Monthly Archives: October 2016

Dancing with Speeches #43 Barry Jones

The Hon Barry Jones delivered the 20th Don Dunstan Oration, and in covering a lot of ground, brought us two potential political parties of the future: The Courage Party and the Left Behind Party. Given Barry’s from the left I felt I was part of a rumba listening to him in real life deliver this great speech in the beautiful surrounds of my alma mater University of Adelaide’s Bonython Hall as part to the 2016 Festival of Ideas. Originally, the term rumba was used as a synonym for “party” in northern Cuba, and by the late 19th century it was used to denote the complex of secular music styles. You can read and listen to Barry’s speech here.

The Rumba Party

Before there was Labor, Liberal, Greens, Democrats, Republicans, Tories …. there was dance, there was music. There were celebrations, conversations, debate – public discourse in decision-making for the populous. And now we have public decision-making driven by smart phones and focus groups, where decisions are driven by popularity, celebrity and with little attention to facts, or the people with the lived experience effected by those decisions. Those left behind in globalisation are finding their voice in extremism, terrorism and the currency of fear is traded through facebook and twitter. The binary options are simplistic and the craving for simplicity in our deep complexity is strangling the lost art of conversation.

This is my manifesto for the Rumba Party.

I want a Party where people turn up with a plate of food to share. Where the party is hosted by someone who is willing to throw open the doors to their house and share their good fortune of running water, electricity supply, table and chairs with whoever wants to come.

I want a Party where you will find people gathering in corners in twos and threes sharing their lives and working out together how to love and support others in the room over nibbles and a glass of wine.

I want a Party who knows how to turn up the music, get on the dance floor and be willing to not know all the steps and find their rhythm in flickering candlelight while moving to the same beat of the drum and bass line.

I want a Party that knows how to clean up after itself and grabs a bin, a bucket and a mop when the celebrations have died down and the mess starts to form. I want a Party that can do the cleaning up joyfully and sing songs while they work.

I want a Party that has an invitation list and then welcomes anyone who turns up and gives them a welcome as a cherished guest even if they weren’t on the invitation list. I want a Party that respects the elders and can’t wait for the young to get up and speak, share a poem, do a dance, show us their best.

I want a Party. And I want to Party. I want a Party that is a verb not a noun.



Citizen Jones in full flight at one of the Festival of Ideas sessions.


Dancing with Speeches #42 Bob Dylan

Dylan was the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year – he used the occasion to give a 30 minute acceptance speech. Rolling Stone described the speech as equal parts riveting, confessional and controversial. On being named this year’s Nobel Prize winner for Literature, he will go down as a controversial choice for many and the most inspired choice in a generation for others. At 75 Dylan’s words ring as true today as when he first wrote some of his most iconic lines of poetry – the answer is still blowing in the wind and With God on Our Side could be played in every husting on the US election trail this year. His poetry in song have been the soundtrack to many of our lives and when he picked-up that electric guitar in Newport in 64 … well the rest is history.  And it will be fascinating to hear the speech he will make later this year in Stockholm. While we are waiting here is a speech a fan might make to introduce him.


On presenting Dylan with his 2015 MusiCares award Former President Carter said Dylan’s words about peace and human rights were more succinct and more memorable than any words a President could offer. But it wasn’t the Nobel Prize for Peace Dylan received this week, although there is many a draft resister who found courage in his songs to put down their sword and shield and not go and study war.  And there are all the musos who picked up an electric guitar and put their lyrics to music, gave new clothes and complexions to Dylans’ words  – the harmonies of Peter, Paul and Mary, the soulful sound of Baez rallying us to action through the ages. He didn’t get the Nobel prize for economics though many a R & B musician supplemented their livelihood on the back of Dylan covers.

Shakespeare didn’t write down his plays, others had to come by after him and gather up the pieces and stitch them together. I am putting Shakespeare and Dylan in the same sentence, because their words and contribution to the lexicon of our lives in the western world is extraordinary. We all use words and phrases that have their origins in the their poetry and prose.

When Dylan picked up his MusiCares award he had litanies of gratitude, instructions to remind us to look behind us to how we got to where we are and to look ahead to see what is on the horizon and tempting us to go forward.  He did a lot of thanking. Thanking those who saw something in us that others didn’t. Thanking those who borrowed our work, straightening out so others could access it. Thanking those who add to our own talents. Thanking those who give us a go and help other people catch up to where we are. Thanking those who see in us what we can’t see in ourselves. To these people let us all understand these are the ones who are the bedrock of our careers without which we don’t have one. Then there are the ones you love who take what you do and you are so honoured by their dynamics and courage and sheer brilliance that you can barely believe your good luck – for Dylan that was Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash. Dylan says singing folk music gave him the code for everything that’s fair game, that belongs to everyone.  Who do you need to thank?  Who are the ones in your life’s work who give you respect and honour you by singing one of your tunes or breathing the same air as you and take a fragment of who you are and fuse it into something of their own without injuring the integrity of the your offering?  Today we thank Bob Dylan, a self confessed “song and dance man” who through his words has done what Alfred Nobel laid down in his will to bestow on a person who, in the literary field, had produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”.  Dylan is one such person, an ideal direction for more than a generation influenced by his words. Nobel defined literature as “not only belles-lettres, but also other writings which, by virtue of their form and style, possess literary value”. The literary value of Dylan’s work has stopped us in our tracks, caused us to think, given us courage, helped us to cry, held us in times of trouble, breathed new life into old causes – surely all the powers we want from literature!

Then add the sounds of the great American Song Book and the words are laced with struggle, resistance, survival and triumph. Listening to old gospel songs and hanging out with communities on the edges of big towns in the USA soon has sounds and phrases seeping through your pores. Ancient rhythms: the beat of the heart, beat of the drum, the skip you get in the excitement and ecstasy of praise, the slowing down of your breath as the lament needs a note to be held longer.

The connections are all there in the songs. It isn’t a big trip to make, to the rap of New Yorkers from a Simple Twist of Fate. Without verse after verse of rhyming punchlines punctuating the air with the familiar nasal elongated rise of tone at the end of a sentence to end the verse, how would rap have taken hold?

It is OK for songs to divide, this is all part of the discourse, the conversation that brings us to our next level and the test of time will be if their truth remains long after the last chord has been played.

That is the power of Dylan, like Shakespeare, our species will be singing his songs long into the future. The ferocity of truth can’t be disguised by harmonies and orchestration – which is why it doesn’t matter who covers Dylan – the lyrics stay the course – that is what truth does. It doesn’t matter how much you camouflage it, throw it in the spin cycle – truth will be steadfastly remain. Three chords and the truth – the essence of Dylan.


Dancing with Speeches #41 Manal Al Sharif

Manal Al Sharif from Saudi Arabia rose to fame with a speech from her car. A simple act of defiance. Driving her way to freedom went viral, got her detained and got her heard, face seen and named. She followed up speaking in Oslo and that speech brought her sisters from around the world with her and many in her own country to get behind the wheel and not get arrested.

It always starts with one voice, one face and one name and then over time they are joined by the first follower – this all important person who echoes, pays homage and responds and then over time the movement grows. Call and response are the building blocks to all movements. Single actions lead to collection ones – a walk to make salt brings down an empire (Mahatma Gandhi) sitting on a bus brings freedom and rights (Rosa Parks), walking off land leads to fair wages (Vincent Lingiari). In Manal’s actions she is also asking each and every one of us: What wheel are you going to get behind to drive to freedom?

The wheel is a wonderful thing – and when connected to an engine even more powerful. The axel, hub, spokes, wings, rim, cap, tyre all embellish the humble and technological beauty, of the wheel. And wheels come in so many shapes and sizes, holding meaning and messages – the ferris wheel on steroids that is the Eye overseeing our cities, the wheelbarrow carting our gardening endeavours (and little children) around backyards, the colour wheel offering a kaleidoscope to enrich our senses, the wheel of fortune being spun at fairs and appearing in readings, and the prayer wheel holding us steady in all kinds of weather.

Manal Al Sharif is a woman of means, well endowed with friends to support her and come alongside of her vision for women. She calls out common sense and practicalities – and after all isn’t this the simplicity of equity? A chance for us all to have our hands on the same wheel to drive ourselves to the freedoms for all and not just the privileged few? Her name means achievement and attainment. In our response to her call success will arrive.

How long is this turning of the wheel go on before all women (and therefore all men too) are driven to freedom? The exodus from enslavement by patriarchy and frankly just silly ideas is not yet complete. There is more wheel turning to be done. More songs to be sung. More voices to be heard. More ears to listen. More hearts to open. The wheel is turning and Manal’s hands on her steering wheel in a car she owns, on a street in a city she lives and works in, driving without arrest another turn is taken.

In my tradition, to every season there is a turn and we all need to take our turn at the wheel, to be the call and all the more important, be the response to the call.

This is the time for every purpose and for every work to be turned towards speaking up and righting wrongs towards all women. There is no stop to the turning and whirling. Like a dervish possessed with the ecstasy and mystical love for their God, women of the world twirl and swirl, creating a ferment for change no longer voiceless, faceless or nameless!

we came whirling
out of nothingness
scattering stars
like dust

the stars made a circle
and in the middle
we dance

the wheel of heaven
circles God
like a mill

if you grab a spoke
it will tear your hand off

turning and turning
it sunders
all attachment

were that wheel not in love
it would cry
“enough! how long this turning?”

every atom
turns bewildered

beggars circle tables
dogs circle carrion
the lover circles
his own heart

I circle shame

a ruined water wheel
whichever way I turn
is the river

if that rusty old sky
creaks to a stop
still, still I turn

and it is only God
circling Himself


Dancing with Speeches #40 Anna Bligh

In January 2011, Queensland had devastating and deadly floods. The Premier at the time Anna Bligh gave a rallying call to all Queenslanders that inspired and encouraged a nation. She appealed to the tenacious survivor spirit to rise above the waters. In my own state this week a natural disaster has been treated like a political football. Here is a speech Anna might have given if she was in South Australia this week.


Mother Nature rules, and at times like this we are reminded her place in the scheme of things. While we might tame her and guide her to use her energy to keep us warm, safe, fed and housed – there are going to be times when that is not going to happen. This is one of those times. There have been more than 80,000 lightning strikes this afternoon and evening. Electricity towers designed to withstand all weather conditions we normally face here in South Australia could not withstand the cyclonic forces and while over 90% stood tall those that fell over tripped the national grid. This safety measure ensured we could all get power restored as quickly as humanly possible – and there’s the rub – even the super human efforts of our super hero emergency service workers facing the elements of wind, rain and hail, will not get everyone back up with power within a few hours. I am so proud of the efforts and goodwill of South Australians. Despite traffic lights being out all across our capital city not one single accident was reported. This is an astonishing testament to the social cohesion in our community – in times of trouble we respect each other and give way so we all get home safely.

While the grid and connectors are being restored, I am calling on my political allies and colleagues from all persuasions to step up and join me in congratulating our ability as a State to rise to this challenge and keep the lights on.  Let us suspend judgement on why this happened and get the facts first, to look at them in the clear light of day, with a clear head, before we go jumping to conclusions, pointing fingers and worst of all blaming our commitment to renewable energy and being brave enough to work with the power freely given to us by Mother Nature, and while we are all still learning how to manage a national system.

No one was killed on the roads, no one has died from flooding, no one has been killed from a tree falling on them, back up generators kicked in, friends and families gathered around old school transistors to keep up with news and there was plenty of evidence of conversations and board games being re-discovered by candle light all around the State.

Evacuation centres are now in full swing in those parts of the state where flood waters are rising. As always volunteers are at the ready helping in all sorts of ways – filling sand bags, feeding and supporting emergency service teams, making and receiving calls on hotlines to ensure people are safe and feel supported – this is the spirit of South Australia.

We are famous for being the driest State on the driest continent and so when we are faced with these climatic conditions our systems are stretched beyond their limits. We are in unfamiliar territory. We are unaccustomed to seeing torrents, burst banks and overflowing gutters. Our international friends will be shocked to see this as anything strange – but for us it is. The national grid locking us out of power at a time when we might have most needed it – is not a disaster – it was a safety measure built in the system and we were up for the challenge. The danger of being out in the weather was heeded and I thank you all for being sensible and staying away from rising waters, crossing flooded streams and being off the roads as much as possible.

Finally I want to say one thing to my political colleagues who have been swift to blame South Australia’s race towards renewables as being in the mix for the power going off. Friends, we will not go backwards. South Australia’s colonial beginnings were experimental, we have always incubated new ways and been prepared to innovate and take steps forward to address and indeed herald the future. This storm tripping the system is Mother Nature’s nudge to get us to all work together to ensure we have secure energy for all Australians – not just those who are using old world power sources or live on the east coast. We are leaders in renewables and will be bringing all of the rest of the country with us. In the not too distant future, we will be thankful this happened first to a State with the capacity and tenacity to fix a problem quickly and move past the pain to solutions so we can all have a future where the best engineering, technologies and systems will deliver energy that powers a nation more dependent on the elements.

Thank you once again to the crews all across the State who are working in this recovery period to restore what has been lost and keeping us safe.