. They are fed and housed while they create.
The painters and the actors soon find ways of turning a dollar, but the writers are unable to be so enterprising. Their writing efforts are collected, but it turns out that the rejection slips have already been written. The plot shows ‘Wayne Macauley’ and his partner escaping home from this crazy world of disillusion, and on the way is extremely funny and bitingly serious about the state of the arts in Australian society.
As a writer, I revelled in this book, both for its questioning of the ‘usefulness’ of poems and stories, and for the loving attention to the details of footy clubs, high schools and caravan living. But it is a book for people other than writers, simply to have a laugh at Governments’ total incomprehension of the arts, and the importance of writers, and all of us, to ground ourselves, to have a place that is ours — a home.
From today until Christmas Eve, my poem ‘The Disappearing Arts’ will be printed on patrons’ printouts when they borrow from Bargoonga Nganjin, North Fitzroy Library in Melbourne.
The Federal Government has moved responsibility for the Arts from the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet to a new super Department (Infrastructure, Transport, The Regions), where the Arts do not even feature in its name.
The Disappearing ARTS
The ARTS are so subversive now (for we are young and free) They lock them up in ‘Infrasport’, and hide away the key.
The ARTS can set the people free (our home is girt by sea) So smother them in red red tape and tangle into braid.
The ARTS nerve our loath bravery (Advance Australia Fair) but we are not afraid to speak the truth so to disempower.
The ARTS cause us to laugh at rules (of beauty rich and rare) to denigrate the canny clown and turn them all to fools.
On December 6, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the Department of the Arts (then part of the Prime Minister and Cabinet PMC), would come under a new mega-‘Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications’. No mention there of the Arts.
There has been widespread dismay at this change. A petition has gathered 10,000 signatures asking that all art and music be withheld from Parliament House. That’ll show them – literally.
Here is my response to keep the issue alive:
Australians, they have made their choice, That fruit hangs low on tree, We now recall that Arts for all Have gone from PMC To Infrastructure’s hieroglyphs To Transport’s slipshod care. Off off the stage into a cage, Dispatch the Arts nowhere, Our trust so strained then let us sing, Dispatch the Arts nowhere!