An overdue rant – Warren Fahey

Written by Warren Fahey – Published with permission


Imagine an Australia without storytellers, songwriters, poets, musicians, actors and singers. It is equally depressing to consider a world where individual creativity is replaced by mass-produced culture. In some ways, this has already happened as we greedily gobble up what is erroneously called ‘popular culture and the continuing lockdowns and lockouts exhaust our creative population.


As I write this, thousands of creative people across Australia are seriously experiencing doldrums and despair and doing it extra tough. Whoever said ‘hunger stimulates creativity’ was a misinformed liar. I have spent (almost) a lifetime working and performing in the arts. It was never easy but, recently, because of you-know-what, it has become increasingly difficult. For my part, I earned a steady and decent income from writing, singing, lecturing, producing festivals and heritage events, and, more recently acting with Max Cullen. Apart from a 2019 Creative Fellowship from the City of
Sydney, to produce a series of YouTube videos, I have not worked for well over a year. I am fortunate I have a superannuation pension fund and am far from being on the breadline. Not so for many of my creative mates. Most artists I know have absolutely no superannuation or reserve funds. It is not enough to say ‘such is the life of an artist.


As most of my readers will know, a large part of my ‘work’ has been under the umbrella of ‘folk music’ – a loose (and mostly misunderstood) term if ever there was one – I sing (and occasionally write), recite and tell Australian stories in the course of my ‘work’ as a cultural historian (I have never seen anything I do as ‘real’ work)… I see the old songs, poems and stories as ‘signposts’ to the Australian identity. I know it is valuable work, leaves a cultural footprint etc and I deem myself fortunate in having created my own artistic career.


My heart feels for those creative types starting out on their life’s journey. The current times are indeed challenging. They are particularly challenging because the government just doesn’t seem to understand how the arts work. We will, of course, eventually see blue sky, but I fear many will fall by the wayside groaning under the hardship. For the government, the ‘arts’ is a mysterious beast. It understands opera (Australian Opera just received a $4 million dollar bail-out), ballet, orchestras, and, in some ways, contemporary pop music, but has absolutely no idea about most other genres including folk and its many expressions. This is partly because of an elitist view of the arts in some funding organisations, and, the ‘independent’ style practised by the majority of individual performers not associated with arts companies. This translates to the majority of Australia’s art’s practitioners – because they create in their own way.


Many of the musicians, singers, actors and poets I know would fall under the banner of ‘freelance’ – in other words, they work for themselves. They hustle for work
(almost a full-time job), travel exhausting itineraries, produce and flog their own merchandising, and, sadly, rarely get above the standard living wage level. Frankly, it is disheartening and shouldn’t be so.


From what I can tell, many of my fellow creators were prepared to cope with the stress and strain of the first COVID twelve months but not the ‘never-ending story’. Many are fed up, struggling to survive, feeling useless and vaguely looking for the blue sky. They can’t ‘plan’ because festivals and other live performance opportunities keep falling over every month.


The government must be made to understand the immediate plight of Australia’s creative community.


How do we make them understand?

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