Saturday, September 10, 2016

"My Strong Female Ego"

Written by Micharne Cloughley

Presented by the Friends of the National Library

National Library of Australia

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Report by Samara Purnell

Curator Robyn Holmes could barely contain her excitement and enthusiasm as she introduced Micharne Cloughley - the recipient of the Creative Arts Fellow for 2016.

The Fellowship requires the recipient to use the National Library's material in their creative process, resulting in a work suitable for a professional forum.

Cloughley has written a play, "My Strong Female Ego", based on the oral interviews of historian Hazel de Berg with Australian women who were considered feminists or pioneers in some way.

"My Strong Female Ego" is currently in final draft stage and is to be performed, conversationally, by two women. Cloughley's idea is that it will, in its finality, be used in a school education setting.

From the moment Cloughley began speaking, her passion for this project was palpable. She appears to have a genuine love for these female characters, their lives and their plight and her nervous and excited anticipation in presenting her work was clear.

Cloughley spoke briefly about her creative process and about translating verbatim theatre into something cohesively presentable on stage. She spoke also of the importance of audio interviews and the importance of poetry.

She had been inspired after living in America, to explore what "Australian Identity" meant, as a feminist. Cloughley identifies personally with these women with regards to feminism.

Hazel de Berg had conducted 1290 interviews over 27 years. In this work, Cloughley uses audio snippets to introduce her ladies, whose stories and opinions are then recited by actors Karen Vickery and Amanda McGregor, affectations included, as they stand together, as if in an interview or conversation with each other. Cloughley narrated from the side of stage.

Initially the dialogues were rather disjointed but the later segments became more of a debate, with some lengthy monologues, between various historical characters on things such as feminism itself and mothering. The views expressed ranged from fully-fledged feminism to less “radical” ideas on successfully integrating with men.

Amongst the "heroines" we were introduced to through Vickery and McGregor, was May Gibbs, who explained that her illustrated cards were originally created to be sent from home to the soldiers off at war.

We met Ruby Rich, who, in her words, has "A drawer full of famous women" and believed that "We have not paid our debt to the past unless we leave the future indebted to us". Rich is credited with setting up a society for promoting sex education to women, the forerunner of what became the Family Planning Clinic.

Nellie Woolaston explained how she successfully turned road-kill into tactile books for blind children, during the 60's and 70's and the satisfaction she had of seeing them engage with and enjoy books in a way not previously possible for them.

Nancy Bird Walton explained how she became a pioneering aviator, despite her father's pleading that she not pursue flying, as he "Couldn't afford to keep an injured daughter". Walton informed her father this made no sense, as her mum had five other kids should anything happen to her.

And Norman Lindsay's wife, Rose, was introduced through stories of her antics as a live model and of her relationship with Lindsay.

The protagonists, for the most part, spoke matter-of-factly, but certainly don't downplay their achievements or ambitions. There were some delightful quotes, some sad moments, and much humour.

For all their bravery, steadfast determination, achievements and rewards, these women just want to be heard. "And they have been", Cloughley assures them, in tears, as she thanked her wonderful actors. “My Strong Female Ego” attendees had just been privy to an informative and important piece of work, which would be a wonderful addition to an academic curriculum.